Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

This is the first book I finished in 2016. It is a classic and I read it for the Brontë Reading Group. This is a wonderful group of people, totally dedicated to the Brontës and 19th century English literature. The discussions are always lively, but never so lively as when we disagree on a book. Some people loved it and some did not. I belong to the latter category.

I love Thomas Hardy and I visited Dorchester last year. He  grew up there and stay there most of his life, except for some years in London. It is a lovely place and he has managed to introduce it, as a fictional area, in almost all of his books. Jude the Obscure is the last book he wrote. Actually, the critics were so harsh that he decided to write no more books. Instead he continued with his poetry and for this we have to be greatful. He managed to write himself into being one of the best English poets of all times.

My favourite books by him are The Mayor of Casterbridge and Far From the Madding Crowd.  I did not like so much Tess of the D’Urberville although it is a wonderful satire over the hypocrisies of the society at the time. Well, all his book are very well written satire of the times in which he lived. So also Jude the Obscure. It is not difficult to understand why it met with such uproar at the times. He writes about religion and marriage, and his protagonists, Jude and Sue are no religious people and are living together without being married. There are two divorces included and all the hypocrisies of the time find their way into the novel.

Personally, I do not understand any of the people, and thinking of it, do not even like them. They are all very peculiar and act in a way which I do not fully understand. The characters are all very vague and I could never really grasp their personalities. While Sue and Jude were living together, he wanted to marry her. But every time they set out to do it, she changed her mind. She went for this and then changed her mind, she went for that and changed her mind again. On top of it, Jude just bowed to her whims and did not either put his foot down or made a statement of one kind or the other.


He had very high expectations as a young man. He wanted to study but it was not possible because he was poor. He taught himself and would have made a master student if he had had the possibility to study. He spoke Latin and Greek, knew all the classics and so on. He met Arabella as a young man and she seduced him into marrying him. Once married she went off to Australia with her parents, just to come back some years later. Over there she married an Australian man who had now emigrated to England. That is why she asked for a divorce to officially marry this man again.

To entice him to marry her, she told him she was pregnant although she was not. So, in spite of the fact the he was in love with his cousin Sue, he did the honourable thing and married her. That was also the time he had to give up his dream of studying. Now he had to work to support a family. Once Arabella is gone, he contacts Sue again and spends time with her. She is working as a teacher and have found a mentor in an older professor. He falls in love with her and proposes to her. She accepts and sticks to her promise, although she is in love with Jude. One can easily say that this is a mess.

The novel is a satire of the times and on the favourite subjects of Hardy, religion and hypocrisy. He was obviously far ahead of his time when writing about lovers living together without being married. Hardy said that this was the book that was least based on his own life and experience, but his wife was afraid that people would think the story was taken from his own life. Having read a biography on him, I am bound to think that it is based on his own, rather unhappy life and marriage. In thinking so, the novel makes more sense.

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Max Gate, the house that Thomas Hardy built for himself. 
He was a trained architect
I found the novel rather slow, and the ending is far from a happy one. I found that Tess of d’Urberville was rather sad as well in the end. Maybe Hardy was right; there was no hope for poor people if they wanted to raise themselves above their class. It was a fight that did not end happily. It is all very sad.

Hardy is still one of my favourite writers of the time. He has the talent to write a good story, to highlight the problems in society. He was rather criticised during his life-time and it took him hard. However, if he could see into the future, I am sure he would be happy to see that his books are read more than 100 years later. 


Monday, 25 January 2016

Brussels Bookswapper's Club

If you are living in Brussels you might like to come to the monthly Bookswap organised by Karen.
It takes place on Wednesday 27 January, at 19.30.


JANUARY 19, 2016
January 2016 Bookswap special
The Club’s first Bookswap of 2016 will feature a Literary Showcase (first launched last year) with a new Belgian author, Françoise Knockaert, as special guest. Françoise will be presenting her début novel “Quand la solidarité change les couleurs de la vie. Du SEL sur le feu” – published last year. This is more than just an autobiography. It traces a journey of self-discovery, of change, of spiritual growth, greater awareness of the power of life fuelled by community spirit and the generosity of human beings, total strangers. It tells a tale of positive transformation sparked by a near catastrophic event (see FB page for more details.) Come and hear Françoise’s inspiring story!

