Helsinki Book Fair 2013

Ah, the long awaited Helsinki Book Fair. Ever since I started blogging about reading and posting reviews, I also started to think about attending a book fair. I’ve only been to a few book fairs which have all been quite small and indie. Whereas I do love to discover books, I usually skip the latest releases and go browse in the stacks behind them. But as a friend of mine was also going to the book fair, I decided to tag along and see it for myself. Now, Helsinki Book Fair is (I believe) the biggest book fair in Finland. It is an annual festival that features all the biggest publishing houses and a dozen smaller ones. This year’s theme was Germany and German literature – just as next year Finland will be the theme in the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Halli 6

© Markku Ojala/Messukeskus

The book fair was open from Thursday to Sunday, with interviews, book signings, and panel discussions scheduled for every day. I attended the book fair on Saturday and the place was jam-packed! It was actually hard to move from one place to another without accidentally bumping into someone. And as there was so much going on, moving from one place to another had to be done quickly. I managed to hear the interviews of Kjell Westö and  Eoin Colfer – both talking about their new book. I very much enjoyed listening to the authors being interviewed on stage: it is always fascinating to hear what they had thought while writing the book.

But most of my time in the book fair I spent browsing through the sections of books. There were just so many! I can’t believe I didn’t buy more books as the temptation was constantly present. However, I did enjoy browsing the second-hand section more interesting than the new releases. There was more excitement as I didn’t know what I would find. Also, the second-hand books are much cheaper than the new releases which to a poor student such as myself is a relief. At the end of the day, my feet were hurting from hours of constantly standing and walking, and my arms were hurting from carrying all the books. But I was happy.

Halli 6

© Markku Ojala/Messukeskus

And then to the interesting part: the actual books! I bought a total of 6 books (2 new, 4 second-hand) and got one as a loan from my friend. All the books – except the one I borrowed – are written/translated to Finnish but as most of them can also be found in English, I’ll refer to them with their English titles. And the books are:

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  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
  • Not before Sundown by Johanna Sinisalo
  • Popular Music from Vittula by Mikael Niemi
  • The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
  • Salo by Turkka Hautala
  • You Had Me At Hello by Mhairi McFarlane (borrowed)

Review: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)

PAPERBACK; 807 P.
HARPERVOYAGER 2003/1996
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

In the game of thrones, you win or you die.

As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must … and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty. The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, a vengeance-mad boy has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities beyond the sea. Heir of the mad Dragon King deposed by Robert, he claims the Iron Throne.

The first book in the Song of Fire and Ice series, A Game of Thrones stands only 800 pages long. It took me roughly two months to gather enough will to begin and about ten days to read. It must be the longest book that I’ve read this year and considering the length I read it fairly quickly. Martin’s style of writing is engaging which meant that I could read about 20 pages in a hour and still be able to follow the story line and remember what I’d read.

The story follows the Stark family along with several other characters at the end of summer. In the world of Seven Kingdoms seasons can last for several years and this particular summer has been going for 9 years. Winter is coming, and the peace in the country is shattering: both the young and the old have their own battles to fight. The world that George R.R. Martin has created resembles that of Middle Ages with kings, knights, squires, tourneys, and such but with a mixture of the supernatural – dragons, direwolves, the Others. All I can do is bow in front of the magnificent world building and detail that has gone to the story. The book features dozens of characters, all with a background history and realistic motivations. The plethora of characters is also the weakness of the book – with so many characters and the first person narrative jumping from one story to another, it is hard to keep track of everything. The first person narratives, however, helps the reader to connect with the individual characters and at the same time it provides different points of view to the ongoing story.

George R.R. Martin has understandably been compared to J.R.R. Tolkien and I must admit that the world building and the feel of the book at the beginning is rather similar to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, I do think that Martin’s style is more brutal than Tolkien’s – the book features cruelty, gore, and explicit nudity. I wouldn’t say that Martin surpasses Tolkien with his book but we have to bear in mind that A Game of Thrones is only the first book in the series – there is still more to come. What lifted the rating from a solid 4 was the ending and how it was built up; the last 100 pages were intense and left me craving for more. Also the fact that Martin has not only one but several strong female characters in his books. It is refreshing because too often the female characters in high fantasy novels are the weakest characters.

