Monday, 30 May 2016

Mad Women by Jane Maas

This is a book I found on the book festival a while ago. I love the TV series Mad Men, so it felt natural to read this book about the women who worked there. Jane Maas describes a world very different from a lot of other work places. She, herself, seems to have been very successful, but having to dedicate most of her life to work. It was not a problem for her, since she was lucky enough to be able to work in a world she loved. Having an understanding husband and children seems to have been a must. However, she managed to combine the working world with her private sphere, although the latter got the lesser attention.

From what I understand from her book it was a really challenging, creative and interesting world, in which like minded people met. It seems that the TV series cover the mad world of advertising quite well, and there are only a few areas where Jane Maas does not recognise herself.  It is an interesting compliment to the TV series and it reminds me that I have to see the last season!

It is also a good description of the era from the 60s onwards and is written with humour. If you love the TV series, it is a good compliment to read this tale from a woman's point of view.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Catching up!

The Content ReaderAs life has been very busy lately, I did not have time to write as many reviews as I would have liked. I have read a few books though and here are a short sum-up.

Alkemistens dotter (The Alchemist's Daughter) by Carl-Michael Edenborg is about Rebis Aurora Drakenstierna, born in the end of the 18th century as the last in a family of alchemists. Her mother dies young and she is brought up by her rather fanatic, alchemist father. He is teaching her everything there is about alchemy. She is born with a calling: she is the one who will destroy the universe!

When her father dies she is not fully taught, and she realises rather quickly, she does not know the formula for destroying the universe. She sets out to visit the few surviving members of her family in Marstrand (Sweden), Paris and Berlin to try to find out if they know something about the matter. It turns out they don't, but meeting her relatives bring another dimension to her studies, and with her adventures, especially in Berlin, her life takes another turn and she starts to doubt her calling.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

When life takes over!

I don't know what has happened to my rather well organised life lately. All of a sudden life events
have taken over and I don't seem to be able to catch up with what I normally do. We set out to have a long, relaxing weekend from 5 - 8 May in the Netherlands. I had managed to get tickets for the very last day of the Hieronymus Bosch exhibition in 's Hertogenbosch, with entry between 6-7 a.m. on Sunday 8 May! Due to the pressure on the tickets they opened the museum for night visits during the last two weeks, and it was opened from Saturday morning to Sunday evening at 1 in the night during the last weekend!

The Content Reader
Canal life in Alkmaar. Here you take the boat for a day in the town!
We thought it a good idea to go already on Thursday and visit a couple of other places in the Netherlands. We started with Alkmaar and Hoorn, north of Amsterdam and the province of Holland. Arriving mid-day we tried to get a hotel room. We very quickly discovered that there was not a
one available room in the whole area, maybe not even in the whole of the country! May 5 turns out to be "Liberation day" in the Netherlands, and being in connection with the Ascension day,  it seems that all Dutch people were somewhere else but home!

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

A book I picked up at the book festival recently. A historical fiction, inspired by the story of the
Scarlet Pimpernel. Here we meet Eloise, an American student of history and obsessed with not only the ’Scarlet Pimpernel’, but two other spies; the ’Pink Gentian’ and the ’Pink Carnation’. What is making her excited, and is the theme for her dissertation paper, is that nobody knows who the ’Pink Carnation’ really was.

The book starts from the research and some old letters relatives of the Pink Gentian provide. The aunt at least, her nephew Colin is not that keen on providing them. The interaction between Eloise and Colin runs parallell to the story of Richard, the ’Pink Gentian’ and Amy. Amy is half French, but has been living in England since she was five. Her father was executed during the French revolution and her mother died shortly afterwards. Her brother remained in France, and has now called upon her to come and reside with him. She is happy to go back to France, but her main reason to go there, is to offer her services to her hero; the Pink Gentian. She just has to find out who he is first.

This is a nice, easy read and well-written romantic adventure story. There are a few obstacles along the line and a few surprises here an there that keep you attached until the end. Adding this book to my list of TBR books, I realised I already had another book by Lauren Willig, The Masque of the Black Tulip, the next in the series! Am I just not lucky? I must have known that the first in the series would turn up somehow. It is just to dip into it. Have to see how things turn out between Eloise and Colin!

