I just can't recommend this cookbook highly enough. Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir is an award-winning author of many Icelandic cookbooks, and when I found he...moreI just can't recommend this cookbook highly enough. Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir is an award-winning author of many Icelandic cookbooks, and when I found her English cookbook on the library shelf just next to several of her other beautiful, and incredibly extensive cookbooks in Icelandic (with sweet titles like Matarást, or Food Love) I knew I had found a winner.
The only possible complaint I have about this cookbook is that there are no pictures, which would be really helpful for someone unfamiliar with Icelandic cooking, as I am. But what Nanna's book lacks in photos it more than makes up for with an historical introduction to Icelandic food and cooking, as well as neat little sociological tidbits throughout her recipes, an extensive glossary of Icelandic ingredients, and a section dedicated to "festive food holidays." The writing is straightforward and descriptive, the recipes are presented simply and with very little fuss, and she includes little personal anecdotes which really give you a sense of not only Icelandic cooking, but also how much this country has changed over the last 60 years or so. A few quick examples:
Introducing her recipe for elbow macaroni soup (a sweet, milk-based dessert soup, of which there are many in Icelandic cooking): "This was virtually the only form of pasta I encountered before my tenth birthday--using macaroni for anything other than a sweet dish would have been considered a revolutionary idea."
About Þorrablót, the yearly celebrations in which large quantities of not entirely appetizing traditional dishes (at least for contemporary palates) are served: "The present-day catered Þorrablót is partly an invention of a Reykjavík restaurant owner in the 1950s--he thought there might be a market for traditional and disappearing Icelandic food that had never been served in restaurants before."
"Icelanders have never been fond of herring and most of them will only eat it marinated or in salads.During the early part of the twentieth century, efforts were made to teach people to appreciate the fish, which was being caught in huge quantities by Icelandic boats...Helga Sigurðardóttir says in Matur og drykur: 'Icelandic housewives, it is our duty to ensure that people eat more herring than they do now...'"
"It was in the 1960s that Icelanders began to travel abroad, and cooking trends from foreign, but not exotic, countries became more evident. These were the "shrimp cocktail" years of the western world and Iceland was no exception...Icelanders were slowly learning to eat vegetable salads...rice and spaghetti were beginning to be seen, largely as additions to, not replacements for, the ubiquitous potatoes. Spaghetti was mostly served in a so-called "Italian sauce," usually a béchamel sauce with some tomato paste or ketchup added."
"The first pizza parlor was opened in 1969 but did not survive long. Just a few years later, most people were familiar with pizzas and even knew how to make them. These early homemade pizzas were usually covered with a thick layer of ground meat, ketchup, canned mushrooms, pineapple chunks, and grated cheese. Hamburgers invaded roadside shops. They were fried to death, often served with a pineapple slice and a fried egg, and were almost always eaten with a knife and fork."
I could add so many more of these tidbits, but then I'd basically be transcribing her book. I've basically read the whole thing from start to finish now, and it has been really edifying.(less)
On the advice of a friend, I checked the Icelandic/Danish/English translation of this Richard Scarry classic out of the library. I remember reading th...moreOn the advice of a friend, I checked the Icelandic/Danish/English translation of this Richard Scarry classic out of the library. I remember reading this (in English, of course) when I was a kid, and now reading it again while I'm trying to learn Icelandic, I have a renewed appreciation for it. Some of the words are, I think, a little dated--I'm not just talking about the presence of TV antennas in the definitions--more words like "salt castor" instead of salt shaker or a "petticoat" being part of a little girl's dressing routine. But overall, the breadth of words is fantastic and the pictures are delightful. I even pulled this out the other day when I was working on a written assignment for class--I couldn't find the phrase for "to wash one's face" in a regular dictionary, but this one had it! (less)
A translation-related romance, given to me before my Iceland departure by erstwhile RRAD LUST book club member Shayne. My first Julia Quinn. A very qu...moreA translation-related romance, given to me before my Iceland departure by erstwhile RRAD LUST book club member Shayne. My first Julia Quinn. A very quick, fun and frothy sort of read. Very enjoyable read for a run of rainy days...(less)
During the "Golden Age" of British crime fiction, Ronald Knox, a British clergyman, literary critic, and author of several crime novels himself, wrote...moreDuring the "Golden Age" of British crime fiction, Ronald Knox, a British clergyman, literary critic, and author of several crime novels himself, wrote the "ten commandments" of crime fiction (see here: http://goo.gl/v1saO). These rules vary from "Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable" to "No Chinaman must figure in the story." (In his introduction, Škvorecký explains that despite the regrettable epitaph, the rule "was not a display of racism on the part of the good Father, but simply his reaction to what was one of the most hackneyed ploys of cheap detective stories.")
