Links I found interesting for 04-03-2015


What is the best-known book set in Norway?

See note on methodology

I admit this one took me by surprise. I had read it, of course; published in 1991, a careful exploration of three millennia of philosophy for younger readers, it is very clearly set in Norway even if that doesn't add much to the story.  I had completely forgotten the setting, and you probably have as well. By a huge margin, the most widely owned book on both LT and GR that is set in Norway is:

a philosophical treatiseCollapse )

this wins only because I have had to brutally disqualify a book by a well-known British writer of Norwegian ancestry, in which our hero and his grandmother battle supernatural beings in Norway. I checked with my fifteen-year-old resident expert in this particular author's works, and he confirmed my suspicion that most of the action takes place in England, so despite its immense popularity, I can't allow it. It is:

a bewitching taleCollapse )

The book most frequently tagged "Norway" on LibraryThing is a 2003 novel, translated into English in 2005, about the Nazi occupation of Norway and its aftermath, winner of the 2007 Dublin IMPAC Award. It is:

Read more...Collapse )

Goodreads is a bit more highbrow on this occasion. The book most frequently tagged "Norway" there is an 1890 novel about a young man wandering the streets of the Norwegian capital in a state of heightened awareness; it helped to win its author the 1920 Nobel Prize for Literature. it is:

Read more...Collapse )

Bubbling under, very much to my surprise: Hendrik Ibsen, Jo Nesbø. Both Read more...Collapse ) and Read more...Collapse ) came close but are definitely behind the first two mentioned.
See note on methodology

As with Romania, I must extend apologies on behalf of Ireland to all my friends (and in this case my relatives) from a particular country. By far the most widely owned book set in Slovakia on both Goodreads and LibraryThing is a novel by an Irish writer exploring the life story of a Roma poet through the second world war and Communist Czechoslovakia.It's got lots of good reviews, and I guess I will look it up myself one of these days. It is:

Read more...Collapse )

The book most often tagged "Slovakia" on LibraryThing is another Holocaust memoir, written for the YA audience, and published in 1999. It is:

Read more...Collapse )

Tho most-tagged as "Slovakia" on GoodReads is yet another Holocaust memoir, though with quite a strong concentration on pre-war Bratislava. Published as recently as 2013, it is:

Read more...Collapse )

The best-known novel by an actual Slovak which is actually set in Slovakia is a crime novel whose story unfolds around the fall of Communism and the break-up of the former Czechoslovakia. It is::

Read more...Collapse )

I'm also going to give a shout out to my friend Rick's account of his father's flight from the 1968 Russian invasion, and his own rediscovery of Slovakia as an adult. (Hi, Rick!)

Read more...Collapse )

I am intrigued also by the fantasy novel Vládce vlků / Master of Wolves, by Juraj Červenák, but I suspect it fails the "set in Slovakia" test.
See note on methodology

No prizes for guessing which author dominates the Finnish lists on both LibraryThing and Goodreads. Famous for her children's fantasy novels about anthropomorphic creatures living almost human lives (apart from hibernation), I've been very glad to discover some of her work for adults which has been getting into English translation in recent years. 

The Goodreads winner is a bit surprising, though; it was the first of the children's books to be published in Finnish, in 1945, but the last to be translated into English, in 2005, and reviews suggest that the author had not yet hit her stride. I devoured all the other books in the series as a kid, but haven't read this one. It is:

Read more...Collapse )

The LibraryThing winner is the one I would have expected, first published in 1948 and the first of the series to be translated to English, in 1950, in which our heroes have a series of loosely-connected adventures, several of which centre around a magic hat. It's fourth on Goodreads (whereas  the previously-mentioned Goodreads winner is way behind on LibraryThing), so I am declaring it today's winner. It is:

Read more...Collapse )

The second-placed book on GoodReads, third on LibraryThing, is a lovely short novel for adults, by this same author, about the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter spending a summer on one of the Finnish islands. Originally published in 1972, translated into English only in 2003, it is:

Read more...Collapse )

That is just behind the second-placed book on LibraryThing but well ahead of the third-place on Goodreads, Finland's national epic, compiled (composed?) during the nineteenth century and published in 1835, an expanded version appearing in 1849. In 50 chapters of trochaic tetrameter, it is:

epicCollapse )

That's the highest-placed book on the list originally written in Finnish (the others were originally written in Swedish).
I'm very very happy to say that today marks the beginning of my four-year appointment as Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, INCORE with links to the Institute of Research in the Social Sciences (IRiSS) at the Magee and Jordanstown campuses of Ulster University.

