What have I been reading?

Since I’ve been occupied outside the house these past weeks I’ve had very little time to sit down and actually write. I thought that once the frost set in I’d have more time at home, but instead I’ve been dragged around with my mother.

Sitting in a car or a bus, I’ve been reading quite a bit. I started my third read through of Gardens of the Moon. I have the feeling I have a few more left before I catch every hint.

I’ve also returned to Sci-Fi after a very long break. I loaned Heinlein’s The Cat who Walks through Walls from the library and I’m just about halfway through. I’ve been enjoying the story and the language quite a bit – although I’d really love to see some of the names and terms in English. I should return it tomorrow, so I’m in a bit of a rush to finish it. I had too much to do to get started on it right away, and now I’m forced to speed through it to avoid late fees. Meh. I’ve been liking it so far, so I guess I’ll loan it out again later.

The library is a bit poor on the Sci-Fi department, many titles I remember seeing in the old days are gone. I guess they got too worn and niche literature is notoriously difficult to replace in Finland. Reprints are rare and focus on the best-selling titles and classics. The market is just too small to justify reprints, even if that means libraries will end up with no copies available and new readers never get to enjoy them. Oh well, what can I do? It’s not like I could afford buying all those titles anyway.

I also bought couple new Agatha Christie pocket books when in Helsinki couple weeks ago. I read the other one at the in-laws’, that being a Tommy & Tuppence book¬†Postern of Fate. I’d never heard of Tommy and Tuppence until about two years ago when Finnish reprints started popping up. (See what I said about classics? There’re at least three existing versions of some Agatha Christie books in multiple printings, but some Fantasy or Sci-Fi series never get completed.) I took a liking to them. Even though they’re quite a bit more ‘hard-boiled’ than, say, Miss Marple, the novels have a light-hearted spirit to them. Yet again there is a distinct voice setting the cycle apart from Poirots or Marples.

Now that I’ve pretty much covered the subject matter of this post I might just as well tell you a bit about what I’ve been up to since last. You can basically stop here if you don’t care about that ūüėČ

There was the Helsinki weekend, a birthday party for two of my husband’s friends. Here we have an interlude of furious gardening after the first snowfall to gain control of the water flow in our yard (our basement floods. A lot.). Then I had to accompany some lady relatives to various shopping trips, and my gosh they can be taxing… I mean, they’re lovely in small doses, but being confined to small spaces with them for hours is sometimes tortuous.

This week the landscaping guys decided to appear, about a month after they said they would. There are so many rocks in my yard you wouldn’t believe! Everywhere. Even in the patch that supposedly was once a field. I have no idea how anything had room to grow there. The guy piled up three huge pile of boulders in different corners of the yard.

I wanted a spot for a rock garden… well, I got a bit more than I hoped for. The spot I picked out for it had three big rocks before. Now there’s a ~5m x ~5m dome of rock about 1,5m high. It’ll take me a decade to get enough plants to make it look anything but a pile of rocks it is. Can’t complain, I got what I asked for. Maybe I’ll post you a picture if there isn’t too much snow tomorrow morning.

Until next time!

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Kaari Utrio

I’ve been re-re-rereading her bibliography over the past month or so. I’ve read most of her books several times before, they’re my go-to easy reading along with Agatha Christie. Since I haven’t had time to do much else productive towards this blog, I’ll try and gather my thoughts for this author -piece.

Kaari Utrio is a Finnish author of both fiction and non-fiction, born 1942. She is a historian by trade and has written several pieces on women and children throughout history. Apparently her works have been translated to seven languages, but I could only find one Hungarian translation on Goodreads of her main non-fiction work. The freely-translated title to that one is “Daughters of Eve: History of European Women, Children and Families”.

Most of her work is strongly colored by the feminist tradition of the 70s university world. She is not the most strongly worded or opinionated feminist, but at times the reader can see a strong distaste towards the treatment of women throughout history (quite deserved, but some like their facts without feelings). In total she has written or has been part of writing 22 non-fiction works.

Her fiction bibliography is long, 36 works since the start of her career in 1968. Most of her work is historical fiction, usually with a female lead character. The main characters are generally from Finland or the Nordic countries. Her main works, the trilogy of books called Vaskilintu, Tuulihaukka and Yksisarvinen (Bronze Bird, Kestrel and Unicorn, literally translated) all start in Northern Europe and take the reader to a tour of Mediaeval Europe. Each of the books follows the life of a woman (and generally at least two other important characters) and their personal growth. Each of the women is linked to each other either by blood or marriage, and the series spans from roughly 1020 to 1100.

The main plot is always a love story. This is one of the only failings of mrs. Utrio as a writer, as the plots are generally very similar in style. The only point when I got tired of her works was when I read them all in one summer as a teen and realized the aforementioned fact.

This time around, however, I was’t bothered by the repetitive elements. I found a new appreciation of finding new ways to portray the basically simple plot. It is a type of talent to be able to reinvent the wheel time and time again, so to say.

I find very little negative to say apart from the repetitive plots. The characters all have distinct personalities and while the reader can usually safely guess which characters will end up together the supporting crew may hold surprises. The end result is also usually reached through amusing or unexpected incidents (even if one knows something more will happen, it might not be what is thought beforehand).

Even though the works span as diverse eras as the first millennium or 19th century, I’ve also always appreciated the adherence to historic facts in her work. The times when she modifies true events to suit her story are few and far between, even though the books are rife with historic characters as supporting cast (several Byzantine emperors and empresses, European kings and queens, and popes). Reading her descriptions of cities like Rome or Constantinople are like small tours of the cities themselves. Personally I’m also partial to the accurate description of dress and items. There are usually also references to things that were happening around those times elsewhere, woven in as news or gossip heard by the characters.

I’m actually more than a bit surprised her work has gone untranslated. While the English-speaking world has many great authors of historical fiction, I’m hard-pressed to come up with many examples of mediaeval Nordics being represented (Jan Guillou comes first to mind with Arn). I was going to shamelessly plug Kaari Utrio to you, but I don’t expect you to learn Finnish to do that…

Oh, well. Until next time.

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.

 

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…