Saturday, December 31, 2011

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

It'll be 2012 in a couple hours and I have completed my 50 book a year reading goal for this year. Just barely though and near the end I've had to read a number of young adult books just to get the numbers up. I haven't been writing reviews this last month either but I may go back and do little write-ups for each next week or so.
Here is the 2011 list:
Fiction:
  1. The Metamorphosis- Franz Kafka
  2. The Stranger- Albert Camus
  3. Fool- Christopher Moore
  4. The Art of Racing in the Rain- Garth Stein
  5. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao- Junot Diaz
  6. Never Let Me Go- Kazuo Ishiguro
  7. Let the Right One In- John Ajvide Lindqvist
  8. Wolf Hall- Hilary Mantel
  9. Blindness- Jose Saramago
  10. The Road to Jerusalem-Jan Guillou
  11. The Templar Knight- Jan Guillou
  12.  Steppenwolf- Herman Hesse
  13. Empire of the Sun- J.G. Ballard
  14. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War- Max Brooks
  15. The Book Thief- Markus Zusak
  16. Life, the Universe, and Everything- Douglas Adams
  17. The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove- Christopher Moore 
Non-Fiction:
  18. Night- Elie Wiesel
  19. Last Words- George Carlin
  20. Unbearable Lightness- Portia De Rossi 
  21. Assholes Finish First- Tucker Max
  22. Beyond Belfast- Will Ferguson
  23. The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee- Sarah Silverman
  24. Maus I- Art Spiegelman 

Fantasy:
   25. The Blade Itself- Joe Abercrombie
   26. A Dance With Dragons- George R. R. Martin
   27. The Once and Future King- T.H.White
   28. The Magicians- Lev Grossman
   29. Acacia: The War with the Mein- David Anthony Durham
   30. John Dies at the End- David Wong
   31. The Protector's War- S.M.Sterling
   32. The Way of Shadows- Brent Weeks
   33. The Desert Spear- Peter V Brett
   34. The Wise Man's Fear- Patrick Rothfuss
   35. Assassin's Quest- Robin Hobb


Young Adult:
   36. Uglies- Scott Westerfeld
   37. Pretties- Scott Westerfeld
   38. Specials- Scott Westerfeld
   39. Extras- Scott Westerfeld
   40. Coraline- Neil Gaiman
   41. The Graveyard Book- Neil Gaiman
   42. The Giver- Lois Lowry
   43. The Bad Beginning- Lemony Snicket
   44. The Reptile Room- Lemony Snicket 

For School:
   45. King Harald's Saga- Snorri Sturluson
   46. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail- Michael Baigent
   47. Norwegian Runes and Runic Inscriptions- Terje Spurkland
   48. A New Introduction to Old Norse: Grammar- Michael Barnes
Other:
   49. Eating the Dinosaur- Chuck Klosterman
   50. When You Are Engulfed In Flames- David Sedaris

Reading goals for 2012:
-again read at least 50 books. Read more history, read more modern fiction, read more "classic" novels.

Unrelated note: just wanted to say thanks to the commenter that said they found my blog inspiring. Glad you could find something to take from my blog, I do try and fulfill my own dreams as much as I can. Good luck in the new year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Night by Elie Wiesel

This isn't really a review because I don't think books like these can be judged on basis of writing skill or story-telling, not that this book suffers in those respects at all. What matters here is the story, the terrible horrible history of one of the darkest times in human history. A history that must never be forgotten. Elie Wiesel was a Holocaust survivor and he fills the terrible role of a witness. This book is very short at only 170 pages or so yet it's very heavy and having just finished it there feels like there's a weight in my heart. The writing was very simple, straight-forward, and unsentimental which I felt highlighted the inhumanity of what was being experienced. I don't have much else to say other than- Read it!
A few quotes:
"But we were pulling into a station. Someone near a window read to us: 'Auschwitz.' Nobody had ever heard that name."

" I have more faith in Hitler than in anyone else. He alone has kept his promises, all his promises, to the Jewish people."

"Listen to me, kid. Don't forget that you are in a concentration camp. In this place, it is every man for himself, and you cannot think of others. Not even your father. In this place, there is no such thing as father, brother, friend. Each of us lives and dies alone."
"Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices. And then I explain to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human being endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must- at that moment- become the center of the universe." Elie Wiesel in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1986.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Review: The Magicians- Lev Grossman

So Lev Grossman's The Magicians has been lauded as an adult Harry Potter and the newest in the series is on bestseller lists and all that but I honestly don't know why. The story is about Quentin who is a depressed but very smart moron who finds out his dreams of a magic are real but that doesn't make him happy and makes him more of a jerk, and then not only is magic real but the alternate world described in his favourite childhood story books is also real and lo he's still a sad jackass. I think this is supposed to convey some message that if you don't love yourself it doesn't matter what events occur, you still won't be happy. But it largely failed. The book had pacing issues as 5 years of school take up the first half of this book. The problem with this pace is that there is zero character development- ZERO, and that is for all the characters. I think Grossman needs the essential writer's lesson in "Show, don't tell" because he just told us everything and that made all descriptions seem one-dimensional.
2/5 I will not be reading the sequels.

