A blog about the classics, and why you could love to read them
Monday, January 21:st - Jack London
If you like your classics, chances are that you’ve heard of Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” before. If you liked it, or just enjoy browsing through classic reading lists (surely I cannot be the only one who does that…?) you might also have heard of its sequel, “White Fang”.
“Call of the Wild” is the story about the large hound Buck, who is stolen from a wealthy household and sold into the north as a sledge-dog. He is a lot stranger than the native huskies, and a both wilful and decided character, and he does well in his new circumstances.
He struggles with his change of fortune at first, of course, and has to learn tricks of survival by observation, such as digging into the snow to stay warm. He also has more delicate paws than perhaps advisable, and suffers from threading on the hard snow and ice. One of my favourite passages in the books in when one of the men running the sledge realises this and makes him dog-moccasins to help with this issue.
London’s description of how the man one morning forget to put them on the large hound and Buck throwing himself down in protest, all paws in the air as a remainder, is simply masterful, and remains one of my favourite paragraphs out of anything. It is delightful.
Besides these stories, perhaps better known in our time, Jack London wrote many other pieces, one of my favourites being “To Build a Fire”.
“To Build A Fire” is a short story, which was published in two separate versions, half a dozen years or so apart. In the first version, it is about a man who gets frostbite after going out in the too cold weather alone.
The second, and more well-read version, was published in 1908 (why am I reading something so modern? Only for Jack London… or Tolkien. For someone who claims to only like literature published before 1900, maybe it is somewhat ironic that two of my favourite authors operated almost exclusively after the turn of the century… maybe literacy isn’t dead, or at least wasn’t fifty years ago) and is generally the more easily found these days.
The later version of “To Build a Fire” is about a man and his husky, who are wandering between a town and a camp on a far too cold day. The dog, of course, knows this and isn’t too eager on the walk, and if the man was a bit more creative, he might have listened to this canine advice.
As it is, he sets off into the cold air - about minus fifty degreesCelsius cold, at that - without a companion (that is, one that might build a fire) full of confidence.
It is a beautifully written short, possible to read in less than half an hour and worthy of far more time. London describes the cold and the nature of both man and animal supremely well, and I read it full of happiness with the language and setting, myself. Which says something, as I am familiar enough both with novellas and with London, and so fully expected it to end with utter tragedy.
You might guess, yourself, how it ends.
As you might have guessed if you’re a frequent reader of this blog, to find out if you’re right you’re going to have to have a read, because I sure am not going to tell you.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, December 17:th – A Christmas story
Christmas. It means something different to all of us. Most holidays, from Halloween to New Year’s Eve, are celebrated to different levels or not at all by different people. Christmas, however, or at least the Christmas season, is celebrated in some way by almost everyone these days.
Myself, I grew up celebrating something with a lot of Christmas cheer, based on presents and food and most of all family, but not very religious, if at all. In many parts of the world, this is a big part nowadays, I think, of what we’d describe as a good Christmas.
When it comes to literature and Christmas, it is also a big part of what we’d describe as “Christmassy”. Whatever religion you do – or do not – subscribe to, most everyone would rather watch the old muppets film of “A Christmas Carrol” than read the bible, while eating cookies on Christmas Eve. Not necessarily because your Christmas is not religious, but because it is the humanity of family and the sense of belonging which makes Christmas so great for so many of us. Or so terrible, for those feeling lonely at this time of year.
It is the same phenomenon which makes Shakespeare endure or why most great adventure stories share common points. It is a human thing, beyond anything else. We get to see our family and loved ones, and that’s the special bit. "White Wine in the Sun", by Tim Minchin (and he is not known for his great religiousness, to say the least) a great example of what makes Christmas into Christmas to many people. It is quite literally a family holiday.
That doesn’t necessarily mean - and usually doesn’t – that it has to be some sort of deep, profound humanity at play. Great dramas have their place, but the lighthearted is usually favoured by most of us at this season simply because we like to be happy at Christmas. It is a happy time, reinforced by happy memories, and literature or media has a part to play in that.
Be it stories about Christmas, from ‘Santa Claus III’ to the original “a Christmas Carrol” or instead just anything which the family won’t fight over, a book read out loud or a film on the big screen are ways be enjoy the holiday together, and this is ultimately what we want to do at this time of year. A Christmas in my family usually involves “A Knight’s Tale”; originally simply because we all liked it, and then it became our tradition, and that is how it works. There doesn’t have to be a reason for something to be “Christmassy” – it is about feeling, not about logic. How we remember and associate, depending on our past.
So many of us prefer something from our childhoods over something new; because it connects us to those previous happy memories; memories with loved ones and a happy Christmas - so a story don’t have to contain it at the start! We will fill the story with Christmas, and this is why Christmas is ultimately a different event in every single family.
Like so many things, a Christmas book or - film, perhaps, for most of us - is all about the input you put in, the way you feel about it, because remember: reading a book (more than watching a film) is a dialogue between you and the writer, not an already written monologue your thoughts and feelings won’t affect. Rereading a book you read while being happy, will bring some of that happiness back from your memories.
For me, and many of my friends even more so, “A Christmas Carrol” by the muppets is an absolute staple and if you prefer an other version, I’m not going to be logical; you’re wrong. And my usual stubbornness aside, that is kind of the point.
(As the next few Mondays are Christmas Eve – which is the big one in Scandinavia – and New Year’s Eve, I will be taking them off. Happy Christmas, and I will see you all in the new year!)
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, December 10:th - Tell Me the Truth About Love / Delving Deeper into Auden Part 3
I have heard it argued, that “As I walked out one evening” is actually a better love poem than ‘Tell me the truth about love” is, and as much as I actually agree, I must argue that they are both lovely poems, not only about love, but overall as well.
Writing is about craft, as much as it is about creativity, and some stories or pieces requires a carefully guarding author to guide, some wants to write themselves. Knowing when to do which, how to do it right, and whom to trust with guidance, is a simple equation that takes a world of skill to carry out. W. H. Auden got right not only one piece or one kind of poetry, but several styles, and just for this he ought to be commended.
But if comparing is what you'd like to do, tell me this. Which is more perfection, would you say; which tells you more about love?
“I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky”
Or is it:
“When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I’m picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or thread in the bus on my toes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love.”
Or is it in fact this:
“The stars are not wanted now; put out every one.
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.”
Because this is something we do a lot, we compare pieces. For a novel, I will agree it might be relevant. We cannot all read every novel that’s ever been written, there’s not enough time. And you should spend the time you do have wisely. For these, though, surely there’s love enough in our hearts for more than one?
Not only is feeling impossible to value in a objective way, but words to describe it is, too. All three pieces, as I’ve gone through them these last few weeks, have something to add, and when it comes to poetry, choosing is really not very relevant. Read them all and no matter which author, odds are you till have time to spare compared to having read a novel.
I am pershaps not the most sentimental person, but some certain pieces of poetry and literature in general makes me positively maudlin. And perhaps, that is the best judge of how powerful these pieces are, if really we have to judge: not with our heads, but by the music they make in our hearts.
(And no, that’s not a quote at all. I’m a poet too – at least when I’m in a positively maudlin mood…)
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, December 3:rd 2018 - As I Walked Out One Evening (Or, "Delving Deeper Into Auden", Part 2)
Sometimes, it is hard to tell what is or what isn't one of any author's more well-known pieces. I'd consider anything written by Auden a classic, myself - even if somebody found it tomorrow in a desk drawer, but classic and famous are not necessarily the same. Not mutually exclusive, in any way, but not always as linked as you'd think.
For myself, I more or less grew up with this specific poem, as Auden is a favourite of my mother, and I am pretty sure lines from this particular poem still graces the library which once was my teenage den.
I do have a history to stray from the subject, perhaps, but I have a reason this time. Auden - or any poet, for that matter - is all about triggering your emotions, even more so than a traditional author, and as such, what does and does not speak or even appeal to you, have a lot to do with that you associate with a piece of writing.
I myself am not of a school where I'd say I'd necessarily like Auden, or any of his pieces as a default; except to deeply admire his writing skill. But since poetry is personal, this is irrelevant. Auden makes me think of things and people which and whom I love, so I'll always adore Aude, and everything else remains speculation.
This is why poetry is something which cannot be rushed or decided for you: more than anything, you've just got to like what you like.
No matter what influenced you, you'll like your own bits of a story, find your own links and literary soulmates, and if you want my advice; never let anybody tell you what you ought or ought not to like. Literary snobbery is rampant today, but for all the brilliance of Shakespeare, Agatha Christie was damn near as good, if not more so, as she managed to be as brilliant as she was accessible.
To return to the poem at hand, it is about an evening, a walk, and in many ways, a declaration of the nature about love. It can be read in ess than ten minutes, so let me recommend that you do, instead of me analysing it to death.
I'll leave you with this; my favourite line is "Until the ocean is folded - and hung up to dry". What's yours?
(My deepest apologies for there not being any blog last week - I'm writing a new book. It features a bunch of angels who are sick, mad, crazy, powerful, vindictive, resentful and just plain insane - not to mention occasionally helpful. It's very hard to manage them all.)
L. H. Westerlund
Friday, November 23:rd 2018; Blog and Reading Advice - Funeral Blues (Or, "Delving Deeper Into Auden", Part 1)
I have told you about W.H. Auden before - not only is he one of my authorly brothers-in-initials (because, you know, heaven forbid any of us have actual names) but he is also an absolute staple of English literature and not mentioning him would be an oversight of epic proportions.
I would like, however, to take an extra moment to discuss, sprecifically, a few of his poems. I am going to do so throughout the remains of the year, but first on the list, is "Funeral Blues".
Now, there is a massive amount of ways of analysing any poem. Many of them involves a lot of very fancy and often far-fetched ideas and tools, but usually, I've found, keeping it simple - without being dismissive - tends to give if not the best, so certainly the most understandable results.
Auden's "Funeral Blues", is about grief. More specifically, about that sense in immense grief, when it feels either as if the world is stopping, or - perhaps more accurately, given even a tiny bit of distance and awareness - like your world is stopping, and a strangely terrible sense that the rest of the world is not stopping with you, as you'd feel it should.
This poem is about that specific feeling.
It starts so simple, with the rather humble suggestion of stopping your clocks. It furthers by silencing the telephone - still a very practical and down to earth suggestion - and gives the good advice of how to "prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone".
It then goes on to describe a fueral, and as this description ends and a new verse begins, the expressions of mourning grows. Now, it is not simple, though certainly still doable. In this verse, the suggestions is for airplanes to scribble messages in the sky, and every traffic policeman in sight to wear black gloves, not white. Rather amusingly, but effectively, something similaris suggested for the local bird-popluation as well.
In the third verse we get a raw dose of pain, as the "I" in the poem speaks of the "he", who is being mourned, and we get a glimmer of all the love that is now lying scattered on the ground, as it were.
With this, in the fourth verse, Auden goes all out, and a humble start with a disabled clock is turned into scrapping the stars, the sun, the moon, the water and the wood - "because nothing now can come to any good".
I hope I will ever love - or be loved by anyone - as much as Auden loved, in order to write this poem. And for that matter, for anyone today to have as much talent in prose, to write such a masterpiece anew.
Take my advice and read it yourselves, this weekend. At the end of the day, it is only sixteen lines long.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, November 12:th 2018 - Robert Burns
Robert Burns is quite possible Scotland's most famous poet, although even though he did also write in Scottish, his English works are understandably, undoubtedly more famous. Purely because they are more accesible, one assumes.
Though he is often referred to as "Rabbie Burns" in this day and age, this was never an actual nickname of his during his lifetime, or at least not one he appreciated and/or used, anyway.
Besides being a farmer, Robert Burns was a poet. While a lot of his works have survived, he he is perhaps more famous for collecting and translating scottish folk songs, writing down existing works much in the style of the Brothers' Grimm. Undoubtedly, most people would connect him with "Auld Lang Syne", the traditional folk song he graciously put in print (but did not actually write, whatever you might think!) for us.
He was, on all accounts, a very keen-eyed and sympathetic man, if one judges by how he - after overturning a mouse house on his fields one day - wrote the poor mouse a poem. For context, not too many farmers would consider the feelings or wellbeing of the mice living on their fields at all, nevermind spending time writing about them.
The story of the little mouse, however, is still quite well known, and deservedly so as the story is rather sweet, as well as just a bit sad. Myself, reading it, I wonder how the mouse faired during that winter Burns speaks of.
This is ridiculous, of course, as the mouse would have been dead for about three centuries by now even if it did die of old age, but in a way that is exactly the point.
A good poet - be it Burns or Byron or even Anne Bronte - writes something which still seems relevant: an age of the world after it was first penned, if necessary. Poetry is not associated with the most concise language, and while this is certainly a vaild enough point, a good poem does tell us a story; and it does so simply, briefly - often in less words than even the shortest of shorts.
Burns is seen today as quite an advocate of the romantic era, so even for poetry he is far from what we'd name as a simplistic author, but there is no real need for him to be for the story to remain a simple one, in essence. An apology to a field mouse can be written romantically, and still at the end of the day provoce a simple emotion.
An emotion which still is relevant to us today when we read it, making you frown without thinking, worrying for a long lost mouse, in a field which is probably a shopping mall by now anyway.
In the case of any old writings, context does have a tendency to go with time, so it tells us of a master, and a master of human feelings as well, when something keeps well. If you've done your job right, as a writer: that context isn't needed. When even without it there, the concern for a simple, small field creature, is just human concern - be the "mousie" still relevant in our time: or (as when it is literally a mouse) not.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, November 5:th 2018 - Matilda
Like many an other children’s-book by Roald Dahl, "Matilda" is an absolute staple in the upbringing of a vast number of children; especially young girls.
Matilda is a young, rebellious girl with quite a bright outlook and an even brighter mind. Even as a very young girl she starts to educate herself, by going to the library.
After reading all the books in the children’s section – teaching herself to read in the process – she promptly moves on to books for older people, quite astonishing the librarian as she goes along. She ends up borrowing books and reading in her room, which her father – upon finally finding out – takes quite the dim view on.
This incident, as well as a few others when her family displeases her, leads to Matilda seeking a careful and methodical revenge. Spooking a recalcitrant brother by the help of a parrot, gluing her fathers hat on his head or dyeing his hair with her mother’s hair-products; she is very inventive.
She needs to take that inventiveness up a notch, when she starts a very particular school: with a very particular (and not in a good way!) headmistress.
Miss Trunchbull is not fond of children. At all. Sha has a few nightmarish ways of punishing (what she perceives) as misdeeds, and when Matilda finds out she is badly bullying her favourite teacher, miss Honey, well then it is time to get ultimately creative and get on the warpath.
Matilda’s father is a dodgy car-dealer and while Matilda is trying to save the day, he needs to get running for the hills.
Is there a happy ending? Well, it is a children’s story, but you’re just going to have to find out yourself!
I love forcing my readers to read, after all…
L. H. Westerlund
Wednesday, October 31:st 2018 - Spooooky All Hallows Eve
What makes a spooky book? What makes us enjoy it? Strange as it seems, it does appear to be in human nature to enjoy to be spooked a bit: within reason, of course. We are all different in just how scared we’d like to be, but luckily for us, there’s a full kaleidoscope of works, courtesy of sometimes very unexpected sources.
There’s a multitude of writers who does this very well; in a multitude of ways. Some are outright scary, some will freeze your blood rock solid *cough* Stephen King *cough* and some will merely have you giggle softly in delight at being just a little bit unsettled.
Washington Irving is a good writer to go to for enjoyable, low-key spooky. “Rip Van Winkle” or even “Spooky Hollow” are very understated versions of ghost-stories or horror (in the latter case) and even those amongst us who do not enjoy too much of the scary, will usually enjoy his work.
Steinbeck is not spooky at all, but reigns supreme as the king of melancholy, only possibly ever challenged by Kafka himself, who instead of the beautiful and sad Steinbeck has made such a signature of, writes melancholy just towards the border or eerie. Sometimes just across it, too.
Edgar Allan Poe, of course, is a must-mention of any discussion about anything spooky – often supernatural and not seldom outright scary; he’ll get the job of scaring you done well and proper on any day.
Faulkner can do his Halloween as well, which might not be overly expected, but “A Rose for Emily” is bordering on the grotesque; beautifully executed, of course.
There’s generally too many good writers, authors and stories to mention them all, but I will say that the best spooky story I’ve ever read, is actually a Melville. He shows us just a tad of a dramatic flair in “Moby Dick”, and in his brilliant short-story “The Bell Tower”, he walks a very narrow line between the supernatural and the outright obvious, and I’ve never been as scared nor as happy about it concerning any other story, I think ever.
So go out this all hallows eve (and by that I mean stay in), and spook away, my dear reader.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, October 22:nd 2018 - Daddy-Long-Legs
It starts with a nightmare of a Wednesday. Jean Webster’s classical – and still widely read – novel about young orphaned authoress (possibly still to be) Jerusha Abbott, starts with her paper about just such a nightmare of a Wednesday, on such a Wednesday, at that.
Jerusha – soon nicknamed Judy – has grown up at the John Grier Home for orphans since she was but a babe. As she got older, she has continued to study and has earnt her keep staying on as a helper.
Now, almost a woman grown, because of her entertaining but cheeky paper about that Wednesday, a benefactor of the orphanage who previously has been known to send some of their young boys to college, has deemed it prudent to fund sending her as well.
We get to follow Judy as she settles in for her first year at college, in a solitary tower room to start with, and we’re with her as she goes from unusual and un-understanding outcast – not that anybody knows of her unusual upbringing or treats her different – to a college girl with the best of them, gaining friends, roommates, sports skills, literary excellence – and literary heartbreak - along the way.
Faced with all the opportunity, she grows up to be quite a different woman that the critics around her destined her to be, learning on her path through four years that Michelangelo was not in fact an Arch angel, “little women” is a book you are just supposed to have read, and that writing a good novel takes many tries and hard earned experience.
It is a heart-warming book to reread and reread again, deeply suitable to any age and most states of mind. Myself, I have several worn copies in several languages, and I myself reread it frequently on lazy mornings and quiet afternoons.
You should too – I bet she’ll make you smile when you least expect it.
L. H. Westerlund
Friday, October 19:th 2018 - The Hound of the Baskerville’s Friday Book Advice
The Hound of Baskerville is one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s only four novels about Sherlock Holmes. There are many more stories, of course, but most of them are only a few thousand words long. (Which isn’t as easy to do as you might think, and he doesn’t fall into the cliché short-story format once, either.)
I am recommending that you read it, for the simple reason that it is a good read: it is a well-crafted, just pleasantly spooky tale of both the worst and the best in people, and it has all the elements of a truly great read for any occasion. Myself, I tend to pack one of my paperback copies of it for long train-journeys, as it is one of those books you can just lazily reread into infinity.
It starts, as so many of Sherlock Holmes’ and John Watson’s stories, on a typical muddy, rainy London day at Baker Street. More specifically, the mystery begins with a cane which was left there by an otherwise unidentifiable visitor. Deduced by Watson as an elderly man with a hunting habit, and by Sherlock as a very young and spry doctor, this young doctor when returning to claim his cane tells a most peculiar story.
He advises them on a legend of the moor, a very old one which until recently was mere words. The legend of the Hound of the Baskerville’s. He himself didn’t believe in the story, but the elderly Baskerville Hall resident did.
After said man was found mauled by a huge dog, the only night he was near the moor, the doctor, too, has his doubts about rational thinking. Especially, as the sole heir is returning to the hall, and our young doctor is reluctant to bring him to danger.
Naturally, our second young doctor and his detective end up taking the case, travel to Dartmoor, and become immersed in such a gigantic mystery that Arthur Conan Doyle needs an entire novel to sort it out.
It features, amongst other things, a very supportive husband, a kind sister, an impossible brother, a benevolent landlord, a very unfortunate dog and another, even less fortunate dog.
And that’s without me even getting started on the actual villains!
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, Oktober 8:th 2018- Short Stories
Short stories are usually less well-read than novels. Probably either because of stigma, or maybe because a lot of them has similar, unhappy endings, because besides this I cannot fanthom why. There is a wealth of good, well-written ones by very respected classical authors and you can read one at any time. As ever, I seek to inspire by example, so here is my own reading list: shorts only.
L. H. Westerlund
Andersen, H. C. - The Little Match-Girl
Andersen, H. C. - The Shirt Collar
Atwood, Margaret – A Happy Ending
Atwood, Margaret – The Stone Mattress
Bierce, Ambrose - An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
Bradbury, Ray – A Sound of Thunder
Boswell, James - On War
Carroll, Lewis – The Hunting of the Snark
Chaucer – A Knight’s Tale
Chopin, Kate - The Story of an Hour
Conan Doyle, Arthur – The Breyl Crown
Conan Doyle, Arthur – The Adventure of the Blue Carbunkle
Conan Doyle, Arthur – The Adventure of the Speckled Band
Conan Doyle, Arthur – The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge
Conan Doyle, Arthur – The Beetle Hunter
Conan Doyle, Arthur – The League of Red-Headed Men
Conan Doyle, Arthur – The Musgrave Ritual
Dahl, Roahl - Beware of the Dog
Ewald, Carl – The Queen Bee
Faulkner – A Rose For Emily
Fergusson, Robert - The Daft Days
Fielding, Henry – The Lovers Assistant, or, New Art of Love
Fielding, Sarah – The Governess (or, the little female academy)
Garcia Marquez, Gabriel - Eva is Inside Her Cat
Garcia Marquez, Gabriel - One of These Days
Garcia Marquez, Gabriel - A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings
Grimm, Jacob and William – Fairy Tales
Grimm, Jacob and William - Hansel and Gretel
Grimm, Jacob and William - Rapunzel
Grimm, Jacob and William - Rumpelstiltskin
Grimm, Jacob and William - Snow-White and Rose-Red
Grimm, Jacob and William - Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
Grimm, Jacob and William - The Frog-Prince
Hemingway – Den gamle och havet
Hemingway – The Cat in the Rain
Hemingway – The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Henry, O - (William Sydney Porter) The Gift of the Magi
Irving, Washington – The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Irving, Washington - Rip Van Winkle
Jackson, Shirley – The Lottery
Johnson, Samuel - Nr 65. Fate of Posthumerous Works
Joyce, James – Eveline
Kafta, Frans – The Transformation
Kipling, Ryan – How the Chamel got Its Hump
Kipling, Ryan – Rikki tikki taak
Lagerlöf, Selma – The Changeling
Love Peacock, Thomas - Nightmare Abbey
Manpassant, Guy the - Bellflower
Manpassant, Guy the - The Christening
Melville – The Bell Tower
Melville – The Fiddler
Milton, John – On Shakespeare
Nabokov, Vladimir – Signs and Symbols
O'Flaherty, Liam - The Sniper
Orwell, George – Shooting an Elephant
Parker, Dorothy - A Telephone Call
Poe, E.A. – The Fall of the House of Usher
Pope, Alexander – An Essay on Criticism
Saki, (H. H. Munro) - The Mouse
Salinger, J.D – A perfect Day for Bananafish
Saunders, George - The Falls
Shaw, Irwin - The Girls in their Summer Dresses
Stockton, Frank, R - The Griffin and the Minor Canon
Stroker, Bram – Dracula's Guest
Swift, Jonathan – A Modest Proposal
Thurber, James – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Tolstoy, Leo – Three Questions
Twain, Mark – The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
Updike, John – Frankie Lane
Wells, H.G. – The Magic Shop
Wells, H.G. – The Time Machine
Wilde, Oscar – The Canterville Ghost
Wilde, Oscar – The Happy Prince
Wilde, Oscar – The Nightingale and the Rose
Williams, William Carlos - The Use of Force
Wolf, Virginia – A Haunted House
Wordsworth, William – Anecdote for Fathers
Monday, October 1:st 2018- Let's Talk About Shylock for a Moment
"Merchant of Venice" is the - quite literally Shakespearian - story of love, belief and of hate. (Also, of sneaky women - dressed as men, of course, as Shakespeare was so fond of.) It tells us about how genuine love will never be thwarted by false promises or intentions, and ultimately teaches us that hate - no matter how much it was actually earned - will ultimately destroy the one doing the hating.
It is the story of a Venetian Merchant, a Jewish money lender and several young men in love - along with their wives, who are actually a lot more important to the plot in many ways. In it, a young woman leaves her religion behind to gain freedom and the man she loves. Which could be seen as a bad thing - if you choose to see it as religious supression it certainly would be - or quite literally freedom. She gets a choise. That - if genuine, and only if genuine - is a good thing. As far as I can interpret it this is her own choise, so you know: you do you, girl.
Her father, however, gets the same choise and he choses to "remain true", as it were. He looses everything. Here we definitely do have repression, but the two isn't mutally exclusive: we are all different. And religion is personal if anything is.
Of course, while this man is set before a highly unfair choise - I have no idea what I'd do in his position, myself - there are other considerations. He ends up in this situation because a merchant defaults on a loan where the forfeight is "a pound of flesh". This merchant has treated him poorly in the past, and his hate is warranted, but it still leads to his demise; as hate often do, you might say.
