Friday Fill-Ins #139

1. He was a squirrelfan.

2. Starting a new university year with new books, new courses, new colleagues and new social life is what I look forward to most this time of year.

3. My best friend is nonexistent, I am more the type of having a few close friends than one best.

4. I want to be in a world where you can expect people to be honest with you and be rightfully angry if they're not.

5. Appearances can be revealing or unrevealing, deceptive or undeceptive - there are no rules and that is great!

6. The last person I gave a hug to was my dad, when he picked me up at the airport.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to finish watching the webcomedy MerriMe on TheFriskey, tomorrow my plans include finish packing my suitcase, go lastminute shopping and get on the plane to Southern France and Sunday, I want to see my grandparents!

Hooray me! Hooray Anna Karenina!

Just to announce my immense satisfaction and relief: I have finished Anna Karenina!

Yes, I loved it but no, it was not easy to read. Not because of the style, which was extremely good and very funny at moments but because of the content and Tolstoi's tendency to stress details, especially anything about: agriculture, spirituality, agriculture, the process of thinking without actually getting into the content of the character's thoughts (whoa, the last chapters on Lewin were pure hell), agriculture, Russia's society, the conditions of peasants, and did I mention agriculture?

It is a long, long book and at many times I just thought: "Please give this author a good editor!" but no, Tolstoi's work wouldn't be as a literary monument as it is without his overwhelmingly rich prose. Many parts seem not necessary because the story is supposed to be about the tragedy of Anna Karenina and they shift the focus towards Lewin (who apparently is an embodiment of Tolstoi himself) and theories on farming and society. I still could not decide if the title was well chosen or a failure, the character Anna Karenina is not structuring the book enough to justify it. In fact, Lewin's parts are so prominent and his connection to Anna Karenina so few and even if I understand that he is her counterpart, why is her name the title?

Reading Tolstoi is like going through a mill but it is worth it. 5 stars. But I am not going to reread it anytime soon, nor will I read any other Tolstoi for the next 2 months.

China Challenge 2009-2010

Jennie at Biblio File is hosting this amazing challenge about China and I am all excited to make my list of books and things - yes, things! more on that later.
The challenge runs from September 1st 2009 to September 1st 2010, which is even better as I am therefore having a "Chinese" year exactly between my 21st and my 22nd birthday!
There are three levels, the Armchair Traveler, the Fast Train to Shanghai, Hiking the Great Wall and the Silk Road Trek. I know that I am slightly behind in my challenges at the moment as I am working quite a lot and being very slow with Anna Karenina at the moment, but this will change after I am done with Tolstoi, so I participate in the Silk Road Trek!

Mostly because the guidelines are so eclectic...
1. Read 10 books about China of which 1 nonfiction and 1 translated fiction (1 book can deal with Chinese immigration, thus not entirely taking place in China)

My list is not definitive, but as a start I will consider these works:
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan (the one novel including immigration)
Waiting by Ha Jin
Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
Red Azalea by Anchee Min (the nonfiction one)
Wild Ginger by Anchee Min
Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck
The Girl who played Go by Shan Sa

2. Do three or more of the activities listed in Jennie's post.
I will..
- (1) Listen to Chinese Pod and learn some Mandarin
- (3) Go out for Chinese food. (really, this will happen more than once, I crave for Asian food in general)
- (4) Read a blog about China. Don't know which one yet, but the suggestions are great.
- (6) Watch a Chinese film. Think about watching 2046 by Kar Wai Wong
... and maybe I'll find myself doing even more. Unfortunately, I won't be going to China anytime soon, I have too many other projects and not enough money to do everything. But it is definitely on my mind.

I think the most difficult and therefore challenging for me will be to blog about all this, as I am a very "moody" blogger. I do not write reviews about all the books I read like so many other bloggers and sometimes even these few reviews come up weeks after I finished a book. So this time, I will do my best, as it is part of completing the challenge.

