Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Bookish (and Not So Bookish) Thoughts

Bookish (and Not So Bookish) Thoughts is a weekly blogging event hosted at Bookishly Boisterous, where the idea is to share your thoughts from the past week, things that might not merit their own blog post.

1. Firstly and most importantly: my niece was christened last Sunday, and I had the honour of being named  one of her godparents. I also got to hold her during the ceremony and she behaved like a little angel, except when people sang hymns, to which she protested quite loudly. All of my family members and friends have code names whenever there's need to mention them in the blog, so my niece will be called Peanut from now on – because that's what she looked like on her eight-week sonogram picture! Taking my duties of Aunt very seriously, I have already given Peanut her first two books: my own Finnish edition of The Hobbit and a picture book of Sophie La Girafe. Just thinking about all those wonderful books that Peanut doesn't know yet which I might get to introduce her to, makes me want to skip for joy!

2. I noticed some rather amusing similarities in the book I just finished reading and the one I'm reading right now. They both feature young male protagonists, pirates and an island, and were written by Scottish authors who knew each other. Can you guess the book titles?

3. In addition to reading these Scottish writers, I borrowed a book about W.B. Yeats, one of my favourite poets, and learned lots about the Irish literary revival. Now I hope nobody writes a screenplay about Yeats and Maud Gonne before I do, because there was something about how their personalities and their relationship were described in the book that really got me all inspired. Imagine this: W.B. Yeats, introvert poet and intellectual up to his ears in Irish mythology and lyrical verse, falls head over heels in love with Maud Gonne, who doesn't care a whiff for his affections but draws him irresistibly to the service of the Irish national movement and burns gloriously with the spirit of free Eire all over the place. Now wouldn't that make an interesting story? The literary circles of Yeats' times were bursting with interesting personalities, so you could have people like Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw appear as well...

4. I bought a new journal for the sole reason that it had my favourite Tove Jansson's Moomin illustration on it. I didn't really need another journal, because as you can see from the picture below, I already have a pile of them and so far I have no idea what I'm going to do with this one. It's the one in the middle, blue background with a picture of a floating theatre and Moomins on it.

The black-and-white striped one is where I plan my blog posts...

5. I'm an on/off running enthusiast, and I always need a playlist when I go for a run. My playlist for my latest excursion worked so wonderfully I thought I might share it here:

1. Rihanna – We Found Love
2. Survivor – Eye of the Tiger
3. Katy Perry – Roar
4. Kelly Clarkson – Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)
5. Adele – Rumour Has It
6. Beyoncé – Schoolin' Life
7. Michael Jackson – Beat It
8. The music from Mulan called "Haircut" where she decides to join the army and gets soldiered up and it's the most awesome combination of scene and music ever!
9. Emeli Sandé – Wonder
10. OneRepublic – Love Runs Out
11. Christina Aguilera – Fighter
12. Mulan soundtrack again – I'll Make A Man Out Of You

6. In addition to discovering Mulan has some of the best running music ever, I found "The Fifty Greatest Pieces of Classical Music" by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It includes some of my very favourite pieces, such as Tchaikovsky's theme from Swan Lake, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, a Spring piece of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Massenet's Méditation from Thaïs and, oh, a couple of beautiful Mozarts and what not. Even Sibelius' Finlandia is there! I found some new favourites as well: Remo Giazotto's Adagio in G Minor is just full of heart, with a solo violin part that is pure magic and Gabriel Fauré's Pavane flows beautifully. The London Philharmonic Orchestra are truly masters in their art, each rendition is so spirited and expressive and they manage to do complete justice even to the pieces that I'm very picky about how it should be played, such as the Swan Lake theme. My only complaint with this collection is that it should have some more Tchaikovsky and Chopin, but then again I'm always after more Tchaikovsky and Chopin.

7. What a joy! I finally got my precious books out of the dish cupboard and into something that serves as a proper bookcase! And I got to arrange them according to language and genre and it warms my little bibliophile heart...

All my Finnish books fit into the topmost shelf.

Of course, the fantasy shelf (top) is crammed already. Those ones always have to be so big! The Victorian/historical/children's books shelf is also fairly populated.

