Saturday, June 7, 2014

Read Women And A Few Good Men, Too

In my last post about books, I mentioned that the British newspaper Guardian had recently launched a campaign called Read Women 2014 and that this fit rather well into my own reading agenda this year. Since we're entering the summer season, which is traditionally regarded as the great reading season, adored by all vacationers on beaches all over the world, I thought it would be grand time to talk a little more about reading.

 Living in a tourist destination and homesteading, doesn't exactly leave me with lots of time to read in the summer, but I've been finding thatreading a book really relaxes me when I need to unwind, in a way that watching movies, or reading things online does not. Watching movies, or TV shows can be intense and stimulating for me, and reading online is a sort of jumpy experience, careening from one source text to the next. Sitting down with a book on the other hand, is decidedly more about slowing down, focusing and letting go.

One of my summer reading rituals is re-reading Tove Jansson's utterly magical and heart-wrenching The Summer Book, but this year I can't seem to find my copy anywhere. If one of you bastards has it, give it back. I love that book. It's laconic and melancholic, yet filled with the kind of abundant joy in little things that a million lifestyle bloggers wish they could tap. The Summer Book, like all of Janssons oeuvre is at once wise and naive, those qualities embodied in turns by the two primary characters: a little girl and her grandmother.

I think it's impossible for me to overstate how important Jansson's works are to me, and in fact, for my family of two, my mother and I. She began reading The Moomin books to me when I was about two-years-old. We read them all, the novels, the picture books, the comics. We scoured art books for Tove's paintings and traveled far to see her miniature scenes, something I imagine was rather interesting for my mother, who was a set designer. When I got older, I read Jansson's books for adults, starting with The True Deceiver. It's extremely rare that you can transition from childhood to adulthood with an author.  In some ways Tove and her stories are part of our family lore.

When my mom said she was going to send me a new biography about the author, I knew I would devour it in one sitting, which is exactly what happened. Like many artist's and author's Tove Jansson's own life served as the mirror-world map of her works. It's always particularly interesting to read about her art outside of the Moomins and even her literary works. Her style of painting was in many ways way ahead of its time with her dreamy, other-worldly landscapes, depictions of women and queer people in the very center of paintings and her emphasis on the natural world.  The book, called Do Work And Love will hopefully be available to English-speaking readers in the next few years, because it's a fascinating look into the life of an artist so gifted and multi-talented that she could only rightly be called a genius.

If you haven't read The Summer Book already, stop reading this post right now and go get yourself a copy. I mean it.

Tove Jansson's works aren't the only ones I reread from time to time. In fact, if I like a book, I will keep rereading it, sometimes year after year. Unhappily for me, I'm rather picky about what I like and often don't particularly enjoy many of the books I read. This is especially true of fiction. Of course, there's something to love and admire in most every book, but often modern novels also leave much to be desired.

This was, for instance, the case with Jennifer Dubuis' Cartwheel, a fictionalization of the real-life case of Amanda Knox, the American student accused of murdering a roommate while abroad. It was an entertaining enough read, but had that oddly paper-y flavor of novels that try too hard to be literary, analytical, perceptive. The language had almost nothing going for it and over all, I would not recommend it, unless you're particularly fascinated with the case.

Reading experiences like Cartwheel sometimes make me turn to books I've already read and enjoyed, particularly because as we change, our reading of novels and non-fiction works we've liked also changes. When it first came out, I wrote a glowing review of Lauren Groff's Arcadia and though I stand by it and am wildly enjoying this book the second time around, I also happened upon a rather interesting discovery about research, fictionalization  and an author's imagination.

