Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Three dolphins swimming in the fjords of the Musandam Peninsula, Oman
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Uncle Tom's Children by Richard Wright

Uncle Tom's Children is a collection of shorter stories of varying lenght plus an autobiographical intro of 15 pages. It is about being black in the South around 1930 - and we all know that that was not the easiest thing. The autobiographical sketch, as Wright calls it, is called The Ethics of Living Jim Crow, and begins like this:

"My first lesson in how to live as a Negro came when I was quite small. We were living in Arkansas. Our house stood behind the railroad tracks. Its skimpy yard was paved with black cinders. Nothing green ever grew in that yard. The only touch of green we could see was far away, beyond the tracks, over where the white folks lived."

Later, Richard and his family moves to Mississippi, and that is where the rest of the stories take place. In fact, I am not sure they actually take place in Mississippi, but definitely somewhere in the South.
First short story is called Big Boy Leaves Home, and it is about how a single, wrong decision can change everything in a heartbeat - specially if you are a young, black man living in the South 70 years ago. Four friends are out for a swim in the creek, when a white woman spots them. From then on, everything goes wrong, partly the fault of the four friends, partly the fault of the white woman. After finishing this story I thought, well, now it can only get better....I was wrong.

Second story Down by the Riverside, is worse. A heavy rainfall makes the river flow over, and Mann realizes that he has been too stubborn for too long, refusing to leave his house by the riverside. Now his wife is about to die in childbirth, the flood is threatening to take the house, and then Bob shows up with a stolen boat. Will they make it to the Red Cross? Will the white people let them into the hospital?

Third story which is called Long Black Song and is a sultry and dramatic and sad story about sex and love and violence and has the young mother Sarah waiting impatiently for her Silas to come home. Before Silas comes home, a white salesman turns up selling grammophones.

Fourth story, Fire and Cloud, and Fifth story, Bright and Morning Star are both about political awakening, and they were the stories I found the least interesting, although the last story had an ending which left me rather speechless. In Fire and Cloud the awakening is centered around religion, while the last story is centered round communism. In both "political" stories we have white people acting and interacting in a good way with the black community. In the last story we also see examples of "reverse racism", black against whites. Racism is never refreshing, no matter who are on the receiving end, and I think the author describes that brilliantly in the last story.

All stories are written in dialect, but it was still easy to read, even for me. Any native English speaker will have no problems. What is really amazing is the fact that this book was written in the late 1930'es, but it doesn't feel a day old. It could've been written today. This is the first book I have read by Richard Wright, but what an amazing writer, even though the stories are for the most part both sad and brutal. I do hope that we have come a little way since the 1930'es. I read those stories with a heavy heart, but the writing was so phenomenal, that I just had to keep reading. I am stunned that those things took place less than 100 years ago - I mean, there may still be people alive who experienced those things, and that makes me even more sad. I recommend this one. Read it now!
This book is read as part of the Southern Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Best Southern Books

I am participating in the Southern Reading Challenge at Maggie Reads and in the Blog Improvement Project at Sophisticated Dorkiness. I truly enjoy both Maggie's and Kim's blogs, and try to visit there at least once a week (as my blog roll grows, I find that I have more and more blogs I want to visit on a daily basis, but sometimes life gets in the way, but I guess that is the same for a lot of you).

In the Blog Improvement Project it has been Blog Post Bingo for some weeks now - read the full post and the Bingo-list here - a project which ends in two days. I am determined to do as many of the suggested posts as possible, and this is # 3: A list post.
Since I wanted to combine this list with my the Southern Reading Challenge, I have found a list called 125 best Southern Books. You can check out the list here. I don't know who compiled the list or who determined which books made the list or not. And I am not going to publish the full list here.

My list contains the books from the list mentioned above which I have read or have on my TBR.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker (did not read yet)
Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (did not read yet)
Black Boy by Richard Wright (did not read yet)
Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy (read)
Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons (read) See review here.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (read) See review here.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (reading)
A Curtain of Green by Eudora Welty (did not read yet)
The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty (read) See review here.
Uncle Tom's Children by Richard Wright (read)

Did you read any of the books I read? And if you check the full list, how many, if any, did you read from the list. Is there any book with a Southern theme that you think is missing from the list? I would love links to your reviews of Southern lit by the way! I see that I haven't included anything by authors such as Flannery O'Connor, and I never read Gone With the Wind either. Plus there is an awful lot of William Faulkner, which sounds tempting....oh well, so many books, so little time ;o)

Wordless Wednesday

Old Penguin Paperbacks
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Monday, July 20, 2009

A Lets be friends award

I just received the Lets Be Friends Award from Natalie of The Book Inn. Thanks very much Natalie, it means a lot and I am honored to be your friend :-)

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Disturbing book about family-life in suburbia in the 1990es. Lionel Shriver has written a powerful book about Eva, her husband Franklin and their son Kevin. The book is made out of a number of Eva's letters to her estranged husband, following her visits to the prison where her son Kevin has been after killing seven classmates, a teacher and a cafeteria-worker in on of those school-shootings we all know about, mostly from the Columbine-massacre. I don't know, but maybe the Columbine-massacre was the inspiration for this book.