I don’t think I’ll be reading the second book anytime soon, as I’m currently working on my bachelor’s thesis, but I do plan on watching the first episode of the HBO series in the near future.

4.5/5

Now you know, the crow whispered as it sat on his shoulder. Now you know why you must live.

“Why?” Bran said, not understanding, falling, falling.

Because winter is coming.

Book haul-ish post

I’m currently reading A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (about half-way through) but because it’s not a very quick read, I have no book reviews to post here. So I decided that since I’ve gathered a few new books I’d share them with you and call it a book haul.

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And the books are:

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (in German)
  • Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (in German)
  • Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks (in German)

The first three are Wordsworth classic editions from The Bookdepository that I mentioned in my earlier September wrap-up post. They arrived a few days after the post and I’ve already read and reviewed The Great Gatsby and started to read the introduction to Jane Eyre (which I read in Finnish about 4 years ago).The next three are all second-hand books that I got for free. Some lovely person donated our school a pile of German books, and naturally, I was among the first people to raid the pile.

I’ve been planning on reading The Name of the Rose because I saw the movie (1986, with Sean Connery) a while ago and because my father has been telling me that the book is much better than the film. The fact that it is in German is a bit daunting but I decided to take it anyway because I want to keep practicing my German – even if it’s only through reading. I know practically nothing about Alias Grace but I’ve heard only good things about Margaret Atwood, which made me pick up this book. And last but not least, Round Ireland with a Fridge – I mean, look at the title! I just had to pick it up, I had to. It combines Ireland, hitchhiking, and humor which to me sound like a perfect recipe for a relaxing evening with book.

There is a very high probability that this weekend will bring more books to my shelves as I’ll be attending the Helsinki Book Fair on Saturday. A whole day filled with books, authors, and discussions about books – brilliant! I’ll do a post about the Book Fair next week, hopefully with some better quality pictures than the one in this post.

Till then, have a lovely and bookish weekend!

Review: Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

PAPERBACK; 101 P.
WORDSWORTH CLASSICS, 1992/1602
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

The gentle melancholy and lyrical atmosphere of Twelfth Night have long made the play a favourite with Shakespearian audiences. The plot revolves around mistaken identities and unrequited love, but is further enlivened by a comic sub-plot of considerable accomplishment. In it, Tony Belch and his companion outwit their most outrageous and insulting practical jokes, emerges as an almost noble figure.

I have not read much of Shakespeare. In fact, I’ve seen more on stage than I’ve read. The story of Twelfth Night starts with a shipwreck where identical twins Viola and Sebastian are separated, both believing the other has died. Viola dresses up as a man (Cesario) and begins to serve Count Orsino. Orsino is madly in love with Olivia, who’ll have none of it. Olivia however falls in love with Cesario, who works as a messenger for Orsino (whom he/she is falling in love with). Hence, it is a comedy.

I have never seen Twelfth Night on stage but I’ve watched a movie adaptation (She’s the man, 2006) and enjoyed it. Reading a play is different from reading a novel mainly in that there is less description of settings and emotions. The play in question is a short one and jumps quickly from one scene to another without much explaining. Thus the reader is left with a lot of unanswered questions such as “why the cross-dressing?”, “what about Antonio?”, and  “Is that it?!” For some this might be annoying, but I enjoyed the gaps – they leave more room to imagination.

The main plot was more interesting to me than the comic sub-plot. For a today’s reader the practical joke pulled on Malvolio seems too cruel; to drive someone to the brink of sanity is not funny. I hope that I’ll see Twelfth Night on stage one day because I feel that reading a play does not do justice to a work that has been planned to stage. That said, I would definitely recommend this to others.

4/5

For what says Quinapalus? ‘Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.’

Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

PAPERBACK; 327 P.
PENGUIN CLASSICS, 2002/1884
SOURCE: PURCHASED

Mark Twain’s tale of a boy’s picaresque journey down the Mississippi on a raft conveyed the voice and experience of the American frontier as no other work had done before. When Huck escapes from his drunken father and the ‘sivilizing’ Widow Douglas with the runaway slave Jim, he embarks on a series of adventures that draw him to feuding families and the trickery of the unscrupulous ‘Duke’ and ‘Dauphin’. Beneath the exploits, however, are more serious undercurrents – of slavery, adult control and, above all, of Huck’s struggle between his instinctive goodness and the corrupt values of society, which threaten his deep and enduring friendship with Jim.

Earlier this year I read Mark Twain’s Letters from the Earth: Uncensored Writings and fell in love with his way of writing irony. I’m currently studying a course that goes through early American literature and Huckleberry Finn is compulsory reading for the course. The story centers around a boy named Huckleberry Finn, who was a companion to Tom Sawyer in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In the introduction of the book it is revealed that Mark Twain intended Huckleberry Finn as a “sequel” to Tom Sawyer but in time the book grew to be more than just a sequel. And for this reason I did feel like I was starting to read a series from the middle.

The book starts with Huck Finn who escapes from his father and fakes his own death. In his escape he meets Jim, a runaway slave, and they team up deciding to go up north where Jim can become free. They travel on a raft along the river Mississippi and encounter adventures as they go along. The story is written from first person point of view and in the spoken language of the time. This makes reading a bit harder and especially Jim’s word were almost complete Greek to me – I usually had to read them out loud to cipher them. The writing does, however, give the story a certain character and it reflects the innocence of our main character.

I liked the book and how it depicted different personalities. The people Huck and Jim meet on their adventures all deal with different type of problems and issues. The chapter in the book are generally short so it was easy to read a chapter or a two sitting in a bus or between lectures at the uni. On the surface the story is a simple collection of adventures but with time it reveals a more in-depth picture of the society and American nature. But I think that to understand this book better, I should have read the Adventures of Tom Sawyer first.

4/5

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell” – and tore it up.

Review: And I Don’t Want to Live This Life: A Mother’s Story of Her Daughter’s Murder by Deborah Spungen

HARDCOVER; 380 P.
TRANS. ANNA SALO
GUMMERUS, 1986/1983
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

For most of us, it was just another horrible headline. But for Deborah Spungen, the mother of Nancy, who was stabbed to death at the Chelsea Hotel, it was both a relief and a tragedy. Here is the incredible story of an infant who never stopped screaming, a toddler who attacked people, a teenager addicted to drugs, violence, and easy sex, a daughter completely out of control–who almost destroyed her parents’ marriage and the happiness of the rest of her family.

Deborah Spungen’s memoir of her daughter’s life is somewhat of a famous book in Finland. It is found in almost every city library and was listed #87 on the Finnish 100 books you should read list. For the kids of today, the story of Sid and Nancy might be unknown since it all happened back in the 1970s. And I must admit, I did experience a little shock when I started reading this book. My history with the story of Sid and Nancy goes back to when I was 13 and read a book where the protagonist was a female punk rocker. Long story short, the girl gets into trouble with her boyfriend (whom she calls Sid) and moves into a small town in the middle of nowhere to discover who she really is. I loved this book, and soon after started my small scale punk rock phase. To me the story of Sid and Nancy was a glorified Romeo and Juliet, but I never looked up the details of how it all ended.

So to pick up this book, which I have been planning to read since I was 13, and to find out that it was actually Sid who murdered Nancy was quite a shock. And the more I read about Nancy’s childhood, the more my naïve image of Nancy started shattering. I read the pain of the family and the frustration towards the system in the 1960s – thank God some things have changed since then. Nancy Spungen was always the outsider, too smart for her age but at the same time too clumsy. Reading this book makes you feel hopeless, because no matter how much you’d hope for things to change, you know the ending will be cruel.