As usual, the doors open as of 18h30 for our monthly exchange of books, DVDs, CDs and audio cassettes in a multitude of languages, for all ages and tastes. Early birds will have a chance to browse among our many books and check the “catch of the day” tables before grabbing a welcome drink or bite to eat at the friendly restaurant downstairs. The books will remain on display for those of you who cannot come early. Depending primarily on the weather, I hope to introduce Françoise somewhere between 19h30 and 20h00 and questions are more than welcome from the floor in French and English. Fingers crossed, we’ll also have the pleasure of hearing some live music and singing – so join me and make this a special evening to kick off another year of bookswapping in Brussels – the 6th in Boitsfort!

Le Chapelier fou (1st floor)
190 chaussée de la Hulpe 190
1170 Brussels
02 660 6686
Kids: 16.00-18.30
Adults: 18.30-21.00


the life-changing magic of tidying by Marie Kondo

I got hold of this popular book the other week. Many of you have read it and it has got good reviews.
I am always in for good advice how to tidy up at home, so I did not think twice when I saw it in the book store. Of course, thinking of my TBR shelves and her advice to get rid of most of your books, maybe it was not such a good idea to buy it? And, when she starts talking about throwing out books...hmm!

Well, her philosophy is not that bad. She means that we should enjoy the things we have, and, if we have too many things, we don't have time to enjoy them all. Furthermore, you don't always know what you have in all your cupboards and drawers. Her motto is; just have the necessary things that give you joy and give them a place of their own in your home. Thank them for what they are doing for you and you will have a harmonious home.

Very good indeed. There seemed a little bit of repetition through the book, but I think it gives you the idea what she really means and how she goes about her life. She started tidying when she was only five years old and she has continued ever since. Now she has made it her business and she advices people how to de-clutter their houses. It seems she is quite successful, and has happy clients.

Why not I thought. I start right away, while I have her advices fresh in my mind. I don't think I can ever de-clutter as much as she wants, and I somehow imagine all her clients living in a deserted flat or house with nothing inside. But I guess it is not all that bad.

I started out with two book cases in the TV room, while watching Australian Open in tennis. Always good to do multi tasking...right? You should really start with your clothes. It seems it is important in which order you do the things, but...I started with the books. Not bad as a first exercise, since I got rid of more than half of the dvd:s and about 100 books! Yes, I did not believe it. I have a lot of these big books with pictures on various subjects like art, travel, films etc. To be honest, I don't look in them that often, so they had to go. I saved some for sentimental reasons, those who reminds me of the different countries I have been living in. It seems that once you start to be practical about your books, you can throw them out. Some of them I will take to the Bookswapping day on Wednesday. Here is how it looked, before (före) and after (efter).












It might not look revolutionary, but I moved quite a lot of books  from the library to here. This will definitely make it easier to go through the four book cases there (maybe tomorrow?).

By this time I was really warmed up so I also attacked one of my two wardrobes. I took out all the clothes, lingerie and everything else inside, put it on the bed...


...which was filled up completely. From there some things went to the bin and in the end, 2 bags will go to the clothes collecting station.  Was I pleased? Yes indeed. Her advice to roll  the clothes and put them vertically, rather than folding them and put them in piles, was a good advice. Although it did not work very well for me, since I have no drawers, just shelves, and most of the clothes did not stand up by themselves. I laid them side by side instead. It was not perfect, but will have to do for now. Maybe in the future I will buy small boxes and put them in. Unbelievably there was now so much space in the wardrobe, and I could easily fit in the things...and there is still space left! Another positive thing is that you have an overview of what you have when everything is visible. Pullovers, t-shirts and such things lying at the bottom of the pile tend to be forgotten.



I had socks, pantyhoses and tights in three different boxes, and now they all (almost) fitted into this one. I could not believe how many sport socks I have. Someone seeing them must think I am a professional sport person!


 What a magic day it was with the KonMarie Method!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Bookmarks

I felt like being creative today and make some book marks. Recently, when I emptied an old handbag I found these old boarding cards, you know the small end that you got to keep when entering a plane. I have used them as bookmarks in the past and now I thought I could use some of my scrap booking paper and make them look a little bit nicer.

Well, here is the result

Before

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After

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12 new bookmarks that I can keep or give away. Considering how many books I read at the same time I might need them all!


Sunday, 17 January 2016

Ketchup reading!

