Stikkordarkiv: books-about-books

The Possessed – Elif Batuman

batumanI became aware of Elif Batuman’s book The Possessed – Adventures with Russian Books and the People who Read Them through Swedish bookblogs, as it was apparently translated to Swedish last year. It sounded like my sort of book, so I thought I might as well order it.

Elif Batuman seems, judging from this book, to be my kind of person. Her conclusion –  «If I could start over today, I would choose literature again. If the answers exist in the world or in the universe, I still think that’s where we’re going to find them.» – naturally appeals to an incurable bibliophile. For myself, though, I think I might choose differently as far as study goes, I realised during my ‘academic career’ that I’m a reader, first and foremost, not an interpreter, in the academic sense. I care about the story and the language and the structure and the «truth» of literature, but I do not want to spend my life writing essays about it. Even keeping up this blog frequently seems like too much effort, in terms of writing something more than «I read this and it was good/bad/indifferent».

Still, reading about Batuman’s adventures was pleasant. And since I’ve only read a very little Russian literature, I learnt quite a bit along the way, too.

Used and Rare – Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone

goldstone_usedI don’t know what prompted me to want to reread Used and Rare (again), but Västmanländskans challenge to read books-about-books in preparation for World Book Day pushed me to actually take it down.

As I’ve only ever blogged about this book on the occasion of another reread, my comment was rather short, and I think it deserves better, as it really is an excellent book.

We follow the authors through their discovery of book-collecting – as in buying specific editions of books rather than just amassing reading copies. The whole «adventure» starts because they challenge each other to spend no more than 20 dollars on birthday presents. One of them decides to get the other a nice hardback copy of War and Peace, which turns out to be pretty impossible without hitting the used book stores. The successful hunt for War and Peace make them realise they can get nicer, more readable copies of books they want to own used than new, and they set out to replace some of their paperbacks with hardbacks. However, and this is eerily familiar, with books – when you’re a bit of a bibliophile – one thing tends to lead to another. The first major hurdle is reachen when they find a copy of Orwell’s 1984:

We took the book off the shelf and opened the cover. «1st US,» it read. «$100.»
We looked it over. It seemed to be in excellent condition.
«Don’t we have this?»
«I don’t think so. Maybe in paperback.»
«Maybe.» We were fondling the book now. «Too bad. This is a great book. You’ve read it, haven’t you?»
«In high school.»
«You should read it again. You can’t appreciate it in high school.»
«It’s a hundred dollars.»
«I know. We can’t buy a hundred-dollar book. It’s out of the question. Let’s just put it back.»
«Right.» The book had not left our hands.
«Too bad. It’s a great book. It’s probably a good deal. Orwell certainly won’t drop in value.»
«No, Orwell won’t.»
«That’s the good thing about firsts. You know they won’t drop in value.»
«That’s true.» As if we had any idea at all of what we were talking about.
«That means that if we wait it will only go up in value.»
«So we’re probably actually saving money if we buy it now.»

(p. 72) Along which I’ve noted in the margin: «Rings a bell.»

On the following page, they take their purchases to the desk, and the owner starts noting down the prices:

…$8.95, $5.00, $6.50. Then he came to Nineteen Eighty-four.

He stopped and looked up. «What exactly do you collect?» he asked.

Up until that moment, we had never felt like we «collected» anything. We were just two people who bought used books.

«Uh, we only buy books we like to read.»

«How unusual.»

One of the reasons I like this book is, I suppose, that my own book-collecting started in much the same way. I remember trying to get hold of The Colour Purple in hardback and realising the only way I could do that was by buying it second-hand. This was way back when, the internet barely existed (Mosaic – a browser showing pictures inline – was hot news), and Norwegian used book stores are not exactly noted for their excellent selection of books in English. I had to settle for The Colour Purple in paperback – I needed it for a course – but over the next few years I increasingly tried to find used hardbacks of books I wanted to own (which, to be honest, was pretty much every book I needed to read).

So the Goldstone’s journey into the bookworld is familiar (though I envy them their local selection of bookshops). The book also serves as a bit of a primer (though not in the dry language of most primers) on book collecting terms and common mistakes. If you’re new to the game you can learn along with the authors, and even if you’re not you’re likely to learn something new.

I also like the way the story is told in the plural «we». It is only very occasionally possible to tell whether it is Lawrence or Nancy speaking, as in the dialogue above.

