20 Books of Summer + BONTS Bingo

Summer’s here! Yes, it’s finally time to put on that sunscreen and dust the picnic quilt. For me summer is synonymous with ice scream, bright summer nights, swimming in the lake and, of course, summer reading. Last summer I participated in both the Books on the Nightstand Summer Bingo as well as 20 Books of Summer, and read far far more than I expected. I had so much fun planning my TBR and trying to come up with books for different bingo categories that I knew I had to do it again this summer. Moreover, thanks to the challenges I discovered some absolutely wonderful books that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have taken time to read. I’m not deluding myself in thinking I could improve upon last year’s success, but because I’m crazy for lists and reading challenges (and because I’m kinda failing my other resolutions for the year), I want to try my best.

20 Books of Summer is hosted by Cathy from 746 Books, and the aim of the reading challenge is to set yourself a summer TBR – and stick to it! You can go with either 10, 15 or 20 books, or as many as you think you can manage during the summer months. Last year I completed 17 out of 20 books, so I’m setting the goal again to 20 books. My list of books consists of both library books and of books I’ve been meaning to read or have owned for a long time. In addition, I’ve included the two books that I didn’t get round to reading last year: A Tenant of Wilderfell Hall & A Storm of Swords. One of my summer reading traditions is also to try and tackle a big classics – last year it was The Egyptian and the year before that Moby Dick – and this summer I’m tackling Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, which I’ve already started reading.

Introducing my very ambitious, realistic-only-in-an-alternative-universe 20 Books of Summer TBR:
20BooksofSummer2016

  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  • ISO by Pekka Hiltunen ✓
  • Room by Emma Donoghue ✓
  • Brave New World by Aldos Huxley
  • Sonja O. kävi täällä by Anja Kauranen ✓
  • Is That a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos (currently-reading)
  • Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg
  • A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
  • When I Forgot by Elina Hirvonen ✓
  • Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee
  • Pollomuhku ja Posityyhtynen by Jaana Kapari-Jatta ✓
  • Musta satu by Aki Ollikainen ✓
  • Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (currently-reading)
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr ✓
  • Silent House by Orhan Pamuk ✓
  • Manillaköysi by Veijo Meri ✓
  • Essays by George Orwell
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (currently-reading)

I picked up books for the challenge based on what I was interested in reading right now as well as books that I’ve been putting off because of subject matter or the length of the book. I own way too many “I’ll read this some day” books, which is why I’m using this challenge as test to see if I really want to read those books or if I should just give them away – yes, I’m looking at you A Song of Ice and Fire box set. But in order not to bury myself under a pile of heavy books, I’ve also included some rather short books, that I can easily carry with me to the beach. A few non-fiction books and a collection of essays will be perfect for travels and for the cold rainy days I can armchair travel to Italy, France, Istanbul or Westeros.

Book on the Nightstand is one of my favourite literary podcasts – gutted to hear that it’s ending this summer – and they host an annual summer reading bingo that runs from May 28th to September 1st. The bingo charts are generated from a large variety of categories HERE (note: refreshing the page will automatically create a new bingo card), and the BONTS Goodreads group offers plenty of solid recommendations for books in different categories. I’m rather pleased with the card that I got and have already spent a wee while dreaming about the books I will read. However, if you have any recommendations as to books with main characters over the age of 50 or 60, I’d love to hear them (I can only think of Etta, Otto, Russel and James or Elisabeth is Missing).

My BONTS Summer Bingo Card:
BONTS Summer 2016 Bingo

I’ve intentionally matched some of the bingo squares with the 20 Books of Summer TBR – such as Barnaby Rudge for “Obscure novel by a famous author” or Is that a Fish in Your Ear for “Has been on your TBR for longer than two years” or Silent House for “Any book by a Nobel Prize winner” – in order to motivate myself to actually read the books I say I would love to read. However, I’m well aware that I have two books over 1,000 pages on the list (A Storm of Swords and 1Q84), so it’s quite possible that I will only get to one of them. I’ve also left some room to fill in books that are not on my TBR, because I am essentially a mood reader and will want to veer from my TBR every once in a while.

So, I guess now that that’s all set, I’ll just have to get started on the actual reading. I’ll try my best to review books as soon as I finish them, but if that doesn’t happen, there’ll at least be a wrap-up post coming in September. What are you reading this summer? x

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Review: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (Cormoran Strike #2)

EBOOK; 455 P.
SPHERE, 2014
SOURCE: PURCHASED

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, she just thinks he has gone off by himself for a few days – as he has done before – and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realises. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were published it would ruin lives – so there are a lot of people who might want to silence him.

And when Quine is found brutally murdered in bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any he has encountered before…

I read the first book in the Cormoran Strike series, The Cuckoo’s Calling, two years ago during summer holidays. Although the book didn’t altogether blow my mind – with JK Rowling the expectations run higher than usual –, it turned out to be an exciting and fun summer read. However, continuing the series was pushed back as I was soon after slightly spoiled about the events in The Silkworm and needed some time to erase the information from my memory. In the end summer arrived once again with a short vacation at the summer cottage and upon choosing the books to take with me, I decided to purchase The Silkworm for my Kindle and see where the story would go (and whether it would improve).

