Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen by Jane Aiken Hodge

thecontentreader.blogspot.comJane Austen’s popularity never seems to cease. New biographies enter the market at regular intervals. Thank you to Endeavour Press, who provided me with a review copy, I have read Jane Aiken Hodge’s biography of Austen’s life, from 1972. It still feels very modern. It could be that a newer biography would have more revelations on Austen’s life, but I am not sure. The main problem writing about Jane Austen’s life is, that there are not that many facts to base it on. Some letters survive, but many were destroyed by her sister Cassandra after her death.

Jane Aiken Hodge has written a charming biography of one of the most popular English writers. This was not the case in her own time though. Apart from Pride and Prejudice, which was the most popular, the others did not do that well. She wrote the first books several years before they were actually published. The first book she wrote, which her father managed to sell to a publisher, was Susan. It was never published and years later, her brother Henry bought it back from the publisher. Jane Austen rewrote it and it was finally published posthumously as Northanger Abbey.

I recently read two other books connected to Jane Austen; Jane Austen and Food (review) and Jane Austen and Names (review) by Maggie Lane. Maggie Lane compared food and names in Jane Austen’s books with culture and tradition at the time and how it might have been in her own life. The conclusion was that Jane Austen knew very well what she was talking about when she described food, meals and tradition because she based it on her own experience. This comes to mind now, when I read this biography. Jane Aiken Hodge follows the letters chronologically and pair it with glimpses from Jane Austen’s life. Her letters tell us that she was a very witty, sharp and humorous person. Her letters follow the style she uses in her books. It is easy to mistake quotations from her letters for something from one of her books. Her real life and the life of her books are woven into each other. Just like the food described in the books are typical for the time, and the names she gives her characters are often found in her own family, it seems that she has taken a lot of inspiration from her own life. Jane Aiken Hodge shows us places, excursions and trips that Jane Austen went to/on and how similar outings ended up in her books.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Sunday bliss - after the battle!

Through the woods to Waterloo
Yesterday was a lovely day. Small clouds on a blue sky, nice temperatures and a small wind. A
perfect day to go biking. My husband and I decided to bike over to Waterloo, to visit the battlefield and some of the farms, which were part of the battle, but not so accessible when we were there last time.

We were not entirely sure on the biking route to Waterloo, but started out in the forest, enclosing our part of the suburbs. As usual this is such a treat, biking or walking under the huge beeches. They are standing very close, so the sun comes down in rays only. Absolutely beautiful. At one point we had to take the tunnel under the highway to go over to the other side. Too close to the big road, but we made it into the village of Waterloo, to continue over to the battle field area.

Buddy looking cool amidst a palm
tree in a Waterloo restaurant!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Paris in July 2015 - Button competition

Tamara, hosting this years' 'Paris in July' on Thyme for Tea opened a Button competition. There has been many nice creations forwarded.

I contribute with these two:

Bike, Read and Bookswapping

Yesterday was a busy, bookie day! Weather has turned nice, warm and sunny. I perfect day for a bike ride through the forest, down to the next village of Terveuren. There is a huge park, with lovely ponds and birds. I stopped there to sit on a bench in the sun and read The City of Fallen Angels by John Berendt.

In the evening I went to the book swapping club which celebrated its 5th anniversary. Lots of people, a wonderful singer-songwriter, Sandra Ferretti, accompanied by guitarist Daniel Vincke, who entertained us with popular music. Both I and my friend Karin managed to convince our husbands to come as well. We took this opportunity to try out the food in the restaurant and found a table outside! Yes, for once this year we could sit outside.  We had a lovely meal of Cevapcici and a wonderful red Macedonian Merlot wine.

For the book swapping I had brought four books and got three with me back home. Mind you the 'Berlin' book was chosen by my husband. We intend to go there for a weekend, so this guide book will come in handy.

The Book of Salt by Monique Truong I took to read for Paris in July. It "takes the reader on a strange journey, from Indochina to Paris, as the Vietnamese cook for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas reveals his own fascinating story...". Sounds intriguing I think. What do you think? Anybody who has read it?

Monday, 22 June 2015

The Battle of Waterloo - bicentenary anniversary

Two hundred years ago, on 18 June 1815, one of the most famous and important battles in modern history took place in a small village outside Brussels called Waterloo. It was to determine the future of Europe. As for a 'Pyrrhic' victory (named after king Pyrrhus of Epirus whose army defeated the Romans at Heraclea in 280 BC and Asculum in 279 BC; his army suffered irreplaceable casualties and is quoted by Plutarch as saying:  one other such victory would utterly undo him) the term Waterloo became synonymous with something difficult to master. Lord Byron, in a letter to Thomas Moore wrote: "It (Armenian) is ... a Waterloo of an Alphabet." Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was the first to use the meaning of someone meeting their Waterloo: "We have not yet met our Waterloo, Watson, but this is our Marengo." (from Return of Sherlock Holmes). Marengo refers to the battle Austrian forces fought against Napoleon in Italy, where he came close to a defeat. After the battle Wellington said: "My heart is broken by the terrible loss I have sustained in my old friends and companions and my poor soldiers. Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won."