English novels continued, non-fiction and my meagre French collection on the bottom

Here's what I came up with from last week. Keep having a great week, everyone, and drop by with comments!

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. 

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Facts About Me

"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."

Top Ten Tuesday is a great way to get back to blogging after another longish break... Unfortunately, this post will come out on Wednesday instead of Tuesday because the Internet connection here at our summer cottage didn't agree with me at all yesterday. This week's topic from The Broke and the Bookish was Top Ten Facts About Me, with the choice of theme in bookish, bloggerish, general, or whatever else. I chose to go with the bookish line, with a couple of suggestions from some of my Facebook friends – thank you for helping me with this post!

Top Ten Bookish Facts About Me

1. I know no such thing as "lightweight travel reading". Whenever I pack a book with me for a holiday (obviously I can't travel otherwise), I get ridiculously paranoid about whether or not the book is going to last long enough. I need to read on the plane/train/other mode of transport there and back again, and during any convenient time on the trip itself. It's the most frustrating thing in the world if I finish the book halfway through the holiday. So, my travel reads are always brick-sized. I've had The Lord of the Rings with me on one holiday and Nicholas Nickleby on another. My sister thinks I should read less and do more other stuff while holidaying, I naturally disagree.

2. I'm completely OCD about keeping books clean. Folding page corners or scribbling into books is completely out of the question, and I'm always picking my parents' wine glasses off their books, we have coasters for that. 

3. I don't usually eat while reading (because that would result in crumbs on the pages and that would be awful), but a cup of tea goes very nicely with a good book.

4. If my house was on fire and I could only rescue two of my books, I would probably choose my Wordsworth Library edition of Complete Works of Shakespeare and The Victorian Frame of Mind by Walter E. Houghton. The former because it's such a beautiful edition (dark green covers with the title in gold and thin, Bibleish pages) that I just couldn't bear to let it burn; the latter because I haven't got round to reading it yet and it was such a perfect stroke of luck for me to randomly find it at a book fair, in Finland. I doubt I'd get so lucky ever again.

5. I'm trying really hard to come up with some book that I'd call a "guilty pleasure". The nearest equivalent I can think of is all those tons of teen horse novels that I read when I was younger – old enough to know they were conveyor-belt-written crap, but still hauling armfuls of them home from the library.

6. I'm trying to collect books in every language that I know. Currently, I think more than half of my bookshelf is in English, the Finnish ones being mostly childhood favourites that I've kept over the years. My French library consists pretty much of Les Misérables and The Little Prince. I recently found the original Swedish version of Jan Guillou's The Road to Jerusalem (Vägen till Jerusalem) and I can't wait to get to it and see how my Swedish skills have kept up. My main motivation for learning Spanish is to be able to read Federico García Lorca in the original language, but I'm not nearly there yet.

7. A random fact that I've learned from fiction: If you feed cheese to a dog for a longer period of time, its sense of smell will deteriorate (according to Cornelia Funke's Inkspell, can anyone tell me if this is actually true? I haven't checked.)

8. I was asked how much value I put on the quality of writing compared to the quality of the story – would I continue to read a book with unimpressive use of language if the story was promising? The truth is, I can't remember ever reading a book where the story was great and the language was awful. I can only think of cases where a mediocre writer also had mediocre powers of imagination. I do think that good language is hugely important to me, something that I take note of from the very first pages. If I don't like the style of writing at all, I would probably be too frustrated to see if the story had any potential in it.

9. I'm extremely picky about poetry, but at its best, I think it is perfect magic with words and reading a good poem is like being in a dream. The few poets I like, I adore. If I get my hands on John Keats, Emily Dickinson, W.B. Yeats or Kirsi Kunnas, I find it very hard to stop.

10. Some world-famous, loved-by-all books which I, in all honesty, thought were completely stupid: Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and The Time-Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

So there you have it, a glimpse to my weird, bibliophilic ways. I love comments, as always, therefore be my guest if you want to discuss anything. I am seriously getting back to more regular blogging from now on because making this post was tons of fun, so keep coming in!

Friday, 18 March 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish. 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 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.

