Monday, September 29, 2008

Kafka on the shore

What a fantastic book! A great story, characters I liked, wonderful writing, oh and the references to mythology and literature. And it was pretty much a page-turner, not much more you can ask for really.

Haruki Murakami tells two stories in alternating chapters. One is of a 15-year-old boy named Kafka who runs away from home and is trying to make sense of things on his own. The other is of an old man named Nakata who as a child had an accident and after which he lost his memory and with it any education he'd received - he ended up alone and considered dumb. Oh and he can communicate with cats.

Their two stories are somehow connected, though not necessarily in the physical sense. While reading this book I had moments when I thought I understood what was going on, but they'd disappear fairly quickly. Even now, I'm pretty sure that there are many layers of the book that I just didn't get. Apparently Murakami himself said that the secret to understanding the novel lies in reading it multiple times...

I really loved the way normal life intertwined with the characters' inner life, how their physical quest mirrored their internal quest. And I loved the references to japanese literature, history and religion - it makes me want to read more Murakami and learn more about Japan.

Challenges: A-Z Challenge, 1% Well-Read Challenge, 10 out of 100 out of 1000, Chunkster Challenge, Japanese Literature II, Orbis Terrarum, Seconds 2008, What an animal!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Non-Fiction Five Challenge Completed!

I managed, though with only a few days to spare... The Non-Fiction Five Challenge was hosted by Joy and ran from May to September. If you see my original post, you'll find that the books I chose at the beginning aren't at all what I ended up reading. Not one from my original list. I guess I have my list for next year's challenge now! ;-)

This is what I ended up reading:

So a mixture of memoirs, history, folklore and personal development. I'm very happy with my choices - there isn't one book on here that I didn't enjoy.

Thanks Joy for the idea and for hosting, I hope that this challenge happens again!

Getting Things Done

I think I've been slowly reading this since January... I wanted to go through David Allen's Getting Things Done methodologically so I wouldn't miss anything. And to implement his advice as I went along. Well, I was a bit too lazy to do much of the implementing, but I still think I will.

Getting Things Done has a subtitle: The Art of Stree-free Productivity. Is there anyone out there who doesn't want to know how to achieve that? Seriously, it sounds fantastic! Does it deliver? I don't know - I guess you can only ask that of someone who has been following the advice for a while... But I think it just might.

Allen offers advice on getting oneself organised, both at work and at home. To set up a system where things don't fall through the cracks, a system that is trustworthy and so stress-free. Since we're dealing with so many things coming at us from all directions these days, we need a new way of looking at how to handle it all. The difference between this and earlier systems is that Allen's aims to capture everything, both big and small, in the same system. The idea is that we're stressed because of all the unfinished things on our minds - so if everything that we need to do and want to do is captured in our system, we won't worry about it any more. The trick seems to be to capture everything - from needing to pick up milk to possibly wanting to learn Italian one day.

So after the initial organisation phase it should be fairly straightforward. Allen's system makes sense, it's logical. Oh and it requires lists!! Yay! :-)

Have you read this? Has the system worked for you?

Challenges: 888 Challenge, Non-Fiction Five Challenge

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Secret Garden

Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1909 classic is a magical and charming children's book. There isn't really much to say apart from that... The story is primarily about Mary, a sour-faced orphan girl who hates everyone and everything, and Colin, a sickly boy who thinks he's going to die. They are saved by their childhood innocence and belief in the power of positive thinking. It was a pleasure to read, if you haven't done so already, I'd definitely recommend it.

Challenges: 888 Challenge, Book to Movie Challenge, Lit Flicks Challenge, Classics Challenge, Decades Challenge

The Witches of Eastwick

I so wanted to like John Updike's book, but I'm afraid that here was another book that I simply couldn't finish... The story of the three divorced witches living in a small Rhode Island town and what happens when a more powerful magus than them moves in close by just didn't grab me. I managed 100 pages but only because I forced myself - even after 50 I could see that I didn't like Updike's style, nor did I care about the characters at all.