This time when I picked Arcadia up at the library, I also grabbed their copy of another old favorite read, Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin. If you're ever planning to have a child, I would recommend it. If you're not planning to have a child, I would still recommend it. Reading these two books side by side however, I discovered that much of the commune of Arcadia and particularly its inception is, if not  exactly lifted, then thinly fictionalized from Spiritual Midwifery. So much so that I can't believe I didn't make the connection at the time I first read Arcadia. Now, I knew from interviews that Groff had used The Farm, the commune that Gaskin and her community formed and continue to practice nature; childbirth midwifery in, as an inspiration, but I have to say that I was a little shocked by how much the two narratives resemble each other in the beginning of Arcadia.

Intertextual fun, my friends and a recommended companion read.

I don't, however, have any doubts about the vastness of Ms. Groff's imagination. It's is as bottomless as a lake filled with monsters of all kinds, rivaled in contemporary literature only by the alligator wresting mind of a certain "break-neck demon writer".

Having followed Lauren Groff and Karen Russell's careers as writers from their first published short stories onward, reading the latter's latest short story collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove, was deeply satisfying. Her stories are a little less whimsical and a little more grounded now, but still imbued with both magic and uneasy, deeply unsettling at times even. There's a lot of death and sadness in them, displacement and guilt and deep, subconscious desires under the masks of vampires, seagulls from the future and dolls representing sad, lost boys. Well, and then there's tailgating in Antarctica...

One of my long time summer "hacks", is reading short stories, instead of novels,
because sometimes it's hard to concentrate on a novel when there's so much light and activity all around you. A short story can be a complete, self-contained world you can enter and quickly exit again.

Of course, when the right novel comes along you can whip through it in a day. As I suspected, Hannah Kent's Burial Rites was such a novel for me. It's in fact the perfect summer read, if you don't mind spending a summer's day in grip of an Icelandic winter. Dark, brooding, desperate and melancholy, Kent's debut novel is nothing if not a triumph. And I'm not just saying that because Jennifer Lawrence is signed to star in the movie adaptation. While most reviews of the book are a little skeptical, but none can deny that Kent pulls off an ambitious feat. If you're gonna read women this year (and you should!), read Burial Rites.

Speaking of the right novel coming along, I finished Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 sometime in April, about a week after I'd started it and should really get it back to my sis who lent it to me, but honestly,  I keep going back to it and re-reading sections. This novel is so rich and bizarre and has so much language that attracts the atavistic sense of story, especially when the author suddenly switches gears and writes about "the Little People", literal small creatures with a kind of a hive mind and passage way into the world trough the mouth of a dead goat. There's much intertextuality in this book as well, though often it's the clumsiest part of the narrative, it's also, like the entire book, oddly compelling.

Now, I've never been a Murakami fan, let alone a fanatic and the only book of his that I've liked before is Norwegian Wood, often considered by enthusiasts as the "square" Murakami novel. Having only read some of his early works, IQ84 kind of blew me away. Now I'm going to have to give Kafka On The Shore another chance.

As for other men, in my book pile Derrick Jensen is ever present. I mentioned A Language Older Than Words in my last post and I'm also reading Dreams, though now that summer is here, they're both slow going.

Another great reading "hack" for summer is, of course, poetry. Like short stories, poetry collections, chapbooks and anthologies can be read in small increments or devoured whole. The other morning I found to my complete delight, Ms. Andrea Quinlan's latest chapbook from Birds Of Lace Press The Mysteries Of Laura, in my mailbox. There's honestly nothing better than a package full of words. Not only did Andrea gift me with her poems, but she wrote me the sweetest card, including the kindest words you can ever tell a writer: "I hope to read your book someday."

As a little teaser, Andrea kindly allowed me to reprint one of her poems here. If you're intrigued, you can purchase her collection from BOL, for the low, low price of $5. So much pleasure for so little dollars.

The Gothic Novels

Laura read all the novels
That girls her age were forbidden to read
All the classics of Gothic literature
"They are dangerous."
"They will ruin your health."
"They could even jeopardize your chances of a good match."
These were the chastisements 
She heard when she was caught with the books unaware 
And they were snatched from her hands
But already she had devoured them by moonlight,
By candlelight,
Hidden in secluded corners of the house
And leafy bowers in the grounds,
These warnings had come too late.
Already she had been woken in the night by strange cries
Taken with fainting spells,
And forced to rest in a room filled with violets.
Already she had received mysterious signs,
Dreamt of people she had never met
And strange and gloomy places she had never travelled.
Now, when she sat with her family at the dinner table,
There was a glint in her green eyes.

