shadows
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Shadow – Book by Karin Altvegen

Very Lord of the RingsNowadays people talk a lot about chasing happiness. There are a multitude of books courses about being happy. Feeling happy has become something that we constantly desire convinced that when we have found the secret to being happy, everything will fall into place perfectly. Not being happy has come to be equated with failure. Is it possible to be happy each waking day, year in year out? Is it something worth striving for? Karin Altvegen explores this in her novel, “Shadow.”

Prior to reading this book, I had only read one other book by this author. Shame which had been described as:

“An existential thriller about the power of fear and the brains capability to repress things that is to painful to remember. About the fatal consequences of an atypical childhood.  And about the biggest shame of all: The feeling of not having been loved by one’s parents.”

It seems this theme and moral stand is continued in Karin’s novel, Shadow; So it was with trepidation and a pre-conceived idea that I read this book. And it certainly was about not facing one’s fears and loneliness! The shadows of the past can be forgotten, but their imprint might be indelibly fixed.

This is the story of a son trying to emulate his father: a psychological thriller about relationships and how the past can influence the future – how actions live on after they are long forgotten – what starts from a lack of good parenting, is then compounded by a serious lack of communication, ends with characters who take drastic and monumentally tragic couses of action.

shadow3

Featuring the writers Alice and Axel Ragnerfelt who hold a dark secret, ‘Shadow’ is a family history marked by what seems almost to be a generational pattern of despair. communication.

“She remembered how at first she was so proud to bear the Ragnerfeldt name. Her friends would get a dreamy look in their eyes whenever he was mentioned, and they wanted to hear all about what he was like. But when they noticed her ambivalence and lack of enthusiasm, she was met with suspicion, as if her words had sprung from envy. No one wanted to hear anything negative about Axel, the national treasure. She stopped saying what she felt and joined his crowd of admirers, at least outwardly. It was easier that way.”

One protagonist ponders the moment at which a personal calamity begins?

“When does the first flake fall that will form the snowball? At what stage does the movement start? Was it the day when he secretly chose the linguistic path, …. By now everything had been in motion for a long time. There was only one hour left until what they thought was theirs would be lost for ever.”

“But even a bell’s invisible crack is revealed by a dull peal. Had the evil always been inside him? Or had it taken over when everything was stolen from him. When all that remained to him was the ability to shatter in order to retaliate.  Too late he realized that he had directed his revenge at himself. That what he had shown himself to be capable of had chained him to a shame too heavy to bear.

So how does he handle it?

Gratefully he felt it (the alcohol) take over. The feeling of liberation when the brain when numb. When he was no longer capable of comprehending the depth of his pain. Why weren’t human beings born this way? With their blood spiked from the start with a small percentage of alcohol? With the defense mechanism disconnected and the soul in a state of peace. Was survival really so important that it outweighed all suffering?

Sometimes I think that today we have trouble finding happiness because of our deep fear of suffering. Is happiness a type of contentment?
Contentment is a feeling of having obtained or achieved what can reasonable be desired. And this novel discusses individuals who struggle with contentment…..the courage to settle down and dare to be satisfied with what they have.Very Lord of the Rings

But then on page 154 Altvegen writes, “Someone who puts caution first stifles the life he’s trying to save.”  and the writer’s astute observations made me ponder more about happiness and life, but in a different way.  A tale of murder and family secrets is not for everyone, yet I wondered why this novel was left sitting on my TBR shelf, for so long. It is seriously good.

Shadow is a novel  by Karin Altvegen from 2007 that has been translated into English.

Rating: 8/10

The good: Skillful and suspenseful convoluted plot that switches back and forth with  surprising twists and turns. The depth and layers of this book gives me somethings to ponder about.

 

Book - The cop killer
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Anne Holt: Fear Not (2011)

Oslo fjord

This novel is the fourth in the Norwegian series with Johanne Vik and Adam Stubø as the husband and wife team, with Adam being the ‘gentle giant’ detective and Johanne, his wife who is an ex profiler with a nose for investigative leads.

