Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A 2017 Challenge - The Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge

Time for another challenge that popped up in my Feedly. It is the 2017 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape With Dollycas, which I have not done before. The idea is to read one book for each of the letters in the Alphabet. Go to link to see the rules. As always I try first hand to grab a book from my TBR shelves. Here is my initial list. Curious to see if I can fill up the whole list from these shelves? Since I am Swedish and we have three more letters than the English alphabet, I added them. Just for the fun of it. Hope it is ok.

A - Aldermans arvinge by Gabriella Håkansson
B - Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
C - Colombus, The Four Voyages by Laurence Berggren
D - Darwin's Sacred Cause, Race, Slavery and the quest for Human Origins by Adrian Desmond and James Moore
E - Eleanor, The Secret Queen by John Ashdown-Hill
F - Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
G - Gabriele d'Annunzio by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
H - Historien om Lissabons belägring by Jose Saramago
I -  If you Could See Me Now by Cecilia Ahern
J - Jorden runt på 80 dagar by Jules Verne
K - Krysalis by John Trenhaile
L - Lisbeth by Ragnhild Hallén
M - Moderspassion by Majgull Axelsson
N - Notorious by Janet Dailey
O - Ofredsår by Peter Englund
P - Påven Johanna by Donna Woolfolk Cross
R - Russka by Edward Rutherford
S - Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder
T - The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
U - Unsolved Mysteries of Amsterdam by Martijn J. Adelmund
V - Viskar ditt namn by Kristin Hannah
W - Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence
Å - Återvändaren by Butler & Öhrlund

Well, five letters missing, so have to look for them elsewhere. Otherwise, I am quite pleased that I could come up with almost all the books from my own shelves. Looking forward exchanging views with all the participants.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Mrs Robinson's Disgrace (The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady) by Kate Summerscale

Kate Summerscale is a journalist/author who specialises in books about real life events. Some years ago I read her The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House, telling the story of a little boy being murdered in the midst of his family, in the mid 1800s. It was an interesting account on the police work and probably the first time that the private lives of the Victorian family concerned, was not so private anymore.

The title of this book teased me, and I was not aware of the actual theme of the book when I bought it. I figured it would be a daily account of a Victorian lady, which would give me a glimpse into her world. It was not exactly what I expected.

Mrs Robinson was married to Mr Robinson (of course) in her second and not entirely happy marriage. The husband was occupying himself with his business and often left his wife on her own. She did not really have anyone to confide in, so did so to her diary.

It is full of her daily life, her family, friends and her infatuations with different men. It is all very well, until she, several years later, becomes ill and her husband finds her diary. He takes it, reads it and immediately files for a divorce.

It seems that in the mid 1800s laws were changed and it was a little bit easier and affordable to get a divorce. However, this case was rare, since the husband used the diary of his wife as a means to prove that she had been unfaithful.

Summerscale moves between the diary notes and historical data of the time. We get a glimpse into the life and customs, as well as events happening around the trial. What is interesting is to see how judges, male of course, viewed women and women's sexuality at the time. There was a lot of developments within psychology, phrenology and sexuality going on in the mid 1800s, and Summerscale skilfully incorporates these developments into the overall story.

I found it quite fascinating, but at the same time a little bit sad. Mainly that a private account, that was not supposed to be read by anyone else, was used in a very public trial.  One can only imagine how it would have hurt her to have it all read out in the court room. I will not reveal either the outcome and more details of the diary. However, the verdict in the end is quite surprising. Maybe not the verdict as such, but the reasoning behind it.

An interesting tale of times gone by. Kate Summerscale has given us another historical account,  with great knowledge of the time and the customs and how the Victorian upper class lived their lives.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

What's in a Name - challenge 2017

We are nearing the end of the year and it is time to have a look at the results from the 2016 challenges. While doing this, I have noted that the 2017 challenges are building up, and, as usual, a lot of interesting ones. My main challenge this year was to lower my TBR shelves, and any challenge I joined would have to fit in to the various books on these shelves. It has worked out very well. So far I have read 44 books from these shelves, and I hope to be able to finish at least 50 this year. Six to go! There are still 206 minus 44 = 162 books on my shelves, but I am slowly getting there. The aim is another 50 for 2017.

