Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy

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The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (2008)
Catching Fire (2009)
Mockingjay (2010)

Sometimes when there is a lot of “hype” around a book, for me that tends to have a reverse effect and put me off reading it – or at least make me put off reading it! (can only hope I got that pun right…)

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins was one falling into that category for me. I’d seen it mentioned and praised a lot; however, the basic concept of the story did not appeal to me.

In a future dystopian totalitarian nation, from each of the twelve districts surrounding the capital, one boy and one girl in their teens are selected by lottery to participate in the "Hunger Games", a spectacular televised event taking place in a huge arena, where the participants will be forced to literally fight each other to the death – as only one will be allowed to survive in the end – while the rest of the nation is forced to watch.

Since the basic idea of life-and-death games does not attract me, I’ve not felt tempted to read this series until just recently. But one day I happened to come across them as library audio books (in Swedish), and decided on a whim to give them a go after all. (Or at least the first one.)

Coincidentally or not, this happened while the Olympics in Sochi were going on (I only watched the figure ice skating, but I did watch quite a lot of that) – and parallel with that, the uprising in Kiev, Ukraine. And so TV news flashes from Sochi vs Kiev came to be disturbingly – but also aptly – mixed up with my reading of this trilogy.

I say aptly, because I learn from all-knowing Wikipedia that besides Greek mythology and Roman gladiator games, what inspired Collins to write the story was her own experience of the unsettling absurdity in TV channel surfing between various so-called reality shows, and authentic footage from the war in Iraq. 

Three dystopic novels from the mid 1900’s that have come to be counted as modern classics also kept coming to mind for me during the reading of The Hunger Games. (It’s probably safe to assume that at some point, Suzanne Collins read those as well.)

George Orwell –  Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
Ray Bradbury – Farenheit 451 (1953)
William Golding – Lord of the Flies (1954)

In spite of the very grim outlook on human nature prevailing in The Hunger Games, I soon found myself (somewhat disturbingly!) drawn into the story and almost unable to put it down/turn it off. Checking my downloads of the books, I see that I listened to the whole trilogy (~36 hours playing time) in less than two weeks. (An advantage of audio books is that one can continue to listen both while resting and while doing routine things…)

Having finished the series, I really have to give Suzanne Collins credit for making the main characters and their reactions to all that happens “believable” in the midst of all the horrifying (and partly sci-fi) events.

I also think that in this book, it was absolutely the right choice to let the heroine be the narrator.

At the end of the first book, I was still only sort of half-impressed, and wondering how there could possibly be enough stuff left for two more books. But curious enough to go straight on to find out – and have to say I’m glad I did. Without going into details, I’ll just recommend that if you are going to read it, you really should be prepared to read the whole trilogy, not just the first book; as the following two add a lot of depth.

However, I must also say that this is one series that I don’t feel any wish at all to see acted out on film. (I understand the first two books have already been filmatised (?) cinematised, so I assume the third will be too.) To be quite honest, for one thing I don’t think I could stomach watching some of the scenes (I know I’m more sensitive to visual impressions) and for another, I suspect a film version might at the same time double the absurdity and take the edge off it. The thing with reading is that it gives you time to reflect (even as audio book, if you’re in control of the on/off button) – especially when the author makes the main characters do a bit of reflection from time to time as well. On film, everything gets compressed – you have to “swallow it whole”, without time to chew and digest, so to speak.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Early Spring

Last year we had an extremely cold and dry spring, with ice still floating in the river towards the end of March. In spite of the sun shining a lot, it was so cold that the ground didn’t thaw, and many plants and bushes died because they got kind of freeze-dried.

This year, we’ve had an unusually mild February with very little snow around here. The last couple of weeks or so it’s mostly been raining (even if not quite as much as in England). Today for a change the sun paid us a visit, and the temperature rose to around +9°C.

After my regular visit to the rehab-pool I decided to walk home, and on my way I passed several gardens where the snowdrops had come out to greet the sun. I didn’t have my camera (don’t usually take it with me to the hospital) but I took this with my mobile:

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I was also both amused and bemused by this sight (really no need of a snow shovel just lately):

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Eating and Drinking in My Town (FMTSO)

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It has become a tradition for my town to celebrate its birthday (29th June)* with free cake in the main square. Never mind the weather!
(Above: 2010, in sunshine. Below: 2013, in rain.)

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*(As mentioned in my previous Friday My Town post, the town is considered “born” in 1621, as that’s when it received its first official town privileges.)

