Helsinki Book Fair pt. 2

I spent way too much. I won’t tell you how much, but let’s just say that price/weight ratio was good enough to make my aching hands worth it.

I managed to avoid any sight or sound of the might-be-murderess, a success already lauded by my mother. She is apparently as fed up with the whole thing as I am.

I also spent half an hour listening to a panel about Finnish magical poetry. I was somewhat disappointed that most of the time was taken up by the other guy talking about his own spiritual experiences while the editor just sat there watching. He had the more interesting points and I would have enjoyed just spending 30 minutes of listening to him alone. (I have an awful memory for names, so unfortunately I cannot remember who they were.)

Apparently the more vocal guy was a teacher by profession and I could really hear it. Not only was he a bit too much in love with his own voice, but he was just as monotonous as some of the teachers of my youth. Don’t get me wrong, the best of teachers can inspire their students to learn even outside their field, and I guess that guy can be an inspiring teacher. Just that I’m not in class any more, and I didn’t come by to get inspirational speeches but facts.

I guess I ought to list out what I got.

Usually the Fair’s got an antiquary side and new books and then all the rest (comics, magazines, postcards…) somewhere about. I make most of my finds from the antiquary side, to the exception of this year.

I bought from one antiquary the loveliest edition of Kalevala from 1930s, with graphic art by Gallen-Kallela. I don’t like the new editions with modern Finnish, I think the poems lose something intrinsic to them if you try to take them away from the ancient words put in place by the original singers.

Also, as a present to my father who is turning 70 later this year I bought a magazine from December 1946. I was also hoping to find a newspaper for the exact date, but the only ones available were the 25th and 29th of December and none from between. I hope he doesn’t take offense from the topic of the magazine, the title of which translates to Health – I am after all known to poke him towards a doctor’s appointment (But hey, if a daughter is not allowed to be worried about her father who is obviously not totally 100% healthy, then who is?).

In relation to Kalevala I also bought a book about Ingrian dirges. They are of a similar root as us Finns from the ancient Karelian woodlands and Ingrian women kept up the song and poem tradition all the way to Soviet times. The Ingrian songs in the book are all lamentations, not necessarily for the dead only but also to those otherwise lost: daughters to their husband’s homes and people leaving for far off places. I’m thinking this’ll be a total tear-jerker for me.

I bought the Finnish grammar. One of those books I’ll probably never read from cover to cover, but if I ever want to know that one thing… (It was over 60% off from retail price too.) Also, in differentiation to all the other Finnish grammars, this one is the BIG grammar. Ought to have everything.

One book is about genre analysis in literature. From what I gather it’s some sort of comprehensive guide to anything you might want to know about that. In short, everything I might wish for. I took a fancy for the field while trying to apply for the university, and this is a nice addition to that collection.

Also a find, I got a book about medieval cooking, both ingredients and implements -wise. It’s looking out to be an interesting read and I might even try out the recipes. Mother suspected I couldn’t get any ingredients, but from a quick rifling through it seems the recipes have been chosen to be accessible to the modern cook. (No brains or pig’s feet. I don’t know about you guys and where you live, but that kind of stuff isn’t readily available anywhere around here unless you happen to butcher your own livestock. I don’t have the means nor the stomach for that and I’ll admit it.)

The last two Finnish titles were a study on misanthropy edited by mr. Nummelin and a study on medieval slave trade of Finnish and Scandinavian people towards the East. I read bits of Nietzsche in German while on Interrail and the misanthropy book falls right on those tracks. And I don’t need to remind you about how much I love history at this point, do I?

This is threatening to be a very long post, so here are the titles of the translated books. I might give a commentary when I’m finished reading these (as I might with what’s mentioned above), but in the meantime if you’re interested Google is your friend. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann; A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects by Mary Wollstonecraft and The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert.

I really enjoyed the Fair as I always do, but as usual the food was priced too high (10€ for a soda and a prepacked sandwich, yeah, NO) and there were too many people. By too many people I mean those individuals who think it’s their god-given right to stand in the middle of the hallway in everyone’s way chatting on or those who think that if they pretend they don’t see you they can just walk right into (through) you.

Now, a tumbler of good Scotch whisky and one of my new books and the divan. Ta-ta!

Helsinki Book Fair

Today it starts, ends this Sunday.

I’ll only be going today. I have some time off (for once, THANK YOU, wrist!) but taking the train there several days in a row… I love books, but not as much as to take that bloody train any more often than I have to – nothing wrong with the train but the people in it.

