Saturday, 21 November 2020

Nonfiction November - Week 3


Week 3: (November 16-20) – Rennie@What's Nonfiction is asking you to Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert). 

I have decided that I want to become an expert on 17th and 18th-century history. Mostly European, but the world opens up so much during these centuries that I will definitely read up on other areas. If you have any books to recommend, I am interested. 

I can't really say I am an expert on a specific subject. Possibly, the Brontës of which I have read a lot. I was also a member of the Brussels Brontë Group which was very interesting and educating. So many experts there. A big advantage being in Brussels was that you could follow in the footsteps of Charlotte and Emily who spent two and one years respectively there. 

In the meantime, I am reading a book about Delft and Vermeer. Hopefully, I will have read one of the two books on evolution, anticipated at the beginning of the month. 

Friday, 20 November 2020

Book Beginnings on Fridays and The Friday 56

Friday coming up! I am just wondering where the time goes? Tomorrow the sun is promised, so I hope we can go out for a walk. Very windy here in Sweden now. On the other hand, bad autumn weather is a good excuse to stay at home and read a good book.

Therefore I have chosen one of my favourite authors for this week's beginning and page 56, Sebastian

Barry's Days Without End.

"Time was not something then we thought of as an item that possessed an ending, but something that would go on for ever, all rested and stopped in that moment. hard to say what I mean by that. You look back at all the endless years when you never had that thought. I am doing that now as I write these words in Tennessee. I am thinking of the days without end of my life. And it is not like that now ..."

Book Beginnings on Fridays
hosted by Rose City Reader

"The method of laying out a corpse in Missouri sure took the proverbial cake. Like decking out our poor lost troopers for marriage rather than death."

The Friday 56
hosted by Freda's Voice

"We was told in St Louis to take a northern route because every blade of grass was eaten between Missouri and Fort Laramie. Them thousand thousand horses, cattle, oxen, and mules. Lots of new boys in the 6th, lots of forlorn Irish, usual big dark boys. Joking, all that teasing Irish do, but somewhere behind it the dark wolves staring, the hunger wolves under the hunger moons."

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Classic Spin #25

The Classic Club has announced another Classic spin. This will take us over Christmas and New Year for the deadline of 30 January 2021. The spin will take place on Sunday 22nd November 2020, so make sure you update your list. You should read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period.

There is a problem with Pages in Blogger so all my pages disappeared. It is said they are working on it, but so far no solution it seems. Therefore I put my updated list in this post.

Hope to see you on Sunday and am looking forward to seeing what is awaiting us. 

My spin list (updated 19 November 2020, for spin #25

1. The Master and Margarita by Michail Bulgakov
2. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Carter
3. Daisy Miller by Henry James
4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
5. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoj 
6. The Master and Margarita by Michail Bulgakov
7. Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence
8. Child Harold by Lord Byron
9. House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
10. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
11. In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
12. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
13. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
14. Jaget och det undermedvetna (Die Beziehungen zwischen dem Ich und dem Unbewußten)
by C.G. Jung
15. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
16. Moments of being by Virginia Woolf
17. Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
18. Barabbas by Pär Lagerkvist
19. The Brothers Karamazov by Fjodor Dostojevskij
20. A Writer's Notebook by Somerset Maugham

Saturday, 14 November 2020

Nonfiction November - Vermeer's Little Street by Frans Gruzenhout


I bought two books when I visited Delft earlier this year. All about Delft and painter Johannes Vermeer. Vermeer mostly painted interiors from his(?) house. Young ladies in different occupations around the house, working, maybe being visited by a suitor, or just having a good time. He painted three outside views of which only two are known to exist today. One is View of Delft and one is The Little Street. Both wonderful, as everything that he painted.
"After 1696 we lose sight of The Little Street and the View of Delft for a very long time, and we have heard nothing whatsoever about the third town-scape since then. It is possible that it is lurking unrecognized as an anonymous work in a collection somewhere, or has been lost. The Little Street did not surface for more than a century, when it appeared in the estate of Gerrit Willem van Oosten de Bruyn, who died in Haarlem in 1797."
Since Vermeer became popular again at the end of the 19th century, art historians interested in his paintings have been asking themselves where he painted The Little Street. The buildings are not visible in Delft of today, or even a hundred years ago. The guesses have been many, but not entirely satisfying. Until art historian Frans Gruzenhout (or Grijzenhout) happened to come upon a source never before used for this purpose. 

