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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Music Inspired by Literature

I recently wrote about reading and music (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/08/reading-and-music.html) and then came across a BookRiot article listing songs that reference classic works of literature (http://bookriot.com/2016/07/26/29-popular-songs-reference-classic-books/).

This lead to my thinking about songs that actually retell a work of literature.  One of my favourite singers/songwriters is Loreena McKennitt and she has included on her CDs a number of songs based, in whole or in part, on literary works, both prose and poetry.

An Ancient Muse:
“Penelope’s Song” gives the perspective of Penelope, Odysseus’s faithful wife.
“The English Ladye and the Knight” is a poem by Sir Walter Scott set to music.

The Visit:
“The Lady of Shalott” is the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson set to music.

Parallel Dreams:
“Annachie Gordon” is the Romeo and Juliet story told in a Scottish folk song.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley:
“Down By the Sally Gardens” is based on the W. B. Yeats poem.

The Book of Secrets:
“The Highwayman” sets Alfred Noyes’ poem to music.
“Dante’s Prayer” was inspired by The Divine Comedy.

McKennitt also sings songs from Shakespeare’s plays:
“Prospero’s Speech” on The Mask and Mirror
“Cymbeline” on The Visit

If you are interested in listening to musical versions of literature, Wikipedia has an extensive list of such songs:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_songs_that_retell_a_work_of_literature.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Writing a Character Sketch of Donald J. Trump

Considering all the drama emanating from the White House, people may sometimes feel they are living in a fictional world from which they would like to escape.  BookRiot recently speculated about our being trapped in a novel with Donald Trump as a main character.  Read what readers/reviewers might say:

When I was teaching English, I taught students how to write a character sketch; before asking them to write one for a character in the novel we were reading, I would have them write one for a famous person or fictional character everyone could identify.  If I were teaching today, I know a lot of students would choose to write their sketch of Donald J. Trump.

I imagine statements like the following: 
Donald J. Trump is a totally egotistical character who only ever thinks of how things impact him.  Every speech, regardless of the topic, will eventually have him mentioning his accomplishments which will, in virtually all cases, be greatly exaggerated.  He expects total loyalty, even if that means not defending the country’s Constitution.
Trump has poor impulse control which causes him to say stupid things without considering the impact of his words.  He tweets constantly and obviously doesn’t stop to check what he is going to post.  He is like a bully who cannot control his emotions and resorts to threats of revenge.    
The 45th president is also very hypersensitive; to say he has a thin skin is to understate the extent of his sensitivity to criticism.  Should anyone be even mildly critical of him, he lashes out.  A deep sense of insecurity probably lies at the bottom of this touchiness. 

If you were going to write a character sketch of Donald Trump, what traits would you highlight?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Maybe We Need More Utopian Literature?

Yesterday, I wrote about the recent popularity of dystopian literature, a genre that often reflects the darkness of today’s world.  But perhaps what we should be reading is more utopian fiction in which the author proposes a better way of life than currently exists. 

The word "utopia" was coined by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book Utopia, but the genre has roots dating back to antiquity.  Luke Mastin in his website (http://www.utopianfiction.com) has an extensive list of utopian fiction; for each book, he mentions the publication date, the country of the author, and a brief synopsis of the plot and description of the utopian society.  He also indicates which books are, in general, best described as utopias and which dystopias and which have elements of both.  He also notes which books are the classic utopias, which are second-rank in the genre, and which are books where the utopian element is more peripheral.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Dystopian Literature: Today's Must-Read Genre

As I discussed the other day, apparently book sales have suffered since Trump became president (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/08/book-sales-suffer-under-trumps.html) except for dystopian literature.  I’ve blogged about this genre in the past (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/02/dystopian-literature.html), but thought it was worth discussing again in light of this finding. 

There was a recent article in the Village Voice entitled “Darkness Falls on America” which argues “In a country turned upside down, is it any wonder that dystopian fiction rules?”  It reviews some recent dystopian books set in the U.S.:  https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/08/08/darkness-falls-on-america/. 

If you’re looking for suggestions for your next foray into this genre, check this list of 100 works of dystopian fiction:  http://www.vulture.com/article/best-dystopian-books.html.
Here you’ll find literary fiction, young-adult works, graphic novels, realist tomes, some books written long ago, and others published in just the last few years.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Review of LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders

4 Stars 
This experimental novel puzzled and frustrated me at first but I adapted to its style and in the end was so very happy I had persisted.  It is definitely a book worth reading.

