This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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106 books of pretension

ramsesbookLovely ones, do you remember the meme doing rounds on blogs in 2008, called “The 106 Books of Pretension”? It was a list of the top 106 (why one-hundred-and-six?) books marked “undread” by Librarything users. The “pretension” referred to books considered classics, or modern classics, that were actually unread by many avid readers and literary aficionados.

Out of the 106 books I had perhaps read around 35. I saved the list, and started reading the remaining 70+ books. I told myself, this is a list of books a civilized person should have read during a lifetime. There were books I had managed to skip during high school English classes. Books that had recently been made into movies. Books that many talked about the moment they were published – and the talk never ceased.

I discovered the curious stories of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell; and of Cavalier and Clay. I found I loved Dostoyevsky and Neil Gaiman, and that the great Grapes of Wrath bored the wits out of me. But most importantly, I exposed myself to once-revolutionary thoughts; great stories; and incredible minds. Book after book I explored thought-worlds that changed the world we perceive as real. Censored books like Madame Bovary. Slandered books like Lolita. Shocking books like In Cold Blood. Classics like Homer’s Odyssey. And I realized that often we repel insurgent views because we hate to be told by a visionary storyteller. Books much hated have become books much respected. It was not the book that changed, but the collective mind and the world around it.

Only four books I could not finish: the Iliad (an account of who fought whom and how they died); Gravity’s Rainbow (I thought I would love this one! Did not get past 150 pages); The Silmarillion (come on, can you really blame me?); and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (what is wrong with me??).

Finishing off this list of 106 books was part of my Day Zero Project. I can now tick this goal off the list, after 10 years of reading (not with perfect adherence to this goal). The list of the top 106 books tagged “unread” at Librarything has changed surprisingly little: 95 are still on the list today. What a great shame as most of these books really are gems worth the effort.

For your reading pleasure, here is the original list from 2008. Have fun exploring 106 new worlds.

  1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
  2. Anna Karenina
  3. Crime and Punishment
  4. Catch-22
  5. One Hundred Years of Solitude
  6. Wuthering Heights
  7. The Silmarillion
  8. Life of Pi
  9. The Name of the Rose
  10. Don Quixote
  11. Moby Dick
  12. Ulysses
  13. Madame Bovary
  14. The Odyssey
  15. Pride and Prejudice
  16. Jane Eyre
  17. The Tale of Two Cities
  18. The Brothers Karamazov
  19. Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
  20. War and Peace
  21. Vanity Fair
  22. The Time Traveler’s Wife
  23. The Iliad
  24. Emma
  25. The Blind Assassin
  26. The Kite Runner
  27. Mrs. Dalloway
  28. Great Expectations
  29. American Gods
  30. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  31. Atlas Shrugged
  32. Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
  33. Memoirs of a Geisha
  34. Middlesex
  35. Quicksilver
  36. Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
  37. The Canterbury tales
  38. The Historian : a novel
  39. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  40. Love in the Time of Cholera
  41. Brave New world
  42. The Fountainhead
  43. Foucault’s Pendulum
  44. Middlemarch
  45. Frankenstein
  46. The Count of Monte Cristo
  47. Dracula
  48. A Clockwork Orange
  49. Anansi Boys
  50. The Once and Future King
  51. The Grapes of Wrath
  52. The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
  53. 1984
  54. Angels & Demons
  55. The Inferno
  56. The Satanic Verses
  57. Sense and Sensibility
  58. The Picture of Dorian Gray
  59. Mansfield Park
  60. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  61. To the Lighthouse
  62. Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  63. Oliver Twist
  64. Gulliver’s Travels
  65. Les Misérables
  66. The Corrections
  67. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  68. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  69. Dune
  70. The Prince
  71. The Sound and the Fury
  72. Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
  73. The God of Small Things
  74. A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
  75. Cryptonomicon
  76. Neverwhere
  77. A Confederacy of Dunces
  78. A Short History of Nearly Everything
  79. Dubliners
  80. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  81. Beloved
  82. Slaughterhouse-five
  83. The Scarlet Letter
  84. Eats, Shoots & Leaves
  85. The Mists of Avalon
  86. Oryx and Crake : a novel
  87. Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
  88. Cloud Atlas
  89. The Confusion
  90. Lolita
  91. Persuasion
  92. Northanger Abbey
  93. The Catcher in the Rye
  94. On the Road
  95. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  96. Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
  97. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
  98. The Aeneid
  99. Watership Down
  100. Gravity’s Rainbow
  101. The Hobbit
  102. In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
  103. Treasure Island
  104. White teeth
  105. David Copperfield
  106. The Three Musketeers

