The Almost Nearly Perfect People

 

Michael Booth

The Almost Nearly Perfect People. Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia.

Vintage 2015, 393 pages

 

I’d say this would be the perfect gift for your favorite Scandinavian, but you’ll probably end up keeping this for yourself.

Michael Booth is a British gentleman (read the book and you'll understand why I use this particular word!) who lives in Denmark and has traveled throughout the Nordic countries in order to take a deeper look at the societies and peoples of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden. He has interviewed politicians, historians, philosophers, scientists, artists, and Santa Claus.

This book made me laugh every few pages and I’ve spent the last couple of days reading passages out loud to the rest of my family.

And I’m not raving about this just because he writes:  „I think the Finns are fantastic. I can’t get enough of them. I would be perfectly happy for the Finns to rule the world. They get my vote, they’ve won my heart.“  (Well, maybe a little...we’re all suckers for this kind of flattery, aren’t we?) It’s his unpretentious style and dry British humor  combined with loads of cultural, historical, and economical information that makes this worth reading.

He tries to find out why Denmark is considered to be the happiest place in the world, gives a short description of the economic crash in Iceland and there’s a bit about elves too (they had nothing to do with the crash), and delves into how the discovery of oil has changed Norway (and explains why the country ran out of butter in 2011).

His sauna experience in Helsinki will make you (or any Finns reading this anyway) laugh out loud, as will his description of the day he decides to go about Stockholm "behaving as un-Swedishly as possible, the theory being that, by acting in diametric opposition to Swedish social norms, I would be better able to identify and observe said norms.”  (So read the book and find out what happens when he crunches through a bag of chips and slurps his coke next to a ‚no eating or drinking‘ sign at the Nobel Museum, crosses the street while the light is still red, and so forth.)

After you’re done reading, you can take a couple of minutes to watch the youtube video he recommends, titled simply ‚Danish Language‘ before  booking a flight to the Nordic country of your choice.

Also, I’m almost nearly sure that it’s the Scandinavians who will be most amused by this book!

 

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Plucked from the shelves

 

After more than four months of focusing my attention on other projects, I thought it’s time to wake Bookthirsty from its self-induced coma – or is hibernation a more appropriate word? Lately I have read so many fabulous books and am starting to feel guilty about not sharing them with others.

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Another book set in Alaska...

 

 John Straley 

Cold Storage, Alaska 

Soho Press 2014, 294 pages 

 

Cold Storage is a tiny town in Alaska, so small that the inhabitants have a sort of ‘sex radar’, which alerts them to who is sleeping with whom. It is home to Miles, a former Army Ranger medic who now enjoys the quiet and fishing (even though it has been years since he caught a king salmon) and who works at the local clinic, curing the locals’ ailments, both physical and mental. When Miles’ brother Clive gets out of jail and comes back home, he brings with him not only an ugly dog, but also a former ‘business partner’ who wants to track him down and kill him, and a disagreeable state trooper who begins to snoop around. 

 

The cast of quirky characters, the amusing dialogues and surprising turns of events make this a thoroughly entertaining read. And of course the setting itself.

 

http://www.johnstraley.com/

 

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Fabulous novel set in Alaska

  

Kim Heacox 

Jimmy Bluefeather 

Graphic Arts Books 2015, 251 pages 

 

Nobody really knows how old Old Keb, a half-Tlingit, half-Norwegian elder, is, but he has outlived his wife, his friends and his three sons and now he tired - of a lot of things - and thinks it may be time to die. When his grandson James is injured in a logging accident, losing both his chance to play in the NBA and his will to live, old Keb decides it is time to build one last canoe.

 

This twenty-five foot red cedar log in the carving shed soon becomes somewhat of a community project and when it is finished, Old Keb and James leave on a journey towards Crystal Bay, where the Jinkaat Tlingit came from long ago. A last journey for Keb and a reason to believe in something for James.

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Gaston Dorren - Lingo. Around Europe in Sixty Languages

 

 

Gaston Dorren 

Lingo. Around Europe in Sixty Languages 

With contributions by Jenny Audring, Frauke Watson and Alison Edwards (translation)

 

Atlantic Monthly Press 2015, 284 pages 

 

How can I not advocate a book which explains why Finnish is easier to learn (to spell at least...) than English? :-) 

 

Anybody who is interested in languages will love reading Lingo – it is a collection of essays on sixty European languages and dialects, each just a few pages long, but full of interesting facts. I thought I’d enjoy a couple of chapters daily, but ended up racing through the entire book in just two days. 

 

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Steve Hockensmith - The White Magic Five and Dime. A Tarot Mystery

 

 

Steve Hockensmith with Lisa Falco 

The White Magic Five and Dime. A Tarot Mystery 

Midnight Ink 2014, 326 pages 

 

 

The White Magic Five and Dime caught my attention at the Frankfurt Book Fair, mainly because the cynical heroine with the smart mouth sounded like such a fun character to read about.

 

Alanis McLachlan hasn’t seen her mother in twenty years and now gets a message that her mother was murdered and has left a will. Alanis travels to Berdache, Arizona only to find that she has inherited a Tarot shop of all things. Highly sceptical because, after all, her mother had been a con-artist, Alanis nevertheless decides to stay long enough to figure out who the murderer was.

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Sofi Oksanen - Norma

Sofi Oksanen

Norma

Like 2015, 304 pages

 

Norma is an unusual young woman who is suddenly left completely alone when her mother dies. Was it suicide or was she murdered?

 

Norma’s thick hair grows up to a meter a day and it can actually sense things. If anybody found out about this, she would be in great danger. Without her mother to protect her, she does not know who she can trust.

 

Norma has the key to something the Lambert family wants, of that they are sure, and they will stop at nothing to get it.

 

Norma is about organized crime, trafficking of surrogate mothers and human hair, about our obsession for beauty, all set mostly in Helsinki in a not so distant future and spiced with a splash of magic.

 

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David Whitehouse - Mobile Library

David Whitehouse

Mobile Library

Picador 2015, 273 pages

 

I mentioned Sasha Abramsky’s The House of Twenty Thousand Books for the hard-core bibliophiles and then Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar and The Snatchabook for the absolute beginners.

 

So now here is something in the middle. Not just for booklovers, but for anybody who loves a great story with quirky characters.

 

Twelve-year old Bobby Nusku fears spending time at home. His mother is gone and his best friend has moved so when Bobby meets Rosa and her mother Val who cleans a mobile library, he also discovers books, and the summer begins to look brighter. Then things start going wrong, and the three feel their only choice is to run away – in the mobile library.

 

While the book is entertaining and fun to read, there is also this running undercurrent of really bad ideas kids have (including a few spine-chilling scenes), bullying, child abuse and neglect, and the effect that ignorant and nasty gossip can have.

However, along the way, Bobby, Val and Rosa befriend a stranger, have the adventure of their lives and forge themselves into a family – and Bobby discovers that stories really do happen to people like him.

 

And really, if one had to run away, what better vehicle to go in than a mobile library?!


http://www.davidwhitehouse.net/


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Antti Tuomainen crime novel available in English!



I just noticed that Synkkä niin kuin sydämeni by Antti Tuomainen is now available in English.

It is titled Dark as my Heart and translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers.

Published by Harvill Secker in October 2015. 


Back when I wrote about this (October 2014), it was only available in German.

And for some reason I am unable to link this to that post, which is unusual. :-(

 


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Books about books for budding bibliophiles


Here are two adorable children’s books to read out loud, and which will entertain the adult booklover just as much as the little ones. Both are stories about impossibly cute biblioklepts but they are very different and because it will be difficult to choose which one to get, sooner or later you will probably end up with both of them on your shelves…

 

Emily MacKenzie

Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar

Bloomsbury 2014, 32 pages


Ralfy Rabbit is the ultimate little bibliophile – he wants to read books all the time, he dreams about them and makes lists about them. But then he begins to steal them and that’s when the trouble starts… a very funny little story!


http://www.emilymackenzie.co.uk/books


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Sasha Abramsky - The House of Twenty Thousand Books


Sasha Abramsky

The House of Twenty-Thousand Books

New York Review Books 2014, 327 pages

 

How can I not pick up a book with a title like this? If I had to sum up my feelings about The House of Twenty-Thousand Books in one sentence, it would be: I loved this book! Actually, I think I may have wanted to physically live inside it... Truly a ‘book about books’!

 

Sasha Abramsky has written a fabulous account of his grandparents, Chimen and Miriam Abramsky and their obsessive collecting of both books and people, and also the times they lived in. Chimen is described as a polymath and bibliophile, Miriam was very intelligent and warm-hearted and they lived in a house which was stuffed with books in every room (except for the kitchen and the bath) and a table just as fully laden with seemingly never ending platters of delicious food (do not read this on an empty stomach) and always, always, interesting company gathered around for political debate. Nourishment for both body and soul.

Here is the text from the inside jacket cover:

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A mix of six...


The fact that I haven’t posted much during the past months does not mean that I haven’t been reading.

Here are six praiseworthy books more or less devoured during the summer.


Two amazing novels by Don Winslow:


The Power of the Dog and The Cartel are sweeping complex tales of epic proportion describing the so-called War on Drugs, which of course is anything but that, because it is being ‘fought’ on the wrong fronts.

