Category Archives: Community/Weekly Events

Recent Reads: Books that I loved

I am now on maternity leave, finally. I would have expected my reading time to expand, but that has been strangely disappointing. At the same time that I went on leave, major pregnancy insomnia hit. Meaning, I sleep about 2-3 hours on average each night, however tired I am. Usually, when I cannot sleep, I pick up my ereader to help distract me. However, that hardly seems to work as I am actually too tired to focus on a screen without my glasses on – and so I just lie awake and stare in whatever direction.

I did manage to read some books lately, though. And fortunately for me, apart from a large amount of books I started and set aside again (who knows, maybe I’ll actually write about them?), there were quite a few wonderful books among them as well. Here are three books I read recently which I loved.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell // Orion, 2013

Everyone raved about this book last year, didn’t they? And here I am, adding my name to the list.

What can I say? Eleanor and Park is just plain lovely. It was the perfect read for me right now, combining comfort with a critical eye. It tells of the developing love story between the two protagonists, Eleanor ( a girl from a troubled family with little to no socio-economical capital) and Park (a boy from mixed Korean-American descent, brought up in a happy family, but facing assumptions about his masculinity). Rowell manages to evoke that feeling of a developing love, where every first touch is incredibly vivid, and every moment shared is a treasure – and she does so in a manner that is very touching and real, something which is so often difficult or problematic to evoke. At the same time, Rowell does not romanticise. She acknowledges the complicated social rules of high school, the insecurities that everyone faces, the difficult boundaries negotiated through race, gender, and class. And by acknowledging that both protagonists love each other, but have to negotiate these precarious rules and their social consequences as well, Rowell achieves a balance between incredible love story and intelligent social commentary that is rare and unbelievably well done.

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson // Persephone Books, 2008 (first published 1934)

Another book that has been a bloggers favourite: Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson. And again, I could not help but agree with those who have read this before me. I was not part-way in before I decided that I definitely need to order the other two books about Miss Buncle asap (which I have procrastinated on by telling myself that I could also read the other Persephones on my shelves first, before buying new ones).

It is difficult to explain what makes Miss Buncle’s Book work so well. A tale about an aging single woman who lives in a small town where nothing really happens, it explores the social interactions of Miss Buncle and her neighbours when their universe is disturbed by a book about their very town. Miss Buncle – unbeknownst to her neighbours – has authored this book by carefully observing their everyday life, and throwing it for a loop by making up alternative endings of her own. When the town finds out that these pseudonym characters are actually them, they all respond differently, but they almost invariably seek to find the person who has scrutinised their lives so carefully that the smallest secrets are now public. With gentle humour, perfect characterisation, and an overall feeling of loveliness, this book about a book within a book quickly managed to enchant me. I simply did not want it to end.

Miss Buncle’s Book is the perfect comfort read. Just writing about it makes me reconsider that idea of reading the other Persephones on my shelves first.

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton // Corsair, 2013

Last but not least, I read Tooth and Claw. Are you tired of my gushing about perfect books yet? If so, I am sorry, but there’s one more to go.

Tooth and Claw takes the social rules of nineteenth-century society and explores women’s place within that society by imagining it as one consisting of dragons. Social status is defined by wealth and body size, and the latter can be achieved by eating other dragons which is condoned within a set of political and religious rules. Women are, as one might imagine, at the short end of this exchange. They have to be protected by a male (either family or husband). In marriage, they are expected to bear several clutches of dragonets, at the risk of their own life and those of the weaker children. Intermixed with these gendered expectations are ones about class, with servant dragons having their wings bound, and an exploration of the role of religion as both a force of repression and liberation.

Revolving around one family, the members of which we meet first at the gathering after their father’s death, when it is costumary to eat the deceased’s body, we follow the lives of three sisters and two brothers as they navigate the different pathways and social interactions that their careers, families, and positions have in store for them. The youngest three siblings receive particular attention, and it was for them that I felt most. But really, it is the whole set of characters, interactions, and the careful navigation and sometimes subordination of social rules that made this such an interesting read. 

On Goodreads some readers commented that they had to suspend disbelief for parts of the story (dragons travelling in carriages for example), but I couldn’t bother to be skeptical about these things. Tooth and Claw is so carefully drawn and narrated, making me care for the characters and their lot but also feeling intrigued by this social commentary and the way consequences of inequality were drawn out, that I cannot help but conclude once again that this was a book I loved, combining so many of the things I love and care for in fiction of whatever kind. There’s the added bonus of a somewhat happy ending — perhaps too happy to be entirely believable? — but definitely satisfying.

Highly, highly recommended. Is there anything comparable that I should read? Because I’d definitely love your suggestions!

 

Thursday (Without) Tea: A Room With a View

I still love the idea of Thursday Tea, so I have been thinking that if I cannot get an actual bookish post written, I might just settle for an update of sorts through this format. Until I arrived back home from work today and realised that there is one problem: The water boiler I use for tea has been moved to the new house already, and here, in this apartment with only the bare essentials (and all the books in boxes) left, I cannot drink any tea anymore!

So instead, I give you: a thursday without tea.

Fortunately, I have been reading in between packing and preparing for a paper presentation (Seriously, WHY did I figure it was a good idea to attempt to write a paper for a conference in between pregnancy and moving, even if the conference theme is perfect?!)

These past few days, I have been reading A Room with a View by E.M. Forster. Another one of those classics that has lingered on my shelves for years and years and years. I never knew quite what to expect of it, but then I read the back cover while packing and decided that I simply must give it a go.