I guess I understand Deborah Spungen’s motive for writing this book; the description of the haunting journalists was angry and filled with hate. At the beginning of the book, I despised Sid for what he had done, but when I read the letters the writer had received from him I started to see where the idea of Sid & Nancy love story was coming from. The book does not glorify drugs nor does it make them the monster. It is very personal and I can’t really judge it based on the story or the characters. However, I cannot say I liked it; it depressed me and I don’t think I’ll be reading anything similar for a while. I also think the title is a bit unfortunate – it sounds like a headline you’d find from the pages of the yellow press.

3.5/5

On a final note I’ll just take a moment to point out the fact that the day I finished reading this book happened to be October 12th, the very same day on which, in 1978, Nancy Spungen was found murdered. And this is all just pure coincidence; I did not know the date had any connection with the book/story. Frightening.

Review: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

PAPERBACK; 180 P.
SCRIBNER, 2004/1925
SOURCE: PURCHASED

From Goodreads:

Generally considered to be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s finest novel, The Great Gatsby is a consummate summary of the ‘roaring twenties’ and a devastating exposé of the shallowness of the ‘Jazz Age’. Through the narration of Nick Carraway, the reader is taken into the superficially glittering world of the mansions which lined the Long Island shore in the 1920’s, to encounter Nick’s cousin Daisy, her brash but wealthy husband Tom Buchanan, Jay Gatsby and the dark mystery which surrounds him.

Well wasn’t this a quick read! With only 122 pages, The Great Gatsby feels more like a novella compared to some thicker classics. However, Fitzgerald’s style and language create a wholesome picture with just flickers of thoughts, quick in passing but creating long lasting images. The pace of the novel is at times quick and at times it lingers like a hot summer afternoon. I started reading The Great Gatsby on a Wednesday morning and woke up early the next day to finish it.

The story follows Nick Carraway, a young man from the Midwest who arrives to New York with the plan of working and studying bonds. He soon meets the flickering society of the city and is drawn to its dramatic ways, although for most part of the book he remains passively at the side, just watching others. The story is told from Nick’s point of view and in the course of the novel we meet several characters who all embody the 1920’s golden Jazz Age.

Despite the fact that the book is short and a fairly easy to read, the story takes a time to get into. To classify the book only as a tragic love story would be insufficient because the book has so many levels. More than anything, I’d say that the book is a description of the time period and of the problems encountered by the new generation. When I started to read the book I was under the impression that it would be more of a love story than it turned out to be, but I can’t say I was disappointed by the book. The style however left many questions unanswered and I feel that the book didn’t completely reveal itself to me at the first read.

4/5 

And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.

September Reads and October Plans

I’ve been a book blogger now for over a month and it seems that a general, monthly update on readings and to-be-reads is the norm. September was a very productive month in the sense that I read a surprising number of books – 7 in total! Compared to August, when I only finished one book, the jump in enormous. But I fear that come midterm, pleasure reading will disappear from my vocabulary. However, let’s get into the wrap up.

This is what I read in September:

I mostly liked or loved what I read this month, except for the only non-fiction book (Branded). In September, I read a lot of fantasy – a genre that I loved when I was younger, but which has gradually fallen off my reading list. And October will be no stranger to fantasy either since I’ll attempt to tackle the book that has been on my book pile for a long time – A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. The book seems massive but almost everyone I know has loved it, and I really want to know what’s with the hype. And no, I have not watched the series – please, no spoilers!

And this is what I plan to read in October:

  • A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (reading for a lit course)
  • And I Don’t Want to Live This Life by Deborah Spungen
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (re-reading since it’s been too long)
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This month I’ve already read The Hunger Games trilogy, and this list might be just wishful thinking. If I manage to read all these seven books in October, I’ll bake a cake to celebrate. The last three books on the list are from Bookdepository and will arrive next week (I hope).

And since I’m not here just to talk to myself, I’d like to hear about you. What are you reading this month?