Book Review: Eating the Dinosaur- Chuck Klosterman

I just finished reading Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman. As I said on my review of Sedaris' When you are Engulfed in Flames I really don't read books of essays very much. I think this is mostly because the many of them won't interest or apply to me in any way and that was the main reason I didn't really enjoy this book. No fault of the author because he can't please everyone. I skipped the essay on football and wish I had skipped the one on basketball, I just don't care about sports. The essays I enjoyed most were '"Ha ha." he said. "Ha Ha."' which was about sitcom laugh tracks and 'Fail' which was about our relationship with technology and the Unabomber. It's difficult to say that a specific essay was about a specific topic because while that is what it is about on a very basic level Kosterman brings the topics much deeper and manages to make some comments on society, humanity, or something else equally deep in each of his essays.

Just because this type of essays aren't my thing I'm giving it a 3/5. I'll have to read his book about metal sometime though.
-AshtheViking

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Gamle Aker Kirke

Last Wednesday I got up early to visit a medieval church in the fog with a class. This is Gamle Aker Kirke or Old Aker Church
This is the oldest standing building in the city of Oslo but in the Middle Ages this church was actually quite a bit far out in the countryside. It was really interesting to look at a map of medieval Oslo and see how drastically many parts of the landscape have changed. A lot of where there was ship access is completely developed land. While this was just a parish church it was almost as big as St Hallvard's Cathedral which means that the person who commissioned the building was quite rich. There's some argument about the dating of the church which depends on whether it was built before or after the cathedral in Hamar but my professor thinks the dating is approximately 1130-1140.
It was a eerie to be in the church with no lights on. The windows that are currently in place are about 60% bigger than the original windows so this gives some idea of what the church would have looked like on a regular foggy morning. The interior would have looked slightly brighter because the walls would have been whitewashed and painted with decorations.
I really enjoyed hearing my instructor's perspective because he works for the city protecting heritage sites and has a lot of opinions regarding the restoration of medieval sites. It made me think a lot about how our opinions on what a medieval church looks like effects how we restore these types of buildings. In a way we "medievalize" the medieval and are more concerned with matching our mental images than with historical accuracy. I typically think of the bare stone as a very medieval thing when it's the exact opposite. You can tell the cement-rock restored corners of the walls because they match the 'Ashler' style of rock shaping and setting that is seen on the exterior of the church while the original interior walls have much rougher shape. This is because those rocks would typically never been seen for the whitewash covering them and so did not need to be as precise. But because we like the almost primitive look of the bare stone we keep it instead of choosing authenticity.
This picture is of the side chapel to Mary that also functioned as the sacristy. It's the only room in the church with the barrel vaulting typically found in Romanesque churches while the rest of the building has flat roofs and this had a dual purpose. First it was symbolically exalting for the Mother Mary and second because it was a much more sturdy construction that protected this room and the valuables it contained from the numerous fires that damaged the rest of the building and from any would-be burglars.
Super weird little baptismal font. I think from the 17th century.


the only existing piece of figurative sculpture on the whole church. It's a snake biting its own tale signifying eternity/infinity.

-Ash the Viking.
Also, this blog has gotten over 1400 views. :D Awesome!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Book Review- The Stranger by Albert Camus


The Stranger by Albert Camus was a bizarrely interesting read much like The Plague which I read a couple years ago. This book is shorter and more direct and more popular of the two. It was terribly frustrating at times to read because of the main character's total inertia and apathy towards everything. I just felt like grabbing and shaking him, something someone actually does in the book. In the book Meursault is frequently described as cold and inhuman because of his lack of emotion which makes me question the constructs of emotion and how much of expressed emotion is what people are really feeling versus expressing what people expect them to express.
Meursault doesn't consider any of life's trivialities to have any importance and refuses to give them any of his time yet he so greatly enjoys the simple pleasure of living. He lives and is content with it; he knows he's going to die and it still content.
I really enjoyed the end of the book where all the meaty existentialism can be found despite not at all being a fan of philosophy. 4/5
" "But, " I reminded myself, "it's common knowledge that life isn't worth living, anyhow." And, on a wide view, I could see that it makes little difference whether one dies at the age of thirty or threescore and ten- since, in either case, other men and women will continue living, the world will go on as before. Also, whether I died now or forty years hence, this business of dying had to be got through, inevitably."
" "No! No! I refuse to believe it. I'm sure you've often wished there was an afterlife." Of course I had, I told him. Everybody has that wish at times. But that had no more importance than wishing to be rich, or to swim very fast, or to have a better-shaped mouth. It was in the same order of things."
I strongly agree with that last quote in fact.