It is a very part-time assignment, though I will give at least one guest lecture/seminar a year to staff/students or the general public. The first of these will be on Monday 9 March at the Belfast campus of Ulster University. I understand that it is already pretty heavily subscribed, which is encouraging.

This has no effect on my day job in Brussels, other than helping to strengthen links between academe and the private sector in public affairs. Colleagues at work have been gratifyingly positive about it. I may start putting "Professor" on my business cards, though!

Links I found interesting for 01-03-2015


What is the best-known book set in Denmark?

See note on methodology

There is a hugely clear winner here, with a slight caveat that although we are clearly told that the setting is Kronborg castle, Helsingør, and there are contextual references aplenty to neighbouring countries, there isn't a terribly strong historical foundation to this story of dynastic intrigue at the Danish court. However, it is the best known work of the English language's best-known writer, and my Danish friends will have to grin and bear it. It is, of course:

Something's rotten in the state of DenmarkCollapse )

The second place goes (again by a very clear margin) to a Holocaust novel, though one that is completly new to me - I guess it may be on a lot of school reading lists? Published by an American writer in 1989 (and winner of the 1990 Newbery Medal), it is:

Read more...Collapse )

Having said that, there is a contender which has more readers on LT and is not so far behind on GR. It is an ancient epic in three sections, of which the first two are clearly set in Denmark (or at least among the Danes), though the last (and shortest) is set elsewhere. Much-translated, inspiring to Tolkien and many others, it is of course:

Hwæt!Collapse )

Several books set in Denmark by actual Danes which almost made the top three:

Read more...Collapse )

It could be worse.

February Books

What is the best-known book set in Serbia?

See note on methodology

For the first time, but not for the last, I face the consequences of the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Even those living there found it tricky to follow the shifting borders between the Slovenian referendum in 1990 and the independence of Kosovo in 2008. A lot of the books identified with "Serbia" tags on LibraryThing and Goodreads are simply set elsewhere, most often in Bosnia; others are tours d'horizon of the entire region.

I have come up with an answer to the question that satisfies me, though I admit that it has flaws. Published as recently as 2010, by a writer who was born in Belgrade but stresses her roots elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia, it is set in an unnamed Balkan state, but reviewers that I have checked have assumed it is meant to be Serbia (including one who irritably listed all the mistakes that were made with the Serbian setting, which pretty much proves the point). Winner of the 2011 Orange Prize, it is:

Read more...Collapse ).

Worth noting, but not sufficient answers to the question, are two well-known books about the former Yugoslavia as a whole, both of which were critiqued for feeding the convenient narrative that external intervention would not help during the most recent conflict. One of them is based in fact on events of the 1930s, published in 1941; the other was published in 1993. They are:

Read more...Collapse ).

Digging down further, I hit the problem that few of the great writers of the former Yugoslavia set their best-known works in Serbia (often they were not themselves Serbs, of course). This is true for Danilo Kiš, Milorad Pavić, Ivo Andrić and Meša Selimović. The top book on Goodreads which I could identify clearly as set in Serbia, identifiable as such, is a 1910 classic Serbian novel about tradition versus modernisation and the changing position of women, made into a Serbian TV series in 2012. It seems to have several names in Enlgish translation; I'm giving first the one I could find in recent publication (2008) followed by the two given in Wikipedia. It is:

Read more...Collapse ).