Since the writing of these "commandments," most have been broken in very good examples of crime fiction. Josef Škvorecký, a Czech author who emigrated to Canada following the Prague Spring, set out to break all of Father Knox's rules in this collection of short, linked crime stories. You, the reader, are charged with two tasks when reading: determining not only whodunnit in each story, but also which sin Škvorecký has committed against the commandments. (If you need some help working out the "who," the "what," and the "how" of each story, the "Ab-solutions" in the back will clear things up for you.)
Each of the ten stories find the gorgeous, clever, and world-weary Czech night-club singer Eve Adam unexpectedly playing detective in run-down bars and seedy districts all over the world. Having been cleared of a murder she was wrongly convicted of in the first story (with the help of Škvorecký's usual leading man, Detective Boruvka) Eve joins a traveling Czech performance group. But whether she's in Sweden, Italy, San Francisco, a cruise across the Atlantic, or Prague, certain things don't change for Eve--for all her cynicism, she's a romantic who can never stay away from smooth-talking men, and wherever she goes, someone seems to unexpectedly turn up dead.
Škvorecký taps into his inner Conan Doyle, and stresses logic and deduction in each tale, but honestly, sometimes the stories are convoluted enough (much like a Sherlock Holmes story) that it would prove a difficult thing to work out the answers. But while the stories occasionally feel a bit too clever, the surrounding characterizations are really rich and entertaining. Characters reoccur throughout the book and anecdotes told in one story pop up again and are put to good use in another. (You really have to read all of the stories in order--they build on one another in small, but meaningful ways. Also, it's best to read each story in one sitting--it's easy to forget little pertinent details and clues otherwise.) Eve is a sharp narrator, and a very funny observer of human folly--including her own--which really makes this a pleasure to read. (less)
Anna Cynthia Leplar's illustrations do a lot to make the sisters a bit cuter and more sympathetic. Snuðra og Tuðra not only look less feral in her dra...moreAnna Cynthia Leplar's illustrations do a lot to make the sisters a bit cuter and more sympathetic. Snuðra og Tuðra not only look less feral in her drawings, but generally more tidy and a bit older. But mischief is still afoot, and still with lesson-teaching consequences. This time, after their mother paints their room and their father gets them a big toy box, the sisters tear apart their clean bedroom in one day (just like the neighbor says they will). Too tired to clean up that night, they go straight to bed, only for Sunðra to wake in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and hurt herself walking over toy cars. (She doesn't make it to the bathroom, either, for double the trouble. I can now count "að pissa sig," or "to pee oneself" to my Icelandic vocabulary.) Tuðra had tried to get out of bed to help her sister, but also stepped on toys and fell over in the process, so they both learn their lesson and are moved to clean up their room the next day. Or at least, mostly clean up: what can't be easily put away gets shoved under the bed. But no one--not least the neighbor--can tell. (less)
Another entry in the Snuðra og Tuðra read-a-thon. This one was a little spotty plot-wise for me because it was missing some pages in the middle. But t...moreAnother entry in the Snuðra og Tuðra read-a-thon. This one was a little spotty plot-wise for me because it was missing some pages in the middle. But the gist, as you might have gleaned from other S&T descriptions is that the sisters misbehave--they want a bike and don't get one and, I think, yell at their grandmother for eating one of the candy animals on their cake--but by the end they have learned their lesson and learned how to say thank you. (less)
My second Snuðra og Tuðra in Icelandic! I actually read this one twice--first along with the audio track and without a dictionary, and then again by m...moreMy second Snuðra og Tuðra in Icelandic! I actually read this one twice--first along with the audio track and without a dictionary, and then again by myself, looking up words along the way. Reading through more closely I definitely needed to look a lot up and which helped me get a lot more of the exact phrasing, but I'm happy to say that I did understand most of what was going on during the first read-through.
