Thursday, 26 February 2015

Reading Challenge update, February

For Modern Mrs Darcy's reading challenge, I have not just one but two books that were originally written in a different language. I've read both of these in Finnish - the original language of Quo Vadis was Polish, which I don't know at all. As for Archbishop Desmond Tutu's book, this one was only available in our library system as a translation, either Finnish or Swedish, and I chose my mother tongue... :)

Then the HelMet challenge. I'm still at the easy stage where practically all the books I've read have fit into at least one new category. I've also had more time for reading than in January.

Henryk Sienkiewicz: Quo Vadis
2. A book that has been made into a film
38. A book you have started but left unfinished

This book has sat on my shelf for two decades. I have started it at least twice before, but I never got past page 100. This challenge was the nudge I needed to take it up again, and this time I did finish it, too.

This time around, too, it was hard going at points. Probably for the same reasons why I had dropped it before. I found it hard to feel sympathy for the main characters. The heroine, Lygia, seemed to me just an idealized, extremely beautiful, superbly virtuous and innocent girl. The male main character, Vinitius, was well depicted, but mostly a hot-tempered, selfish oaf before his conversion. The writing style is elaborate, very "romantic." And the cruelty and brutality of ancient Rome are described with a little too much effective detail for my tastes.

And yet - I can see why it's a classic and why it has been so popular. This has as much drama and romance as a reader of historical fiction could ever wish for. It's also a vivid picture of the life and martyrdom of early Christians in Rome. (With, perhaps, a little too much idealization?) It's so chock-full of cinematographic scenes that I wouldn't be surprised if someone in Hollywood decided to do a new version or even a TV series; the 1951 film was apparently quite a success.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Anteeksiantaminen - tie tulevaisuuteen (No Future Without Forgiveness)
33. Author is not from Europe or North America

A hard read, a good read.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu's memoirs deal mostly with his experiences heading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was set up to try to deal with the national traumas and the multitude of crimes against humanity committed during the apartheid period in South Africa.

In addition to Tutu's personal experiences of discrimination, the book has plenty of details of those crimes against humanity, i.e. acts of violence, as quotations from the testimonies heard by the Commission. Those were the hard parts to read. But, after all, there is also the perspective of hope: the real changes that have happened in South Africa, the reconciliations, the apologies, the forgiveness. Amazing things can happen when someone chooses humility and truth. "The truth hurts but silence kills," said the Commission's posters.

Rissanen, Roy and Sirpa: Lento jurttien yli (Flight over yurts)

8. The events of the book happen somewhere other than Finland

Finnish missionary family moves to Mongolia to work for MAF, trying to get the work started and (also literally) off the ground. Culture, language and bureaucracy: lots of new experiences.

Lamott, Anne: Bird by Bird. Some Instructions on Writing and Life
1. Written by an author whose work you have not read before

I can't say I loved this, though I liked it. She is "real" and puts things bluntly, which is not a bad thing. It's a good insight into what it's like to be a writer, and it's interesting for a reader to get to see the process from an author's perspective.

I might have got more out of the book if I was really an aspiring writer, but I'm not. I am not bursting with something to tell the whole world. I just love books, and playing and working with words. And as a translator, the point is not to find "your own voice" - the point is to convey the original writer's voice. But the advice to just get on with the first draft, even if it's bad, is good for a translator too.

Prior, Karen Swallow: Fierce Convictions. The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More - Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist
22. A memoir or a biography

A biography of a woman who certainly found her voice and used it. I've written more here.

McCall Smith, Alexander: Emma
17. A retelling of a classic story

Jane Austen's Emma in modern times.
Emma's plotlines and characters work very well in a modern setting, though it took Smith quite a big part of the book to establish them there: how did Mr Woodhouse become who he is, how did Miss Taylor come to the household, what was Emma's childhood like... But I didn't really mind Mr Woodhouse and Miss Taylor getting a bigger part of the narrative, as I liked Smith's take on them.

However, Mr Knightley was a bit of a cardboard character. He just didn't get enough time and action in the story. And Emma's self-satisfied bossiness was just as annoying as in the original.

