Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books of Schooldays' Nostalgia

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish in June 2010. This feature was created because we are particularly fond of lists here at The Broke and the Bookish. We'd love to share our lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week we will post a new Top Ten list  that one of our bloggers here at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join. All we ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post and, if you want to, add your name to the Linky widget on that day's posts (typically put up midnight EST on Tuesday) so that everyone can check out other bloggers lists! If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It's a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers.

To mark the passage of seasons, this week's theme for Top Ten Tuesday is Back To School, where I decided to take the chance to reminisce about favourite books which I discovered, read and continually re-read at school-age. These books had nothing to do with school assignments at the time – by school-age, I mean I was aged 7-16 and these books bear a very strong mental link to those formative years. Also, instead of going by order of preference, I'm going to list the books in roughly the order in which I first read them (as best I can remember), so I get to do a bit of nostalgic time-traveling as I go up the list. So, here we go:

Top Ten Books of Schooldays' Nostalgia

1. Kirsi Kunnas' poetry, nursery rhymes and stories
I'm going to start off by cheating just a little – one simply doesn't pick one of Kirsi Kunnas' works. As I have mentioned here before, Kunnas is a national treasure who belongs to every Finnish child's literary lives in some measure. She makes the Finnish language sing and dance like nobody else can. Her nursery rhymes lose none of their charm when you read them as an adult, and I discovered some mind-boggling socio-political layers in some of her fairy tales – especially one where a chicken decides to pull a cart and some other animals hitch a ride with her. 

My beloved collection of children's rhymes by Kirsi Kunnas

2. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
In the Nordic countries, whenever someone says "feminism" or "anarchism" in connection to literature, you can place a reasonably safe bet that their next words will be "Pippi Longstocking". I pity every child who has to grow up without her, because few child protagonists are so extraordinarily entertaining, unpredictable, confident and so full of life and discovery. Pippi doesn't much care for society's norms as she casually fends off social workers, schoolteachers and policemen from the happy little house where she lives with her horse and pet monkey. She causes headaches left and right to all the people who believe things shouldn't be done her way, but in the end she's too wonderful for anyone to survive without her. 

Pippi is also the strongest girl in the world, so she can carry her horse around like it's no big deal.

Pippi gives the policemen some exercise. She's a boss. And that's her house. Her horse lives on the front porch.

3. The Canine Kalevala by Mauri Kunnas
Kalevala is to Finland what Beowulf is to Britain, I suppose – a collection of epic poetry from the dawn of our history, which contributes to national identity. Thanks to Mauri Kunnas' gift of adapting heavy classics into fun, inventive, illustrated children's books, Finnish children get an early education in the main events and characters in Kalevala as told by heroically epic dogs. Actually, even the Kalevala education for most Finnish adults comes from this adaptation, because very few people are dedicated enough to their national treasure to labour through 22,795 verses of archaic Finnish in trochaic tetrameter. I will happily confess that I haven't graduated past The Canine Kalevala either, though fortunately I do know that in the real version, it's Väinämöinen who pursues Aino and causes her to drown herself, and there's this additional person called Kullervo who mucks up everything in his life and inspired Tolkien a great deal when he created his mythology for Middle-Earth.

A glimpse of the whacky genius of Mauri Kunnas. That fish-monster is terrifying, though.

4. Arabian Nights
Nope, I didn't read the original versions as a kid – the ones where people get chopped into pieces left, right and centre, beautiful slave girls cause riots because young men can't keep themselves off of them, and Islam is not-quite-subtly implied to be the only true faith in the world. There is an abundance of somewhat-sanitized Arabic tales ("somewhat" meaning you can't quite escape severed body parts) in all sorts of children's story books, however, and I was always fascinated by them. For as long as I can remember, we have had this beautiful, deep-purple storybook with six Arabic tales, illustrated so wondrously they're like treasures from Ali Baba's cave. Eventually, they inspired me to take up the next stage in our bookshelf: the brick-sized book of the authentic Arabian Nights, complete with chopping, love-lust and preaching. I still love them. 

