Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

Dolce Belezza is hosting a read along of The Portrait of a Lady, and has written a short summary of the plot here. As always with the novels of Henry James, the ending holds more questions than answers (compare The Turn of the Screw). Belezza has two questions: why did Isabel Archer marry Gilbert Osmond? Why did she plan to return to him on the very last page? Two relevant questions and I am looking forward seeing what the other read alongs will answer. Here are some of my thoughts.

Why did she marry?

Although she, unknowingly, was manipulated into the marriage, it is not the whole answer. She already had two offers of marriage and friends and relatives were much for both of them. However, she refused. She had clearly stated that she did not want to marry, but travel around the world. She wanted to have an independent life, settle down somewhere nice and live her life as she chooses. It was definitely easier after she came into the money, and would have been difficult without money. It is not clear how she intended to support herself in the latter case.

As for women at the time, her future was clear. She should marry a nice young man and settle down. She had other ideas. Both offers of marriage was too much like the expected prospects and I think that is why she refused them. When Osmond came by, he was different. He had another kind of life, his ideas attracted her, she loved his lovely daughter and the sense of a life in bliss. As we know life is not always what it seems like. I think that she actually was in love with Osmond in her own way. Maybe not so much with the man as with the idea of his life. Unfortunately, for her, he did not reveal all of his ideas, or she just did not grasp them in time. She was part of the beauty he admired in a building or a painting, but she did not see that his idea of the marriage, apart from the money, was to acquire another rare piece to show off.

Monday, 19 February 2018

More classics

Of my recent reads there were three classic novels that I really loved. Still fresh and interesting today. The first one is Candide (or Optimism) by Voltaire. One of his most famous books, and one of the great books of the Enlightenment. An ironic outlook on the surrounding world. The characters, the happenings and trips are written in a hilarious, witty way. With irony it is both tragedy and comic. Candide is living a sheltered life until one day he happens to kiss the daughter of the house. He is ousted by the angry father and life takes him around the world. His philosophical teacher Pangloss, taught him "we live in the best of worlds" and with this motto he looks on the world around him. In the end? He realises that it is not true and replies to Pangloss: "Let us cultivate our garden". 
“Optimism," said Cacambo, "What is that?" "Alas!" replied Candide, "It is the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst.”

Lancelot by Chrétien de Troyes is the classic saga of King Arthur and his knights. This concentrates on Lancelot and his quest to save Queen Guinevere, who is also his lover. Here we meet the traditional knights fighting for honour and damsels in distress. I found it quite refreshing and it kept me thrilled until the very end. de Troyes has also written several other novels from King Arthur's court.
“Through their kisses and caresses they experienced a joy and wonder the equal of which has never been known or heard of. But I shall be silent...; for the rarest and most delectable pleasures are those which are hinted at, but never told.” 

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. This novel saw an "epidemic" of suicides among the men, unlucky in love. Werther is an artistic soul, middle class, no firm goal in life. When he falls in love with Charlotte, who is the fiancée of another man, he is devastated and sees only one way out. The novel is written as letters to a friend an we get to know Werthers output on life. Nature plays an important part of life and are often used as comparisons with his feelings for Charlotte. The tears of Charlotte are compared with the drops of rain on the leaves.

It was still thundering at a distance: a soft rain was pouring down over the country, and filled the air around us with delicious odours. … her eyes wandered over the scene; …, and then turned them upon me; they were moistened with tears;”... ”It was a most magnificent sunrise; the whole country was refreshed, and the rain fell drop by drop from the trees in the forest.” 

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Book Beginnings on Fridays and The Friday 56

The Content Reader

This week (sorry being late) my book beginning and page 56 come from The Secret Scripture from one of my favourite authors, Sebastian Barry. From the back cover:
"Roseanne McNulty is nearing her hundredth birthday in the mental hospital where she was committed as a young woman. Finishing up his case notes before the hospital is closed, psychiatrist Dr Grene finds himself intrigued by the story of his elderly patient. While Dr Grene investigates, Roseanne looks back on the tragedies and passions she has locked away in her secret journal, from her turbulent rural childhood to the marriage she believed would bring her happiness. But when Dr Grene finally uncovers the circumstances of her arrival at the hospital, it leads to a shocking secret." 

