Tuesday, 25 August 2015

I am thinking of Linné - He who saw everything by Karin Berglund (my translation of Swedish title)

The Content ReaderThis book has decorated my living room for some years. And it really is a decorative book, with a format a little bit bigger than A5. It contains wonderful drawings and photos and it is a pleasure just to look through the book.

However, books are there to be read, so I made it my ‘breakfast’ book. For breakfast I like to read bigger sized books that stay open by themselves. After all my hands are busy with my breakfast. This is a perfect book.
It was published in 2007 for the 300th anniversary of Linné’s birth. Carl von Linné, or Carolus N. Linnaeus, as he is mostly known internationally, was born in Råshult, a small village in the province of Småland in the south of Sweden. He was supposed to be a priest, but one of his teachers managed to persuade the parents that he would be a brilliant doctor. Luckily his parents agreed and his career and life’s deed was in the making.

The Content Reader
On 12 May, 1732, he is on his way to the north of Sweden; Lappland and Finland. It is the first of several trips around Sweden. It was foremost a scientific trip and his orders were to make an inventory of the flora and fauna in this part of the Sweden, which rarely received visitors from outside the province. He filled his note books with drawings of people’s lives, their eating habits, hunting habits,  their traditions and customs. The trip was his life's biggest adventure and it took 9 months of hardship to travel around an area with little comforts for travellers.  His reports are not boring, strict scientific conclusions, they are poetic, full of humour, sharp comments on the life around him, and mixed with drawings of the nature he met. That is why, the author tells us, that it is such a pleasure to read Linné’s reports and books. All the answers for Linné could be found in nature. "It is in nature that God reveals himself, yes, God is nature".

Sweden at the time was a small, provincial country. Once Linné’s education was finished, he made a European educational tour. He was a charismatic man, made friends everywhere, met the most intelligent minds at the time, and was admired wherever he came. He was invited into the houses of noble and learned men, researched and wrote books about their collections, at the same time as he was studying all the new species and information that all of a sudden was available to him. Of course, he did make some enemies on the way. He was not a man that kept his thoughts to himself and he was sure that the system he created to keep nature in order, was the best one. During these years he wrote several of his most important works, Systema naturae, Biblioteca botanica, Fundamenta botanica, Musa Cliffortiana, Genera plantarum, Critica botanica and Hortus Cliffortianus. The trip lasted for three years, and he visited Amsterdam, Leiden, London and Paris.

The Content Reader
Linnea, the flower named after Linnaeus
Many friends got a plant named after themselves
Already before his trip he had met his wife to be, Sara Elisabeth Moraea, and once back they married. They got several children of which four daughters and a son survived, although the son died young. He is continuing his work as a doctor and is part of a group that started the Royal Swedish Academy of Science. Honours are falling on him and he is the special advisor to the royal family, helping them to categorise their collections.   More trips are made and books published, alongside his work at the university. He was what we today would call a workaholic, which also made him ill from time to time. It was though, as he had so much to discover and organise, that he had no time to relax. He lived in the Botanical garden in Uppsala and built his summer house, Hammarby, just outside the city. This was his own creation from the beginning to the end, and he loved to spend the summers there. Always close to nature.

For Linné nothing in nature was too small to pay attention to. He was far ahead of his time in many areas like agriculture, climate thinking, what women should eat while breast feeding, how young people should spend their time, what they should eat and much more. He had after all studied it in detail during his travels. His conclusions and suggestions (although no-one paid attention) are very close to how we think today.

Teachers like Linné would be able to save the world. This is what Paul Alan Cox, professor at the Botanical garden in Hawaii, in the preface to the English edition av Philosophia botanica which came 2003. The threat against the environment and the accelerated extinction of species, can only be stopped if there will be many more teachers like Linné. With passion, entusiasm and love he gave the students a love of life itself, says Cox.  
The Content Reader

I found part of the preface on internet, and I really liked a passage where Cox very well describes Linné's lectures.
Those of us who are botanists and who read Linnaeus’ scholarly works often forget that Carl Linnaeus was first and foremost a teacher. Indeed, much of the fame that he acquired was due, in no small part, to the dozens of students that flocked from throughout the globe to learn at his feet. His teaching about plants was so persuasive, and the devotion to the science his pedagogy engendered so complete, that the students he dispatched to distant climes to collect plants became known in Sweden not as scholars, but as ‘apostles’, with the Messianic antecedent of that term unstated but well understood. For those of us fortunate enough to have fallen under the benevolent influence of a charismatic teacher of biology, we can only imagine what a lecture given by Linnaeus must have been like. Imagine an elegant Uppsala lecture hall in the presence of a professor who is the  undisputed world authority, and even the inventor of entire disciplines (for example, systematic botany, ethnobotany), and yet who was so engaging, direct, and entertaining in his classroom lectures that even the townspeople would queue up to hear him. Unfortunately, the direct magic of that most ephemeral of arts - teaching - evaporates soon after the lecture hall empties, and can often be inferred only from its impact on the listeners. Of one thing we can be certain: boring was not an adjective that described Linnaeus’ presentations in the classroom or in the field. We understand Linnaeus as a scholar, but what accounts for his power as a teacher? As we sift through the history and writings and lecture notes, it appears that teaching ability was not something that Linnaeus acquired during his studies, but something he brought with him to Uppsala.
I think we can all relate and wish we had had teachers like Linné!