Book Review: John Dies at the End by David Wong

John Dies at the End came highly recommended to me as an intensely hilarious book. So when I was scrolling my Kindle to pick a light read I didn't hesitate to click on this book. I wish I had. I almost shelved this book after the first couple chapters and now that I'm finished I wish I had because I felt like I wasted my time. It's a similar feeling I got after watching movies like The Hangover or Napoleon Dynamite, or Borat where everyone says they're so fucking funny but after watching them I want the past hours of my life back. And books take longer than movies to finish so it wasted even more of my time.This book has numerous chuckle-worthy lines but they're buried under piles of badly written random shit. It's as if David Wong wanted to think up the most absurd random crap and throw it all together, openly admit how retarded and unbelievable it all was, swear a lot, and hope people thought it was funny. I have no problem with absurdity, swearing, or toilet humour- Wong just did it badly. It's like he's trying and desperately failing to to be even half as funny or clever as Christopher Moore. Moore is a writer who is able to make the retardedly absurd clever and witty. 1/5
It's a shame since cracked.com is so fricken awesome.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Finally!

I am finally the proud owner of a pillow. Two pillows actually. It's a very gleeful moment. I've been using a crappy neck pillow for the past three months. They're fine for short travel trips but they really are not a long term comfort solution.
Now I'm going to be super comfy in bed with my two pillows. It was basically the same price to buy two pillows as one. Don't have a pillow case for the second one but it's just an extra for guests or something. Not that I'd ever have guests in my room or anything *ahem*.

I also finally bought a school bag. I've been using one of those synthetic grocery bags that you're able to roll up really tiny and it's been annoying. My keys recently started poking a hole in the corner so I knew it needed to be replaced and soon. I actually saw this bag through the store window last night after a concert when I was waiting for a bus so I went and got it today.
I must admit that the main reason it got my attention was because the red stitching and Samsonite label looked like an inverted cross. It also turned out to be the best suiting and least expensive option in the shop so I wasn't completely irrational.
As to how much these couple purchases cost I don't want to say because it hurts to think about. I only have a couple hundred dollars left before I start using my loan money because everything I saved over the summer is spent. The first couple months in a new place are always the most expensive because you have to set yourself up with new things it wasn't economical to bring with you. I'm proud of my ability to do without a number of comfort items for so long and if I were traveling around I think I could do it without a lot of possessions but I figure since I'm going to be living here for a few years I might as well be comfortable and make a new home. Apart from rent, groceries, and social activities I don't really see any big expenses until the spring. I'm guessing being in a different country will get me out of buying xmas gifts apart from continuing magazine subscriptions for the kids. In the spring I'm going to be traveling a bit, hopefully to Prague for a conference, and back to Canada for a conference/ home visit  and hopefully those two will be at least partially funded by the school. Then I will be attending the Inferno metal festival in Oslo and I will have to buy my festival pass soon.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Book Review: World War Z by Max Brooks and Why Zombies Bore Me.


Probably unfair to have the two in the same title as World War Z was quite an entertaining read. It’s about the outbreak and spread of a zombie virus throughout the world from the perspective of the survivors. Because it is from the survivors’ POV there isn’t much anxiety or anticipation because you know those people got out safe and you know that eventually mankind wins right from the beginning. The thing I liked most about the book was the fact that it was an international tale of survival and not wholly focused on America like many of this kind of book is. It was interesting to see how individual countries dealt with the virus in different ways and how information and fear spreads. There was a lot of social and politic commentary embedded in this international portrayal that I enjoyed but don’t have enough knowledge nor desire to elaborate on those points at the moment. One common criticism that I agree with is that everyone had the same voice, the characters were diverse but none sounded particularly unique. 3/5

On to why Zombies Bore Me
I admit to not watching many zombie shows/ films because they don’t interest me. I think of them as a kind of scapegoat. As if we need some kind of unhuman being to tear apart our society or some kind of monster to fight against. There’s often some variation of conversation discussion the humanity, or lack thereof, of the zombie and once it has been agreed that it is no longer a real human being it is alright to kill them. But really, zombie fiction doesn’t scare me. Books like The Road scare me. No virus controlled beings out to eat us, only the disgusting and depraved depths that regular human beings can descend to if placed under horrific circumstance -Real human beings that have decided that their own survival is worth butchering another human for meat. I’m convinced that in a post-apocalyptic scenario it would happen. Yeah, I know, some zombie books/ movies have that too but something outside humanity is still the catalyst. Good post-apocalyptic or dystopian novels force you to question the very meaning of humanity and what makes us human. Humans are responsible for the greatest atrocities not zombies or any other kind of monster. It reminds me of uses of the werewolf. Of some sort of bestial side of humanity that we can blame so that people don’t have to be accountable for their own actions, so that we don’t have to confront that fact the humans- plain and simple humans- are capable of monstrous acts. Zombies make us comfortable. Zombies are amateurs compared to humans.  