An incredible amount of research has gone into these tomes and you will read every bit of news on the subject in a different light after reading them. At times I forgot I was reading novels, that's how authentically he writes.

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Eugene Vodolazkin - Laurus


Eugene Vodolazkin

Laurus

Oneworld Publications 2015, 365 pages

Translated from the Russian by Lisa C. Hayden

 

Those who buy this book because they assume it is “Russia’s answer to The Name of the Rose”, as is printed on the cover, might very well be disappointed. Both are set in the middle ages and both fairly teem with monks, yes… But no.

 

And what is it with this marketing trend which tries to force every other new title into the spotlight occupied by an older bestseller anyway? Often quite misleading, and once you’ve bought and read the book, you can hardly return it to your bookseller crying that it was nothing like The Name of the Rose, Dickens or Borges or whatever other novel it claimed to have elements of, be the love child of, or have a new fresh take on. You’re not going to get your money back, no matter what kind of puppy eyes you make.

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Three Finnish Books

 

Janne Nevala

Kirjastonhoitaja Topi Mullo

Reuna, 2015 269 pages

 

Janne Nevala’s Kirjastonhoitaja Topi Mullo is an entertaining story about a young man who takes a summer job at a small library on an island. He has been left with precise instructions as to what his duties are, and these he takes very seriously (to the dismay of some of the visitors). But summer is when things happen on the island, and a veritable invasion of tourists and artists shake up Topi’s routines. A theatre ensemble ends up moving into the building, and the flamboyant actress Nika takes an interest in him. There is the beautiful red-haired cleaner, a gang of unruly boys, and a rich widow who lives in an enormous storybook mansion, to name just a few of the other characters. The tone of the book is humorous, especially Topi’s inner monologues, which often made me laugh out loud.


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Frankfurt Book Fair 2015



What? No wake-up slam at the book fair this year? What a disappointment! That was the best and most inspiring way to start each day last year.

Guest of Honor this year was Indonesia. The pavilion was divided into different ‘islands’, each with a different theme – old manuscripts, tables of colourful spices near the luscious cookbooks, a reading area and so on. Befitting for a country composed entirely of islands (according to Wikipedia, Indonesia is spread over 17,508 islands, about 6,000 of which are inhabited!)

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This is for the women out there...


Dr. Jacqueline Hornor Plumez

The Bitch in Your Head.

Taylor Trade Publishing 2015, 173 pages


This one is mainly for the ladies… 


Oh, so this time you actually thought I’d post a photo of some good-looking shirtless hunk, did you?  


Well, sorry to disappoint you – it’s just about another book. Again… groan… 


Before I start, let me say that this book is not going to magically transform your life by next week and much of what is in there, we’ve read or heard a dozen times over. Some of the advice is a bit simplistic or naïve. No, the reason I’m recommending this one is because of the basic idea here. It is something I understand well. And you will probably recognize it too.


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The Last Frontier

View from ferry in Alaska
View from ferry in Alaska


My posts here stopped for some time, having started to question the point in keeping this up. It’s not the only thing I’ve been questioning lately; pretty much everything is being scrutinized and turned over in my mind. Except for one thing. No matter what chaotic thoughts abound, one subject always manages to poke its way to the surface as a matter of course, much like crocuses in the springtime, and that is, of course, books. Sometimes I feel like they literally anchor me to the world.

 

I just returned from visiting family and friends in Seattle and while there, my sister, my nephew, my younger son and I accompanied my mom on a short trip to south eastern Alaska. She has wanted to go there for years, so the trip was a birthday gift when she turned – um… when she had a birthday. Shortly before we arrived in Juneau, I looked at the mountains and passages of water through the plane window and thought to myself that should I ever move back to the USA, I would move to Alaska (note that we hadn’t even landed yet…)


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Louise Erdrich - Books & Islands in Ojibwe Country


Louise Erdrich

Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country

National Geographic Directions 2003, 141 pages

 

This is a mini road trip through islands, books, nature, Ojibwe words, traditions and myths.


To the enormous Lake of the Woods in Minnesota and Ontario with about 14,500 islands, some of which have rock paintings. And then to Mallard Island on Rainy Lake where the adventurer Ernest Oberholtzer built a number of houses and filled them with more than 11,000 books.

 

Louise Erdrich travels to these places with her new baby and a stack of books. She writes about her observations, teaching the reader much along the way. I like her dry sense of humor, for example as she writes about her baby picking blueberries (miinan) straight into her mouth. “I show her how. This is the one traditional Ojibwe pursuit I’m good at.”

She reads Austerlitzin a cheap roadside motel, explains a bit about the Ojibwe language (Mazina’iganan is the word for books…:-)), and deftly blends traditional and modern life, slowing down to look at and contemplate things, making everything somehow matter. I could easily begin reading this book again immediately.

 

Other books by Louise Erdrich that I have read are: The Crown of Columbus (written together with Michael Dorris), Tales of Burning Love, The Painted Drum, and Shadow Tag.


Patrick Dennis - Auntie Mame


Patrick Dennis

Auntie Mame (An Irreverent Escapade)

Broadway Books

Originally published in 1955

 

I just had a lot of fun re-reading this truly irreverent novel!

 

When ten-year old Patrick is orphaned, he is sent to live with his only living relative, Auntie Mame in New York. Flamboyant, impossibly wealthy and able to “charm the birds off the trees”, Auntie Mame chain smokes, drinks like a fish and is quite possibly the funniest aunt that I have read about. She dives headlong into new experiences, changing manners, diction and wardrobe, from an Irishwoman in tweeds to a southern belle, to suit the situation, and always at the center of attention. But she does take care of the boy, and starts off with his vocabulary, giving him a pad and pencil so that he can write down words he hears but doesn’t understand. Soon thereafter, he has words like daiquiri, narcissistic, Biarritz, psychoneurotic, and relativity on his list.

Thoroughly entertaining and not nearly as ‘fluffy’ as it may sound.

 

The first chapter can be read on the publisher’s website: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/39555/auntie-mame-by-patrick-dennis/


Wade Davis - The Serpent and the Rainbow


Wade Davis

The Serpent and the Rainbow. A Harvard Scientist’s Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombis, and Magic

Simon & Schuster 1985, 267 pages

 

I can’t even remember how this book got onto my to-read list. I’m certainly not a fan of zombie books or movies. World War Zis the only one I’ve watched - that I can think of.

Standing in front of the Fiskars Gardening Tools at the local hardware store with my younger son a few years ago, I did get a lesson in how useful these high-quality axes, hedge shears, garden forks, spades and so forth would be in the face of a zombie apocalypse, though…


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Learning by reading...


Luis Sepúlveda

Un viejo que leía novelas de amor

Reclam Fremdsprachentext

First published in 1989

 

(English: The Old Man Who Read Love Stories)

 

I can’t remember the last time I read a book this intensively. Probably never.

I enrolled in a second Spanish class taught by my teacher, solely because I heard they were reading this novel together. All of the other students are a couple of levels higher than I am, and I had to read through each chapter carefully at home, sometimes having to look up every other word (even though many translations are already given in this Reclam version especially for students) or puzzling over sentences for minutes on end, until I finally figured out – at least in most cases – the meaning.


It was slow going. But worth it. I loved it. Both the book and the experience. Of course you can do this on your own without a class, but I don’t always have the self-discipline to do this on a regular basis without that little extra nudge of having to prepare for class.

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How many books to pack?

Indy in Lapland, near Keimiöjärvi  (photo: Ralf Wilker)
Indy in Lapland, near Keimiöjärvi (photo: Ralf Wilker)

 

I haven’t posted anything for ages and have a couple of excellent reasons for that (see photo) plus any number of super lame excuses… So I'll change the subject. How about books?

 

What is the most important thing to consider before leaving on a trip?

 

Exactly... How many and which books to pack. (Obviously. That was too easy.)


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Katja Kettu - Piippuhylly


Katja Kettu

Piippuhylly. Novelleja

Wsoy 2013, 236 pages

 

Pietari Kutila leaves a shelf of old pipes to his daughter, and to each pipe there is a story about its owner. In his letter he says that up to this point (1945), he has told stories about war and the fear, the pain and the distress suffered by people torn from their homes. But, he writes, there are other tales as well…

And so we are swept away to African slave ships, the favelas in Rio, the Volga, St. Petersburgand Berlin. Each story is separate, yet they are all tied together like pearls on a string. Exotic, erotic, colourful tales encompassing the whole range of human emotion and behaviour from the most despicable to the altruistic and loving, Ín turns, bold, magical and horrifying.


Perfect. This book easily became a favourite and now I am looking forward to reading Katja Kettu’s novel The Midwife, which was published in 2011.

http://www.bonnierrights.fi/books/the-midwife/


For more Finnish books click here.


Robert Heinlein - Tunnel in the Sky


Robert Heinlein

Tunnel in the Sky

Pan Books Ltd, 1968, 222 pages

 

Rarely do I read Science Fiction novels, but Ralf brought this one home from a business trip last month and I was curious; one of his customers had lent it to him after some conversation they’d had about The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell.


First published in 1955, Tunnel in the Sky takes place in a future where people travel to other planets easily enough through special gates.