The slave Morgantina, without whom Ali Baba would have died on at least three occasions already. And yes, even in the children's version she ends the dance by stabbing the leader of the 40 thieves.

One of the many beautiful full-page illustrations here.

Aladdin lurks in to save his wife. I remember I adored Halima's clothes when I was little... Those colours look so pretty together.

5. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
I could mention pretty much any Dahl book here, because I went through them all in very rapid succession. Oh, the amount of adoration I had for the man who created a monstrous headmistress who tosses little girls by the pigtails, a big-eared giant who catches dreams – and a giant peach that flies to New York City. I think James and the Giant Peach is the one I re-read the most often at my Dahl initiation age, though it's impossible to pick a favourite between that, Matilda and The BFG. I loved the funny big bugs, the Cloud-Men, and how James introduces his bug friends to terrified New Yorkers by singing about them. Dahl is just delightful, isn't he?

The most endearing giant bugs in the world.

6. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
I have reviewed Black Beauty on this blog, and I have been re-reading it quite regularly ever since I first fell in love with it. It was important, in many ways, to the less-than-ten-year-old me; it was something very different in the humongous heap of "horse novels" I read at that age, it was the first book in English that I owned (I can remember with astounding clarity how much trouble my mum went through to order it for me, as it wasn't something you could simply snatch off a shelf in a bookstore) and it was probably my first venture into the Victorian British setting which means so much to me nowadays.

7. The Redwall series by Brian Jacques
My love of the high fantasy genre probably started here, where a bunch of anthropomorphic woodland animals found the Redwall Abbey as a place of refuge against the evil sorts such as stoats, weasels and shiprats. There's just a lovely warmth and coziness about the world written around Redwall, it's snuggly as a little mouse's nest – spiced up with some trademark fantasy ingredients such as epic battles, terrifying villains and courageous animal heroes and heroines. And I must commend this series for its equal treatment of male and female characters, as that isn't always a given in the high fantasy genre. 

8. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
How do I explain in a short, simple paragraph how much these books have meant to me, how I grew up with them? I read the first three books (in Finnish) around the time when Goblet of Fire was published in English, so I was nine years old. I remember it took me a while to get into Philosopher's Stone, but once I felt the magic, I swallowed that and the next two books very quickly. It was something extraordinary to me, a magical world in a boarding school. I did a blog post about the funny things I got up to growing up as a Potterhead. 

9. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
I seriously can't remember how I was introduced to Narnia. Compared to Harry Potter and some other foreign children's classics, Narnia isn't that much of an inevitability to a Finnish child growing up. I also didn't read the entire series at once; it took me years to get round to The Magician's Nephew and The Last Battle, and whether it was because I had grown or because those two possibly are more problematic than the rest of the series, I can't say I adore the Chronicles entirely. I love the first three books (in publishing order, not chronological) with the Pevensie children and, in some ways, The Horse and His Boy is my favourite of them all – but I couldn't get into Jill and Eustace's adventures the way I did with Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, and I felt Lewis' Christian agenda got a little heavy-handed in the last two books. Also, he implies that Jill and Eustace's school is no good because it doesn't have corporal punishment, and has all the Calormenes worshiping a god that is completely evil, while Aslan is perfectly... perfect. 

10. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
You might have noticed that my formative years included quite a bulk of the fantasy genre. The last item on my nostalgic list is The One Fantasy Epic to Rule Them All. The Lord of the Rings came into my life when one of the film adaptations was showing, I'm not quite sure which one. I remember it felt like a whole new level of bookworming – there was so much to digest, so much to remember, that if I left it for too long I had trouble remembering what had happened up to then, and this had never happened to me before. I think this book is what kick-started my development into a legitimate geek. I just went nuts over the languages, the history behind all the races and places, all the puzzlings about what the seemingly simple One Ring represented. 