Eva and Franklin are New York WASPs in their mid-thirties, when they decide to try making a baby and becoming a real family, moving from TriBeCa to the 'burbs, bringing up their son, Kevin. Kevin is not like other children - or should I say, that seen through the eyes of his mother, he is not like other children, while his father seems to think that whatever Kevin does, its normal and healthy? The voice of the book belongs to Eva, mainly, and I shuddered through parts of the book. Clearly, Eva did not like her son, and she definitely did not understand him. But I shuddered even more when I read about Franklin's reactions, and found him a weak idiot through a large part of the book. But then again, the letters are from Eva to Franklin, not the other way round, so we can only take Eva's words for whatever she claims went wrong through Kevin's childhood and adolescence. It is not that she is not taking the blame, though, because she is. I still would have liked to hear Franklin's voice as well, and I grew a little tired with Eva's voice, and actually also grew a little tired with her taking much of the blame. I would also have liked some kind of explanation of why Kevin became a killer, although I guess the explanation is what I have just read in this book which has more than 450 pages.

I would love to discuss much more about this book, as there are many interesting topics to discuss, but I am afraid it would mean spoilers, so for now I will just say, that if you haven't read it, do it now. Great book, but scary and disturbing.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week Coming Up

Don't forget that the Book Blogger Appreciation Week is coming up in September. Check out the website here, blog about it, tweet about and remember to sign up yourself.
This is a # 2 A Short Post in the Blog Improvement Project Blog Post Bingo).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Young Omani guide on top of Telegraph Island in the middle of the fjords of Musandam, Oman.
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Monday, July 13, 2009

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson

As I have said before: I loved Jackson's first book gods in Alabama, and found her second one Between, Georgia, only so-so. So I did not know what to expect from her latest one The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. But I liked it. I liked it a lot. I am close to simply loving it, but it was not quite a 5-star read. But definitely 4½. So why not 5 stars? Mainly because I had envisioned another ending. I realize that this is not the author's "fault" (writing another ending than what I had expected), but the last few pages did feel slightly thin after I had devoured the whole book, not wanting to let it go, just having to know what was on the next page and the next page again.

The book takes place in Florida, where Laurel, a quilt-maker, lives a somewhat sheltered life in a sheltered neighborhood with her husband and daughter. Her husband is a computer geek, almost autistic, her sister is a flamboyant actress married to a gay man and her mother is a Southern woman who has tried hard all her life to rise above the squalid conditions she grew up in in DeLop, Florida, which must be one of the most depressing places I have ever come across in literature. All has an impact on Laurel's life for better or for worse, a life which shatters when her daughter's best friend is found drowned in Laurel's swimmingpool. Laurel is forced to face memories of the past, her present life, her marriage, her family and her DeLop heritage, which is something she has avoided since she was a little girl.

The book is about The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, but it is also a book about a young woman in her thirties trying to face life. Sounds simple, and in a way it also is. But as Laurel realizes that that is exactly what she has to do, things begin to fall apart rapidly, and beneath the quiet surface lies evil, decomposing and stinking memories, ghosts, repressed feelings and life at the utmost bottom of society.
Sounds like an awful read? It wasn't. Not at all. I highly recommend this book, and I am now looking forward to Jackson's next Southern Gothic!

This book is read as part of the Southern Reading Challenge 2009


Beth from Beth Fish Reads has a wonderful giveaway running until July 25. The giveaway is international, so anyone can sign up. The book you can get your hands on is the brandnew The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand. I am definitely going to try and get this one - and so should you :-)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

My passion for everything Tintin

Are you a Tintinologist? I am. Although my knowledge of Tintin and the other characters from the Belgian Hergé's famous comic-book series cannot match a true Tintinologist's - not by any chance.

Tintin comics are immensely popular all over Europe with both kids and adults, but I am not familiar with their popularity in Northern America, Australia and other places around the world. If you know anything about this, please enlighten me, as I am very curious.