Very soon in the novel, we are introduced to several different story threads:

Johanne´s vulnerable daughter, Kristiane, gets lost when the family participates in a wedding in Oslo, and if a mysterious stranger had not saved her, she might have been killed in front of the tram.

Bishop Eva Karin Lysgaard is found murdered on Christmas Eve in Bergen. She is a popular person, well known for her struggle to keep the church united despite the question of marriage of homosexuals.

The body of a seventeen-year-old asylum seeker is found in the harbour of Oslo. The young man was a prostitute, and soon after a homosexual woman disappears from a happy relationship.

Marcus Koll, affluent businessman, lives together with his partner Rolf and his son, Little Marcus. Beautiful and safe on the facade, but apparently Marcus fears he will be the next victim.

What do the crimes have in common? Are old family secrets behind all these crimes, or is the common denominator homosexuality? Johanne Vik is engaged in researching hate crime, and via her research she can point out the connection among the seemingly isolated events to the police.

There are many things to like in this series, but it seems to me that Holt has this tendency to involve Johanne and her children every time. Exciting for the characters, and fundamental to the storyline perhaps, but not very credible. But then it is fiction, isn’t it? So why quibble?

I guess that whilst I enjoyed this Anne Holt story, it does lack a little of the intensity I feel when I read the Hanne Wilhemson’s series. Perhaps I feel more for the character of Hanne, for her keen detective sense and her stoic, rigid and sometimes arrogant manner, than I do for Johanne Vik and Adam Stubo who seem to be awfully familiar to another couple in a similar detective series written by a Swedish crime writer.

If you are a Nordic crime fiction fan, you won’t be disappointed, but the bar is getting ever higherin the realms of Mordic crime fiction with many more excellent writers, emerging from the colder regions of the world, each year.

Rating: 7/10

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Something to Ponder About

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Enjoy Scandinavia without the long flight!

A while ago, I was invited to write a post about Scandinavian books and have reproduced some sections and updated others here:

Have you ever dreamt of visiting Scandinavia: the lands that gave us Ikea, Santa Claus, and Hans Christian Andersen? Perhaps you have thought of getting close and personal with a Viking in the fjords of Norway, or the unique landscape of Iceland, but have found neither the time nor the funds?

You can still experience the arctic world without leaving the comfort of your own home through the literary works of Scandinavians. Gaining popularity here not just because they write good crime mysteries, but also because they focus more on story and descriptive plot, giving the reader an impression of, “being there.”

So select your destination and read on:

Denmark

Visit the fairy tale land of Denmark through the eyes of writer Elsebeth Egholm, an excellent crime fiction writer, (Title: Next of Kin), set in the author’s hometown of Århus. Or you could get a feeling for Greenland and snow with Peter Høeg’s thriller “Smilla’s Feeling for Snow”, or even watch the 1997 movie version of the same name, starring Julia Ormond. But if historical fiction is more your thing, Per Olov Enquist will transport you to the Danish royal court of King Christian VII of Denmark and the 1700’s – the time of ‘enlightenment,’ with a tale of romance, lust, treachery and intrigue.

Sweden

A short train ride from Copenhagen, takes one to Sweden, across the Bridge over the Oresund, which is a central theme on the TV series, “The Bridge” (available on DVD). The first season was so popular a second one is set to come. Most people are familiar with Henning Mankell’s ‘Wallander’ books and film, but there are many other Swedish authors whose writings bring Sweden into your own home. Camilla Lackberg is an author who writes about Fjallbacka, a small town on the Swedish Bohuslan coast, with journalist turned home-maker Erica Falck, helping out her policeman husband solve puzzling murder mysteries such as The Ice Princess, which is first in the series.

No one can dispute Stieg Larson’s, ‘Millenium Trilogy’ has brought Swedish crime fiction to Hollywood, and the world, but not everyone likes crime fiction, even if it is Scandinavian. ‘Hanna’s daughters,’ (a story of three generations of woman and their journeys through life’s stages), together with  ‘Inge and Mira’, and ‘Simon and the Oaks’, are three fiction novels of human drama, peppered with a little history, and a central theme of  “friendship,” which the author believes, is more important than family.

