Ove

a-man-called-ove-fredrik-backman

It’s a charming, page turning fable. An international bestseller.  A debut written by Swedish blogger Fredrik Backman.

Here’s Ariele Stewart with an excerpt from her book review: “If you like to laugh AND feel moved AND have your heart applaud wildly for fictional characters, you will certainly fall for the grumpy but lovable Ove.  Ove has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him ‘the bitter neighbor from hell,’ but he’s just the type of man who puts his head down and gets his work done without help from “twitters” or “iPizzles” or whatever it is that people have their heads buried in these days. But while Ove is a taciturn, unsmiling curmudgeon of a man, his disapproving exterior hides an unexpectedly moving personal history–and the pain of his lost love for his recently deceased wife Sonia. Even now, it makes me teary to think of Ove’s beautiful love for his wife, his light leaving the world.”

There’s no single quote that I could find that catches the spirit or the rhythm of this story but this will capture a bit of the soul of Ove:

“Sonja said once that to understand men like Ove and Rune, one had to understand from the very beginning that they were men caught in the wrong time. Men who only required a few simple things from life, she said. A roof over their heads, a quiet street, the right make of car, and a woman to be faithful to. A job where you had a proper function. A house where things broke at regular intervals, so you always had something to tinker with. ‘All people want to live dignified lives; dignity just means something different to different people,’ Sonja had said. To men like Ove and Rune dignity was simply that they’d had to manage on their own when they grew up, and therefore saw it as their right not to become reliant on others when they were adults. There was a sense of pride in having control. In being right. In knowing what road to take and how to screw in a screw, or not. Men like Ove and Rune were from a generation in which one was what one did, not what one talked about.”

If you like to laugh AND feel moved AND have your heart applaud wildly for fictional characters, you will certainly love this novel.

A Man Called Ove: A Novel: Highly Recommended


H is for Helen

Helen-macdonald-hawk

Q: What moves you most in a work of literature?

A: Honesty, vulnerability, moments of forgiveness and redemption, and a recognition that we are all small and our lives so short.

~ Helen Macdonald: By the BookThe author of a 2015 Best Book of the Year“H Is for Hawk” 


Notes:

  • Inspired by: “Read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read.” — Werner Herzog
  • Photograph: thetimes.com

Insanity, Insanity

clive-james

You get to the age when a book’s power to make you think becomes the first thing you notice about it. You can practically sense that power when you pick the book up. The books I already had in the house presumably once generated the same sort of charge when I contemplated buying them. Now there they were, still in their thousands despite the recent winnowing. I roamed slowly among them: old purchases begging to be read again even as the new purchases came in at the rate of one plastic shopping bag full every week. Insanity, insanity. Or, as Johnson might have said, vanity, vanity.

~ Clive James, Latest Readings (August, 2015)


Image Credit: theaustralian.com.au

None. (1891 + 124 years = Same. Take 2)

art-godwin-bradbeer
What refuge is there
for the victim who is oppressed
with the feeling that
there are a thousand new books he ought to read,
while life is only long enough for him
to attempt to read a hundred?

~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., “Over the Teacups,” 1891


Notes:

Three generations before you are a local

james-rebanks-lamb

There is an unwritten code of honour between shepherds here. I remember my grandfather telling me about his friend buying some sheep privately from another farmer for what he thought was a fair price. Weeks later he attended some sheep sales and realized that he had got the sheep very cheap indeed, too cheap, about £ 5 less each than their market value. He felt that this was unfair to the seller because he’d trusted him. He didn’t want to be greedy, or perhaps as important, to be seen to be greedy. So he sent the farmer a cheque for the difference and apologized. But the farmer who’d sold them then politely refused to cash it, on the grounds that the original deal was an honourable one. They’d shaken hands on it. Stalemate.

The only way out was to go back the next year and buy his sheep and pay over the odds to make up for it, so he did. Neither of these men cared remotely about “maximizing profit” in the short-term in the way a modern business person in a city would; they both valued their good names and their reputations for integrity far more highly than making a quick buck. If you said you would do a thing, you’d better do it. My grandfather and father would go out of their way to do good deeds for their neighbours because goodwill counted for a lot. If anyone bought a sheep from us and had the slightest complaint about it, we took it back and repaid them or replaced it with another. And most people did the same.