©Andrea Quinlan 2014  "The Mysteries Of Laura"

What are you reading this summer? Favorite short story collections? Female authors? Any Murakami fans out there? What did you think of 1Q84?


  1. Thanks for posting about my chapbook :-) I love The Summer Book too of course, must be time I re-read it. It has been awhile! xo

  2. What a wonderful post to read on a Sunday morning. I must admit I'm not familiar with Tove Jansson and have only heard about the Moomins a while ago, when parts of the internet where suddenly in love with it. My initial reaction with such crazes is to ignore it, but thanks to this post I'm intrigued! So I've read up on who she is and looking forward to reading The Summer Book this summer.

    After a long reading hiatus I'm finally "into" it again and Burial Rites is certainly on my to read list after I've finished the last A Song of Ice and Fire novel. I got it for my birthday almost two years ago and I think I've only finished one novel in the meantime (The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I liked), so that's quite the hiatus! I'm hoping to make up for it this year.

    Thanks for the recommendations! Loved it. Have a great week :)

  3. I get very excited when you write about books. Your love for reading comes through so beautifully.
    I am also revising my decision to read only women's literature. I am including men only when it's specific topics (not fiction) and it's not contemporary literature (which is easily available in women's authorship).

    I tried to read Burian Rites but didn't enjoy it too much, I'm afraid. The story and the setting were intriguing, but the writing felt slightly, I don't know, a little forced, maybe? I don't know. It just didn't resonate with me. Maybe I should give it another chance.

    I know of Andrea Quinlan's work and I'm a fan. I love the poem you chose to share here. Very fitting and bursting with meaning and emotion, yet direct, seemingly simple and very accessible. I love that kind of poetry. I'm also going to check out Tove Jansson's book. Sounds perfect. Thank you.

  4. The Summer Book was only fairly recently translated into English, which is strange, because the Moomins are very popular and pretty much universally known in the UK. I bought it from a bookshop in London (Daunt books in Marylebone) where they organise the books by country rather than type, so novels are mixed in with travel books and recipe books. Tove dominates the Finland section! I got the Boel Westin biography too, but I was really disappointed with it, it was so sanitised and bland, which is ridiculous writing about someone with such an interesting life.

  5. I loved the Moomins when I was a child! I have put a hold on The Summer Book at my local library and look forward to it very much. I read Burial Rites months ago and find myself still thinking about it frequently. It is dark, indeed, but I was blown away by the author's interpretation of the facts and grasp of the emotions of the characters and in particular, Agnes. Her writing is stark yet beautiful. I do not think I will be able to re-read it anytime soon (like you, I re-read books I love) but I will never forget it. Thank you for the book recommendations. Cheers, Violet.

  6. I find myself revisiting old favorites these past few weeks-- "The Red Tent" by Anita Diament, "White Oleander" by Janet Fitch. Both have such melody in the words; they honestly are more like prose (for me).
    I'll definitely look for Burial Rites. I look when a story haunts me for weeks after reading-- those are the books I always purchase to add to my home library.
    Oh, and I just finished "The Signature of All Things" by Elizabeth Gilbert. I highly recommend it.

    1. i love The REd Tent and White Oleander!!

  7. Oh, I love love love this! I'm also quite picky with books, so I really appreciate when I come across well thought-out recommendations like this one :) I love what you said about how it's about both focusing and letting go; reading is such a calming experience for me, but unleashes my imagination and excites me at the same time. Lately I've been reading fantasy by the male superstars of the literary world (Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss), and even though I'm thoroughly enjoying it, I'd like to get a little more into the side of literature that you present here.