Karin Altvegen’s describes marginal life in Sweden’s suburban fringes, in the psychological thriller, ‘Shame” whilst John Ajvide Lindqvist’s “Let the right one in”- is a horror fiction story about vampires, but don’t let that put you off. I would never read a story on vampires, yet this one is a more intimate account of childhood bullying than vampires themselves and, furthermore, was made into a successful movie, then remade by Hollywood. Very atmospheric and highly recommended!

Finally, Lars Kepler is selling out in bookstores as his atypical but brilliant Finnish detective solves even the most brutal and complicated crimes in a most unusual way. I would suggest The Hynoptist and The Fire Witness.

Hungry? Time for a coffee break? Enhance the full Scandinavian experience with an authentic Norwegian Waffle with Swedish Cloudberry Jam and cream?   Recipe found here

Norway

Waffles are delicious while reading works by Norwegian writers: Jo Nesbø with the infamous Harry Hole, Karin Fossum, whose character exist on the fringes of society, or Anne Holt, former Norwegian Justice Minister turned crime writer, with her detective Hanne Wilhelmsen series.Recently, I read “Finse 1222”, set at one of the highest points along the Oslo-Bergen train line, wherein Holt’s descriptions of a winter snowstorm are so real, that when you read it, you will be shovelling snow in your dreams. Again, if you prefer something that does not have dead bodies, I recommend Per Pettersen, (To Siberia, Out Stealing Horses) or Jostein Gaarder (Sophie’s World – a Fiction story that introduces you to philosophy in a fascinating way).

Iceland

Finally, your Scandinavian tour is complete when you get a taste for Icelandic landscapes and culture in Arnaldur Indridason’s police procedurals: Jar City, Arctic Chill, and Hypothermia. (my favourite detective stories), or a depiction of Icelandic rural life, is found in Halldor Laxness’, “Iceland’s Bell.”

Travel fiction of note:

Andrew Stevensen – Non- Fiction; “Summer light”; A Walk across Norway. Not a Scandinavian writer, but nevertheless a great travel account.

True North – Gavin Francis: Travels in the Arctic, following the travels of ancient Nordic explorers.

I recommend checking out Euro crime for seeking details of other Scandinavian authors and further listings of individual Scandinavian titles to ponder about. Bon Voyage!!

 

Something Scandinavian to Ponder About

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Proverbial Thursday – Proverbs Quotes and Sayings from Around the World

Proverbial thursdfly sml 3932I find there to be profound wisdom in proverbs, sayings and quotes and I marvel at the way they are so succinct in communicating messages to the reader. Mostly anonymous, they come to us from past generations and from across cultures.

They speak of the experiences of lives lived and lessons learned. Quotes, like proverbs, make us think more deeply about something. Each Thursday, I post a Proverb or Saying and a Quote that I find thought-provoking.  I hope you will too.

If you want to go quickly go alone, if you want to go far go together.
African proverb

Janet from This that and the other thing  posted a wonderful quote which she has given me permission to reproduce this week:

The pale stars were sliding into their places. The whispering of the leaves was almost hushed. All about them it was still and shadowy and sweet. It was that wonderful moment when, for lack of a visible horizon, the not yet darkened world seems infinitely greater—a moment when anything can happen, anything be believed in Olivia Howard Dunbar, The Shell of Sense

Something to Ponder About

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Friday Fiction Review : Hypothermia – by Arnaldur Indridason

 Hypothermia  – by Arnaldur Indridason

Book - The cop killer
Nordic crime fiction books

A Reykjavik Murder Mystery

It is a cold Autumn night, the ice has already formed in chunks on Lake Thingvellirvatn… In a holiday cottage a Doctor’s wife is found hanging. She has a history of depression and her Mother recently died of a terminal illness. But is it suicide… Erlender the gloomy and withdrawn Rejkjavik detective must decide. This case is unofficial, it won’t change the outcome of the case and everything is clear cut. Yet Erlender pursues it like a murder case with a drive to find out why the woman’s life ended in such an abrupt manner. As he begins to collects information, he again faces his own personal demons and confronts cold missing persons cases that have laid dormant for years with some suprising results….

