Friday, 31 January 2014

A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters

Sorry this is posted a day late, guys.

This book, A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, was different from all the other books I’ve read so far this month in several ways. It wasn’t my own, for starters; I swapped books with a friend. But what made me really nervous was that it was a signed copy by Julian Barnes himself. So, naturally, I didn’t dare to take it anywhere, which slowed me down a bit in the reading department. But that turned out to be a blessing.

This book is a collection of ten short stories plus half a chapter’s worth of a really good explanation about love. This chapter, Parenthesis, might have been one of my favourite parts of the book, because to me it was the kind of explanation that made me say “fuck yes” and “so true” lots of times. The other chapters are very diverse, but are loosely tied together by random subjects that pop up in every chapter; like woodworm and arks. (Not the easiest things to slip in a conversation, so hats off. And I don’t take my hat off very often.)

When I say that these chapters were very diverse, I do mean *very*. Not only does the author jumps in time and storylines, the stories vary from a woodworm’s recollection of his voyage on the ark and a court’s case of woodworms being prosecuted for eating through the bishop’s chair to an astronaut who thought God talked to him and an actor whose career takes an odd turn. And every short story has its own style too; difficulty, perspective, everything changes so much they might as well have been written by totally different people.
I must say that, probably because English isn’t my main language and because I never really had English class that was challenging to me, that the book might have been a bit too difficult for me; which is why it was good I read this book slowly. Mister Barnes spices his stories with fancy words and delicious metaphors, like (I’m just randomly fishing them from the pages as I leaf through them) promulgated, menaced and obliquities.  Some of the best metaphors are found in the ‘half chapter’; the chapter about love: … I love you I love you- it’s become some trilling song popular for a lurid month and then dismissed to the club circuit where pudgy rockers with grease in their hair and yearning in their voice will use it to unfrock the lolling front-row girls. I love you I love you while the lead guitar giggles and the drummer’s tongue lies wetly in his opened mouth.

Looking back on it I’d say that the book isn’t my usual genre, but was definitely worth the read. The picture of the painting Scene of Shipwreck ( ) was definitely a nice touch.

Thanks for letting me read this, H.


Until next time,


Saturday, 25 January 2014


When someone prompts me about Lord of The Rings or Tolkien (which happens more often lately, what with the new hobbit movies and Barahir’s ring around my neck) I often tell them I’m a huge fan, and I illustrate that point with telling said person that I read the books about once or more a year, every year, and that I’ve done so since 2005. And then people give me the strangest look. You read the same book twice or more? The look says.

To be fair with you, I don’t understand why not. But let’s delve into my past first, so we might find an explanation why exactly I do this.

When I was a kid, I wasn’t a big fan of reading books, not like I am now. I devoured comic books, but I glossed over them fairly quickly without appreciating storylines or artwork, really. If I got a gist of the movement or expression, that was enough. When I was about nine years old we got classes at school where you practiced reading fast without making mistakes, and I was put in the highest grade because I could read so fast, further training my skimming. Even now, when I read out loud, I can barely understand what I am saying.
But then I got into Harry Potter. Everyone was reading them, birthday parties were held in the cinema watching a tiny Radcliffe on the big screen (I still remember shooting out of my seat when that bigass snake shot out of the water) and every year with Sinterklaas there would be a new Potterbook in my shoe. And I read them, again and again and again. The thing with Rowling’s writing style is that she refers back to tiny details in her previous books; and skimming ol’ me would have to read everything again to understand the impact of those things in full. And when the next book came out, well… I had to do it all again of course. Because there are seven books I can say I am fairly sure I read the first book about fifty times, not exaggerating. But hey, I didn’t have that many books at that time that I could truly call my own. All my other books were encyclopaedia because I liked animals and history, and my sister liked Dirk Bracke (a writer who likes to write about emotional/physical abuse) which I was too young for, and Marc De Bel, which was amusing but it still felt wrong to me to read another person’s books. That and my sister didn’t like it when I touched her stuff. My older sister liked Jurassic Park, so yeah. Way too young and chicken for that.