The Content Reader

Carolus N. Linnaeus was a man, greater than life itself. He was not a religious man, but believed that Nature was God’s greatest creation. Modern times bring new tools to help us discover how species are developed and categorised. When it became possible to make analyses with DNA, it was said that Linné was dead. However, "Linné laid the base for the building of plants and species. If you take away the base the whole building will crumble".

This is a fantastic book, the research alone must have taken years. Karin Berglund is a journalist and photographer and a specialist on gardens and nature. Based on her research and the interest in nature, she has made a loving portrait of Linnaeus; his deeds as a doctor, a teacher, a researcher, a family man. It is a very impressive book, and her portrait of Linnaeus has stayed with me, weeks after finishing the book. A wonderful tribute to Linnaeus and his deeds.

The Content Reader

It only feels right to let Linnaeus himself have the last word!
Of what use are the great number of petrifactions, of different species, shape and form which are dug up by naturalists? Perhaps the collection of such specimens is sheer vanity and inquisitiveness. I do not presume to say; but we find in our mountains the rarest animals, shells, mussels, and corals embalmed in stone, as it were, living specimens of which are now being sought in vain throughout Europe. These stones alone whisper in the midst of general silence. — Carolus LinnaeusPhilosophia Botanica (1751)

Monday, 24 August 2015

Classic spin no 10 - the number is...5!

The number for the Classic spin is 5. I am quite happy, since I think I will be able to read 'Lights in August' by William Faulkner, without much ado.

The Content Reader

Sunday, 23 August 2015

100 best novels written in English

There are always lists 'hanging around' on the topic of the best books ever written. In The Guardian Robert McCrum has put out the list of the 100 best novels written in English. Of course, as soon as you put out a list of any kind, there are always people who have opinions on such lists. This is the case also here.  To read more on these views please check here for the 'to few female writers.' Why is only one in five female writers? Why are most of the writers American? Why so few Irish? You can read all about it in the Guardian articles.'

Here is the list of Robert McCrum. I am sure that each of you will come up with a different list. Nevertheless, here is the list, and I have put the books that I have read in blue.  Which means 21 out of 100. Maybe not that much, but on the other hand, maybe my list of the 100 best novels would look different.

1. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678)
2. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)
3. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)
4. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (1748)
5. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749)
6. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1759)
7. Emma by Jane Austen (1816)
8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
9. Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock (1818)
10. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (1838)
11. Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli (1845)
12. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
13. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)
14. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray (1848)
15. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)
16. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
17. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
18. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
19. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868)
20. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868-9)
21. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871-2)
22. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)
23. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884/5)
24. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
25. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (1889
26. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (1890)
27. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891)
28. New Grub Street by George Gissing (1891)
29. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895)
30. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895)
31. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
32. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)
33. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (1900)
34. Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901)
35. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)
36. The Golden Bowl by Henry James (1904)
37. Hadrian the Seventh by Frederick Rolfe (1904)
38. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)
39. The History of Mr Polly by HG Wells (1910)
40. Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm (1911)
41. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915)
42. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)
43. The Rainbow by DH Lawrence (1915)
44. Of Human Bondage by W Somerset Maugham (1915)
45. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920)
46. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)
47. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis (1922)
48. A Passage to India by EM Forster (1924)
49. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos (1925)
50. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)
51. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
52. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926)
53. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)
54. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1929)
55. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930)
56. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932
57. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932)
58. Nineteen Nineteen by John Dos Passos (1932)
59. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934)
60. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938)
61. Murphy by Samuel Beckett (1938)
62. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)
63. Party Going by Henry Green (1939)
64. At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien (1939)
65. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
66. Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse (1946)
67. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (1946)
68. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (1947)
69. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen (1948)
70. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)
71. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (1951)
72. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951)
73. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (1953)
74. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
75. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
76. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
77. Voss by Patrick White (1957)
78. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
79. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1960)
80. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
81. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (1962)
82. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
83. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (1964)
84. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)
85. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1966)
86. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth (1969)
87. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (1971)
88. Rabbit Redux by John Updike (1971)
89. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977)
90. A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul (1979)
91. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
92. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1981)
93. Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis (1984)
94. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (1986)
95. The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald (1988)
96. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (1988)
97. Amongst Women by John McGahern (1990)
98. Underworld by Don DeLillo (1997)
99. Disgrace by JM Coetzee (1999)
100. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2000)

What are your favourite best 100 novels or even less? 

