Monday, 31 March 2014

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

A while ago I read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Although I enjoyed the writing I did not like the story. Living in Belgium means that the Congo pops up regularly. I read an excellent account of the times there in King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild. I must admit that Heart of Darkness I found rather confusing. Having read Lord Jim, which I loved, I might have to re-read Heart of Darkness. I will possibly see it in another light now.

The book is narrated by captain Marlow who was also the narrator and traveller to Congo in Heart of Darkness. Jim is a very conscience person and in the beginning of the book he looses his honour as a sea officer. Together with the rest of the crew, who are more or less on the downward run in life, he leaves the boat (more or less on the command of the captain) with 800 pilgrims aboard. Jim was set to try to save the people but the fear makes him paralysed. When the crew finally make it back to harbour a trial is awaiting them. All except Jim disappears so he is alone to face the judges. The boat with the pilgrims is miraculously saved, but that does not make the action of the crew less forgiven. In connection with the trial he meets Marlow and they relate to each other and Jim tells him what actually happened. Marlow somehow likes him and try to help him find another job since he can not work as a crew after the incident. The story follows Jim through Marlow. They run into each other here and there but Jim seems never to come over what has happened. As soon as somebody finds out who he is he travels on.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Are some writers too productive for the Nobel Prize?

I read an interesting article the other day (Göran Everdahl in 'Vi Läser' (We are Reading) on the productivity of writers. Does the literary world look down on writers that write a lot of books, being synonym with; the fewer books the better quality? It is an interesting question and could it be true? Can some writers write several books a year and still keep up the quality? The interest in their stories? Or are the real writers those who struggle to finish a book every three year?

P.G. Wodehouse died in 1975 when he was 93 years old. He wrote five hours a day for the bigger part of his life. With so much writing you just can't publish three books! He was very popular among the general public but also with colleagues like Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell. I think most of us would put the two latter writers in another category of literature as Wodehouse. But does that mean that Wodehouse books are less literary? To be sure the readers probably enjoy Wodehouse's books more than the books of the other two who might need a little bit more reflection and has less humour in them. Don't we all love to laugh once in a while?

P.G. Wodehouse, Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates
They say that Stephen King, one of the most popular writers all time, published more text in 1996 only, than what you find in the Bible (Old and New Testament)! He says now he is slowing down with the writing meaning he only publish three to four books a year. Most writers fade in comparison to Barbara Cartland. She wrote 723 novels, translated to 38 languages and sold 750 million copies! So, can this be called art? Or is art only when a writer publishes very few books, struggles for years in between and is read by a few?

Monday, 24 March 2014

Sleepy Hollow

In the last year I have watched a lot of TV series that I have missed the last years. I prefer to see them at one go.  Unfortunately, they tend to drag on for too many seasons and somewhere along the line you get tired of them. Here some of my favourites in later years:

True Blood, The Tudors, Downtown Abbey, Bones, The Big Bang Theory, Game of Thrones, Hell on Wheels (I am always week for a good western) and many more but these are the ones that come to mind now. My son insisted I had to watch The Walking Dead and although I did not like it in the beginning it has turned out to be very good. Although to be honest I am not sure I have even seen all the parts of the first season!

This time I managed to suggest one for my son. The title 'Sleepy Hollow' turned up regularly here and there so I started to watch it. It begins really good and my son thought so too. But then he asked the 10.000 dollar question. How many seasons can they possibly make out of this? Not too many I would say unless they want you to get tired of it. However, they are looking for the four horsemen of the Apocalypse so maybe there will be four seasons? I doubt it will keep me hooked that long. But for now it is ok.

I think that the general problem for most series is that when they become very popular the producers as well as the viewers want the series to continue. But for a very few exceptions most series are better to be finished on time. I still remember which must have been one of the first series that continued for ever. It was call The Fugitive and ran between 1963 and 1967 with David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble. In the end they produced 120 episodes.

Another obstacle is - once you decide that this is the last season - how do you end it? I think it becomes more difficult the longer it goes on. The other problem is these days that when the first series is done you don't even know if it will continue or not. It all depends on the reception. Furthermore, if it becomes very popular, each new series have to have another story line and as we know, the writers are good and know how to keep you thrilled. Now they say that season seven of True Blood will be the last one. Very good, hopefully they have a very good ending? Personally, I think that the last good season was number four. After that it got a little bit 'wild west', that is; shooting from the hip in all possible directions! You can see that the writers run out of imagination and the stories become thinner and thinner.

Some gorgeous guys!  The Tudors also thrilled us with wonderful
clothes and settings. For True Blood, well not that many clothes,
were there?
I also prefer to know that there is an ending when I start watching something. At least something that has a developing story. Series like The Big Bang Theory, 2 and 1/2 men and Friends for example can continue for ever. The Tudors and The Borgias are series where you know there is an ending. Of course these last series are loosely based on historical events so we know more or less how they will end. That does not make them less interesting. They also tend to have wonderful, colourful settings, castles, homes and clothes.