Book beginning hosted by Rose City Reader
"The world begins anew with every birth, my father used to say. he forgot to say, with every death it ends. Or did not think he needed to. Because for a goodly part of his life he worked in a graveyard."

The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice

"History needs to be mightily inventive about human life because bare life is an accusation against man's dominion of the earth."

A wonderful book and a totally unexpected end makes this novel both thrilling and telling a realistic story of life in Ireland in the beginning of the 20th century. A must read.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Coffin Road by Peter May

Serendipity happens sometimes. I recently read a review on Beth Fish Reads about Peter May's book Coffin Road.  Just days after, I visited a friend who handed me the very same book and asked if I wanted to read it. YES, indeed I will. I have read a couple of Peter May's books some years ago and remember loving them. This is another thrilling book from this very productive writer.

It is about a man who is watched up on a deserted beach on the island of Harris, in the Hybrides. He realises that he has escaped death, of which he is happy. He is less happy when he realises that he has lost his memory. He has a hinge that something terrible has happen, but he does not know what.

It is interesting how he slowly gets to know more and more about his life, from neighbours and friends. It does not really makes sense to him though. That he is not an ordinary man, with an ordinary life is quite clear from the beginning.

It is a very thrilling book and I could not put it down. Read into the night to come to the unexpected end. Peter May uses the Hybrides as a setting for many of his books, and make them come to life. The harsh climate, the harsh nature, but his love for the area shines through. He puts the setting, the nature and the people in a story that has an input, not only to the area, but the whole world. I found the theme very interesting.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Reading the Classics

Lately, I have read quite a few classics due to my studies. It has been a very good experience and an introduction to a genre which I found difficult to venture into. That has now changed, when I find that the some of the classic literature, really is great literature. Not all of them are maybe enjoyable to read today, but surprisingly many are. Here some that I enjoyed.

Oedipus Rex by Sofokles - about the man whose prophecy was to kill his father and marry his mother. It made him run away from home to avoid this terrible deed. On his way he killed a man. He continued to the next village and married a widowed queen. He had no idea he was adopted by his family and running away he did end up killing his father and marrying his mother. Just shows you can't get away from your destiny. At least not in the old Greek world. The play is well worth to read.

"Fear? What has a man to do with fear? Chance rules our lives, and the future is all unknown. Best live as we may, from day to day."
"Time, which sees al things, has found you out." 

Medea by Euripides - another gruesome story of the woman who revenged her unfaithful husband, Jason. He left her to marry Glauce, the daughter of king Creon of Corinth. Medea was devastated and killed Glauce and Creon and went on to kill her two children by Jason. At least this is how it happened in Euripides version of this Greek drama. The play is very powerful.

"Stronger than lover's love is lover's hate. Incurable, in each, the wounds they make."

"Of all creatures that can feel and think,
we women are the worst treated things alive." 

The Odyssey by Homer - Odysseus' travels back from the Trojan war is one of the most famous classics together with The Iliad. Odysseus is prevented from returning home by the sea good Poseidon whose son he has killed. After fighting inhuman battles in his efforts to be reunited with his  wife Penelope and his son Telemachus, he finally arrives home. It is not a book for the faint hearted. So much evil to fight against and I think, not even Hollywood can come up with something so sinister as was written thousands of years ago.

“Of all creatures that breathe and move upon the earth, nothing is bred that is weaker than man.” 
“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.” 
What do you think about the Classics? Do you read them from time to time?

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Mythos by Stephen Fry

Trying to start a new, healthier life. To this end I have decided to take a walk before breakfast every day, at least week days. I am now in Sweden, and there is a lime stone quarry just outside our flat, which make for a 45 minute brisk walk. It was lovely, although windy, as always here by the sea.

I felt quite refreshed. The good thing about walking is that you can listen to an audio book. I started a new one today; Mythos by Stephen Fry. The pleasure is that he is also narrating the story. It is a slightly different approach to the Greek myths and he is doing it in a very entertaining way. The chapters are rather short, the stories different, so you can stop whenever. Perfect for a walk.

On the other side of the quarry you see our house. We have a view over the quarry from the other side. It is quite a magic place, a nature reserve and some "lost" species are making this quarry their home. For those interested in geology also has a good time walking through the quarry. It is only open to the public for guided tours.