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

The Content ReaderThis was for me a very difficult read to start with. I just read very small parts, which probably made it even worse. There was much confusion, and I felt nothing was real. I am interested in philosophy, although I must admit it is difficult for me to grasp. I want to have answers to my questions, and philosophy does not have answers. It has thoughts that take you along the road and continue until you are totally lost and feel somewhat mad! At least that is how it seems to me.

It took me more or less 60-70 pages before I got into the story. On page 32 I read:
What I felt more sure of was that the day, which I thought was Tuesday, was in fact Wednesday the 23rd March, and the Guillot did in fact come for me to draw up the Bonnefoy will. It was the 23rd and I thought it was the 22nd. So what happened on the 22nd? And who or what was Taxil?
I must admit, that looking back at the beginning when I am writing this review, it is much clearer now than it was at the time! I am very glad I finished this fantastic story. Yes, I did change my mind as the story developed and I was up until one o'clock in the morning to finish it!
It was 1855. I was already twenty-five. I had graduated in law and still did not know what to do with my life. I spent my time in the company of my old friends without feeling much enthusiasm for their revolutionary zeal, always expecting, sceptically, that they would be disappointed within a few months. Here once again was Rome re-captured by the Pope, and Pius IX, from being a reformer, had become even more reactionary than his predecessors. 
Captain Simonini is living in Piedmonte in the mid 19th century. By chance he becomes a counterfeiter, working for a corrupt lawyer. During the fights for Italian unification, he is contacted by a certain authority and hired as a spy. That is the introduction to his new career. Once he can't do more in Italy, he is sent to France, where his skills takes him to the international arena of spies and conspiracies that was part of 19th century Europe.  He is not hired only by the French secret service but also by the German and Russian services.

Monday, 2 May 2016

The Classic Spin # 12 - Judgement day!

Hello there!  I hardly dare to tell you that I failed again! I was so positive that I would make it for this spin. James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, not a very thick book, so I started a while ago...and that is it. I just could not continue reading this book. I think that Joyce might not be the writer for me...but I would like to read him. Hmm! Maybe one day...or not!



This book contains Dubliners and  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man! No excuse really. Brona managed to read and post about Dubliners! But, if I may say, it starts better than A portrait... Here is the first paragraph of the book:

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo...
His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.
He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt. 
 ...and so it goes on!

Sorry! If somebody has read it, I would be happy to hear what you think?

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Who can not be interested in Belgian History - War, language and consensus in Belgium since 1830

This is an interesting book, and a good introduction to Belgian history. The volume is an outcome of a symposium Belgian Revealed, which was held at Trinity College in Dublin in 2005. In the foreword:
”Before a substantial audience, four prominent authors from Belgium and the Netherlands each highlighted a specific (mostly critical) vision of the origins of Belgium’s independence and of what that complex notion of ’belgitude’ is ultimately all about.”
Belgium gets a bad press. A small country - the size of Wales, with a population of just ten million - it rarely attracts foreign notice; when it does, the sentiment it arouses is usually scorn, sometimes distaste. Charles Baudelaire, who lived there briefly in the 1860s, devoted considerable splenetic attention to the country. His ruminations on Belgium and its people occupy 152 pages of the Oeuvres Complètes; Belgium, he concluded, is what France might have become had it been left in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Karl Marx, writing in a different key, dismissed Belgium as a paradise for capitalist. Many other exiles and émigrés have passed through the country; few have had much good to say of it. 
Whether Belgium needs to exist is a vexed question, but its existence is more than a historical accident. The country was born in 1830 with the support of the Great Powers of the time - France, Prussia and Britain, among others - none of whom wished to see it fall under the others’ sway.  
The Territory it occupies had been (and would remain) the cockpit of European history. Caaesar’s Gallia Belgica lay athwart the line that would separate Gallo-Roman territories from the Franks. When Charlemagne’s empire fell apart in the ninth century, the strategically located ’Middle Kingdom’ - between the lands that would later become France and Germany - emerged as a coveted territorial objective for the next millenium. The Valois kings, Bourbons, Habsburgs (Spanish and Austrian), Napoleon, Dutch, Prussian Germans, and, most recently, Hitler have all invaded Belgium and claimed parts of it for themselves, occupying and ruling it in some cases for centuries at a time. There are probably more battlefields, battle sites, and reminders of ancient and modern wars in Belgium than in any comparably sized territory in the world”
(Tony Judt)

Considering this rather 'messy' historical background, one might have some understanding, that even today, Belgium is a troubled country. Troubles started rather soon after the revolution and has continued every since. Mainly, it is the structure of the country and the stride between the Flemish and the Walloons. To further complicate matters today, Brussels is a region of its own. Well, it is rather complicated, but the essays in this book explain it well.


Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Sage of Waterloo by Leona Francombe

The Content ReaderThis is a lovely and wonderful book, written by one of my Brontë friends, Leona Francombe. Leona is a very talented lady; not only does she write books but she is also a classical pianist.

Inspired by the battle of Waterloo which took place on 18 June 1815, on the huge plains outside Brussels, it has survived as one of the most famous battles. Leona has found a different angle  to describe the battle and the various people involved in it. She tells it from the point of view of William, a white rabbit, today living at Hougoumont, the farmhouse which held an important stand during the battle.
”Odors that I knew well - dandelions, for example - flooded the senses. Even with my dim vision I could see why: just beyond the fencing lay an entire, hallucinatory lawn of them.
Ah, yes… How well I remember my dandelion lesson.
”Life cannot be lived secondhand, William! (Old Lavender again.) ”No one can truly describe a dandelion. You must experience one yourself - even if it means taking a risk. And you can’t say you’ve lived until you’ve taken at least one risk. Can you?”
When I first heard that it was told from a rabbit’s point of view, I was a little bit doubtful. Then I remembered the wonderful Watership Down by Richard Adams, so I opened the book with great anticipation. It does not disappoint you. This novel has hit ”one of my favourite books” list without doubt.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Amazing photos!

If you haven't discovered the amazing photographer and photo shopper Erik Johansson, here is the opportunity. Amazing photos! Check out his web-site.

Landfall by Erik Johansson

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Blekingegatan 32 by Lena Einhorn

I read another historical fiction by Lena Einhorn, some years ago. It was Siri, about Siri von Essen, the first wife of August Strindberg. It was excellent, so when I saw this book, which is about the early years of Greta Garbo, I grabbed it. It does not disappoint. Excellently and engagingly written.

Lena Einhorn is a physician, with a PhD in Virology and Tumor Biology, and has also done research ranging from tumor viruses, to the question of "what it is in embryonic life that strongly inhibits the development of cancer in fetuses and newborns". In the 1990s she changed her carrier into making television programs and writing books. She has also made a documentary of Greta Garbo and now using her research into her life, to write this book.

Garbo's story is rather well-known, especially her career. Here we get to know so much more about her, and I think Einhorn has managed to transfer the character of Garbo into this book. It is written with great respect for the person behind the name. We follow and live with her through the pages. Very early on it is clear that Garbo really is the reclusive person she was thought to be.

Her first relationship was with a man in Stockholm, Max, when she was still very young. After a while she ends it, he is very sad, and says to himself; "Greta, is there anyone who can have you?" I think this line is significant for her whole life. She decided who to be with, but she never gave all of herself in her relationships. Possibly only to Mimi.

When starting theatre school at the Dramatic theatre in Stockholm, she meets another young, aspiring actress, Mimi Pollak, and they become friends for life. Ms Pollak also made a successful acting career in Sweden. They spent as much time the could together, and their friendship slowly turned into a relationship. It was only in 2005, when the author saw the letters from Greta Garbo to Mimi Pollak, that she realised that their friendship was so much more and how much they really meant to each other. The son of Mimi Pollak published the letters after her death, and it is said that she kept them in her handbag all her life! There are extracts from the letters in the book.

As we know Garbo left for a successful career in Hollywood, although short. She had many relationships, but none lasting, at least what we know of. This was not for her. It is somewhat typical of her character to finish when she was on top. It seems she wanted to act, to be someone she wasn't, but only on her own conditions. A fascinating character indeed, and this fantastic historical fiction lets us have a peek on her life.

From Lena Einhorn's web-site I found this link to the book with a resumé in English