(If you don’t happen to be in town on the right day and time for free cake, there are of course also plenty of cafés and restaurants. I don’t go out to eat all that often though and the photos I may have of some of them aren’t tagged…)

Friday My Town Shoot Out

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Classic Book Review: Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857)
English translation by Eleanor Marx Aveling (1886)

It came to mind for me just recently to reread one of the great French classics, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. That is – although I had only vague memories of the story (if any at all), I would have sworn that this was one of the classic novels I read way back in my teens. I even have an image in my mind of a rather thin green volume with gold print on the back, and almost exactly where in the town library it stood… (Or…?)

As this is a book from 1857, with the first English translation published in 1886, it is of course availabe as free for Kindle; so nothing to lose by downloading it.

Nothing to lose but faith in my own memory, that is!

Because after finishing my “re”read of it, I think I must rewrite my personal reading history, and say that I probably never did read it before. I now suspect I may somehow have been confusing it in my mind with The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas (fils) (1848) – even if I was convinced that I had read both. (Now if I could just find out what kind of covers those two books had in my home town library 40 years ago…)

To begin with, I found it a little difficult to get into the story. Hard to say whether this was because it was a different story from what I expected, or to do with a case or two of strange word order early on in the book which set me wondering whether perhaps it would turn out to be a bad translation throughout. It got better, however. (I did not look up the translator until after I had finished the book, but then learned that it was Eleanor Marx Aveling; daughter of Karl Marx.) Perhaps there are later translations easier for a modern reader to get into, though. What soon becomes evident is that Flaubert has a very detailed writing style, that may take a while to get used to. He uses words to paint images in the reader’s mind; it just gets a little blurry when you don’t actually know the words! – for example different kinds of horse-drawn carriages, or all the little details of fashion worn in those days.

Basically it’s the story of a marriage, and how their life together in a small village appears totally different to husband vs wife. Charles is a doctor, not terribly successful, but striving on and doing his best; and also feeling more or less content in his marriage and family life. Emma (Madame Bovary), on the other hand, is constantly wishing for “more” to her life than what she has, in every respect – something which repeatedly tempts her to walk down dangerous paths, both with relationships and with money matters.

In town, with the noise of the streets, the buzz of the theatres and the lights of the ballroom, they were living lives where the heart expands, the senses bourgeon out. But she – her life was cold as a garret whose dormer window looks on the north, and ennui, the silent spider, was weaving its web in the darkness in every corner of her heart.
(Chapter 7)

Interestingly, in spite of all the changes in social life that have taken place between the mid 1850’s and today, I found this novel to deal with some very fundamental aspects of human nature which probably have not changed as much as we might like to think in 150+ years.

In Sweden we have a TV show called Lyxfällan, ‘The Luxury Trap’. (I’d be surprised if there aren’t similar shows in the US and Britain.) In this show, financial experts help individuals and families to sort out the mess that an astonishing amount of people today tend to get tangled up in just by using too many credit cards and expensive loans to buy stuff they don’t actually need, without ever sitting down to add up the real costs and compare them to their real income. And with couples it seems there is also usually an added element of not being able to communicate with each other.

To sum up: Emma Bovary would have been a perfect candidate for a combined Luxury Trap and ‘Dr Phil’ show!

If you want to know what life was like in the ‘good old days’, long before there were stern TV talk show hosts to stare you in the eye and ask “What were you thinking?” and “How is that working for you?” – then you should read Madame Bovary.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

I ♥ My Town (FMTSO)

Friday My Town theme of the week:
“share with us what you love about your town

2012 Almanacka original

This is a collage I made a couple of years ago of pictures I used for a monthly calendar.

Borås received its town privileges in 1621. The reason was to give local pedlars a legal place for vending their merchandise.  After a century the town had over 2,000 inhabitants.

The town was ravaged by fire four times between 1681 and 1827. The only building which stood through all four fires is this church (Caroli Church), originating from 1669 (the tower added in 1681):

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In the mid 1800s several textile mills were founded along the river Viskan, and the town continued to grow.

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In the 1900s Borås became a textile industry and mail order centre.

In 1906 another church tower was added to the skyline:

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Today Borås is a city of about 100,000 inhabitants; still proud of the commerce and textile industry heritage; but in later years the focus has shifted from production to design and fashion. Much effort has also been put into changing our reputation from a dull industrial town to a centre of culture and art.

Borås has a unique Textile Museum (which will be reopening this spring in new premises under the same roof as the Textile College), a public Art museum, and also the private Abecita art museum (which I blogged about just recently).

2010-12-07 snow, statues

Ute by Charlotte Gyllenhammar

Since a few years back, Borås now has a biannual  sculpture festival (time for another one this summer!); and a number of sculptures by internationally famous artists have also been permanently added to our streets, squares and parks.