Saturday, 22 August 2015

History revealed

Recently, while in Innsbruck, Austria, we went to pay a visit to the Hofkirche. Our aim was to see if we could find any traces or remembrances of the time when Queen Kristina of Sweden converted to Catholicism here.  She had abdicated her throne in 1654, travelled through Europe to Antwerp, Belgium where she began her conversion. In the autumn of 1655 she left Belgium to travel to Rome. On her way she stopped over in Innsbruck and on November 3, she officially converted to Catholicism in the Hofkirche.

The Content Reader
Inner yard of the Hofkirche
The Hofkirche is now a museum and Kristina's conversion is not the most important thing here. No, it is something much more spectacular. We started with an audio show which gave us a short background to the life and deeds of Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519). From 1508 until his death he was 'The Holy Roman Emperor'. He expanded the Habsburg influence, through war and marriage to include among other areas the Duchy of Burgundy and through the marriage of his son, Spain. He died in 1519, in Wels in Upper Austria, and is buried in the Castle Chapel at Wiener Neustad.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Classic Spin No. 10

The Classic Spin is hosted by the Classics club. I must admit, I have only managed to read one 'spinned' book so far; Nausea by Jean-Paul Satre (review here) in spin No 7. However, outside this challenge I have read Emma by Jane Austen (review here) from the initial list. I am happy about that.

I have updated the list for next spin on Monday 24, and here it is:

1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
2.The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
3.David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
4.The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
5. Light in August by William Faulkner
6. My Childhood by Maxim Gorky
7. Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
8. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
9. Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence
10. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
11. Ben Hur by Lew Wallace
12. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
13. Richard III by William Shakespeare
14. Travels With My Aunt by Graham Green
15. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
16. The Overcoat and Other Stories by Nikolaj Gogol
17. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
18. Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams
19. The Taming of a Screw by William Shakespeare
20. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen 

I do dread a couple of books like David Copperfield (sooo thick!), Gulliver's Travel (my copy seems to have very small letters in it!), Ben Hur (I have seen the film and loved it, but I am afraid the book might seem a little bit too old!?). For the others it should be ok.

Let's see which number the wheel will choose!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Raffles: The Gentleman Thief by Richard Foreman

The Content ReaderThis is a short novel that was given to my by Endeavour Press for reviewing. There are two things already in the title that catch my attention; ‘Raffles’ and ‘Gentleman thief’. Raffles reminds me of the Raffles hotel in Singapore, which leads to a Singapore Sling of course. I was there once and tried it out, lovely! Gentleman thief, don’t we all love them? Arsene Lupin for example. That is why I choose this one to review.  This is definitely another gentleman thief to love.

Richard Foreman has written a series of six short novellas about Raffles. Raffles is initially a creation by E.W. Hornung, who wrote twenty-six short stories and a novella about the adventurer and gentleman thief Arthur J. Raffles and his accomplice Harry “Bunny” Manders between 1898 and 1909. Hornung was the brother-in-law to Arthur Conan Doyle, and he made his characters similar to Holmes and Dr Watson, Raffles being the Holmes and Bunny the Dr Watson. Arthur Conan Doyle was not over enthusiastic about the scenario, mainly because he did not believe in making a thief a hero.  Raffles was, at the time, the second most popular fictional character after Sherlock Holmes.

Of this I did not know anything when I started the book. I was therefore surprised to find it is a very short novel, only about 46 pages, and I was a little bit doubting if this could lead to anything. This is the first of the six stories Foreman wrote in 2011/2012 and it does lead to something. It is a charming and humorous story about the two gentleman thieves. The story is told from Bunny’s point of view. He is admiring Raffles enormously, and has been taught by him to be the assistant in crime. It is all very elegantly written, we encounter several famous people of the time and it is woven into a very neat story.

In this story Bunny is ‘ordered’ to call on Mr Holmes at a specific day. Since Raffles is out of town he has to go there himself. Full of respect for the famous detective he is paralysed when he realises that Holmes knows everything about Raffles’ and his own activities. However, there is a way out. They have to steal a letter from the Hatchett book shop office. It is a letter with a devastating content for a popular politician. If the content is revealed it will be the end of his career.