The Good:  A wonderfully written Scandinavian crime mystery; a delight for continuing readers of Indridason as the character continue their own personal story; atmosphere plus in descriptions of Glacial lakes, blizzards and cold desolate landscapes..

The Bad:  Hard to find fault… but I am partial to this genre…

The Ugly: Predictable in parts, but not boring…. No happy ending…. but this is not ugly either…

Verdict: RECOMMENDED

Other titles by Indridason: ( these have been translated to English)

Jar city ( aka Tainted Blood)
Silence of the Grave (to be read soon I hope)
Arctic Chill
Voices
The Draining Lake

Book review

30 Day Book Challenge – A book you hated.

DAY 29. – HUNGER by Knut Hamsun

Hunger is a 1890 novel by Norwegian author Knut Hamsun. Parts of it  were published anonymously in the Danish magazine ‘Ny Jord‘ in 1888.

It is an astonishing book for its time, belonging I think more to the avant-garde modernist writing than to the sometimes considered “proper” late 19th century.  A writer encounters difficulties financially and mentally when he loses his job, and then is left without income for food and essentials in 19th century Christiania, (the former Oslo), where he slowly and agonizingly descends into mental confusion.

George Egerton claims this book is:

“One of the most important and controversial writers of the 20th century, Knut Hamsun made literary history with the publication in 1890 of this powerful, autobiographical novel recounting the abject poverty, hunger and despair of a young writer struggling to achieve self-discovery and its ultimate artistic expression. The book brilliantly probes the psycho-dynamics of alienation and obsession, painting an unforgettable portrait of a man driven by forces beyond his control to the edge of self-destruction. Hamsun influenced many of the major 20th-century writers who followed him, including Kafka, Joyce and Henry Miller. Required reading in world literature courses, the highly influential, landmark novel will also find a wide audience among lovers of books that probe the “unexplored crannies in the human soul”

Notwithstanding the huge body of opinions that this is/was literary genius, I disliked the book, neigh, I hated the book, yet I hung on reading it to the final page.  If I was to read it now, I can honestly say I would never finish it. I found the novel too brutal, raw and dark.  If I wanted to feel utter despair at the world and at the human spirit, I would read it with a passion. But I don’t. Can this really be the role of the writer? To depress readers under the guise of giving them reality, no matter how brutal?

I want my books to be entertaining, to lighten my spirit, to take me to a place where I can momentarily forget the gloom and doom a worldly future might bring. This is not to say that I would read Romantic novels, or smarmy soap operatic stories, rather, I have no patience to be suppressed in the realms of the negative. This is why I hated Knut Hamsun’s book.

But perhaps I missed the point, for there were sections that I admired for their literary power.

“The intelligent poor individual was a much finer observer than the intelligent rich one. The poor individual looks around him at every step, listens suspiciously to every word he hears from the people he meets; thus, every step he takes presents a problem, a task, for his thoughts and feelings. He is alert and sensitive, he is experienced, his soul has been burned…”

But then again, this:

“The heavy red roses smoldering in the foggy morning, blood-colored and uninhibited, made me greedy, and tempted me powerfully to steal one–I asked the prices merely so I could come as near them as possible.”

The sad tale of this writer’s mental demons and his fight to survive without income, in a non-existent welfare state was depressingly repetitive throughout the book, and then one day: (N.B. Spoiler alert!) – he ups and leaves on a ship….. and that’s it? Ummmm, did I miss something? I read pages and pages of long detailed descriptions of hunger, and despair and mental anguish, the complete all encompassing absence of hope,  to reach a point with no closure?????  I felt completely marooned – let down by Hamsun.

Yes, perhaps I missed the point!       – Something to Ponder About

30 Day Book Challenge Update

It has been over 30 days, but I admit that I had reservations as to whether this challenge could be done. Read here

Final day of the 30 day Challenge:
DAY 30. – Book you couldn’t put down.

Environment, History & Traditions

-30 Day Book Challenge – A Book that has been on your “to read” list the longest.

