Shelf News

book haul

I just noticed the other day that my last four bookish purchases were all in red and white tones. That’s a photo opportunity waiting to click. I thought it might be fun to snap this pic with some red heels, and my choice fell upon Irregular Choice from my header photo. I haven’t worn these in ages though I love them to pieces, and I’ve only sported them in one outfit here on the blog, at my cousin’s wedding two years ago.

But back to the books. I’m looking forward to Sarah WatersThe Little Stranger, as I loved Tipping The Velvet. I’ve read two books by John Banville (before I started blogging), one of them I loved, the other I found boring, so I don’t quite know what to expect from The Infinities. Them or Us is the last installment in David Moody‘s brilliant Hater-series, which is so thrilling! The book I’m most excited about, however, is Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald. I read a novel about her, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, a little while back and it left me very curious to read some of her work. It doesn’t show in this pic, but the cover is stunning!

Which books have you recently bought?

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Peter Pan

To die would be an awfully big adventure.

Peter Pan

Title: Peter Pan
Author: J.M. Barrie
First Published: 1902
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars (average rating on Goodreads: 4.10)
I would recommend this book to: Readers who never grow up
The Beginning: All children, except one, grow up.

What a lovely surprise Peter Pan was. It was such a sweet tribute to imagination and creativity, verging on pure madness. Peter was a fascinating character. I was amused by his cockiness. It was very inspiring and had me laughing out loud more than once. Like this little statement after he remembers what he’s just done:

Oh, the cleverness of me!

He was also a rather interesting character, but we unfortunately only get glimpses of his personality as the novel is so short. I wanted to know more about him, and the final page left me even more curious than at the beginning. Beneath the adventures, the spontaneity and self-assurance there lies a darkness within Peter:

He was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be forever barred.

Another character I loved was Tinker Bell. I loved how she’s described as being so small that she can only contain one emotion at the time, and the disasters that entailed were heartbreaking, but also had so much potential of a huge novel (with a great love triangle).

It was only in Peter’s absence that they could speak of mothers, the subject being forbidden by him as silly.

The only character I didn’t really care for was Wendy. My inner feminist can’t stand her. I felt Neverland was completely wasted on her as she was more interested in making house than going on adventures. She’s on the verge of growing up and Neverland makes her take the final step into adulthood by pretending to be the mother that the Lost Boys need. But couldn’t she have been a different mother? Why so strict, Wendy? Why do they have to be in bed at a certain hour, when there’s no school in Neverland? And why did they have to take their medicine each day? What on earth for? Yeah yeah, I know they were just playing around, but I think the game could have been more fun with a more daring Wendy.

Peter Pan cat

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Soulless

Countess Nadasdy served the tea. Miss Tarabotti took hers with milk, Miss Dair took hers with lemon, and the vampires took theirs with a dollop of blood

soulless
Title: Soulless
Author: Gail Carriger
First Published: 2009
My Rating: 2 of 5 stars (average rating on Goodreads: 3.90)
I would recommend this book to: True Blood fans (but keep your expectations low)

Soulless had the potential of being a Victorian True Blood. I thought this was a pretty neat concept, but was terribly disappointed. The novel seems to me actually soulless. The characters were flat and the story a bit boring. OK, very boring. It tried to be funny, but it was so clichéd, and it seemed that the sole purpose was to make fun of the Victorian upper class. That can be a lot of fun, only in this case, it wasn’t very cleverly done. The jokes were easy and completely devoid of creativity. I kept feeling that I was supposed to laugh, but it just wasn’t very funny. Judge for yourself:

How ghastly for her, people actually thinking, with their brains, and right next door. Oh, the travesty of it all.

Our heroine is Alexia Tarabotti, an independent spinster who reads books, speaks her mind and can defend herself. She’s nothing like her airhead sisters, who only care about fashion, or her cruel mother who only cares about appearances, all agreeing that Alexia will never marry as no man would ever have her. In comes Prince Charming and they are all proved wrong. It’s a story we’ve heard a billion times before. I like it when it’s cleverly done but this one was un-nuanced. Apart from twist is that Alexia is a soulless and Prince Charming is a werewolf. But that’s just another cliché. It could have been a fun twist, only it didn’t really work.