Due to tax regulations, houses facing the canals and having access to gates towards the canals had to pay extra taxes. The peculiarity of Vermeer's little house is that the neighbouring houses have facing gates. Usually, the houses were built house/gate, house/gate etc. Here we have house/gate, gate/house. Out of only three possibilities, it was possible for Gruzenhout to, almost for certain, place the house on Vlamingstraat, in the mid-eastern part of the city. Furthermore, looking into the habitants of that house he discovered that an aunt of Vermeer had been living there.

Gruzenhout takes us through this mystery with elegance and facts, opening up a whole new world, not only of the house itself but of the family of Vermeer, including friends living in the same street. It is more exciting than any mystery book. 

So why are we so obsessed with which house he painted? " 'The Dutchman's desire to see everything as real: Vermeer's Little Street is there of there, no, it's a painting.' This was how the Flemish author Hugo Claus once responded with irritation when, in an interview with Ischa Meijer, he found himself having to defend his own use of -the convention of reality as a form.' " Because we do not know so much about Vermeer's life, apart from what he left behind, we are more eager to know where he painted the view of The Little Street. Especially, as this was an unusual motif for him. Maybe it is not important which house it is, it still gives us an intimate view of life in the Netherlands at the time. This is also what his other production is giving us. The ordinary people and the way they live. 
"We must, though, guard against drawing too simplistic conclusions in this respect. After all, Vermeer very deliberately chose not to make portraits of the figures in the painting. The face of the seated woman is indicated with no more than a dab of paint, the younger woman in the passage is a very general type and the children, entirely at odds with the conventions of portraiture, are pictured from behind. As is so often the case in Vermeer's work, all the figures seem to be wholly absorbed in their own occupations. In this specific instance of Vermeer's art, therefore, we can best think of these figures as possible allusions to the existence of these relations, whom the painter did not want to immortalize as individuals, captured in the dimension of the time when they lived, but at the same time lifted out of it into a more general, seemingly timeless form."

This last passage describes very well the specifics of Vermeer's paintings. His paintings draw you in, they give you details of life at the time, but still leaves a lot to your own imagination. Vermeer is one of my favourite painters, and it was so interesting to come a little bit closer to him through this painting. Especially, since it is a painting quite different from his most common ones. 

The book contains images of his paintings as well as other contemporary painters. A wonderful story of a painting. The original is exhibited at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. 

Friday, 13 November 2020

Nonfiction November - The Gospel of the Eels by Patrik Svensson

We have reached week 2 of Nonfiction November, hosted by Julie@Julz Read. I  have actually been following my list of reading, which I posted in my initial post about Nonfiction November

Patrik Svensson won the August prize (in Sweden) in 2019 for best nonfiction book with his The Gospel of the Eels. The Eel, Anguilla Anguilla, it seems, is one of of the most enigmatic creatures nature has created. Within the world of natural science, it is referred to as 'the eel question'. People from Aristotle to Sigmund Freud have tried to understand the eel without succeeding. Now it is threatened with extinction and scientists don't know enough of how the eel is living, reproducing and dying.  

Patrik Svensson mixes his own childhood memories of eel fishing with his father, with scientific research on the life of eels. A little touch of philosophy and psychology and he has us hooked. Although scientific research has been going on for centuries, the answer to the enigma of the eel and its life, reproduction process and death is still alluring mankind. The only thing we know is that the Sargasso Sea plays an important part in the life of the eel. That is the place where they are born, reproduce and die. The rest of their lives they live elsewhere. 

The Gospel of the Eels is a charming book and the author holds our interest on both accounts; sweet memories of childhood and interesting scientific developments. One can also consider it as a warning. The eel will disappear if nothing is done within the near future. Mankind usually manages to maintain most species by adding a little bit of 'help' in the process of protection and reproduction. However, when one does not know exactly how the eels reproduce and live their life this is not an option.  

A book for anyone interested in nature and its wonders. 

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Nonfiction November - Week 2


We have reached week 2 of Nonfiction November, hosted by Julie@Julz Read.

Week 2: (November 9-13) – is all about Book Pairing: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be an “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story. 