When we meet the sisters in this book, they've grown quite a lot (one of the actual verbs used is "fitna" or 'become fat') and they need new clothes. So their mother says that she will take them into town for clothes and that they will be riding the bus.
The messy, disheveled sisters (Gunnar Karlsson's illustrations in the Iðunn editions always show them with dirt on their faces and torn knees on their pants) are so excited that not only do they run out of the house with their daily cod oil (taken every morning by most Icelanders!) running down their faces, but they also elbow everyone at the bus stop out of their way in their haste to get on. This includes three elderly women, a man with a cane, and a mother holding a baby. Once on the bus, Snuðra and Tuðra behave atrociously--lying down across multiple seats and rudely refusing to move for anyone, be it a pregnant mother, an old, stooped man, or an old woman who can hardly stand without shaking. (The interactions escalate each time--on one page, Snuðra calls the pregnant passenger "feita bolla," which means something like "fat ball." Later, Tuðra calls the old lady "ljota kerling" (ugly old lady) and tries to kick her.) Their mother is somewhere on the bus for all this (she gives her own seat to the pregnant mother, I believe, when her daughters refuse their own), but she sort of just lets the chaos proceed until the girls are ceremoniously pitched from the bus by the irate driver, who--I think--tells them that if they can't behave like human beings, they will be embarrassed. (That particular line was very confusing for me.)
As in the last S&T book, the sisters do eventually learn their lesson. This time, they decide to behave properly on the bus because their mother refuses to take them into town or ride the bus with them again, and they are eventually embarrassed that they are hardly covered by their small clothes (the button on Snuðra's pants pops off and flies across the room on one page).
There are several interesting things to me about this series. Firstly, there's a lot of interesting phrasing throughout, although I can't tell if this is the author's style or just the fact that I am very, very new to the language and language structure. The best example I have from this book is the description of the pregnant passenger. It says that "Þar kom inn ung kona með barn í maganum og smábarn á handleggnum." As far as I can tell, this means 'A young woman with a baby in her belly and a small child in her arms got on [the bus]." There's definitely an Icelandic word for "pregnant," so this wording stood out to me.
Then there's the sort of hands-off parenting approach of the mother character. In the last book, she made meatballs and just let the girls' cousins eat all of them when S&T didn't come to the table when called. In this one, she lets her daughters wreak havoc in a public bus and eventually get all of them thrown off without even chastising them during the ride. (My mother would have killed me dead if I would have embarrassed her in public like these girls do their own mom--the whole bus is said to think "poor woman" when she has to leave the bus with her daughters.) But within the text and on the back cover description it says that the mother thinks that the girls "muni læra af reynslunni," which I believe means "learn from experience," which maybe indicates that this is some sort of larger parenting strategy? I wonder...(less)
I just read this in the original serialized version which is still available on The Guardian website (here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/...)....moreI just read this in the original serialized version which is still available on The Guardian website (here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/...). The story is a loving, quasi-Gothic paen to literature, to the act of reading, to librarians and librarianship, to library school, to memory. There are moments when it doesn't totally hang together or sort of veers off a little, which makes me wonder how much of the story the author had planned out ahead of time, and?or whether she was writing it as it was actually being published. Also, I sort of saw where the ending was going and am not totally convinced by how the story wrapped up (it was a bit more despairing than completely made sense to me), but I enjoyed The Night Bookmobile overall.
(But honestly, what librarian wouldn't enjoy a story about one's own personal archive with everything one has ever read traveling around in a mobile home, and which includes the line, "Like a pregnant woman eating for two, I read for myself and the librarian..."? I ask you.)