Raffles, being the gentleman and man of the world that he is, takes it all with a pinch of salt. So one evening the two men set out to save themselves from being caught by Holmes. The narration and dialogue is light, satirical and humorous. Mixed with customs and traditions of the day, including many real life characters, it makes for a very pleasant read. This is as story you can start in the morning going to work and finish on the way home. And you finish it with a smile on your face. And the end might not be what it seems. Who is the most cleverly person in the end?

It teases you to read the other five stories and, of course, go back to the original ones.

Updating list of TBR books and discovering my books again

I am quite proud that I have read quite a few books from my TBR shelves so far this year. Checking out other bloggers TBR shelves I found a nice way of displaying them on Boklysten a Swedish blogger. So I set about to do the same. My TBR folder now contains all the books (not including e-books) in a list alphabetically by author. Once read I strikethrough the book. It makes a good overview I think. Beginning of January I will delete all read books and left is the remaining to be read.

The Content Reader

I find it interesting to do these kind of exercises from time to time. It sort of remind you of what you have on your shelves. Furthermore, some of the books you want to read right away, but they tend to be too many so you have to settle for one at a time. Although I tend to read several books at the same time!

I just added the latest collection of unread books, which were some I received from a friend who where moving and needed to get rid of old books. There are some classics and some newer books that are waiting to be read. It seems I have 249 books still to read! Of which I have read 23 so far this year. A long way to go! You can check it out here or go to 'TBR shelves' folder above.

How are you doing with your TBR shelves? Are they getting any thinner or are you, like me, adding books all the time.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald - An American Woman's Life by Linda Wagner-Martin

Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, the couple, is a phenomena, belonging to the roaring twenties and the jazz age. For most people, I think, they symbolise the young, beautiful, successful couple, moving in the jet-set world of the time, from one party to the next, with a glass of champagne in the hand… or, something stronger. The couple has always fascinated me, so when I was offered a review copy from Endeavour Press, I accepted. Especially, since I did not know very much about Zelda. Scott was the successful writer and she the beautiful wife supporting him. As well all know; all is not well in the fairy tale world.

The Content Reader

Linda Wagner-Martin is a professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and among her fifty edited and written books are also biographies of Sylvia Plath, Gertrude Stein, and Barbara Kingsolver. The biography of Zelda is very well written, well researched and with a lot of references to letters and other personal papers. The Fitzgerald papers, are held at Princeton University Library (Scott Fitzgerald studied there), and contains "original manuscripts, working drafts, corrected galleys, personal and professions correspondence, autobiographical scrapbooks, photographs, and other original material of F. Scott Fitzgerald." Linda Wagner-Martin has obviously gone through this treasure, and the material is well integrated in the story or in the foot notes through out the book. Writing a book about one partner of a 'non separate' couple or entity as they were, and has become, can easily make the author sympathise with this partner, in this case Zelda. However, Wagner-Martin manages to keep the neutral line all through the book. In tight, complicated and very sensitive situations she manages perfectly to follow Zelda, and still include a perspective from Scott's point of view. She lets the reader vouch for him/herself and to form a personal opinion on what their lives were like.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Most popular blog posts?

The Content Reader
Most popular blogging event
I started blogging in November 2012, just before I went into an early retirement. Obviously, the first feeble attempts of blogging were just feeble. With the years and inspired by the blogging community, your posts develop and varies (hopefully!). Here, let's say, three years later my my posts are more frequent and covers more than books, although books and reading are the two main ideas with this blog.

A couple of days ago, I received an e-mail from Pinterest with a summary of what the audience I have, most like to check out and pin. The areas were: Travel, Healthy Snacks and DIY Crafts! Travel I have and I do have boards for Decorating ideas and Cleaning, but Healthy Snacks? Did they really check out my boards?

The Content Reader
Miramar, Archduke Ludwig Salvator's home in Majorca

Friday, 14 August 2015

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

The Content Reader
One of the praises, from the back cover of the book
At a time Sebastian Faulks' name turned up everywhere around me. Obviously, I bought one of his books. It has since been decorating my TBR shelves. My first encounter with this writer just asks for more. Birdsong is a wonderful book on all accounts. It starts out very romantically with Stephen Wraysford coming to France on behalf of his employers in 1910, to see how a factory works, from which they buy material for their clothes. He stays with the owner and his family and it is not long before he falls in love with the wife, Isabelle. This happens rather early on, so I think I don't spoil anything here.
He thought of Isabelle's open, loving face; he thought of the pulse of her, that concealed rhythm of her desire that expressed her strange humanity. He remembered Lisette's flushed, flirtatious look and the way she had taken his hand and placed it on her body. That day of charged emotion seemed as unreal and bizarre as the afternoon that was now taking them across the field to the reserve trenches.