I read a lot of historical fiction, and find that I often want to read a nonfiction book just to see how well the author has followed history. I recently read The Girl Who Tempted Fortune by Jane Ann McLachlan. It is set in the Kingdom of Naples at the beginning of the 14th century. I have read quite a lot about the time as regards the region of Tuscany and Milan, but not so much about Naples. So far I have not found a nonfiction book to read about this time. Could you recommend one? 

After having visited Florence in February this year (just before the pandemic started) I got inspired to read about this wonderful city. I have read quite a lot earlier and have several books about Florence and the Medicis on my shelves. I did find two books at the library which were interesting. 

  • The Tigress of Forli (Renaissance Italy's most courageous and notorious countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de' Medici by Elizabeth Lev - what a woman! She achieved so much during her life, and in a time when the world was ruled by men. Amazing and interesting. 
  • A book by Göran Hägg about the Medicis - Magnifika miljardärer och mördande mecenater i renässansens Florens (Medici - Magnificent Billionaires and Murderous Patrons in Renaissance Florence - my transl.) 

 This second week I am also reading two books about Delft. We visited Delft in August and it is, as mentioned above, always inspiring to read a nonfiction book about your destination. Delft is so full of history and art that it is difficult to choose. I bought two books at the Vermeer Museum.

  • Vermeer's Little Street by Frans Gruzenhout - it is about one of the few views of Delft that he painted. Review to come.
  • A View of Delft, Vermeer then and now by Anthony Bailey - a history of the city and its most famous resident. Still to read.

Friday, 6 November 2020

Book Beginnings on Fridays and the Friday 56

It has been a while since I posted here. Maybe because, since I now live in Sweden, I read more books in Swedish. We have excellent libraries here and that means I don't have to put more books on my already over-full TBR shelves. My local library has a shelf with new books, or new translations or just themes they want to promote. There I usually find good books. They also have a shelf with themed books related to events, time of the year etc. Now they have a shelf with horror books or at least spooky books. It is not my favourite genre, but I was attracted by this particular book; Thin Air by Michelle Paver. "The higher you go the darker it gets." 

"The Himalayas, 1935

Kangchuenjunga. Third-highest peak on earth. Greatest killer of them all.

Five Englishmen set off from Darjeeling, determined to conquer the sacred summit. But courage can only take them so far - and the mountain is not their only foe.

As mountain sickness and the horrors of extreme altitude set in, the past refuses to stay buried. And sometimes, the truth won't set you free."

Book Beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader

"Were we wrong to attempt the conquest of Kangchenjunga? Some would say that we were, and that it is a sin to lay siege to the highest mountains on earth. Morover, of the three mightiest peaks - Mount Everest, K.2 and Kangchenjunga - seasoned alpinists regard Kangchenjunga as the most lethal. "


The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice

"'My God! My God!' I whispered. Wherever I turned, I was assaulted by dizzying heights of fluted ice, a glaring white against an indigo sky. Such immensity. It was overwhelming. I couldn't take it in. Daunting to think that every one of them is thousands of feet lower than our mountain."

Nonfiction November - Week 1


Nonfiction November has started. Leann@Shelf Aware is guiding us through the first week. The aim is to look at what you have already have read this year, choose your favourite and recommend to others. 

What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year? 

I have read 23 nonfiction books so far. I think that is more than I usually read. Most of them are about history, some biographies and some reflection books. I will not mention all of them here, just a few of my favourites.

The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood by Jan Marsh about the women who surrounded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Very interesting to see the relationships from the women's point of view, and how it affected their lives. 

The Tigress of Forli (Renaissance Italy's most courageous and notorious countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de' Medici) by Elizabeth Lev. An interesting story of an extraordinary woman surviving politics, intrigues, relationships, plagues, war and much more during the end of the 15th century. Her courage and determination never abandoned her. There is an interesting account of how she is trying to protect her people from the plague. Being in a pandemic where we have all learned a lot about these kinds of things, it is amazing to see how well she knew what to do. The paragraph is quoted in my review under the link. 

Laterna Magica by Ingmar Bergman. A surprisingly interesting account on his life and deeds. A talented man, ideas not always understood by others and a creative vein that took him to world fame.  