Any suggestions of good post-apocalyptic novels?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Medieval Church Ruins in Oslo

There was a tour around the medieval ruins of Oslo. Unfortunately what they did not say in the email about it was that it would be in Norwegian so my American friend Sydney and I were pretty much lost the entire time and just looked around and took pictures while the guide was talking. Our Old Norse instructor was there so he would occasionally give us a very condensed version of what the main points were. We started by going around St. Olav's monastery. 


remains of the monastery's cloisters with a model of the monastery in the middle
Inside with some questionably but unlikely medieval wall paintings.
gates into St Hallvard Cathedral ruins.


It would be lovely to sit on that bench on a warm summer day

A nice lady translated this from Latin for us. I can't remember exactly but a man, his wife, and their unborn child were buried here in the hopes of rising again on Doomsday.


Kongsgården
 From the sign: The king's residence in Oslo from about the year 1000 until the 1300’s, when it became the canon’s residence up until the Reformation in the 1500s. The oldest finds on the site are part of a simple, circular fort consisting of a moat and some wooden buildings. A find of German and English coins put the construction of the fort between 1040 and 1060, during the rule of Harald Hardråde (Harald the Hard Ruler). Construction of the stone fort began in the 1200’s during the rule of Håkon Håkonsson. The Kings residence was a citadel, dwelling and meeting place for the King and his men when they were in Oslo. Akershus Fortress took over these functions in the 1300’s and gradually became the administrative center for this part of Norway. Large parts of the ruins from the King’s residence were removed in 1890 when a locomotive workshop was built on the site.


I didn't take a picture because I thought it might be a little creepy but one the of program admin workers brought her young (less than 2 years I think) child with her and she (? I didn't ask. It was wearing what we would probably consider boy clothes but here is just unisex but it had a butterfly face painting done so I'm guessing girl) was climbing all over the ruins. That is amazing to me. I could only wish I grew up being surrounded by remnants of medieval life. In Canada something is a hundred years old and it's considered old and historical. These rocks that some kid is crawling on were placed there a thousand years ago and it's nothing special to them. Just a medieval playground. I'm jealous.

We then got a special tour of a rock magazine. Parts of the talk were translated to us by a nice lady who works there.
Runestones!

A young runologist


Baptismal font
















-Ash the Viking

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself." - Nietzsche

Today was a 'get shit done' day

I FINALLY went to Skatt øst( which literally translates to Tax East) today and applied for a Norwegian ID number. Should have done this back in September but I've been busy/lazy. So now it'll take 4-6 weeks (aka 8 weeks) for this to process. After which I'll finally be able to open a bank account here and not have to pay my rent in cash and worry about pin pads not taking foreign cards (rare but it happens). Another awesome thing is their Visas are both debit/credit cards, and are considered official ID because they put your picture on the back. I'll finally not have to carry my passport to the bar- something that's not even a Norway thing since I don't have any other ID in Canada either.
The tax office is in Grønland so I decided to drop by the big fruit market there where you can by fruit that is almost guaranteed to be fresher (and cheaper) than anything in Norwegian shops. So I bought apples, pears, plums, lettuce, carrots, cauliflower, and some cheap spaghetti.
I had heard the place next door was a bit of a mishmash of random cheaper stuff so I went in there too, and boy it was awesome. A really weird mix of stuff, kinda reminded me of a dollar store but had a selection of nicer pricier stuff too. The general disarray of the store was off-putting since they had shelves lying everywhere and a couple aisles partially blocked with crap but I'm going to assume they're just reorganizing. I bought some school supplies and a couple kitchen things and generally really happy I went there.
Went home after that to drop everything off. Made a frozen pizza for dinner and ate it while watching the new episode of Castle. I truly love Nathan Fillion. After that was done I headed back out to campus and spent an hour in the student library reading about Norwegian stave churches because I'm going to have to write an essay about them soon.
I had considered going back downtown to Oslo City and buying a kettle (I really want my oatmeal and tea) but I didn't want to carry around my laptop. So I dropped crap off and went grocery shopping and did something I had been meaning to do for a while. Recycle my coke bottles.
I drink quite a lot of coke, which is a mistake since it's bad for you and costs SO much here. A six pack of .5L bottles is usually my most expensive purchase. At home we just throw all our bottles into the recycling bin and they get picked up but here you can bring them back to the store and get money for them by feeding them through a cool little machine. I haven't done this since I moved here so I had two bags full. Ended up getting 53kr back. That's almost $10.
Part of the reason I had avoided taking them back was because of the garbage pickers and I didn't want people to think I was one of them. (yeah yeah occasionally I do care what people think of me, now shut up). These are people who wander around Oslo looking through all the garbage bins for empty bottles and cans they can return for money. I know they must be pretty desperate to 1. go through trash and 2. because they can't find many more bottles then what I turned in, meaning they work for less than $10 a day. But I don't really feel sorry for them honestly. Oslo gets a flood of beggars in the summer -they disappear once it's too cold so they obviously have somewhere to go. Real homeless people- I have great sympathy for; migrant beggars- not so much.
Anyway, back to the getting shit done thing- I then cleaned my room. *gasp!* I know! It's a shocker. I swept my floor and wiped down all the counters and organized stuff. Still need to do laundry but I've got another week or two before I run out of clothes.
This post may seem a little stupid to some people. 'Oh wow, you went to an office, went shopping, and then cleaned your room? That's a normal day'. Well yeah, but I'm a little weird. I like going out maybe once a day. I don't like making a bunch of little trips everywhere. I like going, doing what I need to do, and then coming home. Once I'm settled for the day, I'm rooted. If I do something in the evening I like having a plan for it earlier in the day, BUT no earlier than the day before because I don't like being tied down to a social commitment. I wasn't always like this, I remember the days when I was called to party at 1:40 and running to the bar and ordering before last call at 1:50. Now I'd probably say 'wtf is wrong with you, I'm in my pjs and settled for the evening?' Is this maturity? or just being lame? Whatever, it makes me happy.
Anyways, bunch of stuff that I still need to do. Buy a kettle, salt shaker, a fucking pillow (still using the inflatable neck rest). And I'm sure there's a lot more. And that's just in life, TONS more stuff for school.