Rod is a senior in high school and his final examination in Solo Survival takes him to an unknown planet for up to ten days. But something goes wrong and the exit gate back to Terra never appears. Rob and the other students stranded on the planet are left to their own devices for an indefinite amount of time. They must hunt, find water, build shelters and – as their group grows in number – build a society, which is not an easy task.


Robert Heinlein wrote 32 novels and 59 short stories in his lifetime, in addition to other works!


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Re-reading le Carré


John le Carré

A Most Wanted Man

Hodder & Stoughton 2008, 340 pages

 

This week I took A Most Wanted Man from my shelf in order to read the book flap and skim through the book, just briefly, mind you, to bring back to mind what it was all about, as I plan to watch the movie this weekend.

Well, I read the first few pages, then the first chapter, and because all was quiet in the house, I kept on reading, and once you’re in, you’re in…


(And yes, my first words after seeing the movie will probably be: The book was much better than the movie. But it was filmed in Hamburg.)

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Two novels by Riikka Pulkkinen


Riikka Pulkkinen

Raja

Gummerus 2007, 399 pages

 

English: The Limit (translated by Lola Rogers)

German: Die Ruhelose (translated by Elina Kritzokat)


Anja, a 53-year old professor of literature, has promised her husband that she will help him die when Alzheimer has destroyed his memory. Feeling unable to keep her promise when this does happen, she obtains enough sleeping pills for her own suicide.

At the same time, Anja’s 16-year old niece, Mari, who spends a lot of time thinking about her own death and how people would react to it, has fallen in love with her Finnish teacher and they begin an affair - an all-encompassing obsession for Mari and an erotic diversion for Julian. Julian’s six-year old daughter Anni observes the sometimes odd behaviour of the adults around her while knowing when to keep silent about what she sees.

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James Magnuson - Famous Writers I Have Known


James Magnuson

Famous Writers I have Known

W.W. Norton & Company 2014, 311 pages

 

Imposters. Felix Krull by Thomas Mann springs to mind immediately, as does the movie Catch Me If You Can. And Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, of course!


Fascinating protagonists in any case. No matter what else happens in the story, there is always the danger of being found out, so there is this hidden current of suspense in even the most banal encounters.


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Diego Marani - New Finnish Grammar


Diego Marani

New Finnish Grammar

(translated by Judith Landry)

Dedalus, 187 pages 


Neue Finnische Grammatik, the German title of this novel, caught my eye at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October. How could it not?! 


In Finnish to know is tietää, and tie means road, or way. Because for us Finns knowledge is a road, a path leading us out of the woods, into the sunlight, and the person who knew the way in the olden times was the magician, the shaman who drugged himself with magic mushrooms and could see beyond the woods, beyond the real world. It is of course true there is more than one possible path to knowledge, indeed there are many. In the Finnish language the noun is hard to lay hands on, hidden as it is behind the endless declensions of its fifteen cases and only rarely caught unawares in the nominative. (p. 56)

 

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San Francisco Noir


Kem Nunn

Chance

Scribner 2014, 320 pages

 

This one caught my eye at City Lights in San Francisco – maybe it was the picture of the Golden Gate Bridge disappearing into the fog; maybe it was the words on the front cover (“Takes place in the twilit world of noir, where people and things are never what they seem.” – NY Times Book Review). At any rate, I read the back cover, noted that it was set in S.F. and knew that I had to read it.


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Family, books and wine

Alcatraz
Alcatraz

 

Family, books and wine pretty much sums up our visit to San Francisco and Santa Rosa in December. What more could one want, really?

 

Immediately after arriving, we all went to prison for a few hours, but even there I was able to find literary material for the website… The Alcatraz prison library had a collection of over 10,000 books when it was in use. 

(The prospect of a well-stocked prison library is still no reason to commit crimes…)


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Earle Labor - Jack London. An American Life


Earle Labor

Jack London. An American Life

Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2013, 384 pages

 

This biography is just as exciting to read as the stories written by the subject of the book!

Born in San Francisco in 1876, Jack London was always on the lookout for an adventure. Long hours working at a cannery, a short stint as an oyster pirate (after which he was hired by the California Fish Patrol), hiring onto a sealing schooner which sailed to Japan, tramping across the US, including thirty days spent in jail, and an expedition to the Klondike during the Gold Rush (bringing back ‘nothing but scurvy’), for example, all by the age of 25.

Famous during his lifetime and while earning large amounts of money, he also spent lavishly, so was often strapped for cash.

He maintained a strict writing schedule, putting down 1000 words each day no matter where he was: sailing on the Snark to Australia, the South Seas and Hawaii or building a lavish mansion which burned down shortly before he was due to move in.

His relationships with his first wife and two daughters and his second wife and ‘soul-mate’ Charmian Kettridge and various other family members and friends were at times equally dramatic.

An incredibly adventurous life well told by Earle Labor!


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Gift idea for Readers and Writers


Writers Tears Whiskey


I first saw this whiskey at a Medieval Fair near Hamburg in September (there was a little whiskey bar there, which seemed to be doing good business), and - because of the name - I had to order a bottle, which has since been opened, tasted and found to be good...


Faulkner said "there's no such thing as bad whiskey. Some whiskeys just happen to be better than others." and "I usually write at night. I always keep my whiskey within reach, so many ideas that I can't remember in the morning pop into my head."


Google comes up with over seven million hits when one searches for 'writers and whiskey', so one could literally read about this subject for hours...






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Stephen Fry - The Stars' Tennis Balls

Stephen Fry

The Stars’ Tennis Balls

Arrow Books 2011, 436 pages

 

On the inside of the book there is this quote from Mail on Sunday

‘My goodness what fruity language Fry uses! You can feel his enjoyment, and also the huge force of his desire to please you, as you read this.’

 

He certainly pleased me very much with this extremely entertaining novel!

 

It is 1980 and young and handsome Ned, athletic, popular, and madly in love with Portia, lives in what seems to be a flawless world. His perfect life is, however, annoying to a few of his peers, who decide to play a practical joke on him, which in turn leads to devastating consequences for Ned. As a result, he ends up locked away in a mental institution on an island for the next twenty years.

BUT, he meets an interesting friend there who teaches him many things, and after his death, Ned manages to escape. The book would have been even better had Ned's revenge on everybody been more psychological and less physically violent, but still, it is just the kind of story you cannot put down once you have started reading.

(And yes, this is a contemporary version of The Count of Monte Christo!)


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Tom Rachman - The Rise & Fall of Great Powers

Tom Rachman

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers

Sceptre Books 2014, 372 pages

 

When we first meet Tooly Zylberberg, it is 2011 and she is the owner of World’s End, a bookshop near Hay-on-Wye. A message from her former boyfriend, Duncan, puts her on a plane back to the US.


The novel bounces between 1988 when Tooly was ten years old and living in Bangkok with her father, 1999 in NYC where she meets Duncan, and 2011 when she travels back to NYC to figure out why her life had been as it was, and who all of these people really were.


Eccentric and lovable characters (most of them) trying to find their places in this world in rather unorthodox fashions (not all of them commendable…you’ll know what I mean after you’ve finished the novel…) combined with frequent references to literature made this novel an immediate favourite. But don’t just listen to me. Here’s what Humphrey has to say (This is the back cover of the novel!):


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Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn - Half the Sky. How to Change the World


Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl Wudunn

Half the Sky. How to Change the World

Virago Press 2010

 

This book certainly raises awareness about a myriad of atrocities committed against women all over the world.

 

It is not easy to read about how horrific human beings can be to one another, and most of these daily acts of violence merit little space in the daily news.

 

The authors describe the suffering in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and various African countries graphically, writing about women who have endured brutality beyond imagination, but who have managed to fight their way out and up, and so have become role models for others. They also write about workers who have devoted their lives to these causes and about the importance of educating women.


Sex trafficking and forced prostitution are more widespread than I had imagined - the numbers here are staggering. Gender based violence such as honor killings and mass rape are focused on as well.

 

It seems a bit strange to thank somebody for giving one a gift which ends up making one’s blood boil, but this book may just be the exception to that... Danke, Sabine!


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Book Lists

This particular subject is so long (in multiple ways), I could probably write an entire book about it.


But I’ll start off with lists of books made at the Frankfurt Book Fair.


I thought I was being quite particular and jotting down the titles of only the most interesting sounding titles I came across, adding a total of 84 titles to my “buy and read list”, when it would have been so easy to add hundreds. Twenty of these were Finnish originals, mainly because I spent so much of my time poring through Finnish books this year.

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Books I would love to like

There is a certain phenomenon I experienced very strongly at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year, regarding a category of books which I will call (for lack of a catchier term) “books I would love to like”.

 

I’d read about them in advance, saved little clippings about them and was completely open and prepared to be bedazzled by their brilliance.

If one can speak about lusting after the written word after having been seduced by clever book jacket blurbs, book reviews or the aesthetics of the cover and title itself, then this was it.


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Mikko-Pekka Heikkinen - Jääräpää


Mikko-Pekka Heikkinen

Jääräpää

Johnny Kniga 2014, 301 pages

 

Normally I wouldn’t pick up a book with the words ‚romantic tragicomedy’ on the cover, but since this one takes place in Muonio in Finnish Lapland, I figured it wouldn’t be your average fare.