I know it's Friday already, but on Tuesday I happened to be burrowed in bed with hankies and throat pastilles and when I finally re-emerged to the human world, I decided I really wanted to do this topic anyway. I got to a very slow start with reading this year because I made the unwise decision to start 2016 with A Dance With Dragons – the fifth book in The Song of Ice and Fire series, which you find it hard to believe came out of George R.R. Martin's pen because it's so stuffed with pointlessness. Anyway, now I've chucked that one aside for a long while at least and this week's Top Ten topic came just in time to set my reading pace right again:

Top Ten Books On My Spring TBR (to be read) list

Most of my TBR books are already waiting in my bookshelf! Apologies for the dismal phone camera quality.

1. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt (currently reading)
I had bumped into Frank McCourt on a few sporadic occasions in the past. I have a vague memory of seeing the film adaptation of Angela's Ashes and how it managed to find humour despite being set in an environment seeping with desperate poverty and Catholic guilt. Later, there was a chapter from his other book, 'Tis, in an English school textbook, where McCourt recounts how he came to America and managed to get enrolled in the University despite having minimal education. He seemed like someone whose life story I would like to know, so I decided to read him one day. 

2. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
I happen to own a beautifully covered, illustrated Finnish translation of this book, which I've never read completely. Now, I watched the Disney film and decided I'm going to do it and find out what the original vision was. I already know Mr Kipling is going to make wonderful use of the Indian setting, so I should be thoroughly enjoying myself with this one. 

3. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
My blogger friend Hannah is reading through the Anne series right now, we got into a bit of a discussion about them, and I realized it's been such a long while since I read those books that I can't really express a definite opinion. I remember having some issues with the tone and characters of the later books in the series, and I'm suspecting I might find them even more problematic now that I'm much older. I'm excited to revisit and find out! We've had the entire series of the 1960s Finnish translations in our family bookshelf forever, and for the sake of nostalgia I'm going to read those again.

4. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
I've been fascinated by Rushdie since I saw a documentary film where he talked about his multicultural upbringing and the fatwa that he endured after The Satanic Verses caused an uproar. He had such a captivating way of knowing exactly what he wanted to convey and how to express it, that I once again decided here was a writer I was surely going to read one day. The premise in Midnight's Children seems like a wonderfully imaginative combination of historical events and the supernatural: 1001 children who were born at midnight when India was declared independent are telepathically linked to each other and have other special gifts. Just typing that down makes me want to open this book straight away!

5. American Gods by Neil Gaiman 
I've read Neverwhere and Stardust from Neil Gaiman so far and loved them both, Stardust being one of my favourite books ever. Gaiman has such a unique way of world-building, where he takes inspiration from something that already exists, then takes it through the phantasmagoric machinations of his imagination, and out comes something beautifully strange, befuddlingly original, so unpredictable it will keep you on your toes constantly. So I really don't know what to expect from American Gods, other than something from the furthest reaches of imagination.

6. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde is my newest author crush. How amazingly brilliant can a man possibly be? Just search for any quotation by him and it will be the pinnacle of extraordinary wit. Despite being such a prolific writer in various genres, Wilde's oeuvre only includes one novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. If Wilde's handling of people and society in this novel is anywhere near the genius of The Importance of Being Earnest, I will definitely love it. 

7. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Jane Austen loved to mock Gothic horror novels; I love to mock Gothic horror novels. Therefore, it's high time I set out to mocking Gothic horror novels together with Miss Austen, and also reach my goal of reading all of her works. The last Austen novel I read was Persuasion, which was her last work and a disappointment to me. I suppose Northanger Abbey might represent the opposite end of the spectrum regarding Austen's style in writing, as it is one of her earlier novels and apparently more light and funny in tone. Let's see if my opinion of it will also be different to Persuasion.

8. The Mauritius Command by Patrick O'Brian
I can't wait to be reunited with Captain Aubrey and Doctor Maturin at the height of the Napoleonic Wars. Those two have become incredibly precious to me in a very short time. Aubrey will be leading a very different sort of life on land now, as spoiler he got married at the end of the previous book. Maturin will be Maturin whatever he does and it's glorious. 

