Thursday, February 28, 2013

Booking Through Thursday – Current Events

Booking Through Thursday question from Deb:

What are you reading right now? (And, is it good? Would you recommend it? How did you choose it?)

I’m still reading The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. (Saying “still” because I also mentioned it in my Teaser Tuesday post, and then I had only just started it.) I’ll wait with recommendations until I’ve finished it, but yes, I like it. I chose it because I’ve liked her previous three novels. Unusually I bought one – her third, The Distant Hours – in a bookshop back in 2011 without ever having heard of neither the author nor the book before. After reading that I ordered her two previous novels too (The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden) as paperbacks. And after buying my Kindle last year  I bought her latest, The Secret Keeper, as e-book at full price. As I don’t buy a lot of books at full price, it says something about my confidence in the author if I do buy more than one ;)

I’m also listening to A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1905), a classic children’s story which I’ve read before, many years ago (and also seen film adaptations of). Free audio book dowloaded from http://www.booksshouldbefree.com/ 

“Sara Crewe begins life as the beloved, pampered daughter of a rich man. When he dies a pauper, she is thrown on the non-existent mercy of her small-minded, mercenary boarding school mistress. Stripped of all her belongings but for one set of clothes and a doll, Sara becomes a servant of the household.” (from a review found on the internet)

Before that I listened to Three Men on a Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome (1900) (also a free audio book). This is another book I’ve read a couple of times before (I have it in paperback) – a sequel to the better known Three Men in a Boat from 1889 (which I’ve read more times than I can count and still find hilarious every time).

In the sequel, J., George, and Harris again find themselves in need of a break, and this time they decide on a bicycling tour in the Black Forest of Germany. Since two of them are now married they first have to persuade their wives that this is a good idea. Like Thee Men in a Boat, this one too is a combination of travelling book and humourous episodes, with various sidetracks and general musings in between. For my own part I find it a fascinating time-document of how an Englishman looked on Germany some 14-15 years before the first world war.

In England we regard our man in blue [the policeman] as a harmless necessity.  By the average citizen he is employed chiefly as a signpost, though in busy quarters of the town he is considered useful for taking old ladies across the road.  Beyond feeling thankful to him for these services, I doubt if we take much thought of him.  In Germany, on the other hand, he is worshipped as a little god and loved as a guardian angel.  To the German child he is a combination of Santa Claus and the Bogie Man.  --- The German citizen is a soldier, and the policeman is his officer.  The policeman directs him where in the street to walk, and how fast to walk.  At the end of each bridge stands a policeman to tell the German how to cross it.  Were there no policeman there, he would probably sit down and wait till the river had passed by.

Jerome, Jerome K. - Three Men on the Bummel

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bring on the Spring

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There’s still winter outside (we’ve had a couple of sunny days, but the nights are still very cold). Indoors however, it is MY decision when spring begins… So in my kitchen, spring began yesterday. This means putting up my yellow curtains, spreading my lemon-and-oranges tablecloth, and buying a bouqet of tulips to celebrate.

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The pattern on the tablecloth is designed by a Swedish artist whose work I like very much, Lena Linderholm.

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You’ll probably be seeing a lot of these tulips… They were so expensive I have to make the most of them!

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G for Goldeneye

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Goldeneye for ABC Wednesday

They are found in the lakes and rivers of boreal forests across Canada and the northern United States, Scandinavia and northern Russia. They are migratory and most winter in protected coastal waters or open inland waters at more temperate latitudes. (Wikipedia)

We have one or a few of these in the river near where I live. When I first noticed them a few years ago there was a couple. Then the following year or two the drake was alone (usually hanging out with or near the mallards). Then he had a new mate, and they had little’uns – I think that was 2 summers ago. Last summer I just saw a lonely male again (assuming him to be the same one). But recently this winter, just a few weeks ago, I saw a whole little group of them (five or six) - possibly a family reunion… (I’m not sure of their social habits!) Yesterday however there was just this one on his own again, swimming back and forth across the river near the bridge I was walking on.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Teaser Tuesday: The Secret Keeper

“Later, Laurel would wonder if it all might have turned out differently had she gone a little more slowly. If, perhaps, the whole terrible thing might have been averted had she taken greater care.”