Luckily for the unhappy merchant, he took this loan out to help a man marry, and he marries a very resourseful woman - a lot more resorseful that her new husband who loyally tries to help, but does so much more traditionally, by offering to pay back the money - who with the help of a laywer and her handmaid poses as a man of the law and gets their friend freed.
The play is famous for the newly married Portia's speech about mercy, but even more so for the jewish money lender Shylock's own speech. Same as most of us would recognise "To be or not to be", "If you prick us, do we not bleed", will also ring a bell with many people.
You could argue that there is antisemitism expressed in this play - it is actually an ongoing debate in some ways - but while one must admit there is definitely a few things open to that interpretation in this play, I would argue myself that the play itself isn't actually slighting anybody. Why?
Well, much as Shylock is very much on the losing side in the play, Shakespeare isn't actually against him entirely. Not really. Antonio - the merchant - does get away with blatant bigotry, yes, and Shylock loses everything for refusing to submit to giving up his religion, which is plainly just wrong. But he is put in this position by wanting to carve Antonio up: which isn't exactly a nice thing to do. More than this, however, while Shylock is most certainly on the bad side within the narrative of the play, made a villain, Shakespeare lends him a very powerful voice, which can hardly be seen as a contrary action.
We tend to look at politicsand sociatal structure in such a far past time as Shakerspeare's in a very simplistic way, but let us face it: it is bound to have been as dynamic a thing then as it is now. People have different views and different perspectives, and life back then featured a lot more diversity than we now assume.
In general Shakespeare's plays are very openminded as far as can possibly be expected to many groups beyond the "white, christian, straight male" stereotype, definitely before his time, and a lot of considerably later authors have done considerably less good of a job, so I think we can forgive him for slightly being a victim of his time. As, indeed, we all are.
At the end of the day, we can not change our history, only learn from it, and try and make the future as bright as we can possibly can make it.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, September 24:th 2018- Rereading "Little Lord Fauntleroy"
There are books you only read once. Sometimes it is because you simply didn't appreciate the book in question: whether it was too much work to be worth the effort, or you just didn't like it, it is a fair reason.
Some books you do not reread because you loved them. It might be because they evoke so much feeling that it takes you a lot to go back there, or there might be other memories at play. Personally, I still remember which book first inspired me to be an author: I still own that very copy, but I haven't reread it for years. Maybe, this Christmas, I'll sit back down with my mother once more and do so.
Some books bring back to many memories, or perhaps you're scared that they'd bring back too few: we all have those few precious bits of our past we are scared would fade: that we dare not touch for fear we'd somehow tarnish them.
No matter if you loved it or hated it, any book which evokes emotion takes effort. The easier books to reread are the ones which merely brought you enjoyment.
I've been sick lately - it is that time of year, after all - and as I lay in my bed, lazily refusing to do anything remotely productive in between my violent sneezes, I reread Francis Hodgeson Burnett's story "Little Lord Fauntleroy". Now, while I enjoy this particular book, this story is not my favourite: I do prefer "The Secret Garden", amongst this authoresses works, and beyond this there's certainly no shortage of books in this world. Even free to read online or snugly on my windowsill, there's plenty of choice. So why did I choose this particular one to reread? And why didn't I just pick a new one?
I have previously touched upon how mere ease makes a huge difference for what we read and do not read, and in this case, it is more the case than ever, me being sick and all. It is a pleasantly diverting book which requires very litte thought, and sometimes that's exactly what we need.
I might be wrong, but I think this might be why "Twilight" became a hit: even though "pleasant", "diverting" and "book" are somewhat loosely applied in this case.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, September 17:th 2018- Whose Body
Dorothy Parker never reached the level of fame that Arthur Conan Doyle did. Perhaps, it is a question of timing, or maybe it is because Peter Whimsey just isn't quite as charmingly quirky as Sherlock Holmes is. In fact, despite his "grotesque little hobby" (and that's his mother's opinion, though I might be paraphrasing a tiny bit) Peter Whimsey is quite a normal, elegant, functioning gentleman of his time. Boring as that is, obviously, compared to a completely mental heroin-addict with stalking tendencies, judging by fanbase size. (What? Which had you heard of?)
Peter Whimsey, as a more traditional 19:th-century gentleman, (compared to Sherlock Holmes, anyway. Though honestly that is not actually saying a lot) is very much more socially adept and sociable, and not excluded from company the way his fellow crime detective Holmes generally seems to be. Nor, either, is he distanced from his family. Strange as they find his hobby, and they do, there is still common ground. In the novel "Whose Body", in fact, it is Sir Peter Whimsey's mother who puts him onto the trail of the crime.
It might even be this point which makes Peter less famous than Sherlock: Dorothy Parker has been criticised for eventually making her hero far too knowledgeable and perfect. He's a little superhuman a few books in: but maybe that's just an interpretation. Myself, I tend to think that rational people do this as they grow older and wiser: they gain enough perspective and distance to not submit very often to normal human flaws. Personally I do not find her detective too good to be true, but you yourself must be the judge of what you think.
As for the story, "Whose Body" starts with Peter Whimsey getting a call from his mother. Now, the lady has heard a fantastical and confusing account involving servants and some people or other in her wast network of contacts. Secretly indulgent of her son's unusual hobby (as long as he doesn't cause her embaressment with her many equally posh friends) she naturally calls him right up to gossip about it.
Just as naturally, he takes the case right away.
It leads him through a long and suitably winding trail of unwitting witnesses and strange students to a selection of pleasantly surprising ending revelations. If you enjoy your Miss Marple and your Sherlock, I'd reccommend him warmly.
We like - something which I like about people, honestly - to see the frailty and failings in our fellow men and women, to know that we are all human. But honestly, so is Peter Whimsey: he is just a bit posh, and he does have the advantage of being able to readily learn from his mistakes.
And in that, we should all take his example.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, September 10:th 2018- A Reading List
As always, I strive to share my passon for literature, and my belief that we are all still exploring. This time, I thought I'd share my reading list of poetry enjoyed - this far!
L. H. Westerlund
Alighieri, Dante – Love and the Gentle Heart
Alighieri, Dante –There is a Gentle Thought
Andersson, Dan - Hymn
Angelou, Maya – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Auden, W.H – As I walked out one Evening
Auden, W.H – Funeral Blues
Auden, W.H – Tell Me the Truth About Love
Blake, William – A Cradle Song
Blake, William – A Little Boy Lost
Blake, William – A Little Girl Lost
Blake, William – Broken Love
Blake, William – Eternity
Blake, William – The Angel
Bronte, Anne – Dreams
Bronte, Anne – Night
Boye, Karin – It Hurts
Burns, Robert - Adress to a Haggis
Burns, Robert - Inscription on Fergusson's tomb
Burns, Robert - My Love is Like a Red Red rose
Burns, Rebert - To a Mouse
Byron - Prometheus
Byron - She Walks in Beauty
Byron - So We'll Go No More A-Roving
Carroll, Lewis – The Hunting of the Snark
Chaucer – A Knight’s Tale
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor – The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner
Cummings, E.E. – I Carry Your Heart With Me
Eliot, George – O May I Join the Choir Invisible (and other favorite poems)
Eliot, T. S. – Portrait of a Lady
Eliot, T. S. - The Hollow Man
Folklore - Sir Gwaine and the Green Knight
Fröding, Gustaf – A Lover's Hymn
Gullberg, Hjalmar - Kissing Wind
Jonson, Ben – His Excuse for Loving
Jonson, Ben – On My First Son
Jonson, Ben – Song to Celia
Jonson, Ben – The Forest
Jonson, Ben – The Noble Nature
Keats – On the Grasshopper and the Cricket
Keats – Ode to a Nightingale
Lagerkvist, Pär – A Stranger
Lagerkvist, Pär – I Wanted To Be Another
Lawrence, D.H. - Coming Awake
Lawrence, D.H. - From a College Window
Lawrence, D.H. - Winter in the Boulevard
Marlowe, Christopher (Kit) – The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
Marlowe, Christopher (Kit) – Who Ever Loved That Loved Not at First Sight?
Marvell, Andrew - To His Coy Mistress
Nordic Folk Tale – Beowulf
Nordic Folk Tale – Poetic edda
Oliver, Mary – The Summer Day
Oliver, Mary – Wild Geese
Plath, Sylvia - Alicante lullaby
Plath, Sylvia - Cinderella
Plath, Sylvia - Childless Woman
Pope, Alexander - Statesman
Quarles, Francis – A good Night
Quasimodo, Salvatore – Wind at Tindari
Scottish Folk Song - Old Langsign
Shakespeare – Sonnets
Shelley – Ode to the West Wind
Snoilsky, Carl – Old Porselain
Snoilsky, Carl – Noli me Tangere
Strandberg, C. V. A. (Talis Qualis) – A Dream
Sturluson, Snorre – Eddan
Tolkien, J. R. R. – Ainulindale & Valaquenta
Whitman, Walt - To a Stranger
Wilde, Oscar – The Happy Prince
Wilde, Oscar – The Nightingale and the Rose
Monday, September 3:rd 2018- A Perfect Day For Banana Fish
More famous for "The Catcher in the Rye", J. D. Salinger also penned the obscure little shortstory "A Perfect day For Banana Fish".
Like so many shortstories, it starts with mystery and ends with tragedy and death - so not too surprising there. After reading a few hundred shortstories - no matter that they're by a multitude of authors - I must admit they do get a tad predictable. Don't let my cynical disposition deter you though: it is worth a read for sure.
Shortstories: perfect when you don't have time to read a novel. And/or need an excuse to sulk and eat too much ice cream. Multiple uses. But sadly, I digress: this is not a post about ice cream. (It could be. It too, is one of my areas of expertise...)
To return on point, "A Perfect Day For Banana Fish" is, at least partly, exactly what you think it would be, at this point. It is a shortstory, so therefore a tragedy, and it involves at least one mention of "Banana Fish". So far, so obvious. Beyond that, though, I promise it gets more interesting.
It is the story of an army veteran struggling with depression, and a child randomly searching for "Banana Fish" is involved. Why? Not sure, but it sure wasn't predictable, and that's already a win, isn't it?
Also, somewhat usnually - at least when you get to the point of having read a hundred plus shortstories - it tuggs at your heartstrings. It really does. And you get blase after a while. Often protagonists in shorts aren't as sympathetic as they could be - they're often slightly lazily drawn middleaged men with a fault of some kind, for one - and you sort of get a feeling they're dead men walking, anyway, as it tends to be.
I feel that for most of the above circumstances I myself stop being very sympathetic. Not that I wish the characters dead or gone or anything, and I might even root for them occasionally, but I don't really react too much. Different from many novels I've been reading, it doesn't move me.
There is no heart beating quicker as I hope, or dread as I fear. They're nice stories, worthy of reading and worthy of the time they take, but I don't worry about them. A really good short can get you as much as a novel can - It took me an hour to read Kafka's "Transformation" and another good four or five hours to fully regain the will to live afterwards - and for this story, I really do need that comforting pint of ice cream after getting a look in this sad soldier's head.
He deserves better, and he is utterly kind and sympathetic. Silent, understated, and so, so sad. He deserves to be happy instead, but I'll leave it to you to find out if he has better things waiting.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, August 27:th 2018- Pygmalion
A few months back now, I started reading a book called "A Classical Education", a small and neat little guide to the classical education you wish you had been given. You know: basically being Stephen Fry.
In this interesting little book, it speaks about how quickly what is considered common knowledge has shifted. Just a handful of decades ago, classics now completely out of the public eye was household names. Specifically, it says that "just a hundred years ago Bernard Shaw could name his play "Pygmalion" and expect his audience to know why that was. I guess it is the final proof that I have too much time on my hands, because I still did. (And I told the book so, too. Yeah, I know, authors are crazy. If we weren't we'd get an easier job.)
The "Pygmalion" in question, as it happens, is a character from ancient Greek mythology. Likely the most well-known story about him (though perhaps that'a the wrong fraze these days) is Ovid's poem "Metamorphoses". It tells the story of a sculptor who falls in love with his sculptor. In more modern times, it is the inspiration behind the musical "My Fair Lady". Also, for the generation born in the nineties, and rather appropriately, actually, it was part of a childrens' cartoon series about Hercules, set in of course, ancient Greek.
It had a huge resurgence in popularity around Bernard Shaw's time, so to be truly fair to my contemporaries, it isn't just readers from our time who might be lost. People three hundred years ago might have been equally unaware of the nature of "Pygmalion", as far as we know.
The original story is one involving gods and - more prominently - goddesses, Aphrodite to be precise, and while its full meaning can hardly be deciphered this far after the fact, I'd say that it being a metaphor for humanity and what makes us human, is not too wide a leap.
So it is perhaps appropriately, that the female protagonist in its inspired musical, "My Fair Lady," comes to the conclusion in the end that it is not the accent which makes a lady. In fact, she tells us that it is not so much you, as it is the people around you.
She concludes for us, that while the professor teaches her to talk, walk, look and behave like a lady, it is his friend, who respectfully doesn't take his shoes off in her presence - treating her like a lady - who makes her truly feel like one. Just like the statue brought to be like alive cannot truly be human until it gets awarded the choises of a human, and a human heart.
Many old pieces of writing - like Gulliver's travels or even Machiavelli's "The Prince" - has lost most of their power as the centuries has passed, leaving their meaning behind. Those which remain - be it the obvious example of Shakespeare or a play by Sofocles - tend to put little true weight to trappings (much as they often contain plenty of them) and just tells us about humanity, as it is. Hamlet might be a prince, yes, and Antigone might be her brother's daughter, as it happens, but whether the daughter of a nobleman or the son of a god, the stories we still remember (well, some of us, anyway) tend to be just about - at the heart of it - those things which truly makes us human.
All the rest have faded, but in the nonsensical but boundless world of today, those stories are even more relevant than when they were first written.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, August 20:th 2018 - Reading List
I shall tell you a secret. I've alluded to this before, but the more you read, the more extensive your reading list willbe. There is no such thing as a "finished" expert on the subject of literature, and the further down the rabbit hole you fall, the further your reading list will go on. It'll grow, not deminish, and you mustn't be discouraged by this.
To prove it, I will now give you my own reading list - complete with Ivanhoe, of course, as ever - to peruse. Some of these titles I am yet to start reading, some I have gotten half-way through already, but either way, there are always new ones added to the mix. And though it might not seem it, when the list is growing and you're short of time, that is still a thoroughly good thing.
L. H. Westerlund
Yet To Read:
Alcott, Louise May - Young Women
Balzac, Honoré De - Eugenie Grandet
Bronte, Anne – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Chesterton, G. K. - Fader Brown's Secret
Darwin, Charles - The Origin of Species
Dumas, Alexander - Mylady's Son
Eco, Umberto - The Name of the Rose
Ekman, Kerstin - The Dog
Fleming, Ian - Casino Royale
Forester, C. S. - Lord Hornblower
France, Anatole - The Revolt of the Angels
Green, John - The Fault in Our Stars
Greene, Graham - Monsignore Quijote
Gripe, Maria - The Scarab Is Flying at Dusk
Hugo, Victor - Hunchback of Notre Dame
Kingsley, Charles – Hereward the Wake, Last of the English
Kipling, Ryan - Captain's Courageous
Lagerlöf, Selma - The Emperor of Portugallia
Lawrence, D.H. - Lady Chatterlay's Lover
Leroux, Gaston - Phantom of the Opera
London, Jack - White Fang
Malory, Sir Thomas - Le Morte d'Artur
Melville - Moby Dick
Rydberg, Viktor - Singoalla
Salinger, J.D - The Catcher in the Rye
Scott, W - Ivanhoe
Shakespeare – The Life of King Henry the Fifth
Shelley, Mary - Frankenstein
Tennyson, Lord Alfred - Idylls of the King
Verne, Jules - Around the World in Eighty Days
Verne, Jules - Journey to the Center of the Earth
Zola, Emile - Nana
Friday, August 17:th 2018Reading Advice/Blog - The Legend of Rip Van Wrinkle
The secret for learning about literature is to never stop reading. My shortstory of choise last June - in order to continue my own literature eduacation - was "Rip Van Winkle", by Washington Irving, who of course is more famous for writing another shortstory, namely"Sleepy Hollow".
It is a faschinating story flirting just a bit with supernatural folklore and the things hiding just behind that veil, hiding all that which we cannot see with our living eyes. This mortal coil, and all that.
It is about a man - not unpleasant but hardly a shining beacon of perfection either - who is suffering from some issues in his homelife. He has a unpleasant wife (though you might fairly say that her concerns are far from unreasonable) and for this considers himself quite unfortunate, which of course is not entirely true: he has a lot of things in his life that he values, which he notices upon apparently losing them all.
It would seem that he loses them, because he loses time. (Maybe ironically, seeing as he enjoyed nothing more than wasting it) Namely, by that he goes out to hunt in a forest where there according to local folklore resides mythical beings. He drinks, as it happens, with these supernatural folklore ghosts, and then proceeds to sleep it off in the same forest for the better part of two decades.
Upon finally waking - minus his dog, who wisely ran home - he comes back to a changed town; where the faces are different, old friends flown, allegiances shifted, and he no longer possesses a place amongst them.
After the first fright, and the expected sense of hopelessless, there is hope. There is a legacy - for good and bad - of his there, and ultimately it does turn out that he is welcome still, so -somewhat unusually, perhaps for a shortstory - there is a happy ending to be had.
We can learn a lot from any story, perhaps, but I for one has always been more about the reading a text, looking for what I can bring from it, than I am about analysing what the author might have thought. Because the truth is, that not only do we not know, but books also do not work like that. We often think of writing as a one-way process, something finished, made, completely, and while this is a valid perspective, so is to call it a collaborative process (beyond the writer and editor): every time a reader reads a story, making the characters originally born with the author come alive in their minds, the books is made anew. And that is the best thing.
All in all, many small works are like this one: it is a very random story by a fairly well-known author and it goes to show there is a lot of interesting little gems out there, however strange, so never stop looking: and never stop reading.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, August 6:th 2018- Watching Hamlet at the Globe
Last week, I went to see "Hamlet", at The Globe in London's Southbank. Somewhat appropriately, for Shakespeare-fans knowing that Shakespeare's theatre society's winter venue was "Blackfriars", Blackfriars is also the closest tube station. I reccomend a visit. (To the theatre, the tube station looks like all the other tube stations.)
As readers following this blog might already be able to recall, I have read vaguely a third of Shakespeare's plays before, and I have seen theatre before in plenty. I have also seen plenty of recorded Shakespeare stage-plays as well as film versions. I have not, however, ever seen live Shakespeare at the theatre before.
I loved it.
I think that, maybe, being so familiar with such a text helps you when you finally sit there. I have never seen the ending of "Hamlet" this way before (I know how it ends ever since I read it at twenty, and it is a friggin' Tragedy, so I avoid it) and experiencing it at the Globe only maked it the more powerful, but I know the story enough not to get too lost amongst it all.
It feels a lot, with their limited cast (like a genuine Shakespere-era theatre troup, actors played several roles) and the slightly noisy audience, like it might be like what Shakespeare actually wrote it for. Like you are doing a spot of limited time-travelling, only without the Daleks (for which I am grateful). Also (mostly) without the smell.
In Shakespeare's time, they had only male actors on the stage, still playing females, and they played with this theme this year: Hamlet and Horatio were both still hailed as men, as was Leartes, but they were all three played by female actors. In exchange, and very accurately in regards to that past time, Ophelia was played by a male. Also, and perhaps taking the concept of taking Shakespeare through to modern times a bit literally, half the cast - including the King, the Queen, the Guards and Ophelia, wore authentic Shakespeare-era clothing, while Hamlet, Horatio, Rosenkranz, Guildenstern and the Grave Digger wore modern dress. Including, in the case of the latter, an orange visiblity vest, which was - in my own humble opinion - awesome.
Hamlet also in the one scene had stolen the joker's makeup and Rosenkrantz or Guildenstern (literary buff, yes, but can I tell those two apart? Oh kinslayer, see you in hell no) was deaf. I loved the latter fact irrationally much, while my mother (who accompanied me) was more critical of this little plot divice. I think, rationally speaking, we both had a good point. Neither one of us quite got the point of Hamlet in clown trousers, however, but you know - you win some, you lose some.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, July 23:rd 2018- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou's piece of poetry - "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" is - for me, anyway, a piece of that sort of elusive piece of art which plays to a cord somewhere inside you.
We all have those stories, artworks or films, which just gets to us: in the best way possible. Personally, I would say that reaction and responce is what makes something art in the first place.
As for this poem, it is beautiful and tragic, and you can feel it affecting you, getting to you. You stop just reading, and starts to listen to what it tells you. Any good story will have that effect - like a transporter or a TARDIS, it literally moves you, sometimes far away. In some cases, which stories or which pieces of art that have this effect on us is very personal thing, but some stories do it for all of us. I think, myself, that this is what that the stories which have grown the most famous have in common, really: they do this for basically anyone - and everyone.
I'd put "Lord of the Rings", "Harry Potter" and Monet's "Haystacks" down in the latter category, but maybe, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" have this effect only on me. Probably, if its lack of being featured everywhere is any indication.
To get back to the subject at hand, Maya Angelou is - except a poet with an awesome name - an American singer and civil rights activist. "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" was also the title of her first autobiography, and as it won her international acclaim, maybe it isn't just me after all.
She was born as Marguerite Annie Johnson in the spring of 1928, and sadly passed away in the spring of 2014. (So I could say that she was, in fact, an activist, but I would argue that being a writier, all that she was she still is, assuming no one has burned all her books or something.) All in all she published seven autobiographies and was active for over fifty years. She is also famous for reciting a poem at the inaguration of Bill Clinton in 1993 - the first poet to do so since Robert Frost some thirty years earlier.
The piece itself - "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" - is a very simple story, which might be why it is so powerful, and the title is very self-explanatory as well. It is a poem about birds (though I'd say they're a metaphor), and why - while a free bird may fly anywhere its wings takes it and explore - a bird in a cage will sing so beautifully.
It is, Angelou concludes, precisely because a free bird may fly free, wings born by the winds of the world and freedom, while a caged bird cannot leave its cage. It sings, she speculates, because it cannot fly, and it sings of freedom.
I think that is as beautiful a thought as it is sad. And - assuming I know enough of poetry to disect the metaphor correctly - it is a wonderful and tragic interpretation of us, as well.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, July 2:nd 2018- Shortstories
Novels are brilliant. They are inspiring, awesome, and quite possibly the cheapest way to travel. The fact that they can transport you in both time and space, well - that's just a bonus. They are quite literally one of my favourite things.
I am far from the only person who enjoys a good novel, but we have a rising issue with time in our society right now. Specifically, we do not have enough time. Novels are time-consuming - it is their only weakness.
The result of this is the resurgence of a long-buried, almost forgotten phenomenom, which was likely never quite as popular as novels anyway: shortstories. And novelettes.
It is a brilliant idea, really: stories anyone can read on a lunch-hour or manage while riding the tube.
Now, a short can- much the same as a novel, really - be about anything. Different from novels, however, which really has an awesome span, most shorts have a common theme.
Usually, the shorter a short is, the more visible this common similarity is. Stories this short are usually found within the "tragedy" sector, in some form or another. If nothing else, they are at the very least solemn. Also very commonly, they tend to feature - usually towards the ending, but not always at the very end - some element or other of surprise. A plot-twist, quite simply.
Now, there are plenty of novels following this pattern as well, but partly it is not quite as universal, and partly it is simply more obscure, since a novels allows for more time to vary how this theme is used.
So, if you enjoy a snappy ending, don't mind a bit of sorrow and are short of time, then you know where to look!
And if it happens that you do mind the tragedy, might I be so bold as to self-promote? I write shorts as well, and I am a rebel. Mine are always happy.
Everybody should be rebels sometime, one way or another. (And also happy.)
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, June 25:th 2018 - Margaret Atwood
Arguably her most famous piece, I will willingly admit to never having read "Alias Grace". Often, I have come to realise, an author's most interesting works are not actually their most famous ones. Even if said works are good.
Melville is known for "Moby Dick", but "The Bell Tower" is terrifying and terrific all in one.
Tolkien is loved as the author of "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit", but "Silmarillion" is actually more interesting (Though admittedly perhaps more intriguing than actually readable.).
On this note: Margaret Atwood is actually, you see, a very good writer of shortstories. She has several of them to her name which are excellent.
Like so many shorts, they are generally a bit bittersweet, not to say just bitter. Nevermind that though, as they are within all of our reach to read - being the work of just half an hour or so to get through - and every single one I've found this far has been a wealth of beauty and intrigue.
I guess what I am really saying here is that there is more to Margaret Atwood than "Alias Grace", and also more to any author than merely their title piece.
Go and explore, I implore you: find the hidden stories and the unpraised gems, and you'll never for a moment regret it.