The top book on LibraryThing which I could identify clearly as set in Serbia, named as such, is a series of interviews conducted by a Norwegian journalist with her various Serbian contacts over the years of war and peace. It is:

Read more...Collapse )

It's interesting that Serbian writers in general appear better represented on Goodreads.

Thursday reading

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy (a chapter a day)
Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
Lethbridge-Stewart: The Forgotten Son, by Andy Frankham-Allen
The Jonah Kit, by Ian Watson

Last books finished
Anne Frank: The book, the life and the afterlife, by Francine Prose
Tree and Leaf, by J R R Tolkien
ι4 - not finished
Dragon's Wrath, by Justin Richards
Doctor Who Annual 2015
Transit of Earth

Last week's audios
Equilibrium, by Matt Fitton

Next books
The Charm of Belgium, by Brian Lunn
The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon
Grave Matter, by Justin Richards

Books acquired in last week
Anne Frank: The book, the life and the afterlife, by Francine Prose
Who I Am: A Memoir, by Peter Townshend
11/22/63, by Stephen King
Professor Bell v1: De Mexicaan met twee hoofden by Joann Sfar
Professor Bell v2: De poppen van Jeruzalem, by Joann Sfar
Golden Dawn: Het genootschap van Socrates, by Yves Leclercq and Stéphane Heurteau
Lethbridge-Stewart: The Forgotten Son, by Andy Frankham-Allen

Links I found interesting for 26-02-2015

See note on methodology

Far, far in the lead here is a play by an Irish writer, first performed in 1894 and published in 1898. A lot of people who are familiar with it forget that it is set during and after the brief Serbia-Bulgaria war of 1885, the central characters being a Bulgarian officer's daughter and a Swiss mercenary fighting for the Serbs. It doesn't bear a huge resemblance to the real Bulgaria: the author's intention was to satirise British attitudes to war and class, and he pretty much succeeded. It is:

My rank is the highest known in Switzerland: I'm a free citizen.Collapse )

After that we are into difficult territory, and I'm afraid that the next books on both GR on LT are a light-hearted Cold War thriller (not the last in that series that we shall encounter) and a short fantasy novella for young adults:

Read more...Collapse )

Those who are familiar with Bulgarian literature will not be at all surprised (and perhaps relieved) to know that the top Bulgarian book by an actual Bulgarian writer, though some way behind all of the above, is the 1893 national classic:

Read more...Collapse )

Links I found interesting for 25-02-2015

See note on methodology

This list of books has not always excelled at identifying work by female writers, but in Switzerland, which only gave women the vote in my lifetime, they do rather well. The most popular "switzerland"-tagged book on both LibraryThing and Goodreads probably has to be disqualified in that not enough of it is set there - parts of the plot take place in Germany, Ireland and the Arctic wastes - but the most memorable passages are indeed set in the vicinity of Lake Geneva, where it was written by an eighteen-year-old writer in the summer of 1816, and later published in 1818. Brian Aldiss argues that it is the first true work of science fiction. It is of course:

you have guessed correctlyCollapse )

There is a better answer, in the shape of a book by a Swiss woman which has become identifued with Swiss girlhood (though in fact the second quarter of it is set in Frankfurt, which I had completely forgotten). Published in 1880, and apparently dashed off by its author in four weeks, it's the story of a little girl bringing joy to her grumpy grandfather in the Grisons, though there's also stuff going on about poverty and disability. It is of curse:

Read more...Collapse )

I'm happy enough with a book that is 75% set in Switzerland. If you prefer a book that is almost 100% set in Switzerland, we can stay in the Grisons, but I'm afraid I must refer you to a male German writer. His masterwork, published in 1924, deals with illness, philosophy, and death. It is:

Read more...Collapse )

This has been a more highbrow entry than some!

What is the best-known book set in Austria?