From The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
(2012)

I’ve just begun reading this book (on the Kindle), the quote is from only a few pages into the story. I liked Kate Morton’s three previous novels very much, so am hoping I will find this one a good read too.

 

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers

Monday, February 25, 2013

Simple Pleasure

What a difference the Sun makes. I feel like I’ve been shut in by layers of ice for weeks and weeks…

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(Sculptor at work inside a block of ice; from my archives.)

Haven’t dared to set foot outdoors without some kind of ice-creeper devices attached, and not been able to walk in normal-sized steps or strides even with them on.

  

It’s been over three weeks since I last dared try walking to the supermarket (1 km there and 1 km back) – until today. (I have been able to get to other shops. I’ve not been starving.)

On Sunday afternoon I tried to go for a walk but gave up after… I think less than 50 metres. Icy street, icy wind… Brrr! I turned around, went back home and lay down on the couch with an electric blanket on top to warm up!!!

Today (Monday) at long last we had a whole day of sunshine, and in the afternoon the temperature had risen above freezing point, and the sun was still “on”… I decided to be brave and at least do some reconnoitring. So I put on the less spiky and most walkable kind of ice-creepers (like the second pair above) and set out again.

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And lo and behold, on the other side of the still very icy walkbridge across the railway, one of the pavements along the street leading towards the supermarket was almost ice-free.

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More photos from the archives, but could have been today.

As it turned out, by criss-crossing from one pavement to the other at various strategic points, I was able to actually reach the long lost El Dorado... 

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Oh joy. It might be the most thankful I’ve been for the supermarket since the day it opened… Not that I can shop much in one go, as I can’t carry much – but still! LOL

And guess what: I did not even have to put the ice-creepers back on for the way home. (I had to take them off inside because indoors on the stone floor they have the opposite effect.) (I managed the icy bridge by holding on to the railing.) Walking without them for the first time in weeks felt almost like being barefoot :)

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Mosaic Monday: Semla

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A semla (also known by a few other names in Swedish)is a sweet roll associated (in this part of the world) with Lent and especially Shrove Tuesday /Fat Tuesday. The original version of the semla was a plain bun, eaten in a bowl of warm milk. Nowadays, it’s a cardamom-spiced wheat bun which has its top cut off and insides scooped out, and is then filled with a mix of the scooped-out bread, milk and almond paste, topped with whipped cream. The cut-off top serves as a lid and is dusted with powdered sugar. Today it is often eaten on its own, with coffee or tea. And some caf├ęs sell them all year round, not just this time of year.

In my childhood (in my family) we ate them every Tuesday during Lent and served with hot milk. I still only eat them this time of year – but not with milk, and not every week either. I did buy one last week though, to cheer myself up on an icy gray dismal day!

Mosaic Monday

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Secrets

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Among the blogs on my dashboard reading list there is the mysterious Ten Thousand Questions, which keeps asking daily questions without collecting any answers (or at least never publishing any). This week they’ve been asking annoying ones to suggest my life is full of deep dark secrets:

What are a few of your biggest secrets? Are they things that nobody knows, or things that everybody knows but no one talks about? Do you keep more secrets now, or did you keep more secrets when you were much younger? What's changed over time in your situation, or in your attitude about keeping things secret? Do you worry about people thinking less of you if they found out your secrets? Are you concerned that some of your secrets could impact your job or your relationships? What big, guilty secret did your family share when you were growing up?  Do you still carry shame associated with your family's secrets? Are you the person that everyone tells their secrets to, or are you always the last to find out?

I very rarely write down answers to the TTQ questions – only give them a few seconds of brain time. This week, my brain kept giving the spontaneous frustrated response: “WHAT secrets?!” 

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Still, I wonder if these questions might possibly have made their way into a dream I woke up from this morning… For some obscure reason, I was subjected to some kind of theraphy with a most annoying therapist who kept asking questions out of context – not that I can recall now what the context was supposed to be, nor what kind of annoying questions it was I was asked – you know how it is with dreams! Anyway not much remained when I woke up but the frustration: “but… but… but…” (The dream also reminding of a clever attorney questioning a witness in a court of law; or some conversation from Alice in Wonderland.)