In Belgium, in Louvain-la-Neuve, there is a Tintin-museum. Or rather, it is an Hergé-museum. What I find completely adorable is, that the museum is located on Rue du Labrador, which is the same street Tintin lives at in the series, although the town/city he lives in is not clear. I always suspected it was Brussels, but could be Louvain-la-Neuve of course. A real Tintinologist will know, so already here, I have failed ;o)

Late in the 1950'es, Tintin was launched in the US. This article is very well written and not too long, yet it gives all the details, and if you are just a bit interested, you should check it out. Here is a snippet from the article's beginning:
In 1958 Georges Duplaix wrote to Casterman to express his interest in publishing
Tintin in the USA. At the time, the dust was still settling after the ‘horror
comics debate’. There had been articles condemning comic books since the
Forties, and a New York Senate panel had actually banned them in 1955. Comics
had been described as debased and semi-literate, and were accused of keeping
children from reading ‘proper’ books. This was probably not the best environment
in which to try to launch a major work of the comic-book tradition. However,
Tintin appeared to have a good, clean image, and he was becoming more and more
popular in Europe, so why not America?

Also, don't forget to check out the official Tintin-page. Some of it is in French, but the English version is adequate. Here you can see the map of where the different books took place, you can get an overview over the characters and see when the different books were published. The Tintin-albums has been read, researched, talked about and discussed for years. Recent years has seen the political correct removal of some of the alcohol, tobacco (and firearms, I almost wrote) and profanity in the albums, but not all "personality" has been taken out of the albums.

And you don't have to be a Tintinologist to notice (if you get your hands on some of the old editions) the European outlook on the world back then. Please not that Hergé was neither nazi nor racist. But yes, some of the pictures in the albums strike us as racist today. They were not intended as such, Europeans just didn't know better (some may argue they still don't).

As a part of the Dewey Reading Challenge, I am re-reading one of the Tintin-albums - The Secret of the Unicorn - and will review it here shortly. This post is meant as a little forerunner to that review. I will also make a little post later with my fave characters from Tintin.

Have you read any Tintin-albums?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Guide Books Travel Wiriting

I guess that most of us at one point or another has used some sort of a guidebook and/or map of a location. For travelling abroad or to a neighboring town, for finding our way around a city, a museum, a theme park. There are many guidebooks on the (English-speaking) market, and I am familiar with many of them: Rough Guides, Lonely Planet, Frommers, Blue Guides, Time Out, DK and more. In our day and age, sites like Tripadvisor and Holiday Watchdog are popular, and can be used as a more or less real time guidebook, provided your are online as you go - which is unlikely if you are hiking in the Amazonas, but not that unlikely if you are, say, in New York. E-zines and blogs about travelling (pro as well as amateur) are also very popular. Vagabondish is just one example. There are plenty more.

So, what I am trying to say is, that the travel- and guidebook industries are somthing that we have all touched upon, one way or the other. Even in the current economic climate, people are still travelling. They may not spend as much on their vacations and trips as they did in 2007, but they are still travelling. And some of them will buy guidebooks.

Last year there was a "scandal" involving the whole Lonely Planet-industry. One of their writers, a Thomas Krohnstamm, admitted that he had not actually visited Colombia, which he was writing a guidebook about, but had done all his writing from a hotel-room in San Francisco, getting info from a Colombian girl he dated at the time. Naturally, this had an impact on all Lonely Planet guides (and guidebook-writers and other guidebook-series as well), but obviously not all of their books are "fake", and it seems like while Krohnstamm was probably not the only rotten apple in the basket, Lonely Planet guidebooks are still going strong.

They've been my preferred English guidebook for a long time, but I have always had a love/hate relationship with them. First of all, they are written mainly for an English-speaking audience, and not a Danish audience. Danish guidebooks does not dwell so much on whether a city is "safe" or not - LP has a whole entry in each of their guidebooks called "Dangers and Annoyances" - Danes on the other hand want to know where they can smoke or whether a place sell decent beer or not. Not that Danes are taking more stupid risks abroad than other nationalities, they just care more about the other things. For many Danes, despite initially being made for the travellers wanting to thread the not-so-beaten-paths, Lonely Planet has too much of an overtone of "not being written for them". This is very generally speaking and also written somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I hope you know what I mean. But on the other hand, LP has far more info than the average Danish guidebook. I have a little collection of LP guidebooks, and I love to just browse through them for inspiration and day-dreamning.

Aside from the fact that many Danes prefer to read in Danish, we also have our own guidebook-series, written in Danish by Danish authors. The series is called "The Trip Goes To" and has existed since the 1950'es. This series is why other guide-series, like LP, doesn't sell as well in Denmark as they do in other parts of the world.