Eleven-year-old Willie Lincoln, son of President Lincoln, died in 1862.  The author imagines him trapped in bardo, a transitional world between life and the afterlife.  Willie is not alone; many people are in bardo with him – people who have died but who are in denial and are unwilling to complete their journey to the afterlife.  Willie remains in bardo because of his father’s love and grief; his father comes to the cemetery to mourn and promises to return, and Willie wants to be there when he does.  It is imperative that Willie leave bardo because “the architect of this place has, for reasons we cannot know, deemed that to be a child and to love one’s life enough to desire to stay here is, in this place, a terrible sin, worthy of the most severe punishment.”  A trio of spirits makes it their mission to influence Lincoln to let his son move on. 

It is the book’s style which stands out at first.  There are two sections.  The story of the living, focusing on Lincoln at the time of his son’s death, is told via a collage-like narrative.  Quotations from both real and invented primary sources are carefully arranged to describe events and Lincoln’s reaction to Willie’s death.  What is often emphasized is the contradictory elements; for instance, Lincoln’s eyes are described as dark grey, gray-brown, bluish-brown, blueish-gray, and blue, and he is described as “the homeliest man” and “the ugliest man” and “the handsomest man” depending on the observer. 

The story of the bardo is also told from multiple perspectives.  roger bevins III, hans vollman and reverend everly thomas are the main narrators, but numerous other voices are heard as well:  a soldier, a murderer, a rape victim, an alcoholic couple, a pickle merchant, a disgraced clerk, slaves, etc.  Again, the words of these bardo inhabitants are strung together like the quotations are assembled in the other section.  These speakers are often physically deformed, their disfigurements representing their failings, desires or pre-occupations when they were alive.  For example, a man who was killed just before consummating his marriage has a huge erect penis.  They represent the aspirations and disappointments of ordinary people; frequently, they focus on missed opportunities.  What these speakers also share is an unwillingness to accept their death.  They have a number of euphemisms for their condition; their coffins, for instance, are “sick-boxes.” 

What emerges most strongly from the book is the portrayal of President Lincoln.  He is shown as a thoughtful, dignified man burdened by a terrible personal grief but also by the grief of the nation because of the Civil War.  At one point, he is described as “the saddest man in the world” and when he mourns his son he becomes “a sculpture on the theme of loss.”  He comes to realize that it is grief and loss that unify all mankind:  “His mind was freshly inclined toward sorrow; toward the fact that the world was full of sorrow; that everyone labored under some burden of sorrow; that all were suffering; that whatever way one took in this world, one must try to remember that all were suffering  (none content; all wronged, neglected, overlooked, misunderstood), and therefore one must do what one could to lighten the load of those with whom one came into contact; that his current state of sorrow was not uniquely his, not at all, but, rather, its like had been felt, would yet be felt, by scores of others, in all times, in every time. . .”

Of course, it is not only Willie that is in bardo.  Lincoln, like any person grieving the loss of a loved one, is also in a transitional phase, between his former life in which Willie lived and the next phase after he comes to terms with his son’s death, accepting that his son “came out of nothingness, took form, was loved, was always bound to return to nothingness.”  Lincoln is described as “An opening book.  That had just been opened up somewhat wider.  By sorrow.”  He realizes that “in this state, he could be of no help to anyone and, given that his position in the world situated him to be either of great help or great harm, it would not do to stay low, if he could help it.”  All that is missing during his epiphany is the “always bone-chilling, firesound associated with the matterlightblooming phenomenon.” 

This is a book I may re-read.  I’m certain there is much that I missed, especially at the beginning when I was impatient with the style.  I guess even readers may initially find themselves in bardo until they embrace the unusual form.  Readers should be warned, however, that pathos permeates the book; sections where Lincoln is shown mourning his son are heart-wrenching. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Books for Dog Lovers

Today, August 13, our dog Akira, an Alaskan Malamute, turns 7 ½ years old.  If you have a companion dog or love dogs, you are probably a sucker for books about them. 

I’ve found a number of sites recommending books for dog lovers:
and
and
and
and
and
Many of the recommendations are non-fiction, but some fiction titles are included as well.