On the whole then: I like it.

En utfordring

Og denne passer meg som hånd i hanske:


Västmanländskan utfordrer oss til å lese bøker om bøker. En bok i måneden fram til verdens bokdag. Det er mulig jeg kommer til å drive med litt gjenlesing i den forbindelse, jeg har blandt annet hatt lyst til å lese Old and Rare igjen, men hovedsaken for min del vil være å få skrevet skikkelige blogginnlegg om bøkene jeg leser. Det er utfordring nok…

Smakebit på søndag: A Truth Universally Acknowledged

austen33I’m making my (very pleasant) way through A Truth Universally Acknowledged – 33 Reasons why we can’t stop reading Jane Austen at the moment. I picked it up in London in March – at the British Library bookshop. Edited by Susannah Carson, it contains 33 essays on the topic of reading Jane Austen, as well as a foreword by Harold Bloom and an introduction by Susannah Carson – also on reading Jane Austen, naturally. So far it is excellent, the only problem being the urge it creates to read Jane Austen rather than read about reading Jane Austen, but it’s a problem I can live with. I do suspect my next read will be one of the novels, though…

Today’s taster is from the first essay, by Susanna Clarke, putting into words something that has bothered me too about the way people talk about Darcy:

Darcy has somehow been redefined in recent years as a dark, brooding, romantic hero. I’ve seen him mentioned with Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester as if they were all points on the same spectrum. But that’s not how Elizabeth or Jane Austen sees him. When Elizabeth thinks Darcy is arrogant, she isn’t attracted to him. She turns him down. It’s only when she sees him as a kind friend, a caring brother, and a good master that she begins to fall in love with him. If he makes other people happy, then he is capable of making her happy too. I doubt that Elizabeth is secretly or subconsciously attracted to a «dark» Darcy. Twenty-first-century women (and men) can afford to romanticize dark heroes because their fates and futures are in their own hands — Elizabeth didn’t have that option.

(p. 5)

More tasters can be found at Flukten fra virkeligheten.

The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield was passed on to me from my mother, who thought I’d like it. And I did, sort of. After all it’s hard not to like a story where books are so much the be all and end all.

It’s a hard book to put down, and the tale was gripping enough, but once I had read the last page I was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied. Though the plot is clever and the booklore abundant I missed some sort of deeper connection with the story. None of the characters really stayed with me past the last page, and they shoukd have.

Anyway, here’s one of the passages on reading to which I cried «Oh, sister!» (well, not really, but I certainly felt recognition):

I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life, and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy. And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are, for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books. It is not a yearning that one ever expects to be fulfilled.

November to January, so far

The Tea Rose – Jennifer Donnelly
The plot must consist of pretty much every cliché in the book except the classic evil twin. At the last two «twists in the tale» I actually laughed out loud – that’s how madly «buy one plot-device, get three free» infested it all was. However, despite this, Donnelly had me caught well and good and I had serious problems in putting the book away and not sneak a few pages in under the desk at work. Not a Nobel candidate, then, but very well worth reading.

Shaman’s Crossing, Forest Mage and Renegade’s Magic – Robin Hobb
Ok, so this deals partly with those lost months… I had to labour a bit through the first two volumes (I never thought I’d say this about a Robin Hobb book), and got completely stuck at the beginning of the third. I don’t know if I could put my finger on it, but this trilogy just didn’t do it for me. I kept reading because I was just interested enough to want to know what would happen in the end, but not interested enough to want to spend 2000-odd pages getting there. It doesn’t help, of course, that the volumes are really too big to read comfortably (I might need to consider weightlifting if I’m to keep reading this size of book in hardback), and certainly too big to be tempting for bringing on the bus etc. I suppose I felt that Hobb might have been better off writing this as one book rather than a trilogy. It seemed somewhat unnaturally extended to me. It may be that she was caught in the probable contract with her publisher to produce trilogies, or it may be that she really felt this story needed three times 700 pages. I didn’t. I will still look foreward to Hobb’s next, but not with such bated breath as before.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl
Very gripping and full of intriguing twists. Found it hard to put it down towards the end, and wanted it to go on once it finished. Still, not the sort of book one rereads – the twist is not quite surprising enough to make me want to go back and reread to see what I’ve missed and knowing how it ends will ruin the rest of the story too much at a second perusal. Bookcrossing candidate if ever I saw one.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
A very engaging book, though I became mightily annoyed with the narrator. Partly the fact that «he» is death (which just didn’t work for me, don’t ask me why), partly the endless foreshadowing (or, rather, foretelling – «more of that later» hints – a bit of vague foreshadowing I can deal with) and partly the bulletin-style interruptions which, yeah, ok, I could make a convincing interpretation of if I had to write an essay on this book for an exam, but, hey, I finished school and I prefer to do my reading at my own pace, and, frankly, until I learned to «ignore» them I wanted to hurl the book across the room every time. Still, engaging. (Sent as a rabck.)