Katja is from Helsinki and her husband Asla is a Sami clothing designer in Muonio. Katja has lived in Muonio (200 km north of the Arctic Circle in Lapland) for only nine months and as the newly appointed municipal manager in Muonio, has been given the task of uniting the municipalities of Muonio and Enontekiö into one. Reindeer herders in Enontekiö, chiefly her father-in-law Piera, despise both her heritage and her plans.

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Antti Tuomainen - Synkkä niin kuin sydämeni


Antti Tuomainen

Synkkä niin kuin sydämeni

Like 2013, 302 pages

 

Sonja Merivaara disappeared mysteriously twenty years ago. Her son Aleksi Kivi is certain that the wealthy businessman, Henrik Saarinen, had something to do with it and because the police never solved the case, he is now determined to take matters into his own hands. Finding a way to get close to Henrik Saarinen wasn’t overly difficult, but he hadn’t reckoned with Henrik’s beautiful and spoiled daughter… A gripping story about obsessions, revenge, and loneliness set in Helsinki and a mansion by the sea.

 

This novel made the train ride from Hamburg to Frankfurt seem very short!

 

Synkkä niin kuin sydämeni seems to be available only in German translation so far. (Todesschlaf)

 

Antti Tuomainen is the author of The Healer (Parantaja), an immensely popular dystopian novel which has already been translated into over twenty languages.

 

Frankfurt Book Fair 2014

Frankfurt Book Fair 2014 - Finland Pavilion
Frankfurt Book Fair 2014 - Finland Pavilion
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Bookish ballerinas


Here are some new pictures for my 'Readers in unusual places' Gallery.


Many thanks to the three beautiful young ballet dancers here!


Click here for more photos.

Funniest menu ever!

My sister ate at this Russian restaurant in San Diego last week and sent me this link.

This has to be the funniest menu I have ever seen!

(And the food there was every bit as good as she had been hoping for as well.)

 

http://kafesobaka-restoranpomegranate.com/restoranmenu.html 


Here is one sample of a description from the menu:


Tabaka:  Is not your fried yard bird. A plump and juicy fried Cornish hen is split down the middle with crisp skin is a poem of a meal on its own. Please allow 25 minutes to catch the bird, stick it under a rock, and to fry it. Like Loresha purrs, "Your mouth will be delighted like never before, with this tasty, fiery marvel from the Caucasus.”$17


All right, here is one more:


Dedushka Special: tea (tea is not vodka, you cannot drink a lot) from samovar with brandy and different jams. (S)$3.50 but no brandy (I)$5 with brandy

*Dedushka over 100 years eats in our restaurant for free - Babushka of 100 years old and up eats for free as long she promises not to stick her nose into our lives or kitchen.


...and this part was good too...:

 

4 possibilities for dining sizes: Communist (priced for the people at $2.87), Socialist(S), Imperialist(I), and Anarchist(A-amount and price change daily.) Ask your server for pricing on the different sizes.

 

*To those paying in cash we offer a glass of free tea from the village of Gusevka or a bone for your dog to encourage financial responsibility.


I know where I want to eat when I visit San Diego!

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Reading on Mallorca

This hotel terrace on Mallorca was a fine place to enjoy a café con leche and read...
This hotel terrace on Mallorca was a fine place to enjoy a café con leche and read...





When one hears the word Mallorca, I would guess that books are probably not the first thing that spring to most peoples’ minds. Except to mine, and maybe yours. We spent one week there at the end of August and - after I had pared down a ridiculously high pile - I still ended up taking six books along:


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Tove Jansson

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Xenophobe's Guide to the Finns

 

 

If you are a Finn or if you know a Finn, you will probably be quite entertained by this slim little volume. I certainly was!

 

Xenophobe’s Guide to the Finns

By Tarja Moles

86 pages 

 

Finns revel in hardship. They are at their best when circumstances are at their worst. 

 

This little book starts off with a sort of warning which ends with these two sentences: 

 

A Finn can get extremely angry or ecstatically happy without the use of any facial expressions or change in tone of voice. He will only wave his hands when drowning. 

 

Tarja Moles writes about the Finns reticence, their saunas, their winters, sense of humor, language and their relationship to the Swedes: 

 

Even in international competitions the Finns measure themselves against the Swedes. Winning is, of course, great, but beating the Swedes is even better. The Finns never tire of exulting about their victories in the 1995 and 2011 Ice Hockey World Championships, which were particularly sweet due to having beaten Sweden into second place. 

 

I also own the Xenophobe’s Guide to the Germans and being married to a German and having lived here for over twenty years, I can say that there are a lot of truths to that one too… :-)

 

According to the list at the back of the book, there are guides for 30 different nationalities in this series.

 

The humor in these books, I must add, is not of a nasty nature. While pointing out the quirkiness of Finns for example, the (Finnish) author does it in a very – well, I would say “loving” manner if that didn’t sound so sentimentally squishy (for a Finn…)

 

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Iceland – a bibliophile’s dream country

 

My brother Finn sent me this wonderful link about book publishing in Iceland.

I could actually feel my heart beat faster reading about the bókatíðindi, the annual book catalog which lists about 90% of all the books published that year in Iceland and which is sent to every household. Wannahaveitnow!

 

http://arts.nationalpost.com/2014/07/11/iceland-reads/ 

 

Reading this article I also notice (for the first time) that there exists something called UNESCO City of Literature, because Reykjavík apparently is one. Here is their website in English:

 

http://bokmenntaborgin.is/en/ 

 

And for bibliophiles looking to visit this small island (which has becoming increasingly interesting to me during the past hour!) it seems that April 8-12, 2015 would be the perfect time to go, no matter what the weather is. That is when the next Iceland Writers Retreat will be held and local and international fiction and non-fiction authors will be lecturing and holding workshops in Reykjavík!

 

http://www.icelandwritersretreat.com/ 

 

All of this is almost reason enough to learn Icelandic, isn’t it?!

 

At the very least I should finally get around to reading something by Halldór Laxness…

 

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Literary narcotics

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More World Cup Reading Ideas

 

There seems to be a huge number of various so-called „reading challenges“ on the Internet, a phenomenon which I am not even sure how I feel about.

 

“Motivate yourself to read more books” one website says. Really? More? Rabid readers don’t have a problem motivating themselves to read more. They have problems putting down their books to take care of the mundane chores in life, such as mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, laundry etc… not to mention things like washing windows or doing tax returns. Escaping reality in general… So the only challenge seems to be in finding even more time to read the ever-growing stack of books.

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World Cup Literature from Brazil

 

Mention Brazil and pretty much everybody around here will think you mean the FIFA 2014 World Cup.

 

When I think of Brazil however, I feel a slight tinge of guilt for not having read any Brazilian literature last summer even though Brazil was the Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair last fall.

 

I remember walking around the Brazilian pavilion at the book fair and how they had these pillars of paper, glued together on one side like over dimensional notepads. Each pillar of paper was made of printed sheets dedicated to a specific character from a Brazilian book, one pillar per character, so one could walk around tearing off sheets from the pillars to take home. Each sheet has information about the character in question, the author and book, as well as a short excerpt, all in Portuguese, English and German. (see photo below)

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Game of Thrones dialogue for readers

 

Well, the text is probably from the books – which I have not read – but I loved this scene in Game of Thrones (Season 3, Episode 9) so much I had to post the dialogue (and watch the scene again on YouTube): 

 

Gilly: How do you know all that?

 

Samwell: I read about it in a very old book.

 

Gilly: You know all that from staring at marks on paper?

 

Samwell: Yes.

 

Gilly: You’re like a wizard.

 

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Two great links for word nerds!

 

During the past week I have received two fantastic links, one from my brother Finn and one from my dad, both of which have to do with words.

 

The first one is a series of illustrations for words which cannot be translated directly into English – gorgeous graphics (when they are all finished they should be printed on one big poster!) and fascinating words. So far she has even included two Finnish words among them – I won’t say which ones, take a look for yourself!

The artist, Anjani Iyer has kindly allowed me to post one of the illustrations here, and so I chose the German Backpfeifengesicht, but they are all great. I've gone back to this page over and over the past few days to look at them:

 

https://www.behance.net/gallery/9633585/Found-In-Translation 

 

 

 

Once you’re done looking at all of her works, all of you bibliophagists should read the Huffington Post article on ten words every book lover should know, so that the next time you come across an ultracrepidarian, you will have a word to describe him. Or her. 

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/oliver-tearle/10-words-every-book-lover-should-know_b_5297284.html 

 

Enjoy!

 

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Pink dust jackets, II

 

So, yesterday I was going to advise against buying anything with pink (or lavender) covers, but then remembered Marisa Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics which has a hideous pink dust jacket with roses that would be better off adorning a Victorian gardening journal or a romance (but the kind with no sex). I am only saying this because I liked the book itself, but back when I bought it, I actually thought about taking the dust jacket off and tossing it in the paper bin. I decided not to, because it is part of the book, and so I wasn’t able to destroy it. Not that I don’t like roses, but the dust jacket looks as though it had been designed by Barbara Cartland’s ghost on drugs.

 

Also I own A House with Four Rooms by Rumer Godden, the cover of which is pinkish, but with much more nourishing contents than the one I read last weekend.

Here is the quote regarding the title of this autobiography:

There is an Indian proverb or axiom that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time, but unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person. 

 

All right, never say never, even to pink dust jackets, but do approach with caution if you are as allergic to fluffy romances as I am!