-Ash the Viking.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Never Let Me Go- Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go is a dystopian type novel located in the English countryside. The story is told by Kathy who is looking back on her life and friendships. This book has a lot in it about memory, how we perceive events as children and have to reevaluate looking back. It's hard to really say anything about this book without including spoilers so I'll just generally say that this book is very frustrating. You wish like you can speak to the characters and shake them or something but you can't. This book isn't horrifying in the horror movie sense but in the implications of the social reality in the novel and in the legitimate criticisms of modern real society that are the inspirations behind them. I didn't enjoy this novel as much as many other classic dystopias but it did what a dystopia is meant to do- make you think. 4/5 rating.
The reason I read the book was because of the movie trailer so shortly after finishing the book I decided to watch the film. The book is of course better, the movie misses a lot of the subtlety. There's less about the attitudes of the regular people, there's a couple hints at it but nothing that really gets the point across and a couple instances where they included scenes from the book but didn't include the stuff leading up to that event or its consequences so it's more difficult to discern its significance.
Trailer here:
http://youtu.be/sXiRZhDEo8A

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fire Alarms and student living

RINNG! RINGGG!
Currently listening to the delightful ringing of the fire alarm. This is at least the third time in 24 hours that the alarm has gone off. I bet the fire department absolutely hates these student residences. I know the super sensitive alarms are supposed to keep us safe in the event of a real fire alarm but I think it does the opposite. It's very 'boy who cried wolf'. The grand majority of people ignore them knowing that someone just burnt something and set the alarm off. If you do go outside you can tell it's only a very small portion of the hundreds that live in the building. So if there was a real fire most people wouldn't even bother leaving their rooms which increases the likelihood of casualties. I propose much much less sensitive smoke detectors.

Couple other fun things of student living:
Hearing people have sex through the wall. It doesn't bother me since I've heard enough of it through the walls of my old home in Waterloo but it's much less fun because I can't really tease these people about it since I don't know them well enough.

Cleaning of common areas.
This is always always a big issue when you live with a bunch of people. People's levels of cleanliness don't align or perhaps they've simply never had to clean up after themselves and they don't realize how big of a slob they really are. Usually in any grouping there will be one person who takes it upon themselves to write lovely little passive- aggressive notes and leave them about the kitchen. In most housing situations I consider this note writing cowardly and annoying and would rather people actually personally address the person that is causing the problem instead of leaving notes alluding to it. But, in this living space I think it is somewhat understandable because we don't really know everyone.
Just perhaps not to this level:



PLEASE, PLEASE, PLESE!
It's her week to clean the kitchen which is probably the reason for the flurry of notes. Of course the same time I took these pictures there was a pile of three garbage bags waiting to be taken out so while she apparently had time to write and post all these she didn't have time for a 2 minute elevator ride.

