Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 End of Year Book survey

So, this is it... last day of 2012 and a review of all that has happened to my first year as a blogger - to my aid, this cute little survey from Jamie:

1. Best Book You Read In 2012?

This was my first year as a blogger but also as a serious reader.  I've discovered so many new areas of interest, that I can safely say that most of the books read provided something to make them best in their own right.  If I were to choose, however, I would pick The Memory Chalet by T. Judt, which shook me out of every comfort zone I knew...
2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?
1Q84 by H. Murakami - a very good lesson not to read a book based on how famous an author is.  Totally not what I had mistakenly expected, will however try one more of his books before passing judgement.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012? 

I've been really surprised at how many classic authors have foreseen situations we currently live:  In the Year 2889 by J. Verne and 1984 by G. Orwell are two such examples that had me thinking a long time after reading their books.

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?

As an avid reader and supporter of the use of language, I would suggest 1984 by G. Orwell - my worst fears were depicted in this book, once people stop thinking and oversimplify language...
 5. Best series you discovered in 2012?
The only series I read in 2012 was of Agatha Raisin, a modern-day Miss Marple, ready to discover the murderer - pretty, pick-me-up writing for any difficult day ...

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?

Quite a few - classic as well as modern!
7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
For the first time, I read fantasy, starting with the Night Circus by E. Morgenstern.  I'll admit it's still early days and I'm still not convinced, but in 2013 I'll read some more of this genre... 
8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?
Again, I'll say it was 1984 (even though it was really a re-read) and The Lady in Gold by A.M. O'Conner (for all the wrong reasons...)

9. Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year:

I have so many books on my TBR list, I will try to refrain from re-reading that soon - although I almost always read a Bronte book...

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?

The various covers of The Great Gatsby - what an era...
11. Most memorable character in 2012? 
Evangeline in The Home Maker by D. Canfield - I can sympathise with her!

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2012?

84, Charing Cross Road, by H. Hanff - what a great book!
13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012? 
Again, 1984 fits the bill...

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read? 
Mrs. Dalloway by V. Woolf - rather apprehensive at first, I really enjoyed it!

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2012? 

From In the Garden of Beasts by E. Larson:

"... warn men as solemnly as possible against half-educated leaders being permitted to lead nations into war"

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2012? 

Long (sometimes I admit too long):  A tale of two cities, by Ch. Dickens
Short (but oh simply great!!!):  The Star by A. C. Clark
17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.)  
In the year 2889 by J. Verne - what an amazing list of what we already have in our possession now - envisaged in 1889!!!

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc)
Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her parrot Alex, as depicted in Alex and Me
19. Favorite Book You Read in 2012 From An Author You Read Previously
Lady Susan by Jane Austen - finally, an Austen I really liked ...

20. Best Book You Read That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:
The Home Maker by D. Canfield, which I first read from Claire .

That's it for 2012 - on to a better 2013!!!


Thursday, 27 December 2012

Pin it and Do it Holiday edition: wrap-up post

This is the second Pin it and Do it challenge I participate in, and I have to admit I enjoy it completely!  I get to be increasingly crafty and I ... like it - I really do!

I didn't manage to complete that much this time around, still I'm happy with the progress made:

Increasingly, I'm giving vouchers as presents - what with the distance and the timing and the fact that we all have everything we need, I prefer to let the person addressed decide how to best appreciate my small token...
Original from Ellinee

Not a bad first try at a knitted poncho, I like the multiple colours that will match anything on casual days. While the design is like this, I'm considering adding fringes...
Original from Lion brand

My first ever attempt at a fish pie is still my favourite!  Original from Jamie Oliver

One of my favourite German winter recipes, this dish includes meat, rice and vegetables - perfect for a chilly day! Original from various German cooking sites, like this one

The last of the remaining Halloween pumpkin was used for these cookies for Thanksgiving!  Original from My baking addiction

I had planned to cook a number of Asian dishes in December, but it just didn't come to it.  Still, this dish proved to be very successful!  Original from just one cookbook

A recipe for a typical Greek Christmas cookie, it yielded way too many little ones that were snapped in no time!  Still, the whole preparation phase made me think whether I'll try this again... Original from keeptalkinggreece

Coconut macaroons
To counter all the festive eating, my take on a healthy dessert - these whimsical macaroons!  Original from peanut butter and peppers

And, there are still other craft projects in progress that will not finish by the end of this Pin it and Do it challenge!  Thanks Trish for bringing out the crafter in me, and - when is the next challenge due???