DAY 27 – REGAINING COMPASSION  for HUMANITY and NATURE by Charles Birch

“Charles Birch is one of the most exciting and provocative scientists writing on fundamental issues today,” according to Paul Davies.

Whether or not you agree with his theological conclusions, this book will make you think. It is especially recommended to those who think that science has all of the answers –  Paul R Ehrlich

I heard winning Australian author Charles Birch speak about the rebirth of compassion, for ourselves, each other and our planet, and  set about finding his book, (with great difficulty), many years ago, in fact, over 14 years ago. It is heavy going and the constraints of time and many other books TBR, have  thus far prevented me from reading it.

In the book, I one day will read, Birch presents a persuasive argument that only compassion has the power to enrich and heal a world which too often seems senseless, unintelligible and accidental.

An important contribution to the science/religion dialogue.

Something to Ponder About, when I get to reading it.

Book review

30 day Book Challenge – A Book that Made You Laugh Out Loud

Day 26 – Håkan Nesser – The Mind’s Eye

“Van Veeteren was generally able to decide if he was looking the culprit in the eye in nineteen cases out of twenty, if not more.  No point in hiding his light under a bushel.”Birch tree

Such is the wry humour behind Swedish crime fiction novelist Håkan Nesser 1993 novel’s protaganist: Inspector Van Veeteran, (which has been ably translated from Swedish to English by Laurie Thompson), published in 2008.

This novel I have chosen to profile for Day 26, is philosophical at times, due mainly to comments raised by the alleged perpetrator, Janek Mitter’s, (a philosophy and history teacher). Comments which inspire the reader to ponder more about the nature of life and death. This occurs several times throughout the book, and is something rarely found in the crime fiction genre, and therefore, makes this author special.

The story itself, revolves around a disconnected innocent husband (isn’t it always the husband? according to ‘Harry Hole’), who is held to trial for the murder of his wife. He claims he is not guilty, his only pathetic defense is memory loss. In the novel, he wakes with a severe headache and an enormous hangover, and can’t remember any events of the previous night except that he finds his wife dead in the bath tub, (behind a locked bathroom door). Suspiciously, upon finding her, he cleans the flat and to add to his worsening prospects, he ridiculously claims in court, that he “will admit to everything if someone would give [him] a cigarette!

Despite this, Van Veeteran has reservations that he is the real killer and this is confirmed when, a month after Mitter’s imprisonment in a psychiatric facility, he is murdered. The dead wife, a sex goddess type with a dysfunctional family background is another real mystery, and the colleagues at the school where Mitter worked, seemed unwilling to support him in any way so his guilt seems obvious, except that he is also now dead.

“Eva Ringmar turned up in the fourteenth chapter of his life. Between pages 275 and 300, she played the role that overshadowed all others: the priestess of love, the goddess of passion, and then she went away, would probably continue for a while to live a sort of life between the lines, but soon she would be forgotten. It had all been so intense that it was preordained to come to an end. An episode to add to the plot? A sonnet? A will-o’-the-wisp? Finished. Dead, but not mourned. End of valediction. End of contradicton. No doubt this must be the state of shock that was driving his thoughts into such channels. That had crushed and demolished everything, made it impossible for him to grasp what had happened. To grasp what was happening to him….?

Van Veeteran’s tenacity comes from his belief in a “determinant” and this helps him solve this puzzling crime, even in the absence of leads.

It’s an unusual story, solvable but only in the dying pages of the book. The humour is apparent from page 1 and really sets Nesser’s novel apart from other crime writers. One cannot get enough of them, and it comes highly recommended.

If you are hoping to read about the real Sweden in these pages, forget it, as the locations are as mythical as the stories themselves! Still the Scandinavian genre of murder mysteries is evident in the wintry, cold rainy atmosphere so pervasive in this book!

The Good: Humour, in small to moderate doses that compliments the story and the philosophical touches

The Bad:  The frustration a reader feels when one’s instinct tells one that the wrong person will be jailed. And the tragedy that leads to the murder and depressing nature of institutional life.

The Ugly: The meaning of the title?