Oh Student life. I really cannot wait until I can afford to have my own apartment.
-AshtheViking

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bunch of Book Reviews

So for the past couple of years I've had a goal of reading at least 50 books a year and I'm concerned about reaching that goal this year. I've completed 27/50 due to poor reading performance earlier in the year and only have three months left. That would typically be plenty of time to read 23 books but there's that whole Masters degree thing taking up my pleasure reading time. So I decided to read some children's lit and short reads to pad to numbers a bit.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
A bored girl discovers an alternate world with an alternate mother offering her all the things and adventure her own mother doesn't provide but with clearly she has clearly sinister motives. Interesting concept but I found it frightfully basic and predictable. 3/5





The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

A baby escapes an attack on his family by going into a graveyard where he is adopted by its ghostly inhabitants. They raise him with the aid of a mysterious guardian named Silas who is neither living nor dead who provides food and material goods for the child. The child named Nobody or "Bod" learns life lessons from beyond the grave and out in the real world. Much more interesting and touching story than Coraline though the last third of the book seemed rushed. 3.5/5

I know Gaiman has leagues of ravenous fans but he honestly does very little for me. I've read these two books, Anansi Boys, American Gods, and his collaboration with Pratchett Good Omens, and I don't really understand the hype. Good Omens was a fantastic read but I felt I enjoyed the Pratchett touches more than the Gaiman ones. American Gods was interesting to me only because of the high Norse myth involvement, I'm sure if the main people were of any other mythology I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much as I did. With most of his work I love the concept of it and think they contain some marvelous ideas but I don't love the final product- At least not to the extent where I understand the sheer level of cult following he has achieved. 

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Most people read this in elementary school but my teacher in that grade preferred to give us books that were a couple levels of reading comprehension lower then what she should have. This book has been controversial because I'm pretty sure it was the first dystopian novel aimed at children though it is beyond tame compared to current offerings like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins(fantastic series). I wish I had read this first when I was younger, I probably would have been shocked by it. 3/5.

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore
Moore is always hilarious. I didn't find this book as side-splitting funny as A Dirty Job or Lamb but still quick and easy fun that definitely made me LOL several times. He is simply fantastic at weaving a perfect description of a ridiculous scene. He's also great at writing the POV of a stupid dog. 4/5
"Of course they're depressed, they're rats." Theo said. Gabe glared at him. "Well imagine waking up to that every morning," Theo continued. "'Oh, it's a great day, crap, I'm still a rat. Never mind.'"

Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi
Very different from the rest of these books and a departure from my regular type of reading. This deals with Portia de Rossi's (from Arrested Development fame) struggle with her eating disorder as she constantly feels like she is not skinny or good enough for hollywood. She's constantly striving for approval from her coworkers, wardrobe people, the press, and her family. She got down to an unbelievable 82 pounds before collapsing on set. It was really shocking to see inside the mind of someone with an eating disorder and try and comprehend the all-consuming nature of their relationship with food. While reading about her lowest point in her weight I'm actually currently at the highest weight I've ever been which had interesting effects on how I read the text. It also shocked me that after she crashed Portia swung back up in weight to about what I currently weigh which I have a hard time imagining. The end of the book was very touching as she finally comes to terms with her body and her sexuality. I think she's a great actress and am very glad that she found happiness and love with Ellen and more importantly with herself. Can't wait to see her in the new Arrested Development season and movie that is supposed to happen. 3/5

Tomorrow I think I'm going to start Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. 
-AshtheViking

Happy Thanksgiving!

So today is the Canadian thanksgiving and my first holiday away from my family. Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday because all the family is there, food is great (I fricken love turkey), there's no hassle of buying gifts, and no religious pretense.
Technology really does make it easier to span the distance between people as I used Skype to call my brother's house at midnight (6pm their time) and got to video chat with my entire family as they were enjoying some after dinner drinks and dessert. My niece tortured me with a piece of chocolate fudge mousse cake, the brat. They also bragged about the weather considering it was mid-20s and sunny there and about 8 degrees and rainy here.
My mom is super sweet and arranged for a fruit basket to be delivered to me here because I was missing the holiday. I unfortunately missed the delivery on Friday (I ignore the buzzer unless I know why it's ringing) and it should be delivered tomorrow afternoon. I'm quite excited for fruit as I realized yesterday it's been a while since I had any. (tsk tsk, I know) I was also very happy to receive a package from home my mom sent about 7 weeks ago that had a cozy blanket and some winter supplies along with copious amounts of oatmeal, some toiletries, and a couple boxes of the quintessential student food Kraft Dinner.
When it stops raining I'm going to try and see what autumn has done to Oslo, I noticed lots of fallen leaves earlier in the week and I'm sure it looks as lovely here as it does in Canada. Since I don't have any of my own pictures, here's a stolen pic of a Canadian autumn from my friend Amy.

photo cred Amy V

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ugh. Crappy Day.

