Tar Baby – Toni Morrison… or how women become what men see in them.

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Didi at Brown Girl Reading is hosting #readsoullit this month, a month long reading challenge to accompany Black History Month in the US. For this purpose, she set a photo challenge, a whole month of booktube videos by various booktubers and she also set up the read along for Tar Baby by Toni Morrison.

I have read a lot by Toni Morrison over the years, all the books are very different in tone and story, but they share a couple of characteristics too: Difficult to read due to style and content, strong characters that drive the book making the plot often secondary. Yet, to me the books have always a compelling quality.

As a white European woman, I am fully aware that I don’t get all the socio-cultural references within Morrison’s work. Or in other words: I don’t know what it means to be black in America, I don’t even know what it means to be white in America. So, quite often if I don’t understand parts of the book, I will either have to do some research or I will have to let it go. Despite this, however, I often get a lot out of her books, they make me think, they make me look within myself and wonder what aspects of the characters can be found within me.

Tar Baby is the story of a series of couples, there is Valerian and his wife Margaret, who loath each other, living mostly on this Caribbean island being served hand on foot by Sydney and his wife Ondine. Therese and Gideon look after the tasks that are too menial for the house servants,  and then there is Jardine, niece to the houseservants, but elevated within the household as a protege and Son, the stranger appearing in their midst.

There are many themes in the book, but the one that struck most of a chord with me, was the one on how the way the men perceive the women is how the women end up seeing themselves. It takes Jardine almost the entire book to consider that she is not that person that she is told by the men in her life that is she is. The men are quite vile to the women at times out in the open at times more subtle in how the woman has to shift and maneuver to accommodate the man. It often made me feel uncomfortable, particularly, when one woman who is assaulted by a man, later finds herself in a relationship with that same man.

An interesting read and I am sure it will echo with me for a long time. You cannot say about such book that you loved it, I did not love this book, but it made me think, I adore her characters, so imperfect, so flawed, so unlikeable, but so, so real.

“I wonder if the person he wants to marry is me or a black girl? And if it isn’t me he wants, but any black girl who looks like me, talks and acts like me, what will happen when he finds out that I hate ear hoops, that I don’t have to straighten my hair, that Mingus puts me to sleep, that sometimes I want to get out of my skin and be only the person inside– not American– not black– just me?”

By the way, according to the dictionary, a tar baby is “a difficult problem that is only aggravated by attempts to solve it.” – I had never heard of it.


Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 8th 2004 by Vintage (first published 1981)

Flavia De Luce #9: The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place

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I remember reading my first Flavia De Luce mystery 4 years ago and being instantly hooked. Everything from the disheveled manor house, the horrid sisters, the housekeeper/cook that cannot really cook nor keep house, the general factotum Dogger… to last but not least Flavia herself, 11 year old chemist, lonely and very precocious.

Now, imagine my surprise when I recommended this series to a friend and she did not like it because of Flavia. I nearly took offense, because at times, we do take insults to favourite fictional characters rather personal. Yet, thinking about it, I can see that Flavia may split the lovers and haters quite distinctly.

I adore her. I laugh out loud reading it, I am often feeling very sad for her. I know there is a huge part of me that can identify my own 11 year old with Flavia.

The series also captures a certain post-war mood in 1950ies Britain, the manors of the former rich now broke were falling apart, rationing was still going, it just did not really feel like a war had being won.

I was delighted when I got send a digital ARC for book 9 in the series. Ecstatic. Delirious. And I immediately sat down and read it. The De Luce girls are on a little holiday, punting along a river, when Flavia accidentally (is there any other way) dead body floating in the river. More cannot be said about the plot as this is an ongoing series.

Naturally, I highly recommend this. But start at the beginning. If you hate precocious children, this may not be for you. Otherwise, find a comfy chair, make yourself a cuppa and fetch a plate of biscuits and enjoy.

I certainly did.


Hardcover, 368 pages
Published February 8th 2018 by Orion (first published January 30th 2018)
Thanks to Netgalley and Orion for the advance copy. 

Friday Things

On my old blog, I used to do a thing called Friday Things. A list of stuff that I am grateful for, stuff I liked during the week, things that made me laugh, things that made me stop and think, things that make me cry a little. So I start again.