This is THE cover of the Finnish edition. The nostalgic one. I kind of want it now, even though I read LotR in English now.

How much fun was that! Did you read any of these books growing up? Did they have similar effects on you? What were your dearest book treasures as a child?

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Bookish (and Not So Bookish) Thoughts

I realized I've developed a Blogger's Bad Habit called Overthinking. It means I've got tons of ideas for blog posts that I'd really love to show you readers, but the moment I'm sitting at my laptop trying to actually write something, I get carried away with fussing about exact wordings and clarity issues and all sorts of perfectionist woes. I find it impossible to just let my thoughts flow onto the blog post and then go publish it – instead, I plan and procrastinate for ages, and then maybe get something finished. This is interesting, because I'm not a perfectionist generally.

To cure this Bad Habit, I'm going to try out another weekly blogging event, Bookish (and Not So Bookish Thoughts, hosted at Bookishly Boisterous. The idea is to let bloggers share their thoughts and experiences of the week, meaningful or random, without necessarily having to develop these ideas into blog posts of their own. So here we go, my "spontaneously getting my thoughts out on the blog" exercise of the week:

1. I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Now, can someone please give me a Time-Turner or put a Memory Charm on me so I can forget everything about it? I won't say anything more because some readers might still want to avoid spoilers, feel free to ask me in the comments what exactly horrified me so much – if you dare.

2. One of my best friends visited London, and whenever someone travels to the UK I very nicely ask them to bring me a couple of books which are hard to find here in Finland, in exchange of eternal gratitude and the price of said books. This time, I got David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, the play version of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, and a surprise bonus of Shakespeare breakfast tea! Cloud Atlas is one of my absolute favourite books which I need in my own collection, I had been looking for Peter Pan for ages without any luck, and the Shakespeare tea has the most beautiful box ever, so I'm over the moon. Thank goodness for friends who visit the civilized world when I can't.

Have you ever seen such an exquisite wooden box of tea?

3. Finnish television is finally showing the new series of Hollow Crown. I watched the first episode, which is the first part of King Henry VI, and got basically the same, wonderful feels that the first series produced: excellent British actors playing brilliant Shakespearean dialogue in beautifully-shot locations. The first episode opens with a prologue by Judi Dench, and, as I expected, Sophie Okonedo as Margaret is ruthless queenliness incarnate. I reviewed all of the Henry VI plays while waiting for this adaptation to happen.

"I'm the bloody Queen, mate."
4. I read Oscar Wilde's fairy tales and am completely spellbound. There is such beauty on those pages that it's almost impossible to take it all in with a simple, human understanding. Go read them, if you haven't. Your life will get infinitely better.

5. I have been reading Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children for a long while now, and I'm still in the middle of it. Not because of any loss of interest issues – it's one of the most intriguing books I've ever read. There's just so many ideas to take in there, it appears to be quite a challenge even for an obsessive reader like me. I love it.

6. A curious thing happened in the library the other day. I wandered off to the epic poetry section, which I don't normally do, and this one book just demanded to be taken off the shelf – Gilgamesh. I have vague memories of hearing the name somewhere, but until I read the back cover I had no idea of it being an ancient Mesopotamian epic, considered to be the oldest surviving work of literature in the world. So apparently, I will be reading Gilgamesh in the near future, without ever having planned to do so.

7. All in all, my To Be Read list has been completely re-arranged. I already had that list planned, then rummaged through my bookcase to find a staggering stack of books that I realized I couldn't wait to read. So, once I'm finished with Midnight's Children at last, my near-future reading list will include:

  • Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (with the added bonus of delightfully pretty covers)
  • Gilgamesh
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson 
  • The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
  • Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel
Just had to show off the Peter Pan cover and my illustrated edition of Treasure Island.
My thoughts for the week turned out to be mostly of the Bookish sort. I'm not surprised.