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Must Reads

It’s a Book

Mari and I went shopping. And we found the awesomest book by Lane Smith, a children’s book of few words and lovely drawings, with a good point to boot! The book? “It’s a Book” (2010). The book is about a monkey who likes to read, and a curious donkey who doesn’t quite get what a book is for. Luckily, youtube has a trailer for the book, however, all is not included, so you’ll just have to get up off the couch and find the book yourself.

Love, Hanna


Even Silence Has an End

He died while I was still chained to a tree in the middle of the jungle.”

A couple of weeks ago I got new hero. Or, to be more accurate, heroine. I was reading Even Silence Has an End (2010) by French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt (1961).

Ingrid Betancourt, running for president in Colombia in 2002, was kidnapped basically on the campaign trail, by the FARC (Colombian Armed Revolutionary Forces), a gerilla group with a lot of power in some parts of the country. For six years she was held captive in the jungle, and her book is basically a memoir over those years. While at times being one of those books you read while covering your eyes because you really can not take any more cruelty, it was aslo a book that impressed me with its wisdom and caring and humans ability to forgive, as well as portraying human cruelty and desperation. Ingrid Betancourt writes about young girls joining the FARC, because it is even that or prostitution, and she has an astounding ability to try to understand her enemies, and to see their point of view.

I won’t lie to you, this is a sometimes awful book, not because of how it is written, but because of some of the content. However, it’s a book that will teach you stuff you may need but may not want to know about the world. And it will stay with you for a long time, I’m sure of it.

PS: Ingrid Betancourt for president!

Love, Hanna


Darkness at Noon

“Nobody can rule guiltlessly” Saint-Just

Ok, so I’ll be the first to admit that Darkness at Noon (1940) by Arthur Koestler is perhaps not the most cosy, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas read. However, the book is brilliant and should be a must read for everyone everywhere.

It is set in Russia in 1938, and starts with the main character, Rubashov, being arrested in the middle of the night. This short book (at least according to Wikipedia) “express the author’s disillusionment with the Soviet Union’s practice of Communism.”

We follow Rubashov into imprisonment, through interrogation, corruption, and torture. The book is so well written that when I was reading it this summer, in a room full of people, I had to force myself to look up every now and then just to remind myself that I was not in an interrogation room headed for a show trial, and that I was, in fact perfectly safe. It’s a book and a story that gets under your skin. And it should, seeing that it actually tells a story that many were forced to experience in the 1930s.


Momo

When I was a kid (around 7 or 8), I read German author Michael Ende’s book The Neverending Story (1983) ten times in a row. I’m not exaggerating – I think I had it checked out of the library for a whole year, probably hoping for it not to be a fantasy and to open up and take me to its world like it does main character Bastian. When I got a bit older, I discovered some of his other books, mainly the fantastic and amazing novel Momo (1973).

Momo

Momo (or Momo oder Die seltsame Geschichte von den Zeit-Dieben und von dem Kind, das den Menschen die gestohlene Zeit zurückbrachte which Wikipedia informs me translates to Momo, or the strange story of the time-thieves and the child who brought the stolen time back to the people) is about a young, poor girl whose “superpower” is her amazing ability as a listener. Her listening skills help the other children (and adults) stretch their imaginations and solve their problems, basically making her their muse. She lives in the ruins of a theatre in relative happiness and harmony. Until the Men in Grey appear. They are thieves of time, convincing the adult population to “save” time by placing it in the Timesavings Bank for later use. However, after agreeing to do so, they forget all about the men – all that lingers is the idea that they should save time. The only person immune to their power is Momo, and she must save the city and her friends from the evil men.

Years later, this is still one of my favourite books, and one I strongly urge you all to read if you haven’t already. No matter what age you are.

Love, Mari


House of Leaves

By Mark Z. Danielewski.

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How to explain this book?

I guess it is a half-finished document investigating something called the Navidson tapes.
This document is filled with footnotes from the person writing it, the person who found it (our main character, or at least one of them, depending on your definition) and the editors of House of Leaves. The Navidson tapes are a collection of short films exploring the house of Mr. Navidson, a photographer who discovers that his house is bigger on the inside than on the outside (and not in a cute Harry Potter-fancy tents-way).

