Monday, 18 February 2019

English vs. Dutch books: covers

You might have thought: why does a Dutch girl write a blog in English about English books? It's really simple: I just majorly favour English books for a ton of reasons. They look better, there are more of them, Dutch literature is always a bit weird.. et cetera. When I look at my bookcases, I always get a warmer feeling from the left one - the English one - than from the right one - the Dutch one. It looks more colourful, but also calmer, because all the books are the same size. The sizes of Dutch books go everywhere, and the spines are most of the time in one colour, with a very formal font for the title. Boring!

So let's gush about some covers...

One of the covers I love most is the one from The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly:



This book just looks so attractive! However, it has not been translated to Dutch, so we have nothing to compare it with. Let's move on to a book I just finished:


Don't you think that the purple colour of the Dutch version is just a bit off? Compared to the English one, it's too light, not intense enough. Not for such an intense story anyway. And, like I said above: the formal font. A very normal sans serif.

 

I am not a big fan of the English cover of Outlander, but the Dutch one is just.. ugh. Like it is a romance novel! I mean, there is a lot of romance going on, but what about the war, the 18th-century Scots? It is a tough book as well, not some kind of chick flick!


Have you read this book? This book is fun! Like the English cover, which also looks like fun. Not like the Dutch one, which looks boring (again, the formal font...)



This is a great book about building a cathedral. A beautiful, large, slender cathedral, with stained glass windows and ornaments and gothic windows. Like on the English covers, full of wonderful details. Dutch people: let's put a castle-like entrance of a monastry and a dead tree on the front, ok?

When I'm in a bookshop, I reach for the books that look attractive to me, as that is the first sense that you use. I never heard of someone who is going to a bookshop and starts to read all the blurbs, starting left of the top shelf, waiting for a blurb that sounds interesting. We first pick with our eyes. John Connolly, the author of The Book of Lost Things, totally agrees on this one with me:

The old adage suggest that one should never judge a book by its cover, but this is true of most things except books. As readers, we are frequently drawn to take a book from a shelf precisely because the cover has attracted our attention.
What's your (least) favourite cover? Let me know in the comments :)

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Review: The Only Story

Waiting for the new rug that we ordered for our living room might be one of the best times to write a blog post (if you're wondering: it is red, very bold, so I am super excited and can't wait till it's here!)
On holiday in Austria I finished The Only Story by Julian Barnes. I received this book with my Christmas presents from work and had quite high expectations, as a friend of mine is a fan of the author. Therefore it came as a surprise that I actually found this book boring! It don't say this often about books, but I really didn't enjoy it. I did finish it, because I expected a change in the story, as Julian Barnes is supposed to be this very gifted writer. Unfortunately, when I reached the last page of the book, it was still boring. I do however, still think that Julian Barnes is very gifted. Read on if you want to know why!

Title: The Only Story
Author: Julian Barnes
First published: 2018, Jonathan Cape 
My edition: 2018, Jonathan Cape

Notice the awful apartment couch at the background ;)
Cover: Strange at first sight with the crossed out typed words, but when you read the book, halfway you will get the meaning. It has a dust jacket, which is a minus for me (see also the review on Pride and Prejudice here). Furthermore, the cover is far too stiff, you can hardly open the book.

Innerwork: Typeset in 11.5/14 pt Bembo, an agreeable font, size and line spacing. Good colour of paper as well (I never like the extremely white pages that make you grasp for your sun glasses).

Compatability with reading on the train: Awful, it is not possible to hold this book open with only one hand without getting a cramped thump. With two hands it is still hard to keep it open.

Synopsis: Paul, nineteen years old, living with his parents in a small village in England, falls in love for the first time. At his age, he is very happy that his relationship flies in the face of social convention, as his love is a married older woman, called Susan. They are a silent scandal and get kicked out of the tennis club where they met. Their relationship turns out not to be a kind of fling, but a long term one, and they stay together for over a decade. They face many problems, of which the (aggressive) husband is just the first.

