I Left My Tent in San Fransisco – Emma Kennedy

kennedy_san_fransiscoI Left My Tent in San Fransisco by Emma Kennedy was one of the books I managed to pick up in Elgin last Saturday. After cracking up over The Tent, the Bucket and Me in February, it was a must-have. When the kindle ran out of battery one evening and I couldn’t immediately lay my hands on the charger, I started it, and I also brought it on the plane, as the kindle is no good during take-off and landing (being «electronic equipment» which has to be switched off).

Emma and her friend Dee go to the USA in 1989. The plan is to get jobs in San Fransisco for two months, earn lots of money and then travel back to New York for flights home, seeing the country on the way. Unfortunately, getting jobs in San Fransisco isn’t as easy as the pair have been lead to believe, and they end up having very little money to cover their trek across the nation.

The book is very funny. It is even laugh-out-loud funny, just like its prequel. It’s less funny than said prequel, but perhaps that’s mostly because I have been camping but I have never travelled across the USA by ground transport, and so the force of recognition is diminished (though not absent, I have, after all, travelled in the USA and also made my way around rather large chunks of Europe by bus).

Some of the best parts of the book concern the people Emma and her friend Dee meet along the way. They have to rely heavily on the kindness of strangers in their travels, and meet some pretty odd characters. To a certain extent this is also where the book is least satisfactory, because the description of the people and the situations are just a bit too shallow or short to really grab me as a reader.

But still: Very, very funny.

Pies and Prejudice – Stuart Maconie

maconie_piesI found Pies and Prejudice – In Search of the North by Stuart Maconie in the newly extended English language section of one of the lokal bookshops (Norli på Nordre, om noen av mine norske lesere lurer). To my surprise, and glee, they now have a proper section for non-fiction, covering two whole book cases. I celebrated by buying this book, and I am very glad I did. The Times – according to the blurb on the cover – called Maconie «The new Bill Bryson» in their review, and I think they might be on to something.

Maconie writes well, seems to know what he is talking about, and most importantly, conveys a genuine affection for his subject, even the not so pretty bits. And he shows the right sort of attitude.

From [the Henry More Centre], you can stroll through a Perspex walkway to Leeds City Art Gallery, haunt of the teenage Alan Bennett and home to the finest collection of twentieth-century British art outside London. Their online literature encourages visitors to ‘read… mingle… chat… laugh’. Personally, I’d have put ‘look at some pictures’ in there as well but I understand that museums are now so terrified of being thought elitist, so desperate to be ‘inclusive’, that they have to avoid the unspeakable truth, namely that modern art isn’t for everyone. Neither is John Coltrane or Bartók or the ghost stories of Robert Aickman or peaty Laphroaig whisky or English mustard. That’s why they are special and fabulous. Let’s not patronise the public by wet-nursing them like this.
(p. 210)

Maconie has written anothe book called Cider with Roadies. I’ll be reading it.

A different sort of catch-up post

I’m going to a bookcrossing meetup this afternoon, and have gathered a pile of books to bring, most of them bookcrossing copies that have been lying around for over a year without being read, and I feel it’s time to let them go. But then the odd one shows up that I have read, but that I have neither journaled nor blogged. Remiss of me. So here:

Terra Incognita by Sara Wheeler was sent to me as an rabck. I had it on my wishlist following a discussion in the forums about travelogues written by women. I actually read it when I said I would, that is following the reread of Aubrey/Maturin last winter, but I didn’t want to wild release it, and so it ended up on a pile of «need some effort on these» books and has been neglected ever since. The book is pretty good, and I did enjoy it, but it didn’t quite hit its mark with me. I think one reason is I simply don’t understand the obsessive fascination with Antarctica (or the poles) which Sara Wheeler certainly seems to share with a lot of people, and she doesn’t really help me understand it either. I’m not suggesting she should have explained better, as I’m pretty sure it’s not something one can explain, like a phobia, obsession is hardly rational, but I do wish she’d made me feel it. Without that the book is a bit too long, too dry, dare I say too cold? Still, worth reading. I’ll try to find someone who wants it this afternoon.

Alice by Lela Dowlings is a graphic rendition of Alice in Wonderland and is simply wonderful. I’m putting it on my «be on the lookout for» list, as I want this in my permanent collection, but this copy is travelling on.

Thirteen Orphans by Jane Lindskold is a competent fantasy, with clever use of Chinese cultural symbols and with the nicely executed «people with affinity with animals» theme that I’ve come to expect from Lindskold. First in a series, and I’ll be looking for the rest, but I don’t think I’ll reread, so I will register and bring it today.