I've never read one of Niffenegger's novels, so I wonder how the writing here--vocabulary, phrasing, etc.--compares to those longer works. She seems very comfortable in a graphic medium, though: her artwork here is fluid, nicely colored, and very clean. And I'm sure it would be rewarding to examine each page more closely, to check out book titles, etc. Niffenegger's sense of how to divide space and manage the story in each panel is also really great. I appreciated the alternations between full-page illustrations with large blocks of text and pages which were creatively divided into many small boxes or which had a large figure overlapping smaller panels. It made for a dynamic way to tell the story.(less)
Another one of my forays into Icelandic children's literature, Rikka og töfrahringurinn á Íslandi (Rikka and the Enchanted Ring in Iceland) by the fas...moreAnother one of my forays into Icelandic children's literature, Rikka og töfrahringurinn á Íslandi (Rikka and the Enchanted Ring in Iceland) by the fashion/jewelry designer Hendrikka Waage has a bit of a muddy plot going in. In the first few pages, we're told that Rikka is a Sagittarius and has a red ring which is imbued with powers from planet Uni; her friend Linda is a Taurus and wants her own green birthstone ring. Then they run into their disabled friend, Dimitri, whose father is Russian and was born in Azerbaijan, and who works at the zoo in the summer, gets around using a wheelchair, and communicates using a chart of illustrated signs that he and other people can point to.
After this somewhat unnecessary diversion, however, Rikka and Linda take off to the Laugardalslaug pool to enjoy the hot pots. Then Rikka's magic ring, which has the power to transport the girls off on wonderful adventures, whips them off on a tour of All Things Awesome in Iceland. In the course of their day, the magic ring takes the girls
*To see the large-scale statues by Steinunn Þórarinsdóttir *To play handball and learn a little about Iceland's talented handball team *To ride Rikka's two Icelandic horses *To ride snowmobiles on Vatnajökull *To celebrate Icelandic Independence/National Day on June 17 at Þingvellir *To take a boat through the glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón *To eat delicious Icelandic food like lamb and lobster soup and drink Iceland's very clean, very healthy water *To fish for salmon *To see the giant lava formations of Öxnadal *To meditate on Snæfellsjökull *To get drenched at Geysir *To view Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace Tower on Viðey
And then they are spirited home again. The End. (It bears noting that they are accompanied by all manner of Icelandic creatures on their journey--puffins, elves, and Icelandic sheepdogs follow them gleefully through each new site...)
It's a cute book in some ways, and very earnest in its desire to both celebrate Iceland and also get kids excited about traveling (this was one of the intentions, per the book description), but overall it seems like the type of book meant for tourists and people visiting Iceland. So I wonder if there is actually an English version somewhere. The book is also apparently the first in a series--Rikka's magic ring takes her to Japan and India, and maybe some other countries, too.
Anyway, at the very least, I learned some interesting vocab--bókstaflega ("literally") and töfraorku ("enchanted energy/powers") and fatlaður ("disabled"), among others. (less)
I recently came across a CD of Snuðra og Tuðra stories being read by the author, but while the stories are simple enough, they are a bit difficult for...moreI recently came across a CD of Snuðra og Tuðra stories being read by the author, but while the stories are simple enough, they are a bit difficult for me to understand without being able to look at the words as well. So I am hoping to borrow each of the ten books about these two sisters from the library, so that I can not only listen to the readings while I follow along, but also read through the stories with a dictionary as well.
This was the first of the Snuðra og Tuðra books that I was able to find. It's called, roughly, Snuðra and Tuðra Miss Dinner. The gist is that the sisters have no table manners. They are constantly distracted by their games and won't sit still and eat their dinner when their mother calls them to the table. To teach them said manners, their mother makes a huge bowl of meatballs (their favorite) and invites over their favorite uncle, aunt, and four cousins to share the meal. But when Snuðra and Tuðra ignore their mother's call to the table (their dolls have had a car accident and need to be attended to at the hospital), she doesn't save them any meatballs. To emphasize the lesson, they then also have to wait for their gloating cousins to be served rice pudding before they are allowed to have any. Luckily, the message gets across and shortly after, S&T teach their dolls a similar lesson in table manners.