One thing is for certain: You must, must, must read this book! (Don’t let the size put you off, you will read this in a heartbeat!)

This is one of the most impressive books I have read in years! It is really more a work of art than a novel. This is a ghost story, a love story, a psychological investigation, an allegory, a story about madness, loneliness, mystery, fear, as well as a mockery of western civilization’s attempt to rationalize everything, even the unexplainable (and as such it is filled with quotes, statements and analysis worthy of a text book). It is brilliant! Read it!

Just beware that if you are easily scared, don’t be home alone, this book really sneaks up on you.

Love, Elin


My Invented Country

“Let’s begin at the beginning, with Chile, that remote land that few people can locate on the map because it’s as far as you can go without falling off the planet.”

My Invented Country (2003) is a memoir by Isabel Allende. Allende, who is originally from Chile, moved around a lot as a child, and later on, when Agosto Pinochet took the power in the 70s, she emigrated for good. Anyhow, Chile remains her country, and in this memoir she looks back at her life there, and how the Chilean culture have and continues to influence her.

It’s beautifully written, like all books I’ve read by Allende, and is full of funny and sarcastic little quotes which lightens up the reading, even if we are in the middle of a bloody coup d’etat. I had to read this book with a pen, underlining sentences, drawing hearts and writing notes in the margins. (Yeah, I do that). The book teaches you a lot of history, (who knew there was a civil war in Lebanon in 1958? I sure didn’t.I It also makes you want to read more Allende, and to visit Chile.

So go find yourself this little book and enjoy! See you in Santiago?

Love, Hanna


A Room of One’s Own

In 1928 Virginia Woolf held a series of lectures on women and fiction. These lectures were published as an essay collection in 1929, entitled A Room of One’s Own. In it Woolf discusses what is meant by women and literature. Is it female characters in books? Is it women writers? Is it books about women? She explores, through various fictional female characters, the advantages and (mainly) disadvantages women have had when it comes to literature, with regard to lack of education, lack of status, lack of right to participate in public life, politics and to travel, but perhaps most importantly: The lack of a room of their own, somewhere to withdraw from daily chores and quietly contemplate their writing.

The essays are beautifully written, clever, interesting and still current today many places in the world.

I truly recommend this to everyone who has an interest in literature and history, or really anyone who simply enjoys reading. Because, let’s face it: Virginia Woolf was effing awesome!

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Death at Intervals

The following day, no one died.

In an unnamed country on the first day of the new year, people stop dying. Death is on strike. Soon, the residents begin to suffer. For several months undertakers face bankruptcy, the church is forced to reinvent its doctrine, and local “maphia” (not the traditional mafia, mind you) smuggle those on the brink of death over the border where they can expire naturally.

Eventually, death (not Death with a capital letter) returns, but she has changed her policy somewhat – her victims are now warned of her approach via violet letters delivered a week before they are destined to die. But what can death do when a letter is unexpectedly returned?

Portuguese Nobel Prize winner José Saramago’s (1922-2010) Death at Intervals (As Intermitências da Morte, 2005), is funny, philosophical and very entertaining. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good read!

Love, Mari


Hogfather

It was the night before Hogswatch

And all through the house

Not a creature was stirring…

Christmas is soon upon us, my dearies, and what better way to get that Christmas-spirit than to read about how other cultures celebrate this time of year! How, for instance, do they celebrate midwinter in, let’s say, Ankh Morpork? Want me to tell you? It is not that different from our own festivities. They celebrate Hogswatch, when the fat man gives out presents to children who have not been naughty. But have you heard the story about that one fatal Hogswatch night when Death had to take on the role as Hogfather in order to ensure that the sun would rise again? It is a very good story. And you can read all about it in Terry Pratchett’s amazingly wonderful novel Hogfather (1997).

Or you can enjoy the equally amazingly wonderful film version, also cleverly named Hogfather, from 2006. It is, and I don’t say this lightly, as good as the novel.

Whichever you prefer, this is a must-read/ must-see!

So snuggle up and enjoy!