The center hold also a food and wine exhibit, but after seeing what it was like last year I doubt I’ll take more than a quick peek. Last year I didn’t get one sample that actually tasted like the product; the sample bites were cut so small they hardly held in the sampling forks. That was due to people stopping to actually eat out of the samples while chatting with the workers. No wonder they don’t want to hand stuff out when you take more than your due, people…

The wine part requires you to buy a tasting cup. I’m not there to get drunk but to buy books, so none of that either. All the things for sale are obviously also higher end and rather expensive, so they wouldn’t fit in my budget anyway.

But the books, oh, they fit in no matter what!

And I’m also going to do some Christmas shopping while there. Wouldn’t do of me to be all selfish and only buy things for me… Or it would, but I hate Christmas shopping so this way I’ll at least get it done.

Yes. There are women who hate shopping. You’ve just met one. It’s really just not for Christmas but for anything except books or food in general. I especially hate fitting rooms and clothes stores. I hate the sales associates (not their fault, I just hate being asked stuff) and I hate the music and the commercials. (And I hate the fact that when you would actually need help no one suddenly wants to help you any more.)

I’ve not looked through the events, but I did spot one ad for the book fair… Apparently, a woman who was first not a suspect, then a suspect and now acquitted of her husband’s murder a few years back is there to promote her book. I personally believe she offed him, but she had plenty of time to get rid of the evidence when the police where off chasing bad leads. Oh well, she was found not guilty and now she wants several millions from the state for the time she spent incarcerated. She has also written this book about her time after the death of her husband (or something like that).

I hope I won’t be there when she is there. I really do not want to hear her talk about any of that stuff over the loudspeakers. The media just shut up about it, I’ve had plenty more than enough.

Let’s take a look though, out of pure curiosity… Who’s there today?

Apparently, the themes this year are nature and “Finnish Public School 150 Years”. So there is some nature photography by Sergey Korshkov on display (and in all likelihood his photo books). Also some discussions seem to border the subject.

School, children and learning have a bigger part of Thursday, likely because on weekdays school classes tend to be there. There’s the opening ceremony for the 150th anniversary of the school system; some guy (never heard of him) has written a book about kids and internet and is there to talk about it, a local science center has a pop-up section; a workshop just for kids and some other stuff as well… Apparently, this year it would be great to be under 12 at the book fair. Alas, those days are far gone for me.

Aaand there it is. Memoirs of the Murder Widow, 12:30-13:00. Craptastic. I’ll just go and see the food expo for that half an hour.

Speaking of which, time to get going! There are a few interesting panels I want to check out before that.

I’ll think I’ll write a little follow-up later on, this was cut a bit short…

Goodreads widget

Spur of the moment addition.

I must remind you, that my Goodreads page is for the moment a work in progress.

I have so far added only about a third of the books in my possession and some of the read/reading/unread -shelves are not exactly correct at the moment.

Insofar as are the books that I have read in my possession, the list is right. The question is more of have I truly finished all of them yet. Some of my books are waiting for bigger shelves in the basement, and I have just mercilessly added them to await the time to actually comb through it and put everything in their correct virtual shelves anyway.

So, as I have warned you before, should you visit in order to see my bookshelves… You will be greeted by a construction site gone horribly wrong.

I’ll let you know when it’s safe to enter without a helmet…

Museum of Innocence

Orhan Pamuk

So, I wrote a bit about this one before. Then I thought it’d be a good book for a bath, and on that count I was right.

As a whole though, I’m not really sure what to think of it. It’s well-written and the story is interesting, but still, towards the end I was getting a bit ‘meh’.

It may be I just require a re-read.

I couldn’t make myself to particularly like Füsun, but then, I’m not entirely sure I was meant to like her. Kemal fell in love with her even when she wasn’t the kind of girl he should have focused on in the first place, and the further the story progressed it came clear that this unsuitability was pervasive of her as a character. I’m not saying Sibel was the right one either, but I know for sure Füsun wasn’t really it.

Perhaps it is indeed this description of the madness that is love that has won the book its acclaim.

The name is also very apt. I took it first in a totally wrong sense, but the further I reflect upon it, the clearer I see the innocence that was truly in question.

Yet, despite seeing the genius within the book I can’t but think it would have benefited from some more editing. I do understand that the despair of love is one of the carrying themes of the book, but at some point you just want to grab Kemal by the lapels and shake him and yell: “Just get over it you moron, eight years mooning over a girl that’s not really that into you is just dumb!”

There are points throughout the story that let you forget the incessant obsession (or even kinda sympathize with his tortured, misunderstood soul!), but then he goes and steals something and there goes the crazy train again.

I really don’t know what else to say of it.

I sort of liked it, because of the meta story and the little gems of wisdom scattered throughout the story. Some of them are so universal and true just about anyone can agree with them.