Akira when she first joined the family

Akira as an adult

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Book Sales Suffer under Trump's Presidency

I’ve written about Donald Trump’s lack of reading (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2016/08/american-presidents-and-presidential.html) though it seems he has inspired a number of writers (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/03/trump-inspired-novels.html) and lists of suggested readings during his term in office (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/02/what-to-read-during-trumps-presidency.html).   There was even a campaign to buy Trump a book for Valentine’s Day:  https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/02/buy-book-for-donald-trump-on-valentines.html.

Despite having inspired writers and lists of recommended readings to survive his presidency, it seems that the president has actually had a detrimental effect on book sales.  An article in the New Republic argues that “Trump’s Presidential win has sent a rippling effect through the book publishing world, affecting authors, booksellers, editors, agents, and publicists: In a world where reality has become stranger than fiction, actual books are no longer selling.” 

Apparently, watching televised hearings has replaced reading:  “The disastrous and almost comically incompetent Trump presidency has both frightened the reading market away from popular books and functioned as a kind of mass entertainment with which it is difficult to compete, with Senate hearings and official testimonies becoming must-see TV.” 

The good news is that “there seems to be a renaissance emerging for marginalized artists: The same identities that are being persecuted and demonized by the Trump administration are finding a warm welcome from an increasingly diverse literary audience that is eager to hear vulnerable voices.” 

The article concludes, “For authors whose books were released in the thick of the political storm, to booksellers watching readers flock to dystopian works, the Trump administration has succeeded in influencing our consideration of books—not necessarily for better or for worse, but in ways that demonstrate how much we need words to survive and provide solace for troubling times ahead.” 

Friday, August 11, 2017

#SeanSpicerABook

When Sean Spicer resigned as Donald Trump’s press secretary, Twitter was abuzz and the hashtag SeanSpicerABook quickly appeared.  Here people have suggested titles for the book Spicer might want to write about his time working at the White House.

Some of my favourites are “The Brief Wondrous Career of Sean Spicer,” “ Far From the Madding Crowd-Size,” “ Low Expectations,” “ The Spicer in the Rye,” and “2107: A Spice Odyssey”.

Check out #SeanSpicerABook for other wonderful suggestions. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Icelandic Crime Fiction

I recently came across an interesting article about Icelandic mysteries (http://lithub.com/crime-and-the-city-a-sleepy-little-murdertown-called-reykjavik/) and quickly discovered that I’ve read all of the authors mentioned in the piece.

Read the article and then check my reviews of the books:






To watch the Trapped television series, go to Netflix.  It is definitely worth watching.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Archival Review of LAST RITUALS by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

I've been reading several Icelandic mysteries and thought I'd post a review from my archives of the first Icelandic mystery I ever encountered.  I read this first in the Thóra Guðmundsdóttir series back in April of 2012.

Review of Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
2 stars  
Harald Guntlieb, a university student from Germany, is killed in Iceland and a friend of his is arrested. Harald's family doubts the police explanation and sends Matthew Reich to investigate further. Since Matthew speaks no Icelandic, he hires a lawyer, Thora Gudmundsdottir, to assist him. The murder investigation soon leads them to research the history of sorcery in Iceland, Harald's thesis topic.

What this mystery really lacks is dramatic tension. There is virtually none. There are macabre touches but a "yuck" factor is not the same as suspense. The investigation plods along and no one is ever in any real danger. A great deal of luck and coincidence helps to solve the case: "'the evidence came from two different sources on the very same day'" (272). To make matters worse, there are plot tangents, mostly into Thora's personal life; she has to deal with some family issues which are totally irrelevant to the main plot. How she handles one particular family crisis is clearly intended to develop her character, but her traits could have been shown in her involvement in the murder investigation.

There are problems with Thora's characterization. She seems immature for her age. She is so scatter-brained that she serves a guest a meal without a main course (254). She is so naive that she seems not to have discussed safe sex with her sixteen-year-old son. In addition, her knowledge of the law seems weak. She and her partner in a law firm are not particularly astute: "Who would consult a legal firm that specializes in contractual law yet messes up its own contracts" (6)? Later, "She was wondering whether she could be disbarred for serious abuse of her position and a flagrant conflict of interest. In fact she was unsure whether the law made such a provision . . ." Then she asks a police officer, "'Can I see [the accused] alone or am I supposed to be present when he's interrogated'" (271)?