One of the strengths of Alda Sigmundsdóttir's short essay collection The Little Book of Icelanders is its intimacy, the fact that in reading you feel...moreOne of the strengths of Alda Sigmundsdóttir's short essay collection The Little Book of Icelanders is its intimacy, the fact that in reading you feel as though you are listening to someone relate the quirks of neighbors and friends over a cup of coffee. It seems no surprise, then, that part of what stands out about Alda's translations in the concise and plainly-worded collection Icelandic Folk Legends is the immediacy of the stories. Right from the start, you're told that some of the stories explain how places currently in existence were named, that there are differing accounts of what precisely happened in some instances, that certain features of the tale have led people to believe that it is meant to represent such and such a farm or mountain pass. An example from the last lines of the story "Þorgeir's Bull," which tells of a sorcerer who creates a menacing magical bull endowed with many forms and powers, the better to harass the woman who turned down the sorcerer's offer of marriage, his neighbors, and eventually he himself:
"It is said that the bull outlived Þorgeir, for he had not managed to slay it before he died. Some say that when he was on his deathbed a grey cat--some say a black pup--lay curled up on his chest, and that would have been one of the bull's guises. Some people claim that the bull was created at the beginning of the 18th century; others that is was near the middle of that same century."
Public debates about whether a mythical bull had been created at the beginning or in the middle of the 18th century might not generally be of that much relevance to the author--or the reader. But in these stories, it very much matters, because while called 'folk tales,' these stories are really all being presented as truth. A further illustration of this is in the fact that most of the stories are about characters whose full names are known, but when it happens that the names of characters aren't, no fake character names are inserted. The statement "their names are not known," then adds to the sense of veracity overall--the narration is sticking to plain facts here, and not even making up names for the sake of simplicity.
There's little to no embellishment within the text--no introduction to explain folk traditions to the reader, no real attempt to create follow more traditional patterns of Western narration--you're not really going to find the exposition, rising action, falling action, and dénouement here. This is not uncommon of orally-based storytelling, of course, but the abruptness of certain tales may surprise those who are more familiar with retellings which attempt to round out story lines for contemporary readers. Instead, there is a sort of layering effect: as you read more of the tales and are more immersed in the rural village and farm settings, becoming more familiar with what kinds of occurrences are possible--such as hidden people taking humans into their homes inside of boulders; witches riding horses' thigh bones for their annual Christmas meeting with the devil; charms which spirit away whole flocks of sheep--the happenings become less fantastical feel more true, more possible.
There is also a wry, underlying sense of humor that runs through many of these tales, with one--"Kráka the Ogre"--standing out the most in this respect. This story tells of "...a menacing creature...[with] a penchant for the masculine sex and an aversion to being alone." As such, Kráka regularly kidnaps farmers and shepherds and takes them back to her cave for company. In two instances the abductee refuses to eat anything except some very difficult to obtain delicacy (12-year-old cured shark; fresh buck's meat) and so Kráka goes on long journeys to find these foods only to discover that her 'guest' has escaped when she returns. (We're told that while running after the first man she yells out to him, "'Here is the shark, Jón; cured not 12 but 13 years,' to which he made no reply.") Later we're told that this lonely villain "was planning a large Christmas celebration which she took great pains to prepare for. The only thing that was missing, in her opinion, was a bit of human flesh, which she considered the greatest delicacy." It's not said who was going to attend the ogre's Christmas party, but just the fact of it, alongside the missing hors d'oeuvre of human flesh (I pictured an ogre in an apron), seems so wonderfully absurd.
The one thing that I think this collection is missing is an explanation of where the source material was derived from. Alda is listed as the translator, not the author, so these are apparently not her own retellings. I would be very interested to know from what source these stories were collected, whether they were brought together from many collections or one, and whether or not these are stories that many Icelandic readers are familiar with, or just representative of the folk tradition in Iceland. (less)
On an early morning in Oslo in 1970, Arvid Jansen shimmies up his high school flagpole and replaces his nation’s flag with that of the Viet Cong. Confronted by the headmaster in front of his classmates, Arvid takes the opportunity to expound on the evils of the U.S. occupation of Vietnam and Norway’s complicit foreign policy, all the time being observed from a far corner by his good friend Audun Sletten. “I guess it’s all very important,” Audun shrugs, “but I am up to my neck in my own troubles, and it almost makes me want to throw up.”