Whereas The Cuckoo’s Calling centered around fame and celebrity culture, The Silkworm focuses on the publishing circles of London. Like many other readers I, too, am fascinated by stories – fiction or non-fiction – set in the world of books, which is why I was super intrigued to see how the story and the plot would plan out. The story begins when private detective Cormoran Strike is alerted about a missing author Owen Quine. Right before his disappearance Quine had sent several people a copy of his manuscript that throws strong accusations about several leading figures in the publishing world. The circumstances around the authors disappearance are murky and it seems no one has a nice word to say about the missing author.

The Silkworm is an enjoyable detective novel. It’s great in the sense that it makes you want to read until the end to find out who did it – a perfect read that will keep you entertained for a day or two – and it doesn’t give clues too easily. However, looking back at the reading experience it’s apparent that the book failed to leave a lasting impression – I had to look up several things while writing this blog post. The most exciting thing about this novel was the publishing world setting, but other than that, I found my interest slipping. I guess it might be just me, but I found neither the plot nor the characters particularly gripping. Aside from the mystery itself, the novel focuses a lot on Cormoran Strike’s assistant Robin and her struggles in balancing work and relationship. This could have been interesting in itself, but in the end it felt that the two plotlines of The Silkworm didn’t connect with each other – they were like two incomplete parts of two different books that had been sown together.

I don’t mean to say that The Silkworm is particularly bad novel, but it’s not exceptional either. All in all, the book left me a bit disappointed in the series as a whole. JK Rowling knows how to write and to craft realistic characters, so it’s always a pleasure to read her books, but I just don’t think she writes crime well. As a concept the Cormoran Strike series is an interesting one, but it just doesn’t seem like the one for me. Lucy from the Hard Book Habit struggled also with the first two books in the series, but based on her review things get more interesting in the third book. Hence I might try to read The Career of Evil over the summer (and continue to read the next books in the series for the sake of pop culture references). However, I’ll definitely stick to checking them out from the library instead of buying my own copies.

3/5

Review: Aniara by Harry Martinson

PAPERBACK; 188 P.
ALBERT BONNIERS FÖRLAG, 2004/1956
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

The great Swedish writer Harry Martinson published his masterpiece, Aniara, during the height of the Cold War – right after the Soviet Union announced that it had exploded the hydrogen bomb. Aniara is the story of a luxurious space ship, loaded with 8,000 evacuees, fleeing an Earth made uninhabitable by Man’s technological arrogance. A malfunction knocks the craft off course, taking these would-be Mars colonists on an irreversible journey into deep space. Aniara is a book of prophecy, a panoramic view of humanity’s possible fate. It has been translated into seven languages and adapted into a popular avant-garde opera.

Once upon a time, in a far far corner of a nice Irish pub I asked my reader friend to recommend me a good science fiction book (he’s an expert, you see). The response was immediate – Aniara by Harry Martinson –, so much so that at first I thought he making a joke. However, the name stuck in my mind and about a month later I checked the book out from the library. The only copy available in my local library was in Swedish, but I decided that it would have to do. I mean, how hard can it be to read about space travel in Swedish? (Answer: Hard, but so bloody worth it.)

Aniara begins with the launch of one of the gigantic ships that are transporting people from the no longer inhabitable Earth to Mars to begin a new life there. Unfortunately the evacuation flight gets pushed off track by a collision with an asteroid, and due to a technical error it can’t return back to its original course: the ship is lost in space, floating around with no hope of ever reaching its target. However, the technology of the ship allows its 8,000 passengers to continue to live luxuriously for several decades within the spacecraft. With no immediate danger, the people try to return to their normal lives by building their own society within the spaceship. Aniara is an exploration of the psychological side of life in a closed community: the ship’s inhabitants form their own microcosm of class divisions, religion and morality.

The epic of Aniara consist of 103 songs describing mostly the life and thoughts of an engineer running a machine called Mima that relieves the homesickness of the passengers by showing old images of the Earth. As Earth is the only main connection between the huge mass of people in the spacecraft, the machine is thought have mystic powers and its rooms in the ship come to serve as a church of some sort. Aniara show the human need to control fate as well as the horrors born from conflicts between different groups. As the flight of the ship progresses, the reader learns more about the reasons behind the destruction of Earth as well as the horrifying secrets behind the evacuation plan. Aniara is a tragedy and the heartbreakingly beautiful songs give the story a true feeling of a tale passed on from generation to generation.

I fell in love with Aniara from page one. Although the language made me jump through some hoops with the dictionary, the end result was fantastic and mind-blowing. The book’s themes of humanity, societies and international politics tick all the boxes for me and combined with the stunning poetry, it was clear that the book would become one of my favourite reads. Martinson won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1974 “for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos” – although there were some controversy surrounding the process – and in my opinion he has definitely earned it. Unfortunately copies of the English translation are currently almost nonexistent (so I’m told). Some e-copies can, however, be found online, and then there’s always the library. I highly recommend this if you enjoy beautiful and tragic writing about societal issues and human psyche.

5/5

Protesting we were innocent, we sought
to reason without learned reference
and in the language most of them were taught
propound the barest modicum of sense.

But this same language, meant to clear up all,
grew murky for us too, a rigmarole
of words avoiding words and playing blind
amid the clarity of cosmic soul.

(trans. Stephen Klass & Leif Sjöberg)