My opinion: As already mentioned above, I was really bored while reading this book. I kept hoping for some turning point, which eventually came during the second part of the book, when you find out that not everything in the relation between Paul and Susan is what it seemed like in the third part of the book. It's just that nothing happens and Paul goes on and on with his analyses of almost everything, which is really tiring.
What I did like were the changes in perspective. The first part of the story, where Paul tells how he met Susan and what great times they had, is a first person narrative. A few pages in the second part, it changes to second person (which is really rare). The third person narrative is introduced in the third part of the book, but sometimes the story switches back to first or second person. This stroke me as really interesting, and a comment is made about it in the story itself, in the third part of the book:

But nowadays, the raucousness of the first person within him was stilled. It was as if he viewed, and lived, his life in the third person. Which allowed him to assess it more accurately, he believed.

To me, this playing with the perspective that Julian Barnes does, made the book worthwhile. It made me think about the story more, but it did not distract me from the story, which is good. For me, the parts in first person are the events that Paul wants to remember, the things he enjoyed. The events told in second person are the bad things, about Susan's husband, about too much alcohol. Those are the things that happen in other people's lifes, not it yours. So he distances himself from him. It is a sort of excuse. If you were me, if this happened to you, you would have done this, reacted that way. Right? And in the end, when he is older and looks back at what happened, he views his life in the third person, as he says himself.
Usually, when I think a book is boring, I would not pick up another book by that author. However, although I didn't like the story at all, this book made me curious about other things that Julian Barnes wrote. He didn't just write down a sequence of events, but he thought carefully about how the character must have felt, how different events shaped this person, and intertwined that in the story. And I think that makes a great writer.

Favourite character: Joan, a friend of Susan, which also becomes Paul's friend. A straightforward, gin drinking, cat and dog person.

P.S. The new rug is great! It is less red than expected, made of hemp and recycled leather. It smells good and looks pretty. We just have to lose our one pink cushion, but I think we can manage that ;)

Monday, 11 February 2019

Snow & books in Austria

Dear readers,

Two days ago I re-emerged from a holiday in Austria with my boyfriend and his parents. With some 50-80 cm of snow, a frozen lake and some beautiful mountains and woods around us, it was bound to be a success. We had a lot of fun walking, sledding, cross-country skiing and ice-skating (we actually completed a half marathon and earned a medal!)



Of course I read a lot in the evenings, snugged up on the couch with a cup of tea. Luckily, the apartment included a small book case, because the two books I brought myself wouldn't have been enough for the whole week (and the only disadvantages of the village we were staying was that it didn't include a bookshop and that the few books at the supermarket were in German ...)


Most of the books at the apartment were in German too, including some old children's books, the less interesting old romantic-ish omnibuses, but also some Kafka. Coincidentally, it also held the book I was reading in this village last year: The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett. A real must-read, I enjoyed it very much (I love cathedrals) and it is very thick, so you can enjoy it for a very long time. In total I read 3,5 books while gazing occasionally out of the window at the frozen lake:

- The Only Story, by Julian Barnes (from my Christmas presents from work), a sad love story
- Noorderveen, by Arnaldur Indridason (from the apartment's book case, English title: Jar City), a whodunnit with unexpected plot twists
- Charles Street 44, by Danielle Steel (also from the apartment's book case, for the English title just put the number in front of the street), a romantic drama that I usually wouldn't pick up because there are too many of the same of these books, but which was a cosy read for a trip like this one
- I started Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes (found at the mini-library at the supermarket at home), of which I heard good rumors. Also a romantic drama, but very different from the Danielle Steel-kind. I finished it this morning and it was heartbreaking!

Reviews of all the books can of course be expected any time soon! What have you been reading these first weeks of the year? Let me know in the comments :)

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Review: Manhattan Beach

Title: Manhattan Beach
Author: Jennifer Egan
First published: 2017
My edition: Corsair, 2018, paperback


Cover: The colours are great, and the picture gives a view of New York around the time the story takes place. I just don't like all these quotes on the front. Covers should be pretty, and quotes are not pretty ;)

Innerwork: Pleasant font, quite large, but not too large.

Compatibility with reading on the train: Not too great. Although it is a paperback, the book is quite stiff and heavy, which makes it difficult to hold it open with just one hand.