See note on methodology

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It's a graphic novel, probably the only graphic novel we'll get in this series of posts. I'm cheating slightly in that it's the third part of an autobiography sold in four albums in the original French, but the best-selling English translation binds it together with the fourth part which (like the first two) is set in the author's home country, so readers of that version will hold in their hands a book which is only half set in Austria. But I think the author's original intent counts. It's the story of a disastrous attempt to emigrate from the Middle East to Vienna in the late twentieth century, the heartbreak of exile in Vienna combined with disillusionment about Western lifestyles. In the English edition, it is the first half of:

probably the only graphic novel we'll get hereCollapse )

I've ruled out a number of books frequently tagged "Austria" here - all of Kafka, Stefan Zweig's Chess Story, The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, Leviathan by Scott Westerfield, The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud - on the grounds that they are not really (or at best only partially) set in Austria. The leaves me with the top Austrian book set in Austria and written by an Austrian, an unfinished novel published in three parts between 1930 and 1943 (the year after the author's untimely death); apparently the German edition these days is sold with a CD-ROM including the author's various surviving drafts of how the novel might have ended. It is:

one of the masterworks which we will never see completedCollapse )

Bubbling under: Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, Elfride Jelinek, Patrick Leigh Fermour.

The TBR meme

I got this from Victoria over at Eve's Alexandria - her answers are much more interesting than mine.

1. How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

Physically, I have an entire bookshelf (see last picture here) with books owned but not yet read beside the bed. Its population fluctuates - we bought a companion bookshelf a couple of months ago, already more than half filled with Arthur C. Clarke Award submissions.

Electronically, I use LibraryThing, which tells me that I have roughly 462 books in the house which I have not read. Plus a few Clarke submissions which I track separately.

2. Is your TBR mostly print or ebook?

Print, for sure. If I buy an ebook I tend to read it immediately.

3. How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?

long explanationCollapse )

4. A book that’s been on your TBR the longest

Not counting Doctor Who books, and books I am pretty sure I've lost, it's Transit of Earth, a collection of sf short stories which I bought at Boskone in 2009. I will start it tonight or tomorrow.

5. A book you recently added to your TBR:

I went to the local book fair yesterday and came away with:
11/22/63, by Stephen King
Who I Am: A Memoir, by Peter Townshend

and three Dutch-language comics (all translated from French):
Professor Bell v1: De Mexicaan met twee hoofden by Joann Sfar
Professor Bell v2: De poppen van Jeruzalem, by Joann Sfar
Golden Dawn: Het genootschap van Socrates, by Yves Leclercq and Stéphane Heurteau

6. A book that will soon be added to your TBR:

I expect I will buy the next Doctor Who books to come out as soon as they do.

7. Numbers of shelves used to house your TBR:

About 6, including one for Clarke submissions.

8. On a scale of 1 to 10, how painful is it for your to discard will-never-be-read TBR books?

It will never happen. Though I do occasionally lose them. I'll normally give them at least fifty pages before giving up.

9. A book on your TBR that basically everyone has read but you:

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

10. Name your sources of powers– where do you get your books from?

Bookshops when I am in an English-speaking city (and often when I'm not). Online on impulse.

11. A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read:

Kushiel's Justice, by Jacqueline Carey.

12. A book you’d recommend others add to their TBR shelves:

Impossible Stories, by Zoran Živković - I reviewed it for Strange Horizons in 2006.

13. Is your TBR a force for good in your life?

Yes. I enjoy working through the obsessive-compulsive structure I have created for myself, and it gives me a sense of achievement to see the list gradually decreasing - even if I then increase it again.


What is the best-known book set in Belarus?

See note on methodology

Slim pickings here, I'm afraid. The top books on both LibraryThing and GoodReads which are set are two different non-fiction accounts of the same set of events, an organisation of Jewish partisans who fought against the Nazis from the Naboliki forest. One of the books was adapted for the cinema, the film starring Daniel Craig. The two books are:

Read more...Collapse )

Some way behind is a novel about the Stalinist occupation of a village in the Pinsk marshes, published in :

Read more...Collapse )

The top novel by a Belarusian writer writing in Belarusian is a tale of a folkorist visitng an isolated castle, confronted with an ancient family curse. It is:

Read more...Collapse )

Also worthy of note, on LibraryThing a collection of poetry by a Belarusian resident in America has attracted some attention, published in a bilingual English/Belarusin edition in 2008. It is:

Read more...Collapse ).