Thursday Thunks 13/08

1. Hypothetical question- you are in a building with famous works of art, old manuscripts of famous novels, and original sheet music from famous composers. The building is on fire and looks to be completely destroyed. Do you grab any of the famous works before fleeing, and if so what?
Of course I grab as much as I can, but I would rather take paintings than manuscripts or original sheets, as long as these are not the only copies in the world.

2. In August 1969, the Manson family went on a 2 night killing spree. Do you think 40 years later they have paid for their crimes?
Maybe as I am not American, it is for me just any other horrible crime and not of national outrage. But I believe that they should be locked up for life as any other person who commits a crime of such sort.

3. Power Outage! What's the longest you have been without power?
Not long, maybe few hours.

4. Just bought a new tazer gun. Will you let it be tested it on you to see if it works, and how it feels to be tazered?
I am curious, but not insane.

5. A neighbor's mail was delivered to you. In it is a magazine not wrapped in plastic. Is it ok for you to flip through it before giving it to the neighbor? Do you tell them you looked through it?
I would not read itas I don't want to take the risk to damage it in any way. Flippping through it is okay I guess and I would not feel the need to tell them, unless it comes up and we talk about something metioned on the cover. If the magazine is not wrapped, I do not see any big deal. However, I think I would not flip through any porn magazine etc, I really do not want to know what my neighbors are into!

6. If I went through your purse/wallet right now, what all would I find in there?
My purse is not so full today... there is my wallet, a blue scarf, my mobile phone, Anna Karenina, two small notebooks, two lip moisturizers from Nivea, a small mirror... actually there are many many small little things women tend to carry around

7. Have you been living under a rock?
I have been living on a rock.

8. Tell us something crazy you did this week.
Nothing crazy ever happens before I am asked this question! So nothing this week, but the week before a friend took a picture of me in the middle of the night sitting and making faces next to a sleeping old man in the underground. Childish, I know.

Jane Austen: "Northanger Abbey"

Jane Austen has surprisingly established herself over the years as one of my favourite authors and I have to admit my presence among the hardcore Pride & Prejudice and Mr Darcy devotees of which there are many in world. Knowing very well her "three big ones", Pride & Prejudice of course, Emma and Sense and Sensibility, I have recently decided to catch up with her other novels and bought Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park.

Northanger Abbey, published in 1817, is the story of young Catherine Morland who is a passionate reader of mystery novels, the more bloodspilling the better. She is sent to accompany Mr and Mrs Allen to Bath for some weeks and meets Isabelle and John Thorpe of which the former becomes her new best friend.
When she also gets close to the Tilney siblings, of which Henry becomes her love interest, the Thorpes start clinging to her. Indeed, as the Thorpes mistake Catherine for the heiress of the Allens’ fortune, they plan to make double marriage to Catherine and her brother. While Catherine refuses John, Isabella succeeds in getting engaged to James Morland. Catherine subsequently accepts Eleanor Tilney’s invitation to their mansion Northanger Abbey, where her imagination goes wild and she imagines that General Tilney killed his wife.
As in the meantime Isabella discovers the truth of their lack of wealth, she dissolves her engagement and tries to catch Henry’s brother Frederick Tilney instead. Thereby, General Tilney who had been mislead about the Morland’s wealth as well, more or less throws Catherine out and it is Henry who closes the story with a happy ending.

Catherine is a young, naïve but somewhat foolish girl, as her love for gothic romance and unbound imagination lead her first to wish for some mystery and horror in her own life and to imagine it herself and take it for reality later on. I did not feel very much with her, she is entertaining at most, often charming in her stupidity but overall not interesting beyond that.
Even though Henry presents some similarities with Darcy, the wit and sarcasm and the quality of being a good brother to his sister Eleanor, Catherine is no Elizabeth. Indeed, she barely understands what he is talking about in their long discussions and thinks he is utterly charming and intelligent from the first moment. That Henry ends up marrying her is based on his preference not for an equally intelligent partner, but a refreshingly naïve girl. I liked him in general but maybe he disappointed me somewhat as I thought at the end, “here goes a future Mr Bennett” even if that may be unfair to Catherine, who is by no means as insufferable as Mrs Bennett.

