Busy, busy

So, lately we’ve been preparing our move.

That has meant I’ve turned my focus away from books for the time being, and unfortunately from writing as well. That is, if we’re talking of something a bit more serious that lists of what to keep and where to store it or bucket lists of stuff yet to do.

I’ve got a ton of those, but I bet you don’t care about them. I don’t personally, but I’ll forget if I won’t write it down.

I had also no idea I had this much stuff. I knew I had a lot (because you cannot own around 600 books and not have a lot of stuff) but I honestly thought I’d led a pretty frugal life outside my beloved bookcases. I’ve come to the conclusion that I won’t need a single new piece of clothing until I’ve worn though about half of what I currently own.

And there’s so much to throw out. I have a way of getting attached to stuff, and I really have to shake the habit now that I have to store my things instead of just moving them from under one roof to another. To be honest, I’ve thrown out a lot, but there’s still a lot to go (like my make-up: I don’t use 90% of it, why do I keep it? No reason).

Yesterday¬†Last week we took my balcony planters to the nearby summer cottage. I wanted to keep them intact, because last summer I had the prettiest scented peas and ipomoeas and I’d really want to see the hybridization the plants managed (pretty, pretty pinks and purples and baby blue). That didn’t go quite as planned though, as my husband took and dumped the biggest planter straight out.

There I am, screeching ” What the hell did you do that for!?!” and him looking at me like I’m a crazy woman. Which I pretty certainly am, but usually he doesn’t give me that look. ( ūüėÄ ) Honestly, I had explained to him in length why we were taking the planters there, but obviously he hadn’t either listened or had forgotten. Sigh.

Oh well. As long as the little birdies didn’t eat all the seeds during the winter I’m pretty sure something will sprout.


I managed to read one book over Easter at my folks. (Hooray for someone else doing the cooking and cleaning up!)

It’s called Guns and Germs and Steel¬†by Jared Diamond. A very thought-provoking book, so if you’ve managed not to read it since 1997 like I have, do go pick it up. It does a good job explaining the contributing factors that led Europeans to colonize the rest of the globe and not vice versa.

(I won’t spoil the reading experience for those who haven’t already, so I’ll just leave it at that. Even if I’m not completely satisfied with that iteration, it was my seventh attempt and will have to do.)


At this point I’ve started and left this text about four times (hence the conversion of yesterday to last week -.-), and I have to admit I’ve pretty much forgotten what else I meant to say. I know there was something.

Well, it’ll make for another post if I do remember.

 

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Library

I found my library card a couple days ago.

I hadn’t really missed it.

In fact, I think I’ve been to the library a grand total of three times since I moved here. (Disclaimer: I’ve been to other¬†libraries, that statement covers only the building closest to my current home.)

This morning I kind of woke up to the thought.

When I was growing up, all the way up to moving out, I was a staple visitor to our local library. I got my library number probably before I went to school and always wanted to borrow more books than my teacher would have allowed when we visited from school.

We had a library bus visit our school when we were on first grade, and years later the driver (who also worked the desk at the branch) told my aunt I must have read half of the books there. That’s not true, but I did read a lot. I read everywhere and I wasn’t too discriminant on what I read.

So why did I stop going when I moved out?

It’s easy to pose that question, but much harder to give a concise answer.

Library system in Finland is free to use for everyone. Some services like copying and such may cost, but to borrow books you just need to get a card. Most cards work at more than one library (the one I found for example covers the whole Helsinki metropolitan area) and have all sorts of internet services attached (renewing loans, ordering distant loans and so on).

The system is great and many people use it actively. Over time, libraries have started to offer all sorts of other things than books and magazines and research.

And that’s a bit of what bothers me with my local library here. There’s no library atmosphere. It’s nice youth likes to hang out in the library, but it kinda ruined the place for me. I may sound like an old fart, but I really do like my libraries silent. I remember what it was like to be young and noisy, and that’s all cool.

But not in the library.

The other big no-no for me was the self-service. The machine was cumbersome and when returning the books I felt I was manhandling them pushing them through the slot when I could hear them falling every which way on the other side. At my old library one checks out at the desk with the clerk and returns the books to the desk to the clerk. Only dropping happens if you return after-hours, and I never did that for the above-mentioned reason. Try returning to the desk here and the lady looks at you like you’ve grown an extra head.

The third issue is the selection. At home, I could be sure to always find something to strike my fancy or an old favorite, or even the research for some school project. Over here, I had trouble finding anything interesting – despite professing to be omnivorous with books I rarely venture to war/espionage fiction of which there were aplenty. There were even none of the books I liked back home (some older books that have the number cards still show my number 5-6 times back home, and yes I’ve checked).