 

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Pink dust jackets

 

On Saturday I read a book, the contents of which were so light and fluffy that I cannot even post it in good conscience. Halfway through I was already debating just putting it aside, but did not, thinking (hoping) that something of substance was bound to come up, because after all (the only reason I bought the book in the first place) the story was set in a bookshop. But no. So I read it to the end (which did not take very long, it was such an easy read) and afterwards felt as though my brain had literally been weakened by this (like having a meal of marshmallow fluff and cotton candy), and had to resort to something with more substance, in this case reading some fifty pages of Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers. How Europe Went to War in 1914, which I started some time ago but have been neglecting, in order to strengthen myself again.

 

(I should have known better – it had a pink cover, which generally means sappy romances, doesn’t it, no matter what else they are trying to hook me with? I should never reach for anything with a pink cover!)

 

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Mother's Day

 

Vahinko etteivät äiditkin saa lähteä milloin heitä huvittaa ja ruveta nukkumaan ulkosalla. Varsinkin äidit sitä toisinaan tarvitsisivat.

                                   Tove Jansson (Muumipappa ja meri)

 

What a pity mothers can't go off when they want to and sleep out of doors. Mothers particularly, could do with it sometimes.

                                    from Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson

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New Finnish Books!

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Photo Gallery - one can read ANYWHERE

Annika reading and riding :-) Foto: Fiia
Annika reading and riding :-) Foto: Fiia

 

And what perfect timing for the arrival of these photos, it being World Book Day.

I wanted to start a photo gallery of people reading in unusual places and asked if I might have a photo of my friend Liisa's daughter Annika reading one of her favorite books on horseback. She and her friends were very creative!

 

Click here to see the first three photos in the gallery.

 

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World Book Day

 

Oh to be in Barcelona today, where this all got its start and where the people obviously know how to make an event out of books.

 

April 23rd, Sant Jordi, or Saint George Day has traditionally been a day for roses and lovers, and men gave roses to their girlfriends or wives. Sometime in the 1920’s, a bookseller in Barcelona noted that William Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes both died on this day in 1616 and integrated book giving into the same day. What a clever man!

 

If you google ‘el día del libro Barcelona’ and click on photos, you can see what a fantastic and festive atmosphere this must be, not only for bibliophiles, but for everybody. Book stands piled high with reading material, florists selling roses, everybody out in the streets, authors reading and signing books, people exchanging books and flowers, and so on.

 

Qué ciudad simpática! Quizas el proximo año…

 

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James Thompson - crime novels set in Finland

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Fernando Pessoa in Oslo

Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.

                                                -  Fernando Pessoa

 

Fernando Pessoa – Book of Disquiet 

 

Christian Kjelstrup rented a store in Oslo for one week in March for the sole purpose of selling a book.

 

Yes, a book. Just one.

 

The Book of Disquiet by the Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa, his favourite book, “the best book in the world.” People seemed to like the idea, too, because he ended up selling more than a thousand copies and even the Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit stopped in to buy a copy. Popularity of the book has certainly soared in Norway. One newspaper article mentioned a library which had lent out all fourteen copies of their copies of this book, with another eleven people on the waiting list!

 

I remembered that I had a copy of this book on my shelf and pulled it down to take a look. I can’t remember why or where I bought it or why I haven’t read it yet, but it might have been right around the time we started to build houses and move around, and this is the type of book you need to concentrate on, really pay attention to the words itself without too many distractions. At any rate, I opened it up at random last week and after reading just two pages, it became clear that even though I do not usually write in my books, I could see how this one would be the kind that gets marked up a lot.

 

The Book of Disquiet (Livro de Desassossego) was published posthumously in 1982 and it is not a novel in the classic sense, but rather a collection of reflections written by Bernardo Soares (one of Pessoa’s pseudonyms); the author introduced it as a ‘factless autobiography’. There are countless essays to be found online about this work, pages and pages of descriptions and comments such as ‘life-changing’. This all does make one very curious about this work, does it not?

My copy has not been reshelved; it is staying out on the coffee table to be dipped into now and then.

 

 

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Borrowing and Lending Books

Jenny, my next door neighbor, has been borrowing my Jo Nesbø crime novels, even reading The Snowman which I have only in English. However, when she got to the ninth book in the Harry Hole series, Die Larve in German, she was suddenly reluctant to take it home with her. I had to tell her over and over again that it was all right for her to read it.

 

There is nothing special about this particular book. Sure it’s a nice hardcover whereas the others were all paperbacks, but it has not been handwritten by Nesbø – heck, it hasn’t even been signed by him, even though I went to the reading at the Hamburger Krimifestival in 2011 (fabulous!) because I didn’t want to wait in line with three hundred hysterically chattering women, or so it seemed to me at the time.

 

No, the only reason she did not want to take it, was because I said I hadn’t read it yet myself, and there she was, pushing it back into my hands saying “no, you should read it first!” I had to assure her repeatedly that it was quite all right and that the book would not lose anything if she read it before I did!

 

I thought this was an interesting phenomenon, not to mention kind of funny/cute and it has happened a few times with other people before as well. (I doubt that I would have such scruples were I to borrow an as-yet-unread-book from someone...)

 

 

 

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Two Singaporean Authors

Two Singaporean Authors 

 

Last fall Ralf was on a business trip in Singapore and my answer to his question as to what I wanted him to bring back was, of course, ‘a book by a Singaporean author’.

 

The Scholar and the Dragon, a novel by the Singaporean novelist and playwright Stella Kon, was the book recommended to him at the Kinokuniya Bookstore on Orchard Road. Boon Jin is the main character and the story opens with his arrival in Singapore from China in 1906 at the age of sixteen to stay with his uncle because he had disgraced his family in China by mixing with the wrong crowd.  Singapore was a British colony at the time and the novel provides a nice portrait of the times, showing how the different cultures either kept to themselves or meshed, depending on the situation, and also describing how Boon Jin grew up and slowly found his own way in this bustling international city. Not only were there cultural disparities, problems also arose from the different ways of thinking regarding tradition, which is well described in the following quote from the book:

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Borrowing and Lending Books

I like to lend out my books, providing they are treated well and returned at some point. It makes my shelves seem more ‘alive’ in a way.  New Finnish novels especially tend to get passed around like the treasures they are when you live somewhere else. When I lived in Pfaffenhofen, there were five Finnish women all about the same age living there, and I remember that one Leena Lehtolainen novel I owned – I can’t remember which one – was read by a total of six different people; first passed around in Pfaffenhofen and then taken to the US by my mother.

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Minna Canth Day

Minna Canth (1844 – 1897) 

 

My Finnish calendar tells me it is Minna Canth Day. She was a Finnish-Swedish writer born on March 19, 1844. She wrote short stories, plays and essays, mainly about poverty, women’s rights and the problems resulting from alcoholism, all while managing a business, raising seven children alone after her husband died, and keeping a sort of salon at her house in Kuopio where writers and intellectuals liked to gather.

 

Her views were controversial back then and her opinions considered radical but luckily she was not afraid to express them! One of her plays, The Worker’s Wife (Työmiehen Vaimo) from 1885 tells the story of a woman whose husband drinks her money away and there is nothing she can do about it because back then, married women had no legal control over their own assets and earnings! This was changed in 1889.

 

According to Wikipedia, Finland was also the first country to have universal suffrage, where everyone of age had the right to vote and stand for elections (1906).

 

 

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Reading several books at once

 

Joe Queenan writes in One for the Books that during his adult life he has always been reading at least fifteen books simultaneously and as he wrote that chapter he was reading 32! 

 

Naturally I had to think about what I was reading at the moment and at first assumed that I was reading two books, An Angel at my Table by Janet Frame (her autobiography) and The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carré, plus Tom Nissey’s A Reader’s Book of Days which I keep on my living room table and read a few pages in now and again. But when I started to look around, it didn’t take long for me to find The Library: A World History by James W.P. Campbell which I received for Christmas and even though it is extremely large, it has been buried under a variety of other books, magazines and a newspaper clipping about the new police museum in Hamburg. It’s not the type of book one reads in one sitting, but rather piece by piece and I get easily distracted by the wonderful photos, so it’s rather slow going. Should I count the gardening book I started reading in October, but then put aside? I may as well keep it out now, since it’s already March. What about Spanisch für Büffelmuffel  by Christof Kehr which is also in the living room table and which I peek into once a month or so, does that count? Or Cay Rademacher’s Der Trümmermörder which I started reading out loud to Ralf while we were driving to a dog training one weekend but has not been opened since, so we’ve only gotten to page 73? That makes a total of seven. When my kids were very young I kept a book in almost every room, so whenever I had a few quiet minutes, I could read a couple of pages without ever having to waste time looking for my book, which turned out to be an excellent strategy. 

 

Just for fun, I googled “reading several books at the same time” and got completely sidetracked reading a few of the literally millions of entries. There is even a wikiHow article on the subject, which I thought was some kind of satire at first, but it appears to be meant seriously.

 

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Mauri Kunnas and Herra Hakkarainen

Herra Hakkarainen 'watching over' 36 Mauri Kunnas books...
Herra Hakkarainen 'watching over' 36 Mauri Kunnas books...
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Internet searches always lead to books!