One series though that I never seem to tire of although now I tend to look at it one or two episodes at a time. That is BONES. It is really good and I enjoy the scientific approach even if I doubt anyone can find out what they do in real life.

What are your favourite TV series?

?Lind? - a world artist and female impersonator

Ship ohoj, New York
Sometimes you discover interesting people just by stumbling onto them. John Lindström is such a guy. It happened when I was looking into the history of Karlskrona and my mother said she had seen a TV program about a world famous female impersonator active in the end of the 19th and beginning of 20th century. He was born in 1877 and came to Karlskrona as a young boy and returned there for his retirement.

Already as a young man he showed talent for the theatre, dancing and singing. By pure luck, of which he seemed to have had a lot, he got a contract with a theatre in Stockholm and that was the beginning of his world tour.  At this stage he was performing as a man and as a woman. However, with reviews saying that he was the most beautiful of the ballerinas he was advised to stick to the female performance. With another dancer, Fanny Holmgren, he went to Helsinki in Finland were they performed together and took lessons. His extraordinary talent included ballet dancing, yes dancing on the toes, which is very difficult for a man. He could also perform singing both in his natural baritone and in a female soprano.

It was not easy for him to dress up as a woman. He used a corset to reduce his waste from natural 95
cm to 55 cm (I come to think of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind!), the whigs were very heavy, far to small shoes, and he had to keep his skin in an impeccable state. Bathing in donkey milk!?

The poster announcing
his performances
He went on to conquer spectators in most of the big metropoles in Europe. He also made a tour to South Africa, Brazil, Cuba and then on to America where he had huge successes. He met a Russian from Odessa who became his wife as well as manager. They toured the world until 1923 when they returned to Karlskrona, bought a house and for the first time in their lives settled down.

The couple met some of the great artists of their time like Enrico Caruso, Sarah Bernardt, Anna Pavlova, Charlie Chaplin and many others.

John Lind died in 1940 in relative obscurity. He is probably more known internationally than he is in Sweden. Modern days impersonators like Danny La Rue looked at Lind as an inspiration and he is part of the history of female impersonators and drag queens. His wife Stephanie, outlived him until 1973. Look at the pictures! I would have like to see him perform.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Weekend bliss

The spring is in the air! But as always when you think it is here the weather changes again. And, as usual, it seems that the best weather is during the week and when the weekend come so working people can enjoy a little bit of good weather it changes! For me, of course, it is not a problem these days when I can enjoy my walks also during the week. However, in the afternoon yesterday the rain stopped and the sun peaked out behind the clouds so my husband and I took a late afternoon walk in the forest close to us.
La Foret/Zonienwood
Another part of the forest
The forest belonged, once upon a time, to the kings and queens of Belgium. However, these days they are common grounds. The really huge forest is now divided in four parts, more or less by a 'plus' shape of highways and the ring road. On either four sides of the 'plus' the forest is available for walking, jogging, biking, riding, having a picnic or other leisurely activities. The weekends all over the year see a lot of activity since a lot of people from Brussels come out here to enjoy a little bit of greenery. Our side of the forest is an Arboretum with trees from all over the world. It is absolutely beautiful. It is also full of one of my favourite type of trees, namely, the beech. With their high, straight trunks and lovely, light green leaves it gives a magic spell to the forest when the sun shines through it. Even when it rains it is beautiful and since there are so many trees, unless it is pouring down, you hardly feel the drops.

Why does this has anything to do with books you might ask yourself? Well, you are right, not that much, BUT, in Swedish the word for book (bok) is the same as for beech (bok)! There you go! Of course the material you print books in comes from trees so trees are very important for book lovers like us. We need more forests!

On the reading front it goes very slow. As usual many books litter my surroundings and I read a little bit here and a little bit there, but I don't seem to be able to finish any books for the moment. OK, promise to finish at least some for next week. Have to keep up with my Challenges if not for anything else. TBR shelves. I still have to finish one for March. Coming up is also the next meeting of our book club where we will read Harvest by Jim Crace. It didn't make it to win the Man Booker prize but, as far as I am concerned, this could mean that it is a good book! Yes, I am being cynical I know and it is Sunday and all!

Enjoy your Sunday with a nice walk or a good book!

Monday, 17 March 2014

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Back in Brussels and ready to bite into my still unfinished books. This review - as you who have followed me lately already know - will not be a positive one. Since I want to be positive I will start by showing you two photos from my garden with the first spring flowers! Sooo nice to see them.