Love, Elin


The Lies of Locke Lamora

“Locke Lamora’s rule of thumb was this: a good confidence game took three weeks to plan, three weeks to rehearse, and three seconds to win or lose the victim’s trust forever. This time around, he planned to spend those three seconds getting strangled.”

The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006) is a brilliant fantasy book written by Scott Lynch (1978). It’s the first in a series of seven, where the five last have yet to be published. I don’t know anything about the rest of the series, but I do know that this one is definetly worth reading.

“The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls. Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves: The Gentlemen Bastards.”

Set in Camorr, which is like a medieval Venice, the young Gentlemen Bastards carry out one crazy scheme after another. They are well-trained and the cunning used to plan their exploits reminds me of the brilliant Edmond Dantes. Do read it, it will entertain you, and make you want to be a criminal. I’d do just about anything to join the Gentlemen Bastards myself.

Love, Hanna


The Fry Chronicles

I have been watching a lot of QI lately and am falling deeper and deeper in love with that wonderful man Stephen Fry. He is truly a work of genius. But not only is he interesting on TV, he is also very interesting in writing, and this is why you should all read The Fry Chronicles (as well as all his other books of course).

The Fry Chronicles is an autobiography in two volumes. The first describes his childhood years and the second is about his time at university and his first years working for the BBC.

The books are very interesting and wonderfully written, and you will find yourself wanting to be his best friend (and possible regretting not making more of your own years at university).

I truly recommend spending some time with the Fry.

And here is a bonus video for you, expressing what many women surely must feel:

Love, Elin


Post Office

It began as a mistake.

Post Office (1971) was Charles Bukowski’s first novel, and it is said to be autobiographical about the author’s later years. It’s about Henry Chinaski, a middle aged guy who works in the post office, a work he finds incredible boring and degrading – but he survives through booze, women and an amazing cynical view of the world.

It’s a short novel, and quite an easy read. It can be a bit disgusting at times, but there’s also some truly beautiful little moments. And brutally honest, without making excuses for itself. See for youself.

Love, Hanna


Rescuing Patty Hearst

Nineteen seventy-four was a bad time to go crazy.

Not long ago I read Rescuing Patty Hearst (2004), an interesting memoir written by Virginia Holman (1967 – ) about growing up with a schizophrenic mother in the seventies.

“In 1975, one year after Patty Hearst and her captors robbed Hibernia National Bank, a second kidnapping took place far from the glare of the headlines. Virginia Holman’s mother, in the thrall of psychosis, spirited her two daughters to a cottage on the Virginia Peninsula, painted the windows black, and set up the house as a MASH unit for a secret war. A war that never came. The family — captive to her mother’s schizophrenia and a legal system that refused to intervene — remained there for more than three years.”

Of course, the story Holman tells is absolutely tragic, but due to her sly sarcasm it doesn’t become too painful or tiresome to read. It is quite short, and will probably teach you something about mental illnesses, and since we all know that learning is fun, especially on the weekends, why don’t you get to it?

Enjoy your reading,

Love, Hanna


Good Omens

Good Omens: The Nice and Proper Prophesies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (1990) is the brainchild of the amazing authors Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, which means that it is probably one of the funniest books ever written.

It is a story about the End Times. The Apocalypse is nigh, which comes as a bit of an inconvenience for the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, who both have grown rather fond of their quiet earth lives and of the human race. They team up to secretly work against their respective bosses and make sure that the apocalypse is postponed. However, the boy thought to be Antichrist, and raised as such, is really just a normal eleven year old boy, due to an infant mix-up at the hospital. The real Antichrist is living peacefully with his parents, completely unaware of all the trouble that is coming his way.

The four horsemen of the apocalypse saddle up and the race is on. Who will find Antichrist first? And will the world survive?

This is a great story filled with wonderful characters, with the very best from both Gaiman’s and Pratchett’s worlds. If you want to have fun, read this novel.

Love, Elin


If Chins Could Kill

If you’re not familiar with actor and cult icon Bruce Campbell (1958 – ), you should check out the Evil Dead-movies (1981-92) which earned him his cult hero status. When you’ve done that, watch his performance as a mummy-fighting geriatric Elvis Presley in Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) (a fairly underrated movie in my opinion). Then, it’s time for his self-degrading My Name is Bruce (2007). By this time, you are familiar enough with his face to play a game of Spot-The-Bruce in Sam Raimi’s films (he appears in almost all of them). It is at this point that you need to read his hilarious and insightful autobiography If Chins Could Kill – Confessions of a B-Movie Actor (2002).