Rating: 9 out of 10

Here is a list of Nesser’s Van Veeteran series that have been translated, thus far:

1993 The Mind’s Eye translated 2008

1994 Borkmann’s Point translated 2006

1995 The Return translated 2007

1996 Woman with Birthmark translated 2009

1997 The Inspector and Silence, translated 2010

1998 The Unlucky Lottery, translated 2011

1999 Hour of the Wolf, translation 2012

The following are available but am not sure if that includes Australian bookstores at this point:

  • 2000 – Ewa Morenos fall English translation: The Weeping Girl, 2013
  • 2001 – Svalan, katten, rosen, döden English translation: The Strangler’s Honeymoon, 2013
  • 2003 – Fallet G; English translation: The G File, 2014

Nesser is the winner of the Best Swedish Crime Novel Award three times over and a Glass Dagger Award in 2000 for another book in the Van Veeteren series.

Nesser has written another detective series, none of which have yet been translated into English.

I have ordered the two more of his books from Amazon! Does that say something that I am pondering about?

Other entries worth reading:

http://keatspeare.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/30-day-book-challenge-day-26/

Australia, Community

30 Day Book Challenge – A Book You are Embarrassed to Say You Liked

DAY 24.  – A Girl Most LikelyRebecca Sparrow

2004 runner up One Book, One Brisbane ( an annual award based on a fiction book set in Brisbane) Why would I be embarrassed? Read on…..

This is a great teen and young adult comedy  based on a girl growing up, not only in my hometown, but also in my home suburb, so it was a bit of a nostalgic read, albeit like a weird conduit back to my growing years.

I read this book in  just a few hours. It is not in any way a stretch for the brain, but the local references of my home town made up for that.

Here is the blurb:

 On leaving school Rachel Hill was nominated as “The Girl Most Likely,” but now she’s turning 27 and facing a bleak future. Unemployed and living back at home, with a secret marriage turning into a secret divorce, Rachel confronts the future – a future complicated by her unknowing mother’s enrolment of Rachel in a beauty Pageant, a love affair with her ’talent’ coach, a sexual harassment case for ‘hotslicing’ the local priest and the interventions of an erotic-porn writing lesbian. Rachel is set to ride a vicious pendulum of success and set-back. Is there a way out of her quarter-life crisis? Can Rachel come to terms with who she really is before she’s exposed? And what is a hotslice?

Rachel Sparrow is entertaining as a speaker and writer.  There was moves to make this into a feature film, again I imagine, would be aimed at young adults, but it seems this didn’t happen.

  • This book does not pretend to be an esoteric study of a young woman’s life in the ‘burbs’ but is peppered with humour, and if you up for a light fun read, pick it up.
    After all, it won’t hurt you. That’s a good thing about books.
    Something to Ponder About

DAY 27. – Book that has been on your “to read” list the longest.
DAY 28. – Favorite quote from a book.
DAY 29. – A book you hated.
DAY 30. – Book you couldn’t put down.

 

Book review

30 Day Book Challenge – Least favourite plot device employed by way too many books you actually enjoyed otherwise

Day 22- Wordy Title but I get it  and the least favourite plot device is….

Waking up in another person’s body or going forward/back in age in your own body.

You know those stories where the protagonist goes to sleep and dreams he or she is 40, (if they are young), or 16 years old, again, if they are middle aged. When they awake, they realize it is real. They are inhabiting another body.

Stupid, inane, detestable plot device that insults our intelligence. Waste of resources, space and our time.

I will admit to them having a small modicum of entertainment value, and note that they seem to have been used in more American films than I could count. So clearly, some people enjoy this kind of rubbish.

Do you?

Something to Ponder About.

See guidelines and links to previous days of this challenge here

DAY 23. – Best book you’ve read in the last 12 months.
DAY 24. – Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like/liked.
DAY 25. – The most surprising plot twist or ending.
DAY 26. – Book that makes you laugh out loud.
DAY 27. – Book that has been on your “to read” list the longest.
DAY 28. – Favorite quote from a book.