There is not a thing wrong with reading "Hamlet" and "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea", but behind every "The Hound of Baskerville" is a "The Musgrave Ritual" - behind every Sherlock Holmes lurks a Peter Whimsey or a Richard Hannay.
You just have to find them. I promise they're out there.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, June 18:th 2018- A Christmas Carrol
I make no secret out of that I am no great admirer of Dickens. I should clearify, however, that while I might critique him on his lack of range (I honestly mix several of his books up) this is the first point on a rather short list of actual faults with his craft.
It is no coincidence that his words have made it this far and lasted this long: that they've become such an essential part - a cornerstone - of English lit that they have. He was a terrific writer, just not my cup of tea, so do not let me put you off if you're interested in his works.
One work where he demonstrates this ability clearly, where he in fact shows off that he can write whatever he likes, should he please to do so, is "A Christmas Carroll". From a writer who, however imaginative, stays very close to earth, it is a proof of epic proportions of his ability for him to wander so loftily away from the London gutters. And, to top it off, it stays thoroughly grounded all through the ghosts, the dreams and the supernatural.
It takes skill, let me assure you, to write something so very far from your own field, and yet remain faultlessly you.
To step into the story itself at last, where shall I begin? Well, when "A Christmas Carroll", is concerned, it begins with that Jacob Marley is dead. Undoubtedly deceased, and this firm confirmation is followed by years: the relentless turn of time, and finally Christmas. A snowy Christmas eve, to be precise, eight years on.
Jacob's business partner, Ebenezer Scrooge, is having trouble finding the right Christmas spirit for the season. Setting out to help, is Marley himself, on the eve of Scrooge being visited by three Christmas spirits.
These three phantoms - more or less benignly - offer him a journey of his past, present and future, encouraging him to grasp some insight.
Does he take the lifeline they extend and become a better man? I'm not going to tell you - chances are you already know!
L. H. Westerlund
Sundays Are For Me To Tell You Something, June 17:th 2018 - Unloved Books
It is the age-old struggle: to keep or not to keep your books.
Does it matter if they're paperback or vintage? For reading? For keeping? Should your bookcases be allowed to expand until they eventually fill your entire house? (Yes.) Should you find new readers for your old ones maybe? How exactly do you go about that, anyway?
And are books happier if somebody reads them anew, you think?
This week I stumbled upon the best bookstore in the world. They're a charity. Their chosen field to aid?
Rehoming books. Take a couple for free, leave a donation or gift them a few of your already read books to rehome. They even had a copy of Ivanhoe, so you never know - I might actually manage to read it all through this time. Cross your fingers for me, please.
The Free Books is a registered UK charity, based in Hatfield: the Galleria, in North of London. Why don't you drop by if you're in the neighbourhood sometime.
Tell them the literature goddess sent you!
L. H. Westerlund
Friday Book Advice
"Chitty Chity Bang Bang" is Fleming at his best: detailed, exhilarating and just an awesome story on any day. By name a children's tale, you can read it over a weekend. This weekend, for example. Go ahead - you know you want to!
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, June 11:th 2018 - Pride and Prejudice (The Book)
Next to the belowed fairytale of "Cinderella" itself, "Pride and Prejudice" might be one of the most re-invented stories out there. Also much like "Cinderella" "Pride and Prejudice" has inspired a multitude of enterpretations and "entirely new" stories building on a similar premise.
It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Harlequin has en entire "beautiful but sheltered young girl marries rich seemingly grave man" category. Actually, I'll raise an eyebrow if they don't.
Come to think of it, "Pride and Prejudice" is already rather building on "Cinderella", isn't it? As is - in a way - "Jane Eyre" and even, sweetly, my own personal favourite in the bunch, "Agnes Grey". (And don't even get my started on Austen's own works: "Emma" excempted. She's just as rich as her husband. Rather refreshing, actually. I knew I liked that book for a reason.)
So, to abandon the Brontes (for now), and get back to "P&P". What do we have?
Well, we have a diverse cast of funny - and sometimes tragic - characters tossed into the peaceful English countryside, lots of hilarity and romance ensuing. It is very Austen.
The lineup starts with Elizabeth Bennet: the rebel girl with herpretty nose in a book, a "plain-looking" older best friend and a beautiful older sister with a temperament and the looks to give Shakespeare's "Hero" competition. (For those of you yet to read "Much Ado About Nothing", that is an awful lot to live up to, but Jane Bennet does.)
The third sister, Mary, I have heard referred to as both mistaken for a servant and as a "bat". To complete the mix of sisters, the two youngest are frivolous, somewhat insepid and very reckless, which one of them has to suffer for. (As, I must admit, is the case with Jane, who is affected as well.)
Further away from the little circle of sisters, we find the the kind, sweet bachelor named Bingley, and his best friend: Fitzwilliam Darcy, as grave and dark as his friend is open and charming. Opposites attract: even in friendships.
Darcy is a very authoritarian figure, at first glance, but he is actually rather rebellious, come to think of it. For his position, in the relevant time frame, he is a very brave man. Anybody who has done any bit of research knows that, provided just a little bit of thought.
Marriage was all about marriage alliance, back then, and men of his position married for wealth, land and power. Elizabeth Bennet is a gentleman's daughter, but that is just about all she is. He is quite the rebel - maybe even more than she ever is, to be truthful - for ignoring all of that and playing a totally different ballgame.
We do not seem him that way - Darcy the rebel? I wouldn't think so - but even Bingley is actually quite a few steps below him. Those of you more than passingly familiar with the story might remember that he repeatedly turns down Charles' sister Caroline, which is - even how he (also quite deserved) despises her aside - quite right. She is too far below him, not even really the daughter of a gentleman, much as she'd like to forget it.
Finally, we have the silly Mrs Bennet and the stern, astute Mr Bennet, who might be well suited themselves, or not at all. Just as is the case with Louisa Hurst (formerly Bingley) and Mr Hurst.
Like any good book, it can be viewed in many stages and even more layers, and there is a multitude of interpretations possible. Not, most of them, as lofty as the ways I've seen "Jane Eyre" be interpreted before, but it still, indeed, gives us many things to think about, and plenty of aspects to play around with in our minds.
I think in some ways one of the most important things to remember is a subject I've touched before, in another post. This story contains many lovestories, not just the one.
Instead of just adoring the main couple, I encourage you to pick your own favourite: myself, I have always rooted tirelessly for Jane and her Bingley. You know, whatever floats your boat - or ship.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, June 4:th 2018- Another Important Factor, Which Makes For One Good Book
There is many ways in which you could - more or less subjectively - have an opinion of any story.
Many of them have already been discussed - thoroughly - on this blog. Accessibility, quality, relatability. Others, perhaps obvious (but not too interesting actually), include grammatically, spelling-wise and how informed the research was.
There is another very important one, however, which I have not yet covered.
How you're liking a story.
This sounds very simple, and straightforward, and in a way, it absolutely is. On the other hand, just to keep life interesting, likeability of a story is one of the hardest things to quantify.
To put it simply, what you like (or not) is a matter of personal taste and while you can try to quantify this, you are ultimately performing (sometimes very fancy and even qualified) guess-work when doing so. You can measure how a book might do by indications like those I've previously mentioned, but in the end: we do not know.
I can look at my own opinion of "Robinson Crusoe" vs "Gulliver's Travels" and I can note how the first one withstood all this time that's passed since they were both written better, has a more sympathetic protagonist due to him only suffering one shipwreck, and etcetera. All these things contibute of course, and some are objective, some are more subjective. What is mostly, if not entirely, subjective is that I like "Robinson Crusoe" better.
In this case, one might absolutely argue, all things considered, that this is because my favourite out of the two is - looking at the more objective arguments for this duo - the better book. Certainly these days. However, to take another kind of example entirely, this is not always the case at all.
Ian Flemming has consistently written very nice books. "Goldfinger" is a superb book, as is "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", and it is just a matter of taste that I much prefer Chitty. Why? I could give you lots of reasons why, but I couldn't truly tell you why.
I could explain at length why they're both good quality: I can compare their accessibility or the sympatheticness of their characters, but when it comes to what I like about either of them, I can just state it as a fact, at the end of the day. I enjoyed "Goldfinger", but "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" is one of my favourite books.
Why? What makes some stories so special to some of us, and what makes some epic sagas - like "LotR" or "Harry Potter" - so special to all of us? I have, in the past, analysed this, but let me add one more variable.
Some things, we just like. We just do. It is irritating as hell when you're trying to market a story, but there you have it. Some things are just likeable, and that is something we're just going to have to live with.
I wouldn't have it any other way.
L. H. Westerlund
Thursday (Is For Trouble), May 31:st 2018- I knew I had forgotten something
Do you ever get the feeling that things are working just a little too smootly in your life? That your week is going just a tad too well, so that something must be horrifically and utterly wrong somewhere?
I have been doing a lot of that this week. Work has been going very well, and I am just about to sort out a pretty neat pile of "to-do's" if I may say so myself. Naturally, life is never, ever that simple. At all.
Long story short: I forgot my blog.
I am so sorry, my faithful readers - I have had trouble updating on time once or twice before for various reasons, but just forgetting until mid-week? I am a terrible blogger, I really am.
When I was younger, I had a terrible tendency to mimic the White Rabbit from "Alice in Wnderland", all "Late, late, I am always late!" and while I have now mostly grown out of it, mostly seem to be the word here. There are many characters, I will have you know, in usually shorter stories, who have a habit of forgetting things.
They usually end up killed, or in disaster. And I who was having such a great week at work.
Updates will resume as regular on Monday. I really am terribly sorry.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, May 21:st 2018 - The Prince
Certain classics, everybody has heard of. We just all have, for whatever reason. We have all of us heard them referred to in other things - everything from blogs to other books – and most of us have an idea of what they are all about. Usually, this idea is actually entirely wrong, but that is another story – or blog post - entirely.
Some of these classics, in particular, we have all heard of or seen mentioned, but next to no one has read them when it comes down to it. They are utterly well known, but at the same time utter mysteries to basically all of us. I myself would argue that the crowning piece of this selection of (usually excellent) writing is Machiavelli’s arguably most famous piece – “the Prince”. Everybody seems to talk about it sooner or later, but I have never actually heard anybody say that they have, in fact, read it.
You, of course, my awesome readers, is totally about to hear somebody say that, right now. (Yeah, I know.)
Like I suspect is true for just about anybody, I had a few every set ideas of what to expect when I started reading “The Prince”. Like I also suspect you have already realised, I had no idea when it comes down to it.
“The Prince” is a political text, and it is essentially a guide-book to how a ruling prince ought to rule his kingdom - be it a small or large one. Now, I am not certain of course how much you happen to know about Machiavelli, but he does not have the kindest of reputations generally speaking. I am not the right person to to tell you how well earned or deserved it really is in regards to the wider spectra of his work, but I can tell you that “the Prince” is not even remotely as mean-spirited an instruction as you might have been lead to believe it is.
When reading it, I must admit I felt a whiff of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest proposal” (which is a brilliant if very dark indeed satire) from the whole concept, and in the end I concluded it was on part satire, one part horrible viewpoints to have, and one part guide we should hand to modern politicians. Needless to say, but I will anyway, which is which of these parts is not to be confused.
Beyond that, as I assume most readers of this blog are unlikely to ever read it yourselves, I will share with you my principal observation from reading this text. Machiavelli seems very sure of him self, all the way through, in regards to his ability to understand people, and even more, to grasp change.
He speaks very eloquently of how a good prince, as well as any capable man, essentially, needs to be capable of change and of changing. The point he tried to bring across, as I see it, is that to be a winner, you need to play with the knowledge that the gameplay needs to be adaptable to an ever changing board, as life is ever changing. This point makes it particularly ironic that he repeatedly insults the capabilities of women and the female intellect, thus making his book lose the pull it could have hadon me when reading it. Who wants to listen to someone speak of knowledge, when they get a clear fail on their own point?
I think that in the end, we are all restricted by our time and our circumstances, and the best we can do is simply own it. No matter how hard we try, we are just people after all, and no matter how well educated we are or how much we try to be clear minded, to keep our ears open and our hearts prepared, as they say, we are still just people. And perhaps, that is exactly the thing we have still to learn from this text that comes from the point of utter certainly in ultimate knowledge.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, May 14:th 2018- The Little Prince
"The Little Prince" is, technically speaking, a children's book. It is novella-length and written by French author, pioneering aviator and aristocrat Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. (It is worth reading just on count of how awesome a name that is!) It was first published in 1943, so perhaps it shouldn't be regarded as so obviously a classic as people seem to view it, but then again, perhaps books for children - in the rare cases that they do - gain such status in dog years? I mean, I am not that old, but I am older than the "Harry Potter" books, and they have gone way beyond just classic at this point.
Basically "Harry Potter" by now is like the bible, but for people that... you know what, I am not going to be rude. I am all-inclusive, which means that I won't insult even the dodgy part in anybody's religious texts (and trust me, there are plenty of dodgy parts), will bake separate cookies for the vegans and always sneak at least one straight person into every book I write, whenever at all possible. But I degress. Quite well, too.
"The Little Prince", is - somewhat logically - a story about a little prince, from a planet very far away from ours. It is also a story about a man, in a crashed areoplane, who because of his meeting with this - in several ways - alien prince, has a rethink about some seemingly unimportant but really very vital things.
Ultimately, though this story is a children's tale - short, sweet and melancholic - there is a lot it has to teach both small minds and especially those of grownups.
The man who meets the prince draws for him, something he has not done for a very long time, as his drawings as a child were not understood. Why weren't they? Simply, because he showed them to grownups who had utterly lost their perspective on creativity. The little prince, however, has it quite abundantly, and perhaps that is the point.
Perhaps, we all need to be reminded sometimes, that we need to be us: strangeness, somewhat dodgy believes, weird cookie recipies and all. And don't you ever let anybody tell you otherwise - the little prince would advice you so in a heartbeat.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, May 7:th 2018- Belief
There are many ways to view writing. Whether you see it as a past-time, as an artform, or simply as work, every writer has something in common. Any good story - and even a few of the bad - share that they are pieces of the innermost of somebody, put down on paper, scribbled on whatever or typed into whatever machine. It takes a lot of bravery, to do so, and it takes belief.
What writers actually believe in differs, of course, but it something to consider what reading or re-reading a book. A thought to play with, if nothing else.
What did Shakespeare feel, sitting in the candlelight with inkstained hands, probably tired and suffering at some point at least from writersblock when he wrote what we now view as such classic peices. What's now so written in stone, was, four hundred years ago, a decision to make. Did he hate any of the monologues in "Hamlet"? Did his friends tell him he was a crazy sod when he wrote "Macbeth"? Did anybody tell him that "A Midsummer's Night Dream" was unrealistic when he penned it, only to let him be thoroughly smug about its reception now, wherever the greats go after death?
We do know that Agatha Christie saw Miss Marple born when she started to find Poirot too cold, but we do not know what she felt like, writing this new story for the first time, or if she cried, saying goodbye to the old one. We do not know if she doubted the ending to any of her stories, if she internally struggled with "After the Funeral" or liked "Murder at the Orient Express" as much as it deserved? As much as we do. Could she possibly have understood how well "The Mousetrap" would do as a show in London? Probably not, but we do not know - and if there is anything you ought to never underestimate, it is the imagination of a writer. We can dream of anything.
We know that Tolkien was disappointed not to truly see the forest charge in Macbeth, and sought to right it in the "Two Towers", and that he did not like deviding his story into three pieces - or indeed, the name "Return of the King" (because it gave away the story!) but would he have approved of all the fan communities? Been proud? Would he have laughed at the film featuring a bearded Elrond, or cried when Arwen looks down at the end of the latest Trilogy, making Aragorn raise her chin again, before kissing her? If he could, wherever he is, does he watch the films? Would he wish he could still tweet out a reaction?
Was Victor Hugo aware of how sad and how beautiful every book he wrote truly was? Did Lewis Carroll giggle at the proposterous turns of his own pen? Does C. S. Lewis wish he could write a sequel? Did Kafka feel more or less depressed after penning down his depressing stories? (Seriously, I would not read his single novel "the Castle" for a million pounds. I'd never survive it.)
Was Keats sober enough to understand what he wrote? Was Byron proud of his accomplishments or just stubborn? Was he vain or just pretty? (Okay, we do know that one. He spent ludicrous money on socks, for gods sake.)
What inspired the greatest stories of our time, of any time? Would it change how we read them, if we could know what the writers' eyes looked like as they wrote? Happiness, sadness, tears, would it make a difference? Would you want to know?
We cannot know, of course, not about any of the Greats that are no longer with us, but isn't it an intriguing throught? And as new writers are born and old ones sail to the West, it does remind us to ask the ones we've got, as long as we've got them.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, April 30:th 2018- Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Some stories instantly grabs you and keeps their hold on you until the very last page. Some stories do so as soon as you first pick them up - others need time. Whether you need to read the first few pages on faith, or simply need to leave them in your bookshelf for a while before you're reading, they are not quite so quick to rein you in.
For me, "Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde" was such a slow story. The first time I tried picking it up, I found it depressing and menacing and I soon put it down to forget about it for years. The next time I gave it a chance, I was consequently several years older, and I read it the whole way through. I think I might have had a drink pause someway halfway through (reading it probably took close to eight hours, so that doesn't count), but other than that I did not put it down.
Obviously, the story itself was unchanged. What most people doesn't realise, however, is that your experience when you read any novel is a work of cooperation between you and the author. Your input, the way you read the story and the associations you bring to the pages, changes the story as you read it.
Naturally, the way a book is written is very important, but so is your attitude to it. Of course, Shakespeare's texts can be difficult, but they may feel more so because you expect they will be.
Like "Dorian Grey", "Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde" is a dark book full of very heavy themes and methaphores bordering on the supernatural. Plus, of course, an actual supernatural element, at least in "Dorian Grey". Despite their similarity, however, they were not written by the same person. "Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde" was written by Robert Louis Stevenson, (who also wrote "Treasure Island", which might be the ultimate example of a book growing on you if you just allow it those first few pages - or a quarter of the book - on faith) and "Dorian Grey" is the work of Oscar Wilde.
Strictly a scientifically themed book, though it jumps into an almost supernatural theme, "Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde" tells us the story of a scientist who makes a fantastic and unbelievable discovery: how to bring out the good or the bad parts from your phsyche and give them physical shape. Of course, this being the type of book it is, this does not exactly end all too well. In these old books with morals and a message entwining with the story, messing with the natural order never does. (Well, unless you're Jesus in the Bible. He gets away with it. Sort of, I suppose. I'm not an expert after all)
In the end, it is a story about finding yourself, and about how you can lose yourself entirely (literally, in this case) if you're looking for the wrong things. Much like Dorian Grey there, too.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, April 23:rd 2018- Dante
A wise woman once said that there is nothing to add to perfection. (Actually, it might have been Moriarty in "Elementary"... well, she certainly was clever, if not moral, so the point still stands.)
This is usually a true statement, whoever said it, and thus I clearly have no self-preservation when I take on certain subjects. However in the words of Stephen Saylor; "Writing a first novel takes so much effort, with so little promise of result of reward, that it must necessarily be a labour of love bordring on madness", so considering how many in effect "first novels" I've written in my time, that might be pretty much established anyway.
My point is, that one some subjects there is a lot to be said. You can talk forever where there is not enough said, or critisize the bad to your hearts' content. When something is good enough to speak for itself, however, it is much harder to find words with which to describe it. That's sort of what writers do, however, for a fashion, so I shall not be deterred.
Dante Aligheri, often referred to only as simply "Dante" was, or is, depending on how you look at it, an Italian poet from the 1200-1300-hundreds. His poetry is often what I'd call "floaty", and true to his rumour as a great classical poet, very beautiful.
My own personal favourite is his "Love and the Gentle Heart", though another poem of his, "There is a Gentle Thought", always makes me smile. Having been written such a long time ago, and by such a respected poet, most of his pieces are freely available online at a variety of sources.
Like many other pieces of poetry, they also have one thing going for them, if you simply wish to interject some classics into your lunchbreak: they're short. Even more so, Dante seemingly doesn't any overwhelming tendency to write long poems, both the ones I just mentioned are mercifully short even for poetry.
Beyond something being short, it is of course hard to judge what is and is not to be judged as a "good" piece of any writing, poetry more than anything else, and I cannot pretend to know if you will like them or not, but I can vouch for their feeling, their sensitive wording and their excellent craftmanship.
The rest, my dear reader, as ever, you are just going to have to puzzle out yourself.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, April 16:th 2018- I Swear There Is No Shakespeare This Week
There are many good ways to start any story. Many bad ones, too, if you are thus inclined.
Tolstoy's start in Anna Karenina might be one of the most famous out of all the iconic beginnings. "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
The rest of the book is perhaps a bit too classical Tolstoy - insanely long, full of way too many people with way too similar Russian names and generally quite difficult to understand the overall message in as a whole - but that line is pretty much as masterly as they come. It drags you in, captures your attention, while at the same time managing to be both profound, thought-provocing and just a gorgeous piece of craftmanship at the same time.
I am not going to mention the Bard as another example - after last month's theme I think we all need a time out on him, nevermind that there are examples we could use - but another Great when it comes to beautiful, masterful writing is the french writer Victor Hugo.
I have always had a simple problem with Hugo myself - he writes such sad stories that I struggle to even eat while I read them - which means I have never been able to read as much of his as I've always wanted to, but largely, Victor Hugo writes poetry in novel form. I doubt he intended to do so, but no matter what tragedy he chose to tell us of, his novels are like poetry. It says itself that there's a few brilliant openings amongst his novels.
Aother writer who certainly knew how to make an entrance, as it were, with her books, was Agatha Christie. Not necessarily the first to come to mind in the gathering of this blog post, maybe, she nevertheless deserves a spot here. Generally Christie's writing is indeed always very crisp, she is an authoress possessing complete control.
Her in my opinion greatest (though I have not by all means read them all, so this might well change yet) novel, "the Murder at the Orient Express" starts with the simple but pulling line of "It was five o'clock on a winter's morning in Syria." Not the most profound example she has to offer, perhaps, but one must admit that it makes you very curious.
In her "After the Funeral", which quite generally has a few amazing one-liners, her first paragraph leads so naturally into the second that you cannot stop, and by the time you've read that far, you're hooked and cannot help but wonder, "Who is coming back from what funeral?" and for that matter "Why is there so many windows?"
Because at the end of the day, frills and frivolities aside, that is why a writer has to write a good first line - to make you keep reading. And if the story hooks you, gets you interested from the very start, then the writer has done a solid job, and we can only congratulate them on their success. After first finishing reading the book, of course - because damn, that thing is catchy!
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, April 9:th 2018- Some Shakespearian Reading Advice (Part 4)
Strictly for the time being, this is the last part of the list. (I have only read a third of his 36 plays. I'm still young - give me time.) One day there will be another installment, but for now, this is it.
L. H. Westerlund
Shakespeare – The Taming of the Screw
One of Shakespeare's more accessible and easily understood plays, "The Taming of The Screw" is a fundamentally simple story which turns everything but simple before the Bard is finished having his characters mock up.
The setup is simple, even if the play doesn't quite stay that way. (And yes, that is, in fact, an understatement. Might even be sarcasm) There is two sisters: one beautiful, perfect and dreamy, and the other sister is awesome, clever and rather cool, but most of the male population does not think so, predictably.
Instead, the boring (sorry, I mean the pretty) sister has a group of suitors, and they together try to persuade another - braver - man to court the headstrong (read, interesting) sister as well. And yes, "Ten Things I Hate About You", is, in fact, based on this story.
The result is, predictably, a lot of mayhem and general hilarity. If you are new to Shakespeare and find the Sonnets rather too difficult to get your head around (nice and short as they otherwise are, they aren't the easiest of reading) this might be a good place to start. Especially if you find "A Midsummer Night's Dream" a little too puzzling for your tastes. Like any Shakespeare, the play is excellent and - a bit less like Shakespeare - there is even a happy ending to be found here!
Shakespeare – The Tempest
Besides the most famous Shakespearian plays - "Hamlet" or "Romeo and Juliet" - this might be the most obviously Classic one out of the lot. It was written for another venue than most of the rest - a small candlelit playhouse instead of a huge open-air theatre like the Rose or, indeed, the Globe - and literally medieval "special effects" like Ariel the wind spirit appearing through a trap door were written for this.
Similarly, candles at this time needed attention after a certain timespann and look and behold - there is a pause written in at the right time. Much as we hold Shakespeare in sole majesty as a genius these days, in his own time he was really a rather down to earth and practical playwright.
As for the plot itself, it is as Shakespearian as it gets. A highborn man and his beautiful daughter stranded on a deserted island for years with a wind spirit for company, only to finally get their chance for vengeance and a retake of power.
It is all - quite literally - very Shakespearian. It is also a little bit more high-strung than most of his plays, which also is because of the different venue. Here, in a smaller theatre, for a smaller scene, there were no masse of standing "pennystinkers" or cheaper seats. At Blackfriars, the play was written solely for the rich and influential, and the play itself was tailored for its audience, much like Shakespeare tailored all his plays.