I am right now in the United Arab Emirates doing some research. Not for a guidebook though (I wish). And I brought the LP Arabian Peninsula with me :-) So far it has not let me down, I only wish it had more info!

Do you own guidebooks? Or do you prefer the related genre travel-memoirs? Or do you prefer not to travel at all, or, if you travel, not to bring any kind of guidebook with you? Maybe you go to the same place every year and doesn't need a guidebook?

Oh - and where would you go if money and time was no objection? And don't say around the world ;o)

Friday, July 03, 2009

Lovely new books

I don't buy or loan as many books as some - and since I am in Denmark I am unable to do Paperback Swap - it would cost me double the price of the book to ship an old paperback across the pond anyway. So I have never done the Library Loot/Mailbox weeklies. I don't think I get enough in my mailbox or from the library to do that.

But in the past month, I have both been to the library and also bought some books. All of them are loaned or bought through blogger's recommendations, for which I am eternally grateful!

While I love to browse old books and make cheap finds, I also think it is lovely when a package filled with brand new books arrive. New books are wonderful and they smell good! This past month I bought the following books:

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson (Southern Reading Challenge. I read Jackson's two previous novels. Loved the first one -Gods in Alabama - the second one was so-so - Between, Georgia)
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan (Southern Reading Challenge. So many bloggers raved about this one, and I hope its as wonderful as they say)
Stuck by Herman Bang (Danish author from 19th Century, writing at the same time as the Impressionists painted their famous paintings)
We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver (because I've heard so much about this book the past years, and then saw it mentioned again, and thought that NOW I will read it)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (this is part of my own personal quest to try reading the much-talked-about YA, and this one came very higly recommended)
Tender Graces by Kathryn Magendie (a blogger reviewed this one, and I just felt like that was a book I really wanted to read)

The Curse of the Mummy and other Mysteries of Ancient Egypt by Charlotte Booth (Ms Booth is an Egyptologist herself, and this book is the Egyptologist's take on those mysteries, which may not be mysteries after all)
Property by Valerie Martin (This one I chose to read a long time ago when I compiled my list for the Dewey Reading Challenge, and I think it looks very good)

Did you read any of the books I bought? Heard any good/bad about them? Then please share :-)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Going away for 10 days

I am going to be away on a work-related trip from July 2 - 12, and while I will bring my laptop, I don't know how much time I will have to blog. I hope I will be able to check in here, but since I am going to be out and about most of the time researching, I am not sure. I have prepared some posts to be published while I am away, so that this blog doesn't die down completely.

I am going to United Arab Emirates. I will be landing in Dubai and then travel directly to the small, northern Emirate called Ras al-Khaimah or RAK as it is called for short. RAK begun developing tourism only a few years ago. They were standing in the shadow of big brother Dubai, and since they have some wonderful beaches and amazing natural scenery in RAK, they thought that, hey, let us try and lure some of the many visitors to Dubai up here to our little emirate. So now there has been build some wonderful hotels on the beaches, which are perfect for relaxing and sunny vacations, but still only about an hour's drive from Dubai with all its trademark craziness, mega-buildings and what not.

Our base will be at the great Al Hamra Fort Beach Resort, which you can see a part of on the image below, lower right corner.

I have never been to UAE, and am looking much forward to it. I am going to do some research on various tours like beduoin camel-trips, dune bashing, shopping-trips (YAY) and much more.

The image on top of the Dubai skyline has been taken by and the beach image was shot by Henzelle - be back soon. Both images can be found on flickr.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Strange Affair by Peter Robinson

Strange Affair is no. 15 in the Inspector Banks series. When we left Inspector Banks, Annie Cabbott and the other policemen and women in Eastvale, dramatic stuff had happened. Everyone are still licking their wounds, mainly Banks, who has withdrawn into himself. When the book begins, he is on vacation. Not abroad, but at home. He receives a mysterious call from his somewhat estranged brother Roy, but he is not home to answer the call. Mystified and intrigued he leaves for London to ask Roy what is up, but Roy has disappeared, leaving only his cell phone behind. As Banks digs into the disappearance, he finds out things about Roy that he had never suspected, and he meets some of the people who were Roy's friends, business partners and lovers. Meanwhile, Annie Cabbott is trying to get hold of Banks, but he has left his cell phone back in Eastvale. He is desperately needed in Eastvale, as a young girl has been found shot, and traces are leading in all directions. Biggest fear is that the Eastvale police are dealing with a serial killer.

This was an exciting read, and I really liked it. I will take a break from the Banks-thrillers now and concentrate on some of my challenge reads instead. But if you begin reading the Banks-series, I can definitely recommend this one.

Wordless Wednesday

Bodega Bay, California, post office. May 2007.
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