Terra Incognita – Sarah Wheeler

A bookcrossing copy:

The book is pretty good, and I did enjoy it, but it didn’t quite hit home. I think one reason is I simply don’t understand the obsessive fascination with Antarctica which Sara Wheeler certainly seems to share with a lot of people, and she doesn’t really help me understand it either. I’m not suggesting she should have explained better, as I’m pretty sure it’s not something one can explain, like a phobia, obsession is hardly rational, but I do wish she’d made me feel it. Without that the book is a bit too long, too dry, dare I say too cold?

All autumn

I have been slacking. In my reading, yes, but obviously even more so in my blogging. Anyway, here is a – I believe – complete list of what’s been «going down»:

Sahara – Michael Palin
Pretty good. Informative, evocative, serious and occasionally laugh-out-loud-funny. Reminded me that I need to get hold of the follow-up to Travels with a Tangerine.

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones – Alexander McCall Smith
Quite delightful, as always.

Freedom’s Landing – Anne McCaffrey
As mentioned here, I got rather annoyed with McCaffrey for using «specimen» for «species» (twice!) and for including a couple of prejudiced, half-witted so-and-sos in order to introduce some conflict. I realise the second gripe is unfair, a conflictless book would, after all, be pretty boring, and so I put that down to my ongoing disagreement with Fiction in general. I rather enjoyed most of the book, and am looking forward to reading the sequel when Fiction and I are reconciled in the hopefully not too distant future.

Nød – Are Kalvø
In truth I only read about 50 pages, then started skimming and then I read the last few pages. I don’t know if it’s Kalvø or me, but it all seemed pretty pointless and tiresome.

Which brings the total tally this year to 45, methinks, and unless I am to fall short of the rather wimpy goal of one-book-a-week (oh, horror) I really need to get in some serious reading time over the holidays. We’ll see.

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.

Rambling on the Road to Rome – Peter Francis Browne

Rambling on the Road to Rome is another book I picked up in Hay last year. As travelogues go it’s ok, but that’s about it. It never really caught my interest, and had anything else beckoned, I might easily have put it down and never returned.

For one thing the narration it is far more disjointed than such a linear journey gives any excuse for. In fact, I almost gave up right at the start when on the very first night Browne is waiting outside a hotel that, according to a sign on the door is supposed to open at seven but doesn’t. He is on the point of giving up and finding somewhere to pitch his tent, when a couple arrives who also want to stay in the hotel and the woman – the husband is parking the car or something – says «You wait here, I’ll find a phone and call their number.» What happens next is not clear, as the narrative gets lost in a musing on dreams and dogs, and suddenly it is next morning (that is, I assume it’s next morning, it’s Monday morning, at least, Browne does not actually make it clear whether it is next morning or two months later, but that the hotel debacle took place Sunday evening would tally well with Browne’s statement that Toul «was closed when I arrived»). Not that I expect a painstaking account of every minute of every day of the whole journey, but I do feel that the reader should not be left to assume large parts of the action.

Most importantly, perhaps, is that the book – if not necessarily the journey – seems rather pointless. I have a hard time defining for myself exactly what the point of a travel book should be, but whatever it is, it’s missing from this one. Still, it’s not badly written, and it’s interesting enough in parts. I’m unlikely to ever want to read it again, though, so it’ll be bookcrossed soonish.

Tales of a Female Nomad – Rita Golden Gelman

Tales of a Female Nomad – Living at Large in the World came to me through bookcrossing. First someone on the book talk forums mentioned the book and I put it on my wishlist. A while later, I got a PM asking if I wanted to be in a bookring for it, to which I obviously replied in the affirmative. And on Monday it arrived.

The short story: Rita (it feels unnatural to use anything but her first name once you’ve read the book) leads a so-called priveleged life in Los Angeles, dining with celebrities and attending all sorts of glamorous events. When her marriage falters at a point where the kids have moved away from home, she realises that there is finally nothing stopping her doing what she’s really wanted to do all along; travel, meet people in foreign places and share their lives for shorter or longer periods.

The book is a well-written account of her development into a female nomad and of the places and people she meets along the way. For anyone with a case of wanderlust, this is a book to lose oneself in, imagining getting away from it all and doing exactly what Rita is doing. As for copying her in real life, not everyone could. She has a steady income of 10-15 thousand dollars a year from her children’s books, not enough to live on in the states, but more than enough to provide a sound base when travelling in developing countries. I imagine the book may therefore be frustrating if you really want to do what Rita is doing. However, I know myself well enough to realise it’s not just money stopping me. Yes, I do love to travel, but I also love being «at home». I need a base, and I like my packrat possessions, I would feel frustrated living out of a suitcase for more than a few weeks, never mind years and years.