I've been very lucky with my reading choices this year and it's rare that I don't finish a book, but when I found I was making excuses not to read, I had to stop this and pick up something else... I'm willing to watch the film though, it's so famous that I'm curious.

Did any of you read it and like it?

Challenges: A-Z Challenge, Book to Movie Challenge, Lit Flicks Challenge

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I didn't expect to enjoy J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace at all; it seemed to be such a heavy book. And the copy I have is a Polish translation! :-) But I just finished and I must say that it was captivating. It certainly wan't light, but the heavy topics touched on were covered well, part of the story, not moralising.

The book is about an ageing professor, David Lurie, who is forced to resign from the university he teaches at after his affair with a student is discovered. He goes to stay with his progressive daughter Lucie, who is living the simple life on an isolated piece of land. Oh and the most important thing putting the action in context is that everything takes place in South Africa. It won the 1999 Booker Prize.

I like that the book is about so many different things - the disgrace of Lurie, the disgrace of his daughter, the disgraceful South African situation. But it's also about a family that is falling apart because each member is coming from a different place - a mirror of South African society.

I think it's also about making choices that are right for us, even if they are caused by guilt or other negative feelings. No one can make big life choices for us, each of us has to do that alone.

It's a heavy book and not really uplifting, but it's not overly depressing either. It just is. Which I think describes life well most of the time - I for one probably spend too much time thinking about abstractions rather than dealing with what just is.

Recommended - if I liked it in Polish then I'm sure it's good! :-) I'm getting better at the reading in Polish thing, I'm glad.

Challenges: 888 Challenge, 10 out of 100 out of 1001, 1% Well-Read Challenge, Initials Reading Challenge, Man Booker Challenge

Monday, September 15, 2008

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge completed!

I didn't think I'd manage to finish this one, but for some reason I was thinking of historical fiction as a quite narrow category - once I realised that it's not, I had no problem completing this great challenge!

It was hosted by Annie from Reading, Writing and Ranting - thanks Annie, it was great fun! History really is hot. :-)

Here's what I read - my original list was quite different, but hey, there's too much joy in list-writing to resist!

href="">The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My favorites were definitely The Book Thief, The Shadow of the Wind and Star of the Sea - I'm pretty sure all three will make it onto the year's list of best books. My least favorite was The American Boy, which I didn't even manage to finish.

Doing this challenge reminded me how much I love history, I definitely want to read more of this genre in the future.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Truth About the Leprechaun

Intriguing title, eh? Both for a book and a blog post! When I saw Bob Curran's book in a shop when I was on holiday in ireland, I couldn't resist buying it... I admit that I couldn't resist many other books either and I'm sure to get to those sometime in the next few years. :-)

The Truth About the Leprechaun is just that. It tells us about where the leprechaun comes from, what folk tales are associated with it, how he fits into Irish folklore in general. It also gives tips on how to behave around a leprechaun (carefully!) and how to get it to tell the truth (although no solution is really offered for this).

It's interesting - the leprechaun isn't the smiling, jolly little green fella we see on tourist merchandise, but a malevolent trickster. I especially loved the stories that the author got from Irish people living in rural areas, tales of seeing a leprechaun as well as old stories that were passed on through generations. I really like that there is someone like Bob Curran who is collecting this information - the younger generations don't believe in fairies and all that so without books like this one all knowledge would be lost. And keep in mind that it might be true that they used to inhabit Ireland before people came so it's all history!

I liked a particular theory that I've only seen associated to the old gods so far - that although we think of leprechauns and fairies as small, they used to be big, they just got smaller as people believed in them less and less. I've heard this in relation to gods in general - that they're only powerful if people believe in them. I think it's an interesting aspect of the collective mind. Oh and Terry Pratchett used the theory in his book Small Gods. So it has to be true! :-)

I'd recommend this book to people who are interested in folklore and... well, that's it, pretty much. If you think fairies are a big lie you probably don't want to read this. Although I should point out that the style isn't dry and academic, but rather amusing. As if the author really thinks you'll meet a leprechaun soon and will need to know what not to do.