(Brande, Denmark; September 2018)


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Stillness, ilam tea, and tales of Patagonia

180southPerhaps once in our lives (or twice, if we are lucky), a simple idea becomes a quest. Not because the idea is somehow once-in-a-lifetime, but because we let it carry us to unknown territory. We listen to it. We jump aboard. And if we use our intuition as much as our brain, we might end up with an impact greater than we imagined. For example, for Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins, deciding to lay a new climbing route in Patagonia in the 60s turned out to become a lifelong mission to protect precious dwindling wilderness. Between the climbing and the planet-saving, there was a climbing gear company renamed Patagonia, another two garment and outdoor companies founded and sold (North Face and Esprit), and suddenly enough capital to buy land, piece by piece, in Southern Chile and Argentina.

I have mentioned the story before. This time I followed 180 degrees down South with a professional surfer who decided to repeat the trip from the 60s, to find his own mission, and to uncover the roots of the story of the two friends who ended up becoming my inspiration for responsible business and protecting the planet.

(Helsinki, Finland; April 2016)


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Stillness, hot ginger lemon, and Lord Nevermore

lordnevermoreThe Nepalese know it: when it is cold outside (and inside for that matter!), hot ginger lemon with honey warms better than booze. And what could be better company than a tale of faraway places, written as if it were whispered in one’s ear? A true tale about an artist and an anthropologist; two poles of the same soul, and a relationship where a planet was too small to forget about the friend, and too large to be apart.

More hot ginger lemon, please. I think I will dwell in this moment for quite a while.

(Helsinki, Finland; January 2016)


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Stillness, Ilam tea, and the story of a businessman who’d rather be surfing

timetogosurfingHe surfed in California and climbed in Yosemite, making the pitons and other metal tools as he went. He even confesses to having eaten cat food for a while, just to survive. His blacksmith work expanded into functional wear and finally became the Patagonia outerwear brand. He never loved the thought of becoming a businessman, but he found a way to combine his love for the outdoors and climbing with his core values and making a living.

He lets his people surf in office hours, uses company profit to buy land that is turned into national parks, and believes in environmental activism. And he still surfs, hikes, and climbs, when he is not busy challenging people to save the world or pay up to let others do the job. His business has been his greatest adventure.

“The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong – that’s when adventure starts” says Yvon Chouinard in the documentary 180 South (another inspiring piece).

(Helsinki, Finland; July 2015)

 


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Stillness, milk oolong tea, and Things that make one’s heart beat faster

asioitaOne stormy March day I am dreaming of cherries in bloom across the globe in Kyoto. I am forgetting place and time while I learn about the mysterious lady-in-waiting Sei Shonagon, the author behind The Pillow Book. I am forgetting my country while I experience Japan through the writing of a Finnish woman who left her job to discover a soul sister who lived 1000 years ago and who loved making lists of things that made her heart beat faster.

And I am trying to imagine that world 1000 years ago, where one’s respect was measured by one’s skill to write poetic verse. Where one’s beauty was measured by how many layers of kimono one carried on top of each other. And where women were never seen in public, and seldom even within their own house. Except for Sei Shonagon, who did not care much about what was thought of her.

(Helsinki, Finland; March 2015)