Synopsis: The book tells the story of Anna Kerrigan, who accompanies her father on business meetings at the age of twelve, and who is a diver at the Naval Yard during the Second World War when she is around twenty. During her teenage years, her father goes missing. Anna doesn't give it too much thought, until she is older and meets Dexter Styles. She remembers visiting him with her father years ago and starts investigating his disappearance. Meanwhile, she tries to become the first female diver and takes care of her disabled sister.

My opinion: Actually, I'm not sure I like the book, though it is not bad. In the beginning lots of events don't make any sense and you get the feeling that the writer is telling things for no reason. However, with a good writer you always know that everything will play a role later on. Only it doesn't feel like it, which makes it hard to get caught by the story. Half way, things come around and you start to make connections, making the plot more interesting. I think I really started enjoying the story when I was reading the last 100 pages or so.
This last part mostly tells you what happened to Anna's father, and how they meet again, after quite some time. These events attracked me the most, the father's story is exciting, full of suspense, which the rest of the book lacks. It happened a few times to me that I was biting my nails when nothing happened, and hardly felt any emotion when something important was happening.
For example, at a certain moment an inexperienced diver finds himself alone on the bottom on the sea, and just to feel some kind of kick, he lets go of the rope. I was almost eating my whole fingers, because I would be scared as hell that I wouldn't find the rope anymore! However, nothing happens. Such an anti-climax. At another point, when someone is actually about to get murdered, I hardly felt a thing. It is utterly clear from the start that he will be shot, so there is no suspense whatsoever.
I do admire how the writer managed to get all these events in the book to come together at the end. In that sense, it is a very well written book. The language is very pleasant as well. I just wasn't grasped by the story ...

Favourite character: Mr. Voss. He is Anna's boss at the beginning, and although he likes her, he encourages her to aim for a different job. It is never quite clear whether he likes her as a friend or in a more romantic way, but he is really kind and they have funny conversations.

Have you read this book? Please let me know what your thoughts are!

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Snow!

Yesterday it was snowing, and that is quite rare in the Netherlands! It happens maybe three days a year, and I love it :) People always complain about traffic and trains and slippery roads and I get that, but the world is so light and quiet and beautiful and slow. There is nothing better than walking in the snow or curling up on the couch with a book while peaking out of the window, looking at the soft white layer on the world.

Speaking of books and snow; here are a few of my favourite books featuring snow, to get in the mood:


- The Rabbit Back Literature Society, by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen. Situated in Scandinavia, it is not a surprise that there is some snow involved in this book. Ella, a literature teacher and possessor of beautifully curving lips, is selected to be a member of a secret writer society. Strange things are happening, and things are not what they seem to be...

- Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë. I do not associate this book very strongly with snow and winter, but the word 'snow' can be found 31 times in the book, and the word 'winter' 23 times. It seems as if it's more often winter then any other season at Lowood.

- The House of Special Purpose, by John Boyne. The Dutch title of this book is (translated literally from Dutch) 'Winter palace', so it can not be excluded from this list. A beautiful story about the autocracy in Russia, set in the first half of the twentieth century.



What are your favourite books set in a snowy world?

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Christmas presents from work

I know, it is a bit late to talk about Christmas presents, but I just wanted to share (and bloat about) the best Christmas presents you can get from your employer.
I work as a production editor at a small typesetting company, guiding author and publisher through the process from (usually finished) manuscript to a pdf-file that is sent to the printer. Working at a big firm might have it advantages, but so does working at a small company where you share the office with your boss.
Last year I received a card for unlimited cinema access for two full months. I do like going to the movies, but I ended up using the card only two times! This year me and my boyfriend moved away from the big city, increasing the distance between our house and the cinema even further. So my boss asked my if I would like something else for Chistmas this year. I replied that I really liked books, so maybe he could think of something involving those.
And he did!


