Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Five: Good and Bad

Since the usual 5 Fandom Friday is on hiatus this month, I thought I'd go for the original (maybe?) Friday 5:

Image courtesy Ryan McGuire
What’s good and what’s bad about the weather lately?

The good is that it's SUNNY. And WARM. Enough that it's comfortable and enjoyable to go running outside! I have always loved summer (no school! birthday! swimming) but in Sweden I just love it extra much. It's my reward for getting through the cold, dark winter. If there's anything bad about the weather, it's that it's not sunny and warm enough. (Spring is always full of hiccups, and there are some days where it's still just like 11 *C outside.)

What’s something that’s so bad it’s good?

So many movies. There is a special place in my heart for Coleman Francis's weird, sad, brief body of work.

What’s something that used to be bad but now is good?

There's any number of foods I didn't like, or didn't try because I didn't think I would like, when I was younger that I've now grown quite fond of.

What are some of your pet words for very bad and very good?

I don't think I have any particular, idiosyncratic expressions for good or bad. I will say that I can't get on board with "amazeballs" though. I just can't.

What’s your favorite song by Bad Company (or Good Charlotte, if BadCo isn’t your style)?

Well, neither Bad Company or Good Charlotte are my style. I do have some Badfinger:

Good Riddance:

and Benny Goodman:

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What I Read: The House of the Spirits

Image courtesy Plaza & Janés
Hoo boy, where do I start with this one?

I guess I need to start with the fact that I am an American transplant to Sweden (for those of you who might have just found me). My Swedish is passable, though on a daily basis I almost exclusively use English. I write here and elsewhere in English, I work on my literary aspirations in English, JV and I default to English, and I work in English editing and tutoring. The Swedes who comprise my new social circle use English with me, though if the conversation switches to Swedish it's not a problem. Really, the only time I use Swedish is with the parents of some of my tutees, themselves immigrants but who didn't acquire too much English before they moved here, or who feel more comfortable in Swedish than in English.

In other words, I have to make a concerted effort to expose myself to Swedish. The easiest way to do this is to read books in Swedish. Novel concept, right?

So when my Internet book club decided that March's book would be Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits, I decided to challenge myself and read the Swedish translation rather than the English translation. (I think translation between languages is certainly fruitful and possible but I am team Original Language whenever possible.) Because if I'm reading a translation anyway, it might as well be a translation that benefits me somehow.

The book took me around two months to read. More than that, really, considering that I just finished it about a week ago.

So I want to preface everything I have to say about this book with the caveat that I read it through the hazy veil of a non-native language. Or non-fluent. (Though I would consider myself fluent in Swedish, I still have a ways to go. But I think someone who is technically a "non-native" speaker can acquire a native-level fluency in a language.) There were, no doubt, nuances that I missed or things that I completely misunderstood. But on a broad strokes, big picture level, I had no problem following what was going on.

It's hard for me to separate my enjoyment of the book from my pride at having finished a substantial novel in Swedish. This would be the longest thing I've ever read in Swedish by a not insignifcant margin. But even so, I also enjoyed the process of reading itself—mostly.

I also want to say that despite being a huge international celebrity and a writer (apparently?) discussed in schools in Sweden, Allende never came up for me in my studies. Not in high school, not in university. When I mentioned what I was reading to JV, he said, "Oh yeah, Allende. I haven't read anything by her but she's supposed to be good." I would have said, "Who's that?" So I feel like I am woefully underschooled in international contemporary literature, and that if you're in the same position as me, then this review is for you.

Because have you heard of Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Of course you (probably) have, because he is a Big Deal author and people can't stop talking about him. So how is it that Marquez is a household name for me but Allende isn't?

I bring up Marquez because he is comparable, and because his 100 Years of Solitude is comparable to The House of the Spirits. Both deal with a nation's tumultuous history by viewing it through the framework of a large and influential family. Both have the elements of magical realism that have become the hallmark of Latin American literature.

I hated 100 Years of Solitude, but I at least enjoyed reading The House of the Spirits. Over the entire course of 100 Years of Solitude, it felt like Marquez was reaching for some point that was always just out of reach. (I felt the same way about way-overhyped American Gods.) The House of the Spirits, on the other hand, put forward an idea of justice and something almost like karma quietly, without straining, and with more elegance. Her characters were nuanced, each with their personalities and their principles, so that despite a huge cast of characters you never confused them with each other.

The only part of the book I did not enjoy, even taking my pride at Swedish reading comprehension into account, were the sections of the book from the perspective of the family patriarch, Esteban. As a writer, I have to give Allende all the kudos in the world for sketching someone so vividly and creating someone so repulsive and yet so real. But as a reader, I could not endure Esteban and his violence and his snobbery. (And also rape! Not that people shouldn't write about rape; I actually think Allende writes about it very well in that she refuses to engage in salacious details or use it as character development. But I'm at a point in my life where I'm not in the mood for men, even fictional ones, defending and meditating on their entitlement to women's bodies.) So I quickly learned to just skip the sections written in the first person perspective and nothing of value was lost.

