Sunday 15 April 2018

Quick Lit April 2018

A month in which I apparently read so much that the cats must have starved and my children gone around in dirty clothes. And I think I had a husband, but I probably mislaid him somewhere.

I read very little translated literature. It's because I've studied languages and, while I'm fluent in none of them, I'm aware of all I'm losing when I can't read something in the original language. My only exception (with no rationale whatsoever) is ancient literature. So this month's reading surprised me rather...

Yana Toboso - Black Butler Vol I
I decided one way to engage our teen might be to ask her about a book recommendation. She said I should try reading manga. This wasn't the one she recommended (Death Note), but I've seen the anime version of that and Black Butler, and liked the latter better, so I gave it a go. It took a little while to get used to reading back to front and right to left, but I suppose that was a bonus brain exercise. Ciel is head of a noble household, CEO of an international business, and trusted aide to Queen Victoria - all at twelve years old. He accomplishes all this with the help of his butler, Sebastian, whose abilities are unbelievable - for a human, that is... It was entertaining, but I think I'd have to read more manga before I can decide whether I'm into it. At least I got to tick off my "book in a day" for the MMD reading challenge. And the tiny print finally prompted me to buy my first pair of reading glasses.

Sigrid Undset - The Axe
This is the first volume in the Master of Hestviken tetralogy by the Norwegian Nobel-prize-winning author - and, tantalizingly, I found the first three volumes in my library's 50 cent sale room. Kristin Lavransdottir is the Undset you find most people discussing, but this is in similar vein, reminiscent of Viking sagas, and with a slow, brooding sense of fate lingering over the story. Ovar and Ingunn were bethrothed as children, and Ovar was fostered by her family. In their teens, they consummate the betrothal (considered legal in Viking law), but Ingunn's father dies before they can be officially married, and his relatives want to dissolve the agreement. Ovar kills Ingunn's kinsman in a dispute, is outlawed, and so begins years of a cat and mouse waiting game. You have to like slow literature (which I do) to get into Undset's books, and while, on the whole, the writing is to be savoured, it did stall in places for me.

Jhumpa Lahiri - In Other Words
I picked this because my job is editing English language documents for a Slovenian university, and we're about to move there, but it turned out to fit nicely with my translated picks for the month. Pulitzer prize-winning writer Lahiri chose to follow her passion for Italian by taking her family to live in Rome. She begins with a resolution only to read in Italian, but ends up writing only in Italian as well. This is her series of reflections on living in the language rather than the country. It's dual language (so a short read if you're not fluent in Italian!), and Lahiri had someone else translate it into English so that it better reflects her Italian style. It captivated me, but then I am about to be immersed in another language, and am contemplating what life will be like for my toddler, growing up speaking one language in the home but surrounded by another totally unlike it.

Izaak Walton - The Compleat Angler. Read by Nelson Runger
No real link to the above books, except in the sense that, to take a quote from another book, "The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there." This is the seventeenth century English classic that I expect most Americans have never heard of (and most British people don't read nowadays, either). A virtuous how-to manual on angling and cooking your catch, with a good portion of poetry thrown in - and don't forget the very dubious, but entertaining, biology. Probably for readers who are classiphiles (if that's not a word I'm trademarking it now) or enthusiastic about the history of angling.

Yep, David Tennant and Michael Sheen as the demon-angel duo!

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett - Good Omens
I didn't read this because of the upcoming TV series but because a good friend pressed it into my hands. And then I didn't open it for several months because I rarely read comic novels. Just the idea of someone trying to be funny on every page wears me out. But actually, it turned out this is funny. Really funny (especially if you're British and my age and therefore get all the references). The Powers Below (or is it really the Powers Above?) have decided it's time to launch Armageddon, but Aziraphale and Crowley, the angel and demon who've been in charge of earth since the Beginning, are rather attached to it and would like to hold off on the End. Their plan starts with the Antichrist - but it turns out that Sister Mary Loquacious of the Chattering Order messed up the baby-swapping plan. I never thought I'd giggle all through the Apocalypse. (It also has the distinction of being the first book I needed the above-mentioned reading glasses for because it's full of footnotes in tiny print.)

Jerome K. Jerome - Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)
A comic classic, beloved since its publication in 1889... but it just didn't appeal to me. Perhaps I was read out at the end of the month, or perhaps choosing it after Good Omens meant I didn't appreciate the 19th century humour as much. It's a short novel, recounting Jerome's expedition on the Thames with two friends and his dog, with many (many) asides, a classic British mode of telling a funny story. Usually I enjoy quirky novels with odd diversions, but when rain sent them scuttling back to London and abruptly ending the story, I was relieved. Maybe I'll give it another go in the future.

Erica Silverman - The Day the Chickens Went on Strike
This was a little beyond my toddler's comprehension level, but he pulled it out of the cupboard and insisted I read it. But it fits this month's theme of the supernatural/ foreign literature nicely with its retelling of a Yiddish Rosh Hashana tale. In some Jewish cultures, people make Kapores, that is, get rid of their sins by whirling a chicken round their head while praying. Well, the chickens in this Russian-Jewish village have had enough of that. A funny tale about the power of customs and self-responsibility.

You rang, M'Lady?

Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy - and the first month I don't even feel embarrassed at the length of my reading list.

Tuesday 10 April 2018

All is rubbish

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity, saith the preacher. Except if he were knocking around the western world today, I think it would be, "Look at all that crap you're hoarding." Because that's one of the incidental, sobering lessons I've been learning from preparing to move overseas.

We've never been big consumers - that's partly how we saved enough to afford to start over in Europe. It's a standing joke that when I'm feeling despondent, I cheer myself up by throwing stuff out (it works every time). The lady we asked to run an estate sale for us nearly turned us down because we were "minimalists" and barely had enough to sell (referring to almost the entire contents of our house). We were so into zero waste - recycling, reducing, composting - that we only put our giant wheelie bin (garbage can) out once a month because we thought we ought to, even though there was only a bag or two rattling around in the bottom.

Now we're getting ready to move, and somehow the bin is full to overflowing every week (often with stuff left over for the next week) - and that doesn't include items we're not shipping, because everything that isn't broken past mending is going in the estate sale. Where is it coming from?

Well, for a start, recycling has gone out of the window with showing the house, because we don't have a kerbside service, and we can no longer store bags of rubbish in the side room until we get time to drag it off to the blue bins across town. Ditto composting for similar aesthetic reasons. Piles of paper and cardboard that wait around for cold days, when they warm us up via the woodburning stove. Years of garden rubbish dotted here and there over 1 1/2 acres, now slowly making its way to landfill. Scraps of this and that you keep just because you don't feel like throwing them out yet (half pieces of paper only scribbled on one side, stuff for 'crafts', the pens that don't work and the pencils that break every time you try to sharpen them). Anything that is beyond mending, but we've been hanging on to in some belief that we'll wake up one day knowing how to fix it. Using up everything in the store cupboard, including all those 'emergency' prepackaged foods (as long as they're reasonably in date). And all the stuff that brownies must be delivering during the night, because I can't see how else it can be this dire.

My only consolation is that we're at least consuming less new stuff while we wait to move. And it's reassuring to know that if a zombie apocalypse had come to Starkville, MS, we would have been in good shape for a while. But most of all, I've got a steel-hard resolution not to accumulate stuff in our new home (it'll be half the size, so that'll help) so that I never have to look at my life again and see all that rubbish.