I received a very heavy package including five books :D
  • The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion. A popular book about a scientist looking for true love, using a very detailed questionnaire.
  • Shirley, by Charlotte Brontë. She wrote this book after she wrote the very famous novel Jane Eyre (which I love). I hope I will enjoy this one as much!
  • Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan. Already started this one. It is very different from what I usually read, so really helpful to get out of my reading comfort zone. A story set in America during the Second World War, about a girl looking for her missing father.
  • The only Story, by Julian Barnes. Heard a lot about the author, as a good friend of mine is some sort of fan, especially of his book England, England. Looking forward to read it! (I think it will be my next read)
  • Lampje, by Annet Schaap. This is a Dutch children's book, which is received very well, about the daughter of a lighthouse keeper.
Enough to read for the start of the year. You can expect a review of Manhattan Beach not to long from now.

P.S. If you're wondering about the blue stickers: that's a system my friend and me have to mark the books we haven't read yet.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Review: Pride and Prejudice

Title: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen
First published: 1813
My edition: Collector's Library, 2003


Cover: To be honest, I'm not really a fan of dust jackets. I know they are meant to project the book, but most of the time they just get in the way. They always slide a bit, which makes them crumple, which makes you concentrate on how to hold your book, instead of focusing on what is in the book. Futhermore, a dust jacket hides the beautiful linnen cover beneath it! Look at the beautiful red cover, with the title and author in gold and the embossed logo of the publisher! It is not really visible on the photo, but the red colour is a really perfect deep dark red.



Innerwork: The lines and pages have an agreeable length, the font that is used is pleasant and the book looks neat. Only the illustrations are not always placed with the same care: the distance between the bottom of the illustration and the text differs a lot. Furthermore, two illustrations do not have a caption, and are also not mentioned in the list of illustrations.

Compatibility with reading on the train: Very good! The book is light, you can hold it in one hand and also keep it open with one hand. You don't have to worry about loosing your bookmark, as there is a ribbon attached to the book.

Synopsis: Do I really need to give a synopsis? Who doesn't know this book? ;) Well, for the exceptions then:
This story is about the five Bennet sisters living in the regency era in England. An eligible bachelor, Mr. Bingley, comes to live in the neighbourhood and of course the mother of the five girls wants him to marry one of her daughters. As it turns out, he actually falls in love with the eldest one, Jane, but his very proud and reserved friend Mr. Darcy thinks the family is not suitable and that Jane is not really in love with Mr. Bingley, so he prevents them from getting engaged. Mr. Darcy himself, meanwhile, fell in love with the second daughter, Elizabeth. Elizabeth, by the way, has had a proposal of marriage from her father's cousin, Mr. Collins, who is to inherit Mr. Bennet's estate. She turns him down, as he is quite unagreeable, so he marries her best friend, Charlotte Lucas, who is already 27, almost a spinster, with hardly any prospects. When Elizabeth visits her friend Charlotte, the patroness of Mr. Collins turns out to be Mr. Darcy's aunt, and Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy meet again. He also proposes to Elizabeth, but she just learned that he prevented, among other things, the happiness of her sister Jane, and she declines him.
And this is just the beginning! For the few people who do not know the ending, I will not spoil it, but the rest of the story revolves around the question whether Mr. Bingley and Jane will marry, and whether Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth will marry. The story elements of the continuation include an elopement, a holiday to Derbyshire, some sacrifices and great dialogues.

My opinion: Well, I love this story. I think this was the third time I read the book and probably the time I enjoyed it most. A few weeks ago, I read an article from someone who found the plot simple and argued that Austen is mostly appreciated for her use of language. Yes, I also like Austen for her language, but I do not agree that the plot is simple. It is not just a matter of he loves her, she doesn't love him, he changes, she falls in love with him anyway. A lot of things happen! Quite some pieces of the puzzle have to fall in the right place before the story comes to an ending.
But what I love most about Jane Austen are the dialogues. One of my favourites is the conversation between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine near the end of the book. I always wish that I could give such smart answers to people! Elizabeth never lies, but dodges questions she doesn't want to answer very cunningly.

Favourite character: Mr. Bennet. He has the best lines in the book, I always have to laugh about him. Very ironic all the time. Just a few examples:
You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these last twenty years at least.

An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.


Want to know some bookstats about the characters in Pride and Prejudice? Read this!