The House of the Spirits is another tally mark for my participation in the Women's Classic Literature Event. I'm still torn on whether or not I want to count it towards my modified TIME Top 100 Novels list. Would it be cheating? =/

If you are trying to diversifying your reading habits, if you have a burning curiosity about Latin American literature, or if you love long, multi-generational epics, then The House of the Spirits is very much worth your time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tasty Tuesday: Turos Csusza

Remember when I used to sometimes blog about food? Yeah, me too. Then I stopped cooking for myself because JV is just so good at it.

But sometimes he doesn't feel like cooking, or he wants to have something I don't (pea soup in summer? no thanks). Behold, the world's laziest dish that maybe even might be good for you?

Turos Csusza

Since my work involves me with a lot of fellow immigrants, I've done a miniature world tour of cuisine: Persian, Sri Lankan, Hungarian, Arabic...I approve and my tastebuds approve. Also, my cooking repertoire approves, because often something is SO GOOD that I want to make it myself. Turos czusza is one of those, and it's easy as hell. I've made this a bunch of times since. (As compared to asheh reshteh, which I made once and completely botched because I didn't have enough of any of the herbs.)

The top recipe for turos csusza if you Google is from, and she suggests that you bake the dish for a few minutes after you prepare it. I eat this straight away every time I make it (freshly boiled pasta + refrigerated dairy = pretty good eating temperature), but if you prefer it a little warmer then you might as well nuke it instead of going to the trouble of preheating your oven. This is lazy food, child. This is when you can't be fucked but you feel too guilty to reach for that box of Kraft/Velveeta. (Not that you should feel guilty, because that is divine, but you know...sometimes you want to feel like you made an effort.)

What You Need

  • A carb of choice. The above recipe calls for egg noodles; I have it on good Hungarian authority that elbow macaroni is acceptable, so that's how I roll. I prefer whole wheat pasta just because my life is better when I get lots of fiber.
  • Cottage cheese
  • Sour cream/creme fraiche/Greek yogurt
  • Bacon or something savory to your own taste

What You Do

1. Prepare your carb of choice.

2. Prepare your bacon, if that's how you roll.

3. Mix your bacon, cottage cheese, and sour cream/creme fraiche/Greek yogurt with your carb of choice. Generally you have more cottage cheese than sour cream, but the ratio is totally up to your tastes.



  • I really, really, really do not like bacon. When I make this, I use roasted onion instead. Is that a thing in grocery stores elsewhere? It might not be, considering that the Wikipedia entry is only in Swedish and German.

    I guess y'all outside of northern Europe are missing out on the magic that is rostad lök. :(

    We always have a tub on hand because you can just add them to just about anything and it gets tastier, like croutons that are just pure onion. This recipe is so much easier for me because it dispenses with preparing the bacon in favor of these roasted onions. I bet you could get something similar if you had a fruit dehydrator? They're crispy and have a thin bread crumb-y coating but still taste very much of ONION.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Kjetil Ree. // They look like kind of unappealing pork rinds or something here but I promise they're delicious.
  • Because I'm an adult, I take supplements and vitamins and things now, and one of the supplement-type things I consume is chia seeds. They go really well with this (because they taste of nothing, really, and just look like pepper) and probably help add a little extra protein to a meal that's largely fat and carbs.
  • I had never had cottage cheese before I had this dish. I was always under the impression that cottage cheese was one of those gross, unappealing foods people only ate because they wanted to lose weight (like grapefruit). But no! Cottage cheese is delicious!! Why all the negativity around it? Like the roasted onion, cottage cheese is a permanent fixture in our kitchen.

Give this one a go the next time you're feeling uninspired and like you CBF to make dinner! Maybe add some vegetables if you're feeling fancy!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

ArmchairBEA 2016, Day 5: Wrap-Up

Image courtesy Marco Maru
Real talk, y'all: I had way too much wine while I was watching EuroVision last night and I am feeling it today. While I'm bummed that EuroVision meant I missed out on Saturday's Twitter chat, it was good to go out and socialize with people and watch OTT musical performances. JV is not really into EuroVision anymore ("It was fun when I was a kid," he explained), so I hadn't really watched any of the previous years (or Sweden's national "let's decide who we send to EuroVision" event, Melodifestivalen), but now I'm a convert. One step closer to being a true Swede!

I'm not mad about Ukraine winning—in fact I'm enjoying the rage and seething about how "politics isn't allowed in EuroVision"—but my favorite performer by far was Australia's Im Dami. Girl nailed it.