The relationship between Matthew and Thora is stereotypical. They are obviously intended to be foil characters in the vein of Brennan and Booth in Bones or the Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis characters in Moonlighting. There is little original in their depiction - (not so)witty repartee with some unacknowledged sexual attraction.

Two other novels in this series have been translated into English and I may read them, but only if nothing else demands my attention more strongly.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review of THE ONLY CAFÉ by Linden MacIntyre (New Release)

3.5 Stars 
Pierre Cormier had been a Phalangist militiaman during the Lebanese Civil War before arriving in Canada as a refugee.  Twenty-five years later at The Only Café in Toronto, Pierre met Ari, a mysterious man who had worked in intelligence for the Israeli Defense Forces and was, Pierre believed, in Lebanon during the civil war and involved in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre.  Then, after a major scandal involving the mining corporation for which he worked as a lawyer, Pierre disappeared, presumably dying because of a propane tank explosion aboard his boat. 

Five years later, Pierre is finally declared dead.  His son Cyril, an intern at a national newsroom, is conducting research for a documentary on domestic terrorism but also ends up looking into his father’s secretive past and his death.  He tracks down Ari to find out what he knows about Pierre and his disappearance.

In the first part of the book, the author deliberately obfuscates.  This evasiveness and the narrative’s different timelines (Pierre’s Lebanese past; Pierre’s final weeks; Cyril’s present) leave the reader feeling confused.  MacIntyre seems to want the reader to feel how Cyril feels since he knows little about his father and even less about events in Lebanon during his father’s life there.  The reader gains clarity as Cyril does. 

I knew little about the Lebanese Civil War and so did some research especially into the Karantina, Damour, and Sabra and Shatila massacres.  Because of my lack of knowledge, I was often confused.  A historical timeline with some brief explanatory notes would have been really helpful.  (i.e. Karantina was a predominantly Palestinian Muslim slum district in mostly Christian east Beirut controlled by forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization; in 1976, Karantina was overrun by militias of the right-wing and mostly Christian Lebanese Front, specifically the Kataeb Party (Phalangists), resulting in the deaths of approximately 1,500 people, mostly Muslims.  The Damour massacre was a reprisal for the Karantina massacre.  Damour, a Maronite Christian town, was attacked by Palestine Liberation Organisation units. Part of its population died in battle or in the massacre that followed, and the remainder were forced to flee.  The Sabra and Shatila massacre was the killing of civilians, mostly Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites, by a militia close to the Kataeb Party, carried out virtually under the eyes of their Israeli allies.) 

Sometimes I felt rather overwhelmed by trying to keep the politics straight.  Occasionally, it is also difficult to determine who is speaking because there are long stretches of dialogue with no indication of the speaker.  There are also events that take focus away from the main storyline.  For instance, what is the purpose of including Cyril’s on again/off again romantic relationship? 

A more significant issue is the portrayal of Cyril.  He is an intern who knows little about domestic terrorism and the radicalization of youth, yet he is chosen to be part of a team working on a documentary on the topic.  He “became quickly lost as the discussion shifted to Syria and its potential to cause havoc in Lebanon,” but he’s told, “’I hear you’ve made a strong impression’”? 

A major theme is that the past is never dead:  “The past is never dead as long as there is memory.  Memory is the afterlife, both hell and heaven.”  Cyril is told that “’there is no distinction between what’s historical and what’s contemporary.’”  Events in the novel certainly bear this out.  Pierre’s fate, for example, is a direct result of events in the past and Cyril’s life has certainly been impacted by the past his father could not escape or totally forget.  On a broader scale, current events often have their nascence in long past events.       
There is a great deal in this novel; in fact, sometimes, it seems that there is too much.  It is a book I should probably re-read because I think there is much I missed.  There is mystery and suspense, but not a conclusive ending.  Considering the book’s theme,  such an ending is appropriate.  I recommend the book but with the suggestion that the reader first read a bit about the Lebanese Civil War. 

Note:  I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Reading and Music

Do you listen to music when you read?  Usually soft jazz or classical music is played when I read.  You can listen to “Music for Reading” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qc7UzQB8gtI.

On the topic of music, when I was researching Shakespeare and his influence on art for my blog entry of August 5, I came across a quiz about the songs in Shakespeare’s plays:  http://shakespeareandbeyond.folger.edu/2017/07/18/quiz-songs-shakespeare-plays/#more-6124. 