    Now you have me daydreaming of summer picnics with a big sunhat and a perfect book. Mmm mmm.

  8. Did not know that Tove Jannson wrote adult fare. I'll have to check out The Summer Book, for sure.

    Just finished an astonishing first novel by Helene Wecker, "The Golem and the Jinni". Just spectacular!

  9. Well, now I'll have to pick up a copy of The Summer Book. What a glowing recomendation! I am currently reading The Mists of Avalon for the first time and listening the Patti Smith's Just Kids on audiobook. And in the summer I always reread Harry Potter, so better get on that soon.

  10. Okay, Miss Milla, I did as I was told and stopped midway through reading your post and requested The Summer Book from the library :) I may just need to buy a copy to tuck in my backpack for our month-long journey to Mexico this summer! I have a friend who is totally in love with the Moomins and it was only through him that I ever knew anything about them. I didn't have a clue that she had authored anything for adults. Yay!

    I've been way too distracted to do much reading lately, but am slowly working my way through The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. It takes place (at least partially) in Mexico and specifically in and around Frida Kahlo's house, Casa Azul. We visited there last time we were in Mexico, so it's been really enjoyable to picture it all in my mind as the characters move around the house, the courtyard gardens and nearby market. It's not exactly a lightweight, tuck-in-your-backpack kind of book though, so I'm hoping to get through it before we head off on our adventure.

    A book that I read over the winter that completely captivated me was The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. Have you read it?

  11. Tuo Tove elämäkerta oli minustakin mielenkiintoinen ja hyvä. Meillähän on nyt Ateneumissa menossa Tove näyttely nimenomaan Tuula Karjalaisen kuratoimana. Tänä kesänä olen lukenut Tsehovin kirjavia kertomuksia,Toven kuvanveistäjän tyttären,vaarallinen juhannus on kesken Hertan kanssa ja kesäkirjankin voisi tosiaan taas lukea:-) Anna Cavaldan ja Siri Hustwedin uusimpia jonottelen kirjastosta.

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    13. niin ja Murakami uppoaa kyllä:-)

    14. niin ja Murakami uppoaa kyllä:-)

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  12. Love this post! And i love books. duh. I have only read one Murakami book and I loved it. but i can't remember what it was called. Oh wait, I just looked it up and it is South of the Border, West of the Sun. It was short, and full of great wisdom for me at the time.

    As you probably saw on Instagram, I just devoured Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende. SO GOOD. I also recently read The Luminaries. also SO GOOD. i may do a blog post on it because WOW did I love it. It took me longer than usual because it's so damn long, but i still tore through it pretty fast, as I didn't want to put it down.

    Hmmm what neighbor just loaned me The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, so that's next on my list. also very long. I've never even heard of The Summer Book and will have to check it out. we should swap books. besides, don't you have box for me that surely is growing moss by now??? wink wink.

    it is unbelievably hot here and I am in very little clothes, still slightly sweating at 10 pm. that has nothing to do with books but i wanted to set the scene for you.

    big summer kisses to you <3

  13. oh yeah! i also just read The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan. Heartwrenching but decidedly brilliant and cosmically inspiring, like most of her books.

  14. I've been reading reading loads lately (the joys of being able to do so again!), just giving everything I own a reread before I donate loads to Oxfam Books. So I've been veering from kids' books to trashy 60s pulp spy thrillers, to historical novels to old comics to biographies and all over the place. Actually, I've been reading poetry again, I used to love it when I was younger and have loads of poetry anthologies I haven't looked at for years, but I pulled a couple down from the shelf just the day before I read this post (which was on Saturday, belated commenting here).

    I've never read any Murakami -- he always seems like one of those authors that everybody LOOOVES and I think I'm going to be disappointed (because I usually am by that type of writer that everyone else adores). I did read The Summer Book a few years ago but I was really depressed when I read it, and it was too melancholy for me to enjoy or appreciate at the time. My mum gave me a copy of The Winter Book a couple of years ago and I still haven't read that because of my associations with The Summer Book, but I'll get around to it when I get to that bit of the bookcase...