I love all the challenges I am participating in this year. One which is already there to sign up for in 2017 is "What's in a Name" hosted by The Worm Hole. You find the criteria and link-up on the link. For 2016 I have three more books to read, and I just picked them out from my shelves in order not to forget. They are:

Light in August by William Faulkner
The Binding Chair by Kathryn Harrison
Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

The following criteria is set up for 2017 (my choices after the brackets).

A number in numbers - I have no title with numbers, so have to find. Otherwise I might use Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks

A building - The Mill on the Floss by George Elliot

A title which has an ‘X’ somewhere in it - Kansler Axel Oxenstierna 1&2 by Gunnar Wetterberg

A compass direction - East of Eden by John Steinbeck (in a book with his collected works)

An item/items of cutlery - Nothing that fits, so have to find a book for here.

A title in which at least two words share the same first letter – alliteration! - The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Looking forward starting the new year with this challenge. Are you participating in any challenges next year?

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Dansa på deadline (Dancing on deadline) by Alexander Rozental and Lina Wennersten

Dansa på deadline is a book about procrastination, written by psychologist (Alexander) and journalist (Lina). A very interesting book, especially if you are a master of procrastination! When I started the book, I was a little bit surprised. How come these people, which I do not know personally, have been writing a book about me? Everything I read could be directly related to my own life. After the first initial chock, I realised it probably means I am not the only procrastinator in the world.

The book is very well written. Very pedagogical and it speaks directly to you. After each chapter there are exercises and good advice to help you in the right direction. I have not yet done the exercises, but will do those which seem most applicable to myself.

Here are a few things to consider.
  • Impulsive persons have the biggest difficulties with procrastination. They have no patience or disciplin to wait for the reward. They choose the easiest and least satisfying tasks first and the more troublesome tasks at the end, when there is no more time to deal with them. We use self control to deal with impulsiveness. Self control makes us work towards the goal, even if it lingers in a rather far distant. Lack of self control makes you distracted and you probably turn to tasks that give you the reward sooner. Therefore the more complicated tasks, the more they are delayed until the very last minute. 
  • Lack of self confidence is another culprit and makes it more difficult for us to reach the goal we are aiming at. It goes hand in hand with self-efficacy, that is; confidence in your own ability to act towards a set target. Self confidence and self efficacy are developed depending on experiences during our childhood. To challenge ourselves will take us in the right direction. To set up goals and manage to fulfil will boost our self confidence.
  • It seems people doing sports normally are less prone to procrastination. This goes hand in hand with the fact that to be a good sportsman/woman you have to have discipline. 
  • For the more complicated tasks, and where there is a deadline, we do the first part of the task using 80% of total time. The other half is done during the last 20%. 
  • A good way to reach a satisfactory achievement is to set smaller goals along the way. If we see the very big mountain in the end, we tend to turn to other tasks more easily to fulfil and finish. If we just look ahead for the next 400 metres, it is easier to reach this level and from there take another small step. 
  • It is also important to take breaks from time to time. Take a 5 min break; take a small walk, get some coffee or tea or speak with a colleague. 

The book contains a lot of interesting research, statistics and advice how to get around procrastinating. It is easy to grasp, and while it is in Swedish, I am sure there are many books out there in English tackling the problem. A lot of the research come from US universities. I hope, with the help of the exercises and all the good advice, I will be able to find a good routine so I can put procrastination behind me.  Having said that; you can imagine my procrastination before finalising this post!

What about you? Are you prone to procrastination? Or are you digging straight into a difficult task, plan it accordingly and finish it a little bit ahead of the deadline?

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Charles Dickens - Compassion and Contradiction by Karen Kenyon

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
This is the opening line from one of Charles Dickens most famous books, A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens is considered one of the greatest novelists during the Victorian era. Almost all of his books are famous and has created unforgettable characters, whose names are used, still today, by artists and alike. He was considered a genius already in his life time. Numerous are the biographies written about him. A couple of years ago I readCharles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin. An excellent, and detailed, account of his life, his work and his times. It is highly recommended. However, if you want to read a shorter account of his very active life, I can recommend Karen Kenyon's Charles Dickens: Compassion and Contradiction publish as an e-book by The Odyssey Press/Endeavour Press.