All those historical aspects aside, this is a powerful play with a lot of beautiful words and even what I would call a happy ending.
This is not, I will admit, a good starter play, but if you've read a play or two of Shakespeare, or seen some, this is a wonderful text of true Shakespearian (at least what we today would think of as such, as I've said before it is actually slightly out of his norm) spirit, and you won't be disappointed.
Monday, April 2:nd 2018- Some Shakespearian Reading Advice (Part 3)
Continuing where we left off last week, here is some Shakespearian Reading Advice - Part 3. (There will be a part 4 as well. Was it Shakespeare writing too many plays, or is it me reading too many of them...?)
L. H. Westerlund
Shakespeare – Othello
Othello and Desdemona: quite the happy couple until Iago, jealous of... pretty much everything, acts like the complete... - I do not have a polite Word to use here, sorry - not so nice person, he is, and in a very deliberate and frankly pschycotic way manipulates Othello into thinking he is being betrayed, finally causing him to actually lose everything he has. Complete with a truly horrendous amount of collateral damage in the bargain. Such as Cassio, who also loses his position, and Desdemona, who indeed loses her very life. I'm not so sure Iago actually finally gains a thing, either.
Many of Shakespeare's plays are toing the line between different kinds of genres, but this one is a tragedy, clear and simple, even more so because it is just the evil actions of one person who ruins what is otherwise glorious prospects. For everyone. There isn't even any gain in this case, just malice. Like in "Macbeth", the plot of "Othello" is largely about the dark side of the human mind. This is a tough subject for any writer to take on, but Shakespeare tackles it at a level worthy of, well, Shakespeare, and much as the subject matter is agony, the writing itself is a pleasure.
There are two schools in thinking when it comes to which is Shakespeares signature romantic tragedy, and some readers and experts do say that this is a story so much more about love than the younger and more passionate tale about Juliet and her Romeo (as Othello and Desdemona has survived mere infatuation, while the younger couple have known each other for literally a week, tops). I suggest you read them both and judge yourself.
Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet
The two lovers in fair Verona. There are different ways of defining a classic, but this is certainly as classic as they come, no matter which definition you subscribe to. Whether you see this as a tragic lovestory, or consider it a story about very short-time passion, it is still undoubtedly a beautiful and sad story either way.
There are many reasons why something so tragic is so popular, and I have said before that there is an appeal in that they never need to be tested by time. They never grow old, bicker about money or chores, never lose a child to the plague and they do not need to tackle an ill-advised affair down the line. There is a perfect, passionate, in a way innocent moment of romantic love at first sight and it all ends in that one perfect story, as they die there. Tragic, yes, but undoubtedly very romantic.
It is a perfect fairytale, complete with an oldfashioned cry at the end. As a writer myself, I can only comment that it is beautifully crafted and a nice piece of proof that Shakespeare was just as good as we think he was, and still, in a way, is today. I can recommend you reading it, and myself, I am deeply wishing to see it at the Globe someday.
Shakespeare – Sonnets
Shakespeare's sonnets are moving and beautiful, and as any one of them can be read in a few minutes, they might just be the place to start. There really is no excuse not to read a few! (Come on, just go ahead and do it!)
Thursday (Means Trouble), Mars 29:th 2018- Some Shakespearian Reading Advice (Part 2)
I'm sorry this blog post is a few days late: I had some foot-related trouble once more that held me up! (I promise I am trying my very hardest not to make a habit out of that. In fact, I'm gonna go write the next post right now...)
Good news though: there's no break and the real issue was easily diagnosed once that was ruled out. Good news it is treatable, bad news is that my blog is late. During the circumstances, though, I'll take that.
L. H. Westerlund
Shakespeare – Macbeth
Well... no regular reader of this blog could possibly have missed that this play is my favourite. I shall try and tell you why. (Assuming I am not just naturally bloodthirsty... if any of my readers are, however, you'll love this one.)
There are many facts we connect with Macbeth. Scary witches, dangerous Scotsmen, intrigue, murder, and lots and lots of blood and death. All of those things are true. The deeper you look, however, the more... more things you will notice.
The witches are talking shit. It is all nonsence - for all their presumed power, they never actually do a thing: like Iago, they are all talk and manipulation, and absolutely no substance.
For all the violence of the play - and there is certainly enough of it to go around, just saying - the psychology of the play is equally as interesting. Lady Macbeth is a very good planner, I'll give her that, but she makes a very vital mistake: she doesn't take into account that while she is certainly a cold, heartless killer herself, she hasn't gotten married to one. There's a few faults in their plot, admittedly, but the most serious one by far is undoubtedly that Macbeth has such a serious struggle with his conscience.
In the end, that little voice of doubt which Iago uses in "Othello" is what wins out here, too. It is a fascinating perspective of how one action can ruin everything else we've ever done, and it is for the naked truth that we are so easily driven (and destroyed) by our own demons that really does me in on this one.
Shakespeare – Merchant of Venice
Shylock's quotes are some of the most quoted Shakespearian lines out there (excepting Hamlet. Always excepting Hamlet) but he does not have as much of an impact in this play as you might think. He's neither a protagonist nor the big villain, and maybe the play would be a little less bland if he was either. Much like "Much Ado About Nothing", this one doesn't leave much of an inpact on you, though I dare say that for this one, that might be highly subjective. Perhaps, it is one of those plays that needs to be seen, and I have heard good things about performances of them both.
Shakespeare – Much Ado About Nothing
This one is very suitable named. It is talked about plenty, but it truly is much ado, about nothing. Even the day after I read it, I couldn't describe it well, or at all, and now I have to believe my faithful reading list when it tells me I even did read it in the first place. I didn't bring a thing away from it and while you have to remember that you might be very different, this one should probably not be on your short list.
Monday, Mars 19:th 2018 - Some Shakespearian Reading Advice (Part 1)
This is a list in several parts (three right now and counting) of the Shakespearian plays I myself have read this far, complete with some notes per play: all to help you choose which one/ones might be for you to read!
Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night's Dream
This was one of the first plays by Shakespeare I ever read, and for a long time it was my favourite. It is witty, funny, set in a parallell bizarro universe, and is guaranteed to give you a good laugh! I would advice you to make extra sure not to think about that you're reading Shakespeare when enjoying this one: it will be a much better laugh if you do not worry about doing it justice while you read it!
Shakespeare – Hamlet
My first ever Shakerspeare, I could reminisce for ages about this one, but to cut a long story short, I found it rather tedious until Hamlet finally appeared (which isn't that far into it, really. Today I would likely have no issues - it is all about how much practise you've gotten!) but after that point I loved it. It is a timeless classic and there is a reason why it is one of Shakespeare's most famous plays. I recommend it warmly, for both novices and more experienced readers.
Shakespeare – Henry IV (part I and II)
This play itself tells us about how Henry IV rules England after taking the throne away from his cousin, King Richard the Second, complete with enemies, political intrigues and a rebellious son or two. Myself, I liked both plays, and while they might not be amongst the first three or five you ought to read, they are worth your time if you can make it that far.
It is part of a series: it starts at Richard the Second's story and follows through by both parts of Henry IV, then Henry V, and there are also plays about more Henry's and Richard's following on in a huge mess as Shakespeare regails us about the huge expenditure of kings that was the War of the Roses.
There is at least one really great tv adaptation of this play, made by BBC and starring Jeremy Irons (more on that in the paragraph below), that I can warmly recommend you watch, and I can also recommend reading the play itself (don't do this at the same time - the DVD version has been switched around to make the scene cuts shorter, and so it will wildly confuse you) as well as watching it as theatre of course - that was what Shakespeare wrote it for, after all.
The BBC have also made adaptations for more of the plays in the series, and the first set, containing the plays Richard the Second, Henry the Forth (both parts) and Henry the Fifth, is called "The Hollow Crown" and is a great experience both for Shakespeare affectionados and those of you who are not sure if you even like him. I will say that the filmed theatre production of "Richard II" starring David Tennant is better than the BBC equivalent, (not that Ben Whishaw doesn't do well in his interpretation!) but the entire series is worthy of the seven or so hours it takes to get through the entire thing. Especially watchable (and worth a listen even if you won't see the rest of it, if you come across it) is Tom Hiddleston's introductory monologue through the eyes of "Prince Hal", Henry The Forth's errant son.
Shakespeare – King Richard the Second
Personally, I read this one late a sleepless night, while a Stratford-Upon-Avon filmed stage production of the play ran upon the tv screen. I read along with the actors as they talked (if you wish to do the same, keep the remote with you for pausing to keep up as some lines are often cut in any production, and stick to recorded theatre and not film as that is generally more faithful to the original text) for this one which is a great way of reading Shakespeare and one of my favourite guilty pleasures.
As for the story itself, it is wonderful and profound, moving and gut-clenching, taking you for a ride with every paragraph. You will start out feeling one way about every character, and switch the whole way around before Shakespeare is done with playing with your emotions. As my mother (and Shakespeare's Richard the Second) always says: "Mine ear is open and my heart prepared!"
L. H. Westerlund
Friday Book Advice
Anne Bronte's "Agnes Grey" is one of my all-time favourite regency novels. It is honest, sweet, lovable and just fantasitic and unique in a way so few books are. I know her sister Emily is considered the Prodigy (though I don't know why. Her one book is terrible.) their older sister Charlotte is the famous one (just because she lived longer in my opinion) and the fabulous Jane Austen is considered the Queen of this bunch (that might actually be deserved. Go ahead and read "Emma" as well while you're at it: if you've got the time to spare - it is 600 pages long) but none of their books have the raw truth and innocent wide eyes to them that this book have. Read it this weekend - you won't regret it.
L. H. Westerlund
Thursday Means Trouble - Mars 15:th 2018
I am sorry, my faithful readers (and new readers, too!) for the lack of a blog post this time around, but I am having a bad week here. Namely, I had to finally register with a GP (after avoiding it for almost a decade. I hate doctors. No offense to my very kind and helpful new GP) because I might have literally run around on a fractured foot since last year... so excuse me while I facepalm so hard I might get a concussion.
At least I do not have to do exercise today...?
(But I like running!)
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, Mars 5:th 2018- A Sound of Thunder
Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" is one of those very few really short stories which have actually made it big. Normally, to do that, it takes a novel. Many famous authors (much like Ray Bradbury, as a matter of fact) have written excellent shorts, but while you can easily read them on a tube ride to work on any dreary Monday morning, few people actually do.
Maybe, I personally believe, it is because short stories are often slightly strange and usually very sad. A scene is sketched and then there comes the tragedy. Put like that I'd prefer a book, too!
"A Sound of Thunder" is not really like that, though. It too is short, and it too has a very serious message, but there's nothing blurry or needlessly tragic about it. It is sober, clear, and absolutely perfect for its format. I suppose, at the end of the day, what it is, is that no matter its length, this story has a tale to tell us, and it does so very well. Take it from someone who has read an absolutely alarming amount of shorts: most of them are only too predictable.
Also very unusually for a shortstory, there was actually a film made in 2005, which extrapolates a story from the scenario of the original short. (Well I say unusually: this only applies if there is not a franchise involved. There are plenty of Bond films based on Fleming's shortstories about James Bond, as well as his novels.)
While perhaps not quite as methaphorical and powerful as the original, and also maybe a tiny (cough) bit silly in places, the film is a perfectly pleasant matiné for a slow weekend, and the original story is a quick but very moving experience I can highly recommend.
"A Sound of Thunder" much like the average well-loved novel, was put out there with a job to do: it was written, because there was something we needed to read, a story which wanted to come out and be told. Perhaps that is why we want to read it, while most shortstories - excluding those little snippets, not ever ment to be complete stories by themselves, written about famous heroes - are too abrupt, too confusing, and they leave us cold.
Stories which has something to say always does, and those that do not just leaves you after reading them, your head tilted in confusion, asking yourself, "what on earth did I just read?" This one won't put you through that. (Though the film might have you snickering a time or two.)
Because sometimes, there is A Sound of Thunder... and if you can hear that, dear reader - then the story is good.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, February 26:th 2018 - Some Reading Advice
I thought today, for some inspiration, I would leave you with my reading list. The list is not exhaustive, and is only the more conventional classics for this time. I will publish other lists with poetry or other genres later on.
Do note how Ivanhoe is still marked as unread... Sigh.
L. H. Westerlund
Andersen, H. C. - Seven Tales
Andersen, H. C. - The Little Match-Girl
Andersen, H. C. - The Shirt Collar
Austen, Jane – Emma
Austen, Jane – Pride and Prejudice
Barrie, J.M. – Peter Pan and Wendy
Baum, L. F – Wizard of Oz
Bradbury, Ray – A Sound of Thunder
Bronte, Anne – Agnes Grey
Buchan, John - The Thirty-Nine Steps
Burnett, Francis – The Secret Garden
Burnett, Francis – Little Lord Fauntleroy
Burnett, Francis – A Little Princess
Carroll, Lewis – Alice in Wonderland
Carroll, Lewis – Through The Looking Glass
Chaucer – A Knight’s Tale
Christie, Agatha – After the Funeral
Christie, Agatha – Murder at the Orient Express
Christie, Agatha – Murder at The Vicarage
Christie, Agatha – 4.50 From Paddington
Collodi, Carlo - Pinocchio
Conan Doyle, Arthur – A Study In Scarlet
Conan Doyle, Arthur – The Hound of the Baskervilles
Conan Doyle, Arthur – The Musgrave Ritual
Conrad, Joseph – The Heart of Darkness
Defoe, Daniel – Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles – A Christmas Carol
Dostoyevsky – Crime and Punishment
Dostojevskij – A Little Hero
Faulkner – A Rose For Emily
Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby
Fleming, Ian - Goldfinger
Folklore - Sir Gwaine and the Green Knight
Golding, William - Lord of the Flies
Grimm, Jacob and William – Fairy Tales
Grimm, Jacob and William - Hansel and Gretel
Grimm, Jacob and William - Rapunzel
Grimm, Jacob and William - Rumpelstiltskin
Grimm, Jacob and William - Snow-White and Rose-Red
Grimm, Jacob and William - Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
Grimm, Jacob and William - The Frog-Prince
Hemingway – The Old Man and The Sea
Hemingway – The Cat in the Rain
Irving, Washington – The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
James, Henry – The Wings of the Dove
Kafta, Frans – The Transformation
Kipling, Ryan – Rikki tikki taak
Lagerlöf, Selma – Nils Holgerson's Fantastic Travels Through Sweden
Lindgren, Astrid - Ronja
London, Jack – Call of the Wild
Machiavelli – The Prince
Magorian, Michelle – Goodnight Mister Tom
Marlowe, Christopher (Kit) – Faustus
Melville – The Bell Tower
Miller, Arthur – Death of a Salesman
Montgomery, L. M. – Anne of Green Gables
Nesbit, Edith – Five Children and It
Nordisk Folk Tale – Beowulf
Orczy, Baroness - The Scarlet Pimpernel
Orwell, George – 1984
Rostand, Edmond - Cyrano de Bergerac
Rousseau – Pygmalion
Saint de Exupéry, Antoine – The Little Prince
Sayers, Dorothy L. - Whose Body?
Scott, W - Ivanhoe - Unread
Sewell, Anna – Black Beauty
Sophocles - Antigone
Steinbeck, John – Pastures of Heaven
Stevenson, R. L. – Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Stevenson, R. L. – Treasure Island
Stove, Harriet – Uncle Toms Cabin
Stroker, Bram – Dracula
Sturluson, Snorre – Eddan
Swift, Jonathan – Gulliver's Travels
Thackeray – Vanity Fair
Tolstoy, Leo – Kreutsersonata
Twain, Mark – Huckleberry Finn's Adventures
Twain, Mark – The Prince and the Beggar
Twain, Mark – Tom Sawyer
Verdi, Giuseppe - Falstaff
Verne, Jules – 20.000 Leagues Under the Sea
Voltaire – Candide
Webster, Jean – Daddy Longlegs
Wells, H.G. – The Time Machine
Wilde, Oscar – The Picture of Dorian Grey
Wodehouse, P. G. – Leave it to Jeeves
Wolf, Virginia – A Haunted House
Monday, February 19:th 2018- The Thirty-Nine Steps
Remembered by most as a Hitchcock classic, the tale of the thirty-nine steps was first a novel by Scottish writer John Buchan. It was originally published in 1915 as a newspaper serial, and later as a novel. Hitchcock, of course, made a film based on it, but not until 1935. There has been more adaptations made as well, one a Tv version as late as 2008. It is perhaps not the most famous of classics, but according to BBC's 2003 "Big Read Poll", it is certainly one of the most loved ones. As one of its fans, I can certainly understand why.
In this classic story, our protagonist is just as classic in many ways: a little out of step and not too successful, but brave and hard-working - this far he could be any hero from John Watson to Luke Skywalker. He isn't, however: he comes armed with a very downstated form of astute perceptive ability and I am not talking Peter Whimsey or Sherlock Holmes here. Rather in the opposite from the classic Holmes mystery (or at least, how they are frequently interpreted), it is the human aspects and motivations he gets the best, not sheer logic.
If you google this story odds are you'll first find a goodreads or wikipedia article. They'll most likely tell you that this is an adventure-story, and I will happily agree. It is, and in the most exciting and original meaning of the fraze. Himself, the author called it a "shocker", defining this as a story so fantastic you can only barely make the reader believe it could have been. If we count "shocker" as a genre, this book is certainly a great example. It is really just what it says on the tin.
Beyond this, though, it is a fantastic and gripping perspective on not only people but on how people functions. As an avid reader as well a s a writer, I still remember how intriguing I found the discription in this story on the subject of why we do things. The book has many people doing things you might not expect and pretending to be what they are not, and our protagonist - his name is Richard Hannay - has to work out who is real and who is pretending. Richard's final insight that the only way to truly lie and fool is to lie and fool yourself, until you believe you're whoever or whatever you're pretending to be, is as chilling as it is, I think, entirely true.
The truth about lying and its many faces comes up a lot, because this story is filled with government secrets and both malicious and (perhaps) heroic spies hiding in the least likely of places, and at the end of the day it is a perfect cross of a Peter Whimsey and a James Bond adventure, complete with a pinch of Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle for distinction.
I am aware that I have not yet told you what the details of the plot are or how the story ends, but I am not going to: because you're going to go read this book now, aren't you? If you're not, that's your mistake, and entirely your loss!
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, February 12:th 2018- Murder At The Orient Express
There are different genres of literature - same as with any other medium, really - and some genres have authors you can only really define as royalty. One of these only partially uncrowned literature giants is Agatha Christie.
Now, in her lifetime she wrote so many books even I am not keeping count (and I am all about keeping count!) but one of her most iconic works is "Murder At The Orient Express". Personally, I reread it for guidance every time I attempt any kind of mystery or thriller of my own.
As for all of you not so literally impressed individuals (why are you reading this blog, anyway? Nevermind, you're thoroughly welcome!) I can deeply recommend the old film with Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot and the rest of the cast including Sean Connery and my fellow Scandinavian Ingrid Bergman. It is a great matine. There's also a new film, but I cannot say if it is any good, as I haven't seen it. (In all honesty, I would probably still recommend the old one. It is fantastic.)
This book, which is sincerely a textbook example of how to write a brilliant murder mystery, is set on the Orient Express, as you might gather from the title, and as you might also infer (both from the title and from who is the author...) there is a murder. A murder which one might argue is not the actual crime of the book, and even less the main one. It makes us ask difficult moral and etical questions along with Poirot, as he discovers the murder victim was the man responsible for another murder - a murder which did not only end the life of a small child, but several other collaterals, too.
The novel starts with Poirot being on his way home after a case, making his way by the Orient Express, and starts to build slowly, until it finally all comes together, leaving Poirot with the supremely difficult decision of what to do with this information.
Now, there are many special things about this story, and I shall try and guide you through the most important one, and why that is so special. As a writer with some experience I could tell you how one writes a story. There is literally a recipy most books follow and I'd be surprised if there isn't a wikihow out there.
Naturally, there are many stories which do not follow this guide, and many of them in turn are better for it. "Murder On The Orient Express" is the guide of how you build a detective novel, picture perfect, and it manages this without losing any of its originality or freedom.
As someone who has tried, let me assure you that this is as difficult as it gets. There is a reason why the common is common, and there is also a reason why originality is not only difficult, but necessary, as well. This book manages to be entirely believable and real, and yet it is picture perfect. I honestly do not know how she did that, but I am jealous. And she makes it look effortlessly simple, of course.
In the end, this effortless, easily absorbed, engaging style is why Agatha Christie to this day has her own section in many libraries, and the rest of us can only bow in awe.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, February 5:th 2018- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Now, before you go "The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy is a classic?! Really?!" on me - it is still young, yes, but it is going on classical none the less. Much like Harry Potter, it is getting there. Call it a modern classic if that makes you feel any better. My point is that it is a good book - I do not care that it wasn't written in 1892. (Seriously, so much of what I read is. My generation of writers must really be slacking off!)
At the end of the day, like so many of these things it is subjective what we call what. My big brother always used to give me "must read books if you're going to be a writer" for Christmas (all of which were nice and thick. I rewarded him for his thoughfulness by borrowing his name and beard for my Mrs Hudson) and Douglas Adams' trilogy in five parts was indeed included there.
Definitions aside, "Intergalactic Hitchhiker" remains my absolutely favourite halloween constume. (I think that was my cousin's idea. It would be - she's the Goddess of Halloween after all)
So, having covered that, what actually is the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? Way, way, before its time, I would describe it as a... smartphone, actually. Much like the book containing every piece of information in the world that Donald Duck's three little nephew's carry about with them somehow, the Guide is an all-knowing guide to get you around cleverly, even if you are a bit clueless.
The Guide itself is a small electronic device - as it would be too big to be printed - which can fit into your pocket and is covered by the encouraging words "Don't Panic". Good advice, I'd say, in pretty much any situation and definitely if you're stranded in the middle of space. Literally. It is the type of situation when,otherwise, you'd consider panicking!
I was once advised by a board of editors that a diverse cast of characters with vivid imagery and individual voices is what helps submerge a reader, and either someone told Douglas Adams the same thing, or he must have figured it out on his own, because this story is one of the best when it comes to giving you a glimpse of a world other than our own - on the verge of ours.
This world he paints is full of details and clever ideas, such as the nifty little translater fish which gets into your ear and translates all different kinds of languages for you. A common trouble, in any story where characters travel, to have everyone understand each other so that they can communicate and interact, and this might be the best solution to the problem I have ever come across. Then toss in the race of over-byrocratical bores who are practically capable of killing you with their poetry alone (as someone very reluctantly writing poetry once in a while, I can totally sympathise) and what do you get? An epic adventure, guided by a little yellow electronic book that tells you not to panic, and to make sure to bring a towel.
And what do they do with this device and this vital piece of advice? You're going to have to read it and find out!
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, January 29:th 2018- To Hamlet Or Not To Hamlet
I sincerely think that everybody in the western word above the age of twelve know that line. This feels vaguely ironic, since it is no way even close to the best quote Shakespeare or even the play "Hamlet" has to offer.
I have previously expressed the opinion on this blog that is not a matter of quality, but merely approachability, that Hamlet gets quoted more than Richard the Second, and I stand by that. I do not mean to say that anything Hamlet says in "Hamlet" is in any way bad - in fact it is a very nice play, but it does raise the question of what we ought to be focusing on, if we don't want to miss anything. Because let us be realistic: personally I am perfectly happy to read all 36 of Shakespeare's plays, but I am a writer. For all you people with lives, there's this blog instead, to save you from having to do that. Perhaps. So let us crack on.
The simple question here is obvious: should you read Hamlet or not? The simple corresponding answer is yes, you should. Another relevant question would perhaps be: what on earth does "To be or not to be" even mean?!" My answer? I have no idea actually. It is very profound. Maybe even too profound, if there is such a thing. (There is.)
In the real world, however, the question is not that simple. Very, very hard questions to ask include: "Which Shakespearian play/plays should I read if I only want to read one? Or three?" "Which is the best one?" "Which is his best romance? Comedy? Historial play? Tragedy?"
For many of those questions and many like them there is no answer. Sometimes because there simply is some things you cannot chose between - not all questions come with answers, after all - and sometimes because it is utterly subjective.
Many people will tell you that "Romeo and Juliet" is "one of the greatest lovestories ever written", while plenty of others will argue that it is not really a story about love at all - just about passion. They would say that "Othello" is Shakespeare's greatest lovestory, while yet another group would simply call that one a tragedy. There's no reason why it couldn't be both, of course.
Ultimately, the point I am trying to make, is that while people can offer knowledge, while I can guide you or educate you on this blog (or recommend Macbeth, which I think is one of Shakespeare's greatest works, but is certainly not one for the faint-hearted) at the end of it you will have to make up your own mind, and because of this, some recommendations simply cannot be made.
