101 and Counting..

I have passed the 100 books mark in the combined 1001 Books Your Must Read Before You Die List. There are times when I do not care about the list at all, there are others where I find it quite a nice challenge to read something that is on there.. Very often I find myself discussing with the list: Why is this book on there and not this one? Why so little fantasy? Why still an overrepresentation of “white men”? Etc.

Nevertheless, here are some brief thoughts on the three books I recently read that were on the list.

Diary of a Nobody - George and Weedon GrossmithThe Diary of a Nobody – George and Weedon Grossmith*
Penguin Books, 2003 (first published: 1892)

Basically, this quote sums it all up:

“I fail to see – because I do not happen to be a ‘Somebody’ – why my diary should not be interesting.”

Diary of a Nobody is the (fictional) diary of average middle class(?) Mr Pooter. We follow his everyday adventures and observations, as he renovates parts of his house, some of his friends come to visit, and his son starts living at home again after losing his job. It is a humorous book that at once proves that the life of an ordinary person can make for worthwhile reading, while simultaneously poking fun at the habits of people like Mr Pooter and the idea that their lives might be interesting at all.

While Diary of a Nobody is a fast and perfectly entertaining read, I wasn’t as enraptured by it as I expected from some of the reactions that I have seen on the internet. I mostly blame me though. I tend to find humour a little tiring after a while, and I might have liked this better had I not read it in one sitting, but in several.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan DoyleThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle*
Oxford World’s Classics, 2008 (first published 1892)

Many years ago [I cannot believe it was back in 2010!] I won a complete set of Sherlock Holmes books through a twitter competition held by Oxford World’s Classics. Being me, I continuously planned to start reading them and yet never did. I finally picked up one of the books last week.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of 12 stories about Sherlock Holmes. Apparently, many of these are considered widely known, but uneducated Iris did not know any of them. I cannot say that these mysteries had me riveted and on the edge of my seat, but I do not think that is what these stories are supposed to do. Instead, they are very entertaining stories, and that is exactly what I was: entertained  much more so than I expected to be. Perhaps it is time to read one of the novels next?

The White Tiger - Aravind AdigaThe White Tiger – Aravind Adiga*
Atlantic Books, 2008

The White Tiger is the story of “entrepreneur” Balram and how he came to be succesful. He writes the story of his success to the Chinese minister who is supposed to visit India to learn about entrepreneurship. Balram, who has adopted the nickname White Tiger because it indicates a very rare species, is not a very reliable narrator, nor is the reader ever sure if we should be on his side. Pretty early on in th story (the last sentence of the first chapter), we find out that Balram’s vision of entrepreneurship entails something that very few of us would capture under that heading. He then continues to explain why he did what he did. Meanwhile, he portrays the stark divides between the rich and poor in India, and the manner in which corruption works to keep this divide in tact.

Again, The White Tiger is a very readable book. I read this in one sitting (which seems to be my reading mode lately). I had expected this one to be difficult, both in style and theme, but really it is not. The theme is heavy but is wrapped in a deceptively lighthearted style. And somehow this works? Even though I would never have expected it, and it still bewilders me a little after finishing the book. I wish I could offer you a more in-depth opinion than this one, but honestly? bewildered seems to be a key word in how I feel about this book. It was entertaining, and cruel, and a little horrid at times. The narrator is fascinating but occasionally entirely unsympathetic. I feel as if I could never say I loved this book, yet it is hard to pinpoint why except that its topic is.. well.. difficult? And I did think it a good book? Perhaps a little bleak… But then again, that hardly seems a reason to detract from the quality of the novel.

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

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!

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Sometimes you are in the mood to read books that have lingered on your shelves forever and yet always skip over because you want to like them too much. Or is that just me? Anyway, that mood struck this week, which meant I finally took the time to settle down with a book (it had been far too long!).

Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie // Harper Perennial, 2005

Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie // Harper Perennial, 2005

One of these was Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie*. It was the last unread Adichie I had on my shelves (I still need to buy Americanah) and I kept postponing reading it.

Part of that had to do with the fact that this is the story of Kambili who grows up in a religious household. Her father is a strict Catholic who is beloved by the community, but is authoritarian and abusive at home. When Kambili and her brother go to stay with their aunt after a military coup, they slowly learn to live outside their father’s rules a little.

I do not know why I am always so nervous about reading books that have religion as a central theme, while these are the books that are very fascinating to me at the same time. I guess I fear I will have to engage with them too much on a scholarly level, taking away from my enjoyment of the actual story. And I am always a little afraid that authors won’t do justice to the complexities of religious life (now that I think about it, that probably has to do with the way religion is so often treated in the media nowadays).

Of course, I might have known that I needn’t fear that Adichie would not acknowledge said complexities. Yes, the father is abusive and it is hard not to see how religion serves to provide the reasoning behind his strict hand (side note: there are definitely other circumstances mentioned in the book as well, it is more that all of his life functions within a religious worldview, not that “religion says you should hit your family”). But that’s just the thing, Adichie shows that this is what a religious worldview becomes for the father. She contrasts this with the lives of the aunt and their religious “father”, where religion is often about laughter and freedom. By also introducing a grandfather who keeps to his tradition beliefs, “a traditionalist” in the words of Kambili’s aunt, and showing how for him religion means being grateful, loving, and hopeful, she does not create a stark divide between Catholicism and other religions, but instead shows how religion can take on the same and different meaning across denominational divides. Moreover, Kambili’s father is not simply a “bad man”, he is also a very socially engaged man who, in the name of religion, donates generously to others.