 

It doesn’t matter what I am searching for in the Internet, I almost always end up on the subject of books and reading, no matter how irrational the connection seems. 

 

Last summer I googled for information on a Labrador Retriever Hunt Test which was to take place somewhere in Niedersachsen in September, but I couldn’t remember the name of the city, so I typed in JP/R (Jugendprüfung für Retriever) and the name of the town I thought it was in, but got sidetracked because the third entry in Google read Jaipur Literature Festival, which I had to click on immediately. Sounds like an enormous and spectacular event, so I found myself wondering how on earth I could find an excuse to travel to India in January. Of course I did not find any pretext to do so, but for a few minutes, just the prospect felt exhilarating, and who knows, perhaps one day…

(It is advertised as the world's largest free literary event and will take place again January 21-25, 2015) And I did find the location of the Hunt Test but not until a few weeks later.

 

 

 

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Leena Lehtolainen

 

When you’ve been reading a detective series for a long time and a new book is published, it really is not an option not to read it. 

 

When I received the latest Maria Kallio novel from Liisa last fall, it was clear to me which book I was taking on the train to Frankfurt. Rautakolmio is the twelfth book in the Maria Kallio series and I first began reading them in 1995 when her third novel Copper Heart (Kuparisydän) was published. So, I really hate to admit this, but this series has been part of my life for the past nineteen years. After so long, it almost feels like a duty – albeit a pleasant one – to keep on reading, to find out what your heroine is going to do next. 

 

It just occurred to me that many people might know more about what the heroine of their favourite series thinks and does than they know about their own friends and family members, as one reads about them trying to juggle family and career, sees what is happening in her relationships and what secret thoughts she has (which she in turn does not share with her friends and family) and so her life may seem more familiar than that of those in one’s real life. 

 

After all this time, it wouldn’t feel right to stop reading the series and besides, the plots are interesting, there are always new characters and she’s honed her craft. You know exactly what you’re getting into when you curl up on the sofa and open to the first page. It’s a comfortable anticipation. In Maria Kallio’s case, the heroine ages along with the author and along with me. 

 

Funnily, such books also tend to get put on top of the (already teetering) book pile, as though by having been a part of your life for so long, the author has achieved a VIP status allowing his or her books to pass up the line of newer arrivals. Kind of like the frequent flyer status from airlines… 

 

Leena Lehtolainen has a new trilogy with an exciting female character, Hilja Ilveskero, a bodyguard who lives in Finland but has been trained in the U.S. 

 

Just went to my bookshelf and counted that I have eighteen books by this author: twelve Maria Kallio novels, the bodyguard trilogy and three other novels (Kun luulit unohtaneesi, Luonas en ollutkaan and Viimeinen kesäyö) 

 

For more information on her books in English:

www.leenalehtolainen.fi/books/

 

 

in German:

www.krimi-couch.de/krimis/leena-lehtolainen.html

 

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Reading out loud, II

 

Received an interesting E-Mail from my friend Helena in response to my piece on reading out loud.

 

She told me that a therapist  recommended reading and singing to children and avoiding audio books as much as possible. Apparently there is a different neurological process going on when a person is read to by a person, and which also affects the vocal cord vibrations of the listener.

 

This sounds like a very interesting research subject, and one on which there is very little information to be found. 

 

Obvious differences between audio books and reading out loud are the physical ones. When my boys were younger, I read to them on the sofa, one on each side of me. Or at bedtime, we would all sit on my bed leaning against the headboard, legs stretched out. Spending time together, listening to a familiar voice. You can stop anytime to explain a word or turn of phrase, read an exceptionally funny passage over and over and look at the pictures together. It’s a ritual which encourages them to page through books on their own as well.

It’s possible that I read out loud so much because I was not good at playing with small children. Pushing toy cars around with them bored me silly as do most board games. So, when we were not outside doing something, we read.  Mauri Kunnas was our number one choice for years and years. We have a sizeable collection of his books – most of them, except only perhaps the latest few – and they were all much loved and much read, as much fun for adults as they are for children. 

 

Alexander started reading seriously on his own as a result of our reading rituals.  I was reading the fifth Harry Potter book (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) out loud in Finnish, but I read only every other night. Max was starting to get tired of this series (maybe he was too young to understand everything) and so every other evening I read from the book he wanted to hear. Of course, this was way too slow for Alexander – he wanted to know what happens next and, since patience is not one of his virtues, one day he took the book and began reading it from the beginning, got up to where I had stopped reading and, well, he just did not stop. He was eight at the time. After that, he asked for the Harry Potter books in German and began over from book one. This is also the reason why we own these books in three different languages. I read them in English, the Finnish translations were for reading out loud and Alexander read them I don’t know how many times in German. 

 

When they got lazy about reading or starting a new book, I’d pick one up and begin reading it out loud after lunch or dinner, and then stop just when the story was particularly exciting, saying that if they wanted to know what happened next, they would have to read it themselves. More often than not, their hands would dart out faster than a striking rattlesnake and whoever grabbed it first would disappear into his room to read.

I'm not even sure how old they were when I stopped reading to my boys on a regular basis. Ralf used to laugh at me and ask if I was planning on reading to them until they were 18. (Of course this was before I read Der Schwarm out loud to him...) And yes, I would gladly read to them if they still wanted me to. But books have largely been replaced by computer games, YouTube, Facebook, smartphones, and the like.

 

 

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Reading out loud (to adults)

 

After visiting Dinosaur National Park in Utah sometime in 1997, Ralf and I were making our way back up to Seattle through Wyoming and Montana, which meant a lot of driving. Generally I am not fond of idle chatter, but eight hours of silence in a car is too much even for a Finn.

 

It probably started with me leafing through the book we’d just bought (Hunting Dinosaurs by Louis Psihoyos) while Ralf was driving, finding something interesting and saying “hey, listen to this…” and before long I found myself reading the entire book out loud to him in the car. 

 

It would take almost ten years before I read out loud to him again. We had just moved into our first (new) house and Ralf hadn’t started working on the home theatre yet. We don’t own a TV, so one night I opened up a new book on the coffee table and started reading out loud to Ralf who was stretched out on the other sofa. By the third page I noticed that his breathing sounded different – like that of a person sound asleep. But a couple of evenings later, I started again on page one and somehow ended up reading the entire novel out loud to him in the evenings after the kids were in bed. It must have taken us three months to finish it - all 998 pages of Der Schwarm by Frank Schätzing. (The Swarm. A Novel of the Deep in English). 

 

Last March we were in Lapland and since I had booked our trip too late, we did not get a place in the night train on our return trip and had to drive the 1000 km back from Jerisjärvi to Helsinki. Then there is the 26 hour boat trip between Helsinki and Travemünde in both directions. So, since Ralf had never read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, I thought he should hear the story at least once before we watched the movie. Our teenage boys listened as well, actually taking out their earphones and turning off their music to hear about Bilbo’s adventures, even though they already knew the story. The last chapters had to be finished at home after the trip, and I have to admit that this is one of my favourite images of my family – all clustered together in the living room after dinner or a Sunday afternoon, listening to a story… (It’s such a rare thing these days.) 

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon is another one read out loud. I remembered having had read it many years ago and enjoying it. Max had won the book as part of the Bundeswettbewerb für Fremdsprachen (Foreign Language Competition) and on our way back from the competition I read the cover text out loud, causing Max to say he refused to read a book that starts off with a dog being killed. I flipped through the first few pages and informed him that the dog was a poodle, so it didn’t sound quite as awful anymore. Had the dog been a Labrador or a Husky, the book wouldn’t have stood a chance with my younger son. To prove that it was a good story, I began reading it out loud and between Uelzen and Buchholz, we made it all the way to chapter 53. Yes, that far, really. The chapters are numbered by prime numbers making the last chapter of the book number 233! Needless to say, I had to finish reading this one to Ralf too. He was fascinated by the main character, Christopher, because the story made him understand how an autistic thinks. And Max continued reading the book on his own as well.

Despite the abundance of audio books available these days, it is quite different to hear someone next to you read out loud than to hear it on tape. Nobody in our family has ever been interested in audio books (all right, so I WAS the audio book for years...) I tried listening to some a few times while ironing, but found myself drifting off in my own thoughts over and over again.

 

 

 

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Johan Ludvig Runeberg Day

 

 

Johan Ludvig Runeberg was born on this day in 1804 but I must admit that the only reason I (and probably countless other Finns) remember this day so well is because of the Runeberg Tortes which are baked and available in stores at this time of the year. His wife, Frederika Runeberg, created this recipe. 

 

Runeberg was the National Poet of Finland (although he wrote in Swedish) and (now I really should be ashamed of myself) the only work of his I know is Maamme (Vårt Land in the original, means our country) which became the National Anthem.  Maamme is the first poem in The Tales of Ensign Ståhl (Vänrikki Stoolin Tarinat),  an epic poem which also describes the Finnish War with Russia in 1808-1809. At the end of this war, Sweden lost Finland to Russia (1809 – 1917). 

 

Runeberg himself was born when Finland belonged to Sweden and died when it was a Grand Duchy of Russia. 

 

And as for the Runeberg Tortes, tying certain dishes to holidays is an excellent way to remember them!

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Argument over literature leads to death

 

Some people take literature extremely seriously.