The title says it all. In this memoir, Campbell recounts his life as an actor whose main body of work consists of so-called B-movies. As he puts it: “The bigger the movie, the smaller the part.” Hilarious as the man himself, the book also offers an interesting inside look at the Hollywood movie-industry – not from the view of a hugely overpaid A-list star, but from someone who tries to make a living in a notoriously unstable profession. Enjoy!

Love, Mari


The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories from 1997 is a wonderful, weird and bittersweet book of stories by Vili Flik hottie Tim Burton. The poem-like stories tend to be about characters who don’t fit in, but who keep trying to. The stories are quite tragic, but, in true Burtonbrilliance, they are also a bit funny and very beautiful. The stories are also accompanied by lovely little illustrations.

Love, Hanna


Child of God

Child of God (1973) is the third novel of the American author Cormack McCarthy, and I’ll say this right away: McCarthy is not for everyone. His books are dark, filthy, violent, “white trash” kind of stories, and this novel is no exception.

The story is set in Sevier County, Tennessee and tells of Lester Ballard, a dispossessed, violent man without family, home or the ability to connect with others. As he is pushed further and further away from society, he descends, both figuratively and literally, to the level of a cave dweller, and falls deeper and deeper into a life of crime and degradation.

What makes the novel interesting is the description of the various characters and the lives they lead. Also the main character, Lester, is explored in an uncomfortably sympathetic manner, expressing just how thin the line between functioning and malfunctioning, judge and judged, good and bad can be. If you can stomach a little necrophilia and other deviations, this novel is definitely worth reading.

Love, Elin


Almost Home

Following the insanely great news that the West Memphis Three are finally released (if you’re unfamiliar with the case, I suggest you check out wm3.org or watch the HBO documentary Paradise Lost [1996]), this week’s recommended book is Damien Echols’ (1974-) autobiography Almost Home (2005).

Almost Home was written on Death Row in an Arkansas prison, and it chronicles Echols’ life from birth to the present (well, 2004/5 at least). It is an intelligent and very well written account of a young man in search of identity, and the tragic events which led to his imprisonment. It highlights how in an intolerant society, the outsider easily becomes the scapegoat.

I read this book when it first came out several years ago, and it affected me greatly. Now, with its author safely out of prison (as he was 18 at the time of the murders, he was the only of the three who was sentenced to death), it is very much due for a reread.

Additionally, I recommend the aforementioned documentary Paradise Lost – it may be slightly in the Michael Moore school of documentary-making (i.e. it occasionally overstates some facts while underplaying others), but despite that, its well worth a watch, and I dare you not to let the American judicial system (at least in this case) provoke and anger you.

Love, Mari

PS. For the record, I do believe the boys were wrongly imprisoned, and that the real killer got away with it.


Wuthering Heights

may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you–haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always–take any form–drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!

Since we are finding ourselves in a vintage vein, as Mari put it yesterday, I thought it fitting to continue with a book of yore as well. Allow me to take you back to 1847, and to Emily Brontë’s (1818-48) gothic masterpiece, Wuthering Heights.

I find it difficult to compose a short summary (or to find one to steal), as this is a story with lots of happenings. However, I will say that it centers around Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and that it is a tale of passionate love and of revenge, of rain and darkness and mist and moors. You simply must read it.

Love, Hanna


Shadows Over Baker Street

I must admit that I have had few dealings with Sherlock Holmes, one of the world’s most famous detectives, being one who favors the supernatural to the rational. However, a friend of mine kindly provided me with a short story-collection called Shadows Over Baker Street, in which Arthur Conan Doyle’s familiar characters have been thrown into the dark, surreal and sinister world of H. P. Lovecraft.

To place a logic-freak like Holmes in a Lovecraftian environment makes for a quite interesting read, and I highly recommend this book to both Doyle-fans and Lovecraft-fans, and everyone else for that matter. And the collection includes short stories by such authors as Neil Gaiman and Poppy Z. Brite.