 I have struggled with this book. Normally, I would just have let it go, but I read it for our book club and since all the others had read it and the discussion was good, I decided to read it (little by little). Maybe this is the problem. But the whole book is so depressing so it is not that you leave everything else to continue reading.  The lives of the characters are miserable and they are stuck. The story tells us about four-five characters from a small town/village in India close to the Nepalese border. I am not really sure of the time frame apart from some part in the latter chapters which refers to 1989. However, the story goes back and forth and not always in a straight back and forth way; that is; it is now, then it is then, then it is now and then it is then but before or after last time it was then!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Reading while travelling

Sorry for lack of posts for a couple of days. I am travelling as you might have noticed so more about lovely sights and houses in particular than about books. However, I have not been totally idle on the book front. I have started on a project and am now reading history books, extracts etc to read up on the late 17th and early 18th century as regards Sweden, mainly Karlskrona (south east of Sweden) and Stralsund and Wismar (Swedish areas at the time, presently northern Germany). It is very interesting to go more into details of the different parts of society at the time. Hopefully more on this later on.

That is why my reading list for the time being mostly contains books in Swedish about history especially since I have access to a wonderful public library (see earlier post). But, I am, in my usual fashion, reading several books at the time, however slowly it goes. Just a small update on the present books I keep close by.

Still struggling with The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, as well as Shirley (slightly improving!) by Charlotte Brontë and Spices by Jack Turner. The two first ones are e-books so easy to bring with me on my travels, the last one is a paper back so I left it at home. For my travels I always try to choose a thick book. I always panic that I might run out of something to read while travelling, although this does not happen too often today with my ipad mini reader! Only 'run out' there would be the battery! The chosen one is The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark. Highly praised books about the causes (if possible to find) for the First World War. Promising start, but I have not got very far so I think it has to wait for the return trip.

Upcoming reads will be aimed at my Challenges and TBR shelves. The TBR book I am currently on waiting at home is Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad. Challenges awaiting are 2014 Monthly Motif which for March is Fairy tales or Fairy Creature - read a fairy tale retelling or a book with fey/fairies in it. I choose a classic that I wanted to read, namely, Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie on which I have started. It will also fit into my A Century of Books challenge for the year 1911. Book Beginnings on Friday is also waiting for a good beginning but there you never know what will pop up! Historical Fiction Reading is also waiting for a new book. I choose Renaissance reader with 10 books and have only finished one. Maybe I will try one I have downloaded called The King's Concubine by Anne O'Brien.

There you go, an update of what I am up to book wise! How are you coping out there?

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Thursday, 6 March 2014

The Importance of Library Etiquette

A post from The Seventeenth Century Lady takes up the problem with too noisy libraries. In the old days coming to a library meant walking into silence. If somebody wanted to say something you whispered so you wouldn't disturb the other people. As Andrea says:

"Now, in the "Look at Me" culture that seems to dominate, many people disregard basic courtesy and respect for other patrons. If anyone objects to this, they are ridiculed as being hoity-toity and old-fashioned. To highlight this, I tweeted about this yesterday, only to receive abuse from precisely those who would be loud and obnoxious in libraries."

Library in Karlskrona
built in 1959
I couldn't agree more. A library should be a place where you are quiet and try to respect other people who come there for exactly the same reason. If you want to be social you can always go to a café or a bar. You can speak, of course, but you should speak in a quiet way. I don't often go to the library in Brussels, mainly because I read in English or Swedish, but now I am visiting my parents in Karlskrona, Sweden and one of my favourite spots is the library. They have almost everything it seems. You can start one stair down in a reading room with nice tables and chairs where you can choose from quite a lot of Magazines on all different subjects. Or you can sit there and write in a quiet milieu. Back upstairs your have the main space and one floor up you have a 'balcony' where you can also sit and enjoy a book. There are computers as well if you need this service. Tables and chairs in all the different rooms for you to enjoy and sit down and go through a book even if you don't want to borrow it. I envy all of you who have this service on a regular basis.

To my great relief this is still a quiet library! It does not mean that people don't speak but it is done with a low voice and in respect of all the people visiting.

Monday, 3 March 2014

The Hanseatic League - Stralsund and Wismar

Schiffercompagnie founded in 1488
to work in mutual benefit of
merchants and seafarers 
As I wrote in an earlier post I have been visiting two of the cities in the Hanseatic League, Stralsund and Wismar. Beautiful cities both of them but I have a small preference for Stralsund where you were really transferred to the Medieval times and all the way up to the 19th century. It has been a little bit of a problem coming back to the 21st century! The houses are absolutely beautiful and during recent times a lot of renovation has been taking place. So what is the historical significance of these cities?

Door carving beauty!
These are two of the cities of the Hanseatic League or the Hansa. At the peak of their power they had as many as between 80 and 100 member cities. The League was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and although not on governmental level one can maybe call it a forerunner to the European Union with member cities rather than member states. It
included cities from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland during the Late Middle Ages and early modern period, i.e. 13th to 17th centuries. This was turbulent times and the reason for creating the League was to help each other protect economic and legal interests and diplomatic privileges in the areas where the merchants did their trade. The cities had their own legal and defence systems and helped and protected each other when necessary. However, they were not city-states since only a small number of the cities had some kind of autonomy.