I also found it fascinating how colonialism as well as the flowering of Pentecostal churches intertwined with the narratives about how the characters shaped their religious lives.

As always, Adichie drew me into the world of her fiction and wouldn’t let me go until I had finished the book – which is why I read for 3-4 hours straight until I had come to the end. I need more books by Adichie in my life. Or by authors like her.

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

Catching Up #1: Brief Thoughts on Some YA Books

Since we definitely found out that we are moving, and given the fact that my concentration span is not always as good lately, I decided to take a somewhat different approach to reading from my shelves. Instead of picking up books that I had wanted to read for forever, I tried to read the books that I knew I wanted to read someday, but was not entirely sure I would enjoy anymore. The manner of justifying this was that having read them, I might more easily decide whether to keep them or get rid of them before the move.

I am not saying that this is entirely fair to all of the books I read lately. Nor have all of my choices been based on this premise, since I have also picked up quite a few that were very high on my “I want to read and love it” list lately. However, I think this was the idea with which I picked up the books I shall briefly give you my thoughts on below.

If these mini-reviews seem super short, it is because I am trying to get back into the flow of blogging. Of course, I am already worried that I am selling any books short by giving them this introduction, and not paying full attention to them, but.. I think I should stop worrying and allow myself to post something already.

Before I Fall - Lauren OliverBefore I Fall – Lauren Oliver
Hodder and Stoughton, 2010

Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

I can hear you thinking “but every one loved this, how come she wasn’t all that keen to pick this up from her shelves?”. The fact is, after reading Oliver’s Delirium, and then becoming more acquainted with the dystopian genre, I was quite disappointed in the book and I wasn’t sure whether the same disappointment wouldn’t go for Before I Fall. 

 In Before I Fall, Samantha Kingston relives the last day of her life over and over again. And by doing so, she comes to reconsider the way in which she lived, the manner in which she treated family and friends, and finally figures out how to do what is best for those she loves and for herself.

I admit, I was skeptical about this book during the first half. Samantha Kingston simply seemed the kind of person I couldn’t hope to connect with and I was terribly annoyed at reading some of her considerations and self-indulgences. I only stuck with the book because I felt that these annoyances might serve an actual purpose. And they did.. In the end, the book swayed me. I liked how it approached topics like popularity and bullying and facing the consequences of your actions without losing your sense of self.  Before I Fall is a very powerful book that I think will speak to teenagers across the board. I, of course, cried all over the last few chapters.

Having said so, I admit that in the end, every time I think of this book, I cannot help but be reminded of the doubts I had while reading the first half of the book, next to the emotions and power of the second half. So yes, I am still a little bit tentative about what I actually think about this one. It might merit a reread someday to see how I actually feel about it.

Reunited - Hilary Weisman GrahamReunited – Hilary Weisman Graham
Simon and Schuster, 2012

Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

Reunited is about three former best friends who grew up together as fans of the band Level3. Having separated with a fight years ago, they reunite as they undertake a road trip to see Level3 at their reunion show.

I wish I could say I liked this book better. Road trip stories can be so much fun. Instead, a lot of what happened here seemed a little too farfetched. And the three girls all seemed a bit too much like caricatures of the kind of high school girl they were meant to represent to make them work as characters you could care for. Moreover, the song lyrics seemed a little too prominent in a book when they, in my opinion, were not all that good or meaningful. Entertaining, and a fast read, but the book dragged a little too much for me to really enjoy it.

The Alchemy of ForeverThe Alchemy of Forever – Avery Williams
Simon and Schuster, 2012

Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

I picked up The Alchemy of Forever when I visited the Boekenfestijn together with some other Dutch book bloggers last year. We all bought a copy of the book, as we intended to make it a first joint read. However, following that day, most of us quickly lost interest in it. William’s paranormal YA has lingered on my shelves since, and I decided to finally pick it up this weekend.

In The Alchemy of Forever, we follow Seraphina who has been alive since the Middle Ages when her boyfriend Cyrus found an alchemic way to separate soul from body, enabling Seraphina to switch bodies at will. However, centuries later, Seraphina has become uncomfortable with Cyrus’ demanding ways and her need to kill the souls of innocent people in order to take over their bodies and stay alive. Deciding to flout Cyrus’ authority, Seraphina does not take over the body Cyrus has selected for her and instead intends to die. However, she ends up in the body of teenager Kailey by accident, and for the first time in centuries, starts to care deeply about the possibilities that life brings, and the family and friends of Kailey.

In the end, this book wasn’t at all as bad as I had expected it to be. I blame my reluctance to pick it up on the large amount of paranormal YA that we have seen in the past few years. Admittedly, The Alchemy of Forever does not bring that much that is new (although it does consider the immortal vs guilt trope from a somewhat different angle), but it is well-written and the romance is not as prominent, or at least not as overwhelming, as to become the whole point of the book.

I finished this in a few hours (something that hadn’t happened for months!) – which I think is what made me appreciate this book. A definite downside to the book is that what makes the idea of incarnates (of which Seraphina is one) and Cyrus so scary, could have received a little more attention. And, of course, it appears to be part of a series – of which I am not sure I could be bothered to pick up the second book. I might just decide that what was meant as a “cliffhanger”, could function as an ending – albeit ambiguously – to the story as well.

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Expect quite a few of these posts in the upcoming weeks (if I actually write them as I intend to do), since I have read quite a few books on which I’d like to share my brief thoughts.

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

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..

P1270352

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.