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Weekly haberdashers!

I love the word haberdasher. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I see this as a small old fashioned shop with a little bit of everything. I suppose it is mostly connected to sewing and everything that goes with it (unfortunately, it does not at all go with me, I am hopeless with a needle and thread), but I use it freely and include books and other things into it.

I have just finished two books. One I actually won on a creativity web-site in Sweden, called in my own translation Creativity without fuss by Stefan Ekberg. It is about creative people, going into business, but I think a lot of it is also applicable on myself and my blogging.

The other one is one I have been reading for a long time, a non-fiction called Kalmarunionen by Lars-Olof Larsson, about the Kalmarunion. It was a union between Denmark, Norway and Sweden that lasted from 1397 - 1523, although it seems it was nevertheless most fighting wars than understanding.

Talking about fighting wars, leads me into the big event taking place in Waterloo, outside Brussels, the next couple of days. It is the bicentenary celebration (if one may put it like that) of the battle of Waterloo, which took place on 18 June, 1815. There will be an re-enactment of the battle, of which I am lucky to have a ticket. I am going with a group from the Brontë Society in England and the Brussel's Brontë group. The connection here is that the Brontë sister's big hero was the Duke of Wellington, so there will be a talk as well.

I have also finished Waterloo, A Guide to the Battlefield by David Howarth and will come back with a small review of that one. And of course... a review from the events on Saturday. I am a little bit split about events like this, since I do not like war and battles. As Wellington put it when he rode around the battlefield in the evening: 'A victory is the greatest tragedy in the world, except a defeat.'

Monday, 15 June 2015

Can Reading Make You Happier?

Through 'Pocket' I found this interesting article in The New Yorker by Ceridwen Dovey. There he explains how he several years ago, received a gift from friends. The gift was a remote session with a bibliotherapist. Personally, I have never heard of such therapists, but obviously they exist. This specific therapist works at the London headquarters of the School of Life, “which offers innovative courses to help people deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence.” He was rather doubtful about the good of it all, but since it was a gift he tried it out.

Monastery library in Valldemossa, Mallorca
He received a questionnaire about his reading habits, from bibliotherapist, Ella Berthoud. Never before had anyone asked him about his reading habits and he was quite happy to fill in the form. One question was “What is preoccupying you at the moment?”. His answer was that he did not know how to cope with grief if he was losing somebody. This started an exchange of e-mail to find out more of his wishes, and in the end, Ella Berthoud came up with a list that she suggested he read.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Paris in July!

It is time for the wonderful, month long blog exchange of "Paris in July". Hosted this year by Tamara at Thyme for Tea. I joined for the first time last year, and it was such a nice experience, so I am signing up again.
Paris in July 2015
Tamara explains:
"Paris in July is about to enter into its 6th year and probably doesn't need too much of an introduction for many of you. For newcomers to this event - Welcome :)

The aim of the month is to celebrate our French experiences through reading, watching, listening, observing, cooking and eating all things French!  There will be no rules or targets in terms of how much you need to do or complete in order to be a part of this experience – just blog about anything French or Paris, or Paris-like, and you can join in! Some ideas might include;
reading a French themed book – fiction or non-fiction,
watching a French movie,
listening to French music,
cooking French food,
experiencing French, art, architecture and travel "

Friday, 12 June 2015

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

One more book from my TBR shelves. And what a book. When I finally took it in my hand, I realised I have read another book by this famous writer, Arthur and George, which I remember liking. I also have A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters. The reason I left it there (I actually think I got it from a friend, thank you Lena) was because I mixed up  Barnes with another writher, which book I did not like. Can't remember either the writer or the title, which might be as well.

The first part of the book is about Tony Webster and his friends during their studying days. They were three, but was extended to a group of four when Adrian Finn arrived at school. Adrian is different from the other boys, more serious and more intelligent. They all swore to be friends for life. However, life does not always turn out as we want it to.

It is also a book about history, how it is interpreted, and when does something become history. What is true and what is not. The following exchange shows that not even recent history is necessarily clear cut (sorry for the long extract, but I find it very interesting). When the teacher asks; "What is history?", Adrian Finn answers:

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Tell Him About It by Holly Kinsella

The name of Holly Kinsella sounds familiar, but I have never read anything by her. So when Endeavour Press asked if I wanted to review a couple of books, I choose this as one of them. I had a notion that it would be an easy, light hearted read.