Elementary!    


Soulless

“I believe the defining moment was when certain persons, who shall remain nameless, objected to my fuchsia silk striped waistcoat. I loved that waistcoat. I put my foot down, right then and there; I do not mind telling you!” To punctuate his deeply offended feelings, he stamped one silver-and-pearl-decorated high heel firmly. “No one tells me what I can and cannot wear!” He snapped up a lace fan from where it lay on a hall table and fanned himself vigorously with it for emphasis.

At the time being, all three of us Vili Flik girls are reading the same series, The Parasol Protectorate, by Gail Carriger. This is all Elin’s doing of course. She started and then the rest of us followed, desperately wanting to be like her (and you can’t blame us, can you?). And it is quite entertaining – sort of steampunk Jane Austen meets Wodehouse. There’s sarcasm, there’s food and there’s brilliant clothes – seriously, what more could you wish for in a novel (or in life for that matter) ?

Soulless  (2009) is the first book in the series and I promise you will be entertained – have a look at this:

“Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire — and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

SOULLESS is a comedy of manners set in Victorian London: full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.”

Enjoy your weekend and your reading!

Love, Hanna


The Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman is a fascinating author, and his 2008 novel The Graveyard Book is no exception. A modern, Gothic retelling of Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1894), the story centres around orphan Nobody Owens who, after his family is brutally murdered by “the man Jack”, is raised by ghosts in the local graveyard.

“Bod” is adopted by a family of ghosts, has a very peculiar and fairly scary (though strangely attractive) guardian, and befriends a witch – but the land of the living is something of a mystery for him. He is safe as long as he stays in the graveyard, but outside lurks danger – the man Jack is still out there, and his work is not yet done.

Enthralling, exciting and funny, The Graveyard Book is another example of Gaiman’s wonderful literature for children. Again, he reminds us that children’s books don’t need to be “safe” and “wholesome” – there can be real danger and the children might be able to handle it anyway…

I recommend this book to adults as well though – it’s an easy but thoroughly enjoyable read.

Love, Mari


I’m with the Band

Summer is sadly almost gone, but for those of you who want to cling to it a little longer, I recommend the crazy, funny and oh-so-not-mentally-challenging memoir I’m with the Band (1987) by Pamela Des Barres.

“As soon as she graduated from high school, Pamela Des Barres headed for the Sunset Strip, where she knocked on rock stars’ backstage doors and immersed herself in the drugs, danger, and ecstasy of the freewheeling 1960s. Over the next 10 years she had affairs with Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, Waylon Jennings, Chris Hillman, Noel Redding, and Jim Morrison, among others. She traveled with Led Zeppelin; lived in sin with Don Johnson; turned down a date with Elvis Presley; and was close friends with Robert Plant, Gram Parsons, Ray Davies, and Frank Zappa. As a member of the GTO’s, a girl group masterminded by Frank Zappa, she was in the thick of the most revolutionary renaissance in the history of modern popular music. Warm, witty, and sexy, this kiss-and-tell–all stands out as the perfect chronicle of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most thrilling eras.” (quote from Goodreads)

Enjoy!

Love, Hanna


Gertrude And Claudius

Well, as I assume you are all terrified from last night’s horror show, I thought it best to include a little culture. And what is the most important piece of writing produced in Europe ever? You guessed it: Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1599-1601). Well, opinions may differ on that, but you must agree that it’s a pretty neat little story. But have you ever wondered what happened before Claudius killed off old Hamlet and left Hamlet Jr. to ponder the various aspects of life and death? If you have, then I have the perfect novel for you: Gertrude and Claudius (2000) by John Updike.

The novel depicts life at Elsinore, from Gertrude’s forced marriage to the boring and brutish Hamlet (very much a bro), to her affair with Hamlet’s much more charming brother, Claudius, and finally the fatal discovery leading to the events depicted in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy.

The novel is very well written, easy to read, and brings a whole new perspective to the story, it is also equally based on the myths and historical events that Hamlet is based on, as much as Hamlet itself. I highly recommend this to everyone who wants to read a love story with just a little bit more substance this summer.

Love, Elin