9. The Once and Future King by T.H. White
Arthurian legends are one of those things you know all the basics about even if you're Finnish and never actually read into it. So far, the closest I've done to reading about King Arthur is a children's book by Mauri Kunnas, Kuningas Artturin ritarit. Mind you, that's a very good place to start – Mauri Kunnas is a divine gift to parents who want to teach their children the magic of stories and reading. Anyway, T.H. White's take on the mythology is apparently what inspired Disney's The Sword in the Stone, for which I have a bizarre, childhood nostalgic but still lasting affection. So now it's time to find out what one British writer had to say about King Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin and all the rest in the early 1900s. 

This goes slightly off-topic, but one does not simply mention the brilliance of Mauri Kunnas without providing a picture. In his take of the legends, Arthur and Guinevere fall out because Guinevere uses the Round Table for playing darts.

10. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
My Top Ten will include one non-fictional book. I bought this for my dad as a present some years ago, because he and I share a borderline-masochistic interest in learning about how white Europeans brought down indigenous peoples and exploited their lands basically wherever they landed. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is one of the key works in describing the conflicts on American territory from the Native Americans' point of view. According to my dad, it's every bit as sad as one might expect: broken treaties, people being backed down into reservations, an entire culture made insignificant. I'm probably going to have my heart buried somewhere in the depths of despair while reading this, but we should all educate ourselves on histories such as these – especially as Finland, at least, is experiencing a significant wave of discussion (and also "discussion") of cultural and ethnic tolerance. 

There's my list! What exciting things are there in your reading future? Have you read any of the books on my list, or did any of them spark your interest? Throw me a comment to let me know!

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Read In 2015

"Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created here at The Broke and the Bookish. 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 add your name to the Linky widget 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."

I decided to join in the Top Ten Tuesday blog feature because 1) I need more blogging in my life again, 2) I love lists, and 3) my friend Hannah has been doing it for a while and it looked like a lot of fun! There's a new Top Ten topic at The Broke and the Bookish every week – except this week, the topic was free! As I was so dreadfully lazy reviewing all the great books I read last year, my topic this week will be...

Top Ten Books I Read in 2015

1. The Unknown Soldier (Finnish title Tuntematon sotilas) by Väinö Linna
Look look look, there's a Finnish novel in my blog post! See, I do read literature from my home country about once in a decade! Alright, the point is – I very rarely enjoy Finnish literary classics and non-classics even less, but reading a book such as The Unknown Soldier and writing about it on my blog makes me a very happy Finn. This is one of the few re-reads I included on this list. The Unknown Soldier is considered such a prime example of how the presentation of soldiers and war evolved in the Finnish literary landscape as well as a truthful description of the conditions in the Continuation War, that it is a compulsory read for every single Finnish secondary school student. Back in my school days, it completely surprised me by being the only "Finnish classic must-read" that I enjoyed. Now I'm glad I read it again, because the novel certainly is weighty and thought-provoking enough to endure a re-visit. The plot, essentially, is the Continuation War (1941-1944) between Finland and the Soviet Union from an ordinary soldier's point of view. Instead of one central character, the narrative follows a machine gun company that quite brilliantly works as a microcosm of the entire country, in terms of regional variety as well as political views. These men scorn their self-important superior officers, have absolutely no idea of the wider perspective or even the overall purpose of the war they are made to fight, grow bitter and fed up with the meagre food rations and generally present the Finnish soldier as the opposite of a shiny, national-minded hero. Critics disliked this approach when the book was published (1954), but nowadays the general opinion is that Väinö Linna achieved the most realistic, honest,  unpretentious depiction of the Finnish war front that there ever has been, and probably ever will be. I agree with this sentiment with all my heart – if anyone asks me what is the one Finnish novel that they should try, I say go find The Unknown Soldier. I heard that there was a new English translation out last year and that it's much better than the old one, though the title has been pluralized to The Unknown Soldiers.

2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
This book is an absolute marvel, a masterpiece built out of genius, a unique tour de force of what tremendous delivery can be achieved in no other art form than the novel. The structure is just one of Mitchell's many triumphs in this book: there are six different narrators in different time periods ranging from the Gold Rush years to a post-apocalyptic future, each of them is interrupted at a crucial moment and then completed in the reverse order in which they were begun. The different narrative voices and styles come through so brilliantly that you have to wonder how they all came from one writer, not six. Thematically, Cloud Atlas delves deep into issues of colonialism, ownership, morality, and how a single individual finds their place in the world – all this in six different levels!