Sunday, 23 December 2012

La Grande Thérèse, by H. Spurling

Simon has a talent for discovering ... unusual books.  I always read his reviews and see what books I can include in my own list. When I read about La Grande Thérèse by Hilary Spurling, I was - I was cautious.  Surely such a grand scandal cannot be true?  can people be thus trusting (and eager to get a share in imaginative proceeds?) 

My before-the-holidays fried brain was aching for a light and entertaining reading (and a short one at that!), so this book was perfect for the job...

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by M. Kundera

I read the Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera as a teenager, and I was immediately mesmerised by what I regarded as a ground-breaking philosophical essay on human nature...

Almost 30 years later, I am re-reading this book and I am at a loss.  Where is the philosophy I remembered?  why am I bored with what I read? why do I start skipping passages?

This is one of my greatest fears come true:  my outlook on life has changed so dramatically vis-a-vis my teenage years, that one of my "classic" reads is torn to pieces...

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Remains of the Day, by K. Ishiguro

How many times have I not heard a friend talk passionately about the film version of The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro - how many times have I not had to listen patiently to the emotional torment this said friend had to go through after watching the film, and thinking about it over and over again?  

Of course, I have not watched the film version.  But I was curious enough to read the book and see for myself whether it would leave such a mark on me as well...

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Recipe: coconut macaroons

Yes, it is the season of over-eating, yet I do want to make an effort to have (semi) healthy alternatives on the menu.  This is where these adorable macaroons come in handy!  I discovered coconut early in my life and what I like is its natural sweetness.  I always try to find new recipes to include coconut (savoury or sweet).  
So, with no further ado, here is the recipe:

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Our man in Havana, by G. Greene

I just love Graham Greene - his books may be considered as "heavy", but the ideas, the plots and the characters he puts on paper are, in my opinion, the equivalent of a genius. 
So how does it feel when such a genius writes a comedy?  a dark comedy, true, still something that is so different from anything he's even written before?  Time to read Our Man in Havana, a book that appears to be so complicated, yet retains so much of its humanity that I'm at a loss for words (or not...)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Challenge ahead: Back to the Classics

(did I say I wanted to go easy on the challenges in 2013??? no...)

For the third year in a row, Sarah reads too  much hosts one of my first challenges and which is still very close to my likes, Back to the Classics.  It may sound slightly nerdy, but what I just love about this challenge is the search to find that perfect title to match the categories Sarah sets.  I have included some of my picks for my Classics Club list, but, being the bookeater that I am, I've also included new Classics -typical...

My intentions so far:

  • A 19th Century Classic:  Mary Elizabeth Braddon - Lady Audley's secret
  • A 20th Century Classic: Edith Wharton - House of Mirth
  • A Pre-18th or 18th Century Classic:  Sophocles - Antigone
  • A Classic that relates to the African-American Experience: Maya Angelou - I know why the caged bird sings
  • A Classic Adventure: Arthur Conan Doyle - Sherlock Holmes:  A Scandal in Bohemia
  • A Classic that prominently features an Animal:  George Orwell - Animal Farm

Optional Categories:

  • Re-read a Classic: (many to choose from)
  • A Russian Classic: Fyodor Dostoyevski - Crime and Punishment
  • A Classic Non-Fiction title:  Charles Darwin - On the origin of Species
  • A Classic Children's/Young Adult title:  Jonathan Swift - Gulliver's travels
  • Classic Short Stories: Edgar Allan Poe - The Black Cat, The Masque of the Red Death, The Fall of the House of Usher

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Classics Club: The Comedy of Errors

Most of the time, I enjoy a book better than any adaptation.  The tone, the language, the descriptions, all these factors play an important role for me to understand and fully enjoy the plot.  But there are those plays that need... to be played out to get the essence of what the author has in mind.  I consider The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare one such play - which I had the pleasure to see (via streaming) live from the National Theatre in London (Alex wrote a nice little post on that experience).  Still, it doesn't mean I wouldn't be able to find good things in the book as well:

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Recipe: bookclub menu

I belong to two bookclubs:  one discussing classic literature, where soft drinks/tea and nibbles are the order of the day, and one discussing modern literature, where a potluck dinner is served.  For the latter one, then, I was hosting the The lady in Gold book discussion and this is what I had prepared for a casual buffet dinner:

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Classics Club: Christmas caroling...