Some things I am grateful for this week:

  • Naturally, my family (you can take this as a given, that I am always grateful for them)
  • Shops that have staff that actually know what they do, when you encounter it, you are so amazed and so happy. Thank you loveliest of salespeople at Skatehut.
  • Years of piano means that my kid is now playing tunes I adore listening to while she practices. Same goes for the violin.
  • My essential oil diffuser. I love coming back in the room and the scent is so wonderful.
  • The internet. I know it gets a bad rep at times and yes, you have to monitor how much you use it on a daily basis. BUT… it’s also pretty awesome.

This video made me cry. I believe my husband is currently packing his bags and following his destiny to become a dog hugger (he would be so good at it, too):

Also: Go Iceland: Iceland elects 41-year-old environmentalist as prime minister

I found this TEDMED talk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris super interesting, how childhood adversity impacts adult health.

When countries around Europe introduced women’s suffrage.

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Happy weekend everyone.

Last summer in Dumfries and Galloway

I love Scotland. Anyone who knows me or just spent a few minutes with me, will be informed about this passion of mine by me gushing at them. Probably, right after “hello.”

And before you ask: No, this love of Scotland is not Outlander related. I was always a lover of all things British, even as a small kid, I loved books set in the UK by British authors (especially featuring castles) and so it was small wonder that I ended up living in the UK. My first trip to Scotland was in 2003 with my (now) husband and it was love at first sight. Thankfully, my husband and my daughter equally love Scotland, so at least once a year (often twice) we head up north and explore.

Our mission is to visit all parts of Scotland and last summer, we went to Dumfries and Galloway. On various trips up north, we would always say: “Oh look this part seems nice.” as we speed along the motorway. Last year, we decided to stop for once and use Dumfries as our destination.

I looked for cottages along the stretch of coast between Kirkudbright and Newton Stewart and settled on one at Kirkdale Estate. We stayed at Kirkdale Bank, which is a lovely cottage sleeping 6 (although I have to admit, that 6 would push it a bit, so two families sharing may not be ideal, but one family with 4 children that would work) and it was plenty big enough for the three of us.

I admit that my heart sank initially when we arrived as a busy A-road was thundering past above the cottage. One thing I go on holiday for is to escape the constant road and traffic noise I have whilst living in the city. Admittedly, it was fine inside the cottage (thick walls) and down by the sea you could hear nothing.

A short walk down a private path leads you to this. For the entire week, there was always only us there. We had several BBQ dinners on the beach, went rockpooling and just hang out down there. That was the most fantastic aspect of this holiday and without a shadow of a doubt what makes this holiday cottage.

Dumfries and Galloway is beautiful and it is really Scotland in minituare. The Galloway Forest park provides hills and mountains and lochs and forest and wildlife and all of that was a mere 10 minutes away from the cottage. We went mountain biking, went for hikes and explored, it was lovely.

Another highlight was seeing the Red Kites at the Red Kites Farm. No, the Red Kites are not being farmed, but a farmer near Kirkudbright has been putting food out for them for years and years, so every afternoon they gather and come down to pick up their food. We walked into the hills behind the farm and saw them soar and it was the most wonderful sight to behold.

We also expored Wigtown, as a booklover it was a must, but sadly it was soooo rainy, I did not take any pictures, but I did buy books and ate lovely cake.

On a sunny day (they happen in Scotland), we went to Culzean Castle, free for us with our National Trust membership (total bonus of holidaying in the UK) and we had an excellent tour of the castle and a meander through the grounds. Best playground ever, despite the fact that the zipline was out of action that day.

A short walk up a hill from our cottage, is a neolithic burial site called Cairn Holy, the husband was desperate to time travel back and become a chieftain or something, but alas, the stones did not transport him through time.

Dumfries is definitely a place to visit again for us, we are thinking about a long weekend later in the year as it is only 4 hours from Birmingham. The closest Scottish destination for this Scotland lover.

Revisiting a school book

Over the past few days, some fellow Booktubers and I read Heinrich Boell’s The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (Die Verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum).

The book, set in the early parts of 1970ies, deals with Katharina, a woman in her twenties, who lives a quiet life filled with work as a housekeeper and occasional work helping out at functions.