3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
I read this one for last year's Banned Books Week. The story begins in Kabul, Afghanistan where the Talebans soon take over. The main character, Amir, manages to escape to the United States with his father, and they manage to build a new life in the newly formed community of other Afghan emigrants. However, something terrible happened to Amir's childhood friend just before the Taleban movement, and having witnessed it, Amir is haunted by the memory and the lie he has lived since then, and has to return to Afghanistan – now a strange and terrifying place for him – to make amends and set right what he feels he did wrong. The Kite Runner is often challenged for its violent content, and it's true that it describes man's cruelty in atrociously hideous ways – but it would be a great pity if this novel were discouraged based on that, because all of this works towards the theme of redemption which Amir seeks. With Amir, we readers have to sink deep down in despair in order to really feel the elation of rising up again. The Kite Runner will most definitely rip out your heart strings... But it's also one of the most beautiful books I have ever read, and will hold a place in my list of all-time favorites when I get round to writing it down.

4. Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian
The year is 1800, the British Navy is fighting Napoleon, and Captain Aubrey meets Doctor Maturin. Here begins a series of naval adventures set in the Napoleonic Wars, presented with meticulous detail concerning the navy and the politics of the age and seasoned with an epic Aubrey-Maturin friendship where one is a jolly, straightforward navy commander who is victorious at sea but a walking catastrophe on land; the other, an Irish-Catalonian doctor, naturalist and all-round intellectual who has many regrets about his secretive past and ends up working as Aubrey's ship surgeon with absolutely no knowledge of life (or jargon) on a fighting ship. The period setting alone would be a real treat as the Napoleonic Wars provide great opportunities for exciting navy action and political debates, but the very best thing about this series is the friendship between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.

5. Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian
Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin are off to fight the French again... until the Treaty of Amiens comes into effect a couple of paragraphs in. So now Captain Aubrey and his crew have to figure out what British Navy employees do when they're out of work. Fortunately, there is country life and bright young women's company to be enjoyed. With period-accurate dialogue and focus on social interaction, the first part of Post Captain is very much like a Jane Austen novel from the mens' point of view. It's quite a fun experiment really. All in all, I liked this one even better than Master and Commander. The first book, of course, laid the groundwork for Aubrey and Maturin's friendship; now, life on land sets up a series of conflicts between the two and it looks like we'll see Doctor Maturin's epic dueling skills in action. Even as the war recommences and the fellows have a ship again, the poor reader has to endure a roller-coster ride of tensions rising and falling between the two. Ladies, debts, a dodgy ship – times are hard. Still, there is humour aplenty as well, just like in the first book. Actually, I laughed my head off so badly on more than one occasion that people around me had to check if I was really reading about the Napoleonic Wars.

6. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
I asked this book for Christmas on a complete whim simply because someone mentioned it on Facebook and a gang of rich private school boys getting wrapped up in the supernatural while trying to find a Welsh king's grave sounded like an intriguing premise. It turned out, intriguing was a gross understatement – I finished the book in more or less 24 hours because I had to know what would happen to Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah. See, that's what happens to a reader when a writer decides, "Alright, my main characters are all going to be 17-year-olds, but instead of giving them the usual flat-and-angsty teenage treatment, I'm going to write them into such believably human, complex characters with actual flaws and problems that the readers are going to go insane trying to figure them out. Then I'll end the book while all the plot threads are still hanging in the air and say, Nope, this was just the first book in a four-part series, you have no life until you read the rest of it!" I love how the two settings of a privileged boys' school and a household full of psychic (in some cases psychedelic) women are presented side by side as Blue Sargent, a psychic's non-gifted daughter, becomes involved in the Raven Boys' quest. Blue Sargent is really the only slight complaint I have about this book. The boys she hangs out with are fleshed out to such an extent I want to cry my eyes out for all their individual hardships, while the main thing we get out of Blue is that she puts a lot of thought into appearing as non-mainstream as possible. Look, effortlessly individual and original people are great – people who work really hard to seem that way are just annoying. But I'm not condemning Blue just yet, I expect the rest of the series might add more dimensions to her. Besides, I need to get my life back soon.

7. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
I have kind of a divided opinion about my most recent Dickens read. It took me forever to finish because some parts of it were so slow and secondary to the actual plot that I left the book lying around for weeks at a time. Then, when I got to the good bits, I would always wonder How the heck was I ever able to stop reading this?! This is one of Dickens' "social problem" novels; in this case he delivers an astonishingly powerful commentary on the effects of institutionalization. It affects William Dorrit, a long-time resident at the Marshalsea debtors' prison; more tragically, it affects his daughter Amy, the eponymous "Little Dorrit", who can't escape her father's social stigma and his absolute dependence on her. Enter Arthur Clennam, quite an unusual literary hero for Dickens or in fact any writer: he's approaching middle-age, despairing over the unfulfilling life he has led so far, and constantly brooding on whether he will ever be any good to anyone. Dickens is criticized for writing characters who are either caricaturishly wicked or angelically innocent and this criticism is not at all unfounded (Little Dorrit herself is quite a frustrating little saint most of the time, though I'll have more to say about her once I get a proper review out) but stuff with Clennam is Deep. So even though I wanted to skip most of the indulgently satirical bits about Victorian British bureaucracy and the superficial life of the Merdles, overall Little Dorrit won me over with its earnest depiction of human despair and beautiful bits of dialogue. Charles Dickens continues to rock in my books.

8. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.
This was another re-read. There's one thing I've noticed about detective fiction: It can be brilliant, but only in small doses. As a genre, I think it is one of the most reliant in certain conventions and patterns, and it takes a very skilled writer to avoid falling into repetition. Well, Agatha Christie is obviously one of the best in her class and she manages to break quite a few rules with And Then There Were None. The biggest one: there's no detective. There's no-one to keep a cool head when the bodies start piling up, no-one to reassure everybody that they will find the murderer. Tension climbs sky-high as people get claustrophobic and paranoid, everyone's darkest secrets are spilling out... It's utterly amazing. Even if I do get round to reading more Christie novels in the future, I doubt that any of them will be able to top this.

9. Looking for Alaska by John Green
Everyone knows John Green since he wrote The Fault In Our Stars. I started reading him from his first published work, Looking for Alaska, not knowing what to expect. My first thought? I'm clearly too old to read about teenagers being stupid. The main character is Miles Halter, a teen outsider who decides to move into a boarding school in order to experience something new. Apparently, in order to have a life he has to do stupid teenager stuff and get hopelessly infatuated with a most annoying girl named Alaska. This is the first half of the book. Then, there's A Huge Event, after which... comes all the stuff that had me thinking all sorts of deep things about life, loss and young peoples' mental capacities for weeks on end. I can't really say any more about that without spoiling everything. Just... apparently, there are writers out there who think that books aimed at teen readers can and should provoke discussion about the most difficult things in life. Bravo to them all.

10. Contes du jour et de la nuit by Guy de Maupassant
I couldn't find an English title for this one online and I read it in French myself. It's one of the short story collections by Guy de Maupassant, a notable French practitioner in that genre. It goes a little bit against the title of this post to include this one here because I haven't quite finished it yet, but my love for Maupassant's writing already runs so deep that I'm certain Contes will keep its place in the list even after I'm finished with it. Tales of day and night sounds like a collection of fairy tale treasures – but Maupassant's "fairy tales" are about real people in a very real, mostly provincial France and, like most fairy tales in their original form, it's not all bliss and sunshine. The beauty of Maupassant's stories is how earnestly they depict the most basic emotions and impulses that direct human lives.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Ask Me Anything: The Answer Post, Part 2

Hello readers! I seem to be making a habit of awfully long summer breaks in blogging, which I don't particularly like... But now I'm back with the second half of the Ask Me Anything event I hosted in April.