Karen Kenyon is an American teacher in writing and author of poetry, essays, interviews and travel articles. She has written a well researched, very compassionate, vivid account of the life, works and times of Charles Dickens. Nothing is missing. With compassion she takes us through his traumatic childhood, which was to stay with him all his life, and gave him his social conscience, always present in his literary work.  He was an avid walker, and walked for hours around London's poor areas, watching and noticing people around him and the life they led. Later on he visualised them in his novels.

His compassion led him to write news articles and he even created newspapers who dealt with many of the social problems of the day. Most of his life, he was under a lot of stress to complete his stories, often first printed as weekly instalments in the newspapers, before they were printed as a book. This was a new way of reaching out to the poor people, who could buy a paper, but could not afford books. He was immensely popular. Due to a very strict disciplin, which he kept all his life, there was nevertheless  time for his friends and people in need. He seems to have been working all the time.

So, where do the contradictions come in? One part of his life that he failed in, is his family. In 1836, 24 years old, and having already started writing the Pickwick Papers, he married Catherine Hogarth, daughter of the editor of the Evening Chronicle.  They were two different kind of people and with the years they became more estranged. Catherine's love for Dickens however, lasted a life time. His went away as the number of children grew! They had 10 children and somehow, it seems, he blamed Catherine for the number of children! Their family life was turbulent. Catherine suffered from depressions, and especially post natal depressions, of which Dickens had no understanding or patience. Most of their life Catherine's sisters lived with them to help her with the big family, of which she was not able to cope. Where Dickens had compassion and an interest to do good as concerned his friends and the poor people of the day, he had no compassion with his own family. In 1858 the couple separated, and most of the children stayed with Dickens. At this time he had also met Ellen Ternan, an actress, which he fell in love with. The art of their relationship is still somewhat unclear.

Dickens led a turbulent life in private as well as in his official role of the master, genius author. His involvement in the social problems of the day, gave him the base he needed in creating immortal characters and stories. Kenyon, takes us through Dickens literary life and weaves his private life, compassions and contradictions into it. It is a wonderful tale, of a unique character, who, with his charisma and pure energy, managed to live his life fully. Kenyon, successfully, tells his story with all the energy he himself put into his life. The biography almost feels like a roller coaster, where you follow him through the different parts of his life, almost without thinking or breathing. It is difficult to put down this book. A fascinating book about a fascinating character.

Thank you to The Odyssey Press/Endeavour Press for a review copy of the book. The views above are my personal ones.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016


Rose City Reader hosts a A Once-In-A-While Blog Event called "What is Storyline Serendipity? It is finding happenstance in the books you read. Serendipity seems to be a rather difficult word to translate into other languages, so let's take a look on where the word Serendipity comes from.

According to Wikipedia "Serendipity means a "fortunate happenstance" or "pleasant surprise". It was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754. In a letter he wrote to a friend, Walpole explained an unexpected discovery he had made by reference to a Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip. The princes, he told his correspondent, were "always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of". The notion of serendipity is a common occurrence throughout the history of scientific innovation such as Alexander Fleming's accidental discovery of penicillin in 1928, the invention of the microwave oven by Percy Spencer in 1945, and the invention of the Post-it note by Spencer Silver in 1968."

Serendipity happens to me from time to time. A word or a place you have never heard of before and then it pops up here and there. It happened to me when I read the word "dipsomaniac" in Thomas Hardy's novel Jude the Obscure. I had to look it up to see what it means. It is a synonym, maybe used more in the past than the present (?), for alcoholic. Shortly afterwards I read the word in another novel, although I am not able to remember which one.