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The End of the Affair

I became aware that our love was doomed: love had turned into a love-affair, with a beginning and an end.

Graham Greene the of the affair

Title: The End of the Affair
Author: Graham Greene
First Published: 1951
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars (average rating on Goodreads: 3.96)
I would recommend this book to: Anyone who enjoys good writing
The Beginning: A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.

The End of the Affair is one of the rare truly great reads. Graham Greene blew me away on almost every single page. His writing establishes him as one of the masters, and his characterizations continuously amaze me. The story, as the title indicates, is about an affair between two lonely and confused people. It’s one of the saddest stories I’ve read in a long time, and I think this affair will stay with me for a long time.

Jealous lovers are more respectable, less ridiculous, than jealous husbands. They are supported by the weight of literature. Betrayed lovers are tragic, never comic.

The protagonist wasn’t very likable. There were times where I even despised him. But as his tale progressed, I began to sympathize with him in all his corruptness. In all his lies and deceit, there was something honest about him. Graham Greene really knew his characters inside out and he cleverly lights up his darker sides on the pages.

Sometimes I see myself reflected too closely in other men for comfort, and then I have an enormous wish to believe in the saints, in heroic virtue.

If you’re curious about Graham Greene, check out my book review of another one of his brilliant novels, Brighton Rock.
My reading moments with The End of the Affair:
graham greene the end of the affair

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Skipping Words

To read is not a virtue; but to read well is an art, and an art that only the born reader can acquire.

books

I read in many different ways. Some books I read slowly and carefully, wanting to grasp every word and wallow in the atmosphere. Some passages I read over and over again, wanting the sensation to last, taking small breaks to reflect. With some books, like Harry Potter, I do everything to make them last longer. Some books I pace through, my eyes not able to read fast enough for my bookish hunger. That’s how I felt about Hater and The Hunger Games.

Then there are books where I skim pages. Where there are parts I don’t care about (as in Possession), or, like The Goldfinch, where I’m interested in the story, but can’t stand the writing. Or where I’m just bored but too stubborn to put the book away. I’ve always felt shameful when I did this. Like I was a bad reader. But reading something thoroughly that I don’t care about is just so exhausting. It can totally ruin my reading-mood. I’ve had book crisis because of this, where I started thinking Why do I even read, will I ever enjoy it again?

A few years back, I read an essay by Edith Wharton called “The voice of Reading” where she differs between the ‘born reader’ and the ‘mechanical reader’ – and lashes out at the latter:

… it is one of his rules never to skip a word (…) This inexorable principle is doubtless based on the fact that the mechanical reader is incapable of discerning intuitively whether a book is worth reading or not.

Not that Wharton’s words are law, but I felt so relieved having one of my favorite authors tell me it’s OK the skip some passages or skim through entire pages. All readers are different after all, so perhaps it doesn’t make sense that we all read the exact same amount of words. Maybe we should be able to judge for ourselves what makes sense for us to read and what doesn’t?

What about you, do you read every single word of a book? Do you feel you cheat if you skip some passages? And do you think it’s OK to review a book if you’ve skimmed some of the pages, or does that disqualify you as a reviewer?

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The Goldfinch

To understand the world at all, sometimes you could only focus on a tiny bit of it, look very hard at what was close to hand and make it stand in for the whole.

The Goldfinch

Title: The Goldfinch
Author: Donna Tartt
First Published: 2013
My Rating: 2 of 5 stars (average rating on Goodreads: 3:93)
I would recommend this book to: Charles Dickens fans
The Beginning: While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years.

I feel ambivalent about The Goldfinch. In many ways, it’s a very good story with unique characters. It was just so damned boring. Yes, there were a few pages that kept me on the edge of my seat, but those pages were the exception to the rule.