I became a fan of Lord of The Rings in my second year in highschool, about three years since I started reading Harry Potter. The movies were aired on TV for the first time since they came out, and I adored them. Later that night, when the credits of the first movie rolled over the screen, my father gave me his copies of The Lord of the Rings. I’ve cherished them ever since; reading them on the playground when no one talked to me, reading them when I was upset, reading them when I was supposed to study at boarding school because they looked like dictionaries in size and print, and I could get away with it (and it beat studying). And I keep reading them because compared to Rowling’s world, which is rather mainly based in Hogwarts and a Ministry of Magic and then a few other places here and there, Tolkien created a whole world, a whole religion, and it’s there for the taking. The pockets I got from my father had a map of Middle-Earth, and because he bought them when he was about twenty, the map was old, worn and yellowed. It was fantastic. (and then I lost it, but that’s a story for another time.)
Reading these pockets was much like when I read Potter; I skimmed over tiny details in the beginning, and by the time I reached the appendices at the back of Return of The King I would have to start all over again because ohh, thàts what it was all about. Frodo’s dreams in Tom Bombadil’s house, for example, or Sam’s secure knowledge that he has to fulfil something before he can go back home again, or the things they see in Galadriel’s mirror. There are hundreds of little references scattered throughout these books, and I haven’t even started about the silmarillion.  

I feel that at this point I should mention That Other Fantasy-but-not-really-fantasy Series called Game of Thrones. Because here, again, we have a whole world filled with details that you don’t get unless you’ve read the whole thing thrice, and it’s not even finished yet.
And yet… I can’t really get into the story. Where Tolkien kept the balance between the amount of details and tension and number of storylines, mister Martin completely throws me out of the loop. There are just so many boring characters that he follows. So yeah, I know I’m going to insult some people here, but boy am I glad he’s killed most of them. The only ones (until now) that I would have minded if he’d killed was Arya, Snow (only because he’s cute in the series) and Daenaearaeanyiys. And the dwarf, maybe. But well, I have only read the first three books, so we’ll see how it goes. The fourth is on my ‘Need to read Pretty Soon’ list, so I will undoubtedly keep you posted about my opinion. (I warn you, I’ve had a recent craving for iambic pentameter, so it might take a while.)

But I am getting side-tracked. Is re-reading important to me? Yes, because I like to stay in these fantasy worlds as long as possible, and because there are so many details in them I can keep losing myself in these books.
I guess you can compare it with a cd. Listening to music gives you a certain mood, can be exhilarating or whatever you look for in music. It’s hard to find several hours worth of a certain blend of mood so you listen to some really good songs again and again – then why is it so much different if I do the same with books?
I have the same with movies, by the way. I mean, have you seen those latest Marvel movies? (I usually go for the good guys, but damn, Loki!)
But when I tell someone I’ve seen the second hobbit movie three times in cinemas so far they kinda laugh and look away. So I guess I feel sorry for those people, because I can totally get lost in these stories, even having after-effects alà ‘no one can hurt me because I’m a main character’ for the rest of the day, and it feels awesome.

And that’s the perfect word to end this tirade.

Until next time,


Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Light Fantastic (2nd in the Discworld Saga)

this is the third time I’m reading a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel – I borrowed one from the library last year called Eric, read the first one last year and have now (I have to admit it) started to collect them chronologically.
The Discworld series are (as far as I know, I’ve only read three of the forty novels) about a very panicky wizard who lives on a very peculiar planet. It’s actually not really a planet, you see; it’s a disc balanced by four giant elephants standing on an enormous turtle called the great A’Tuin. The wizard gets into the most absurd situations, actually meeting Death a couple of times (but he's actually a chill guy), and is always followed by a very expressive chest with hundreds of legs that is pretty agitated. It’s quite a job to follow a wizard if he’s continuously being teleported to the most dangerous places, you see.
Although the first book wasn’t really as good as Eric (I guess he got some practice) the novels are still overall very good. The writing style reminds me of Monty Python, and the story parodies all fantasy in one of the best ways possible. Fighting women are usually scarcely dressed in scraps of leather, legendary heroes have the age to match their reputation and the gods are usually angry at the ice giants because they forgot to return their lawnmower.

It’s kinda hard to describe this novel.

Rincewind is the main character, and is magically saved from where we left him in the first book – catapulted over the edge of the world. Something terrible seems to be doomed to happen when a star gets closer and closer to the discworld, and strangely enough Rincewind is the only one (for once) who is not panicking. People suspect he knows more about this impending doom and try to kill him for it, which means there’s plenty of pages of running, pursuing, fighting, virgins, heroes, half-naked swords women and people who learn to leave the chest alone the hard way.

Is this something you should read? I think so, even if it’s just to see what all my fuss is about. They’re short; hardcore readers will breathe through the 150-odd pages in a day, and they do not require your full attention. Snorting and /or laughing out loud disclaimer.


Until next time,