    I went to the Moomin Museum in Tampere some years ago, and they had a number of Tove's dioramas on display, which were just lovely! It was great seeing her original artwork as well, I was interested to see that she drew her illustrations at print size (at least for Comet in Moominland, which was the work on display). I bought a copy of her first Moomin book, The Great Flood, in the Museum shop (in English) because I'd never seen it before. It was finally published in the UK a couple of years ago but it's in a bigger format, which makes me wonder if the illustrations for that were actually bigger or if they enlarged them.

  15. First of all I want to say, that this post is so awesomely feel daunting to me...I fear either being boring in my "la la i liked it" or failing in capturing someone else's brilliance. But here you've been both engaging and exciting while also letting your own eloquence shine, and I've been thinking of this post ever since I read it.

    I told Jeff last night that the fire underneath my passion for books has burst back into full flame, for the first time in maybe 20 years. I've turned my attention away from being a voracious reader like I was as a kid, because of so many factors, but with moving to S-pol, and the slowing down of activity and time, plus summer, my "5 books at a time" is in full rotation, and active. I love your recommendations and now I'm remembering to go back and check your last book post for other highlights.

    I've tried to read Murakami but felt bored and stopped 1/4 way through. I'll keep this new one in mind. I also didn't know about Janson's adult works and am so excited...but a trip to the local library and bookstore left me empty handed, so amazon here I come. As you know, I recently read G.o.W. and am still catching my breath from the amazement. I've got my eye on other Steinbeck (I think its going to be a Steinbeck Summer) but for now am re-reading Leaves of Grass, a new-to-me selection of M. Oliver, some light stuff by G. Keillor and I just picked up Swamplandia. Plus I've been really into carrying little paperbacks of 70s nature writing around in my purse, and currently I've got "A Ring of Bright Water" in there.

    I'm tempted to apologize for writing you my own novel, but if I can't nerd out about books with you here, then where? xoxo

  16. wonderful post! i have not read at all lately. i want to but it's so hard to find a moment of quiet. hopefully now that it's summer i will find time while sitting at the beach or a park. i'm definitely going to get the summer book! heading over to amazon now :)

  17. Oh I LOVED reading Ina May Gaskin when I was pregnant with my first & second! I bet it would be fun to reread even now that after my third, I've declared my womb off limits. :) And I just put a hold on Arcadia & Burial Rites at my library, yay! Tomorrow one of my favorite historical fiction writers (Diana Gabaldon) comes out with her 8th book too so I'm going to have a full "to read" shelf again. My reading binges seem to wax and wane that way though.

  18. Thanks for these great recommendations! Summer is the time of year that I get to read... it is the equivalent of your winter, because its so hot & muggy that I often don't feel guilty for laying low in doors curled up with a good book. For some reason I am much more drawn to female writer than male ones, so I'm especially excited about some of these picks. Not sure what or why. I don't just don't always feel the connection.

  19. Hei Milla, siellä maailman toisella laidalla.

    Juuri luin Kuvanveistäjän tyttären; enkä voi lakata ihmettelemästä sitä kuinka hyvin Jansson osaa sen mihin vain aniharva pystyy.. nimittäin kuvaamaan lapsen maailmaa, käyttämään lapsen suuta, kuulostamatta kuitenkaan hiukkaakaan "lapselliselta."
    Eilen illalla luin myös Hannu Mäkelän Herra Huu muuttaa. Olin unohtanut miten anarkistinen, hupaisa ja samaan aikaan ihmeellisen melankolinen hahmo herra Huu olikaan..