If you have looked at my reading for January you will discover that there are no books on the list so far! Having read 16 books in December it does stress me a little bit. In moments like this I go for ’ketchup reading’. You know the ketchup glass bottles. You can’t squees them so you have to hit the bottom to get the ketchup out. You hit and hit and nothing comes. And…oops! There it comes all at once!
The Content Reader

That is why I call my present state for ketchup reading. I am reading, not only one book at the time (as usual), both several. I guess that mean that all of a sudden I will have finished not one book but several. Let’s see what I am reading for the moment.

  • Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (for Brontë Reading Group and we meet on Monday so have to finish soon)
  • Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut (for another reading group who meet on Wednesday, but I will probably not be able to finish it so might not go)
  • The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco (Eco is not an easy read and I can only read small sections at the time)
  • Mrs Jordan’s Profession by Claire Tomalin (about actress Dora Jordan, mistress of the Duke of Clarence, later King William IV, with whom she had 7 children). Claire Tomalin is always a pleasure to read!
  • the life-changing magic of tidying by Maria Kondo (how to declutter your life and live happily ever after!)
  • Our Man in Havanna by Graham Greene (a classic novel).
  • The Almost Nearly Perfect People - Behind the myth of the Scandinavian utopia by Michael Booth (being Scandinavian myself it is always interesting with an outsiders view of your own area. Michael Booth is a journalist, married with a Danish and living in Denmark. Hilarious sometimes and I LOL!)
  • Selected Works of Alexander Pushkin (after reading a historical fiction about him (The Fourth King by Glen Petrie) I had to read some of his poems. Luckily I had such a book on my TBR shelves).

Here are eight books that I am currently changing between. I could probably find some more if I look further away from my bed table, but at least these are close at hand. I hope it means that I can finish them all before the end of the month! Hmm, we’ll see.

How are you doing with your reading in the beginning of the new year. It seems to me that most of you got off with a blast and have already read quite a few books. Well done!

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Monthly reading in 2015

The Content Reader
Enjoying a good book on the beach
in Es Trenc, Mallorca
End of the year and looking on the reading statistics for 2015. As already mentioned I read 121 books this year, which is more than I have read during a year, since I started to blog. Looking at the number of books per month, it looks like this:

January: 7
February: 7
March: 8
April: 13
May: 14
June: 6
July: 9
August: 4
September: 9
October: 14
November: 14
December: 16

That shows that the autumn and winter months, at least in the end of the year, see more reading. Maybe because of bad weather and the fact that it is nice to cuddle up in the sofa corner and read a book. However, this should also have been the case for the first three months, but is not. Probably had other more pressing things to do. March and April saw a burst in reading, maybe me sitting outside in the sun and enjoying a good bok?

Summer is always busy with different things. My son being home from his studies in Sweden and then preparations for changing city for the autumn studies. End of August and beginning of September was spent in Sweden, so slightly less read than.

Well, all in all it was a good year for reading. I hope you are satisfied with your reading.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Challenges in 2016

I will not join a lot of challenges for this year. It seems I am not able to keep up with other reading obligations. And as one fellow blogger said: as soon as you promise to read a book, it seems it is not that attractive! It is better to go to the shelves and grab a book depending on your present mood.

The main challenge as always is my TBR shelves. The aim is to lover them. However, I get tempted by the various challenges and they are great fun. I will therefore join one if it is compatible with my overall aim to lower the number of books on my TBR shelves.

Paris in July is a must of course. Hosted by Tea and Thyme, it is my favourite challenge of the year. You get to know so much about Paris from participants, finding new reads, places to visit, things to eat etc. Really looking forward to this one.

Well, that is in principal all there is to my challenges this year. I anticipate a lot of reading though being part of two book clubs. Furthermore, I am now writing reviews and articles for a Swedish web paper on literature and culture. Meaning, I have to spend more time in producing something more professional. Looking forward to this challenge.

What’s in a Name

The Content ReaderI have already joined one challenge, since it is compatible with my overall aim.  Wormhole  is hosting What's in a Name, aiming at reading 6 books in 2016.  I managed to find books from my shelves that fit into the theme of each one.  Looking forward to exchange views with the participants.

A country - The Knight Templar in Britain by Evelyn Lord (hope Britain is ok?)
An item of clothing - The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (hope this ok as well, white hinting at a robe?)
An item of furniture -  The Binding Chair by Kathy Harrison
A profession - Alkemistens dotter (The Alchemist's Daughter) by Carl-Michael Edenborg
A month of the year - Light in August by William Faulkner
A title with the word 'tree' in it - Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

Vintage Scavenger Hunt

The Content Reader
This challenge is hosted by My Reader’s Block.  ”Your mission, should you choose to accept it, will be to find as many objects on the scavenger hunt list as possible on the covers of the mystery books you read (for the list go to link above). As has been the case for Vintage Bingo you may play along in either the Golden or Silver Mystery Eras (or, for the more adventurous, both).”