 

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During Karneval, she attends a party and meets a man, that she takes home and the next morning after he left, the police takes her to be interrogated because said man is suspected to be a bank robber and an alleged terrorist. Katharina and her friends and family are now hounded by the ZEITUNG (clearly meant to be the BILD, Germany’s notorious slanderous rag of a paper) and quickly every aspect of Katharina’s life is examined and deemed to be unworthy. The ZEITUNG tries and sentences her, before the police even determines if there is enough to charge her with anything.

“… she said she would not sign any deposition containing the word “amorous” instead of “advances”. For her the difference was of crucial significance, and one of the reasons she had separated from her husband was that he had never been amorous but had consistently made advances.”

It was interesting reading this again, even more so, because I read my old school copy including all the notes from the time. Passages underlined and “Idiot” written next to it. Comments from the teacher added on the sides. Doodles. It is funny how these little things can take you back to that time when you read the book for the first time.

It was also fascinating to go back to that time of that ultra conservative Germany during the 1970ies/80ies. How it felt, the constant threat of terrorism. I could almost smell that Germany back then. And the longer I think, the more I think about how brilliant Boell was to set this story during Karneval.

It was great re-reading this, and I shall pick up more of my German books this year.

“The characters and action in this story are purely fictitious. Should the description of certain journalistic practices result in a resemblance to the practices of Bild-Zeitung, such resemblance is neither intentional, nor fortuitous, but unavoidable.”


Published April 1976 by Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag
Paperback, 152 pages
English Edition: 
Published September 29th 2009 by Penguin Classics
Paperback, 103 pages

Dreaming of adventures

It’s been a bleurgh January, despite us visiting Alpacas at Lucky Tails Farm near Kingsbury (which is just lovely and yes the picture shows a llama and not an alpaca, but who cares if both are awesome) and despite dip-dyeing paper and despite baking and making hygge with cosy fires and tons of reading. January does not like me.

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It’s February now and the holiday to Scotland is imminent. I am excited, especially since we decided to take the train from the Midlands to Inverness. That is definitely one of the bucket list.

But it’s still 7 weeks or so before we head off, so some interim adventures are needed. I love these little Pocket Mountain Walking Books so much, we had one for Perthshire, last year we had one for the Cairngorms and for Dumfries and we have bought the one for the Wester Ross.

And I may, have bought one for the Cotswolds and the Wye Valley, because these areas are accessible on day trips from where we live.

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Today over lunch, I flipped through the pages and made a plan of which walk we want to do first and finally settled on Belas Knapp and Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds. Any walk that takes in both a neolithic burial site and a castle is pretty much a winner. I love that it gives you a rough map and a really good walk description (but I also always use my OS map app to plot the route, too).

There is also a lovely shorter walk (6.5 km) that starts in Broadway but quickly leaves it behind exploring smaller neighbouring villages as Broadway can become very, very busy indeed.

 

 

And so it goes

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I have seen this over at Etsy (click here for details) and I always think that’s how I want to feel in 2018 

Years ago, I had a blog that I loved so much and then I suddenly did not love it that much anymore for a whole host of reasons. Over the years since, I have started and abandoned many blogs because nothing felt quite right. Either I set myself too tight a remit to blog about (e.g. only about photography, only about food etc.) or too wide a remit (anything which normally meant nothing).

For the past year, I have been making booktube videos, you are excused if you don’t know what that means. I had no idea this existed before I stumbled upon it in summer 2016. Essentially, it is a corner on youtube (not a literal corner, more an imaginary one) where people like myself talk about books. And after watching others talk about books for a few months, I decided that I wanted to be part of this and so – very awkwardly – I started to make videos.

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In my normal life, I don’t really talk much about me making videos, mostly because I think most people I know would not or don’t get it. Some do get it though, e.g. my husband. And I credit the booktube community for making 2017, a really special year. I has been the longest time for me to have such wonderful conversations about books (in the comments you see). Love it.

I shall continue the booktube venture, but I wanted to occassional write about what I am reading, track my online bookclub adventure (Read Around the World Bookclub) and also my travels near and far, my walks, my vegan lifestyle etc.

You are welcome to come along.

Disclaimer: I am fond of quotes on pretty pictures. So don’t complain later. You were warned.

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