Ostend by Volker Weidemann is about a gathering of authors, journalists and creative people in Ostende in 1936. Many of them Jews who felt the tightening grip of the situation in Europe. Mostly it is about Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth. It is a gripping, but also a sad account of the present time and the prospects for the future.  

Familjen Mann (Die Manns, The Mann Family) by Tilmann Lahme is a biography about Thomas Mann and his family. The family is somewhat dysfunctional and the family's dynamic very strange. As a reviewer from the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung states: "Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, says Tolstoy. One should read this book to understand the meaning of it." I can only agree. 

You will find the titles of the others that I have read under Read 2020. Nonfiction books have NF after the title. 

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? 

As always my main interest is history, also this year. I have a couple of books on evolution and would like to know more about that. Biographies are also a big interest of mine. In my introduction to Nonfiction November, I choose five subjects: History, Evolution, Literature, Life and Nature. Well, I guess that about covers most subjects?

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? 

I think I recommend all books by Simon Sebag Montefiore. He is a British historian and author and writes fantastic books. Well researched and are read like a thrilling story. A warning though, they are usually very thick. For those interested in Russian history I can recommend:

Catherine the Great and Potemkin (2001) 
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003)

Still have two to read on my shelves: 
Jerusalem: The Biography (2011)
Sashenka (2008) (Fiction)

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?  

I find it interesting to see what other nonfiction readers are interested in. I also hope and am sure I will, be inspired to read something I usually don't read. 

Reading this week

So far I have read two nonfiction books. The Gospel of Eels and an educational book about literature.  I am currently reading Näktergalen (The Nightingale) by Ingela Tägil, a biography about Jenny Lind. She was the most famous opera singer of her time in the mid 19th century. 

Monday, 26 October 2020

Short reviews - part IV

Museum of Broken Promises by Elizabeth Buchan 

"The Museum of Broken Promises is a beautiful, evocative love-story and a heart-breaking exploration of some of the darkest moments in European history.

Paris, today. The Museum of Broken Promises is a place of wonder and sadness, hope and loss. Every object in the museum has been donated - a cake tin, a wedding veil, a baby's shoe. And each represent a moment of grief or terrible betrayal. The museum is a place where people come to speak to the ghosts of the past and, sometimes, to lay them to rest. Laure, the owner and curator, has also hidden artefacts from her own painful youth amongst the objects on display.

Prague, 1985. Recovering from the sudden death of her father, Laure flees to Prague. But life behind the Iron Curtain is a complex thing: drab and grey yet charged with danger. Laure cannot begin to comprehend the dark, political currents that run beneath the surface of this communist city. Until, that is, she meets a young dissident musician. Her love for him will have terrible and unforeseen consequences. It is only years later, having created the museum, that Laure can make finally face up to her past and celebrate the passionate love which has directed her life."

There is a lot to reflect on in this novel, especially memories and what they can do to us. In general, the flashbacks in Prague feel a bit long. The time was different, but Laure's naivety can sometimes feel a little annoying. On the other hand, dreams of love belong to the youth, rightly so. It is interesting to follow how Laure develops between the three, time periods that make up the book. In a way, she is three different persons, with the older one being the most appealing.

It is a story about memories and their impact on our lives.  Patrick Modiano often writes about memory and oblivion in his novels, and asks: "What do you really remember about an event thirty years later - and what do you just think you remember?"

How well it fits in here. Is Laure's memory reliable? Does she interpret the events differently today, with life experience? Laure's memories have kept her imprisoned for the past thirty years. Would it not be better to forget, as many advised her to do? What kind of life do you have if you live on memories based on shattered dreams? 

Contemplating Adultery, The secret life of a Victorian Woman by Lotte and Joseph Hamburger

"'And yet if you knew what rapture it would be for me to minister in any way to the pleasures of a man who loved me as I desire...'

In the early 1830s Sarah Austin, trapped in a loveless and dutiful marriage, falls in love with a man she has never met - a German prince, author of the bestselling book she is translating into English. Their romance by letter becomes increasingly intimate as she eagerly confides the secrets of her inner life - her disappointment in marriage and her hunger for affection.

Thus begins one of the more extraordinary relationships ever recorded its erotic tension and passionate tenderness heightened by the danger of discovery as every nuance of emotion is committed to paper."