And it is turning out to be rather lovely! The writing is wonderful. The plot might seem predictable, but it is executed very nicely. And I love the themed critique of the power of what imagery of women can do to curtail women from being individuals and instead constantly aiming to live up to an image that society imposes. I also like how it shows that this imagery harms both women ánd men, because both struggle to look beyond it to the person behind the facade that is expected at every turn. The image of the room, used in discourse between Lucy and Cecil as a metaphor for this kind of relationship and between Lucy and George for what might be found beyond societal expectations: it’s simple, but it really spoke to me.

Conclusion: I am enjoying my time with this book very much. Even if I have to read it with plain water instead of tea.

Sunday Salon: Packing & Changes

Tomorrow we will receive the keys to our new home. This is the first time Bas and I will actually move to a place together, as I had been living in the apartment where we have lived the last seven years a few years before he moved in.

These last few weeks have been marked by slowly packing up as much of our stuff as possible, to make the move a little easier. The new house still needs to be painted and partially needs a new floor. We need to have moved out of our apartment before the 1st of July. Since we have never painted a full house, we have no clue how long this will all take, but hopefully it won’t be too stressful.

Since I am pregnant I am not allowed near paint the whole day. I am also unable to help much with manual labour. So my job? I will probably take care of food for the people who are painting. And I’ll be working during the week as I try to complete an insane number of deadlines before pregnancy leave at the beginning of August.

Getting there.. one box at a time.

Getting there.. one box at a time.

Meanwhile, I am packing up my books. Slowly but surely. I suspected that people might be overreacting when they told me that come June, I might not be able to lift much. But they were right. It has been rather disappointing to notice that after packing two boxes of books, I need to sit down and rest because my abdominal muscles are already painful. And this is just taking books from shelves and putting them in boxes, mind. Bas carries them to the larger pile later on.

I knew I had many books but it has been a surprise to see how many boxes are needed to actually pack them up. I am down to the last bookshelf, that is, if I don’t count the review copies still hiding in another closet. Packing books has made me long for a time when I will have read all the unread books and might actually buy books I want to read at that very moment (give me a couple of years!)

I have purged quite a lot of books from my shelves (around 150), but it has been rather problematic to think of a way to get rid of them. Charity shops in the neighbourhood don’t really accept books at all anymore, and since I read in English and most read in Dutch they’re unlikely to accept my books. (There’s still one at a 5 km bike ride that I might try – but try getting there with 150 books). Selling them has proven incredibly difficult, even if I offer them for 20 cents a piece (and I don’t want to say “for free” on a general site as they then pop up in advertisements of resellers for ridiculous prices – this has happened before). And I just cannot cannot cannot fathom the thought of throwing them in the trash.

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The move is both scary and exciting. As much as I complained about this apartment in the last couple of years, I am sure I will be sad and a little nostalgic when the time comes to leave it. I have been walking around the neighbourhood lately (restless legs means I simply have to walk sometimes or I cannot sleep), and even though I wouldn’t want my child to grow up here, there are still some places of beauty around. I will still be visiting this city every week as I go in for work, I will be seeing my friends that still live here, but it won’t be the same I’m sure.

And then there is the new town, the new neighbourhood, new people to get used to in the new house. It always takes me some time to settle in – more than it does for others, I guess. I cannot wait for the feeling of “being home” to arrive sooner rather than later. It scares me at times. But then I remember the space we’ll have compared to now. The garden. The nearness of actual nature and not miles and miles of flat grasslands outside the city. The idea of building a home there together with Bas. And with the little one.

100happydays

As I navigate these changing circumstances, I thought it might be nice to keep a photo log. I have seen the #100happydays challenge around at the facebook of a colleague, and lately quite a few bloggers have started as well. I do not quite see myself remembering to take a picture each day, but I really really want to try. Pictures will be posted on my instagram.

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I hope you do not mind these rather more personal updates. I think they might become more regular from now on.

Have a happy Sunday everyone!

Happy News!

Hello! It has been a while, hasn’t it? Hopefully this post will explain some of the reasons for my disappearance.

So, last week I was in Vienna for a conference..

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Elephant at the Natural History Museum!

In front of Schönbrunn

In front of Schönbrunn

However, as might be apparent from the pictures (though some still insist they cannot see a thing – which makes me wonder how on earth they explain some of the changes in my appearance), this is not the happy news I want to share with you. Rather, it is the following:

I am currently 23 weeks pregnant and we are expecting a baby boy.

On top of this, we also bought a house about an hour away from where we currently live. (Yes, an actual house with more than one bedroom and a garden!) We will receive the key at the beginning of June, so we have been busy packing (or rather, preparing for it) next to being “busy” being pregnant.

We couldn’t be happier with these changes.

Of course it has been rather a change in how much time I was able to make for blogging (or reading). I know I have been silent about my pregnancy for rather long. Even though part of us wanted to shout it from the rooftops, we have also enjoyed keeping it somewhat private and then it was difficult to find the right time to tell. But hey, now you know :-)

Perhaps this means I can finally get into the flow of posting once a week or so, since these past months I have felt that whatever I wrote would not be what I actually wanted to write about.

This weekend.. I managed to read!

I finally finished a book this weekend..

Moominvalley in November

Moominvalley in November by Tove Jansson

I thought it was my first book of February, but apparently I had finished reading Indigo’s Star at the beginning of this month. So perhaps my reading slump is not as bad as I imagined it? It has nothing to do with the books I am reading, btw, but everything to do with lots of other things taking over my life at the moment.

However, I am hoping that this will actually foreshadow a return to reading and blogging :-)

More soon..