Before I get to that, let me remind you of another, rather more international-scale event that should be of interest to bookworms across the world: the Banned Books Week, 27.9-3.10. It's mostly an American event, initiated by libraries and booksellers, who are often pressured to remove "unsuitable" books from their selections. The Banned Books Week raises awareness of censorship and celebrates people's freedom to read and as these issues are relevant to readers everywhere in the world, I don't think we should let America celebrate all alone! Therefore, I'm inviting you all to pick a book that has been notoriously challenged or even banned and discuss it during the upcoming week in any medium available to you – blog, social media, circle of friends, anything that enables you to introduce this book and reflect on why you should have been prohibited from reading it. The American Library Association keeps lists of frequently challenged books from recent years, but there are plenty of notoriously challenged books all across the history of literature. I'm going to review Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner (2003), it would be great to see all of you fellow book bloggers participate with whatever you choose. Please throw me a link to your posts if you do! Let's really discuss censorship and read whatever the heck we want!

Now, moving on to the actual topic of the day. I'll be answering Hamlette's and Olivia's questions that they asked many... many months ago, and this little celebration for the second anniversary of Music & My Mind comes to an end. Thank you all for participating, I have had tremendous fun thinking up answers to all of these questions!

Hamlette asked:

What animated movie do you wish they would make a live-action version of next? Who would you cast?

As I'm supposed to be honest here, I'll have to tell you all that I'm completely bored and frustrated with this persisting Disney trend of live-action remakes. Not that I resist remakes on the whole or think that all of these Disney films are of bad quality – I'm absolutely open to the suggestion that some of them might be good films in their own right, even if I haven't bothered to see most of them myself.

The real reason why I don't applaud live-action remakes is that for me, the magic and the intrigue of the original Disney films is largely to do with the beautiful work they did with the animation. The older I got, the more awed I was by the fact that people could actually draw things like sunlight, thunderstorms and water – if you really stop to think about it, isn't it quite an achievement to animate even such an ordinary thing as a moving person? So I don't really see what the artistic gain is in telling essentially the same story as a live-action version. I hate to be cynical, but I get the feeling that Disney is after some easy profit in continuing with this trend.

What musical NEEDS a movie version but doesn't have one yet? Again, who would you cast?

I think some stage musicals are better off left on the stage in their awesomeness, but to be honest, I would be quite happy to see a film version of Jekyll & Hyde. The score is wonderful, the themes of addiction and ethics will never get old, and the Victorian setting would look gorgeous on screen – there would be so many things in this film's favour! As for casting, all I would ask for is actors with a strong musical background and at most a minimal amount of stunt casting. I would much prefer an unknown, interesting new talent with a gorgeous singing voice to a big-name Hollywood star who took a singing crash-course just before shooting.

Olivia asked: 

What is your opinion on the subject of Ramin Karimloo?

I can tell you that if you were to watch me listening to Ramin Karimloo,  you might witness something rather peculiar. There's this half-dreamy, half-zombie look in my eyes, I tend to clasp my hands really tight and perch on the very edge of whatever I'm sitting on. My goodness, what a voice. What a stage presence. Have you seen that look on his face when he plays Enjolras in the Les Misérables 25th anniversary concert and sings "The ABC Café Song"? And how, as the Phantom, he has incredibly expressive hands that more than make up for the fact that the mask hides half of his face? Just... wow.

Have you seen the new Cinderella movie? If so, what did you think?

I haven't, and as you can probably judge by my response to the question about Disney re-makes, I wasn't in a hurry to see it. However, a friend of mine saw it and told me that Cate Blanchett was magnificent, which I can easily believe!

Do you plan to pursue a career in theatre/musical theatre? Are you a soprano or an alto?

I would love to write plays and writing a musical is a crazy, ambitious dream that may or may not come true. I do like to sing though, and I'm definitely more of a soprano than an alto because my lower range is very limited and my belt voice is, quite frankly, pathetic.

What is your favourite version of The Phantom of the Opera? (Meaning any book, movie, or stage adaptation.)

That would be the stage musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber. I was lucky enough to see it at Her Majesty's Theatre in London, and it was one of the most impressive experiences of my life. Not only hearing but feeling the power of the music reminded me why I love musicals so much. I have also read the original novel by Gaston Leroux, which was quite a disappointment, unfortunately.