After the Quake – Haruki Murakami
A bookring on bookcrossing and one of those 1001 books. This reminded me why I don’t like short stories (just when I start getting interested, they end), but I like Mr. Murakami’s way with words, so I will try him in novel-form when I get the chance.

Frost on My Moustache – Tim Moore

The Careful Use of Compliments – Alexander McCall Smith
Isn’t it a lovely title? And isn’t it a lovely book?

Boksamlere forteller
An interesting anthology I found at an «antiques» fair. And by interesting I mean that the existence of such a collection intrigued me, especially printed in 1945. The book itself was unfortunately mostly dull. I normally love reading people’s descriptions of their collections, so I’m not sure why it should be so, but there it is.

The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots and Something Rotten

When in doubt, reread. Which is what I’ve been doing. The awfulness of De fire og han som gjør galt verre meant I really needed to read something with more than a smattering of intelligence. So I did.

Used & Rare, Slightly Chipped and Warmly Inscribed

And when you’ve read 84 Charing Cross Road, what is more natural than to polish off Used and Rare, Slightly Chipped and Warmly Inscribed in quick succession?

I see from the archives that I must have neglected to record my first reading of Warmly Inscribed, which is annoying, but most of what I said for the first two hold true for this one as well – the difference, if there is one, is that larger sections of the book are dedicated to single «stories», such as that of the New England forger of the sub-title. This is in no way a bad thing, and like the two first, Warmly Inscribed is a bit of a must-read for any bibliophile.

84 Charing Cross Road

In which we sigh gratefully

Having read somewhat too much of a book I really didn’t want to read just now, I picked 84 Charing Cross Road out of a pile which is intended for RABCKs (I have another copy, obviously, but this one was at hand) to indulge myself. Oh, what a lovely feeling. This book of course, a must for any bibliophile. It is probably also a must for any anglophile, though I have a hard time imagining an anglophile who is not also a bibliophile, and so it is a bit difficult to say. somehow managed to offer me Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn as the «Perfect Partner» for Hanff (if you buy both, you get a discount). Can someone please explain to me how that happened? Is it simply because Miller is tagged as a «classic» and any classic goes with Hanff? Because, quite frankly, I fail to see the connection otherwise. If you really wanted a perfect partner for Hanff, how about this one? The ideal match, of course, would be any of Q’s lectures, but the best amazon can do is this, which he edited.

But Miller? Honestly!

Reading Lolita in Tehran

I’d been half-heartedly searching for Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran ever since I saw it at Malmö train station in May (didn’t buy it there because it was ridiculously priced and we already had too much luggage). Found it in Ottakars in Elgin (after we – on our tenth visit or so to the town – found that Elgin had an Ottakars completely by chance, but that’s another story), and of course had to begin it pretty promptly.

The main point of departure for the book is a reading group Nafisi started after she had to stop teaching at the university in Tehran following various changes introduced as a result of the revolution. She and her girls read novels that are forbidden, or at least frowned upon, by the regime and their discussions of and reaction to the novels and authors, provides an interesting contrast to the snippets of memoirs of the actual political situation and how it affects their lives. As regards the politics, Nafisi’s account is both critical and sympatetic at the same time, which makes it more interesting than the majority of the commentaries I’ve read before.

It’s pretty much as interesting as expected, with a few unlookedfor side-effects. Half-way through I had to find my post-it index tabs and start marking the places I’ll want to refer to later. I’ve been wanting to start seriously looking at my studies – most specifically this doctoral thesis I was planning to write at some point – again anyway, being in an academic atmosphere is catching obviously, but this book certainly provided fuel for that particular flame.

A book to be recommended if you are at all interested in the study of literature, and probably also if you’re just interested in an intellectual (dare I say: intelligent) view of the Iranian regime from «the inside».