I guess I would need to make a distant loan from some other library or make my way to a different branch to find something more to my tastes. And that removes the joy of finding a book just by wandering between the shelves. That would also add to the hassle, as I’d need to make the reservation, keep an eye on when the books come around and go pick them up. With my old job, that would have been nightmarish.

Back when I had just moved here and was pretty lost, I had hoped to find something familiar. I guess the experience was so far from what I knew and loved I pushed it away. The building itself is very pretty, light and airy. But somehow the staff didn’t seem that helpful to me the few times I went there and it is just rather noisy (and not all is from the teenagers – that place must have lousy acoustics).

Even if my old branch had a magazine room and art exhibitions and always a plethora of school kids it was never so noisy as this one. Not even during the children’s reading hours they used to have (and may still do for all I know).

Somehow I doubt I’ll be going again.

It’s funny though, when I moved here and before that, I thought the area would have so many awesome libraries and so much interesting things to read in them. I would never have then believed how wrong I’d find myself.

Or rather, I’m sure the interesting libraries are somewhere there, but I have no idea where to start looking. And to be honest if the self-checkout/return system is in use everywhere I really don’t even want to go.


It is also rather true that at present I don’t particularly need to go to the library. I have too many books to read at home at present. Or not too many, but… you know, a lot.

But it’s still a shame I so disliked the place. I would have so wanted to love it.

 

2016 in Retrospect

Slightly early, but since I won’t be home for New Year’s, I figured I’ll do it now.

It’s been a weird year, really.

On one hand, there’s been so much I’ve wanted to do and never the time to do it. On the other, I’ve at times felt at peace like never before.

I have grown to resent my job after just learning to love it again, and I’ve been set free from it. It makes me sad, because a part of me was so unwilling to give up and not ready to let go. But another part says that there’s never a day like today to change (clich√© as it may be).

It’s also been a year of personal growth for me, of learning to accept myself better. I’ve come to understand my imperfections better, and I hope I’ve learned to be just a bit more forgiving towards myself, as hard as it may be. (And as any possible deity will know, forgiveness I certainly need.)

I cannot say I’ve been happy, per se, depressed as I’ve been, but there have been moments of bliss and sunshine. The time I spent in Karelia this summer is a bright spot (as always), moments with my siblings’ children another (all 5 are wonderful in small doses, the older 2 for being older¬†now and the boys for being smarter than the older two were at their age – especially the youngest is such a sweetheart).

2016 was also a year of sorrow, not only for all the great artists who have left us this year, but also because of personal loss. My uncle passed away very unexpectedly this autumn, and although I hadn’t seen him for a couple of years it still saddens me deeply to see my uncles leave us one by one. Year after year, family photos become more and more filled with death instead of life. Although the memories are happy, for a time those pictures will be bittersweet.

I have come to see my place in the chain of generations, and all the death in the family in the past few years (since 2001, tbh) has been a difficult but eye-opening experience. I’ve come to see and accept that my parents are aging, and that I may not have them for very long, and that I must take my time with them if I am to have it. It cannot be just “someday when”, it has to be today, because tomorrow just might not be there. My father’s brothers have all passed away before 70 (2 under 65), and my dad just turned 70 this year. The fact of the matter is I just might not have him “someday” (and that hurts like hell, as I’m sure you all can imagine).

I feel 2016 crystallized somewhat what I want to do with my life. We (my husband and I) made a lot of plans throughout the year, and I think we both now have a better picture of the road we must walk. In a way similar to mine I also feel my husband grew a lot as a person this year.

All in all, it must have been the most difficult year of my life, even more difficult than my teens, more difficult than that awful year when my grandmother died. I have at times wished for death, and thought it might just be easier to sleep and never wake up than to go on.

As we say in Finland, though, there’s only one way to go from the bottom, and that’s up.

As I was about to hit Publish I realized none of this actually had anything to do with books or writing, so…

P.S. This year I also read less than I would have wanted to but more than I think I did. I liked most books I read, but also managed to turn some reading into a chore. I hate chores, so that was totally a mistake. I’ll take that back next year. That’s my resolution, and you are free to remind me of it if it seems I forget. (But I’ll finish the reading journal on Malleus Maleficarum, because there’s no other way I’ll get through the biblical references…)

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‚ā¨ 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…

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 F√ľsun, 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 F√ľsun 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…