I cannot tell you if you ought to read Hamlet (which you should), Richard II (in case her opinion matters to you - and it should - this is my mother's favourite) or Macbeth (so. much. drama. and. blood!), I can just recommend them all three as excellent pieces of literature and storytelling, and I can have the opinion if I want to, that Macbeth is the best one. (Or, perhaps more insightfully, I can add that these three plays do not have many points of resonable comparison to even have a favourite amongst, except having been written by the same author. Maybe.)
So, ultimately: To Hamlet or Not To Hamlet? You must answer that yourself, I'm afraid. Sorry for being so unhelpful - you'll find that I rather share this with Hamlet himself, but we both have the best of intentions!
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, January 22:nd 2018- The Lord of the Rings (Quite Possibly Part 1)
I am frequently referring in my blog to this mythical world of the "Lord of the Rings Trilogy", "The Hobbit", and a whole slew of other documents, more or less well known, so I thought I'd better try and make a bit of sense of them, for all of you who aren't obsessed already. (I recommend it, though. Being Tolkien-mad is fun! Unless you're studying Elvish, that's not fun at all. But I'll get to that part.)
You may think of this post as a guide to either better understand Tolkien, or merely to better understand my examples. Of course, if you want hard facts about the build of the extensive world he built, I recommend reading a LotR wicki - there's plenty of good sources out there. This is, by necessity, a very brief introduction of a few useful concepts.
First and foremost you need to know that Professor Tolkien was not in any way a professor of Creative Writing (if there was such a thing back then) but an expert in mythology and language. Indeed, he learnt Finnish just to understand their classical song of the Kalevala. For those of you not familiar with Finnish: remember those language ancestry trees from school? Finnish has its own (along with Estonian and one or two more rebel languages) freaking tree! To summarize; it is tremendously difficult to learn.
It is quite well known that Tolkien also constructed a language for his race the Elves: what is perhaps not so well known is that this language has its own development through the "Ages" of his world Middle Earth and that there's perhaps a dozen different versions, including the two more or less fully formed Elven tongues Sindarin and Quenya (Tolkien divised these languages over a period of fifty years or so, changing his mind countless times: hence them not being much fun to try and learn. There's a lot of guessing involved). There is also, though studied by less people, at least one language for the Dwarves.
This leads me into another subject: you may have realised that I am being very specific about Elves here, but not about Dwarves. This is because an interesting phenomenon caused by the vastness of the Tolkenian world: while there is such a thing as ubergeeks knowing everything imaginable about Middle Earth as such, complete with its peoples, goods (the Valar) angels (Istari - that includes Gandalf, people! He's an angel! Yes, I know, not the first association) and various realms half-outside the world as such like Numenor and Valinor (Blessed realm. That's where they're sailing at the end of the film, by the way...) most of us don't. I myself am good with certain races of Elves (Yup. There's a whole bunch. For those of you who've seen the films - Elrond is one type and Legolas plainly another, right?) and the Kings of Old (Aragorn's bloodline) but I get confused by all the facts sported by nerds loving the dwarves - and I in turn confuse them with obscure details from my personal field of obsession.
A great example of this diversity of interest is if you ask any fan about Jackson's "Hobbit" films: a great admirer of dwarves will be furious about how Azog lived in the films when in the Etomolygies (appendixes to "Return of the King" (last LotR book) and where Jackson got the extra material for the Hobbit films from) he died - and yet the person who died killing him remains dead. If you ask me about that I won't be upset at all; but I will go on an epic rant about how Tauriel could not possibly use the Athelas (healing plant responding to the blood of kings) like that unless she was secretly Aragorn's (line of kings again, remember?) sister... actually Arwen (she's the girl with dark hair from the original trilogy) in disguise would work as well. You guessed it: fans of the dwarves wouldn't give a *!?%# about that.
That's the language part. Tolkien was also intrigued by mythos, and the Norse story (sometimes referred to as the "Old Testament" of the Norse religion) The Old Edda contains a lot of very clear referenses proving that he in fact nicked a lot of his characters, names and influences from there. I say nicked: there's absolutely nothing wrong with bringing old legends into new light in my mind. Other works such as the Beowulf and several old Islandic Tales also sports names such as Hama and Grima, which all Tolkien fans will recognise. (Yes, those are well-known enough in the major stories that we all know of them, nevermind our niche.)
So to sum it up: J.R.R. Tolkien took a bunch of names (Including Middle-Earth itself!) from old forgotten mythos, built a world with them; invented a large selection of languages, wrote a history through the ages for this place and then wrote both well-known and more obscure stories about the inhabitants of this mythical world he had invented.
I don't know about you: but to me at least, put like that it sounds both absolutely Epic and completely exhausting to keep track of. I do believe it is both.... but if someone ever accused humanity of having self-preservation they had clearly had too many "Yulma"'s of "Limpe"... (They were drunk).
L. H Westerlund
Monday, January 15:th 2018- The Sniper
A good, classic story is not only well crafted, intriguing and relatable, it also teaches us something. A great example of this is Liam O'Flaherty's short-story "The Sniper". I recommend you reading it - it is only about sixteen-hundred words long and it freely available at a link you'll find under "about".
Like many classics (and any great stories, really) over the years, this story plays with our perception and our prejudices, as well as those of the characters involved. It questions what our understanding of situations we are involved in really are, and puts a spotlight on what we make important in a moment, and what really should be important.
That has rarely been as relevant as it is today, when the pace of life is so high and we are in such danger of forgetting what we really care about in favour of what we feel we have to accomplish on any given day. It has aged graciously, in this way, and maybe this message has been made more clear rather than less by time as covers the subject of a long past war, but the conflict embedded in the pages is still relevant and will still shake you when you read it, to this day.
The story takes us back to a summer night during a civil war, when a republican sniper is eating some food and having a smoke at the rooftop on an old building. Not such a clever move, as the glow of the cigarette gives him away. We get to follow his thoughts and his struggle to kill before he is killed. In this story, you listen and hear the bullets in the night and bite your lip as he takes a bullet. Not fatally, but the struggle against the other sniper intensifies as blod loss and the threat of unconsiousness drives up and up the stakes.
Ultimately, we follow the young sniper as he tries to succeed, only to have the tables turned on him, and on us, because like in so many other things, there are relevant facts you assumed; assumed, but did not know.
We do this a lot, all of us do, and I for one loves a story which challenges us on it. I have always believed that the more open your eyes are, the more you are able to see with them. And the more open your heart and mind, the more you will learn. Even besides that, it is a well-written tale worthy of being read, and I am here to remind you that not only titles we are told of with big block letters at any opportunity can be valuable and worthy of your attention - especially when it is only fifteen minutes of your attention which will then stay with you for days and months.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, January 8:th 2018- James Bond
Ian Fleming, who I have already praised for his childrens' (also aimed at other fascinating people) book - "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", was of course mostly known for his books about notorious spy and womanizer (and drunkard, let's be honest) 007 - Bond, James Bond.
If you'd get them all, Fleming's books about Bond would make for quite the pile in your book-case, as there is fourteen of them just by the original author. Beyond that, eight authors have been authorised to write their own novels using the character and others have written related stories, including one author who has written stories about a young James Bond. As a footnote, I can remember reading said "young Bond" stories when I was in my teens, and I must say he did a resonably good job - even though they might have turned out a little silly. Personally I am too impressed at him even pulling off a story about a young James Bond at Eton solving a mystery involvingflesh-eating eels to critizise how he did it.
Ian Fleming named his protagonist after ornithologist and noted expert on Caribbean birds, James Bond. He later said that he wanted a boring name, uninteresting and bland, as he wanted Bond to be an utterly uninteresting man interesting things happened to. He also admitted to having based the secret agent and formerly commander in the Royal Naval reserve on a number of different "individuals" (though I personally assume he means "men") he met while he was in the Naval Intelligence Division during the war. One of these persons, apparently, was his own brother. One might feel that this was a bit mean, perhaps, but as I myself named a six-foot-transvestite in six-insh-heels after my own brother, I am not in a position to critisise Fleming for it. (My character is merely named after my brother, they have nothing in common. Except the ginger beard...)
Another real-life influence in the books is the character of Q, who was named after a major who wrote to Fleming to object that Bond was using the wrong gun. Major Geoffrey Boothroyd was a Scottish firearms expert and so resonsible for the origin of Bond's Walther.
In the original, Bond was not blonde as many people nowadays think, nor was he quite so charming or handsome. He was handsome, but in a hard way, with an unpleasant and cruel expression around his mouth - quite a far cry from the sweet Bond portrayed by Daniel Craig as holding a woman while she cries in the shower. (To reference last week's post - sometimes a film has to be different from the book, and it might certainly make said film better!)
Fleming also took inspiration from the films himself, and made Bond, who was then played by Sean Connery, a Scotsman.
All in all, James Bond is a great example how a skillfully crafted and simply good character may survive not only his author, but also live beyond his own books. As another writer, I can only bow to Fleming for making him.
L. H. Westerlund
Thursday (Means Trouble) January 4:th 2018- Why is the Film never as Good as the Book? Part 1.
This blog is a few days late (you know, start the year as you mean to continue...) because even the most experienced writer can suffer writer's block. Or I was hung over after New Year's Eve. You judge. I do hope you will forgive me. (Especially my mother, who checked for my blog three times and it wasn't there. Oh the betrayal...)
There is quite the pile of reasons why films are rarely as good as their books. They can be devided into two broad categories. One, because the film is too close to the original books, or two, it is not close enough. More on that as we go along.
One reason is why screen adaptations may not work is that there simply are things which works in one formate which doesn't work in the other. It is the same with theaters or a musical - the story needs to be adapted for the formate you're using, same as a live play needs to be modified for the specific stage it is performed at.
Here a film being too close to the book can be a problem, such as a handy example from the fifth Harry Potter film. (Spoiler alert. Jump to the end of this paragraph to avoid.) In the book, it is moving and profound that Harry clutches at Cedric Digory's dead body and won't let him go as they return from the labyrinth. We understand the concept and it speaks to us. In the film, actually seeing it, it looks absolutely mental. Differently, in "Fellowship of the Ring" (more spoiler alerts. Again, just jump to the next paragraph) the book version, they spend three nights in Moria, which would kill the pace of the film, but they've cut it out.
Characterisations can be a strength in films (actors...) but also the opposite. I spent way too long last night thinking about Snape. (This is risk any writer takes when reading a book.) He could have poisoned Lupin's potion he makes for him in book three, but instead brews it perfectly and instead lets slip very personal information about Lupin, being part in him leaving the school.
Why does he do that? Instead of causing his old enemy true harm, he instead keeps him safe, but is a little shit at the same time. So he isn't cruel, but he is petty...? I don't know, and that is my point: I do not know. That is complex character right there! Lifelike level of complex. This is usually not translated to the big screen. Just look at Cressida Covell's very unique series about "Hickup Horrendous Haddock The Third". They're very different. The films? Nah. They could be mistaken for any kids' adventure film out there.
Now this is usually done on purpose to broaden the audience for a film, but we lose a lot of diversity this way. Comics converted into films have the same problem. I can give you another very famous example of this conversion into stereotypical hero behaviour. In the Lord of the rings films, Aragorn is a perfect person who self-sacrificingly agrees to take up the throne to save his people. Readers of the books knows that Aragorn wants to return home to his family's long lost land, and anyone who's ever read about the Fellowship's journey through Lothlorien knows that book-Aragorn becomes a grumpy little troll when he is tired. Less heroic, yes, but certainly more believable!
These remakes removing complex, distinct characters into usually" the white butch male 1 stereotype", "the goofy dude at the side", "hot smart lady" and "evil but sort of pityful villain" can take the spice out of the best idea and turn it into something indistinguishable from every other film you've ever seen. This is because films are expensive to make and so need to pull a lot of people, so it is understandable, but that insight does not make it any less boring.
Finally for this time, we have the classic reason why a film falls short. Lack of exposition time. The film cannot be the same as the book simply because the film has to be just a few hours while a book can be a thousand pages. I have used Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings as examples previously in this post, and they suit well here, too. Imagine someone trying to make a three-hour-film out of the bible or The Old Edda, too. You would have to cut so much content you'd lose the essense of the entire story. To use a more specific example, the Harry and Ginny romance works fine in book five, but in the film the story is much shorter and more condensed, and most fans found it really weird and sudden.
You might ask yourself if there's any way to fix this: there are a lot of elements here which are inevitable. The truth is that a perfect conversion formula is not possible, but skill is. It is possible to convert a book into a film which makes it at least decent justice (Look at LotR again, or the modern "Emma" interpretation). As always, it comes down to good writing, not just of the book, but from whoever is converting the script - and said writer taking the ultimate advice and sticking to their story, instead of giving in to pressure and ultimately producing something too bland.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, December 11:th 2017 - The Art of Believing In A Book
Now, naturally, this starts with credibility - is this story believable?
There is more to it though, there is that feeling of you being inside the book itself, which only the best books can grant us. You're there. You struggle with the characters as they they make their way through the plot, you startle when the monster appears, same as your heroes: and you grieve for those lost, as if they were here. They're real. To you, they're real. Friends of yours, in a way.
Now, partly this is an author-thing: I have told you already in earlier posts how characters evolve: they speak to you, taking on voices of their own, and if they die, odds are you'd pay a terrible price for the necromancy involved in saving their lives. Because for you, in you, the story lives. And you're not controlling it any more, not after the characters took form and lives of their own.
Many readers, though, have experienced the same, and as I love to say: words have power. Why is this? Well, truthfully, exactly why I cannot tell you. I have done my homework and I know a lot about literature, but how that works or came about even I cannot answer. The first step to learning more, though, is realising just how ignorant you actually are. Myself, I look back every so often to who I was just half a year ago and I always find past me knew absolutely nothing. About anything.
There are a few things I can illuminate for you, however. Ultimately, it does come back to the start of this very blog post. We might not know how it ends with us believing in a story so fully that we eagerly await our Hogwarts letters (I recently recieved mine, though not at all in the form I thought it would come) but it begins with that believability this too, started with.
Do you believe in the world the author shares with you? Do you believe in the characters? Is it them speaking to you, or is it still the author? Because if it is the latter, it will never ring quite true. It might just be the voices in my head, but I'd say that is is because if the author still tells the story, the characters have not gotten their own voice, and then it isn't real. Even if it is just in your mind, as reader or writer, the world is real, if the people living in it has come alive. To quote Dumbledore: "Of course it is happening in your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it isn't real?"
Now, some of you will be thinking that I am just mad. I'm crazy, that's what I'm saying. I'm not going to contradict you there. I have never met a single writer who has not been, in some way or other, more or less completely and utterly cracked. We're all slightly bonkers, but then again so is every person I've ever met - with us it is just slightly more obvious, and our particular brand of mental is just slightly more epic than yours is.
In the end, I am not going to ever feel bad about my creative crazy, because when could being more epic ever be a bad thing?
L. H. Westerlund.
Monday, December 4:th 2017- New Versions of Old Tales
Perhaps because we live in an age where everything has been seen before, (or so you'd think, occasionally) a huge trend which is in all honestly not new at all, but certainly up and rising, is rewriting an old story in a new way. Or for that matter, reusing old story elements in an otherwise new tale.
I have done so myself - my first ever stage-play was a Shakespeare rewrite, and you'll find both Sherlock and James Bond in my "Currently Writing" folder. So why do we do this? There are a few different reasons, really, and most - if not all - of them are actually very simple. Like so many things often are, once you understand them properly. (Even E=MC^2 isn't half as complex an equation as you'd think once you know what it means, though using it is another thing entirely. But I'm digressing. Again)
Firstly, many writers today grew up with these stories, and a genuine interest leads to a desire to turn something over - curiosity to see what it would then become. I'm not rewriting Fleming (or Shakespeare, for that matter!) because I didn't like the originials: quite to the contrary, I loved them, and so I wonder how well I could make an adaption. What would one or more changed elements actually change in the grand scheme of things? Would it be any good? Help or hurt the original story-line?
I speak from personal experience here, but there are plenty of other examples. Tolkien did a lot of it, in building his mythical Middle Earth, and many fantasy authors are now doing the same to Tolkien, in one form or another. Even "The Lion King" is technically Hamlet, and Twilight believes it is a Romeo and Juliet story. I think. Let's just settle on that some adaptations are good and some are... Twilight. (And "Fifty Shades of Grey" is copying Twilight... it never ends. And apparently neither does it ever get better where it has started to get worse.)
Naturally, we must also consider lazyness: it is easier to copy than to write new. It is hard to get examples on it, because it is difficult to separate that reason from the next one I'll get to, but I think it is fair to say that this happens. We go with something that works, instead of daring to try somthing new with new risk and more work. Human nature, really. Maybe, even, in some cases, prudence.
Another important reason to consider is that if the story is already known, it will help carry your own tale a fair bit. There's plenty of examples of this out there: everything from fanfiction to silly Christmas films about Santa Claus, when everybody's knowledge and excitement about Santa and his elves are used to give a film a push. Somewhat surprisingly, maybe, to many of us, is one of the authors we find solidly in this category: ever wondered why so many of Shakespeare's plays are set in Italy? Yup. Shakespeare was a book-thief. I like him already.
Of course, there is the possible accusation attached to this of having no ideas of ones own, and perhaps even spoiling the original. I'd argue how that depends entirely on what you do with it. I think no one in history would ever accuse Tolkien, Shakespeare or C. S. Lewis (he borrowed from old fables. Nope, nothing is ever new) of being anything but creative or of destroying literature ideals.
It is firm fact that many exceptional stories have done this, and to delve deeper into an example I've already mentioned: one of the most well known, as well as actually in many way most obscure examples is Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings". You'll find Hama the doorguard in Tolkien's Edoras, and another, very similar Hama in the much, much older text of Beowulf. Not to mention the Dwarves, known as "sons of Durin", under names such as Thorin, Thrain, Kile, File and Bombur in... well both "The Hobbit" and the "Edda", really. Only in Tolkien's book there's more of them, and in the "Old Edda" Gandalv and Bilbo are names of Dwarves, too.
Now, I am never ever going to deny that Lord of the Rings is awesome, so I at least ampretty convinced that reinventing the old can make for pretty great new, ever if that does mean that I have to stand films like "Santa Claus is Back 3" or whatever else those menaces going on repeat in the Christmas weekend are called! I could go on forever, most likely, with listing the bad examples, so let me just reassure you on one point instead: much as we love an original and want to protect it from being spoilt by such terrible adaptations, usually it lies far beyond any such risk. The story is too important to us to be dragged down by association, and always remember that it shall remain in its own, original state, untarnished by this new author.
As for literate copying as an entity, not only is it inevitable, but at the end of the day, Harry Potter is telling a classic heroic tale for the thousandth time, but I would not want a world without Hogwarts it.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, November 27:th 2017- James Boswell
Perhaps not the most famous writer I have ever blogged about, this one is a bit further down the rabbit hole where classics are concerned. But, you know, at the end of the day - most writers are actually to be found there, further down some road or other. Only very few of all writers are generally known about, sad as that is.
First and foremost, there are actually two of them: a James Boswell the father, and his second son, of the same name. These two scottish men were both writers and lawyers, the son presumably following in the fotsteps of his dad. The father was most known for his biography "The Life of Samuel Johnson" and generally a biographer and diarist as well as an essayist and journalist. He wrote a very insightful argumentative essay called "On War" which is worth a read.
Boswell the younger is mostly known for his work with Edmond Malone, helping him with gathering material and research, mostly, it seems.
Together, these two men you have to put time into to even tell apart, tell us a most important story. If you write, you shall never do so for the glory. My mother brought me up with the adage that "There is always space for a well-written book" and while that is more true than ever today, when anyone can publish an ebook at any time, given a sufficient amount of work on doing so, it is easier than ever to slip into the cracks and never be remembered by anyone.
That is why you have to write for the sake of your story, because you owe the characters close to your heart to tell their tale, and not because you want fame or fortune. Because, remember these two authors and essayists, researchers and - like so many other authors; possessing another day-job (this is very commonly journalism, but not always) - lawyers, who history have mostly forgotten. It is easy to end up in the fotnote, when history is written, and at the end of the day, that cannot be what was important.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, 20:th November 2017- W. H. Auden
A familiar name where everything poetry is concerned, W. H. Auden is one of the giants of the poetic world. In fact, I can hear my mother's squeal in delight at me blogging about him from here, and we are not even in the same country.
Even so, Auden is one of those writers it is, in fact, very hard to write about, because finding a starting point is not obvious. He has written so many great pieces of poetry, he is generally well-known, not just for a few of them (though some are certainly more famous than others) and he has never written anything terrible that I can think of.
So were do you start? And for that matter, how to you continue? Well, the great advantage with this being a blog and not a scientific journal is that I really do not have to have a reason for my examples, so I am just going to address my favourites. If they make you curious, google him. There's more where that came from. (Like, seriously. The man has written a whole heap of excellent poetry.)
Now my reading list (and isn't that a long document) provides a few titles anyone could start with. His "Funeral Blues" might be one of the more famous - certainly, it should be after it was featured in "Four Weddings And A Funeral".
While the title sounds a little less classical than many of his others, it is as powerful, if not more so, as any of them. It starts out telling us about little things. About how under the cloud of grief, you would prefer the clocks to stop and for the telephone to never ring again. It tells us, profoundly, about how it feels when your world stops - but the world keeps turning never the less.
He then goes on to describe the feeling properly - taking the small things onto a cresendo where absolutely everything ought to stop. Not only beautiful, this poem is very profound, and everyone who has ever suffered loss can appreciate this narrative. I recommend it warmly.
Another title worthy of discovery is "Tell me the truth about love". Not a favourite of mine, it is yet very sweet and very thoughtful. Like any of his poems, it is worth a read. Which is also the great advantage of poetry, by the way - you have time to read a lot of it, because it is rarely a long job.
Finally, I shall tell you about the favourite of mine; "As I Walked Out One Evening". In actuality, this is more of a love poem than the one with love in the title, and it is stuffed effortlessly full with one of the best examples of figurative language I could point you towards. We all have our favourites, and I personally adore the verse with "I love you until the ocean is folded and hung up to dry".
In't that the best mental imagine within the boundary of time? I shall link to these in about, so go and read them yourself!
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, November 13:th 2017- Artistic Integrity
Writing a Harlequin novel does not seem to be all that complicated. Many of them sell very well - better than most indie-writers in the ebook-industry, I would guess. Yet, many indiewriters write very well-researched and simply good material - and not that Harlequin which would make them infinitely more money.
There is a very simple question to ask here. Why? Or rather, why not?
The answer is simple. In some cases it might be inability - simple as it might look, everything has its own challenges and objectively, those things are actually very neatly written (as far as I've seen, I haven't read that many to be honest, so maybe don't accept me as an authority in this particular field) - and in some others the writer in question might simply not have thought of it.
In the other cases, however, it is a very simple concept that is in the way: pride in ones work. Writing is, at the end of the day, not a good career path if you want to get any sort of financial stability. The risk revard ratio of spending years and years learning how to write and then write a novel, is actually crap. If you are looking for something which pays off: don't do this.
Writing, then, is more art than practicality. We write because we love to do so, and we cannot write something we do not love.
So you know what? All respect to the indie writer who writes exactly what they want to and never sells out. And all respect to the writer of the well-crafter though cliched Harlequin, as well, as long as it is neat and tidy and you are practising good worksmanship.
And sod off to all the horrid stories, bestsellers or not, which have none of those things. Buy something better, dear reader, and make the world a bit fairer.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, November 6:th 2017- Your Character
When I was little, the concept of characters coming alive as you wrote baffled me. Now, I find most books where you as a writer make the plot up yourself come across as boring and flat, not to mention made-up and false.
When you write a story, you might start out with a plot or a summary, a synopsis or an idea, but when it comes down to it, what you do is create characters... and then sit back and watch them wreck utter havoc on your plans in every single way imaginable. And that is sort of the point.
It is a common misconception that the writer controls the story they write. What we do is more like plan it, watch the plan break, and then obediently write down what we are told by our utterly incomprehensible and completely disobedient characters.
I have heard writers call their books their babies, and it is right in the sense that books will never quite turn out the way you thought they would or planned for them to, either. Similarly with good parenting, a good writer adapts!
This does mean that sometimes you have to write when you're really busy doing other stuff, as your head is suddenly filled with motion and events, that you get surprised at your own plot occasionally, and that sometimes you just have to wait. Most embarrasingly, it also means that your character will say something utterly clever eventually and you will be as proud as any parent - but any non-writer out there will believe you're praising yourself if you ever say any of it out loud. (This is one reason why having lots of writer friends is very important, by the way.)
Most heartbreakingly, though, it will sometimes mean that things you really want to happen does not, in fact, occur, and that some things you do not in any way desire will befall your characters anyway - and you cannot save them. Many will have heard of the tale of J. K. Rowling being found crying in her kitchen by her husband over the death of a character, and his suggestion that she just change it. It doesn't work like that. They died. You cannot raise the dead. Like the act of necromancy within any fantasy novel, it has consequenses to meddle with what just happens in your book.