Then again I sort of didn’t like it, and there were points that were a chore to meander through. And as I said, there’s the point where pining over long lost love just becomes pathetic (and that’s just painful to follow, in writing and in real life).

Let’s just leave it at that.

 

Theft of Culture

In particular in the past couple of years, a conversation has arisen whether the major populace (read, the white man) has the right to use the images and symbols of minority cultures in art or popular culture. I’ve mostly followed the Finnish part of the discussion, due to availability, but the broad outlines are applicable everywhere.

Tradition

The first time I can remember hearing about this issue is way older, though.

Way back in the late eighties and early nineties certain Finnish comedians created a sketch for their TV program about two very drunk Lappish men (link to a Youtube clip in Finnish). It was/is a common caricature that the Sami people use a lot of alcohol and especially since the comedians were wearing the traditional Sami clothes, the implication was clear. I doubt anyone in Lapland drinks any more than anyone else anywhere else in Finland – those who drink a lot are equally marinated everywhere and those who drink smart, drink smart.

Obviously, and for a very good reason, many people took offense. I can’t recall the program being cancelled or getting any repercussions, though, and they are actually airing re-runs of it. I’m assuming the audiences are marginal and no-one has made a fuss because no one is watching anymore. I saw a few minutes of the show one evening and it wasn’t any funnier than the first time around.

The Sami dress has caused a few other incidents. I understand why they are particular: many traditional dresses have a lot of unwritten code about how they should be worn and by whom and when. I know my own dress (traditional dress from western Finland) is supposed to be worn the way I have it only by married women and very differently by unmarried.

Culture

Then came the case of the book Oneiron, a Finlandia prize winner by Laura Lindstedt.

I haven’t personally read it, but it is a conversation between women of different backgrounds. One of the women is an American Jew who has suffered from an eating disorder. There are also parts in the book in Hebrew, which have then been translated for the advantage of the non-speaker.

Particularly the case of this fictional Jewish girl incensed an actual living Jewish girl with a similar past. She wrote about it (in Finnish), asking why Lindstedt couldn’t write a book from the viewpoint of a white Finnish woman? Why does she have to steal from someone else’s culture for profit?

 

But why should Lindstedt, me, you, Salman Rushdie or the president of South Africa only be limited to writing about those exactly alike us?

Isn’t it truly the most enlightening experience to learn new things about ourselves and others in both trying to think like them while writing or reading about them? Especially writing in this aspect is more important, because in order to create something believable, one must be able to put themselves in the character’s shoes. If that does not bring about true friendship between peoples and an end to discrimination, I don’t know what will.

But of course it is easier to keep on bickering, and especially when something is said by the wrong kind of person (in this case, although not male, still a privileged white westerner), it is easier to dismiss it as colonialist patronizing. It is easier to say they’re trying to profit from non-white tradition without having to experience the oppression it used to come with.

Sure, as a white westerner I personally cannot know a thing about being a black person in America in the 60’s (1860’s and 1960’s both apply), or about being casteless in India during the caste system (or even still today in places). I cannot even realistically put myself in my great-grandmother’s shoes, because I have no idea what it’s like to live without electricity or running water. That cannot and should not stop me from trying, though.

Limits?

I process the world through writing and reading. In the opinion of these other people I am stealing their culture if and when I write about it, should anyone else see it. I’m not yet sure if it counts if I’m the only one who sees it. Even if it just to better understand them and said culture. Would they prefer I remain ignorant and insult them through ignorance?

Do writers of all ethnicities, no matter how minor or major, from now on limit themselves to only writing about the kind of experience they might have garnered? That will make for a poor literary future. Do these people themselves always stop themselves from writing about what they are not, just not to steal that culture in return?

It is true the literary world has for long been dominated by man, white man to be more precise. That cannot be changed by limiting subject matters for others, but by going and writing something worthwhile of your own.

One must remember, that to reach true equality one cannot only try to reach it just for their own group but for everyone. And truly the best option would be to forget groups altogether.

Culture is not just tradition and history and what has been, although that is one part. It is a very big and important part, no doubt, but also not the whole thing.

Culture is personal, interpersonal and surpassing the personal. No one person can say what it is or what is accepted, because that changes over time and between people.

Culture is also not a resource that runs out when used. No, it grows and multiplies and evolves every time it is used, no matter how and by whom.

Don’t make boxes where no boxes need be, people.

 


I really do hope we can have some discussion about this in a constructive manner and also that I got what I’m thinking written down here so that my actual point comes across. I’ve been mulling about this for about four months or so, and it’s getting a bit messy…

HD164595 Signal

Some of you have certainly already read the news of the strong signal received last year (and only just now reported to the general public) from 94 light years away. Finnish media put up a few articles of space and signals and how unlikely it was that intelligent life was anywhere.