I watched the BBC movie two years or so ago but fortunately I did not remember exactly the details of the storyline anymore so that I could discover the novel on its own. I found Northanger Abbey a rather short read compared to the novels I previously read but not less entertaining. It is a surprising read, as Austen ventures into open parody and chooses as a target the gothic romance novel. Basically, if Austen was writing this today, she would turn Catherine into an even weaker Bella (is that actually possible?) and make fun of Twilight.

Musing Mondays 10/08/09

Yesterday, Musing Mondays came up with this question:

Do you have a favourite publishing house -- one that puts out books that you constantly find yourself wanting to read? If so, who? And, what books have they published that you've loved?

Like most people I know, I do not have any favourite publishing house, I am in fact simply considering the whole range of book genres that interest me when deciding what to read next. However, I often pick up the little catalogues publishers use to print in Germany to see their new books and the other ones with small introductions. The format is nice and handy and I always find something intriguing that I will eventually read. Now that I try to answer this question, I effectively become aware that I tend to pick up the same publisher catalogues all the time, limiting my choice on 2-3 of them. Indeed, I always take the dtv catalogue (Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag, German paperback publishing house) which has an extremely broad range of books from classics to new publications of quality, the Oetinger catalogue more of for the child inside me than any buying interest (they are the one big children fiction publishing house in Germany and were the first to publish Pippi Longstocking outside of Sweden) and the Diogenes catalogue.

Comments section fixed

It took some days for me even to figure out that it was impossible to comment on this new layout! But now it should be fixed and I even have the "posted by" back at the bottom I was looking for. When I will find some motivation again to look at the template code again, I will try to get the date header a bit down, there's too much space between it and the post title.

Friday Fill-In #136

1. Litchee juice is my favorite summertime drink.

2. My favorite John Hughes movies is The Breakfast Club.

3. Shark skin is something I love to touch.

4. The full moon is the perfect moment to go out and have a midnight walk.

5. I want to crawl back into my bed right now.

6. When daylight fades, the sky is tainted in thousand colors.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to enjoy my early goodbye-dinner with my work colleagues, tomorrow my plans include visiting Bulgakov's flatmuseum and Sunday, I want to see the Palace of the Romanov Boyars that I couldn't go to last weekend!

What to (not) do with a book

Today's news are filled with trial reports about people who get indemnities because they put their cat into the microwave or drink burning coffee and no proper instructions told them not to.
So just in case, take notes.

Book Rules

Terry Pratchett: "Equal Rites"

Equal Rites is the third fantasy novel of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series and was recommended to me by my former professor of Icelandic folklore. Published in 1987, it explores the themes of female magic vs male magic, gender equality, institutionalised vs grassroot magic and the use of power.

The story goes as follows: Drum Billet, a wizard, ends up in Bad Ass, a small village up the mountains to give on his magical staff to the 8th son of an 8th son. As the child is born, Drum Billet dies without knowing that the newborn is not a son, but a daughter, who per definition can never be a wizard.
However, Esk, as the girl is called, develops extensive magical powers and is taken in to be trained by the with Granny Weatherwax. As this is not enough for the long term, Granny Weatherway and Esk travel to the Unseen University, a hotspot for wizards.
At first, Esk is refused, because she is a woman, but after a lot of troublemaking in which her wizard friend accidentally lets in creatures from the dungeon dimensions, the university is flooded and the head of the institution is more or less saved by Granny Weatherwax on the way to get the magical staff back - hey, it's Discworld! - a happy end finishes the book not à la "and they had many children" but as in "they continued to research the power of how to not use magic".
Discworld novels are always an enjoyable read, some are simply genius, some are just plain funny. Equal Rites is not part of the best ones, but does not fail on its themes and even surprises by its conclusion on magic: that the greatest power comes when you refuse to use any other power. The great character Granny Weatherwax is introduced, who fortunately will pop up in the following novels from time to time and who maybe adds the most fun to the story. The other characters are not developed as much and even Esk just seems to serve the purpose of one story. Indeed, the story ends while she is still a teenager and so we do not get to know what kind of wizard she will be.
Overall, a funny and quick read with some great points that could have been developed further, but we feel that this is still the beginning of Discworld.