And how wonderful, then, that such books as these let me experience some of the thrill of discovery while I sit at home in my favourite chair.

I can’t help but think that Rita would appreciate her book becoming as well-travelled as she is through bookcrossing. It certainly seems appropriate to me. Rita has her own webpage here (with deleted scenes!), and this copy’s bookcrossing journal is here.

Venezia – Kjell Ola Dahl

Høst og Tapirsalg. Slikt kan man like. Denne gangen fant jeg blandt annet Kjell Ola Dahls bidrag til Spartacus’ «Forfatterens guide» serie – han skriver om Venezia, en morsom tilfeldighet etter ukens lesing av Donna Leon.

Dahls portrett av Venezia er sånn passe engasjerende. Dette er slett ikke det beste bidraget jeg har lest i serien, men siden jeg selv har et forhold til byen i det bidraget jeg likte best er det vanskelig å vite om jeg er helt rettferdig (Bringsværd om London vinner hands down så langt – men for å rettferdiggjøre min kritikk likte jeg Rileys bok om San Fransisco bedre, og det er også en by jeg ikke har noe forhold til selv). Men det er allikevel et interessant portrett vi blir budt. Venezia er uten tvil en fascinerende by, og Dahl har mye på hjertet.

Hovedproblemet mitt med boka er noe som ikke kan karakteriseres som annet enn slett redaksjonsarbeid. For det første er boka «full» av stavefeil. Med dagens redigeringsverktøy er noe særlig mer enn ett eller to tilfeller skjemmende, og her er det fler enn jeg kan telle på fingrene (blandt annet på omslaget: «Dahl fotaper seg…» kan vi lese der). Dessuten skulle noen ha gått gjennom Dahls manuskript og fikset på setningsoppbygningen hans – feilene her varierer mellom de forvirrende og de bare rent merkelige. For eksempel: «Florian åpnet så langt tilbake som i 1720. Navnet skriver seg fra grunnleggeren Floriano Francesconi. Egentlig var det to konkurrenter – og den andre lå på motsatt side av Markusplassen: Cafe Quadri.» (s. 80) Eller er det bare meg som blir sittende og lure på hvem den andre konkurrenten til Florian var? «Ved bardisken, der drikker du brennevin.» (rett etter, på s. 81) Jeg vil gjerne stryke «, der». Men det er kanskje mer personlig smak enn objektiv grammatikk? «Det meste er selvsagt på italiensk, men her kan de som ikke visste det fra før, få øynene opp for bredden i tegneseriekunst.» (s. 154) De som ikke visste hva fra før? Det siste en god korrekturleser burde gjort, etter min mening, er å spørre Dahl om det er nødvendig å bruke så mange fremmedord når vi har slike adekvate uttrykk på norsk. «Partyet»? Hvorfor ikke «Festen»? «Grabber»? Hvorfor ikke «griper» eller «grafser til seg»? Det er kanskje en smakssak, og jeg må innrømme at jeg selv bruker «grabbe» i dagligtale, men altså i dagligtale, ikke på trykk i bokform.

Hadde det ikke vært for stavefeilene hadde jeg kanskje ikke hengt meg opp i setningsoppbyggingen. Og hadde jeg ikke hengt meg opp i setningsoppbygningen hadde jeg neppe gjort annet enn å trekke lett på skuldrene av anglifiseringen av språket. Som det er gjør jeg altså begge deler, og blir til tider såpass irritert at jeg får lyst til å legge fra meg boka og skrive krasse brev til Spartacus om nytten av automatisk stavekontroll. I stedet skiver jeg småsure blogginnlegg, som garantert vil vise seg å inneholde stavefeil. Ja, ja. «Livet er en kamp, Hjørdis» som min mor pleier å si.

Nå skal jeg forsøke å finne noe morsomt å lese.

At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay – John Gimlette

At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay was an interesting read, in that it seems to deal pretty thoroughly with the recent history of Paraguay, a country I knew next to nothing about prior to reading this book. I am somewhat puzzled as to the title, as I never caught the reference, but it’s catchy – if not snappy – and so I suppose that’s reason enough to use it. This is not a travel book in the normal sense. True, John Gimlette travels around Paraguay, but nine tenths of the book is history of some sort. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but not quite what I expected. Still, an interesting read.