A writer is, ultimately, the narrator, but while technically the creator and maker, not the god or goddess of their private little book universe. There is power in writing, but if you missuse it, tempting as that might be, you will quite simply end up with one rubbish book!
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, October 30:th 2017- John Steinbeck
Like so many other writers, John Steinbeck - who is actually a novel price winner in the subject of literature (wouldn't it be fantastic if he was a nobel price winner of biology or something instead) - is mostly known for a very small selection of what he has actually written. Like is true for so many others as well - I realise that is very much a reoccuring comment around here. Whether it is the best books or not, is naturally very subjective, but in many ways, they are at least quite representative of his works.
"The Pearl" and "of Mice and Men" are both beautifully crafted and also deeply depressing. This is a very accurate cross-section of the average John Steinbeck novel, I would say. Beautiful, well-written and utterly likely to make you sigh sadly at the end, if not all the way through it.
Steinbeck's "The Pearl" is a story of two poor pearl-fishers whose son gets bitten by a snake. They then find the most beautiful, wonderful pearl which they think will solve all of their trouble; hint - it doesn't. It ends with devastation, much like "Of Mice and Men" does, not to mention every single short story in the geografically connected story "The Pastures of Heaven", which is a series of small stories about a community in a beautiful part of the world. For all the beauty of the surroundings, that doesn't end well either.
In fact, "The Pastures of Heaven" consists of a full dozen interconnected stories about the people living in the place so nicknamed, and I personally cannot recall one single happy ending amongst the lot.
In summary, I think it is fair to say that where Kafka is the master of the eerie and depressing, Steinbeck rules the kingdom of beauty and sadness, and probably will continue to do so for very long yet.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, October 23:rd 2017- Enid Blyton
Secret Seven and the Five books. Right? Right... there are, in fact, a few things to add to that. Not strangely, as Enid Blyton at her peak productivity wrote about forty books a year. Well, all I can say in the collective defense of all other writers in the world, is that many of her books are neither long, nor very complicated. Still, be that as it may, we should probably still be ashamed, all of us, for putting three books a year out there: and that is the more productive writers!
Enid Blyton also wrote the appreciated childrens' series known as "The Faraway tree", and it was only in the films that the Famous Five had lashings of ginger beer. So far so good.
There are, however, a few problems to address with Enid Blyton. She has been accused of several kinds of discriminations. The books contain both what some consider blatant rasism (a doll with a black face leaves because he is hated, and when the rain washes him "clean", he is loved again - clever critisism, or cruel discrimination?) and quite a bit of other prejudism.
Now, partly, this must be seen in the context of the time. We were idiots in the past, and that is okay, we cannot help that now, we can just try and be slightly less stupid in the future. One might make an entire blog post about how well or not we are really doing with that, but this is a literature blog, so I'm... not.
Fair to say, the stories are old, and that has to be remembered. Same as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (the Magical Car) is a brilliant book but they are going 100 miles per hour on the motorway and that is apparently all well and fine. Things change. If I may say so, I like that penicillin is a thing now after major surgeries and that nobody believes tomatoes to be poisonous any longer. Change can be good.
A measurement of how well stories do over time is how timeless they are, through, and these little things put a dent in the works for Blyton and her timelessness. We have left a whole lot of the behaviours in her books behind in general: letting four half-grown children (and a dog) go away biking over night in an unknown place is not good form any longer either. It is not safe, for one. (One might argue it wasn't back then either with all the trouble they get into!)
For all of their problems though, let's not judge her books (or her) too hard: so many years later and I myself have had the pleasure of getting to read her books to starry-eyed young children: they always were her audience, and logic or not: they are still listening!
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, October 16:th 2017- Fear
We are all, I suspect, familiar with that concept. Everyone fears something: the key to having nothing to be afraid of, after all, is having nothing to lose. And that thought is as scary as anything. I am scared of that.
A bit more specifically, however, I am talking about creative fear. Whatever you've created, you've certainly put yourself out there, taken a small - or a large - piece of your soul and is bravely holding it up into the light for people to see. It takes an enormous amount of guts to do that, no matter the context. Of course, professionalism and experience might help protect you a bit from the raw risk in doing that, but it never becomes less scary.
As a result, many writers, painters and certainly musicians never show their work to anybody. I can relate to that fear myself, though I've never really considered hiding my work from anybody. Not because I'm not afraid - if you're not, your art, whatever it is, cannot be that important to you and then it likely isn't to anybody else either (art, after all, is all about that vulnerability) - but because it simply never occured to me to hide. At least, not before it was way too late to do so.
Maybe, it is natural to think at this point, that "you are just brave, then". Well, maybe I am. Bravery is, after all, not absence of fear, but stepping up and fighting fear for all you are worth. I try and do that every time I face it, but when it comes to showcasting my work to the world, I cannot tell you if that would have ever been enough.
The reason I am not hiding my writing - ever, from anybody - is because I can't. I couldn't tell you if I would or not given the option, because once I got to a point where I could consider that, I had already made my decision, before I could be aware of making it.
Many talented artists have something enormously worthy of showing to the world, but they get stuck in that decision. They have the talent, the skill and that magical spark, blessing their fingertips, but they're stuck. Or, they're brave as hell, and they publish anyway. I don't think that fear ever goes away.
It never does for me, and I am another kind of artist: I started to create at so young an age that I hadn't learnt to properly fear, and once I did, my decision was already made, my art - my Writing - so closely connected to who I am that I couldn't rein it in. And yet, my gut still clenches and I still bite my lip with nerves everytime I hand over a manuscript to someone whose judgement I trust for a second pair of eyes. It becomes less paralysing, yes. Every time you do it you are able to do so more easily, but that twinge of unease when someone opens their mouth to critique you (or rather, something which holds more importance to you that merely you); it never goes away.
Much as you come to trust that power to create you can wield - if you're lucky enough that you ever do - that doubt never goes away.
It is because, at the end of the day, what you've created and put out there is extremely important to you, a piece of your insides that you're putting on paper, canvas or whatever is your medium. A book or painting or piece of poetry is, at the best of times, the best of you, and it can never not be personal. It never shouldn't be, either, because without that spark of something, that you've put into it, your art wouldn't be art, and it would fall flat.
It does mean, though, that there is not, nor have there ever been such a thing, as "just a book". Unless it is written for somebody else, not for you, and it really is just empty pages.
L. H. Westerlund
Friday the 13:th Book Advice
Not for the fainthearted, Melville's "The Bell Tower" is one of the most down-to-earth frightening short-stories I have ever come across. Poe can often spook you good in his slightly supernatural way, but this story is very real... and being a nice, subtle tale it can be enjoyed even by those of us who do not normally thrive on horror. Just don't read it all alone, in the dark, at tree am. That will make you embarrassingly worried about even the sound of the kettle! (Yes, I speak from experience. No, I have absolutely no regrets.)
L. H. Westerlund
Thursday (means trouble), October 12:th 2017 - Peter Pan and Wendy
(Details on why this blog is delayed can be found under about. I am so sorry about that, dear readers.)
As the old lady in a random Peter Pan film put it, and I am paraphrasing liberally, "Time is coming for us all, sooner or later". It is a tempting thing to see as a metaphor, the crocodile with the unrelenting tic tic tac of that watch. In the end, whether it is still long coming or imminent, we are all running out of time in some way.
All the best stories moves us in some way, speaks to us - differently because of who we are - making us feel something, whatever it is. A good story not only provides emotion, context, but gives the reader space to feel, from their own experiences.
In fact that is what makes a good story, that it moves us, shifts our perceptions, and the difference between any great book and making one of those huge epic sagas like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Hamlet or Winnie the Pooh - something that everyone has heard of - is that those stories do that for everyone and anyone.
Like many good writers of many good books, J. M. Barrie was known in his own time for something mostly different from the masterpiece which we remember him for now. (You'd find the same with Francis Hodgson Burnett, for example, your contemporaries usually do not see you for what generations long in coming does.) He was a successful and appreciated playwrite and novelist long before "Peter Pan" was ever born. So to speak.
Like is the case with so many classics, the original is not quite like many of the interpretations we know best today. There is a measure of sadness in the original work, not to mention it was made for the theatre - as a story for adults. A fairytale to make us all feel like children again, if you will, but not solely aimed at children, like the spinnoffs usually are today.
There is a very deep theme in the original of mortality and the counterweight of Peter Pan - a child forever. The advantage - and the tremendous cost - of having forever. In Barries original, though the characters we know so well - Tingeling, Wendy and the lost boys - fight with him to bring down Hook, Peter Pan some summers later does not even remember Hook, their struggles or their adventures. I suppose today, dementia comes to mind, but personally, I am inclined to believe that it is, in fact, that fact again that time comes for us all, in some way.
We are our memories, we are the scars in our minds and in our hearts, the marks on our bodies and the colours left on our souls, be it art or bruises. What we have done as well as what we do defines us: we are made by the little bits and pieces, the quick moments and the long waits, our faults and flaws as much as our strenghts and our triumphs. Much as we'd like to think so, none of our experiences fail to shapen us. That inpact might be big or small, but we grow with our memories. We are forever growing as people and as more and more complex beings. If Peter Pan can never change with his story, his memories, how much his are they really?
It is a beautiful and sad story - like so many of the best things are somehow - and I can deeply recommend reading the original, especially if you loved the cartoons and childrens' books as a child. It is a book to curl up with in a cosy place during a quiet night alone, staying up far too late and remembering a time when maybe, you were a little less responsible and your heart was a little bit more open to the beautiful side of things. In many ways, this is a book with which to remember, no matter what it really is you need to recall.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, October 2:nd 2017- Audiobooks
As Stephen Fry put it - "Walking is made glorious by audiobooks". When I was a child, I remember a lot of the audiobooks at the local library were available specifically for people who were legally blind. These days, they are readily available for everyone and anyone who wishes to listen rather than read, whatever the subject of the book might be.
Like the discussion about ebooks and kindle, one might argue that audiobooks are not as good as "real books". As a writer, I agree with Author John Green - "I don't care how people read, as long as they read". As for listening, I don't see a need to make a fuss about that either.
Research has shown that media involving a screen - tv, computer games etc. - have a larger impact on us than books or music (research was made to check if computer games really do strange things to kids' heads. Not more than the telly, it seems) and while one might argue that an audiobook involves more senses than a normal reading experience and thus gives you less fodder for your imagination (and I personally believe that adults needs that stimuli even more than the children!) even skilled narrators who add voices and effects can hardly make more than a tiny impact, in my view. Even if you get the voices, you still have to build all the images in your mind after all - screen media affects us differently than non screen media, remember?
Of course, this also depends on the narrator. Stephen Fry's reading of Harry Potter have enchanted young readers (and Jack Whitehall, all QI watchers know) while there are whole comment sections on the videos recorded by volunteers of public domain books filled with complaints at how badly some of them are perceived to be read.
David Tennant narrates the entire "Hickup the Horrendus Haddock the Third" series by Cressida Cowell with a new accent for every tribe - not a mean feat - and there is no way to deny that he brings a new depth to the books. There is no denying, then, that audiobooks can add a lot of value to you as a reader - or listener.
Another interesting thing to note is the difference a different voice can make. A different voice can make a book soothing or exciting, fantastic or just good. To reuse a previous example, the actor David Tennant as an experienced narrator of audiobooks, is the narrator of a newly produced version of Fleming's "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - The Magical Car", adding his trademark voices and energy in every syllable.
Now, as this is the new version, there is, quite naturally, also an old version of the audiobook, read by another man. This narrator does an absolutely solid job. The audiobook is nice, the book itself is good, everything is as it should be - but contrasted with the fantastic newer version, someone who has heard that will turn up their nose at the old one. Of course, this is highly subjective, but it is interesting, is it not? The difference between good and great is such a narrow line... as is indeed always the case, not just in literature, but in many other things.
As they say: the line between genius and madness is a thin one!
(Not to mention as Tim Minchin said: A genius is a mentally ill person - with an audience." So maybe we're just imagining that line in the first place..)
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, September 25:th 2017 - Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass and the Hunting of the Snark
Charles Lutwidge Dogdgson, also known - well, pretty much only known - by his pen-name Lewis Carrol. He wrote many verses and a lot of slightly nonsensical often Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired poetry, the two most famous pieces likely being the "Jabberwocky" and "The Hunting of the Snark".
Most known, of course, he is for writing "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and its sequel, "Through the Looking Glass". Who haven't at any point heard the quote "Curiouser and Curiouser, said Alice", when things are growing peculiar? Quite a few of us have even used that line ourselves!
One might debate if this should be categorised as a classic (it usually is) or simply as fantasy. Though there isn't any real reason it couldn't be both. Like C. S. Lewis, Lewis Carrol took a multitude of new grips on the older fairytales and styles of poetry, in this case, much as Tolkien rejuvinated the old norse verse-style from the younger Edda in his "Lord of the Rings"-triology.
To get a little bit more specific, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" or simply "Alice in Wonderland", is a book about a young girl following a rabbit in a waist-coat through the garden and falling down a hole - a hole which turns out to lead to Wonderland.
Well there, she meets the rabbit in the waist-coat, a marsh-hare and of course the hatter, as well as a very wise caterpillar and the wicked Dame of Hearts. Later on, she ends up in the Wonderland once more, this time stepping through a mirror. The second book is based on a game of chess, with the red and white queens, steps and zones, and one might say that Alice, upon crossing the board, becomes a queen herself and thus can make her escape. That is just interpretation, though.
In the long poem "the Hunting of the Snark" a large gathering of men slightly bringing the thoughts to the odd bunch rehearsing a play in Shakespeare's "A Midsommer Night's Dream" is hunting after a Snark, while fearing another creature which has the power to make men dissappear for seeing it. I won't give away the ending, suffice to say that it is quite clever.
All in all, Lewis Carrol is worth to be read. I would recommend starting simply with "Alice in Wonderland", and then continuing as you see fit. And should you find it too long or too confusing, at least read "Jabberwocky" or contend yourself with "the Hunting of the Snark" which is just as confusing as either of the books, but quite a lot shorter. I started with that, myself, and now I've read both the books as well, so it might be a good introduction.
Read safely! (And don't go hunting for Snarks, whatever you do!)
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, September 18:th 2017- Inspiration
It is a fickle thing, isn't it. We have all had our run-ins with a lack of inspiration - or too much - people of the creative arts most of all.
There's many levels to what inspiration - the fickle muse - is, but at the heart of it, the first thing you have to accept, reader, is that words have power. Words alone have been responsible for everything between the small but desperately important such as making a panic attack stop, to the amazing such as all the opportunites it they have built, to the grand and all-powerful. Words have stopped wars and saved lives. Sticks and stones might very well break your bones, but words can either break or save your soul. Words have power.
No wonder then, that in the profession which is literally using words as building blocks, inspiration for such great building works comes with its own limitations and has its own costs.
I have heard some - apparently very professional - writers call inspiration a myth. It is all about hard work, they say. It might be coincidence, but they all tend to write awful books. Maybe it isn't such a coincidence after all. Maybe they've just missunderstood their job...
In my experience, inspiration is very vital, in the sense that you need to bring the words from somewhere: I mean, you need to have something you really not just want, but need to say, and the words will come.
That said, we all have our different preferences and tricks. Personally, I believe that you lose a great part of what makes you special as an author and even more so as a writer, if you let professionalism win out over inspiration.
I should explain, though, that the two of them aren't mutually exclusive. It may be fairly subjective, but I think that it is about balance. If you aren't professional you may be ever so talented, but you will freeze under pressure; just like you need skill to write a book (or a film, or an anything), you also need a bit of experience and ice in your belly not to break under pressure.
It is the same principle as the "one hit wonders" in the music industry. They had the talent, they had the inspiration and it made for a great song, they had some skill and was leant some more - and then when the hit breaks, they cannot follow it up. Because you need the strength of that experience - that professionalism - to keep producing steadily, just like those authors not believing in inspiration could need a scope of creative joy. But for all the cringeworthyness of their books, they tend to be admirably regular in producing them. Unfortunately.
At the end of the day, all you need to do to be your best self is to find your own best technique to do so. Find your technique and find your spot, inside youand maybe in the world as well, find the people you can trust and maybe even be inspired by to back you up, and you will make everything you dream about come true.
L. H. Westerlund
Everyone needs that one spot. I have one. Do you?
Monday, September 11:th 2017- Emma
I once heard the opinion of Jane Austen's lead lady Emma, that she rather fancies herself the writer, instead of a character: she is trying to make her dear friend Harriet the heroine of her story, setting out her life as if she could decide what happens, like an author would. She tries and tries again, until she finally realises at the end that you cannot write somebody's life. (Mostly, you cannot even really write a book that way, actually. Many are the authors who've had to learn that same lesson the hard way, I am just pointing that out...)
In many ways, this is an insightful approach to looking at how we all grow up and grow to realise how life works and doesn't work, with all its little coincidences and twists and turns, but in Emma's case it might be especially relevant. Not least of all, of course, because she's in a book.
For those of you who haven't read it (and those needing a reminder), Emma Wodehouse is the character in a novel by Jane Austen, a novel also named after her. The setting is the early eighteen-hundreds in a peaceful English country town or even village, where the Wodehouses are the most "superiour" family, a spot shared with the Knightleys, the two families having large, stately estates at the edge of town.
Emma's mother dies young, possibly as a result of having Emma, though she doesn't die at childbirth, and her father, Mr Wodehouse, is quite possibly the most worrying-prone man in the entirety of England at the time. He's a sweetheart, but also rather patience-requiring at the same time!
At the beginning of the book, Emma sees two other characters, Jane and Frank, leave because of their mothers dying as well, and a lot of the plot progresses because of the return of these two figures. Emma also has an older sister, who marries the younger of the two Knightly boys, and throughout the book we hear about them in London and their evergrowing pack of lovely little children.
At a whole, the book is sweet and very typically Austen. Different from other very wellknown heroines, though, like Fanny in "Mansfield Park" or Elizabeth and her brood of sisters in "Pride and Prejudice", Emma is very well of, and certainly very differently from any in the latter group, she is absolutely not looking to get married. (I know Elizabeth Bennes says she doesn't want to get married, but she doesn't have many options, if we're being realistic.) In fact, she is rather uninterested in men and romance for much of the book, preferring to instead play matchmaker for other people.
These little differences and quirks makes it - though it has all the other general Austen characteristics with the time frame, characterisations and descriptions - a book with a slightly different prepective than your typical Austen story.
The book is long - you're looking at approximately 600 pages - but it is very accessible and the characters have that typical gumption Austen does so well, so you'll care about them all the way through.If you've never read Austen before, I can tip you off that pride and Prejudice is a lot shorter, but otherwise it is a good one to start with, and if you have read that or maybe "Sense and Sensibility" and generally liked it but found a little too much drama, then this might very well be your new favourite book.
Happy hunting, fellow book lovers!
L. H. Westerlund
Friday Book Advice
"The Kreutzer Sonata" by Tolstoy is an excellent book, well worth reading and totally less of a brick than "War and Peace" (though which book isn't...). However, unless you're an innocent young woman, except to be dissed, possibly quite badly. Also, if you've ever been pregnant, you might feel better for not reading this... he is being a tad rude to all the mommies out there!
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, September 4:th 2017- Frances Hodgson Burnett
Francis Hodgson Burnett is most famous for three stories. Accidentally - and actually very unusually - it happens to be the three I've read by this particular author. Unknown to a lot of people, she actually started out with writing books for adults, "Little Lord Fauntleroy" was her first childrens' book, and at the time probably her most famous story.
Today, two of her later novels have replaced it as the more well-known ones. "A Little Princess" being one of them, and "The Secret Garden" being at least as popular. Not being a native English speaker, I didn't quite grow up with them, but I do find myself smiling childishly every time I re-read these stories.
It is very obvious when reading them with a practised eye that "Little Lord Fauntleroy" was written first out of these three: it has much less the feel of an experienced childrens' book author, even though it is clearly the work of someone who knows their trade as a writer supremely well, and while they all three have exceptional personality, it is more quirky, something generally more dared by well-read amateurs. Tolkien, perhaps being the prime example. Meaning, she wasn't yet seeing herself as a childrens'-author. Perhaps that snuck up on her, as your true calling so often do.
There are a few similarities between the children in these stories, though not usually between all three - another mark, of course, of a very skilled writer. She was not just repeating herself.
Sarah, from "A Little Princess" (a name which actually means princess, too, in Hebrew) is a supremely sweet girl, who is given everything by her father who dotes on her, but who loses everything, before regaining everything she deserves.
The little lord Fauntleroy, from the book of the same name, is just as sweet, but grows up in very simple circumstances - also with one single parent - before coming into his right as Lord Fauntleroy and moving back to the family estate of his estranged grandfather. He, too, risks ruin before the happy ending. Generally, these two stories share a lot of elements, even if they are not inherently similar when just read.
"The Secret Garden" is entirely a different kind of book. This stars "Mary Contrary", as some other children nickname her, perhaps not so kindly, but also quite honestly. Mary starts out the story with two living parents, but not one who truly cares for her, and not a sweet disposition, either. I am inclined to blame her upbringing for that! When she loses them, however, she gets sent to what can also be seen as a family estate, which is rather where the other two stories end, but where this one begins.
We follow Mary as she explores the large, empty house and later an equally deserted garden. One wall, however, does not come with an immediately visible door - there is a secret garden behind that silent wall!
Like in the other stories, mainly "Little Lord Fauntleroy", Mary goes on to find her true home in England (all three of the children grow up to their age of about seven or so outside of England, though their families are all English) and her present family and her grow to find bonds they did not know existed.
All three stories are heart-warming and I would deeply reccomend them to you. "A Little Princess" contains far more ache before the happy ending, mind you, but they are all worth the read.
Besides these obvious conclusions, we can also use these few books for a small analysis. Every writer has their own signature elements, our MO, if you'd like, and that is why if you find a writer you love, you should never be afraid to find more stories by them. Though you knew that... didn't you?
L. H. Westerlund
The week of Monday 28:th. Sometime the very last hours of August 2017- Let Me Tell You A Story
Long story short, I am moving in a few days' time. The reason? I fell in love; simple as that. As everyone who ever fell in love seems to do, I remember the moment. Which is silly, according to every version of logic known to man - or woman. Falling in love is a process... but quite clearly there is a moment involved. Maybe it is the moment of realisation, rather than love, but I'll take it. Maybe humans merely love to recall. Perhaps it isn't about logic, it just is. I'll take that too.
No matter why, I remember standing in Regent's Park, heart wide open and in love. And now I am moving, because of it. Which in itself is rather amazing, because I make the majority of my decisions because of reason, logic, not because of love. It is a good reason, though. A strong reason - but then love always was superiour to reason. At least, for some decisions. I'd say, logic decisions are what makes those few others possible. Those which really matter.
The downside of it - one of very few - is that it is keeping me rather busy, so there will be no blog post this week. There will be one next week - I can exclusively tell you it will be about Francis Hodgeson Burnett - but this week I will instead leave you with this childrens' poem I've written. I hope you'll enjoy it. If there is a want for it, I might post more poetry or essays. Let me know all of your thoughts on Twitter or the form under "about". Goodbye for now, dear readers.
L. H. Westerlund
The singing little bluebells
They stood on a slope
The snow was slightly melting
So they gathered up their hope
The singing little bluebells
Were twinkling; making song
Grew bolder in the rising warmth
Painting the slope 'fore long
The singing little bluebells
Were laughing in the warmth of summer
All summer long they blooming were
'Cause winter's such a bummer
The singing little bluebells
Hoped it always would be warm
Because in the depth of winter's cold
Soft little flowers come to harm
The singing little bluebells
Then started to feel cold
They were sad to see the summer end
But their roots were really old
The singing little bluebells
Come every spring you see
Their roots sleep all the winter long
Like the bare branches of a tree
The singing little bluebells
Went to rest in the autumn rain
And the singing little blubells
They slept to spring again
Monday, August 21:st 2017- He Who Must Not Be Spelled
Pretty much any language has its own great authors. Sadly availability and translating issues means that some will be more well known to us than others: the great English Authors for example has a great advantage here. Still, it is not only about what is more available to read, as evidenced in how most people known more great British classics than they do American. Coincidence? Maybe. Culture? Could be. Important? Not really. Interesting? Absolutely.
Other languages, countries or cultures - whichever definition does it best for you - with a great deal of great - and well-known - literary works are the French authors, the Scandinavian ones (that'd be strictly culture/landmass, as both country and language vary for that one) the German, quite possibly the Spanish and the Russians. This list is anything but exhaustive and there's great literature absolutely any and everywhere - I am talking about renown only here. There's plenty of awesome literature out there with simply too much of a language barrier for me to be able to find them!
This is not necessarily entirely objective, of course, either, and even more so than you might think, as any speaker of any specific language will find more great literature worth reading within their own language than someone who doesn't speak the relevant language. Now some of this is simple bias, but the rest is about availability. You will find things others do not, if you don't have to rely on translations. I can list two or three necessary Russian authors for your reading list, but dozens and dozens of English or Scandinavian ones. True that the English has a truly great collection of classic authors, but it is also that only the foremost gets translated at play here.