Musing Mondays 03/08/09

1) If you don't frequent your local library, why not?
At the moment, I am abroad in Russia and as I do not speak Russian well enough to read novels, I did no see the need to look for a local library.
2) If you do visit the library, how often do you go?
When I am in my city, I try to go every week. My "local library" is actually half an hour bus drive away so when I am very busy I cannot make it so often.
3) Do you have a favorite section that you always head to first, or do you just randomly peruse the shelves?
I usually check out the shelf with the new books first and the ones that have been freshly returned. Then I go through the shelves of fiction and spend most of my time there.
4) How many books are you allowed to check out at one time? Do you take advantage of this?
I am allowed 10 I believe and usually there are around 8 in my bag when I am leaving the library.
5) How long are you allowed to have the books checked out?
4 weeks.
6) How many times are you allowed to renew your check-outs, if at all?
2 times I believe.
7) What do you love best about your particular library?
It is never crowded when I come (usually on Friday afternoons), there is a very nice childrens' section on the whole upper floor. It's simplicity of a honest small city library that is also hosting children events esp. around Christmas reminds me of the library I went to as a kid.
8) What is one thing you wish your library did differently?
I wish they had more space for more fiction, one half a floor is really not enough, even if I am far from having read all their books. I also think they should stock up on classics, some authors really should be there with their whole work.
9) Do you request your books via an online catalogue, or through the librarian at your branch?
I usually do not request books as I am never sure if I will be able to go there on the day I have to pick up the book. But I use the online catalogue to make my pre-choices beforehand.
10) Have you ever chosen a book on impulse (from the online catalogue OR the shelves) and had it turn out to be totally amazing? If so, what book was it, and why did you love it?
Taking books on impulse happens really often, esp. when it is a library and not a bookshop. I remember how I took once A Wild Yearning (at least I think that was the title) by Penelope Williamson, a genre I am not usually reading and I really enjoyed it. Afterwards I read two of her other books and they were a disappointment as typically in the cheap romance genre I am not into.

Jeffrey Eugenides: "Middlesex"

I have wanted to read this Pulitzer-winning Middlesex for at least a year, not only because I had read and liked reading The Virgin Suicides maybe 3 years ago but because the story seemed fantastic. I have always been very fond of marginal people, different lives and I felt that this novel was about a literature-shaping character.

In the end, the story turned out to be even better than "just" the life of a hermaphrodite so that I closed this book knowing that it had made its way into my list of favourites. Middlesex is about Calliope, a child that grows up as a girl and discovers she's a boy in her teens - that is the very basic storyline. But as Calliope herself does not retell her life until the reader has got maybe 60% into the book, the story reveals itself as the story of her Greek family that traces back its origins to a small village in today's Turkey, where their fate is sealed.

Reading along the line of the adventurous migration of the grandparents who flee Smyrna during the Greek-Turkish war to the lovestory of the parents is also reading about Greece and Turkey, about Greeks in America, about America's economical boom, about Ford and immigrants' neighbourhoods in Detroit, about the prohibition and Canada, about self-made-men and recession, about the sixties, about the seventies. About family dynamics.

And about growing up also, as Calliope struggles through puberty. As it is a life changing development that we experience all, one can relate to Calliope so far and feels with her when she gets further into questions that we have been lucky enough not to face. Being a hermaphrodite is less difficult as becoming one and Calliope has to leave her family and her love in order to find Cal, the man who is a good daughter to his mother.

Overall, I immensely enjoyed reading this novel. Eugenides has a fantastic way of telling this story, of using the Greek mythology to soften its corners and leave the readers with a real masterpiece.

Constantly changing places is inherent to my life. Books have always been steady friends which I could bump into wherever I was all over the world.
Stumbling upon Kaminer's German stories of "Die Reise nach Trulala" in Reykjavík's city library is as moving as meeting the Icelandic sagas in Boston's Borders.
To see a book again, that I've read thousands of kilometers away makes me smile "Hey I know you.." and shake hands by thumbing through it for a while.