My Guilty Pleasure

I’m going to show you something different today. My guilty pleasure. Something that makes my heart skip a beat and turns my cheeks red with excitement. Something that makes me reach for my wallet swifter than even the most delicious chocolate.

 

Old books.

 

Gods how I love them. The older the better. I don’t care about monetary value, I don’t care if they are rare or common, or if they are in perfect condition or close to falling apart. I don’t even care if I am able to read them or not.

I love the feel of it under my fingertips. I love the scent as I carefully open it. I love the marks of time. The hands that have held it. The mind that once wrote it. The little notes people have left in them, names and comments. The pieces of a world long gone.

 

Some are just beautiful. Some are cute beyond compare, like that tiny one you see in the picture with the pencil.

 

Some have been scribbled on so many times over the years that you can barely make out what it says. Some are old bibles and prayer books, others are schoolbooks. Some are notebooks written by hand giving information about spendings, recipies, or just about anything that might have been of interest in the 1800s.

 

 

Look at this one below. It’s absolutely tiny as well. Forget-me-not, Picked in God’s Garden. It doesn’t have a publishing date but considering the notes made within I’d say mid-1800s. The notes… Names and dates. Birth dates. Death dates. Marriage dates. And not just that, can you see? An old leaf. An old butterfly.

 

 

 

Here, more. Each leaf or flower left between the pages remind me of the person who once held, read and perhaps cherished the book. It is a reminder of life.

 

That last one tugs at my heart. A note on the back of the folded paper identifies where the flower was picked. From Auntie Oscara’s grave.

oldbook13

 

This is the oldest piece I have. Not actually a book, it’s just a little pamphlet from 1752. oldbook21

 

One last example. See the one below? It’s a book detailing how girls should behave. It has neat little underlined passages marking out especially good advice, like this one here that explains how a cheerful mind is the best help in any task. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Well this being from when it is, it also contains rather… constricting rules on everything from how one should walk down a city street without looking either left or right, how to dress and how to speak to boys. It is adorable and scary at the same time.

 

 

I have more, and will probably just keep adding to the collection. As you can tell it’s for me not as much about the literary work as it is about the past, about the people who once owned them and the little window into their existence that they provide. And that, that I just can’t get enough of. They are my treasures. Absolutely worthless in terms of money but aah… I love them.

Barnbruden – a book review

I just recently decided that since I am working on getting back to writing in Swedish, I should in fact also read in Swedish. Now, for one who has almost exclusively been reading fiction in English for the past ten-fifteen years, this quite honestly didn’t seem too appealing. But, I though, I used to enjoy literature in Swedish as well. There are good Swedish authors after all, plenty of them. And I need to get back into the Swedish mind-set.

And so I went to the bookstore in search of a novel. I wanted historical fiction, preferably centered around the 18th century, and I wanted Swedish to be the original language. Why? Because I have a general dislike of translations.

Barnbruden by Anna Laestadius Larsson caught my eye. As I picked it up, a store clerk sighed happily and said “Ooh that one, it’s so good!”

Well alright. It fit the bill. Swedish, check. 18th century, check. Good reviews, right? Worth a shot.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, this review is not a positive one.

Where do I begin… Ah, the dialogue. In her attempt at having the characters speak and think in a poetic and historical fashion, the author has managed writing speech in a way that most often feels far removed from any realistic portrayal of actual people. That alone really is not too big a problem, though. But combine that with characters that to a large extent seem as two dimensional as cardboard cut-outs and the result is not a happy one.

There are instances where character development and growth are attempted, like when the main character, Charlotta, temporarily falls for the temptation of dulling her pain with alcohol and gambling, or when Sophie struggles to come to terms with life as a housewife in charge of a kitchen. Or for that matter when Charlotta i left by the lover she has been passionately in love with, or when the Queen is faced with the shameful insight that the reason why she hasn’t managed getting pregnant is that the King has been using the wrong hole, and another man is brought in to show the King where to put it. These moments, these challenges, that could have been ripe with opportunities for personal growth, are passed by as quickly as possible. Is there a budding alcoholism? Not to worry, that passes as quickly as it came, seemingly without any effort or consequence. As a result, the difficulties met by the characters seem as no more than superficial tools used by the author to show how well they can fight their way through misery, how strong these women are.

And there we touch on the next issue I want to mention. Undoubtedly life was hard for women in the 18th century. Undoubtedly they were treated as inferior to men, there was systematic discrimination and abuse commonplace. Unfortunately it would seem as Laestadius focuses so much on showing this brutal reality, that it tips over heavily into sensationalism.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have no issue with graphic descriptions of violence, or even of sexual abuse, when it is justified and well written. I do not however like to be whacked over the head with yet another rape scene when it seems to be there for the sole purpose of making the reader gasp at how terrible everything is.

The feminist agenda runs through the novel from start to finish. Which, one might think, should be a good thing. Sadly it is done so clumsily that the whole thing feels a bit like a large piece of propaganda. Male characters are all abusive, bordering on insane, or womanizers. Female characters are all almost exclusively victims of the patriarchy, while being clever, beautiful, modern, and most importantly good. Male characters only think of furthering their power or satisfying their lust. Female characters are interested in philosophy, charity, love and literature. A man who is cheating on his wife is ridiculed as a horndog. A wife cheating on her husband is strong and and rightfully looking to her own pleasure. The difference in how male and female characters are created, and how they are portrayed, couldn’t be more obvious. They come across as stereotypes created to serve a political purpose, not as believable characters.

Do I have nothing good to say about this book? Well, the actual historical figures that lie behind are absolutely fascinating, I’ll give you that. But as literature goes, I wouldn’t recommend it.