I have been finishing a few books lately, so I am really pleased. Reviews will follow.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Sunday Bliss

A cold an windy day here in Karlskrona in the south east corner of Sweden. Took a nice and fresh walk around the historic center, along the seaside. 

light house in Karlskrona

Friday, 9 February 2018

Book Beginnings on Fridays and The Friday 56

The Content Reader

This week my book beginning and page 56 come from The Edge of the World, How the North Sea Made Us Who We Are by Michael Pye. From the blurb:
"This is a story of saints and spies, fishermen and pirates, traders and marunders - and of how their wild and daring journeys across the North Sea built the world we know."
Seems suitable for someone from Scandinavia. A thorough history and background to developments in this area. Will be interesting to read.

Book beginning hosted by Rose City Reader
"Cecil Warburton went to the seaside in the summer of 1700: two weeks at Scarborough on the east coast of England, north of Hull and south of Newcastle. He was not at all impressed."

The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice
"The whole Christian year was shaped by the date of Easter; but the Church's own rules for fixing it meant Easter fell on a different Sunday each year, a floating feast."

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Diminishing TBR Shelves

The Content Reader

As you see on the image above, the number of books on my TBR shelves are diminishing. How I wish it was true! This is just what is left on my selves here in Brussels. The rest of the around 170 books are in Sweden or on their way there, plus all the other books I have read. It looks really empty here now, and as Marcus Tullius Cicero said:  "A room without books is like a body without a soul." True enough.

The choice of choosing a book to read is also diminishing. I am a mood reader. When I look for a book, I go through the books I have not yet read to get a feeling for what I want to read. As soon as I decide that I have to read a book for a challenge, a list, a book club etc, it tends to be so hard. Spur of the moment feeling is good.

I managed to read five books from my TBR shelves in January, which was a good achievement. It went so fast to read, and I exchanged one book for another. Now, it seems I am stuck with reading four to five books at the same time and I come nowhere close to finishing them.
How do you read? One book, or several at the same time?
It is sometimes difficult to put words to what you feel about books. Luckily, there are others that have just the right words.
“So many books, so little time.”  Frank Zappa
“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”  Mark Twain

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

NYT Survey on Reading Habits

The Content Reader

Jeanie at The Marmelade Gypsy has answered the New York Times, Sunday book section's questionnaire concerning reading habits. I thought I will go along and look into my own habits. Here we go.

What are you reading right now?
As always I read several books at the time, changing them according to my mood. Here are some of them:
A Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. It is a read along with Dolce Belezza for February.
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf. This is also a read along for February with Alex at The Sleepless Reader.
Restless by William Boyd. A new favourite author.
The Empty Family by Colm Toíbin. Favourite author.

What is the last great book you read?
Coffin Road by Peter May. Could not put it down and read it in a day. I love his books.
Candide by Voltaire. A surprisingly fresh classic, enjoyable also today.

What do you read for solace? For escape? For sheer pleasure?
For solace and escape I would read anything taking me away from reality. Historical fiction would be a good choice: Winston Graham's Poldark series and Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series for example. Historical fiction also goes for sheer pleasure, but most other genres as well. I don't read very much horror, SF or dystopian novels.

What are your favourite books on a favourite subject?
I like biographies, mostly about historical persons. Some of my favourite authors in this genre are, Mary S. Lovell (A Rage to Live: A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton, Jane Digby, A Scandalous Life, Mitford Sisters), Claire Tomalin (Charles Dickens, A Life, Mrs Jordan's Profession).

What are your favourite genres and which don't you particularly like?
I read most genres, but don't especially like horror, SF and dystopia.

How do you like to read?
Lying in bed, or possibly sitting in a nice reading chair.

Paper or electronic?
Both. Paper when I can, but electronic comes in handy.

Morning or Night?
Night. Or during the day since I have my days free to do what I like!

Where do you like to read?
In bed, although it is not so good for the back of the neck.

What's the best book you ever received as a gift?
Can't remember.

What kind of reader were you as a child?

Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
All the books by Astrid Lindgren.

Who would you like to write your life story?
Mary S. Lovell.