Thursday, 31 October 2013

Tulipomania by Mike Dash - Book Beginnings on Friday Challenge

Since we are popping over to Amsterdam for the weekend I thought it would be interesting to read something connected to Holland. Recently I found a reference to 'Tulipomania' by historian Mike Dash as a reference book for an historical novel. Tulipomania is the name for a period in the Dutch Golden Age in the beginning of the 17th century during which prices for tulip bulbs which had then recently been introduced to Europe reached extraordinarily high levels and then suddenly collapsed. Do we see here a forerunner to modern share markets?

 "The Viceroy", from a 1637 Dutch catalog.
Price between 3,000 and 4,150 
 depending on size. A skilled craftsman at
the timeearned about 300 guilders a year.
Just starting it and it is bound to be a fascinating book. During the years 1633-37 there was a boom in the prices of tulip bulbs than can only be compared to the frenzy of shares today. Fortunes were made and lost over night. People paid more for a tulip bulb than for a house. There are many excellent reviews for this book and I like what Hortus says:  This is tulip-mania-as-ripping-yarn. I can't remember the last time I read a plant book or gardening book that was such a page turner.

Here is the opening line in the Prologue:

They came from all over Holland, dressed like crows in black from head to foot and journeying along frozen tracks rendered treacherous by the scars of a thousand hooves and narrow wheels. 

I also have to add the first paragraph of chapter 1 which is brilliant as well:

The tulip is not a native of the Netherlands. It is a flower of the East, a child of the unimaginable vastness of central Asia. So far as anyone can tell, it did not reach the United Provinces until 1570, and by then it had already been journeying for many hundreds of years from its original homeland in the mountain ranges that run north of the Himalayas along the fortieth parallel. 

Once read there will be a full review of this book.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

La liste de mes envies (My Wish List) by Grégoire Delacourt - European Reading Challenge

In the European Reading Challenge I have said I will read five books from five different European countries. This is the first one and as you see it is a French book (although I read it in Swedish, my French is not that good). This is about Jocelyne an ordinary French woman or any woman. Her life did not exactly turned out the way she dreamed of. She is living in a small French town, married to Jocelyn and have two children (one child died at birth). She has a small haberdashery and she also has a blog about sewing, knitting and similar handicraft. Nothing much happens in her life. The prose is very calm, down to earth and you can feel the eventless life slowly pacing on. The neighbouring shop is run by her friends which are also twin sisters. They always play the lotto and convinces Jocelyne to play as well.

She pays 2 euros for a lotto shine from the machine and wins 18 million euro (or 18 547 301 euro and 28 cents)! She is shocked and doesn't know what to do. She receives a check from the lotto company and hides it in a shoe in her wardrobe and says nothing to her husband or anyone else. She continues her life and you follow her reflections of the past and present.  She considers that she has everything that she needs and she has a loving husband (at least these days), two wonderful children, her shop and her blog which has become very popular and she can now earn money also on the blog. She is afraid that if she tells her husband about the money her whole life will change. The only luxury she involves in is to write a wish list of things to buy. Even the wish list is very moderate and one easily realises that she could almost fulfil the list without the lottery win. I will not reveal the story any further since this would spoil the fun and the story does take some unexpected turns.

Some years ago I read in a Swedish magazine an article on people who have won a lot of money, what they did with it and what happened to their lives. Most people paid off their debts and then bought either a car, boat or any other vehicle of their dreams. However, 80% of all the people had spent all the money within five years! The other 20% had also paid off debts, treated themselves to nice purchases or taken a nice holiday but for the rest they invested the money into something and kept up their normal life style.

Well, think of what you would do and compare to what happens in the book. In the end I think most people agree that money does not make you happy but it can give you a comfortable life and you can help other people.

That is my third book for the European Reading Challenge. You can find the list of the other books here

Monday, 21 October 2013

Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

Charles Dickens has been hot the last year, mainly since 2012 was the 200 anniversary of his birth, but also because after all this time his books are still read and admired. The book about his life that I have read is a brick stone of around 500 pages written by Claire Tomalin. Claire Tomalin is a new acquaintance to me but she will become a close friend in the future. This is an excellently written biography and when you look at the list of books by the same author you have a very interesting list of biographies that she has written. Can't wait to read about Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelly, Katherine Mansfield, Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys and Thomas Hardy.

Back to this book. It is a very thorough and very detailed book. It really must cover most aspects of his life. It covers his younger years, the beginning of his carrier as a journalist, his marriage to Catherine Hogart, his carrier as a writer, his travels (America, Italy, France) his friends, family and monetary problems etc etc. Dickens must have been a man out of the extraordinary considering his energy and his production. It seems he was never still always on the move. His working capacity was above everyone else in his surroundings.