I try to read or re-read at least one Shakespeare play a year, and when I do, I often play two cds I own:

One is Sweet Airs That Give Delight; this recording is a celebration of the music which has been written for various productions of Shakespeare at the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario.

Cleo Laine Wordsongs has 30 tracks in which the singer performs songs inspired by Shakespeare and other poets.  My favourites are “Dunsinane Blues” and “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” and “The Compleat Works”.  In this last piece, she sings the titles  of all of Shakespeare’s plays. 

If you like country music, this article pairing classic country songs with books might be of interest to you:  http://lithub.com/9-classic-country-songs-and-the-books-they-pair-with/.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

"The Parthenon of Books"

Yesterday, I blogged about an exhibition of art inspired by Shakespeare’s plays.  There is another exhibition that readers might like to see in Kassel, Germany.


South American conceptual artist, Marta Minujín, designed an installation called ‘The Parthenon of Books.’  Minujin compiled a list of 170 books banned in various parts of the world, and she asked the public for help in gathering 100,000 copies of them.

The installation has been constructed, with the same dimensions of the real-life Parthenon in Athens, at Friedrichsplatz Park where, on May 19, 1933, Nazi sympathisers burned an estimated 2,000 prohibited books by Jewish or Marxist writers. 

The exhibition ends on September 17, at the end of which the books will be re-circulated to the public.

The artist also constructed a replica in Buenos Aires in 1983, choosing books banned during the Argentinian military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983.  The Tate Gallery in London has a documentary record of this project:  http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/minujin-the-parthenon-of-books-t14343.

For more photos and information about the current exhibition, go to http://www.lonelyplanet.com/news/2017/07/05/parthenon-of-books-germany/?lpaffil=lp-affiliates.   And for a video, watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGQ5J-_9r6c.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Art of Shakespeare

Yesterday, I wrote about how art has inspired writers.  Today, I thought I’d write about how Shakespeare has inspired artists.  The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. currently has an exhibition (until February 11, 2018) entitled “Painting Shakespeare”:  “From humble oil sketches to international masterpieces, this exhibition presents kids and adults alike, with a sometimes surprising, and always eye-catching, view of the man and his works.”  For a video about the exhibition, see http://www.folger.edu/exhibitions/painting-shakespeare.

Even if you won’t be able to see this exhibition, you can take a quiz trying to match a painting with the play which inspired the work of art:  http://shakespeareandbeyond.folger.edu/2017/06/09/quiz-painting-shakespeare-play/.

Last year, I posted about a book which features art inspired by The Bard’s work:  Shakespeare in Art by Jane Martineau et al has 88 full-page, colour reproductions of artworks based on 21 of the playwright’s dramas.  See http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2016/07/shakespeare-in-art.html for more information.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Novels Inspired by Art

Many readers are art lovers as well, and it’s not surprising that writers are sometimes inspired by works of art.  Three titles featuring works of art that I have read are
Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

But there are others of course.  See these lists for more titles: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/04/top-10-novels-featuring-works-of-art-sophia-tobin
and


There is another novel based on art that is on my To-Be-Read pile:  Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese.  If you liked the film Woman in Gold starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds, this novel might interest you.  The film is based on the true story of Maria Altmann, an elderly Jewish refugee living in Los Angeles, who fought the government of Austria for almost a decade to reclaim Gustav Klimt's iconic painting of her aunt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was stolen from her relatives by the Nazis.  Stolen Beauty gives voice to the subject of that portrait, Adele Bloch-Bauer, a woman with whom the author has a connection through her great-grandmother.  For the story behind the novel, go to http://lithub.com/behind-one-of-the-most-famous-faces-in-art/.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Upcoming Book-to-Film Adaptations

Yesterday, I wrote about new fall fiction, but some people love to see film adaptations of books so I thought I’d share information about upcoming movie releases which are based on books. 

CBC Books prepared this list of 17 book-to-film adaptations coming out in the second half of the year:  http://www.cbc.ca/books/coming-soon-17-book-to-movie-adaptations-to-watch-to-in-the-second-half-of-2017-1.4199768.