Fathers’ names are interchangeable with those of the sons, and surnames with the names of the farms. The name of your farm tells other farmers here as much about you as your surname. There might be twenty farmers with the same surname, so it is immediately followed by the name of the farm for clarification. Sometimes the name of the farm kind of replaces the surname in general discourse. I met a man in a pub recently and he knew my grandfather—“ You’ll be a fair man if you are half the man he was,” he said sternly, then bought me a drink, the accrued interest on some unspoken good turn my grandfather had done for him decades earlier. Anyone new to the community or common would be watched carefully until they showed themselves to have integrity and play by the rules. They say you have to be here for three generations before you are a local (people laugh when they say that, but it carries a lot of truth).

~ James Rebanks, The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape.


Notes:

A narcotic dream

book-store

Here, unhurried, one could browse for hours.
Ordinary life drowned, went under.
On the street outside, often cold and wet,
it seemed, were passers-by in overcoats and expressions of care,
but within the shop one leafed through pages in a kind of narcotic dream.

~ James Salter, Burning the Days: Recollection


Image source: Child in Time.

 

Swan

swan

When I was very young, my Mother took me for walks in Humboldt Park, along the edge of the Prairie River. I have vague memories, like impressions on glass plates, of an old boathouse, a circular band shell, an arched stone bridge. The narrows of the river emptied into a wide lagoon and I saw upon its surface a singular miracle. A long curving neck rose from a dress of white plumage.

Swan, my mother said, sensing my excitement. It pattered the bright water, flapping its great wings, and lifted into the sky.

The word alone hardly attested to its magnificence nor conveyed the emotion it produced. The sight of it generated an urge I had no words for, a desire to speak of the swan, to say something of its whiteness, the explosive nature of its movement, and the slow beating of its wings.

The swan became one with the sky. I struggled to find words to describe my own sense of it. Swan, I repeated, not entirely satisfied, and I felt a twinge, a curious yearning, imperceptible to passersby, my mother, the trees, or the clouds.

~ Patti Smith, Just Kids


Photo: Swan by tatsuo yamaguchi (via Superbnature)

For the deepest moments in life—for love, for prayer—we close our eyes. I wanted to see that way

howard_axelrod

(Two years in the woods.) I brought no computer, no television, no cellphone. There was a land line, which rang maybe twice a month, so a wrong number was an event…

Five years earlier, during my junior year at Harvard, a freak accident had blinded me in my right eye. During a pick-up game of basketball, as we scuffled for a rebound, a boy’s finger hooked behind my eyeball and severed its attachment to my optic nerve, the cable that connects the eye to the brain. The pain was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. There was nothing the doctors could do. The loss of vision to my right eye was permanent. With vision in only one eye, there’s no stereopsis, no depth perception. And without depth perception, the world looked simultaneously flat and permeable, like I’d crossed the threshold into a fantasy land, where nothing was solid, including my sense of myself…

To compound my disorientation, after the blood dissipated, my eye looked as it always had. The gap between how I presented myself and how people saw me widened into a gulf. And the track I’d been on, which headed toward law school, and the old track of my thinking, which often allowed the comfort of achievement to substitute for meaning, and which had kept me from entering into the passing landscape to forge my own values, became impossible to live by… [Read more…]

Feel as if the top of my head were taken off

In 1870, Emily Dickinson was said to describe poetry this way:

 “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?”

 And, then you read a book, that does exactly that.

[Read more…]

A good trade.

lotto-ticket-spain

In mid-November I flew to Madrid. […] In Cartagena we made a pit stop at a restaurant called Juanita. […] I was sitting at the bar, having lukewarm coffee and a bowl of marinated beans warmed in possibly the first microwave ever made, when I realized some guy had sidled up to me.

He opened a well-worn oxblood wallet to reveal a solitary lottery ticket with the number 46172. I didn’t get the feeling it was a winning number, but in the end I paid six euros for it, which was a lot for a lottery ticket. Then he sat down next to me, ordered a beer and a plate of cold meatballs, and paid for them with my euros. We ate together in silence. Then he got up, looked me straight in the face, and grinned, saying buena suerte. I smiled back and wished him luck as well.

It occurred to me that my ticket may be worthless, but I didn’t care. I was willingly drawn into the whole scene, like a random character in a B. Traven novel. Lucky or not, I went along with the part I was targeted to play: the pigeon who gets off a bus at a pit stop on the road to Cartagena, hit on to invest in a suspiciously limp lottery ticket. The way I look at it is that fate touches me and some rumpled straggler has a repast of meatballs and warm beer. He is happy, I feel at one with the world— a good trade.

~ Patti Smith, ‘Her Name was Sandy’ from the M Train

Notes:

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