 

For the second time in the space of a few months there has been an article in the paper about death/serious injury resulting from an argument over literature in Russia.

 

Apparently a discussion between two drunken men in Irbit as to which genre is more important - poetry or prose – escalated to the point where the poetry fan stabbed the one defending prose, killing him.

 

In September there was a similar incident in Rostov-on-Don where two men arguing about the philosopher Immanuel Kant got so worked up that one shot the other in the head. The victim survived.

 

Ironically, Immanuel Kant was known, among other things, for his writings on moral philosophy.

 

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Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen - Lumikko ja yhdeksän muuta

Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

Lumikko ja yhdeksän muuta

Atena 2006

 

Lumikko ja yhdeksän muuta is one of my favorite books and I was overjoyed to see that it has finally been translated into English so that people outside of Finland can see what a great novel it is too! Apparently it will be translated into German as well by Aufbau Verlag.

 

The English title is The Rabbit Back Literature Society and has been published by Pushkin Press in London. If you visit their website, you will see that they have an interesting selection of books.

 

I’d love to read this one a second time, but unfortunately I don’t own it, having loaned it from either the Muonio or Kittilä library while living in Finland. Which only means that I shall have to make a book-buying trip to Helsinki (um, I mean, to visit relatives of course and visit bookstores in-between…). If I don’t pack any clothing, I can bring back 23 kg of books.

 

Here is the English text from the Pushkin Press website:

 

A highly contagious book virus, a literary society and a Snow Queen-like disappearing author.

 

“She came to realize that under one reality there’s always another. And another one under that.” 

 

Only very special people are chosen by the children’s author Laura White to join ‘The Society’, an elite group of writers in the small town of Rabbit Back.

 

Now a tenth member has been selected: Ella, literature teacher and possessor of beautifully curving lips.

 

But soon Ella discovers that the Society is not what it seems. What is its mysterious ritual, ‘The Game’? What explains the strange disappearance that occurs at Laura’s winter party, in a whirlwind of snow? Why are the words inside books starting to rearrange themselves? Was there one a tenth member, before her?

 

Slowly, disturbing secrets that had been buried come to light…

 

In this chilling, darkly funny novel, the uncanny brushes up against the everyday in the most beguiling and unexpected of ways.

 

Pasi’s Blog, some of which is in English (which is great, despite his blog comment: “…English is for me like a bagpipe in the hands of a rabbit when I try to express my thoughts with accuracy and precision.” Paints an amusing picture, though! )

 

www.pasiilmarijaaskelainen.wordpress.com/in-english/ 

 

www.pushkinpress.com

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Tom Nissley: A Reader's Book of Days

 

Tom Nissley

A Reader’s Book of Days

W.W. Norton & Company, 2014

 

Am only on January 8th, but I can already tell this book will cause nothing but trouble. 

 

My reading list will swell grotesquely, my blood pressure will go up at the thought of all the books left unread, and the bank account will suffer from overly zealous shopping sprees for books I must have immediately. 

 

Really, I should be warning all bibliophiles to please stay away from this book. We are too weak for such temptations. 

 

Not only does he write entertainingly about events in the lives of authors and fictional events from books for each day of the year, but he also adds recommended reading for each month, birth and death dates of authors and all kinds of other literary snippets. 

 

Now go out and get your own copy. Of course you need to have it. I am not one for temperance when it comes to books.

 

 

An equally engrossing book, set up in the same manner is The Assassin's Cloak. An Anthology of the World's Greatest Diarists edited by Irene and Alan Taylor (Canongate Books, 2000)

 

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Carlos Ruiz Zafón

 

There's a certain excitement that rises up when I see that a new book from one of my favorite authors will be out soon. Carlos Ruiz Zafón has written a short story "Der Fürst des Parnass" (El Príncipe de Parnaso) for the World Book Day (April 23), which will be available in Germany on March 27th.

 

I fell in love with The Shadow of the Wind the moment I began reading it, followed later by The Angel's Game and Marina. In May 2012 I was at the Akateeminen Kirjakauppa in Helsinki where I saw the third novel of the Cemetery of Lost Books quadrilogy (The Prisoner of Heaven) on display and wondered how I could possibly have missed it in Germany (for certainly if it was available in Finnish already it must be out in Germany too). I was briefly tempted to buy the Finnish version so that I could begin reading it right away, but I didn't because when I begin reading a foreign author in a certain language, I tend to read all of his/her works in the same language, not least so that the books will be next to each other in the bookcase (but we'll get to the complicated aesthetics of shelving some other day...) I was frustrated to find out that evening that this novel wouldn't be available in Germany until October. Why would it take so much longer to translate it into German (with 100 million speakers) than into Finnish (5 million speakers)? I figured it must be some perfidious marketing strategy (bookfair in October and so on) to prolong publication like that, which we readers do NOT appreciate, by the way.

 

Trying to find information on this novel, I chanced upon the official Carlos Ruiz Zafón website which had a 25-page reading sample, the entire first chapter of The Prisoner of Heaven, as a free download. But only in Spanish. Now I had only been taking Spanish for less than a year and we had only just begun learning the past perfect tense, but I immediately printed out those pages and spent the next few evenings hunched over them trying to decipher them with the help of my dictionary and a Spanish verb book. I'm not sure anymore, but I would guess it took me an average of half an hour for each page. I do remember being completely immersed and losing all track of time.

In October then, the novel was due to come out while I was in Seattle for my mother's birthday. I must have looked quite desolate, for the bookseller offered to loan me her advance copy to read on the plane. I was tempted, but since I'd rather read the exact copy which will make its home on my shelf, I practiced yet more patience and waited until I came back. Since the first chapter seemed somewhat familiar, I assume I had been able to understand some of the Spanish version.

 

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Under the Christmas tree...

 

The same procedure as every year…

 

Every year Ralf asks me what I want for Christmas and every year I answer ‘a book’.

 

We would dispense with the gift-giving entirely if it weren’t for the kids, but this is a fine solution since there are some books I’d love to own but rarely buy for myself. We’re talking about the large and opulent so-called coffee table books that weigh ten pounds apiece.* The Library. A World History by James W.P. Campbell and Will Pryce published by the University of Chicago Press (2013) is one of these – so beautiful that I find myself wishing, once again, that it were possible to transport oneself (Physically. Mentally I’m already there.) into a place using the pages and a magic word or two. 

 

Rock the Shack was my gift to Ralf, although why exactly I should whet his appetite for building even more at the moment, I don’t know. It’s just that I saw this book last summer in Berlin at the Bücherbogen on Savignyplatz and haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. Photos of fantastic cabins located in even more spectacular settings make up most of the book and it is not very informative. However, it has been leafed through many times already, often accompanied by deep sighs and plans to build a tiny hut in an extremely remote place someday. 

 

Once the hut or house has been built, the next logical step would be to fill it with books. Leslie Geddes-Brown’s Books do Furnish a Room (I received it in German: Räume für Menschen, die Bücher lieben) offers more than enough ideas. This is basically a picture book of books on shelves in various rooms of the house from fancy loft apartments to tiny bathrooms and there is no way a bibliophile could ever get tired of looking at it. 

 

Soprano’s Family Cookbook was under the tree because two years ago Ralf received the Sopranos DVD set from my dad for Christmas and then we spent the better part of the following summer hooked on the series. The cookbook is for fans who also got hungry for baked ziti while watching the episodes and it is full of little stories and anecdotes from the Soprano family. 

 

Iris Hammelmann’s Haltet die Welt an. Von Aussteigern und Einsiedlern has short essays on people who have lived outside society, from monks (including Francis of Assisi) to philosophers to those who have founded their own communes to a short bit about Howard Hughes. 

 

My 17-year old son, Alexander, was adamant that I should read The Bartimaeus Novels by Jonathan Stroud, but since his are in German and I would only read them in English, I have now received a Bartimaeus book from him for the third Christmas in a row. Ptolemy’s Gate is the title but I shall have to put off reading it until I have many uninterrupted hours to immerse myself into the last story about this sarcastic and funny grouch of a djinni, without anyone coming along and wanting something from me. 

 

From my friend Liisa in Lapland, I received two novels, both of which also take place in Lapland (she does this on purpose, I know, to make me wish I was back up north). Oliver Truc’s Viimeinen Saamelainen (original: Le Dernier Lapon, English: Forty Days Without Shadow) which I began reading immediately (see more under Books Read). Veripailakat is the first novel by Milla Ollikainen who won a crime novel contest sponsored by the publisher Like and Suomen Dekkariseura ry (Finnish Crime Novel Association) and which takes place in and around Ylläs. 

 

All in all, a booklover’s perfect Christmas!

 

* Couldn’t resist going into the kitchen and finding out…The Library. A World History by James W.P. Campbell and Will Pryce weighs 2,315 kg (5,1 lbs)

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Author Reading: Rosa Liksom and Kjell Westö

 

Author Reading:  Rosa Liksom and Kjell Westö

 

It seems to have been an exciting week at the Literature House in Hamburg. Eleven authors from the Nordic countries have come to the 14. Nordic Literature Days, an event which takes place every two years. Per Olov Enquist and Jostein Gaarder are so popular, their readings were sold out before they even got here.