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Catafalque by Sean Henry, outside the College

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Pinocchio (or Walking to Borås) by Jim Dine (9 m high)

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The Town Park by the river is a popular oasis in summer. I chose this picture for today because of the tulip bed resembling a red heart (for Valentine’s Day).

I did not grow up in Borås; I was 30 years old when I moved here. My parents did grow up here, though, and we used to visit my grandparents here in my childhood. However, both sets of grandparents lived on the outskirts of town, and I have no memories of the downtown core until in my teens – when I also had a penfriend living here, and took the bus into town on my own on a few occasions to meet her. (I lost touch with her long before I came here to live, I’m afraid.)

The reason why I moved here in 1986 is a mix of the family roots + having other friends living here at the time (whom I had got to know elsewhere) + hoping for better job opportunities than in the town where I attended university. (Alas the job market did not turn out all that great, but that’s another story.)

Anyway, compared to when I first moved here, I think the city centre has developed to be a lot more lively and attractive than it used to be.

Since I started blogging five years ago (about six months after I moved into my present flat, which is also closer to the town centre than where I lived before) I’ve also been walking about with my camera a lot more – a great way of noticing not only when new things happen, but also things that were “always” there!

I’m afraid the rainy winter weather we’re having just now is not the most “flattering” for anyone or anything, though – so for this post I’ve dipped into my archives (2009-2013)!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bringing In Spring

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It may be too early yet to start looking for proper signs of spring outside… But as usual around this time of year, I try to bring some spring feeling into my kitchen.

Nothing much going on otherwise – except I’m almost getting dizzy from watching hours of Olympic figure ice skating (going round-and-round-and-round). I really don’t know why I got so mesmerized by it this year. (I guess partly because it happens to have been on at a time of day – late afternoon/early evening – when I’ve been home but too tired to do much else anyway.)

Foto: Alexander Demianchuk

Alexander Majorov did well for Sweden today in the men’s short program (no 10 out of 30 and flawless performance).

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Postcard from Sochi

Olympic Stadium

Those of you who know me well, also know that I’m not a big sports fan. Four weeks ago I would not even have been able to say where the Winter Olympics were going to be held. But three weeks ago, I received notification in the form of postcrossing postcard. So at least this time I knew before the games started!

Actually, I’ve just watched three hours of figure ice skating. That’s just about the only sports I enjoy watching. I suspect it has something to do with music and sparkly clothes being involved. Maybe the other sports should have a think about that!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Entrances (Friday My Town)

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▲The entrance door of an old inn, now serving as summer café in our museum park. (The buildings in this park were moved here from various places in the countryside in the early 1900s, to be preserved for the future.)▼

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The cellar door at the back of the same building ▼

2011-07-31 Ramnasjön Ramnaparken

Old wooden church originating from the 1690s, and a gate in the stone wall surrounding the churchyard.▼▼

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Old cottage of a kind that was in use in these parts of Sweden between the Middle Ages to the mid 1800s. The keyhole-shaped entrances were supposed to bring luck and represent wealth.▼

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From a walk (last summer) in one of the older parts of Borås, with apartment blocks from the early 1900s. (Norrby, for those who are more familiar with the city.) I don’t think I’ve actually blogged about these before. ▼

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I find these houses fascinating because of the variations of style within the same block – especially the entrance doors!

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Friday My Town Shoot Out: Entrances

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Excuses–or lack thereof

 

When not too personally involved, I’ve been known to be pretty good at coming up with excuses for strange things people do (sort of trying to argue their case for them when they’re not there to do it themselves).

Sometimes, though, I have to confess I find it very hard to figure out any reason at all for very minor offenses. Like: Who steals a dish-washing brush – and why? (From the common laundry room in the building where I live. The brush was there last week, but gone today. I know the same one has been there for months, neither brand new nor so worn out that it deserved to just be thrown away. Unless something very serious happened to it since last Wednesday!)

More frequently, it’s the dishrags that disappear without trace. I usually end up donating a new used (but clean) one myself, as it does not seem worth the hassle of a phone call to complain about it. At the same time I just cant help wondering who takes them, and what on earth they do with them!

Any creative suggestions?

PS. I stole both pictures from the internet, out of pure laziness.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Hope Springs Eternal*

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After a very cold and snowy end to January, we suddenly had thaw again this weekend. Nature seems as eager as I to just skip the winter month of February and go straight on to March.

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*The title refers to the famous quote by Alexander Pope:

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

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