Month: February 2015

Judging a book by its cover

Who isn’t tempted by beautiful, fancy, intriguing book covers? I am. We readers would be accountable for massive unemployment for graphic designers, artists, marketing gurus and consultants, if we didn’t look twice at a book, read the description, and ultimately buy the book based at least in part on its cover. Forget the morally correctness of not judging a book by its cover. We all do it. The first recorded mention of judging a book by its cover (that I could find) is not the morally high and mighty notion of looking past appearances, but a subtle critique. In George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (1860), Mr. Tulliver uses the phrase in discussing Daniel Defoe’s The History of the Devil, saying how it was beautifully bound. Take that, Mr. Defoe! Nevertheless, we readers know that an entire world hides between the front and back covers, and no matter how beautiful, fancy or intriguing a book’s cover is; we read to gain insight into that world. We may be tempted by the cover, take a …

A Short History of Europe 1600-1815: Search for a Reasonable World – Lisa Rosner and John Theibault

It isn’t difficult to find a good non-fiction book about the Middle Ages; nor is it difficult to find an equally good book about the Modern world, starting somewhere within eyeshot of the French Revolution, but a book about the period in between is a rarity. Enter “A Short History of Europe 1600-1815” by Lisa Rosner and John Theibault. Both authors are established in academic environments and have written other books regarding the in between era of European history, and it is their sound expertise and teaching experience that gives them the unique opportunity to introduce 215 years of history in 400 pages in a very reader-friendly way. Luckily, Rosner and Theibault (I love that name) don’t attempt to write a comprehensive history of the period, but provide an overview. In their own words: “Our goal is to be engaging for students, by giving ample coverage of personalities and events, while integrating insights from the last generation’s research on social and cultural history, including women’s history.” I would add that “A Short History of Europe …

Intellectual reading

Some readers read like college professors, memorizing interesting paragraphs and delving into every – and I mean EVERY – facet of the book. How do they do it? I admit I am in awe of them. Their reading has a scholarly approach, analyzing and comparing the themes or writing style from one book to the other with the amazing result that they sound smart – or even intellectual – when they say stuff such as, “I much prefer the literary connotations in X instead of the literary clichés in the earlier Y.” Know anyone like this? Oh dear…. I think to myself. The horned gremlin on my shoulder expounds, “Intellectuals are so annoying.” The angelic fairy, nervously wringing her hands on my other shoulder, adds, “And so intimidating.” My theory is that this marks one of the great divides between the literati and readers like me. The literati view books as intellectual pursuits – the means by which they develop their mind. I view books as imaginary journeys into foreign lives and read for the …

Salman Rushdie

I know the British Indian author Salman Rushdie (1947-) as the author of the ”The Satanic Verses” , and I know there was great controversy about the novel when it was first published. The fact that Rushdie has written a number of other books fades in comparison, although I have one of them in my library (TBR). Many of Rushdie’s novels take place in the East – that exotic place of turbans, curry, and a cultural history that many of us in the West know too little of – and move between magical realism and historical fiction. However, Rushdie’s iconic authorship was reached with the publication of “The Satanic Verses” and the repercussions in many countries and communities throughout the world. “The Satanic Verses” were irreverent of the Prophet Muhammad, like recent events in Paris and Copenhagen, fuelled the debate of freedom of expression versus religious ideologies. In 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Rushdie and the novel was banned in 12 countries. Perhaps the quotation is Rushdie’s response to the debate.

The Reading Chair

The reading chair has travelled far. When I bought it, I called the town of Nuuk home. Nuuk, the capital of Greenland is nestled in a massive fjord system, surrounded by the oldest cliffs known to man. I bought the reading chair on a trip to Denmark, and so it was necessary to pack it in bubble wrap and thick cardboard, before steadying the reading chair in a seasoned container. With the clang of heavy machinery, that container was loaded onto the red-hulled ship. I imagine the reading chair’s journey from the habour town of Aalborg in Denmark was begun with a salutary whistle as the ship cleared the quay. Ahead laid a journey across the unruly North Sea, north of the Oakney and Shetland Islands, south of the Faroe Islands. The compass guided it west as the stars and desperation guided Vikings a millennium earlier. I imagine that moment when the sea gulls sag behind and with a last cry turn and fly back towards their home coasts. I imagine the ruggedness of the …

Mystery – Jonathan Kellerman

”Like a con man on the run, LA buries its past. Maybe that’s why no one argued when the sentence came down: The Fauborg had to die. I live in a company town where the product is illusion. In the alternate universe ruled by sociopaths who make movies, communication mean snappy dialogue, the scalpel trumps genetics, and permanence is mortal sin because it slows down the shoot. LA used to have more Victorian mansions than San Francisco but LA called in the wrecking ball and all that handwork gave way to thirties bungalows that yielded to fifties dingbats, which were vanquished, in turn, by big-box adult dormitories with walls a toddler can put a fist through. Preservationists try to stem the erosion but end up fighting for the likes of gas stations and ticky-tack motels. Money changes hands, zoning laws are finessed, and masterpieces like the Ambassador Hotel dissolve like wrinkles shot with Botox.” Mystery, Jonathan Kellerman, p. 1 When I read the first page of “Mystery” I thought: “WOW!” And read it again. If …

Good night and read well

”Goodnight and read well,” Theodor said to me the other night as he followed Grandma to his room to read and snuggle before bed. The salute was a novelty; I hadn’t heard it before, and it probably springs from three-(and a half)-year-old Theodor’s resistance to sleeping at the moment and his love of reading. And what is better than reading in bed? One of my daily luxuries is going to bed fairly early – sometimes just after I’ve tugged Theodor in – and snuggling up with a book and the ever present cup (i.e. mug) of tea. I rejoice in the comfort and warmth while getting a good hour or more of reading done. This is genuine me-time and it both calms me and nurtures me to grow. I make it sound like I’m a plant, and to use this metaphor, reading in bed helps me stay in bloom. It is no wonder that Business Insider lists reading as the number 1 thing most successful people do before going to sleep, even going as far …

Copenhagen Shooting

Last night – Valentine’s Day – I left home around 4:30 PM to have dinner with a friend in Copenhagen. We had a lovely dinner, took a long walk in the inner city, before having cocktails at Ruby. We walked together down Købmagergade, past Krystalgade around 11:45 to the train station Nørreport where I took the train home at 00:04 AM. It was a wonderful evening in great company – an evening of smiles, great conversation, and gourmet experiences, but this morning, I was completely shaken to hear how the night also had been. At 3:30 PM, there were reports of a shooting with an automatic weapon at a debate concerning freedom of speech with the attendance of the Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks. One civilian was killed and three police officers were wounded. At 00:45 AM, shots were fired at the synagogue in Krystalgade – where I had passed by just an hour before. One civilian was killed and two police officers were wounded. The manhunt for the perpetrator continued through the night, until he …

Marcel Proust

We’ve all heard of him, and he is counted among the greatest authors of all time, but I readily admit that I have yet to read anything of his hand. Proust (1871 – 1922) lived in that buzzing period, where France and in particular Paris was afloat in sensation in the arts, science, idealism and he was a part of the milieu of intellectual literates. However, little Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel (or just plain Marcel to his friends) was a funny sort with his bulky eyes and sickly demeanor. He lived with his parents until they died – and only held more temporary position at literary journals and the like. He wrote novels and critics, tackling different subjects as the separation of church and state and homosexuality.