A new happenstance turned out lately. Having read Diana Gabaldon's book Outlander I ran into (not physically (!)) the battle of Prestonpans which took place on 21 September 1745 within the Jacobite rising. Reading Kidnapped by R.L. Stevenson it popped up again. The hero David Balfour is kidnapped and sent on board a ship. After a while he manages to escape together with a Scottish freedom fighter Alan Breck Stewart. While making their way back to the village where David will fight for his inheritance he has a chat with Alan.
“What,” cried I, “were you in the English army?”“That was I,” cried Alan. “But I deserted to the right side at Prestonpans – and that’s some comfort.”I could scarcely share this view: holding desertion under arms for an unpardonable fault in honour. But for all I was so young I was wiser than say my thought.“Dear, dear,” says I, “the punishment is death.”  
Recently, I opened the book The Witch from Portobello by Paulo Coelho. In the first chapter we meet Heron Ryan who is asked by his former teacher to follow her to Prestonpans in Scotland. From Paul Coelho's website I found the following:
"On 31 October 2004, resorting to a feudal law that was abolished the following month, the town of Prestonpans in Scotland granted official pardon to 81 persons – and their cats – executed for practicing witchery in the 16th and 17th centuries.According to the official spokesman for the Barons of Prestoungrange and Dolphinstoun, “most of them had been condemned without any concrete proof – based only on the witnesses of the accusation, who declared that they felt the presence of evil spirits.”"
So it is that Prestonpans has now popped up three times in my life. I am awaiting the fourth time. Let's see what the future has in line for me. Do you have any similar experiences in your reading or daily life?
The battle of Prestonpans in the Outlander version

Monday, 7 November 2016

Books read lately

Finally got going with my reading again. It feels great! Here just a few short lines on the latest books that I have read.

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler - the book was nominated for the Man Booker prize, and rightly so. I really loved this low toned, matter of fact story of a man who does not have much going for him. In spite of that he accepts life as it comes, makes the best of it and never venture into dreams he can not fulfil. A magically, wonderful book of a life without few expectations. Although I find the book very sad, Seethaler manages to keep it on a high level and does not venture into self pity for his character.

Grymhet (Cruelty) by Birgitta Lindqvist - she spent time working in China and the book contains short stories from her experience there. As the book title indicates it is often a cruel life she meets, but she manages to write magic into the stories and they leave you with a wow experience and a greater understanding of a different culture.

Skrivandets sinne by Elisabeth Rynell - a book a read for my studies in creative writing. Small stories on the mind of writing, thought worthy and poetic at the same time. She relates to her own writing and what has inspired her.

The Hour Glass Factory by Lucy Ribchester - I bought this book when the author visited Brussels. She told us about using real events to make a fictional story. The times are fascinating (London beginning of the 20th century) but I could not really get into the book or the characters. The story tended to drag out and a lot of details which, to me, was not entirely relevant.

Porto Francos väktare (Porto Francos guardian) by Ann Rosman - an audio book I listened to during my trips to and from Sweden. I have read another book by Rosman which I really loved. Historical fiction at its best. This book is written in a similar way, meaning a present day murder mystery and a parallell historical story. Very exciting and well researched for the turbulent times of the west coast in Sweden.

Croissant till frukost (Croissant for Breakfast) by Annika Estassy - I have read good reviews of her feel good novels, and this is the first one I read. An easy read, feels good (!) and keeps it rather real. Meaning not going into too much romantic tendencies. The ending was quite a surprise, which kept it up all the way.

Kidnapped by R.L. Stevenson - a classic tale that I read for the Brontë Reading Group. A young boy get kidnapped (being arranged by his rather evil uncle) but manages to escape together with a Scottish freedom fighter. It is one of his most famous and popular books and I rather liked it.

The Black Moon by Winston Graham - downloaded books 5-7 of the Poldark series, just to keep ahead of the wonderful TV adaption by BBC. Just saw the last episode yesterday and are awaiting the filming of the next couple of book. This book is written 23 years after book number 4. It continues the story of the Poldark family as if nothing had come in between! Wonderful historical fiction.

Cirkeln (The Circle) by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren - I started this book already in 2014 and somehow it disappeared. I have been looking for it forever and only found it recently when I cleared out my house to move a few things to our flat in Sweden! It is a YA fantasy and it is really well written. It tells the story about 7 young witches in a small village in Sweden. They discover that they have power above normal, but also find it difficult how to handle it. When two of them are killed they have to thread a dangerous path to be able to discover what evil forces want to hurt them. Quite fascinating. It is the first in a series of three, of which I have the second and will buy the third. Nice to find such good fantasy novels written by Swedish writers. The genre is not very common in Sweden but is on the rise.