Book review

30 Day Book Challenge – Book you tell people you’ve read, but haven’t

Day 20 – Harry Potter Series

Okay, I admit it – I haven’t read them!!! My kids have, and I half listened to their reading aloud, in their primary school years, so that counts??? and I read the first three chapters, but that was it.

This series just didn’t grab me like it did the entire population of the Western world.

Perhaps the heady commercialism of it all put me right off.

Perhaps if Harry and Hermione took off to Stockholm or Fjallbacka, I might sit up and take more notice.

Perhaps if I was interested in Twilight, I would like Harry Potter?

I really don’t know what more I can say on this day’s topic.

Oh! And I am not into Twilight either!

Something I don’t ponder about – ever.
DAY 22. – Least favourite plot device employed by way too many books you actually
enjoyed otherwise.
DAY 23. – Best book you’ve read in the last 12 months.
DAY 24. – Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like/liked.
DAY 25. – The most surprising plot twist or ending.
DAY 26. – Book that makes you laugh out loud.
DAY 27. – Book that has been on your “to read” list the longest.
DAY 28. – Favorite quote from a book.

Book review, Community, Food

30 day Book Challenge – Favourite Childhood Book

Day 20 – Winnie The Pooh Series by A. A. Milne

It’s a tad embarrassing but yes, it’s Winnie The Pooh!!!!

The challenge did ask for  the favourite childhood book, as opposed to favourite children’s book. That’s my childhood, right?

All things considered, A.A. Milne had a captive market with me, and his Winnie The Pooh  series. As a child growing up in the sixties, in a lower-middle class family from the “burbs”,  we were far away from being poverty stricken, yet even so, I only had five or six books to my name, (and A.A. Milne was the author of four of them). This was due mainly to my spendthrift father who ensured we utilized the city council library, with its many literary resources,  (costing him next to nothing), as opposed to him buying books, which he clearly considered an extravagance to a child in my era. Geez, we were lucky to get a new t-shirt or pair or socks for our birthdays, let alone something as non-essential as a BOOK!

Thus, I read and re-read those Pooh books over and over, to the point where I could easily recite parts of the ‘hundred aker wood’ dialogue some 40 years later. Eeyore’s depressive comments, Owl’s wise lyricisms, (but incredibly bad spelling), the dopey but lovably loyal Pooh Bear, the neurotic Piglet and the blubbering Tigger were such a delight. I could never forget Rabbit’s attempt to ‘unbounce’ Tigger, or the discovery of the ‘North Pole’ in the flooded river when Pooh was rescuing Roo, nor Pooh getting ‘stuck’ in his quest for ‘hunny’.’

Such was the mind of the 7 year old me that it was a several years before I realized Christopher Robin was in fact, a boy. After all, the book’s illustrations had him wearing some pretty girlish attire to say nothing of his long unruly hair! Every boy I knew sported a #2 crew cut and bat wing ears, so this ‘Robin’ must therefore be a girl!

To say it was my favourite childhood book is a slight exaggeration, as I didn’t really have many other book to compare it too, only discovering classics like Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ when a friend introduced me to that series, years later. (By then, it was too late, I was hooked on the hunt for the ‘heffalump’ and the rest of Pooh corner).

When my own children came along, (being the bookworm that I am), I was determined to create a mini-library in their bedrooms, but the world had significantly changed and Pooh Bear had long been supplanted by the likes of Mem Fox, (who writes the best-ever-carefully crafted, children stories), Spot and his various escapades, Postman Pat, Thomas the Tank,  (modern editions) and several individual stories that are memorable more for their iambic pentameter and illustrations than for their author’s names.

Piglet and Eeyore didn’t endear themselves to my kids, nor did the map of the 100 Aker Wood tantalize their imagination as it did mine for theirs was the world where books were made with high tech “lift-the-flaps” adaptations. In my day, children read the words  in books and illustrations were few, and far between,  forcing imagination to create the visuals, not Disney.

Perhaps one day, I will get to see the real Pooh Corner and the 100 Aker wood in Ashdown Forest, Sussex, England and compare my memory to that which inspired A.A. Milne.

That is something like Pooh, I will spend some time pondering about.