Paris was ours: thirty-two writers reflect on the city of light (edited by Penelope Rowlands)
24. Set in a place you have always wanted to visit

As with any collection of writings by multiple authors, I loved some and didn't much care for some others. All the writers included in the collection have moved to Paris, for one reason or another. Some still live there, some don't. Very varied perspectives. Recommended for francophiles.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior

Take a schoolmaster with five daughters in 18th century England. Have him educate his daughters so that they, in turn, will be able to earn their living keeping a school for girls. Make one daughter so talented and intelligent that she practically inhaled all the education she could get. Give her such a wit and way with words that she goes on to write poems, plays, and pamphlets, and to hobnob with such famous personalities as David Garrick, Dr Samuel Johnson and William Wilberforce.

If that was a piece of historical fiction, we might say it's an implausible plot. But it's not fiction. The biography's subtitle is right - Hannah More lived an extraordinary life.

So, Hannah More's life was extraordinary for a woman of her times. She never married, but the man who was engaged to her for several years but kept putting off the marriage eventually provided her with an annual income that enabled her to devote herself to writing. She really did work with some of the most prominent people of her time. Her writings, for example the Cheap Repository Tracts, sold in millions.

But as Prior says, Hannah More was a conservative reformer, not a revolutionary. I can see why she hasn't been promoted as a 'proto-feminist' like some of her contemporaries. And her writing style was certainly a product of her time. I read a bit of "The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain" (free via Project Gutenberg) and quickly saw why More's writings no longer appeal to modern readers. Such an openly didactic style won't do these days; even when we wish to influence the opinions of others through our stories, we tend to prefer a much more subtle approach.

Thus, Hannah More has been somewhat forgotten in our days. I'm glad that Karen Swallow Prior wrote this biography of her, as I also think Hannah More is worth knowing. I admire the way More used her talents and resources in accordance with her convictions. That was the point she was striving for, really: to do one's best with the God-given talents one has.

Such an interesting life, and a well-written biography. Heartily recommended.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

New On the Stack (January)

A new link-up at The Deliberate Reader blog: New On The Stack!
 In this link-up, we're looking at what we've added to our reading stack - most of mine are books I haven't read yet, or I've only just begun.

January was quite the book-buying month for me. In addition to some Kindle app purchases, I ordered four books from, which I don't do very often. Usually, I get my new books from the library. I did that in January, too, but I don't have pictures of most of them - having read them, I've taken them back already...

The top two are from the Amazon parcel. Two more items I bought are missing from the picture, because they were for my husband and I already gave them to him. Those are Eric Metaxas's Bonhoeffer biography, which I have already read, and Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken. I'm hoping to get my hands on Unbroken at some point, but it may take some time before he's finished it. (It's not very good manners to give someone a present and then immediately borrow it to read it yourself, right? :) )

Karen Swallow Prior: Fierce Convictions

Why: Tim Fall's review convinced me that this is a book I want to read.

Marilynne Robinson: Gilead

Why: I've read it a year ago, and now that I've read Lila, I want to re-read this. I know it's a book I want to own, so even if I'm not sure when I'll get around to re-reading it, I'm glad to have it.

On the stack, from the library:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Anteeksiantaminen - tie tulevaisuuteen (No Future Without Forgiveness)

Why: I saw a book by Archbishop Desmond Tutu on forgiveness in Jeannie's list of the books she read in 2014, and it sounded interesting. This is not the same book, though. This is what I found when searching our library database for Desmond Tutu and forgiveness, and it's actually his memoirs. I'm keen to read this, too, as a point of view into South African history and the amazing changes that have happened there.

And my Kindle purchases in January:

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield: The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

Why: Karen at Living Unabridged says: "The strength of this book is in the first section. This is a must read for any Christian." I have read positive comments about the book from others, too.

Micha Boyett: Found: A Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer

Richard Lederer: The Bride of Anguished English: A Bonanza of Bloopers, Blunders, Botches, and Boo-Boos

Why: Because I like language humour.