 

Crowds filled the room on Tuesday evening as well – at least 120 people came to listen to Rosa Liksom and Kjell Westö present their latest (translated) novels. Stefan Moster, a German who lives in Finland (and who translated Hytti nro. 6 into German) moderated the reading and the German text was read by actress Katja Danowski.

 

Rosa Liksoms novel Compartment number 6 (Hytti nro. 6) takes place in a compartment of the Trans-Siberian train from Moscow to Ulan Bator in 1986. A young Finnish woman has to share a compartment with a Russian man. He talks. She is silent. Rosa Liksom explained that her love for Russia began when she was a fifteen year old girl and took a so-called ‘vodka tourist’ bus from Rovaniemi to Murmansk. She said that when a girl from the country (she grew up in an eight-house village in Lapland) sees the lights of a big city for the first time, she is likely to fall in love with this city. And in her case, the big city was… well…Murmansk.

 

Katja Danowski read passages from the novel in German and the voice of the Russian man she did with a Russian accent so vivid that during the reading one was transported into compartment number 6 (had the Literature House had a few bottles of vodka to pass around at this time, the atmosphere would have been perfect). 

 

Kjell Westö (who speaks fluent German) is an extremely popular Finnish-Swedish author and his novel Don’t Go out into the Night Alone is a sort of Jules & Jim story which begins in the 1960’s in Helsinki with an unlikely friendship between two very different boys. Music plays a major role in the story and Stefan Moster said that it was almost as though a soundtrack was playing throughout the novel (now there’s an idea – sell the book together with a CD of the music described in it…) 

 

Stefan Moster, the moderator, is not only a translator, but an author himself. I leafed through his latest book Die Frau des Botschafters – I don’t think it has been translated into English – at the Book Fair and it seemed like an interesting story (and it’s set in Finland!)

 

www.rosalikson.com/home

 

 

 

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Frankfurt Book Fair 2013

 

To survive the world’s largest book fair in Frankfurt, Germany you need to a) wear something summery – it gets hot and stuffy in there. Leave the wool sweater in your bag b) comfortable shoes for kilometres of walking c) a big water bottle and a bar of chocolate for in between (there are plenty of coffee bars and restaurants, but there isn’t always enough time) and d) notebook and pen to jot down the titles and authors of all those fascinating new works.

 

My notebook had forty titles by the end of the first day and I was being extremely choosy this year. Eighteen more were added when I visited the Finnish publishers. 

 

                 Finland is the Guest of Honor in 2014 and is already advertising. 

 

                 Finland.Cool. 

 

This year it was Brazil and I realized shortly before the book fair that I had not read a single Brazilian author in 2013. Last spring I thought we could spend part of the summer sipping caipirinhas and listening to salsa while reading my way through a stack of Brazilian novels (yes, my fantasies did include a hammock). This never happened. No caipirinhas, no salsa, no Brazilian literature. I will be much more prepared for the Finns.

 

If you understand German, the Wake-Up Slam in the morning is the greatest way to start the day. At 10:30 a.m. on Saturday we listened to Björn Högsdal and Sven Kamin explain much about the world in a most entertaining fashion. Steffis Vorschlag was on Sunday and this time Christiane’s daughter Sonja and her friend (both 17) joined us, as did Barbara, a friend of Christianes. All were grinning enthusiastically as we dispersed for the day. At which point I should mention that there is little point in moving through the book fair with a buddy because your interaction with a book is always one-on-one, tastes vary and there is too much to see. A good strategy is to meet up at intervals, at author readings and for coffee and lunch. Although the author reading meeting point does not always work out so well either. Christiane and I had agreed to meet at Jonathan Stroud’s reading of Lockwood, but were unable to find each other there because of the sheer mass of people crowded around the stand. After his presentation, people were allowed to ask questions and the most important one seemed to be “are you going to write another Barthimaeus novel?” When Mr. Stroud answered that he thought yes, there probably will be one more coming at some point, there was a collective and overjoyed hurrah from the entire crowd! 

 

Listened to an interview with Jo Lendle who will be reading at Slawski later on this month from his latest novel “Was wir Liebe nennen” and then spent a few more hours perusing literature. One would think that eight hours would be enough, but I had the feeling I hadn’t even really made a dent. 

 

Almost five hours more on Sunday before rushing off to catch the ICE to Hamburg in the late afternoon. A camera would have been great that day. ¿Por qué leer? This question caught my eye while wandering through the Spanish publishers section. Underneath it were answers printed, each in the author’s handwriting. “Probablemente la segunda mejor cosa para hacer en la cama” wrote Anónyma, for example. Or “Leer te permite vivir muchas vidas. Tantas que, mientras lees, casi eres immortal” from Rosa Montero. There were so many more, but I’m only a beginner in the Spanish language and it would have taken me far too long to decipher the longer quotes. Hopefully they will be there again next year. And I will have a camera. Or at least a smart phone (I still use an old Nokia to the dismay of family and friends. Last month somebody looked at it and exclaimed “oh, a pre-war phone!”) 

 

As usual, the crowds at the fair were brightened up by the countless cosplayers dressed up as their favourite manga or comic figures, many of them in unbelievably extravagant costumes. Even later, at the Frankfurt train station, two teenage girls dressed as colourful fuzzy creatures kneeling on the platform next to the train track, re-packing their bags to accommodate the enormous piles of new Mangas they had obviously just bought at the fair. (Books are sold only on Sunday.) 

 

Shortly before leaving on Sunday, I thought I’d take a look at Hall 8 where the English language publishers were located. Bag search at the entrance. Really? By 2 p.m. the hall was pretty empty, almost all of the booths abandoned but for a few stray piles of brochures. Books from Scotland was one of the few places where potential customers were still welcome and they were selling off their remaining books for extremely wallet-friendly prices. I bought these three paperbacks for only €10:

 

 

Daniel Pink – Drive. The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us  

 

Started reading this one immediately and could not stop. Every single manager should read this, and I rarely say that about books.

 

 

Michel Faber – Under the Skin 

 

Just finished reading this one as well. Unlike anything I have read before. Good.

 

 

 

Katie Roiphe – In Praise of Messy Lives 

 

Haven’t read this one yet, but now that I’ve pulled it from the shelf, I think I’ll place it on my nightstand right away…

 

 

Books seen at the fair which I would not buy include crafts books showing what one could do with old books (slice them open and make sculptures out of the pages, for one). Paging through that one, I was reminded of Gunther von Hagens Body Worlds which I visited years ago in Munich. Extremely fascinating but also a bit creepy when you stare at them for too long.

 

Stationery and post cards. Art books. Cooking. Gardening. Handmade books. Would have needed at least one more day. While walking through the international halls, I looked at Czech and Russian books which I cannot read at all, paged through Spanish and Portuguese novels and drooled over Swedish cookbooks. Wished I could speak more languages and felt the presence of entire universes which could have been, if only this or only that, following me silently as I literally passed through an entire globe made up of the written word. As though worlds had been laid out before me, waiting to be discovered; only I didn’t hold the keys to unlock them all. 

 

Sometimes it’s overwhelming. Nonetheless, I know exactly where I will be October 11-12, 2014. 

 

Especially because: Finland.Cool. ! 

 

 

 

http://www.buchmesse.de/en/ 

 

www.finnlandcool.fi 

 

www.finlit.fi/fili

 

www.booksfromfinland.fi

 

 

 

 

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Bookstores - Savignyplatz, Berlin

 

One night, two days in Berlin. First stop was Savignyplatz in Charlottenburg to visit Bücherbogen, a bookstore specializing in art, architecture, photography and design. Located directly beneath a S-Bahn Station and portrayed in the book Die Schönsten Buchhandlungen Europas, it is literally an enormous treasure trove for anyone interested in any of the subjects above. Between this store and the Autorenbuchhandlung just a couple of doors down, I could have filled an entire wheelbarrow with books to my liking. Sadly, I was traveling by train and had to keep my baggage light, so I did not buy anything. I felt awful leaving empty handed. But if I lived in Berlin, I would hang out here all the time. Literature Café and numerous author readings there make it all even more inviting. I felt like curling up in a corner and staying there indefinitely. 

 

In the evening we saw the musical Cabaret at TIPI am Kanzleramt. Of course there is no way anybody could ever hope to compare with Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey from the movie, but this was pretty damn good! It seemed so fitting to see the musical in Berlin, since it takes place there. Cabaret was inspired by The Berlin Stories written by Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) who lived in Berlin in the late 1920’s / early 1930’s. 

 

After we returned home, I wanted to read something based in Berlin and ended up with Pierre Frey’s mystery Onkel Toms Hütte, Berlin (available in English, titled simply Berlin and translated by Anthea Bell) because most of it takes place in the American Sector of occupied Berlin in 1945. 

 

Bookstores:

Bücherbogen am Savignyplatz

Stadtbahnbogen 593

10623 Berlin

 

 

Autorenbuchhandlung

Else-Ury-Bogen 599-601

10623 Berlin 

 

Book:

Rainer Moritz & Reto Guntli

Die Schönsten Buchhandlungen Europas

Gerstenberg

 

Portraits of twenty unique bookstores all around Europe. The beautiful photos and text make you want to head to the nearest train station or airport in order to see these places live. Selexyz Dominicanen, a bookstore in a former Dominican Church would be reason alone to travel to Maastricht. As would Livraria Lello provide a perfect excuse to fly to Porto. Drool.

 

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