tl;dr: Kinda crappy day.
Today was a series of annoying events. I barely slept and had bad nightmares the little bit that I was asleep. The worst part of the dream was one of my family members wearing a metal cilice. Cilices are metal chains with inward facing spikes that are worn by some penitents to symbolize a union with the suffering of Christ. Mixed with the general weirdness of the dreams I was just really uncomfortable.
I had to get up earlier anyways because I had to shower before the water was shut off at 9 for construction work. Because I was cold and it was raining outside I tried to dry my hair and ended up blowing the fuse in my room despite using an adapter, so I now know my blowdryer is useless. Apart from the lack of sleep, blown fuse and a mild headache I was still is a good enough mood. I caught the T-Bane with perfect timing and I felt prepared for class as I had done all the readings. Sometimes doing the readings is a bad thing when pretty much nothing in the lecture is new information so I ended up reading a book for the majority of the class in order to stay awake. Considering I had forgotten all writing utensils it was probably good that there was nothing new to write down. I had been pretty stationary all weekend and the rain was clearing up so I decided to walk from the T-bane stop instead of taking the bus. Even getting the fuse fixed was painless; just a quick message to the caretaker and they dealt with it within half an hour. Lunch went fine, watched some Dog Whisperer, and then I read a bit until it was time for dinner.
I was quite excited to eat the frozen pizza I bought on Saturday so imagine my surprise when I couldn't find it in the freezer. Someone stole my fucking pizza. So after being pissed off and resisting the urge to leave an angry note I decide to make something else for dinner and get over it. So I make my food and head back to my room to find... a locked door. My neighbour had left while I was in the kitchen and locked the door to our two rooms behind her. We typically pay attention to whether the other had left the door open and she had seen me in the kitchen but I guess it was just habit to lock it behind her. I went through the trauma of eating my dinner without salt and dragged a chair into the hallway to wait. I had no idea how long she would be gone but I figured it wouldn't be for too long. I know there's a number to call to get someone to let you in but they charge a fee outside business hours and I also don't have a phone.
The Muslim neighbour that I mentioned in a previous post came out into the hallway at one point and I made a comment that I was locked out. He was actually really nice, he offered to let me use his phone to call someone and asked if I needed anything. So maybe his problem isn't as bad as it seemed, we'll see.
My neighbour returned about an hour and fifteen minutes later to find me waiting in the hallway. She felt SO bad when she realized what she did and she said the previous person who lived in my room had done it to her once too.
So nothing really terrible happened but it was just a generic crappy day that has been accompanied by an unending headache. I think I know the cause of my headaches the past couple days but I'm really hoping it's not it.
Tomorrow will start a new adventure considering my neighbour's father is coming to visit her from Ethiopia and is staying with her for a couple weeks. I personally could never share a room with my father (or anybody really) for that long. I have no idea what he's going to do all day while she's at school or whatever.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book Review: The Blade Itself- Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself - Joe Abercrombie

Rating 4/5
I found this book to be a fun quick read fantasy read. Hard to believe I'd call a book with a torturer as a main character fun but it was. There was a vein of dark humour running through it that once even made me laugh out loud on the subway. There is some gore in it which may turn some people off but I think it's appropriate. The world was detailed without being overly complicated. Most new fantasies authors have picked up on the fact that good/ bad dichotomies don't interest anyone anymore and now feature flawed characters that aren't always so loveable and Abercrombie does this well. I personally loved Logan Ninefingers and Sand dan Glokta which are by far the most despicable of the characters. Chapters were written in different characters' POVs and I think Abercrombie did a really great job in giving each a unique voice; some chapters were more analytical while others were more simplistic based on what character was being portrayed. My two qualms were that I didn't like the two female characters and kept waiting for Jezel to gain some sort of depth.
All-in-all an enjoyable read, I will eventually read the rest of the series, and recommend this to fans of gritty fantasy.


Quotes:
"He looked down at his hands, pink and clean on the stone. “There are few men with more blood on their hands than me. None, that I know of. The Bloody-Nine they call me, my enemies, and there’s a lot of ’em. Always more enemies, and fewer friends. Blood gets you nothing but more blood. It follows me now, always, like my shadow, and like my shadow I can never be free of it. I should never be free of it. I’ve earned it. I’ve deserved it. I’ve sought it out. Such is my punishment.”
“Every man has his excuses, and the more vile the man becomes, the more touching the story has to be. What is my story now, I wonder?”"