It seems he was a man with a conscious. He often walked the streets of London and not only the fancy streets but the poorer ones. He could see in what misery people lived. His own background where his father was put in jail and the family had to come there to live with him gave him a scar for life. He himself had to start working as a teenager and although he did get an education he was more or less a self made man.

Dickens was one of the most popular writer during the Victorian time.
His books are still known and read today; The Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, A Christmas Carol, Bleak House, Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations and many many more. I think most of them have been filmed several times and some of the have been made into musicals. His legacy is still alive today.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Book Beginnings on Fridays - New Challenge

I just joined this very interesting challenge. I love a good beginning of a book. The sentence(s) that capture you from page 1.

Anna's website:
For my first 'beginning' within this challenge I start with the book I am presently reading; A Rip in the Veil by Anna Belfrage. This is about time travelling which is not really my very favourite theme of a book or movie (although I loved Back to the Future) however this book is rather fascinating. It is about Alexandra Lind who suddenly disappears without a trace. She finds herself transferred to 1658 on the deserted moors of Scotland (same place as where she disappeared in). The transfer is rather violent and she is injured but is luckily found by a nice guy Matthew Graham. Although it turns out that this guy has run away from the gaol and there are soldiers all over the place to hunt them.

In parallel you follow the people she left behind. It turns out that there are more time travellers around and what about her mother who mysteriously disappeared three years ago? The questions are mounting. The story continues to run parallel with past and present. I am now half way through and it is an easy read and stories within the story pops up along the way. It is the first story of the Graham saga of which the third one came out recently.

Here the beginning

The radio died first. Halfway through Enrique Iglesias' Hero there was a burst of static and the display went black. The dashboard lights gave up one by one, the steering wheel locked, the engine coughed, and the BMW glided to a stop by a crossroads.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCaig

I just don't understand how I could have missed this book which came out already in 2007! Me being a fan of Gone With the Wind and all. Unlike the sequel Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley this is not a sequel but takes place at the same time as the story in Gone With the Wind but seen from another angle; that is Rhett Butler and his people. It is an absolutely fantastic book and a MUST for fans of Gone With the Wind.
Reading about the American south,
in the south of Europe, with a glas
of rose overlooking the Mediterranian
Hmmm, not bad

The book follows Rhett Butler and his family from his young years. His parents, brother and his sister who plays the biggest part. There are his childhood friends and the life in Charleston at the time. As the story evolves we also get to meet Scarlett, Melanie and Ashley Wilkes, Miss Pittypat, Mammy, Belle Watling and other old friends. He weaves a fantastic story but wholly credible around these people. The most impressive part is in the way he has taken on the characters. It can not be easy to write on characters created by another author but he does it as if they were his own. Very impressive.

Although, at the time, I read the sequel Scarlett through rather quickly I did not really like how the book saw the future of Scarlett and Rhett. However, as the story is told in this book it makes a perfect match for me. The author is new to me but he has also written Jacob's Ladder which is, according to The Virginia Quarterly "the best civil war novel ever written". I can't wait to put my teeth into that one!

Friday, 11 October 2013

Hampton Court, Henry VIII and others

Last weekend of September my husband and I went to London for the weekend. It is very convenient with Eurostar from Brussels centre to London centre. We are favourable with friends who have an apartment in London where we can stay (thanks a lot R & M). On Friday evening we enjoyed some lovely tapas in a Spanish restaurant and on Saturday we went to Barbacoa one of Jamie Oliver's restaurant. I think I don't have to mention how heavenly that meal was!

Saturday we spent at Hampton Court which was absolutely fabulous. I visited it many years ago but can only remember the maze (probably because I panicked when I couldn't get out of there)! The castle has recently been renovated and the tours through the various apartments is a real treat. Furthermore, the audio guides are really great and give you exactly what you need to know to enjoy what you see.

Hampton Court is forever connected to Henry VIII who never cease to fascinate us. However, part of the castle was renovated in the Baroque stile in the end of the 17th century by William III and Mary II which adds to the fascination of the place. The gardens was renovated accordingly and are quite fantastic even on a late September day.

The BBQ!
Dinner in preparation
We started with Henry's kitchen which is a fascinated place. The amount of food that was prepared here is almost beyond imagination. 75% of the meals eaten here consisted of meat! Hmm, high blood pressure, high cholesterol... Not that people in those days thought of that, but it seems that Henry had scurvy so he should have eaten more fruits and vegetables!