I definitely want to see The Glass Castle based on the memoir by Jeannette Walls. 
Tulip Fever based on the novel by Deborah Moggach is another film I will see.  Though I haven’t read the book, I loved the film of her book The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
And anything with Judi Dench is worth seeing so Victoria & Abdul will get me into a cinema.

One film that is not mentioned that I will definitely see is Our Souls at Night based on the novel by Kent Haruf.  Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, and Bruce Dern appear in this drama about the relationship that quietly grows between widow and a widower who live next door to each other.  It will have its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 1.  See  my review of the book at https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2015/07/review-of-our-souls-at-night-by-kent.html.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Fall Book Preview

Summer is almost half over so it’s time to start looking forward to all the new books that come out in the fall. 

The Millions has an extensive preview of fall books:  http://www.themillions.com/2017/07/anticipated-great-second-half-2017-book-preview.html.

Publishers Weekly compiled a list of ten debut books to check out this fall:  https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/profiles/article/74148-writers-to-watch-fall-2017.html.

And since I’m Canadian, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fall preview of fiction prepared by 49th Shelf:  https://49thshelf.com/Blog/2017/07/10/Most-Anticipated-Our-Fall-2017-Fiction-Preview.

Here are the titles I most want to read this autumn:
The Scarred Woman by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Smile by Roddy Doyle
First Snow, Last Light by Wayne Johnston
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
The Burning Girl by Claire Messud
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
The Golden House by Salman Rushdie
Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Şafak
Lost in September by Kathleen Winter

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review of THE SEASON OF THE WITCH by Árni Thórarinsson

3 Stars 
Einar, a recovering alcoholic and former Reykjavík crime reporter, has been banished to Akureyri, but crime seems to have followed him.  A local woman falls overboard during a whitewater rafting corporate team-building exercise but the victim’s mother refuses to believe it was an accident.  Then the lead actor in a high school stage production about a sorcerer’s apprentice goes missing and is later found dead.  Einar begins investigating and soon thinks the two cases might be connected.

This is the fourth book in a series featuring Einar though it is the first to be translated into English.  The characterization of the protagonist and his relationships with his superiors at the newspaper hint at backstories probably developed in the earlier books.  Why not begin translating the beginning of a series?  (I encountered the same issues with Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole books.)

The novel is narrated in the first person by Einar.  He comes across as a likeable person despite his flaws.  His attitude to his superiors suggests he has problems with authority figures, although why he does is not explained.   What is also missing is self-reflection; instead, there is social commentary.  For instance, he focuses on Icelanders’ reactions to immigrant workers and the scourge of drug usage amongst young people. 

Part of what makes Einar likeable is his sense of humour.  There are several episodes that add comic relief.  In particular, Einar’s relationship with a parrot adds touches of light-heartedness throughout.  Not that there is a great deal of tension or suspense.  The plot meanders and there is very little sense of imminent danger.  So this book is not for those looking for a real thriller. 

There is considerable focus on the play which the students are performing.  Since I am unfamiliar with Loftur the Sorcerer, the tragedy written by Jóhann Sigurjónsson, I think I missed the significance of many of the references.  All I know is that the Faustian play, based on a popular Icelandic folktale, is about a student who sells his soul to the devil. 

This cannot be called a gripping mystery, but I found it charming and entertaining.  The fact that I visited Akureyri recently probably coloured my enjoyment of the book.  I will keep checking to see if more of the series is translated; I would definitely read them.  

Some Photos of Akureyri 
Akureyri, located about 100kms south of the Arctic Circle, is the biggest town outside of the capital region.
Approach to Akureyri from the east - thought we were going to drive directly into
Eyjafjörður.

Looking across Eyjafjörður towards Akureyri

Akureyrarkirkja

Monday, July 31, 2017

Maori and Pasifika Writers

In Canada, June is National Aboriginal History Month and June 21 is National Aboriginal Day.  When looking for titles written by Canada’s indigenous peoples, I wondered about the writing of indigenous peoples in other parts of the world.

I came across the Academy of New Zealand Literature which featured a list of 21 books written by Maori and Pasifika writers: http://www.anzliterature.com/feature/arent-reading-brown/.  I have read none of them, but will certainly try finding some of these titles. 