Frequent readers of Per Petterson have by now come to know Arvid Jansen rather well. In typical Petterson fashion, Arvid’s life has been examined in alternating atemporal versions set forth in In the Wake and, most recently, in the masterful I Curse the River of Time. Arvid is often the vehicle through which the author explores and recasts episodes of his own past—“[h]e’s not my alter ego, he’s my stunt man,” Petterson stated in a 2009 interview with The Guardian. Vulnerable, self-absorbed, and made miserable by hindsight, Arvid is an incredibly sympathetic character. If for no other reason than this, then, English readers should be delighted to now have access to one of Petterson’s early novels (first published in Norway in 1992): It’s Fine By Me.
Arvid is a prominent character in the novel, but it isn’t his story. Rather, it’s that of his troubled friend Audun, a young man who, with his “real problems”—a violent and drunken father who is, luckily, often absent; a beloved but drug-addicted younger brother, killed in a car accident; a lonely single mother struggling to support her children; and numbing jobs with long hours and little respect—is the actual embodiment of the working class hero that Arvid has so frequently wished to be. But as seen through Audun’s eyes, there’s nothing in the least romantic about his situation in life.
“It’s fine by me,” (reminiscent of Elliot Gould’s own cynical chorus of “It’s okay with me,” in Robert Altman’s 1973 adaptation of The Long Goodbye) is Auden’s go-to retort, forced in its apathy when pretty much everything that he remarks on is anything but. In fact, Audun cares a great deal about what happens around him—cares about his sister who he thinks may be in an abusive relationship, cares about a neighbor whose brother is getting into drugs, cares about Arvid and his family, cares about doing well in school, and literature, and Jimi Hendrix, and woodsy hideouts where he felt safe as a child. But isolating himself and not caring—or at least giving the appearance of not caring—is far easier and exposes him less.
Although there actually is quite a lot in the way of plot happenings, It’s Fine By Me is a rather familiar, somewhat anticlimactic coming-of-age narrative where the ‘what’ matters far less than the ‘how.’ This is by no means Petterson’s strongest novel, nor should it really be expected to be—it was, after all, one of his first. But although the flashbacks and overlapping memories fold together less seamlessly than in other Petterson novels, although the emotional pitch is generally less subtle (lots of capital letter exclamations when people are angry), and the visual metaphors more overdetermined (a beautiful runaway horse, turning just before it knocks over young Audun and Arvid), the novel is still compelling, and sometimes even quite funny. (A scene in which Audun and Arvid have to figure out how to put gas in Arvid’s father’s car is particularly delightful.) Petterson’s characterizations are always both sharp and empathetic, his prose measured, poetic, and visual. One feels connected to Audun—truly concerned for him—and yet, due entirely to Petterson’s writerly sleights of hand, the reader can distinguish between what has become entirely compressed and unified in Auden’s mind: run-of-the-mill teenage angst and real, emotional (and physical) trauma.
Through it all, Petterson allows for a quiet hopefulness, the possibility a better future for Audun. There is resonance in the clichéd assurances of a sympathetic neighbor: “You’re not eighteen all your life,” he tells Audun. “That may not be much of a consolation, but take a hint from someone who’s outside looking in: you’ll get through this.” (less)
This is the first Icelandic chapter book I've finished reading, and although it was a simple book that still took me a lot of effort, I am very proud...moreThis is the first Icelandic chapter book I've finished reading, and although it was a simple book that still took me a lot of effort, I am very proud to have finished it! The story itself wasn't totally my style, but I am interested in the author's themes and almost poetical style. For such simple writing (much of it is in the present tense, basic vocabulary and wording is repeated throughout), there is still a freshness to the way that alliteration and line breaks are used, and even I can tell that the phrasing is creative.