The signal was picked up by an international team of researchers with a RATAN-600 telescope in the Russian Caucasus. The source appears to be at or near a star named HD164595 in the constellation of Hercules.

The star is 0,99 solar masses and approximately 6,3 billion years old. The metal structure and temperature are also rather similar to our Sun.

HD164595 is orbited by at least one planet. It is thought to be a warm Neptune type planet of 0,05 Jupiter mass with an orbital period of forty days. Obviously this planet is too close and likely too warm to support life (unless we start thinking SciFi). Other planets in the system have neither been confirmed or ruled out.

If it was the work of an advanced civilization, they would have to have advanced to at least I or II on the Kardashev Scale. As we know, human civilization is still at 0. There is nothing yet to merit such claims – and the scientists behind the find are the first to remind us so. They encourage more study of the star in question in hopes of a repeated observation.

It has also been brought to general knowledge that the frequency of the transmission is the same as is used by military transmissions and that there might be military satellites in orbit that SETI scientists do not know about that might cause such interference. (Seriously though, are military satellites really that much more important than the possibility of intelligent life in space? Make peace, not war!)

I truly do hope that more research is pointed that way. As some have said, this is one of the strongest SETI candidates in long time, and as such further study is definitely merited. If only to disprove the chance and to free the resources to other uses.

94 light years is a long time, on the other hand. It might be that if the signal was intentional the civilization that produced it exists no more. Who knows what kind of natural disasters are possible on faraway planets, not even taking into accord other dystopian possibilities.

Definitely something I’ll be keeping an eye on.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

by Joël Dicker

I can’t recall whether I put it on my list or not, but I definitely should have. I bought the book on impulse after work one day (the benefits of working in an insanely huge hypermarket or whatever it is), but never got around to actually reading it – you know, with what the list and everything. I actually got a bit of buyer’s remorse at home, wondering whether the book was really as promising as it had seemed at the store.

Oh, it was.

I read it in about 6ish hours while on board the booze cruise between Helsinki and Tallinn, Estonia. “Booze cruise?”, I hear you ask. Well, the Finnish government thinks drinking is a huge national health issue and taxes alcohol rather heavily. Finns, being either irritated by this particular policy or just being cheap, travel en masse by ship to countries such as Estonia, where alcohol is less expensive due to lighter taxes. They drag back as much beer and other beverages as they can carry, pull or fit in a car within the import limits and drink plenty while on way. Of course, as the ships also travel outside Finnish waters, tax free on board saves the trouble of visiting the harbor towns altogether for the lazy or hung over.

I didn’t drink and woke up early, so I had plenty of time to read in relative peace before the still drunk or hung over flooded the ship corridors and decks. And so I read, and I totally love the book. At first I thought I knew what happened, then I was no longer so sure and the end really was worth the trip (as sadly isn’t always quite the case). I had some right ideas and I guessed some of the plot twists, but it didn’t go quite as I had thought, and the murderer (there is one) is really NOT someone you’d first think about, and not even the tenth. Totally unexpected.

Also, mr. Dicker has the outstanding skill of letting you believe one where the truth is exactly the opposite, quite alike the best Agatha Christie mysteries. Also, I half thought that he was American as that’s where the book is situated, but he’s from Switzerland. At least for me the feeling he gave off in describing the setting (a small town in New England) was very believable. I’ve never been to U.S.A. and everything I know is from books, so I might be mistaken. An American reader of the book might think it was all wrong, do tell me if you know better on this.

My copy is a Finnish translation, and I thought I couldn’t finish 809 pages on board, no chance. There are a lot of short interlude chapters on the way, making it a bit faster read compared to a book of similar length with less chapters. One should pay attention to the interludes though, as they tell a story all their own. The story goes on in so many levels one must really use some concentration to keep in mind who said what and when and to whom.

I appreciated how the main character had very believable faults. There was one point that stuck out a bit, but if you haven’t read the book I shan’t go into any more detail. Even that little hitch had a point in the story and added a whole another level. Somehow it just was as smoothly inserted as some other plot moves. All in all, I don’t think it’s that major a fault, just something I didn’t find quite logically sound.

The supporting cast were also sound characters, acting out all the same mistakes everyday people make. And when one gets around to digging, we all have our secrets, just like these imaginary ones. Theirs are just on average weirder than with me or you… or let’s at least just agree that it’s so.

All in all, were I in the habit of dishing out stars, this would get a 4,99/5. Not a full five, but so close it’s almost the same thing. So, if you’re into thrillers or crime books or just a good read in general, do give it a try.

I think in the end we did get to the bottom of the Harry Quebert affair. We must have.