The Great Hall
The great hall in Henry's apartments is something extraordinary. Here we could meet the man himself and his fourth wife Catherine Howard (not that she remained long). Where ever you go you run into characters from Henry's court.  There was also a 'Bedchamber' exhibition. It seems the English looked south to the court of Louis XIV and his 'lever'. From time to time this is where the most important decisions were made by the kings and queens. William III's travelling bed was also displaced. It would not fit into a trunk in our modern cars if I may say. A truck more likely. It was a bed that any of us would like to have fixed at home!

Henry VIII and Katherine Howard
 The Baroque apartments was grand but not much furnished.  William III's private apartment is more comfortably furnished and you can imagine him relaxing there. It seems he was not a man for grand ceremonies and he enjoyed his private space.

We also had a look at Mantegna's grand painting 'Triumphs of Ceasar' which was rather fantastic. To know more about this master piece read 'The Seventeenth Century Lady' blog on the subject

Having spent 4,5 hours around the apartments it was time for a quick lunch and then a quick stroll around the gardens. There are a lot of activities going on during the year so if you are interested check up

Having spent a day with royals I was thinking it would be interesting to read a book about the kings and queens of England from the beginning to the end. Just a little bit about everyone so you can get an idea in which order they came and who was the father/mother, son/daughter, brother/sister. Going to the WH Smith bookshop at Standstead airport I looked through the book cases. In the very end I came to history and biography books and what is hitting me? Exactly. The book I was thinking of. It turned out to be 'The Kings and Queens of England: A Biography' by David Loades. It is one of these books that is difficult to put down so in a few days I had gone through all the famous and less famous royals. I can only say that it was not easy to be a royal in the old times either. You never knew whether you would stay on the throne, be put away or even made away with, maybe ending up in the Tower? Having been visiting Hampton Court, come to think of it, you never knew what would happen if you were a wife either!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Nobel Prize in Literature 2013 - Alice Munro

We are heading towards the end of the year. In Sweden this is the time of the Nobel Prizes. In October when the prizes are announced and on 10 December when the prizes are delivered the eyes of most of the world is turned on Sweden. This is all due to one man, Alfred Nobel (1833-1896). He was a chemist, engineer, innovator and armaments manufacturer. He held 350 different patents of which dynamite was the most famous. In his will most of his money went into the establishment of the Nobel Prize.

The receivers of the scientific prizes are mostly unknown to the general public, but we normally can engage ourselves a little bit more in the prizes for literature and peace (given out in Norway). Especially the prize in literature. Having said that, I think this is probably the most controversial one. To the general public it seems it is often given to writers you have never heard about. Ok, it is fine we are happy to try a new writer. But many of them - at least I think so - are very difficult to read and you have to struggle with the book and do you understand anything of what is written? Hmm... This year is different though. Alice Munro seems to be a reader we all can read and love. I have not read any of her short stories yet but this will be on my list for the near future. Please share your experience of having read her.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

A wonderful bookshop

Hello again. I have been away for ten days and believe it or not no real access to the internet. At least not in such a comfortable environment where I can write something on my blog. But, I have not been lazy, been reading a lot and also visited a wonderful antiquarian bookshop in Palma city on Mallorca. And I want to share this experience with you.

Fitfh & Bond Fine Books (The English Bookshop, Calle Morey 7, Palma (just off Plaza Santa Eulalia - is situated in the old city of Palma, its surrounding very fitting. You come inside and there are books absolutely everywhere. There are some small paths without books and here is where you have to carefully walk along. The whole place is like a labyrinth and where ever you turn there is a book case or books lying on the floor in piles. You come in on the top floor and work yourself downward 3-4 floors. When you are at the bottom of the shop you quietly wonder whether you will find your way up again!

You find here both old and new books in all matters; fiction and non-fiction on literature, geography, history, marine and military history, art, music, film etc, etc plus a room with new pocket books where you can choose 3 for 10 euros. I spent two hours there this time and came out with 6 books for 30 euros. Since I am a book freak I could have bought another 10 if I hadn't controlled myself.

Here are the books that I bought:

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Stories by R.L. Stevenson (this is for my Brontë Reading Group)
Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCraig (look out for a review of this book which will come in a few days)
A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr
Anybody Out There by Marian Keyes
Thackery: A Writer's Life by Catherine Peters
Mrs Jordan's Profession by Claire Tomalin (presently reading her book on Dickens)


If you are in Palma de Mallorca this place is a must! Good luck in venturing into the labyrinth of books. I actually think of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's 'The Shadow of the Wind' and his 'Cemetery of Forgotten Books' when I am here. Closer to that place I don't think you can come. Maybe I should look for it in Barcelona when I am there next.