This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Lazy days in Bordighera

bordighera-2Plastered, ochre and sand-colored houses with moss green window shutters. Stone slab pavement. A few potted plants. Sparrows chirping in the alleys. A group of locals having pasta with wine for lunch underneath a parasol. Bordighera must have been the same already centuries ago. bordighera-1A century ago one could reach Bordighera from Paris in “just” 24 hours, and London was not much further away. Claude Monet found much to paint in the stillness of hot, languid Bordighera summer days. George MacDonald came over to warm his Scottish bones and to write of fantastical, sometimes dark places while sitting in the shade from the scorching sun.

Bordighera is also one of the two locations André Aciman thought of when writing Call Me By Your Name. Because there are only a few places where days pass in such a lazy pace that there is time to discuss the origins and meaning of the word “apricot”.bordighera-3(Bordighera, Italy; July 2018)


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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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About books and worship

vienna-22There are people who travel just to see famous libraries. I should like to be one of those people. There ought to be a Michelin guide for libraries: where one star is an honor, two stars recommend a detour to have the experience, and three stars a special journey out just to see the place. The Austrian National Library truly is one worthy of traveling to just to see the place. vienna-21The Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI surely thought of a library worth three stars, as he constructed a State Hall in the shape of a cathedral and placed himself, surrounded by the sun-pattern on the floor, in the middle to be worshiped. One should better worship the books and knowledge and poetry, but with the Baroque splendor all around, one might just forget about the content and stand in awe before the building itself.
vienna-20Even books used to be so much more beautiful back then: golden inscriptions and delicate sizes, favoring multiple volumes over the brick-size murder weapons that some pocket books are today.vienna-18Should one’s eyes wander all the way up to the ceiling, they will most likely remain stuck there for quite some time. And no, the images are not about Christian Bible legends or Paradise, but about the great Habsburg dynasty, as if it were god-like.

Walking toward the radiantly depicted Holy Roman Emperor statue, below the fresco of Habsburg heavens, in a building designed like a cathedral, I was not quite sure if the said Emperor really had constructed the library as a haven for knowledge, or as a deification of himself. Perhaps not the humblest of perspectives, but then again, who expects an Emperor to be humble?
vienna-25(Vienna, Austria; February 2017)


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The end of me

booksEnglish bookstores will be the end of me. I think it runs in the family. Once my sister and I spent a week in London and lugged home 10 kilos of books. Another time she spent 3 hours in Heffers in Cambridge. I was not bored, either.

This time we spent a week in Oxford and London and I managed to come home with only 5 books (yes, one missing from the photo). But where else can one find an entire book about nightly walks of artists and literary figures in historical, sometimes dangerous nocturnal London? Or a book on quantum mechanics in biology? Or books and books about trees, the ocean, and naturalism?

Help. I may need help. If not for any other purpose, then to expand the entire wall of books I have at home. Just as soon as I’ve finished this book I am reading.

(Helsinki, Finland; January 2017)


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What makes a city a writers’ city?

Paris-2As I browsed through the stock-full shelves of the Shakespeare and Company book shop, I pondered what it is that makes a city a writers’ and artists’ city. Why is it that in the 1920s Paris was the place to be, and perhaps today one should be in Berlin? Why did so many artists congregate on the French Riviera in the end of the 19th century (was it just the peculiar light?)?

So I did what everybody does today when they have a question: I typed in Google, “What makes a city a writers’ city?” The top 5 search hits were about New York City: half of them listing why New York City is a writers’ city, and the other half telling writers to leave for better cities than New York City. Odd, however, that all the cities mentioned as great writers’ cities were located in the United States. Paris-3Google made me none the wiser, except for one important factor: money and cafés. A writer thrives in a location which is esthetically pleasing and has good cafés where one can observe life – but that even a poor creative soul can afford. Places like Brooklyn and San Francisco, and St Germain-des-Pres in Paris, used to be hot hangarounds for creative people – until so many came that the area became “too hipster” (now define it if you please) and the poorest but also coolest full-time aspiring artists had to move out to find yet another inspiring haunt.Paris-1Perhaps it does not matter where one writes, as long as one is surrounded by things that inspire. Or perhaps it does help to be allowed to crash at for example Shakespeare and Company, to punch away on the age-old typewriter in the corner, or to bounce around ideas and angst with fellow aspiring writers in-between shop duty.

In any case, a picnic at Luxembourg gardens may help. Many have tried and succeeded.Paris-4
(Shakespeare and Company bookshop; the ceiling at La Coupole restaurant; Oscar Wilde’s tombstone; and Luxembourg gardens. Paris, France; July 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)