Another language issue we are facing is to do with names. Many people hate how the names of people or places gets translated, but when the letters differ as well, we cannot really help it. We have to interpret: hence a very well-known Russian author whose name is spelled differently on the backs of different books in my bookcase. Said author, who must not be spelled, is the author of "Crime and Punishment" and the "about" section provides a link, if you need one. Because I am not even trying to write his name down. I know my limitations.
The issue here is obvious: languages limit us from getting to literature, limiting our mix of different cultures. Languages themselves are also culture, of course, and I am really not suggesting we replace them all with the language of the birds, so to speak.
The internet is already helping us solve this problem. No matter how small a story or a community, these days there is always resourses and people available to translate it for those who cannot speak the language. It is no longer restricted to only the most priviliged to get a translation within reach - having a helpful friend might be enough. Nowadays, there is always someone out there you can get in touch with, who can explain to you why certain letters are or are not used for a name translated from another alphabet.
Useful as classic translations are, there is no way to guarantee that the right things get translated, as there rarely is such a thing as right or wrong in any kind of art. Art is about people, and people are different, not right or wrong. And for all the faults of modern society, the paths between people sitting at different continents have never been shorter. Use that new power wisely, readers of the world. You might be able to translate a name, but sometimes, you shouldn't try. I won't attempt spelling something I do not understand, because I will do poorly. I will leave the explanation to someone qualified, and I will continue to explain things I explain well. We are all good at something, and bad at something else, and it is how we deal with that that define us.
Don't forget to be awesome.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, August 14:th 2017- Fifty Shades of Tossed Into a Wall
It is a simple question, but not with a single, simple answer: why do we read books which are so catastrophically bad as some bestsellers clearly are?
There are classic, terrific, wonderful titles we all know of and many of us love. They're beyond bestsellers, they're phenomenons; "Lord of the rings", "Alice in Wonderland", "Pride and Prejudice", "Peter Rabbit" and very notably "Harry Potter". They touch something within us and we love them for it. There's no wonder that they're bestsellers. We all expect them to be. Fifty or hundreds of years later, we still read them. But have you ever wondered what it is that makes the difference between them and well-known, well-respected classics most of us haven't actually read?
Beyond that, books which have really nothing going for them, which are frankly badly planned and written, poorly reviewed and granted litte respect by professionals and avid readers alike, are still bestsellers, even though anyone can see that they're very far from quality literature. Why is that?
There's four separate parts to this, if we're using fairly broad strokes. Partly, there is the mystery of the huge epic saga, that something which creates the magic of any undying and ever-read masterpiece, be it Shakespeare or Rowling. It warrants mention, because it sets those stories apart from all others, but the details really makes for a post of its own. Many stories can move someone to their core, but these are the ones that do that to virtually all of us. Therein lies their magic. It is also something very specific to only the best stories - though notable not to all the best stories - and this is about the bad, not the good.
The second thing we have to consider is that a book does, or does not, tap into our empathy. A story which is easily absorbed and where the average reader cares, is a book which will do generally well, no matter if it is still Harry Potter, or we are instead talking about how the helpless, walking disaster of Bella Swan stumbles along.
Our sympathy is not limited to main characters, either, and this is why a any book with good side-figures may lure a far wider audience than one with fewer people in it, because each of us finds a favourite we simply must get to the end because of, because we ultimately care what happens to them. Personally, I have always felt that Pride and Prejudice's main couple have frankly themselves to blame, but I have to read on anyway, because I have got to know if Jane finally gets her Charles.
The third part is easy: great as any Shakespearian play is, few people read them, because doing so takes effort. It takes training and skill to build such environments and words in your own mind, and it costs us an effort to put the play on in our minds. The mental agilty and work needed to map a harlequin novel is no where near that level, and so, it wins points just for the sake of accessibility. Everyone can learn how to read anything, but some things doesn't need any expertise beyond absorbing the basic letters.
Our forth and last factor to consider is quality. Now the concept of a "good" or "bad" book is subjective, but a well-written or poorly written book is not, actually. My mother brought me up with the adage that "there is always room for a well-written book" and while that does not make for a bestseller on its own, it is always a damn good starting point.
This brings us to a number of categories of literature, so to speak. A few are all-encompassing and epic, most are not. Some are accessible, makes us care with passion (or just soft sympathy) for the characters while for some books (or individual characters, one might note) we do not care a wit. Some takes work to get in to, the rest does not. And some have quality on their side, others are atrocious, to sum it up.
Naturally, this can be matched in a huge array of ways. "Harry Potter", for example, is solidly in the category of all four. It is easily absorbed, good, we care for every single character and no one can deny it is a phenomena of epic proportions! "Lord of the Rings" similarly ticks three boxes: it is good quality literature, epic and we wish for the characters to succeed, but it takes more work to digest. It is not as easily accessed. On the other hand, your average Woodhouse book has yet another combo: still good and certainly making you care, but not so grand, instead way easier to digest.
Where does that leave books like "Twilight" and Fifty shades of yes I actually did toss it into a wall when I attempted to read it? (I didn't even reach the dirty parts, I was creeped out way before that by the sheer dynamic of this very weird couple.) Seeing as the epic phenomenon element is rather more of an elusive bonus, something which is bound to help but not actually required for a wonderful book, I think we can do with our other three criteria to break this down.
Stories of this sort are generally not well written or "good", but they are easily digested and - and this part is vital to make them succeed, indeed to make any book succeed - a fair number of people actually care whether or not the characters make it all the way through. I do believe the line goes "and two out of three ain't bad".
To simply appeal to us, and not require effort in order to take you with it, goes a long way. Weekly readers will remember the post titled "how to read a book" and techniques like that are needed for books which, no matter how worthy of your time, are not that easy to get through. No matter how much lower on quality, human beings are naturally lazy as it happens and an easy book has a lot going for it just by being easy.
In the end, if you don't have to work very hard and you do want to know how it ends, for anybody in the narrative, then you might not care that the plot is cliche and the language stilted.
There is nothing to say that a thoroughly bad book cannot be a good idea if that is what you need at the moment, or that a thoroughly decent one might not be more work than it is worth. No one but you gets to decide what you read, and as long as you don't forget yourself entirely, there's no reason why you cannot be allowed to indulge in the occasional Twilight hour - after all Esme and Carlisle Cullen is "still a better lovestory than Twilight" as they say - and they're in the book, too.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, July 24:th 2017- Walking the Line
We have all been there, I think. We have all of us pondered gender stereotypes and how they change so quickly, and so slowly. Many hundreds of years ago, boys were called "knave girls" and girls were (somewhat amusingly) referred to as "gay girls". Which, last I heard, while still a thing, was referring to a slightly older, and these days, more specific, group. And only a century ago, the soft, feminine colour of blue was the obvious choice for a girls' nursery while pink - a paler version of the manly red from military uniforms, maybe - was the go-to-colour if you had gotten a baby boy. Things change, tradition is not written in stone, much as we seem to think so.
So where do we draw that line? In fiction, we have quite a chore with it, making it all genuine and staying away from cliches. In classic literature, it is even more of a struggle, as we are often looking at texts written in times when gender roles - strange as they still appear today - were even stranger.
Shakespeare's plays - liberal as I'd say they often are for the time-period - were absolutely influenced by the fact that they were meant to be played by an all-male cast. Machiavelli"s "The Prince" speaks about being open and flexible to leadership, changes and the future, which only makes it all the more ironic how the writer clearly did not foresee it ever being read by a female, and instead insults female intelligence on multiple occasions. Big mistake according your own principles there, I think. Henry Fielding's "New Art of Love" speaks of how any man should assume every single woman wants him as a default. That's called stalking, today, by the way. Just saying. I could go on. For a truly terrifying amount of time, too. Seriously, a terrifying amount of time.
We still have a ways to go with gender roles, then. And they certainly had even more issues in the past. Perhaps Shakespeare was largely saved by the strong woman who ruled England at the time, or maybe, some of the plays were even written by one. Never mind.
A new trend is to try and bring female heroes more to the forefront. This should be obvious - I have both male and female heroes, protagonists and villains, myself, and that is just something which happens - but clearly, it is not. Personally, I think that if you need to squeese anyone into your stories - be it women, men, gays, coloureds or bloody blondes, you're doing it wrong. Write what you do best, and once we have gotten to some sort of civilised system where everyone who is a good author gets their say, it shall even out beautifully. I hope.
Another trend - I have done this myself - is to rewrite a character as another gender. This can be done either way, but in mainstream medias, it is usually a man who becomes a woman. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with this. My very first stage play was a rewrite of Shakespeare with all characters genderbent (originally actually in both directions, but the originally female characters ran out while editing due to their smaller numbers) except Ophelia, who was just dead, so I cannot speak against it in any way. It can be a very nifty not to mention intriguing way to reinvent works since long out of copyright, and if you're making a new version - of anything - there is never anything wrong with making it fully yours in any way available. Knock yourself out. Go wild.
May I sound a note of caution, however. A story is a story, and no matter what you do in the matter of making it accessible - to fellow cast, writers, audience or fangirls, anything - Stay. With. Your. Story. I cannot tell you enough how important that is, or you will betray the very purpose of you as a writer.
And if you suddenly make Belle a dude (fun as that might be) or father Christmas a lady (challenging as that might or, actually, might not, sound), where does that leave your story? In a specific interpretation, in YOUR own version? Oh, hell yes! Go for it! It'll be a blast. But the original? Where exactly is the law in-story which allows for this change? If there is one, fine! You convinced me. Do go ahead. If there isn't, then don't do it.
I know it sounds crazy, people of the world, but there is a point where too much attention to feministic ideals - crazy as this sounds - just twists them and - even if we completely disregard all the other possible concerns this might cause for a moment - in the end only becomes flagrantly misogynistic. After all, a woman doesn't need a man to build a character for her, before she can manage to be a hero! A woman can do that just fine on her own, I promise.
Besides that, if you change the character in an original, you have to change it in-story, which - think about it - might more likely land you with a transgender character than just the opposite sex. While this might certainly have its uses in a society where we really need to open up dialogue and talk to each other, don't forget it.
So let the Time Lord be a Time Lord, BBC. We'll all watch the crap out of the spinn-off series "The Time Lady Who Survived the War", meanwhile. I'll even write you a pilot for that show myself, if you want. Just say the word. But don't insult men and women alike by being that covardly and trendhopping. Or anyone trans, by implying that this would be an easy feat when it is really not anything of the sort. If you are going to do it, do it right, and make the Doctor a transsexual - a man trapped in a woman's body after regeneration, as we already know he is a man - and it might even teach us something. But don't insult our intelligence by performing a cheap trick.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, July 17:th 2017 - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Is a book about a car. Also known under its full title "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical car". A pretty awesome car who can fly and... well, think rather better than her drivers, sometimes! There's also a new version, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies again" where the original family, the Potts, have been replaced by the modern-day family, Tooting, instead. (Written by another author, with permission from the Fleming Estate.) There's also a film, back from the late sixties.
The original book is written by Ian Fleming, and though you might not believe me, there's a whole lot of Bond in this children-friendly, cozy, oldfashion-adventure story which has just a touch of "Treasure Island" and "Alice in Wonderland" about it. Without any of the mind-numbing boredom from the first third of the previous, and any of the headache of the latter.
First and foremost, this is a car which would be suitable for Q himself, of course, and Fleming takes great care to describe to us how it has "rows and rows" of gadgets and buttons, many of which even the inventor who restored it cannot figure out, just what they are for. It isn't an Aston Martin, no, but it is even better.
Another thing so distinctly Fleming, is the attention to slightly unusual details. And I am using the word slightly in a very liberal sense, here. The Bond books all contain plenty of examples of this (In "In her Majesty's Secret Service", Bond thinks for at least a paragraph about the difference between French girls' belly buttons and the belly buttons of girls of other nationalities, within the very first pages. I am serious!) and here, too, we get lovely little insights into how Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's leather seats and arm rests are soft or how she has a very specific decoration on her bonnet. It is delightful.
Another very striking signature move is how Fleming describes food and meals. Bond always eats well and we get to hear all about it - at least once in any story - and here, too, in the middle of a gangster-scene which really couldn't be straight out of the Bond-franchise, we get a minor disertation on how French breakfasts really are very superiour to their English equivalent. Necessary? No. Enjoyable? Oh, yes.
It should be no surprise by now when I say that I am generally a Fleming fan. Like all writers who are special and distinguishable from reading the work of just any writer, his works have something only one of his stories have. That's not to say that the new versions haven't got merit - I haven't read them yet but my fellow writers assure me they're very respectfully made and just as enjoyable as the original - of course.
All writing is like this. Those who write and who dares to do their own thing - like the famous rebellion of Tolkien, when he told the whole epic battle of Helm's Deep as a flashback (this is absolutely not standard, for those wondering why. You generally try to exploit a scene of such drama as much as possible, not bury it as a recollection. But it turned out great, didn't it?) - might go under the radar of a lot of people, but in the end, those books are the classics, the ones we finally want to read the most.
So here I am, more than half a century later, still enjoying Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's decent into a spooky smuggler's cave, and how she saves her family again and again with her nifty little buttons and gadgets straight out of a secretly playful spy novel. Not despite all of the little quirks Fleming put on the pages, but because of them, the novel - and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - is still alive and has breezed through the test of time. Good novels, they do.
This miniature essay is devoted to my Mother, Ida, who made me listen to the audio recording of this book, read by British actor David Tennant, and produced by Ian Fleming's grand-daughter. Thanks mum, you always give the best advice.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, July 10:th 2017- H. C. Andersen
H.C. Anderson, author of an amazing amount of - often slightly sad (not to say utterly heartbreaking) - fairy tales. That sounds at least vaguely familiar to most of us, I think. It should be what he is known for, as well, considering that he wrote about 200 fairytales and only six novels. Along with about 50 stageplays and a thousand poems. (You might not be impressed by this, but - being a writer, myself - I most certainly am impressed.)
As some of you might know, H. C. Andersen was Danish, born in Odense and breathing his last in Copenhagen (the capital) seventy years later. What you might not know is that he was a self-proclaimed Scandinavian, even writing lyrics for a song of the scandinavistic movement (basically people being pro-closeness within the scandinavian countries. It lead to the closeness today experienced within all the nordic countries).
I could go on and list how he was bisexual, possibly autistic and how the fact that a romance with a man (Edvard Collin) was (according to the bits of his diaries which were edited out in the sixties) his inspiration for writing "the little mermaid", but honestly I am much more interested in his writing, so let's skip ahead to that bit, shall we?
Hans Christian Andersen was not exactly a people person, as far as we know, and he often had a negative outlook judging by his stories, but while so many of his stories are tragically beautiful, not all of them are sad. Many of them have a very distinct lesson to tell us, and my personal opinion is that a great number of them are an absolute delight to read. Personally, I read a few new ones every year.
Like many other writers from the past age, some of Andersen's stories flirt with what we nowadays would label fantasy, such as "The little Matchstick Girl", though this is also in the nature of all fairytales.
Wise as many of the stories are, aimed at teaching us lessons such as not to be vain or greedy (" The Emperor's New Clothes" being the no doubt most famous one, but by no means the only) , there are also other similarities between many of the fairytales. Many of the most famous ones are the ones ending in tragedy, such as "The Little Mermaid" (she turns into seafoam in his version, I'll have you know) or "The Hardy Tin Soldier"which I won't spoil for you because you really ought to read it yourselves.
Something which is also very reoccuring in Andersen's stories is how many orphans we find on his pages. So much so that the English Comedian and actor David Mitchell blames him for the obsession Disney films have with parents either being dead already or dying within the storyline, claiming that Andersen was who started that whole thing. He might be right, as far as fairytales go at least, though I for one seem to recall several Grimm stories with a similar tragic backstory, and they are generally much older, though written down in vaguely the same era.
All in all, H. C. Andersen is the perfect example of two literary phenomenons which have fascinated me greatly through the years. Firstly, (like I pointed out in the post last week) that we all love us a good, beautiful tragedy. Be it "Romeo and Juliet" or "The Hardy Tin Soldier", they stick with us through the ages, especially if there's breath-taking language and a romance tossed into the mix.
Secondly, every writer is known for something, if they are at all known, and the rest of their work is largely forgotten. It is not always clear what we will be remembered for, if at all, but while our legacy might be protected, if any part of it is dear to people's hearts, we are generally known for one bit of it. H. C. Andersen is known for his fairytales, nevermind all his stageplays or his poetry.
Maybe it is because some of those stories, whether clever or sad, are heartbreakingly, achingly beautiful, and that is a very fair reason. At the end of the day, it does not matter either way, because anyone who wants to find more can - because of those stories we know so well - endlessly easily find the rest of his works, as well, and perhaps those people, willing to ask or search one more time, are the most deserving of finding things the rest of us does not.
No matter what our lot in life, and no matter what we chose to do with our time, this is just one more reason why our every choise defines us. What we chose to do, value and look for defines what we find and what we know, and through that, who we become. Hans Christian was a loner and by all accounts a rather withdrawn or even lonely man, making bad as well as good choises like we all do: but we remember him for the things he made which are the very loveliest. And isn't that the most worthy legacy you could think of?
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, July 3:rd 2017 - Othello and Desdemona VS Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is often cited as one of the greatest lovestories ever written, and while it is doubtlessly a captivating tale - anything which is still played after four centuries has earned its right to be called great without further argument, I feel - there might be some reason to ask ourselves if it is truly such a fantastic lovestory. Hear me out.
Romeo has had a string of previous girls he's been totally gone on. He's an idealistic romantic of epic propotions. Nothing really wrong with that of course, and there's absolutely nothing at all saying that a serie-romantic - male or female - cannot grow to love someone utterly and completely and never look back, but let me remind you of scale, here. Romeo is a teen. They are, as we all well know, known for making such great and permanent decisions. In the bizarro universe. (Which might be where "A Midsomer Night's Dream" is set, I'll grant you, but that's the wrong play). Julia is a kid with absolutely no experience, of anything, who is doing typical (though perhaps warranted, at the very least from our perspective) rebellion. And they've known each other for a few days, if that. In fact, when they start making arguably bad and doubtlessly reckless decisions, they've known the other for ten minutes.
So is this a lovestory, or a fling like a thousand other flings Romeo have had and Julia have dreamt of (slightly cliché, that, but I am willing to believe it was less so when written) and it is just blown out of all proportion by the simple fact that they experience the massive bad luck to run into someone just as dramatic as they are themselves? This is open to interpretation. Myself, I have always wondered how they'd stand up to reality, given a few years. Maybe that's why it fascinates us so - they never need to stand the test of time. They never disillusion us with arguments, dying passion or an affair fifteen years down the line. Theirs is a young, perfect love, forever trapped in the moment where it is the most blissful - even if that means that they die there. Together. Oh dear.
On the other hand, we have the brave Othello and his beautiful, lovely Desdemona. (Which are way cooler names, by the way.) They got their happy ending, way before the play started. They got what we all want to have, someone who loves them. Someone to cherish. Ultimately, and certainly in Shakespeare's world: someone to lose. Then they also have someone who hates them, and, spoiler alert, it all goes to...
Now, not only are they actual adults, so us over eighteen tend to find them more relatable, these two characters have loved each other for years, lasted through that first infatuation and are still with each other as the play begins. Then somebody else's lies force them to re-examine themselves and they ultimately trust the wrong person. Well, one of them does, anyway. Not as romantic, certainly not, though there is certainly a lot of deep feelings there (quite possibly deeper than the teens knowing each other for like a week), but more of a lovestory than "Romeo and Juliet" which is arguably more of a romantic story than one about love.
But we prefer Juliet and Romeo anyway. Maybe it is for the same reason that we quote "Hamlet" more than "Richard II" - not that Richard says less awesome things, but that Hamlet's quotes are a bit more general, easier to use than - admittedly fantastic - words about losing your kingdom. Those have limited situational value. Maybe that is it. Or maybe we just prefer romance to reality, and who can blame us if we do?
Personally, if there is anything I've learnt about an audience, it is that we all love a little bit of tragedy in fiction sometimes. Especially beautiful tragedy, and isn't that just spot on what "Romeo and Juliet" offers us? Beautiful, perfect, idealistic, romantic tragedy in all its glory, at its best. A sealed moment of youthful love, cast in glass and forever untarnished. But if you want a bit more grown up, true love, with some realism thrown in before the inevitable Shakesperian tragedy steals your breath away, know that there's a less well known option. At the end of the day, let's face it: there's no need to chose at all! Read both! You won't regret it.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, 26:th of June 2017 - A Matter of Opinion
Why don't you write about Wuthering hights or Mansfield park on this blog?
Oh, that one is easy. I am not particularly a fan of either of those. A misconception so common it is bascially viewed as truth when it comes to classics, is that there is some sort of law of what you are meant and not meant to like. Myself, I speculate this is why so many people are less than fond of reading the classics. Not to mention the public misconception that people are not too fond of reading classics.
Some classics are immensely popular - it is why they are classics in the first place, I suspect - like the Jungle Book, Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland. Treasure Island, for sure! It is a fairly substantial list, books which just stay with us, making best read lists year after year, but I digress.
It is my personal belief that the reason why people keep their reserve to some, still very well-loved classics, is that there is this idea that you are meant to think and feel certain things about something, purely because it is so classic. It is a form of reverance, and as an author (though I cannot claim any classics to my name, not yet, anyway!) I must say this is a daunting prospect. Not only does the author leave ideas written in the form of literature, but it is up to the reader to interpret the story, giving it their own viewpoint. Thus making the book come alive, time and again! The thought that any reader of mine could in the future hamper this process by the effort of their own superiour respect is a daunting prospect.
As someone who reads classics most of the time, as I simply prefer a time in literature when it did not have to have the label fantasy to be fantastic - we do not think of Shakespeare as a fantasy-author, do we, and yet I would say that gothic fantasy is really the most direct category to place Macbeth or even Hamlet in - I will give you my secret.
I do not believe in reverence, not in literature. I believe that whether I read Flanagan's "Ranger's Apprentice2 or Shakespeare's "Midsummer's Nights Dream", I must read it for the story, not for the culture society has imposed upon the pages. The barrier is unwanted and acutely unneeded, causing a veil to come up between me and the pages of abook I should be able to relate to. We cannot relate to a fad, to reading Shakespeare because it makes you look cool - we must read books for themselves, maybe letting the concept of a classic guide you as to what you should read and enjoy, but never be afraid to chuck a bad book into the opposite wall in contempt if you find you hate it.
Partly it is about an acquired taste. The first time you tackle Shakespeare or Jonson you will be puzzled, Marlowe might give you a headache and I quite guarantee that Tolkien will. The first time I attempted to read "Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde" I hated the thing, but two years later, slightly more grown up and in my twenties, I am pretty sure I read it the whole way through without putting it down once. I loved it, not because the written book was different, obviously, but because it became different, as I had changed and my imput was therefore of another kind.
Reading is like that. Sometimes it is the book, sometimes it is you, but you can never do it just to please somebody else. Taking a book to bed is like sex: you should never kid yourself that you can do it without actively participating, just because someone requires it of you, and thus it has to be about you, not what you should be doing, but what you want to be doing.
So no, no Wuthering Hights here. Or Mansfield park. For the latter, I am sure it is me. Dreary as I found it first time around, there will be a day. As for the first, it is a terrible book, people, and you should just bed the bad girl or bad boy if you think you'll enjoy the process. Nothing wrong about it, a book far worse than that can be a ball, but only if that's what you're looking for that particular evening. For me, reading Wuthering Heights when Macbeth is available would be like picking up a needy loser while James Bond is making eyes at you across the bar. Totally a waste of your time and you will be regretting it in the morning.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, 19:th of June 2017 - Shakespeare
There are many ways in which to view Shakespeare and his inheritance, as it is usually referred too. Which might or might not be a tad dramatic, but either way, that is not the point.
To start at the start, Shakespeare was an English playwright living in London vaguely four hundred years ago, as I learnt as a child. My childhood was a few years ago now and as a proof of that it is now just over a year ago since the 400 year anniversary of his death.
If you are not interested in Shakespeare, it is easy to delude yourself into the belief that this is very much ancient history. Sure, there was probably some sort of influence from him years ago but it was so long past, how does it matter? Well, I am about to prove that line of thought wrong.
First and foremost, we still say a lot of things today which are originally Shakesperian quotes. Everything from films using "I have to go see a man about a dog" to the line "by any other name". He invented (or at least put in print) literally thousands of words and while many of them are forgotten today, some of them caught on big time. Words aside, there are plenty of quotes we still use - even complete non-literature-nerds - usually without even being aware that it is a Shakespeare quote.
Exhibit B, so to speak, is the sheer number of Shakespeare's plays - interpretations or originals, though usually somewhat cut down in length - you could still go out and watch today, if you like. The number is astonishing, especially now in the summer.