Another factor behind the dream may have been some frustrating talks of different (and yet in some ways similar) kind lately with pharmacy and health care staff, trying to sort out a complication with a certain prescription. (No secrets involved, just too complicated to explain here as I hardly understand it myself in my own language.) It’s probably sorted now (I’ll see next week when I try going to the pharmacy again). But it involved a lot of Wonderland-twisted nonsense arguing.

Anyway, the week’s package of prying questions from TTQ reminded me of a little book I bought some thirty years ago, hardly more than a pamphlet, entitled Secrets, by Paul Tournier (a Swiss Christian physician and author, 1898-1986).

Wise words from this little book:

Freedom is what makes the individual. Keeping a secret is an early assertion of freedom; telling it to someone that one chooses is going to be a later assertion of freedom, of even greater value. He who cannot keep a secret is not free. But he who can never reveal it is not free either.

While I’m not the kind of person who talks with anyone about everything, I also don’t think I carry a lot of big dark secrets that no one must ever know. (But then if I did, it’s hardly likely I’d suddenly blurt that out all over the internet, is it? Which leaves you none the wiser.)

As for the last of the TTQ questions: “Are you the person that everyone tells their secrets to, or are you always the last to find out?” - I’d say that ironically, I think it’s been a bit of both. Some people tell me things because they know I’ve little interest in idle gossip. On the other hand, sometimes I’m the last to find out, for the same reason!

---

PS. The two photos are from a gardening expo last year. (I guess my mind wandered to “secret gardens”…)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Booking Through Thursday: Libraries

btt buttonfrom Deb

How often do you visit a library? Do you go to borrow books? Do research? Check out the multi-media center? Hang out with the friendly and knowledgeable staff? Are you there out of love or out of need?

Not as often as I used to. Some of the things I used to need to visit the library for, I can do from home these days – including search the book catalogue and make reservations and renew loans. With a click I can order a book to be sent from the main library to my nearest small branch library and get a message when I can pick it up there. The branch library is only ~ 5 minutes walk from my home.  Since the Kindle came into my life (back in the autumn) I’ve only borrowed a few audio books. But I still pop in at the library sometimes for a bit of random physical browsing.

Talking of audio books, I’d like to warmly recommend this website that I recently found:

 www.booksshouldbefree.com 

BooksShouldBeFree.com logo

Lots of free AUDIO public domain classics.
Well worth checking out if you like listening to books.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

ABC Wednesday: F for Frozen Footprints

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Freshly fallen snow
turns to fearsome frozen slush.
Better watch your step!

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Editing experiments in Picasa.
Inverted black-and-white in the second photo.

ABC Wednesday - F

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Teaser Tuesday: Castles, Cameras and Brownies

I assure you that nobody would have known that the black and grey muddle on Elfrida's paper was meant to be a picture of a castle. Edred's was much more easily recognised, even before he printed "Arden Castle" under it in large, uneven letters. --- "There!" he said at last, "it's ever so much liker than yours." "Yes," said Elfrida, "but there's more in mine." "It doesn't matter how much there is in a picture if you can't tell what it's meant for," said Edred, with some truth.

From The House of Arden (1908)
by Edith Nesbit (1858-1924)
(Chapter VIII)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Critical of their attempts at drawing the ruins of the castle, the children come up with the idea of taking a Brownie (camera) with them back into the past. I don’t know yet how that turned out, because I haven’t read that far yet. I had to pause right there and go for a little (Wikipedia) excursion of my own. (Children? Camera? 1908?)

The first Brownie, introduced in February, 1900, was a very basic cardboard box camera with a simple lens that took 2¼-inch square pictures on 117 rollfilm. With its simple controls and initial price of $1, it was intended to be a camera that anyone could afford and use, hence the slogan, "You push the button, we do the rest." The camera was named after the popular cartoons created by Palmer Cox.

Palmer Cox (1840 – 1924) was a Canadian illustrator and author, best known for The Brownies, his series of humorous verse books and comic strips about the mischievous but kindhearted fairy-like sprites.