Friday, September 16, 2011

Awkward Encounters

Sharing a kitchen with a new bunch of strangers can be quite awkward. I'm not the most outgoing of people so apart from a friendly greeting I'm not going to be the one who initiates a conversation or whatever. From the people in the hallway I've encountered in the kitchen most are friendly and content to say "Hei" and go about their business in the kitchen while I do the same.
There is one exception. There's a middle-aged Middle-Eastern man who as some very odd behaviour. I have had three separate encounters with him and they've all been uncomfortable. The first was when I came out of my room to go to the kitchen and he paused and looked like he was going to change his mind and no longer enter the kitchen but he eventually did and I'm guessing that it was because there was another Middle-Eastern male in the kitchen talking loudly on the phone and I was in/out of the kitchen quickly just to grab something.
On a different day I was in the kitchen making a sandwich. He walked in the door, took two steps, apologized, and backed out. He had a shocked expression as if he walked in on me naked. I told him it was okay and he could come in and he just said he'd wait. So I finished up and left the kitchen and he was just out there waiting for me to leave. I went into my room and he went into the kitchen.
Tonight I had put a pot of potatoes on the oven to boil and left them for half an hour and he was sitting at the table eating when I went back to check on them. He didn't run out of the kitchen necessarily but packed up his stuff and wiped down the table hurriedly and left in under a minute, taking his food with him.
This sort of behaviour makes me feel uncomfortable. We all share the kitchen and have right to equal access and I have no problem sharing the space with him but he obviously does not feel the same. I'm assuming that he is Muslim and is uncomfortable being in a room alone with a female. It may be some entirely different reason but if it is then I cannot fathom it. If this is his reason then honestly it pisses me off. I refuse to be made to feel uncomfortable in my own space because some ignorant moron doesn't think that he should be subjected to my presence. I don't want to chase someone out of the shared kitchen but I am not doing anything wrong and so I do not believe that I should be inconvenienced.Of course, he's the one mainly being inconvenienced because I have no problem being around him; he's the one who feels the need to leave. He has an issue with me that I cannot help and it is a fundamental problem due to his misogynistic religion.
It will be interesting to see how this develops. Despite a desire to confront him over this I'm not going to. It feels inevitable that he'll eventually get tired of avoiding the kitchen if I (or I'm guessing the other females on the floor) am in the kitchen. I'm not going to say anything but I wonder if he will. We'll see. If he's planning on living in Norway he's simply going to have to get over this ridiculousness and communicate with Western females who aren't content to hide under a veil and accept his superiority. He's going to have to get over himself or fuck off.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Recent Reads I Haven't Reviewed.

There's a couple books I've read this summer without writing up a full review so I'll combine them all into one instead of making several posts. 
Dance with Dragons- George R.R. Martin
 This LONG awaited continuation of the Song of Ice and Fire series was a great read as always from Martin. Any author that can sneak in a Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference about farting in someone's general direction without it coming off as cheesy is my hero. I'm in anguish over some of the events of the end of the book because Martin continues his typical cruelty of the character cliffhanger. I felt somewhat less emotionally affected by the majority of the events in this novel and some parts (Daenerys) bored me with their repetitiveness. Compared to the typical fantasy I'd give this book a 5/5 but because it pales in comparison so some of the others in the series I'm downgrading it to a 4/5. Also the first book I read on my new Kindle.


Wolf Hall- Hillary Mantel

This is an historical novel chronicling the rise and career of Thomas Cromwell who came from humble beginnings as an abused son of a blacksmith, became a successful merchant, and finally became advisor and close friend to Henry VIII. I enjoyed the read immensely and it was a relatively quick read despite its large size. It was a much much more realistic portrayal of Henry VIII's character and motivations behind the English Reformation and his relationship with Anne Boleyn compared to the historical wrecks that have been popular recently. The book seemed slightly imbalanced. For the first 3/4 of the book the pace was steady but very detailed and then the last 1/4 was rushed. She's currently working on the sequel that continues to follow Cromwell's life and I'll probably read that once it comes out. I give this book 4/5 rating.


Let the Right One In- John Ajvide Lindqvist
I want to read as much Scandinavian lit as possible(but I'm not a big fan of crime fiction which is the big trend) so I decided to try this paranormal vampire-ish fiction. I read this entirely on the train from Bergen to Oslo so it's pretty short. It's about a bulllied boy who has a mysterious new neighbour who is a very odd little girl. There's been a series of odd murders in the area that seem to be connected. The paranormal aspects of the novel mostly seem to highlight the sad truths of childhood that the young boy experiences and the friendship between the boy and the little vampire is quite touching. Some parts involving a pedophile are seriously disturbing. This vampire book is not for people expecting a Twilight novel. I give it a 3/5 rating. 
An epidemic of white blindness strikes an entire country and one woman who has retained her sight takes it upon herself to protect and lead a small group of the blind. This dystopian-ish novel makes you wonder what you would be willing to do to help others while remarking at the depths of depravity to which humanity is capable of descending. It seems that if people en masse lose one sense then they lose all humanity. The structure of the novel was a little weird as there's no names and everyone is only referred to by physical characteristics that had been assigned them before the blindness struck. There's also limited punctuation- with no quotation marks and only periods and commas. While discomfiting it was a fantastic novel that I give 4.5/5.