Challenges: Non-Fiction Five, 888 Challenge

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Vanishing

I was looking for scary books for the R.I.P. III challenge and found a translation of Tim Krabbe's The Vanishing at the library. I'd never read anything by a Dutch author and I'd heard so much about this story so I was really excited.

It's a short book and reads very quickly. It's the story of a Dutch couple going on holiday to France and the girl disappearing while they're there. She simply vanishes and her boyfriend is left with no clues, nothing. The impact of the book isn't in the story but in the way it's told. The language is so simple that you almost can't believe that it can be used to describe such terrible things.

Krabbe creates a psychopath who is really chilling, mostly because he is so aware and calculating. I wasn't terrified while I was reading the book, but every time I think about it and its conclusion I get the chills.

Tim Krabbe is one of Holland's most famous writers so it's interesting to read this from that point of view as well. And his story has inspired not only a Dutch movie but a Hollywood one as well.

Challenges: A-Z Reading Challenge, Book to Movie Challenge, Orbis Terrarum, R.I.P.III

A Wrinkle in Time

After reading The Book Thief, I was in the mood for something lighter and this book for kids seemed just the thing. Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was very enjoyable - I stayed up to finish it on Saturday night so I guess the story must have been good! :-)

The story is about teenage Meg, her little brother Charles and their friend Calvin. It's science fiction with all the best elements, space travel, time travel, magic, evil planets etc. I liked the way it was told, the style kept me interested.

Apparently L'Engle had a lot of trouble getting this published because it was so different. The book has also been challenged a lot because of the way it talks about Christianity - although I think they should have let it go since not many fun books for kids mention Christianity at all so they won on it anyway. It ended up winning the Newberry Medal, so I guess people changed their minds about it once it was published!

Challenges: Book Awards II, 888 Challenge

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Book Thief

One of the best books I've read this year. Everyone has been raving about this, but I only got to it now... Markus Zusak's The Book Thief is a book about World War II, a book about trying to explain the unexplicable, a book about growing up. I didn't think that it was possible to do anything new and creative about Germany and the Second World War but Markus Zusak did it and he did it extremely well.

The story, which is predominantly the story of Liesel, is told by Death. To be honest, I had to get used to this notion. At the beginning of the story I viewed it as a gimmick of some sort, I didn't see the need for Death to narrate Liesel's story. But as I continued reading, it made more and more sense. Now I don't think the story in its entirety could have been told by anyone else.

Liesel is an orphan who comes to live with Hans and Rosa. She is smart and gutsy and has a good heart. She has to grow up in Hitler's Germany - not a great place for little girls with good hearts. During the course of the war she has to witness many things, some beautiful and some horrible. I think the beautiful moments she witnessed were made even more so by the sheer difficulty of finding beauty in a world like Liesel's. I don't know if I would have been able to do the same, although they say that people are capable of so many things that are only tested in extreme circumstances.

I think that because the book was narrated by Death, it benefited from a good dose of realism and matter-of-factness - rare in books about Hitler's Germany. This style made the writing very powerful, even though the reader knows perfectly well where the story is going. Reading The Book Thief isn't about surprise endings or twists in the story; it's about experiencing life like Liesel did.

Very highly recommended.

Challenges: A-Z Challenge, Bang Bang Book Challenge, Chunkster Challenge, Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, Orbis Terrarum

Friday, September 5, 2008


Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings hosts some pretty cool challenges and this one is no different.

Dark Fantasy.

I chose Peril the Second so I will read two books (which will hopefully be scary):


My friend Lezlie from Books 'N Border Collies is hosting a really cool giveaway of Michelle Moran's The Heretic Queen, which is the sequel to Nefertiti. I can't pretend to have read Nefertiti but I've always wanted to and this might be my chance to win a copy of one of the books. Then I'll just have to buy the other. :-)

If you want to participate, visit Lezlie. And make sure you mention that you heard of the giveaway here! :-)

New Classics Challenge - September Reviews

Link to your September reviews here!