DAY 21. – Book you tell people you’ve read, but haven’t (or haven’t
actually finished).

 

 

 

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30 Day Book Challenge – A Book You Wish You Could Live In

DAY 18. – Fishing in Utopia – Andrew Brown

I blame the sadness. It caught me completely off-guard. In my defense, I would claim that I had only recently returned from an exhilarating vacation in Scandinavia, and had almost made it through the mandatory 3 weeks of post-holiday, emotional doldrums, that consistently ‘kneecap’ me on my return to the sunburnt land in which I live, when I borrowed this part-travelogue/ part-memoir, at my local library.

I will admit, of course, borrowing the book was a way to to feed my addiction: this inner longing for a land I had just left, (and would not see again for an indefinite period, or at least until my savings account rose significantly). If I can’t be in Sweden, (or Denmark or Norway ), I fathomed, I can, at least, immerse myself in a book about the place. After all,  a trip in your imagination is a trip, after all. (And at least I won’t have to contend with jet lag).  And so, it was with this mindset that I read Andrew Brown’s book based in Sweden, titled, “Fishing in Utopia.”

The Author is a storyteller and journalist who skillfully weaves a story spanning 30 odd years of his life, first as an English ex-pat married to a Swede living in Sweden in the 70’s, and then later again later in life, both through the lens of a recreational fisherman and the lure of ‘Pike’.

Through his fishing expeditions, Brown encapsulates well that special atmosphere that is the Scandinavian summer, with the long hours of daylight where people languish in a idyllic red timber cottage in the countryside, fringed with crystalline lake waters and air so fresh you would think it is pure oxygen, and where, according to Brown, “everything floats in a quality of light like mercury” or the water “glitters like pollen.” [Reading this, certainly didn’t actively cure my ‘Scandinavian withdrawal’ at all and I began to wish I lived in this book!] To Brown, ‘fishing is a form of inquiry. The patient, watchful wonder of the fisherman seems to me the root of all science’.

Brown goes further than mere descriptive and romantic accounts of Swedish life. He delves deeper into what he sees as the ‘psyche’ of the Swedes themselves, who less than three generations ago, were mere subsistence farmers, conformist, religious, yet fundamentally conservative. Was Sweden in the 70’s really that different with its egalitarian welfare state where poverty and crime was nonexistent and the Prime Minister lived an ordinary life? Judge for yourself:

… its language is shaped by the cold, so that one spends as little time as possible with one’s tongue exposed. How even on wide, open roads its motorists keep to 55 mph. How to be expelled from the consensus there is ‘like being thrown out of a space station’. http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/1736216/the-end-of-eden/

Brown maintains the Swedish individual was less important than the nation as a ‘whole’ : “It was the life of a battery salmon: packed into a crowd in the middle of a boundless stretch of water by a cage of netting that you could not see at all. It appeared to be part of the sea.”

But life changes with the passage of time, as did Brown’s marriage, and Sweden and its people; so that when he returns in 2006, he laments the disappearance of the traditional, uncomplicated Sweden (where Swedish lapland supermarkets stock reindeer blood and industries were owned by the state) and the Sweden he thought he knew had been transformed into a multicultural ‘cafe’ society, now a common phenomena throughout Europe.  Gone is the the socialist welfare state and like many large cities, crime rates and unemployment has risen. This Sweden is seeminlgy more open, and every village, even those villages too small to support a local grocery store has, Andrew claims, ” a Kurdish family running a pizza restaurant.

So is this so bad?

I had mocked Sweden for failing to live up to its own ideals, but I had always supposed these were ideals that everyone shared. I had not considered the possibility that some people could want a less equal society.” Even with this statement, I still get the distinct impression Brown has a soft spot for Sweden. After all, his son is there and therefore like me, also a small piece of his heart.

To know Sweden and live there in the 70’s, sounds awfully much like Utopia to me. Yet, while I wait for the development of the time machine that will take me back to the 70’s, I must be content living in my imagination, through this book, and the egalitarian and romantic Utopia those words created in my mind.

Something I often ponder about.

DAY 19. – A favourite author.