The Translation of Anne Frank

Having last read it six years ago, I have been rereading Anne Frank's diary, the 2003 definitive edition of Het Achterhuis in the original Dutch, which includes the most recently rediscovered pages, and also comparing it page by page with the classic English translation of 1952, The Diary of a Young Girl. I have found some things that really surprised me. I was sufficiently intrigued to also get hold of Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, by Francine Prose, which has a lot of useful detail on how the Diary came to be written and published (and also some unedifying details about the creation of the Broadway play, the movie, and its use by revisionists, but I recommend it as a book anyway). I'm assuming below that you have read the book and have at least vague memories of it; if not, go and get it now.

lots of thoughtsCollapse )history: wwii
See note on methodology

There is no competition here. Azerbaijan is at the edge of Europe, and there is one great (and fairly short) novel set there (with excusions to Dagestan and Iran) before, during and after the first world war, chronicling the love of an Azeri boy for a Georgian girl, and how it all concludes in British betrayal. (Be honest, did you know that the British had betrayed the first democratic and secular republic in the Muslim world back in 1919? You do now.) First published in German in 1937, by an author whose identity seems peculiarly elusive (though I am convinced by the argument that he was a Jewish convert to Islam, who wrote mainly in Berlin but died in Italy), it is:

the great love story of the South CaucasusCollapse )

Only two other books really place here, and neither is wholly satisfactory on the geographical criterion. One is the biography of that Jewish convert to Islam, whose mother took tea with the young Stalin and whose grave became the punchline of a comic story by John Steinbeck, who probably wrote the previous book - obviously a major piece of detective work in itself, but at the same time largely set outside Azerbaijan as it chronicles the geographical (and other) wanderings of its subject and author. It's also a jolly good read, and I recommend it. It is:

an unorthodox biographyCollapse )

The other book that places well, with far more owners than the first two on both LT and GR, but with the crucial disadvantage that it is mostly set in tenth century "Khazaria", which I believe does not overlap very much with Azerbaijan, though it's fairly clear that the opening chapters are indeed set in what is generally recognised as Azerbaijani territory today. First published in 2007, it is:

Read more...Collapse )

Links I found interesting for 21-02-2015



A clear front-runner here, and a clear ranking of the others; though NB that last year's winner was fourth of eight nominees on both GR and LT. Note also that The Goblin Emperor gets the highest average rating from those who have read it.
ownersav ratingownersav rating
Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer17,8953.657453.79
Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie4,4744.093264.16
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison2,7834.132524.27
The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu1,5854.121473.90
Coming Home, by Jack McDevitt4023.77443.28
Trial by Fire, by Charles E. Gannon1234.00163.50

What is the best-known book set in Sweden?

See note on methodology

This won't take long. Think of a trilogy, published in 2005, 2006 and 2007, after the author's death, which became a worldwide best-seller, combining kinky sex, computer hacking, and political intrigue at the highest level. Not since Harry Potter in the very first of these entries have I had a series which so completely dominated the books set in a particular country; and in contrast to Harry Potter, these three are very much set in the gritty reality of contemporary Sweden (with a certain allowance for dramatic licence). They are, of course:

well, what did you think it would be?Collapse )

To turn to something much more wholesome, the fourth-placed book is also the first of a trilogy (I had thought there were more, but no, there were only three) for children, first published in 1945, about an eccentric and very rich nine-year-old who lives alone with her monkey and horse and is befriended by two local children. She is, of course:

with long red hair in pigtailsCollapse )

Nothing else really comes close.

Links I found interesting for 19-02-2015


Links I found interesting for 18-02-2015


Latest Month

March 2015



RSS Atom
Powered by
Designed by yoksel