So I'm writing this wrap-up post feeling cozy and a little post-boozing regretful. After a week or two of absolutely summery weather, today has been gray and drizzly, but far from being depressing, that's actually perfect. JV is out of town for the weekend so I have our tiny apartment to myself, and oh gosh, it's nice, in a way. Sometimes I just really need to be alone for a while. But I also miss cuddles. I guess I'm just a bundle of contradictory moods today.

This year I didn't participate in any of the ArmchairBEA Twitter chats, which is a bummer because I feel like that's how I find the coolest new book bloggers to follow. I'm sitting here nursing my hangover with some fruit juice and clicking through all of the intros in the ArmchairBEA Day 1 link-up post, but it's not the same. That said: over 100 participants! Damn!! But I've already found quite a few new book bloggers to add to my feed, and I'll probably keep going through that post for the next few days. (Reminder! Make sure you have a validated and working RSS feed! A few bloggers I've wanted to add don't have that sorted and that's too bad, because I can't be fucked to remember to visit your site or use BlogLovin' in addition to my regular RSS reader, Inoread.)

I was lucky enough to win one of the daily giveaways, though! (Which I totally would have missed if Natalie hadn't alerted me to it, oop.) I'll be getting the Exilon 5 trilogy in ebook format. It looks like it'll be great commute reading, though I should probably finish my other commute reading first. Guess who now spends her commute fiddling with Fallout Shelter instead of reading her ebooks...

Saturday, May 14, 2016

ArmchairBEA 2016, Day 4: Surviving Fictional Worlds

Today we'll talk about surviving fictional worlds. We all know that sometimes, the worlds we love in fiction can be dangerous. Which fictional worlds would you want to live in? Which worlds do you never want to dive into? Which worlds are you content to stay behind the glass, so to speak, rather than wishing to dive through the page? And once you get there, what would you do?

The first book I ever remember really wanting to live in was Little House on the Prairie. To this day I'm not entirely sure why, except that there is a part of me that really likes small spaces. I loved my tiny little "officetel" quarters in South Korea, and when I was in college I put my bedframe on risers and put the mattress under the bed. That way I had a cozy little nook to sleep in, and I got the bonus of a huge workspace I could spread out books and papers on. The actual desk just became like a bedside table and a random depository of stuff that accumulates: bath stuff, unrelated reading, and so on.

I'm the only person I know not freaked out by capsule hotels. // Image courtesy Peter Woodman

So the idea of living my whole life in a covered wagon was appealing to 5-year-old me. In a different life, I would probably be one of those retirees who just spends the rest of their day in a Winnebago. Who knows, maybe that will still be me?

I was also obsessed with boarding schools and Raj India, thanks to A Little Princess and The Secret Garden. (Yes, most of The Secret Garden takes place in England, but the first chapter about Mary's life in India was always filled with mystery for me.)

William Gibson's worlds are always fascinating, but more and more it seems like we're living in them right now, so....wish granted?

Finally, while we're on the topic of living in fictional worlds, I'd like to take a trip down memory lane and bring your attention to a semi-obscure picture book from 1977, The Paper Party. It's about a boy named Jory who, after wanting so badly to live in the world of his favorite TV program, actually gets sucked into show, in a world where everyone and everything is made of paper. It's a really adorable book, but it gets overshadowed by Don Freeman's much more famous work: Corduroy!

And as for worlds I'd rather avoid, it's basically every fantasy novel ever. Not because I hate fantasy, but because in fantasy novels it's almost always the end of the world, or in the middle of a war, or under the oppressive regime of some kind of fascist tyrant, or sometimes a combination of the three! Fun to read about, terrifying to live in. I'll pass, thanks.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Armchair BEA 2016, Day 3: Beyond Books and Blogs

Beyond the traditional form of the novel, what are your favorite alternative forms (graphic novels, audiobooks, webcomics, etc)? Do you have any favorite works within these alternate forms? How do you think the changing format affects the reading experience? 

If I'm not reading books, I'm reading graphic novels and comics. (But...I admit, I'm usually reading books.) I can't focus on audiobooks or podcasts; when someone's reading or lecturing without the context of their body language or visual aids, I totally zone out. Ages ago, an item on my 101 in 1001 list was to listen through the entirety of the History of Rome podcast, since I had heard so much about it from people whose taste I trusted. I started and then realized I wasn't retaining anything from the podcasts, so then I altered the goal to listen and take notes on maybe a third of the episodes. That got real old, too. So I scrubbed it from the list since it obviously wasn't happening and there wasn't really any good reason I wanted to do it.

My favorite comics/graphic I'll have to sit on this one for a while and then come back.