Friday Finds

I've seen so many bloggers participate in Friday Finds, I want to join in the fun! I've added quite a few books to my wishlist and TBR stack this week...
  • Sucks to be Me by Kimberly Pauley - discovered via Iliana, who is actually hosting a give-away for this so I'm not buying it just yet, maybe I'll win! :-)

  • Seek the Fair Land by Walter Macken - an Irish friend recommended this to me after I read Joseph O'Connor's Star of the Sea and decided I wanted to read more historical books set in Ireland. Apparently Seek the Fair Land is something Irish kids read at school. It's the first installment in a trilogy so I sure hope I like it, I just ordered it from Amazon.

  • The Vanishing by Tim Krabbe - I got this from the library as I was browsing for titles for the RIP III challenge. This one is by a Dutch author as well and I've never read anything by a Dutch author, I don't think. It's a now-famous story about a woman vanishing while on holiday in France. Sounds chilling!

  • Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Head over to Nymeth's and see how much interest in this non-fiction book she raised!
Thanks to MizB for the fun idea!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Witch Child

This book by Celia Rees has been on my wishlist for ages and I finally got a copy via bookmooch. It's about Mary, an orphaned English girl whose Grandmother is accused of being a witch and hanged. Mary is sent to America with a group of Puritans to escape the witch hunts. As you can imgaine, things aren't so nice and rosy on the other side either.

The story is told by Mary herself, in the form a journal. It gives the reader an idea of what life would have been like in the 1600s - the mistrust, the fear, the paranoia. Plus it doesn't paint the Indians as the bad guys, which is always a plus for me.

It's meant for young adults so it has a certain nice innocence to it. I enjoyed it, although found it a bit overly simplistic at times. But hey, it's not meant for my age group!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Star of the Sea

Joseph O'Connor's Star of the Sea is the best book I've read in a while. It's the kind of book that has it all - real characters, a great plot, twists, mysteries and secrets. The style it's written is varied and interesting. And you get a history lesson while you're reading.

The story centers around the passengers of a ship bound for America in the 1840s - one of the coffin ships associated with Ireland during the Famine. They are connected in various ways and the book goes back in time to tell us about how each of the characters got to be on the same ship at the same time. And it all comes together really well in the end.

It paints a horrifying picture of what life in West Ireland must have been like at that time. I think that's what struck me the most. And my brain simply can't comprehend how terrible it all was, while at the same time knowing that there wasn't a famine at all, there was plenty of food for everyone, it's just the potato crop that failed and there was nothing else available to the poor Irish people. Unthinkable.

I'd been saving this book for when I actually go to Ireland again and I'm really glad I did. We travelled all over the Western coast, inluding in Irish-speaking Connemara, so the place names mentioned in the book were all familiar to me. That was pretty cool.

I think that everyone interested in European history should read this. American history too I guess, since the Irish poor who didn't die emigrated to the US. Don't miss this, it's really worth reading. The story and the characters really stay with you - I'm already looking for other books set during the same time period because I want to know more!


I finished Ian McEwan's Amsterdam during my vacation - it was fairly easy to read, but I didn't find it very engrossing. I didn't really care about the characters - three men who meet again at the funeral of a woman who was dear to all three. I wanted to finish it though because I was curious what the title meant and you only find that out towards the end of the book. That was kinda cool as endings go, but Amsterdam can't possibly be McEwan's best. The only other book of his that I read was Atonement and that was way better.

Amsterdam won the Man Booker Prize in 1998 - I haven't read anything off the shortlist so can't say if I thought they were better. Maybe one of you has?

Challenges: Man Booker Challenge, 10 out of 100 out of 1001, 888 Challenge, A-Z Challenge, Seconds 2008 (I'm counting it even though I finished in August, technically)