(Click the image to read the book as html-file from www.gutenberg.org)

Okay, I think I’m getting a suspicion where Edith Nesbit may have got some of her inspiration from… (Rhymes, by the way, are also important in The House of Arden.)

Myself I’m getting more and more fascinated with my own time-travelling (by books as well as old family photographs and postcards) into the early 1900’s…

Monday, February 18, 2013

Idle Thoughts on a Foggy Day

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We’ve been having very foggy weather today.

Which reminds me of  these quotes from Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome (1886):

The weather is like the government—always in the wrong. In summer-time we say it is stifling; in winter that it is killing; in spring and autumn we find fault with it for being neither one thing nor the other and wish it would make up its mind. If it is fine we say the country is being ruined for want of rain; if it does rain we pray for fine weather. If December passes without snow, we indignantly demand to know what has become of our good old-fashioned winters, and talk as if we had been cheated out of something we had bought and paid for; and when it does snow, our language is a disgrace to a Christian nation. We shall never be content until each man makes his own weather and keeps it to himself. If that cannot be arranged, we would rather do without it altogether.

The weather, I suppose, has not changed all that much since 1886; but neither, it seems, have umbrellas:

I wanted an umbrella, and I went into a shop in the Strand and told them so, and they said: "Yes, sir. What sort of an umbrella would you like?" I said I should like one that would keep the rain off, and that would not allow itself to be left behind in a railway carriage. "Try an 'automaton,'" said the shopman. "What's an 'automaton'?" said I. "Oh, it's a beautiful arrangement," replied the man, with a touch of enthusiasm. "It opens and shuts itself." I bought one and found that he was quite correct. It did open and shut itself. I had no control over it whatever. When it began to rain, which it did that season every alternate five minutes, I used to try and get the machine to open, but it would not budge; and then I used to stand and struggle with the wretched thing, and shake it, and swear at it, while the rain poured down in torrents. Then the moment the rain ceased the absurd thing would go up suddenly with a jerk and would not come down again; and I had to walk about under a bright blue sky, with an umbrella over my head, wishing that it would come on to rain again, so that it might not seem that I was insane.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Great Gatsby Revisited

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

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Cover of the first edition, 1925 (Wikipedia)

Going back to a book you read once in a distant past, like 35-40 years ago, can be like revisiting a place you haven’t seen since then. It can appear familiar and very different all in one.

As is often the case for me with classics read long ago, my memory of it consisted only of vague images and a certain lingering “atmosphere”, rather than details of the plot.

So my memories just involved this rich guy living alone in a big house and throwing extravagant parties; and the story being told by his neighbour, who was more of a regular guy; and an overall impression of rather sad 1920’s decadance – people trying to be happy but not succeeding very well. And that was about it.

What made me reread it now was a wish to update my memory and try to grasp why (besides the title) it is considered one of The Great. I also never read it in the original language – my old falling-apart paperback copy of it was a Swedish translation. (Falling apart not by frequent reading but from age and bad glue.) So I bought it for my Kindle. (The book is not yet so old that it’s available for free, but it is avaiblable cheap).

I’ll not bother about a synopsis of the plot because you can easily find that elsewhere on the internet if you wish; and if you’re like me, it’s re-discovering it for yourself that you will enjoy.

Be it enough to say that there were more layers to the plot than I remembered. Personally, I also find myself thinking much more now about aspects like narrative perspective, and how the author uses language. In those respects I do think The Great Gatsby scores high. I also still find it a rather sadly convincing reflection of its time. (The story takes place in 1922. Fitzgerald started planning the novel in the same year and picked inspiration from Long Island New York where he himself lived at the time.)

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Wikipedia says about the cover art of the first edition:

A little-known artist named Francis Cugat was commissioned to illustrate the book while Fitzgerald was in the midst of writing it. The cover was completed before the novel, with Fitzgerald so enamored of it that he told his publisher he had "written it into" the novel.

There are a couple of different possible interpretations as to what he meant by that.

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Quotes

She smiled slowly and walking through her husband as if he were a ghost …

I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.

Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York – every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour, if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler’s thumb.

“I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”

Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.

The truth was that Jay Gatsby, of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The How

Sandra the MadSnapper asks on her blog today:
“How do you post?”

I decided to steal her topic and turn it into a post of my own. That’s how I do it…

Joke aside, reading Sandra’s “hows” made me realize that I’ve never really thought all that much about the procedure besides the purely technical stuff.

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I started blogging on a whim (four years ago) and I guess I’ve continued much the same, just inspired by the continuous interactive flow of ideas between other bloggers. I enjoy taking part in certain weekly theme challenges (photography and book-related) but try not to get too compulsive about it. (I said “try”!)

I prepare my posts in Windows Live Writer. If have an idea I want to save for later I usually put it in a draft which is saved locally on my harddrive until I consider it ready for publishing.

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If I have a blog-thought while the computer is off, and am afraid of not remembering it, I jot down a few keywords on a piece of paper and leave by the computer in the study until my next session there. Or I may send an email to myself from the phone!

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I have a notebook in which I collect good quotes I come across.

Because of pain-related difficulties writing by hand (going back a long time before I started blogging) I avoid making more extensive handwritten notes or drafts.

Many of my posts are built around my own photos, and then I start with the photos (doing my basic editing in Picasa) and then add text. With other posts (like this, or book reviews) I start with what I want to say, and then maybe go hunting for some illustrations before I post.

For example a couple of butterfly collages randomly chosen from my archives, for no other reason than to add some colour…

 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Recently Read (or Listened To)

The Case of the Missing Books
by Ian Sansom *

(I listened to this as audio book in Swedish.)

The introduction to this book sounded promising. An unlikely hero, a Jewish-English librarian with very little to put on his CV so far, has accepted a job in Ireland. When he arrives, he finds the library to be closed and his workplace supposed to be a mobile library bus. On top of that, all the books (15,000 of them) from the former library have mysteriously gone missing…

I think the idea has a lot of potential. However, the actual book did not impress me at all. The humour consists mainly of chicken manure and the ‘mystery’  did not really keep me in suspense either.

Actually I had a bit of a struggle deciding whether it was worth while finishing at all. I did listen to the end, eventually… Only to find afterwards that the book is the first in a series and there are at least three more to follow. I’m sorry, but I think I’ll rather go in search of some other 15,000 or so books I haven’t read first.

 

The False Prince (Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy)
by Jennifer A. Nielsen ***

I bought this Kindle ebook + the Whispersync Audible version at cheap daily deal price and alternated reading and listening.  I did find it to be of page-turner kind. The Audible reading by Charlie McWade was also quite good – even if to my European ears, a more neutral (less distinctively American) accent would have suited this book better (as there were never any kings and princes in the United States).

The book has received many positive customer reviews both on Amazon and on Goodreads; and few negative ones. There are a few things that keep me from giving it more than three stars though.

Much of the pace and suspense of the book is kept up by clever dialogue and repartee between the characters. The rest is first person narrative, with the main character (an orphan boy called Sage) as narrator. This is cleverly done in some ways, but it also has its weaknesses. While part of me is itching to develop that point further, I’ll refrain from doing so. Just keep the narrative perspective in mind if you do read it!

One thing that keeps this story from becoming one of the really great ones (I think) is that there are only a handful of characters that stand out while the background remains hazy and lacking detail. The setting is vaguely medeival without neither magic nor references to “real” history (or geography) involved. There is a map at the beginning of the book but at least for this first part of the trilogy it does not really make much difference.

Classics that came to mind for me while reading, besides the stories of King Arthur, were Huckleberry Finn, David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. I would not compare it to fantasy books like Harry Potter or Narnia or Lord of the Rings. It’s mostly boyish adventure but does include a hint of romance. The language is kept “clean” without seeming obviously censored. I’d not hesitate to recommend it to young teens.

While I can’t say I get an immediate desire to dive right into the next book to find out what happens next, I would probably buy it if it should turn up at cheap daily deal price. If not, I think I’ll put it through the Test of Time first. (If I look back on the title in a year or two from now, do I still remember it?)

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