Since I have decided only to accept Challenges if they are compatible with lowering my TBR shelves, I have to see what I have as regards suitable covers. Will come back with a list, either for Gold or for Silver. I enroll here only on a whim and knowing that I really do not have that many mystery or thriller books. Let’s see what I can do. It sounds great nevertheless, so I could not resist.

The Classic Club

The Content ReaderI will continue with The Classic Club although the results from my point of view are appalling. More discipling for 2016 please! Still have a few to catch up, and they are on my shelves so no excuse anymore! You find my list here: Classic list.







My 500 Words

The Content ReaderI have joined a writing challenge hosted by Jeff Goin. The aim is to write 500 words a day for 31 days. Just to get your writing going and coming into a routine.  The writing can be anything you choose as long as you write at least 500 words a day. This blog post for example is a little bit more than 500 words, so - voilà - my goal for today achieved. I want to use it also for other kind of writings.




Some of my challenges for this year. I will try to be more organised, disciplined and focused this year. I have great expectations for this year. Just have to wait until the end of the year to see what I have achieved and if I am pleased with the outcome!

Looking forward mingling with you through challenges, blog posts and comments. Thank you for a wonderful 2015 and looking forward seeing you all in 2016!

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Forget Me Not by Marjorie Bowen

The Content ReaderI downloaded this book of historical fiction since I liked the summary of the story. I see now, when I am about to write a review, that it was first published in 1932! This is quite a surprise since it feels very fresh and I was sure it was a new book.

I finished it some weeks ago, and it gave me a very mixed impression so I really had to think about it for a while. It is not the quite easy, half romantic historical fiction I thought it was. It was quite something else.

It starts when Mary Showler elopes with a young noble man to get married. However, somehow, when they end up in an inn for the night, she realises that he never intended to marry her at all. She is a girl from a French noble family which was impoverished when Napoleon fell from power, and she is now working as a teacher in a school in England. Once she realises that he does not want to marry her she leaves him to go back to the school. Too late to have her job back she supports herself as a governess. She changes work frequently since she normally gives the mother in the family unpleasant vibes, although the children always love her. Now, she gets the opportunity to go back to France to work in an aristocratic family.
But Mrs. Coombe Wade felt a certain responsibility that urged her to make further enquiries.’An exceptional person is required - there are five children and the mother can do nothing, social obligations, you know, and ill health, then the establishment is really magnificent! One requires someone with authority-’’Mademoiselle Debelleyme has that - she is very good with servants, a wonderful gift for keeping order and discipline - with children, too - she really takes all the trouble off one’s shoulders!’
Mary Showler has changed her name back to Debelleyme, and as such she comes to the Duke and Duchesse du Boccage. She takes hold of the household which is in array due to the lack of management by the duchesse and she makes herself at home and takes care of everything in the household. The Duke is happy to have a functioning house and someone to deal with the children. However, soon the Duchesse sees that the little power she had is gone and her estranged relationship with her husband is even more estranged, when he tends to spend more time with his children under the auspices of the governess.

I will not reveal more of the plot here. However, it is a very strange story and I don’t really know what to make of it. Most characters are unsympathetic, and the character of the ’heroine’ Mlle Debelleyme turns out to be not that nice. Or is she? This is the question? Is she as manipulative as it seems, or is she just very honest? She has had to take care of herself from a very young age, and she is trying to find a place in the world. It is not easy for a woman on her own in those days.

The story takes a turn and a turn again. I don’t want to reveal it here since it would spoil the story if you want to read it. However, if someone is reading it I would love to discuss the actions of Mlle Debelleyme. All in all a fascinating read with characters not that easy to understand or love.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Best books read in 2015

Time to have a look at what I have read in 2015 and what turned out to be my favourite books. It is always difficult to name just one, but I will do my best within the different book categories.

The Content Reader
Outlander poster
The Content ReaderSeries: I have read books from six series; Outlander (Diana Gabaldon), Poldark (Winston Graham), Lucy Kincaid and Maxime Revere (Allison Brennan), The Nell Sweeny Mysteries (P.B. Ryan) and the family saga by Swedish writer Jan Guillou. The Nell Sweeny Mysteries was a new acquaintance to me, historical fiction on top of it and the books were so good that I had to download all six books and read them in one go! I thoroughly enjoyed them. I must say though, I love all the series so it is really difficult to choose one!