This is a fascinating account of the mind and thoughts of a middle-class Victorian lady. Living in a loveless marriage might have contributed to her fascination and love for a man, prince and romantic adventurer, which she had never met. I could not help thinking the couple was very much ahead of their time; a sort of online dating. They wrote physical letters, today we write online. But, with the correspondence, they really got to know each other. That is if they were true to what they wrote. 

The story of how these long-lost letters were found is also interesting. In short, they belonged to the Varnagen collection. During World War II, officials at the German State Library in Berlin moved manuscripts and other documents to a Benedictine monastery in Silesia. This area was ceded to Poland in the postwar settlement. The collection was considered as a war loss until in the 1980s archivists became aware that the collection was kept in the Jagiellonian University at Cracow. 

And then of course... How could I not read a book having as cover The Day Dream by Dante Gabriel Rosetti?

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

"This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of all of them...

In the middle of the night, Creusa wakes to find her beloved Troy engulfed in flames. Ten seemingly endless years of brutal conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans are over, and the Greeks are victorious. Over the next few hours, the only life she has ever know will turn to ash...

The devastating consequences of the fall of Troy stretch from Mount Olympus to Mount Ida, from the citadel of Troy to the distant Greek islands, and across oceans and sky in between. These are the stories of the women embroiled in that legendary war and its terrible aftermath, as well as the feud and the fatal decisions that started it all..."

The Iliad hardly mention any women, I think only Helen (of course) and Briseis. Natalie Haynes has corrected this and gives us a dramatic account of what happened to the women surrounding the fighting men. We meet the goddesses and mortals and get the Troyan war from another angle. It is exciting and thrilling as well as terrifying. Women always fare badly in wars. I love the Greek sagas and their gods and goddesses, and it was nice to meet them again in all their menacing ways; they are after all utterly selfish, revengeful, intriguing, beautiful and ugly, always trying to interfere with both immortals and mortals. Most of the women mentioned in the novel I had heard about, but there are a few new acquaintances. We know what happened to some of the women, but with others Haynes gives us a tale of another life. 

Friday, 23 October 2020

Short reviews - part III

 Three more short reviews of books I really liked.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

"For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens."

At the beginning of 2019, Where the Crawdads Sing, was the top best-selling novel in the US. It has got raving reviews and it does not disappoint. It is a bittersweet story about a girl who grows up alone in the marshes. We follow how she adapts to life, learns about nature where she lives, and how she struggles with survival, emotions and coming to terms with her lonely life. It is an amazing story that stays with you for a long time. Although the murder case affects the story and Kya, it is part of a greater story. Delia Owens deals so well with the emotions and turmoils of Kya's life, so tears are not far away. In spite of this, she never goes sentimental. Kya would not have liked it. The ending of such a story is hard to predict but does not disappoint. One of the books one just have to read. 

in her wake by Amanda Jennings

"A tragic family event reveals devastating news that rips apart Bella’s comfortable existence. Embarking on a personal journey to uncover the truth, she faces a series of traumatic discoveries that take her to the ruggedly beautiful Cornish coast, where hidden truths, past betrayals and a 25-year-old mystery threaten not just her identity, but also her life."

A book I had never heard about, the back cover sounded interesting and it turned out to be a hit. A wonderful story of family ties and what they mean. A woman trying to find her past and future, and discovering things about herself along the way. A wonderfully, written account of a young woman's life and sorrows. 

The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay

"Australia 1948

Anikka Lachlan has all she ever wanted - until a random act transforms her into another post-war widow. Awash in grief, she looks for answers in the pages of her favourite books.

A local poet, Roy McKinnon, who found poetry in the mess of war, has lost his words and his hope. His childhood friend Dr. Frank Draper also seeks to reclaim his pre-war life but is haunted by his failure to help those who needed him most - the survivors of the Nazi concentration camps.

Then one day Ani finds a poem. She knows neither where it came from, nor who its author is. An unexpected and poignant love triangle emerges, between Ani, the poem, and the poet - whoever he may be."

A beautifully written story about a young woman in Australia, her past, her family and her future. The remnants of the war loom over this story. How the affected men are trying to come to terms with their experience and what they have seen, and how it affects their families that were not there. It could easily be read for this part only, but the poem Ani finds gives another dimension to the life of the people in the small village by the ocean. Another bittersweet novel which gives you a lot to think about.