It is a simple story, but it meanders a bit and is actually rather sad. A little boy named Bjössi wakes up one day and sees his best friend building a pigeon coop with another neighborhood boy, something that Bjössi and his friend had wanted to do for a long time. But the other boys won't let him take part in the building. Shunned and lonely, Bjössi is befriended by some carpenters who give him the materials to build his own coop. He is also joined by a neighborhood girl, Ása, who has rescued a mottled pigeon from the other boys who injured its wing when they were clumsily trying to trap it. Ása and Bjossi decide to turn their coop into a hospital for the one pigeon, but in very short order, the coop they build is destroyed by a bulldozer (the carpenters save the pigeon just in time). And then, even after his dramatic rescue, the pigeon still dies.
Thematically, there's a lot happening. These children are basically all on their own--Andres makes a point of saying that both of Bjössi's parents work and he has to take care of himself--and although you see a few adults (his own mother, Ása's mother, and the carpenters), this is very much a child's world. Since Bjössi is a rather sensitive character, all of these emotional moments--his rejection by his friend, the various disasters with the coop, the death of the pigeon--feel like very painful events indeed. And they are--all the more so because he's basically all alone.
But in the end, there's some hope (a ray of sunshine literally bursts from the clouds): Bjössi has learned to value the right friendships, had affirmed his own empathy, and seems to appreciate life, for its beauty and brevity both. Deep thoughts for a children's book, I must say. (less)
This book, comprised of Irish author Padraic Colum's retellings of classic Norse myths, was on the shelf in our apartment when we moved in. Having onl...moreThis book, comprised of Irish author Padraic Colum's retellings of classic Norse myths, was on the shelf in our apartment when we moved in. Having only encountered Norse mythology in the wonderful illustrated D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths, I thought it would be a good idea for me to reacquaint myself with these stories, which are referenced not infrequently in Scandinavian and Icelandic literature.
Colum's book is, as the cover claims, "very readable," although I found the choice to use a quasi-Old English throughout a little unnecessary. (The typical 'thees' and 'thous' and such became a bit grating after awhile, and don't really add significant gravitas of the Gods, either.) The story chronology also overlaps and reverses and reorients a fair amount, often owing to the structure of the myths themselves more than anything. This isn't actually a problem, rather it creates a sort of timelessness--especially in the early stories which characterize each god individually--and a sense of the scope of each immortal being's independent body of lore. Thor, for instance, has a really extensive set of his own myths and stories, many of which are related in this volume. Rather than be told in a strictly linear fashion, however, these tales tend to overlap and reference one another without entirely accounting for what happened in what order.
Overall, however, the organization of the myths into four sections--"The Dwellers in Asgard," "Odin the Wanderer," "The Witch's Heart," and "The Sword of the Volsungs and the Twilight of the Gods,"--creates a wonderful momentum and unity within stories which are, of course, linked, but were not perhaps originally told with such a coherent story arc in mind. As arranged here, the reader gets a clear sense of how simple acts have real resonance and lead to inevitable consequences, i.e. the barter of a sword for a wife, or the cruel, but seemingly innocuous act of killing an animal which leads to a compounding of events which eventually--literally-- bring on the end of the world.
Fate (with a capital 'F') is as much an actor in these stories as any of the characters, and yet each of the Gods and people involved are shown ways to avoid their grim fates, are frequently told point blank what will befall them if they choose one action over another. But that's really what makes these stories so moving and sympathetic in the end--they resonate so frequently with the very human shortsightedness and/or romantic weaknesses which lead even the most powerful and wise of beings to bring about their own downfalls. (less)
(Update, 11.3.12) Although I did seek out some critical articles on Mansfield Park they didn't end up clarifying my thoughts on the book as much as ra...more(Update, 11.3.12) Although I did seek out some critical articles on Mansfield Park they didn't end up clarifying my thoughts on the book as much as raise additional questions. However, since I just recently found myself in a bar going on at length about this book to someone who hadn't even read it, I think I can at least summarize some of my main impressions about it:
Mansfield Park is an incredibly complex text and could easily, I think, be interpreted in a variety of ways. It has raised the hackles of many a dedicated Austen reader, and mainly, it seems, because in all honesty, Fanny Price is not the Jane Austen heroine that most of us have come to love. She's smart and she's an independent thinker, to be sure, but she's not terribly witty or clever, she's extremely sensitive (see this web page, "Fanny's Tears," for a list of all the times that Fanny cries in the novel: http://www.austen.com/mans/notes/tear...), she's shy, she doesn't stick up for herself, and she frequently believes the terrible things that people say to/about her, particularly her awful, and awfully hypocritical aunt. You (I) spend a great deal of the book hoping that Fanny will just grow a bit of a backbone already and stop cow-towing to everyone around her.