Fiction: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - a wonderful tale from World War II, seen from the two teenager’s point of view. I would also like to mention Jan-Philipp Sendker’s The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, a lovely story on a daughter’s search for her father’s past.

Fiction/Classics: Lady Audley's Secret by M.E. Braddon - difficult to choose here as well, but this was quite a positive surprise for me, so it has to be this one.

Fiction/Historical fiction: Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites by Franny Moyle. I read a lot of good historical fiction this year, so difficult to choose here as well. I choose this one though, since for me, it was an introduction to the Pre-Raphaelites and their fascinating world and paintings. I have read more historical fiction about them and still have a few to go.

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Non-Fiction: Jag tänker på Linné - Han som såg allt (Carl von Linné) by Karin Berglund. This book about Carl von Linné, the botanist from the 18th century who sorted our flora and fauna into an orderly system, is a master piece and made me see him in a different light. A man dedicated to his main interest in his life and his never tiring pursuit of organising nature.

Non-Fiction/Biography: Daughter of Earth and Water: A Biography 
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley by  Noel Gerson.  The biography about Mary Shelley is superb and I am full of admiration for this outstanding woman, who was so far ahead of her time.

The Content ReaderNon-Fiction/Historical: A Brief History of the Celts by Peter Berresford Ellis. It is a fascinating story about a people who did not leave very much in writing for us to understand their culture. However, Peter Berresford Ellis manages to put their culture together into a fascinating tale of a people who created a highly developed culture for their times.

Mystery: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I read many more mystery books than I normally do. Many of them very good. I really liked this book and the slow developments in the story that make you continuously review you idea of what is going on.

If I have to choose one book that I consider the best read in 2015 it will be:

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

End of the year summary

I would like to start by thanking you all for visiting my blog in 2015. It is always a pleasure and interesting to ’talk’ to fellow bloggers out there. To read your blogs and get inspired. I hope you will continue to visit my blog in the coming year, and I hope to develop it further in 2016.

The Content Reader

The end of the year was spent in lovely Mallorca. The weather was fantastic, with sunshine and around 20 degrees Celsius. Already George Sand and Frédéric Chopin enjoyed ”A Winter in Mallorca”, and I really love the winter here. The climate is fantastic, off tourist season so everything is quiet and peaceful. The sunsets have been amazing in all it colours.

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Sunset from our balcony

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...and the sky a little bit later

Reading in 2015

I have read quite a lot of books in December, although it has been a rather busy month. The last days I have spent on the latest book in the Outlander series. I have kept it on hold, because I know that it will take some time before book number nine is out. In the meantime, we fans of Outlander, are looking forward to season two of the TV-series, which should be out in the spring of 2016.

Looking at the statistics for my reading in 2015, I have divided the genres into Series, Fiction, Non-fiction and Mystery. Fiction is subdivided into Classics and Historical Fiction (one of my favourite genres) and Non-Fiction into Biographies and Historical non-fiction.

Series: 20 books in four series
Fiction: 50, of which 10 Classics and 13 Historical fiction
Non-Fiction: 39, of which 15 Biographies and 10 Historical non-fiction
Mystery: 11

All in all 121 books.


Achievements

On Goodread I opted for a challenge to read 100 books, which I am happy to say I have achieved.

My TBR shelves have seen 42 of 274 books being moved to the read shelves. Although I add new books for these shelves as they come in, still the total number is slightly less than before. I start with 231 TBR books for 2016.  Just means I have to disciplin myself and not buy too many new books.

Not calculated are the books on my iPad mini, where I do download rather frequently. But trying to keep up the pace there as well. I will come back to the Challenges I would like to follow in 2016.

Studies and writing

I am continuing my on-line university course in how to write a historical novel. First half has been very interesting and I am looking forward to the second half which will continue until June.

Future Learn provides fantastic on-line courses on various subjects and length. The longest I took was six week, and others have been three weeks. I am just doing one on Magna Carta and will start a new one in the end of January on the writings of Robert Burns.

I also want to write more, whether be it blog posts, articles or short stories. For me, it is a matter of disciplin and organisation! Let’s just say that some days are better than others!

I wish you all a very good 2016 blogging year and hope to continue to exchange views with you all.

All the best for 2016!