For December, the Classics Club's question came at a perfect time:  we were discussing A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens at my book club, so I grasped the opportunity to have a mini-test with my group to see what the various opinions were.  Nothing out of the ordinary, actually, but what impressed me was that several of the members had not read this as children... I can't imagine the current young generation not having at least seen the adaptations, but still I wondered:  why should anyone read this book?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Tell-Tale Heart, by E.A. Poe

Are you tired that your eyes want to shut down?  Still, you would like to read a little bit?  The Tell-Tale Heart by E.A. Poe is a delightful short story for just this purpose.

The confession of a murderer and the story behind his actions, the whole preparation phase but also the twists in this account are truly remarkable - I was surprised that this is possible in so few pages.

While reading, I usually want to reach the end and know what happened there - not in this case, there never was a moment of quite and relaxation.  I was so hooked on the plot developping, I just focused on reading and getting to the next twist... 
This was such great writing that it doesn't need a longer text!  

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Lady in Gold

This was a book for my reading group, which is the only reason I read it to the end.  Were I reading it for myself, I would have stopped after about 5-10 pages.  This is thus a caveat:  I did not like the book.

The Lady in Gold, by A.M. O'Connor, has the subtitle The Extraordinary Tale of G. Klimt's Masterpiece, Portait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.  When we were deciding in my group about which book to read, I was under the impression that it would be the legal proceedings between Adele's heirs and the Austrian State.  I knew the basics about the case, but I definitely knew the outcome:  the sale of this very portrait for over USD 100 million to the Lauder family...

This already made me slightly averse to the story:  I'm not keen to see art of this grandeur being bought and sold.  I truly believe it should be publicly available, and not just the privilege of an elite class.  Still, I was interested enough to seek for a fact what the background of these proceedings was and decide for myself whether I would agree with Maria Altman, the heir who initiated the proceedings, or not.

My first difficulty was the subtitle itself, however trivial it may seem.  The fact that the author (or publisher) decides that the tale is extraordinary makes me all the more cautious:  I get to decide what is ordinary or not, based on what I read.

The second difficulty, which would have me stop reading almost immediately, was the prejudice I sensed.  While I have no connection to Austria, I'm not particularly in favour of a non-fiction book where sides have already been taken.  The beauty of non-fiction is exactly the possibility to lay down all the facts for a subject and have the conclusion come on its own.  In addition, such generalisations are almost always dangerous:

"Hitler was Austrian, though the world forgets this" (I personally am offended by this remark)
"Austrians learned not to ask too many questions"
"(in Austria) the Jewish tradition of aiding their widowed, orphaned and handicapped inspired envy"

The book is about 300 pages long, over 220 pages of which are dedicated to what I call the saga of the Bloch-Bauer family and their entourage.  Endless descriptions of the cafés, the parties, the clothes, the romances - not only of Adele, which I could accept, her being the main character of this story, but also of distant relatives and friends of friends (I may exaggerate here a little).  For someone interested in pre-war Vienna, that's great.  Unfortunately, I was not.  I wanted to read about a specific story and I only got to it towards the end.

And even then, the narrative is too "pretty":  how the polite, soft spoken Maria Altman managed to be heard and lead the way to the court (parenthesis:  I hope the courts are not seduced by the "Italianate German of the Habsburg empire" and look only on the "boring" hard evidence).- when it is proven even in this book that there was huge support from the Commission for Art Recovery and the personal intervention of Ronald Lauder, heir to the Estée Lauder cosmetics.

Whether or not Adele's heirs were right to take this painting away from Austria and  sell it  (to R. Lauder) along with others, is a matter of personal opinion.  The only point I'll make from the information in the book, was the fact that from all the money made (almost half a billion), there was no donation made back to the Austrian State - so was it all for personal profit then? 

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Recipe: Shrimp & Pork wonton

This weekend marks the beginning of my "Asian cuisine" endeavours that I'll undertake until the end of the year - Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, almost all Asian countries will be included, except for India, where I'll dedicate a separate chapter...

I'm fortunate enough to have a deliciously little Asian shop near my house, so when I went there for the first time for the "truly Asian" ingredients, the shop-owners were more than helpful to show and explain and try to steer me away from danger...

So off to my first recipe:  the wonton, as tasted through the aromatic and oh-so-soothing chicken stock...



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