I’ve been looking for a copy of Skins: Contemporary Indigenous Writing, edited by Katerina Akiwenzie-Damm and Josie Douglas.  This anthology, published in 2000, features work by indigenous writers from Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.  Unfortunately, a copy on amazon.ca is over $1,000! 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Male Writers Using Gender-Neutral Pseudonyms

Throughout history, many female writers have felt the need to write under a male pseudonym to mask their identity in order to be taken more seriously in the literary world, thanks to age-old stereotypes about what women are capable of writing.  Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë became Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; Mary Ann Evans became George Eliot; Karen Blixen became Isak Dinesen; J. K. Rowling became Robert Galbraith; and Nelle Harper Lee became Harper Lee. 

Apparently that bias still exists.  Catherine Nichols sent a cover letter and the opening pages of a novel under her own name and under the pseudonym “George” to agents and received very different responses:  “George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book.”   She even sent the same work to the same agent using both names and the result was disturbing:  “One who sent me a form rejection as Catherine not only wanted to read George’s book, but instead of rejecting it asked if he could send it along to a more senior agent. Even George’s rejections were polite and warm” 

Now apparently, the practice of adopting a female or gender-neutral nom de plume is prevalent in the psychological thriller genre.  There is market demand for psychological thrillers written mostly by women for female audiences and featuring a female narrator.  Some fans might doubt the authenticity of the female narrator’s voice when it is delivered by a male author, so male writers are adopting gender ambiguous pseudonyms in order to attract more female readers.  Hence, Todd Ritter has become Riley Sager, author of Final Girls; Steve Watson has become S. J. Watson, author of Before I Go to Sleep and Second Life; and Daniel Mallory has become A. J. Finn, author of The Woman in the Window (http://jezebel.com/men-are-apparently-adopting-ambiguous-pen-names-to-sell-1796983376).

Perhaps initials are the way to go so gender bias is eliminated.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Readers Get More Dates?

According to eHarmony, the dating site, listing reading as a hobby on your dating profile makes you more appealing to the opposite sex.  According to their data, men who list reading as an interest receive 19 per cent more messages, and women three per cent more.  It also said that bookworms are found to be “more intellectually curious than most and find it easier to form open and trusting relationships with others.” 

Of course what you read can make a difference:  http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/love-sex/book-readers-best-lovers-bilbiophiles-hunger-games-sex-attractive-richard-branson-men-women-a7708091.html?cmpid=facebook-post

And there is a caveat.  Rosie J. Spinks in "To Date a Reader" warns, "Perhaps it’s because reading is such an obvious hobby that it’s so difficult to separate those who read from readers when it comes to dating" (https://www.bookwitty.com/text/to-date-a-reader/573ef2c5acd0d0353bea3c96).  

Friday, July 28, 2017

On Beatrix Potter's Birthday: Which Animal Character are You?

Today, July 28, is the 151st anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter.  In honour of her day, here’s a quiz you can take to determine which of her animal characters you would be:  https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/quiz/2015/jul/28/beatrix-potter-character-quiz.



Apparently, I’m Mrs Tiggy-Winkle the hedgehog!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

2017 Man Booker Prize Longlist

The 13 books making the Man Booker Prize longlist were announced today:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US)
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK)
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK)
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan)
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK)
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US)

For more information about the books and writers, go to http://themanbookerprize.com/news/man-booker-prize-2017-longlist.

I’ve read only two of the books:

The prize is worth £50,000 ($81,625 CAN).  A shortlist of six books will be announced on Sept. 13, with the winner announcement to follow on Oct. 17, 2017.

The Perils of Gifting and Recommending Books

I love receiving books as gifts and I often gift books as gifts.  Of course, choosing a book to give someone else can be a difficult task.  Back in April, Laura Marie wrote an article “The Right (and Wrong!) Way to Give Books as Gifts” for BookRiot.  She suggested four questions to ask oneself before picking a book to gift: 
Will this book make the person feel understood, not judged?   
Does this book fill a need that the receiver has expressed?
Do I personally cherish this book?
Does the person realistically have time for another book?

Maybe a bookstore gift card is better and the recipient has the fun of choosing a book?

Sometimes people don’t want to gift a book but want to recommend titles to others; this too can be fraught with peril.  Michelle Anne Schingler  wrote “25 Terrible Book Recommendations” for BookRiot:  http://bookriot.com/2017/07/17/twenty-five-terrible-book-recommendations/.  How about recommending  Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle as the prize for winning a hot dog eating contest?