    Murakamin uusinta en oo vielä lukenut, Kafkan luin silloin kun se tuli niin nopsaan suomeksi. Englanniksi oon lukenut ohuempia Murakameja, mm. After darkin. Wind up bird chronicle jäi kesken, turhauduin vaan, kun kieli ei taipunut riittävästi että olisin jaksanut sen englanniksi. Suuri lammasseikkailu oli kyllä aika kreisi, ehkä Kafkakin omalla tavallaan. Sputnikin luin sellaisessa elämänvaiheessa, että se kyllä toimi, niinkuin Norwegian woodkin. Aina vain ihmettelen sitä kun se kategorisoidaan nuortenkirjaksi. Vaikka luin teininä älyttömän paljon, luulen etten olisi innostunut siitä silloin.

    Nyt lueskelen Agneta Rahikaisen Edith Södergran tulkintaa. Ja saan balsamia haavoille; kerrankin joku kirjoittaa lihaa ja verta olleesta naisesta, eikä riutuneesta reppanasta. Ja on tarkistanut kaikki lähteensäkin..

    Kesä on tuonut Helsingin Kallioon häilyvän levottomuuden, turistit, kiireen.. Joten niitä illan lukuhetkiä tarvitseekin nyt toden teolla.
    Onneksi Juhannus antaa mulle lahjaksi kaksi vapaapäivää ;).. Ihania päiviä sinne, toivottaa täällä toinen,joka istuisi niin mielellään nyt jollain laiturilla, nenä kiinni kirjassa, paljasjaloin.


  20. Well Milla, speaking about the joys of reading -- when I saw this post I put it aside as a treat, to savour when I had finished my current contract (a difficult, wearisome translation, but I ended up doing a good job with it, which is always gratifying).

    Like Mary says, it's awesomely written :o) and I am also fascinated by the way you photographed all these appealing covers. The dragonfly visiting Tove Jansson's portrait, in which she looks strikingly like a fox, is a pure gem. I hope that her biography is translated in English soon! I find her spirit very inspiring, and I must say that you describe it to perfection, particularly the Summer Book, which happens to be one of my favourite reads of all time :

    "It's laconic and melancholic, yet filled with the kind of abundant joy in little things that a million lifestyle bloggers wish they could tap. The Summer Book, like all of Janssons oeuvre is at once wise and naive, those qualities embodied in turns by the two primary characters: a little girl and her grandmother."

    Among my favourite other reads are The Christmas Oratorio by Goran Tunström, and in the women department : Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty (all of her short stories are incredible, by the way - if you don't know them, you should :o) ; West With the Night by Beryl Markham; The Joy of Small Things by Arundhati Roy...

    I did love Norwegian Wood, by the way, so I should probably try 1Q84, not to mention Derrick Jensen's books of course - but when?

    First on my list are translating my own posts in French, drawing birthday cards for very patient friends, getting back to my beloved Portrait Project... and of course, enjoying the light, air and wind of this precious summer. So we'll see ;o)

  21. I'm adding several (if not all) of these books to my reading list. Thanks for the suggestions - I was starting to panic about which book to read next after I finish my current fiction series (do you ever struggle with that?), so it's nice to have a nudge. I'll start with The Summer Book. Or maybe Spiritual Midwifery. Hmm... decisions, decisions.

    Also, I love all your book photos. I need me a cuppa tea and a novel ASAP.

  22. Oh I love The Summer Book and Tove Jansson! And lately I've been wanting to reread the Moomin books as well although sadly only one of the libraries near me has them and I haven't been able to make the drive there this week. Maybe Monday...

    I am also a huge fan of Murakami although I have to admit that while I liked 1Q84, it's length got to me at the time I was reading it. Maybe leisurely rereading it during summer would be better though. I recently reread Kafka and I think it gets a little slow in the middle-end but is worth it at the end. If you like short stories, I recommend reading some of Murakami's short story collections. Both The Elephant Vanishes and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman are great.

    Every summer I seem to want to reread Franny and Zooey although your post has reminded me that I need to read more women authors too. :) Thank you for your lovely posts.