1995: The Volcano Lover

I read virtually everything of Susan Sontag’s while in my 20s, and felt very clever indeed.  I seem to recall buying this book on one of my first trips to London, in 1995.  What was the name of the bookstore…  Blue Moon?  No.  Silver Moon.  I bought a bunch of Angela Carter books there, too.

So why didn’t I read this book?  Perhaps a general Sontag burn-out, or perhaps I just thought the cover looked boring.  And the title: “The Volcano Lover”.  With the subtitle: “A Romance”.  I could just envision some dreary heartfelt tragedy.

Which it turns out to be.  And not at all, at the same time.  It’s a book mostly about collecting, and why we collect stuff.  And volcanoes.  Oh, and some stuff about Emma Hamilton, her lover Lord Nelson, and her husband.  It’s rather fabulous.

It’s written in a semi-oblique amusing fashion, where Sontag never actually names Lord Nelson, but calls him only “the hero”.  But I’ve read enough Patrick O’Brian to guess who it is.  Haha!  Can’t fool me! 

And I’ve just noticed that it says so on the back of the book.  *sigh*

Anyway, parts of the book is kinda essay-ish.  Sontag does name a large number of people, but others are only names as “Sir ***” or “Viscount ***”.  I guess I could google to find out if anybody figured out why, but, on the other hand, I could go read Gasoline Alley.

Rating: Magnifilicious

1995: Den store sledereisen

Or “The Big Sled Ride”, by Knud Rasmussen.

My mother gave me this book in 1995.  It had been one of her father’s favourite books.

My grandfather lived even more way to the north of Norway than I did.  He was a fisherman, going out on the northern seas in his boat.  Fishing…  some kind of fish.  I guess.  He died when I was ten-ish, so I don’t really recall all that much about him.

I remember going fishing with him in the stream that ran along the valley a few farms inwards from his house.  I don’t think I caught anything.

And I remember him regaling us with stories about going hunting seals on the ice around Spitsbergen.  Especially the story about the adult male, er, hooded seal?, that wasn’t quite dead and …  did…  something.  Ok, I may remember him telling these stories, but I don’t quite remember the stories themselves.  I think the seal mangled or killed somebody.  Possibly him.

I suck.

Anyway, this book is a Danish book written in the early 20s, detailing a dog sled ride across northern Canada, all the way from Greenland to Siberia.  But it’s really more about the eskimo (as he calls them) peoples he encounters along the way.

He’s an ethographer, and gets the people he meets to tell him oldee-timey stories and legends, as well as stories about themselves.  He’s very enthusiastic about everything!  And uses lots!  Of exclamation marks!  But he’s a very sympathetic character, who always tries to see things from the eskimo’s side, which might have been more of a stretch in the 20s than now.

Many of the stories they tell are of joy and contentment, but there’s also the occasional cannibal story, lots of murders, and a ton of girl infanticide.  It’s not all rosey, but Knud remains firmly on the side of the eskimos.

Rating: Inuitiffic

1995: En glad gutt

I haven’t read many of the Norwegian classics.  I’m pretty sure I’ve never read anything by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (his name translates to Bear Star Bear Son — like wow) before.

This book, called perhaps “A Jolly Lad”, is a slender volume on young love across the class barriers, as well as a society getting progressively more modern.  It’s quite funny and touching.

And since it’s from 1860, it has some interesting swear words,like “hvalpung”,  which can only mean “whale’s scrotum”. 

I think.

The illustrations are kinda eh, though:

Rating: Peasantific!

1995: Sataniske vers

My sister used to work for a book publisher, so she got tons of free books.  The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie was probably one of them, which explains why I’ve got it.

It’s better than I expected.  It’s written in a very late-80s coke-fuelled wide-eye manic way, with one tableaux after another.  Quite entertaining, but some of it drags.

The book hasn’t aged well.  For instance, the magic realism.  When all the people in the hospital turned into creatures from fables, it just made me start rolling my eyes.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to read while you’re rolling your eyes?

But it’s not bad.  Bits of it are very inventive and exciting, even if the post-modern excoticism wears you down a bit.  It’s funny, though.

Rating: Pomolicios

1995: Till Damaskus/Ett drömspel

I couldn’t remember buying this, and it turns out that I didn’t.  It was forgotten by somebody at my apt, and he’s since gone onto become a theater instructor.  How appropriate, since this is a collection of two plays by August Strindberg.

I probably get a more abstract impression of the plays than originally intended.  I mean, they’re full of madness and symbolism (it’s Strindberg!), but the Oldee Timey Swedish Grammar (from 1898) combined with the general christianey drift of the plot makes my  brain not quite grasp what’s going on all the time.

But the plays are definitely powerful.  And quite amusing in places.

Det är synd om människorna!

Rating: Symbolicious.

1995: The Woman in the Dunes

Continuing the stooory of 1995, for some reason or other I had bought this book by Kobo (The Meat) Abé.  Probably because it was on sale.  Which also explains why I didn’t read it.

It turns out to be a fantastically written punch in the stomach.  It’s a sandy, moist and claustrophobic horror show.  And I kinda loathed it.

Well, that’s putting it too strongly.  I liked bits of it, but…

There you go: It’s great, but I didn’t enjoy it.

I do enjoy the way some bookstores put the date they bought the book onto the price tags, though:

So the bookstore got the book in June 1988.

And I apparently bought it in 1995, on sale.  And then I read it 18 years later.

Rating: Loathalicious.

1995: Forsøk i kjærlighet

I hadn’t kept up with the 1995 project in a while, so I pounced on Essays in Love: A Novel by Alain de Botton yesterday.

It’s a somewhat unusual novel.  As it says on the cover, it’s sort of an essay collection, and it’s sort of a novel.  So very avantey.  But not really.

It’s a love story, but the protagonist tends to overthink things.  It’s quite amusing.

But I just couldn’t get past this bit in the opening section.

Our hero is calculating the chance that he and The Love Of His Life were to sit in neighbouring seats on the plain from Paris, given that a) only this woman is TLOHS and b) they both were to take planes from Paris to London that day.  Fine.

But the numbers are somewhat odd.  And it doesn’t help that the Norwegian translator is mixing up decimal commas and decimal points, either. 

The chance of sitting next to each other, given that they take the same plane, is said to be either one in “162,245” or “162,(245)” (whatever that’s supposed to mean), which doesn’t seem all that unlikely to be correct.  (There are 192 seats on the plane.)

But then we get to the bit where there are six planes, so we should multiply the chance by 36?  And we should end up with a change of one in “5 840.81”? 


And what’s up with all the decimals, anyway?  Grr!  Pretend precision is Pet Peeve Number 241.456!

So while reading half the book, half my brain was kinda going through the maths while the other half was reading the book.  And I really don’t have half my brain to spare.  I can’t spare even a tenth.

Finally I went to An Online Retailer and looked at the English version of the book:

There all the numbers are totally different!  AAARGH!

But they look more sensible there, at least.

Did the Norwegian translator just throw down some random numbers on the page, or did de Botton fix this in later printings?  Could someone check an early (1993) copy of this book in English?
With that out of the way, I could finally pay more attention to the rest of the book, which made me notice stuff like the thing above.  It’s supposed to be an illusion, but the longer arrow is 3mm longer than the short one.

I’m totally open to the idea that de Botton would do something like that on purpose just to annoy us nerds, and if so, I applaud him.

Rating: Baitalicious.