Okay, I've thought about it. In no particular order:

Ghost World (Daniel Clowes)

Kabuki (David Mack) ("The Alchemy," which is volume 7, has some one of the best art I've seen in comics. It's sumptuous.)

Doom Patrol (Grant Morrison) ("Crawling From the Wreckage" is the best, and "The Painting That Ate Paris" has some great moments in it, but by volume 3 it lost some of its magic.)

Fables (Bill Willingham) (y u gotta be a tool, bro)

Promethea (Alan Moore) (This is the best Alan Moore IMHO, though I admit the series takes a weird esoteric left turn that might not be your cup of tea.)

I read a lot of webcomics in college—Something Positive, Queen of Wands, MegaTokyo, The Order of the Stick, User Friendly—but these days I just stick with my old favorite Cat and Girl, which I've been reading since high school.

Our secondary topic, beyond the blog could focus on the ways you engage in talking about books outside of your blog. Do you participate in book clubs, take classes, meticulously maintain your goodreads profile? Let the world know!

I am a meticulous list-keeper, which is why I love GoodReads so much. I have some fusses over the site. Like, counting rereads, or the same book in different languages, is really tricky; I read Mrs. Dalloway in 2006 and again this past January, but there's no way for me to mark that I've read it twice, so my Good Reads Challenege is actually behind by one book! Or I read The Stranger in English a million years ago, and then read it again in Swedish last year for class. I think that should count as two books, really, but I can't get GoodReads to acknowledge that!

(If you want to creep on me on GoodReads, here I be!)

I'm also part of an online book club. It was started by two women, one of whom is a friend of mine, so it's a good mix of people who wouldn't otherwise know each other, and the books so far have been interesting—often ones that I didn't know about, or would have picked for myself. Like The House of the Spirits. Did I ever hear anything about Isabel Allende in high school? In college? Nope. But now I have, and I get to enjoy an author I would have otherwise maybe never heard of.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Armchair BEA 2016, Day 2: Aesthetics and Branding

Today is all about aesthetics! The first part of this topic is concerned specifically with the books, the second with our blogs. Here are some guiding questions to get you started!

The Books: How often do you judge a book by its cover? How often are you surprised by what you find? Do you strategize and make sure every book in your series has the same cover design (as far as you are able to) and type? How important is it for the visual art on the outside of the book to match or coordinate with the literature art on the inside?

Like anyone else, I can be drawn in by a well-designed or intriguing cover. But what I hate about covers is when they don't have any synopsis on them! I don't care how gorgeous the cover is, if your back cover or the flaps of your dust jacket are nothing but effusive quotes, I'm not going to read it.

Sometimes a cover is so interesting that I get fooled by it multiple times. I always think that Geek Love is going to be about something else, and then I read the back and remember that oh, this story doesn't sound interesting to me at all. It actually sounds really unappealing. Fortunately, later covers make the circus sideshow aspect of the book way clearer, but it feels like you only ever see the first edition cover.

Image courtesy Alfred Knopf

But when I have a series, I definitely want all of the books to match. My first copy of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe had this cover by Chris van Allsburg:

Image courtesy Harper Collins

But then as I started receiving the rest of the books in the series as gifts, they were these editions with covers by Leo and Diane Dillon:

Image courtesy Harper Collins

But no one would get me The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe again because I already owned it. Later, when I had a bit of my own money and such, I picked up a copy with the Dillon art at one of my favorite local used bookstores*, just so the collection would be uniform and complete. Years afterward, my copy of Prince Caspian got lost somehow, but fortunately the same bookstore had a Dillon cover copy left.

Despite all of their problems, I still love the Narnia books and I want them to all belong together. I'm the same with most series I really love.

I like good cover art as much as anyone else, and while I don't know if an ugly cover or inappropriate cover will ever ruin a book for me, I do find them disconcerting if they don't "match." The cover on the edition of Beloved that I read, for example, was just so not appropriate for what Beloved is actually about:

Image courtesy Alfred Knopf

The Blog: As a book blogger, in whatever form that takes, branding is important. Your colors, your fonts, your style of review, all of these things come together to make the "brand" of your blog - something that makes your reviews and posts and websites, all your various content, immediately recognizable to the people looking for you. What do you do to create a brand on your site? Do you think about these things?

I don't really brand my bookishness; it's there because I like to read but that's it. But for my jewelry and my blog and my whatever else, I try to use consistent colors (the medium-light warmish blue; even my moo cards and the ribbon I use in packaging is a similar shade) and the same banner image (courtesy JV). I just like consistency, guys.

*...which is now permanently closed! What?! One of the things I was looking forward to in my trip back to the US this October is gone. And it's been replaced by a bridal boutique of all things. Excuse me, I need a minute to grieve...