I think my main problem was Donna Tartt’s writing. I wouldn’t say she’s a bad writer, but she could have used a brutal editor, forcing her to kill her darlings. Her many, many darlings. She certainly had the “show me, don’t tell me” part down. She just kept showing and showing up to the point where I wanted to scream. I actually did scream at one point. Example: Our protagonist is depressed. And we follow him being depressed at home, at school, during dinner, and when he goes to sleep. I’m not that stupid, I get it that he’s depressed, I understand that it’s all the time, I don’t have to hear about every single moment he’s depressed, I can fill in the blanks myself – actually I LIKE filling in the blanks. And it was like this with everything. His drug abuse, his friendships, his attitude towards school, the books he read, the food he eats, the furniture he repairs. No wonder the book is 864 pages long! IMO, this story should only have spread out over 400 pages. That leaves more than 400 pages of filling. If the writing had been beautiful or amazing, I would have felt differently. That just wasn’t the case. Tartt’s writing isn’t bad, but it’s nothing special.

The reading experience felt very similar to reading Charles Dickens: absolutely brilliant stories, great creativity, but too many details. It feels like you’re miles ahead of the author, like the author is afraid you don’t get it unless (s)he explains it over and over again. The funny thing is, that I see now that many reviews refer to Tartt as Dickensian – but in a good way. I can totally see what they mean; to me it’s just not a good thing.

Another thing that bothered me was our protagonist. I didn’t really like him that much. Not that I disliked him, I just didn’t really care about him. No, that’s not true, I liked him as a kid, but when he grew up, I completely lost interest in him. He was just so negative and stupid that I stopped caring about what happened to him. I like my characters passionate and ambitious, trying to achieve or accomplish something. Not numb on drugs. He was just so passive, I wanted to slap him.

And then there’s the painting. Pretty vital and symbolic red thread throughout the story. But I couldn’t care less about it.

The Goldfinch

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We Were Liars

Someone once wrote that a novel should deliver a series of small astonishments. I get the same thing spending an hour with you.

we were liars

Title: We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
First Published: 2014
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars (average rating on Goodreads: 3.93)
I would recommend this book to: A reader in the mood for some dark YA
The Beginning:
Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family.
No one is a criminal.
No one is an addict.
No one is a failure.

We Were Liars is a classic tale of a stereotypical, dysfunctional, white, rich family. We’ve all met these characters before; dads abandoning their kids, mothers so focused on appearances they don’t see how screwed up their kids are, siblings fighting each other for inheritance, kids suppressing their sorrow to the point where it all bounces back up in their pretty little faces.

“Be normal now,” she whispers. “Right now.”
“What?”
“Because you are. Because you can be.”

It’s not a story that blows me away, but I’m nonetheless fascinated by it, and enjoy reading various stories like it. Maybe it’s because it’s miles away from my own childhood. That’s what literature can do: show you a life you’ve never had to live yourself, but let’s you leave it again. If you can.

I had no trouble leaving this story behind me after I turned the last page. I was disappointed. There’s been such hype about this book and wild rumors about something incredible that was supposed to happen towards the end. Let me spare you: it’s not that big of a deal.

I didn’t really care for the writing either. To me, it seemed pretentious and just a tad silly. For some reason, Lockhart used this cheap trick with short, choppy sentences. I kept asking myself why? To appear sophisticated? Poetic? Judge for yourself:

Touching him is familiar and unfamiliar.
We have been here before.
Also we have never been here before.
For a moment,
or for minutes,
for hours, possibly,
I am simply happy, here with Gat’s body beneath my hands.

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Another Second Hand Harlequin Bag

vintage harlequin bag

On my way home from work today, I stopped by one of my favorite second hand shops, Twenty, where I was lucky to find this gorgeous harlequin bag. Buying vintage bags has become one of my great weaknesses over the years – I have more than I’ll ever use. I really should start selling soon … Anyway, this isn’t my first harlequin bag from Twenty: I bought this beauty about a year and half ago.

Why is it that cats always think everything new is a toy for them?

vintage harlequin bag

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The Blazing World

We tell ourselves a story and we go along believing in it, and then, it turns out, it’s the wrong story, which means we’ve lived the wrong life.