Tell Him About It tells the story of Sara Sharpe who works as a publicity assistant for a big British publisher. She is sharp(!) and interested in her job, which is more that can be said by some of her colleagues. Sara is dating Simon, who is a successful lawyer and everybody expects them to marry. However, Sara is not sure that Simon is the right for her.

Adam Cooper is a writer who has just published a new book. It falls on Sara to take care of him and arrange for a lecture and signing tour. Adam is newly divorced from a socialite, who has spread bad things about him in the press. First impression seems to be true, but Sara discovers something else under the surface.

I probably do not have to tell you how this story ends? This is what I think people call a 'feel good' novel. It is framed by some 'insight' into the publishing world, adding something from the gossip world and coming to the conclusion, that what really matters, is the quiet life at home with the person you love! Well, I think we can all agree to that.

It makes for a few hours of relaxed reading, and it is not badly written. It works as a break in between more serious books.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Back home!

After almost a month in Sweden, I am back home, which always feels good! In Sweden the lilacs are still in bloom. Here our own lilac is past the flowering season. But, it looked like this

Yesterday we could even enjoy a glas of champagne with strawberries in the evening sun. I think it is almost the first day of this year, that we can sit outside!

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Vasadöttrarna (The Vasa Daughters) by Karin Tegenborg Falkdalen

We have two dynasties that have been on the Swedish throne since the 16th century; The Vasas and the Bernadottes. The last one is the present family. The first king of the Vasa dynasty was Gustav Vasa who reigned between 1523 and 1560. He was married three times, and got one son in his first marriage, the future king Erik XIV and eight sons and daughters with his second wife, and none with his third wife. Maybe because he was rather old and she was rather young.

Three of his four sons succeeded him as king of Sweden; Erik XIV, Johan III and Karl IX. One son, Magnus, had an illness and died rather young. He had five daughters of which we don't know so much. Not surprisingly, considering that daughters in those days were much less important than sons. Their advantage was that they got a good marriage, mostly to improve the family and contacts with other European dynasties. This book is about his daughters.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Varied reading

I brought some Swedish books with me for my trip to Sweden. I took them from my TBR shelves, so
it feels good to tell you that I have finished them. And...on top of it, they were very good. Also taking the opportunity to borrow books from the library while here, which is a real treat. Just a few lines about the books.

Svinajakten (The Wild Boar Hunt my translation) by Anna Bovaller. A new writer for me, but I will be happy to read more from her. It is about a lawyer Petra, living in Stockholm, and having a summer house in Skåne, in the south west of Sweden. While there for a weekend she runs into a former boy friend from years back. He is married and has just inherited a big mansion. Before you know it, he dies in a hunting accident. At least that is what everybody think. Except, the loyal house keeper who says that he was killed. When she is killed as well, the local police and Petra get involved in the solving of the cases. It is excited to the very end, and the culprit was a surprise! A perfect summer read.

Halva liv (Half lives my translation) by Mats Strandberg. Also a new writer, that I would welcome back. Jessica is devastated when her boyfriend Jacob disappeared from one day to the next. Several years later, her grandmother dies, and she goes back, also to Skåne, to attend the funeral. She stays on during the summer to take care of the house while her grandfather and uncle travel to Spain. Her grandmother wrote a diary directed to her, which she now receives from Solveig, who was one of the few friends her grandmother had. The diary reveals a family secret that has been kept hidden for 60 years. It is a wonderful book about Jessica who is trying to come to terms with her life, her family and Jacob, and a summer when all the secrets are revealed and life can start again.

River Cottage Every Day by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. A cook book with healthy food, more or less gluten free. It contains a variety of recipes for breakfast, soups, sallads, fish, meat, chicken etc. I have already tried some of the recipes and they are fast, easy to do and taste delicious.

Dackefejden (The Dacke Revolt my translation) by Bo Alvemo. Nils Dacke was the leader of the last big rebellion in Sweden. He had his heydays in 1542-43 when he tried to topple the Swedish king, Gustaf Vasa. The story is interesting and mostly because it takes place in all the small places in Småland and Bleking in the south east of Sweden, where I grew up. Dacke gathered farmers who were tired of paying very high taxes to the king, and tired of the hard and violent tax collectors. Småland and Blekinge Sweden and Denmark in those days, which complicated the matter further. He and his men were successful for some time and managed to control quite a big area of Småland. However, in the end, the king won, Dacke was killed in battle and the rebellion died down. In Virserum, where I was born, we used to visit a Dacke cave. In this area was also the last battle when Dacke was killed. Every village in Småland and Blekinge have a cave where Dacke was supposed to have hidden!

Still to read from my library lot is Lasse i Gatan about a Swedish pirate in the 18th century. Yes, it seems even we had them in the Baltic and Nordic Seas.