Fanny is also the moral compass of the story, one which in just mentioning off-handedly the family's plantation and slaves, is coming from a much more historically grounded, political place than most other Austen novels where you may know that there is a militia in town, but never hear from the characters what war or battle they may be resting up from, or heading off to. Fanny, of course, doesn't comment on these external circumstances, but being not a little stodgy herself, does seem to position herself in opposition to a changing world, one that is more public, more political, and less bound by tradition. One in which outspoken, clever, sexual, and opinionated women, such as Mary Crawford, are more and more the norm.
I found myself liking Mary Crawford far more than Fanny for much of the novel, even as I felt bad that she outshined the heroine so very often, and even as I recognized that she was a deeply cynical and deeply selfish character. But Austen has written many selfish characters--Emma, certainly; Marianne Dashwood, to a certain extent--and we're still meant to like these people. It seemed like a bit of a cheat--and narratively, a stretch--to me that Mary and Henry Crawford have such sudden transformations into truly indefensible characters at the end of the novel. For most of it, Mary and Henry might have opinions and behaviors (particularly Henry, who yes, is a total cad) which the reader, Fanny, and definitely Jane Austen disapprove of. But they are still understood within the context of their society to be interesting, likeable, and defensible people. It seems to me that Jane Austen didn't want to maintain any sort of moral ambiguity, though. She wanted Right and Wrong with capital letters, and so she decided to introduce a sweeping plot turn which would show the Crawfords for their lousy selves, prove Fanny right, bring Edward to his senses, and neatly bring Fanny and Edward together at last. I thought that it was more interesting when it was messier.
There's a lot to be said otherwise about this novel--for one, Fanny's position as an observer is worth exploring, namely the way in which always being a spectator and outside the main action around her might actually give her some agency. But I'll leave that to someone else. Suffice to say that Mansfield Park is fascinating for its frustrations, for the rather conservative tendencies it reveals in its author, and in the various ways that it can read (consider the film adaptation in this respect). I'm not sure I totally liked it, but I'm very glad to have read it.
(9.15.12) I enjoyed Mansfield Park, although I will admit to finding it immensely strange in some ways, and also think it lends itself to some fascinating comparisons and contrasts with other of Austen's novels. This is the first of her books that I feel compelled to read some scholarly work on, and I want to percolate a bit on my thoughts before I try and review the book, but I will say this for now: I am going to come down on the side of Fanny Price, although I agree with the generally antipathy about her constant shrinking and weeping and general not-Elizabeth-Bennet-ness. What surprised me, rather, was how much I ended up disliking her romantic interest, the supposedly morally infallible Edward Bertram. Perhaps there is some Austenian irony throughout in his presentation, but I'm not sure that it carries through far enough. Because he's rather a schmo for almost all of the book.
Anyway, more anon, when I can formulate with more useful descriptions than 'schmo.'(less)
I found this at the Brooklyn Public Library (my last BPL library rental before the move!) after seeing it in a bookshop--loved the title and the cover...moreI found this at the Brooklyn Public Library (my last BPL library rental before the move!) after seeing it in a bookshop--loved the title and the cover art. Turns out it's more of a cookbook than a book of essays, but the context is interesting. Pellegrino compiled recipes from all over Italy shortly after its unification, something that apparently had not really been done before. and although the book is mostly comprised of recipes, he fills it with fascinating and funny anecdotes about the people who taught him how to cook these dishes, little history lessons about regions of Italy and the progression of cuisine, and more. It's quite the anthropological text, actually.
Also, even though it was written over a century ago, it reads as a very contemporary text, that is, until you get to cooking instructions about placing your pot or pan on the open fire that apparently was in every kitchen. Thinking about how to convert instructions--such as those about keeping a pot near embers but not over an open flame--to work on contemporary stoves was also a fun exercise while reading. (less)