As one might expect, Shakespeare's birth-town, English Stratford-Upon-Avon, with its Shakespeare trust, is a good place to start go looking for one of his plays. Also the Globe theatre, in London, built to modell the original one in Shakespeare's day. This is not really surprising. What is, though, is that there are similar foundations and societies all over the world, also playing his works. Four hundred and some years after he died. Even the Danish fortress which is the in-story setting for Hamlet. That's right - you can go to Hamlet's home and see the play Hamlet, in the exact right spot. Four centuries later! I think I'll leave my evidence there - Shakespeare is not a bygone thing.
Let us tackle the classical question, instead. Why. Why is Shakespeare still being read this far after he stopped writing (and died) why is it still so moving to us and how could it influence our language and our culture so much? Because once you start digging, you realise it is really much.
Well, part of the immense impact on our culture has to do with time and timing. He lived in the right era and by now he has so many years of head start on anybody trying to do the same that it would be nearly impossible to catch up, regardless of talent or opportunity. He wrote just at the beginning of printing and was swept up in a wave which persists to this day, so that he as one of the first of such an epic era of starting to write books (and we still do!) will have made an impact, is partly lucky timing. The other part, of course, is the stories themselves.
I am not going to go into detail of why a story moves us (that deserves a blog post of its own, or maybe even a novel. What I should do I just to take my insights and write one "according to recipe" actually, test for real if it works!) but I will address why his have withstood the test of time so effortlessly. Regular readers will remember me speaking of "Gulliver's Travels" a few weeks back, and pointing out how poorly some of it had taken time. This is, of course, because those parts were very bound in their time and as things moved forward, they became obsolete.
Shakespeare wrote greatly for an audience which was - already at his time - incredibly diverse. There were noblemen and kitchen maids listening to and watching the same pieces and the plays are made to match. There are jokes for different classes and tastes in the comedies, and the pain, heartbreak and feeling of the plays transends classes, instead addressing in raw form all which is human and appealing to our very heart of hearts.
It is not very important that Hamlet is a prince or that Julia is noble. We get Hamlet's grief and despair at a much more basic level and Julia's heartache will reach out and touch anyone who has ever felt anything, anyone who has ever cried, and that is not a factor of humanity which has changed, not even in four hundred years. Likely, it will not change in four thousand.
Shakespeare still stays with us, because his audience, talent and method - perhaps by pure chance - lead to him writing stories which are essentially human, not free from trappings (there are lots of kings and jewels and more in the plays) but offering us emotion which is above them. They are relevant as long as we continue to be human, because whatever form they chose to bring it to us in, they speak only, in the end, about being human. And that is still as modern as it ever was. And an excuse for really pretty dresses. (No one said everything had to be profound.)
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, June 12:th 2017 - How to read a book
Now, at a first glance, this is simple. You pick one up, or alternatively look one up, online, you open it up - by hand or by mouse - and you read the letters which forms words, much like you read this right now. I could be more specific, but if you are reading this blog, I am pretty certain you've got this technique down.
What is more tricky, though, is trying to read a very thick book which might or might not have parts in it which are really boring. Now, I cannot pretend to have fully mastered this skill - I have been attempting to read Ivanhoe for like five years now - but I do have a few fundamental pieces of advice which might prove useful.
First and foremost, all books have stronger and weaker parts. Do not give up too quickly. Persistance is key (note that I am still attempting to read Ivanhoe and I will continue to attempt it until I have!) and so is patience. Take your time with it.
That is not to say, that you have to read any bok which is suggested to you or which you started with. There is no rule to say you have to read something in particular or that you have to finish it. It is about motivation, about priority. If you really want to have read a certain book, well then do remember that sitting down to do so is actually in many cases the hard part. Don't mistake that, though, as a call to having to finish a book you really don't want to finish.
Personally, I have never read the Ulysses by James Joyce, because when I first picked up the book a few years ago, I realised quickly that while it was no doubt a great novel, I was too young to relate to it and even if I got through the pages, which I as a classics lover am very adapt at, so I doubtlessly could, I wouldn't really bring anything with me from the book if I did. Hence, doing so in the first place would be a waste of time. And a waste of a perfectly good novel! It is waiting for me, and I shall give it another chance in a few years, when I've grown into it. And it still has every possibility to be a great experience as I didn't force myself through it before I was ready.
This sort of judgement will come more easily the more books you read, and also depends on why you read them. If you study for a literary degree, you doubtlessly want to learn more about the genre of books you have chosen. That doesn't mean you aren't on occasion sick and tired of a certain book, but in these cases, you need to keep your eyes on your goal. I read many a heavy factual text as part of my engineering degree, and there is really nothing more to do in those cases than keep focused and set yourself study times - like an hour every evening - and that will eventually just get you through. Preferrably with the required knowledge safely in your grasp.
Many of us, on the other hand, read books because we want to. Either because we are curious, want to understand what people are talking about, or perhaps even for bragging rights. Or, maybe you too are a writer and you are looking for influences. Everyone wants the reading to be enjoyable, and if that is your only goal, you should maybe not push through too far as that would defeat your purpose of reading. It is worth to keep in mind, on the other hand, that some books start out boring and get thoroughly lovely a ways in.
Generally, you will learn to judge fairly quickly what book suits you or not, and maybe you should push through and just stick with a few boring books in order to be able to spot this more easily. This also depends on which kind of reader you are. If you just want to have read "Hamlet", "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Hobbit" and then be done with it, developing such a skill might not benefit you. In those cases, hang on, value the great bits and don't give up if there's a rough patch, and happy reading.
On the other hand, if you wish to merely be able to say you've read something, not caring about the knowledge of characters or wisdomin the book or the way it makes you feel - or perhaps even change, if it is a great book - I advise you to simply get a summary online and lie. Because there's no point to actually read if you in your heart of hearts do not want to.
So to sum it up. Pick a book you want to read, for whatever reason you want to read it, stick with it but don't be afraid to not finish every single one, and have patience with that feeling to come to you, and it will. Many have read the Lord of The Rings series, unable to put the book down while Tom Bombadil breezes through the pages, but has yawned and peeked at their nearest clock while Gollum just leads them on a seemingly neverending walk. (Hint, it gets better, again, and very soon, I promise!)
Books are like life, that way. You have to take the good with the bad sometimes.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, June 5:th 2017- Dracula
In many ways, what any writer strives to do is create something brand new - novel does have two separate meanings, after all - and some manage this better than others. Shakespeare invented a truly remarkable amount of new words and we quote him to this day, often without realising.
Tolkien invented fantasy, J. K. reinvented it, like C. S. Lewis reinvented the old format of a fable fairy tale. We remember those, those few who manages to invent something entirely new, something good. (The combination would be the trick, there's many good stories out there, and there's plenty of new which is absolutely rubbish: that's why no one's ever done it before. Or ever will again.)
When it comes to horror and the vampire genre - a genre which has grown scarily fast in latter years (not entirely positively, one might say...) Bram Stoker quite literally wrote the book.
Now, some things you might not actually recognise from Dracula, when it comes to the modern vampire myth. It was "Nosferatu", the old German expressionist horror film, which in a bid to try and not seem like they were stealing, made vampires go "poof" in the sunlight. The original Dracula, you might be interested to know, was merely devoid of power in the daytime, though the wives seemed to be sleeping rather helplessly in their coffins. It is a bit puzzling. This is common with the entirely new - every situation has not been mapped yet, and it is a bit fuzzy in the edges. Usually, we do not mind. It is a small price to pay, after all.
These days, vampires have evolved through Anne Rice's dangerous vampires with their slight tasteful glimmer to them in candlelight to the hundreds of universes we have today. Some good, some truly, utterly bad. Mostly, just different.
Bram Stoker took the old legends - there are a spectacular amount of them, really, from a staggering width of places - and brought them into the modern literature world. This Dracula is no romantic hero, there's no sneaky realism connecting him to the historical figure. He is a nasty, murderous, sneaky, unhuman creature climbing the castle walls like a bug or bat.
There was a gap between the old stories and Stoker's reinvention of something which was once considered deadly serious as benign stories we willingly scare ourselves with. Once, we did not have science to tell us what worms and decomposition do to a body in the ground, and so, people in the dark ages made their own theories with what they had.
A body left to decompose will swell because of the escaping of gasses from the tissues, making it look like the stomach is swollen as if after a huge meal, while maggots while give the mouth a bloody appearance and maybe even destroy the parts of the shroud closest to the face, as if the corpse ate it. No wonder that they thought what they did, back before there were experiments made to tell them what truly happened!
This dark image, full of genuine danger (at least as far as people knew) and deeprooted fear of what you could not understand from the dark ages does not have many things in common with the over-romanticed vampires from teenage literature and harlequins today, but the missing link between them is ultimately Stoker's interpretation.
There's more interesting characters in this story, in fact. Not only do we have the supernatural murderer Dracula, the slightly foolish and lost protagonist of Harker and the classical beautiful, helpless lady in the form of Lucy. We also have Lucy's friend and Jonathan Harker's wife, Mina, and Van Helsing. Both the latter characters are unusual, both for the time and also today.
We have perhaps gotten more used to characters like Wilhelmina Harker in this day and age, her being the one of Stoker's heroes with maybe the very most action in her, but Van Helsing has, if anything, become more of a rare figure, not less. Maybe, like a true masterpiece, he was worthy of mimicking, but not possible to replicate.
Anyone who has ever seen a "Dracula" film interpretation of any kind - and haven't we all? - has some sort of idea who Abraham Van Helsing was, but most films go very far off the mark here. He was not an action hero, he was a scientist; just someone brave who trusted what his eyes said, and was willing to become unconventional when the conventional did not bear his weight. We need more people like that, both in books and in the world.
The sum of all of this is a book which took what had once been raw fear that had sunk into old scary stories and made it possible for all the other stories which came after, using a handfull of truly great characters, a few now well-used and well-known tricks and great writing. It is not, I would advice, a book for dark and stormy nights, but it is a great read.
Sleep tight... don't let the bedbugs bite!
Or anything larger...
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, May 29:th 2017- Robinson Crusoe VS Gulliver's Travels
One might say that these two books are nothing alike. One would be right, too. "Robinson Crusoe" is - for the most part - exactly what you think it is. It is absolutely about a man walking about on a not-so deserted island wearing goat and building things. "Gulliver's Travels" - or, "Gulliver's Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts" (yes, I know, catchy full title. No wonder it never caught on) - is absolutely in no way what you think it is.
For starters, Lilliput is only a small portion of what happens to him and one of his remote countries is Japan. Bet you didn't know that. There is no reason you would, as no part of his descriptions have even the faintest hint of anything Japanese. These parts of the book have not aged well. At all.
But to start at the beginning. Some books have reputations. "Robinson Crusoe" has a rather well-deserved one: we think the book is a bit like it is, really. It isn't one of those classics close to our hearts that we still regularly read ourselves or read to our children - like "Alice in Wonderland" or "Throught the Looking Glass" - but it does have a deserved spot in the clear-as-day classics shelf for a reason. Because ultimately, when you read this slightly-too-long and sometimes dreary book you really do care what will happen to the man. He learns and develops and you wish him well. And that is sort of the point with a good novel. Also surprisingly often the sole saviour of the really bad novel, but that's another blog post entirely.
Robinson Crusoe gets lost on a sea journey - he has a bit of a bad history with them, already, though nothing nearly as bad as Gulliver does - and he ends up on an island, faced with problems such as how to save things from the decaying ship, how to make ink to keep journals and how to feed himself. How does one go about storing gunpowder in a cave or build a safe sanctum? Tame goats? Many parts of the book is rather pleasantly down-to-earth this way in a very detailed manner.
Ultimately, I would term "Robinson Crusoe" a sort of "Treasure Island" for adults (not that you cannot read "Treasure Island" as an adult. You most certainly can. Remember - mix and match to suit your palate). Not only do they have a few defining features in common, but they are ultimately split in a very interesting fashion between mindnumbingly dull and so exciting that you have trouble sitting still because the book's characters will literally transfer their adrenaline to you. Mind you, "Treasure Island" has a bit more of the latter, to be perfectly fair.
Some books have less defined reputations than this. Sometimes, it even fits in a strange way, like for example: I would say about half of us expect "The Count of Monte Christo" to be terribly dreary and about a man staring at a cell wall for about sixteen years, and the other half of us expects it to be terribly exciting. Somewhat fittingly, the book is about split in half between both those things, which is fair really.
And then, at last, we get to another kind of classic entirely. The kind which isn't what people think at all. Like I already mentioned, this book in four parts have, well, four parts. Gulliver does end up in Lilleputt with all the tiny people we know from both the classic fifties' film and a bunch of newer interpretations.
Then he goes home, and, like the idiot the reader soon starts to suspect that he is, he continues out over and over again. Besides ending up in a tiny place, he ends up in an absolutely huge one, with giants, in a place with rather stuck-up talking horses, and then does a very confusing journey through Japan and a few made-up nearby places which is honestly just baffling and I for one has never been able to figure out why it is there anyway. Which might be why no one ever mentions that bit in the first place. I am still only barely sure that I didn't read a hoax-copy of some kind.
These books do have many things in common, making us think of them as the same kind of story - sea-travelling men with bad luck and a tendency to get stuck places, mostly - but they are also so very different, narration-wise. Namely, Robinson Crusoe is stranded on one island for a long while and then sorts his life out rather well when given the chance, while Gulliver seems to prefer getting stranded in odd places and situations, doing it again and again and again.
Maybe this is the foundation to the largest difference between the books. Robinson Crusoe is down to earth, slightly dark in places, and you sincerely feel for the man. In short, it is a great piece of literature and if you ever find yourself with a bit of time to spare at a green riverside somewhere, this is a great piece of mind-travel to pick. It is believable, real and in a weird way, sort of relatable. Still today.
Gulliver's Travels, on the other hand, is... a great idea, but honestly not that good of a book. I do not recommend it. Of course, it is likely no coincidence that basically any film ever made of it picks its strongest part and focuses on that exclusively. The Lilliput bit is good, the giants are fine, the horses are sort of okay but it really is getting old by that point and it all just should have ended there if not sooner.
Jonathan Swift (the author) did have a penchant for satire (now, his satire "A Modest Proposal" is good, though grim, and you can just read that instead if curious about the man) and so it is no great leap to say that a satiric outlook might be part of the deal here, but by part four any credibility it might have had is gone and at least I am frankly disposed to think the protagonist deserves to end up in trouble if he keeps abandoning his poor innocent family for one more gamble though he knows how terrible it went the last time. Your sympathy and your patience for the endless repeat is wearing thin too long before it is finally over and you won't get to hear me say this often, but the (classic) film is actually way better.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, May 22:nd 2017- Writer
There's something casual about the way we use the term "writer". It can be a writer of absolutely anything: a research paper, newspaper article, blog post, shampoo commercial, tweet. A writer is someone who wrote something. Simple enough.
An author, on the other hand, that word carries more weight. Being an author sounds accomplished, doesn't it. An author wrote a serious story, maybe even a novel. For those of you who have been reading this blog from the start, an author wrote those books, lined up impressively in the book-case. For me who writes, at least, there's a measure of accomplishment, of success, just in the title. The author of this book. Hell yes.
Author is a specific title, where writer is general. An author wrote a text like a book, a writer just writes. It can mean anything. Some of you may now be wondering why this is the blog of a Scandinavian writer, then, not an author. I am clearly one - there are links present to prove it!
So why? Well, the title of author sounds impressive, but it speaks mainly of writing one kind of thing. A book. Which is a pretty awesome thing to have written, to be sure, but that is not the point. The term writer, simple as the word seems at first, is boundless. It encompasses all the kinds of writing, not just any, but also, in its ultimate form, all. It is undefined, simply the art of putting words together to form... well, art.
It can mean someone who just writes, any kind of writing at all, or it can encompass someone who devotes themselves to writing all the different things available. Not just an author, but also a scriptwriter, playwright, novelist, blogger, poet, essayist, journalist. A writer who is all of those things.
So, you may now ask: why is this important? Well, maybe to you, it actually isn't. It might be, and it could be. To me? It matters, in fact it means everything, because it is one simple word, the word I casually use to describe my life's work, when asked what I do... it stands for everything I have devoted my life to. I don't limit myself to being an author. I am a writer.
This is ultimately why this blog exists - because I am passionate about the written word in all of its forms, and the classics are just examples of the best forms we have.
So the least I can do is tell you why. Why that is my word for my world. I owe you that much, my invisble readers. Because do you know another word which encompasses all forms of writing? Another word free from pretensions, only speaking of honest passion for the written word? Reader.
Simple as that title is, it is the most important one of them all, and we should all be so proud of it.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, May 15:th 2017 - Bronte Sisters
I can read your mind. You are now either thinking, "Wuthering Heights", or you are thinking, "Jane Eyre". Unless you are my mother, possibly, or someone else who knows me well, because then you would probably know that I am about to rant about "Agnes Grey", and you would be thinking about that, instead.
I am, in fact, actually about to rant about not "Agnes Grey", but a very related issue.
Big sister Charlotte Bronte, made it very clear in some truly offensive statements of hers, that she much preferred her sister Emily before her sister Anne, (honestly, I mean it. She said she missed Emily so much more when they died) and readers seem to have agreed with her - not so nice - assessment wholeheartedly for a very, very long time. I, however, am known for not really following the general opinion. I think what I think - and like so many times before I do not agree.
So why don't I? What is my reason for thinking that over a hundred years of public opinions and a whole slew of experts are so wrong?
Well, first I should maybe assure you that I am not alone in this opinion, as the readership of Anne Bronte is growing in later years. As for expert opinion - she has been ignored, not critisised. So why is she finally starting to get recognised? This might very well be for the same reasons she has my respect. The first one of which is that her books quite simply are good. "Agnes Grey" has always reminded me of a young Jane Austen, and her proficiency as an author I hope I do not have to convince you of.
Austen can be a tiny bit overwrought, somewhat silly in her worldrenderings, but Anne Bronte's "Agnes Grey" is honest. It is a first novel, and it feels very new and untried. There's a rare sincerity still in there, and her novel "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" is daring to be dark in a way neither her sisters nor Austen touches. Sure, "Jane Eyre" has its dark moments, but also its awkward passages, parts where it moves out of sync. And the darkness is almost supernatural, in that it is spooky, instead of raw.
Virginia Wolf noted that female writers of the time period of Austen and the Brontes were often slighty fractioned, there were bits and pieces which wouldn't fit in. She took a passage in "Jane Eyre" for an example of this, where our protagonist comtemplates the world and possible travels, only to rather harshly bring up the launder woman, bringing her reader to startle and maybe lose focus. Virginia Wolf also noted that in Austen's work, things did flow freely. Personally I'd describe it as every piece in the puzzle which makes up a novel, fit faultlessly with the others. What she didn't note, but I did (again, Anne is ignored, not critisised), is that Anne Bronte has this too, surpassing in at least this one thing her older sister Charlotte.
As for Emily, her one story - "Wuthering Hights" - is... compelling, it is strong, but it is also something I personally cannot help but find absolutely bland. It has drama, I suppose, but does it have that fluency Virginia Wolf spoke about? I shouldn't think so, but I suppose I am also not qualified to be the judge of this for that particular book since I simply don't like it. And I do try not to be biased in the middle of a rant about the harm of biased opinions. (Somewhere in here, there's irony.)
But I digress. In the end, there are many reasons to read "Agnes Grey", "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" and a large selection of truly wonderful poetry - "Night" being my favourite - and I shall recap them for you, adding a few more for good measure. They're good books, they're honest and moving, they are impressive in that their authoress managed a feat of clarity which her own famous sister/sisters failed, and not only will they make you smile or wince along with their characters like in any truly great novel, but they will hopefully do so better than the more loud books written by her sisters.
So why have people preferred drama over sincerity for so long? Maybe for the same reason we usually do - it is easier. It could also have been publicity - Charlotte was the one to remain, to speak up, really, and she spoke up mostly for Emily. The sad truth in writing is that no matter if you're Shakespeare 2.0, if no one knows about you, not only will history bury you, but even this very moment will. The two sisters who died had to rely on the one who lived on longer to speak for them, and she played favourites. Other qualities aside, we have gone for her biased opinion all this time. Missing out, I'd say, on the forgotten Bronte sister, who at any rate isn't worse, and in my opinion, is much better. So...
Maybe it is time we chose for ourselves?
L. H. Westerlund
Friday, May 12:th 2017- A Classic
What is classic literature and does that mean you have to read it?
Well, what is any classic? It is a complex definition, with many layers involved. There's many types of classics. The really classic classics, most of us have heard of - it is a given. If you haven't people will assume you've been living under a rock. You probably have. Most people have heard of Casablanca, could place "here's looking at you, kid", or are aware that Hamlet speaks of "to be a or not to be".
It is not quite that simple, though - as every subcategory we subscribe to in life has their own classics. You don't have to do anything, but to ignore the classics of any subculture you belong to is done at your own peril. If you're a fantasy nerd who's never read Tolkien, to name one example. (You wouldn't be alone if you're one of those, though, as there's a group of hardcore fantasy geeks who cannot stand his writing. It is a bit ironic, but he is somewhat of an acquired taste.)
When it comes to classic literature, there's a short list of classics everyone have heard of, and you really should read them - but most people probably do not actually read all of them anyway. Then, within any specific type of literature, there's more classics, this is why if you start to read "the classics", the list never ends. The more advanced a reader you are, the longer the list of books you know and would read will be.
This is your own choise, of course. This is why modern classics, about 1915-1975, (yes, that's the moderns. After that, they have generally not had time to become classics, unless it is Harry Potter, which is more of a phenomenom than a mere classic, anyway) will rarely feature in this blog. The reason why is simple - I just do not like that period of writing. It is like an entire generation of writers mimicking Charles Dickens. In my opinion. It was monotonous enough already when it was just the one writer.
This is highly subjective, of course. It is my opinion and thus I haven't read much from this time period, meaning that I am not qualified to speak about it at any great length. It does not mean that it is anything other than absolutely fine to love early modern working class literature, or Dickens. And if you do love Dickens, you will soon realise that beyond reading Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, he has written a whole pile of other stories you'll want to get into, just like any other literary interest.
No matter what you like, you'll start by reading the classics in the field you've chosen: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and the Narnia series if we pick fantasy as an example; usually because those're the ones you first hear of, and if you like the fantasy genre, you'll realise as you go that within fantasy, Terry Pratchett and Tamora Pierce are internal classics you are encouraged to continue your explorations with. As you fall deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole of your choosing, you will decide where to land, and what path you will walk on.
In short, a classic is an easily recognisable work significant to its genre, and you should absolutely read it if it appeals to you. If not, find somewhere good to find other stuff to read, do something entirely different, or use this blog to get to know a little bit about a lot of things, from someone who has read just about all the major classics out there, as long as they were published before the turn of the century, which is a rabbit hole I've studiously ignored. Feel free to mix and match to suit your palate - I always have.
L. H. Westerlund
Monday, May 8:th 2017 - Something
I first started to write - or attempt to, back then - when I was four years old. I still remember sitting at our old kitchen table, my mother taking down the words for me as she gave me my first lesson on good writing. I still remember what she told me, too, even though it was over twenty years ago: it was about pronouns, how to vary she, he or it with a title or a name to make for a better text. That was the beginning.
It was somewhere around there in time, or perhaps even a little earlier, that I realised how someone must have written all those books we had in the numerous bookshelves my mother kept around the house. It was literally years before I discovered the title "writer", nevermind "author", but I pretty much decided then and there that I wanted to be one of those people. Those who wrote the books we had in the bookshelf.
Skip ahead in time, and at about twelve I started my first novel. I am not sure what to tell you, if I am proud or somewhat ashamed to say that I am still working on it today. I will get there... sometime.
I was yet a little older when I branched out into poetry, then I invented the concept of a novellette - between a shortstory and a novel in length - and finally, at four-and-twenty, I wrote my first stageplay.
A life dedicated to writing, then, from the very first years. Always.
But there is where you find your difficulty. How do you go about such a lifestyle, in this modern age? How do you go about being an author, a screenplay writer, a playwright,a poet, a novelist or a essayist today?
The truth is; you are lucky, or you do not. I have written a new something, every year since I was twenty and wrote my first finished novel, but I have done it alongside journalism and my other passion - engineering - because how do you build a career in something which in order to succeed takes opportunites you're presented with merely by chance? I create new genres every few years, so how is any publishing company with an established range of genres to take me?
I am at my soul and heart as much a scientist as I am an author, and what is my balance has taken me years to divide. Even so, you cannot chose life as an author, it has to choose you. I made my decision years ago, time being limited, due to that divide. I studied my craft in every way that I could, wrote, any opportunity I got, and then, when I was ready, I would do something, something to move from a hopefully excellent author no one had ever heard of, to be one of them, as I wanted. One of the writers listed on their books, in your bookshelf. Consider this blog, my something.
L. H. Westerlund
Copyright L. H. Westerlund 2017-2020