Siri Hustvedt The Blazing World

Title: The Blazing World
Author: Siri Hustvedt
First Published: 2014
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars (average rating on Goodreads: 3:60)
I would recommend this book to: Anyone interested in art and/or feminism – or just anyone who wants an amazing reading experience
The Beginning: I started making them about a year after Felix died – totems, fetishes, signs, creatures like him and not so like him, odd bodies of all kinds that frightened the children, even though they were grown up and didn’t live with me anymore.

Artist Harriet Burden has spent her life in the shadow of her famous husband. When he dies, she’s still ignored by the art world. So she decides to experiment and lets three men publish her art. Naturally, I was curious as hell to read what one of my favorite authors would make of this plot.

The truth is Harriet was striking. She had a beautiful, strong, voluptuous body. Men stared at her on the street, but she wasn’t a flirt, and she wasn’t socially graceful or prone to small talk. Harriet was shy and solitary. In company, she was usually quiet, but when she spoke, she was so forceful and intelligent, she frightened people, especially boys her own age. They simply didn’t know what to make of her. Harry sometimes wished she were a boy, and I can say that had she been one, her route would have been easier. Awkward brilliance in a boy is more easily categorized, and it conveys no sexual threat.

I had feared so many traps and clichés, but I should never have doubted Hustvedt. She’s a smart writer and did a brilliant job. The story is told via testimonies of Harriet’s friends and family, and pieces from her own notebooks. I usually don’t enjoy this type of storytelling. I like a clear voice to carry me through the story. But Hustvedt surprised me again with her excellent writing. She managed very elegantly to slightly alter her writing so it fit with the current narrator. My favorite example is perhaps Brune Kleinfeld’s very first statement. This character is an author, and it clearly shows in how Hustvedt suddenly plays around with the language, the way many modern male authors – like her husband Paul Auster – tend to write:

I met Harry during a dog-eared, smudged, scribbled-in-the-margins, stained, and torn chapter of my life.

That made me laugh out loud – such a brilliant cliché! Siri really is superior. And boy, had I missed her! I loved her first and third novel, but didn’t care much for her last two. So The Blazing World was a welcome surprise.

Did I want to live as a man? No. What interested me were perceptions and their mutability, the fact that we mostly see what we expect to see.

I loved Harry/Harriet. I adored her bitterness, applauded her when she lashed out, let her anger and intelligence show – be it through art, words or punches. I loved her passion for art, her strong and fierce nature. She’s one of those characters that don’t disappear when you turn the last page, she demands to stay close to you – even if she has to scream and shout. And I like the way she screams.

It was true they didn’t want Harry the artist. I began to see that up close. She was old news, if she had ever been news at all. She was Felix Lord’s widow. It all worked against her, but then Harry scared them off. She knew too much, had read too much, and she corrected people’s errors.

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Kokoro

Loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern age, so full of freedom, independence, and our own egoistical selves.

kokoro

Title: Kokoro
Author: Natsume Soseki
First Published: 1914
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars (average rating on Goodreads: 3:96)
The Beginning: I always called him “Sensei”

When I started reading Kokoro, I had just abandoned another book. A – to me – soulless book driven by plot alone. What I needed was a true reading experience. Not a book meant to shock or entertain, but a book where the words, sensations and characters drag you deep into their world. Natsume Soseki‘s poetry provided a beautiful reading experience, entangled in loneliness and sadness.

I’ll let the quotes speak for themselves.

Like the first whiff of burning incense, or like the taste of one’s first cup of saké, there is in love that moment when all its power is felt.

I am a lonely man,” he said again that evening. “And is it not possible that you are also a lonely person? But I am an older man, and I can live with my loneliness, quietly. You are young, and it must be difficult to accept your loneliness. You must sometimes want to fight it.

I believe that words uttered in passion contain a greater living truth than do those words which express thoughts rationally conceived. It is blood that moves the body. Words are not meant to stir the air only: they are capable of moving greater things.

To tell you the truth, I used to consider it a disgrace to be found ignorant by other people. But now, I find that I am not ashamed of knowing less than others, and I’m less inclined to force myself to read books. In short, I have grown old and decrepit.

kokoro

Kokoro is part of my reading challenge for 2014. The pictures for this post were taken at my favorite café Underwood Ink.

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