Books that I recently read (part 1)

A few weeks ago I received an email from a reader of my blog who wanted to know something about what books I normally read. Then I realized I did not write about books for quite some time. The last time was probably around New Year, when I wrote about the best books that I read in 2008. That post was about non-fiction books, but I also read quite a lot of fiction (mainly novels). I normally read in bed before going to sleep, to relax a bit and get my mind off of work (I often work until late at night, and if I close my computer right before I go to sleep I don’t sleep well). Below are some of the books that I read during the past 3 months or so. I’ll break up the post into two pieces, otherwise it will be a bit too long.

Stieg Larsson – The Millenium Trilogy 
(The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who played with Fire, The Girl who kicked the Hornet’s Nest)
I started reading the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson while on holiday in Holland in September. I had not heard of the books before, but the first book was on sale so I just gave it a try. The next day I already bought part 2 and 3! The books are partly a thriller with several story lines that all start in part one, and partly the story about how a small magazine is fighting for its existence. Next to that the book also gives a good insight in Swedish society (6 week holidays, going home at 5 exactly, most people seem to have summer houses and spend many weekends there – maybe the reality is different?). Once you start reading you want to finish all 3 books, even though the main character Mikael Blomkvist is not somebody I could easily relate to. He is very much against big corporations and people that earn good money by worker harder and smarter than others. But that makes it also intriguing, while reading the book I thought often about his actions and I tried to understand him. Maybe that was part of the attraction of the book? He seems very happy with his life and that is great for him, but I would not want to be him. I feel the main character is very much like Stieg Larsson, and it’s a pity he passed away before he could see the success of his books. The other main character, Lisbeth Salander, is even more weird. But her weirdness adds to the storyline, and without her there would not even have been a story (at least not in part 2 and 3). The books are quite a long read, book 1 and 2 both about 500 pages and book 3 even more than that. But they are an easy read, and I read each book in a couple of days. If you’re not sure just read book 1, which is a complete story with a real ending, and decide after that if you also want to read the other books.

Anthony Capella – The Various Flavours of Coffee

When I read books about wine I always have the urge to open up a bottle. This book is centered around coffee and it had exactly the same effect on me: several times during the book I just had to make myself a freshly grinded cup of black coffee! Therefore if wonder whether people who don’t drink coffee would enjoy this story as much as coffee aficionados. Most of this historical novel takes place in 19th century London, where a young aspiring poet and lover-of-life-without-money, Robert Wallis, meets a coffee trader who employs him to write a book that defines the aromas of all kinds of coffee. Robert falls in love with the coffee traders daughter, and that is the thread that keeps the story together. The Various Flavours of Coffee is a bit of a strange book actually, very different from a ‘normal’ novel. The book combines a love of coffee with a story about love and romance, with the struggle for woman’s voting rights mixed in and with a background story that shows the bad side of hardcore capitalism. It is not a book that will end up in my top 10 for this year, but it was still well worth the read because it is so different. The story was quite interesting with some strange twists, the descriptions of life and doing business in London in the late 1800’s were excellent, and of course I learned a lot about coffee as well. One drawback for me was that I could not relate to Robert Williams. He is just plain lazy and (just like Mikael Blomkvist in the Millenium Trilogy) he develops strong anti-capitalist principles. Nevertheless I do not regret reading the book and I might try out other books by Anthony Capella.

The Ship and the Shore – Vicki Baum

This was an unexpected book, I found it in my parents book shelf while vacationing in Holland and read it during a weekend in Shanghai. The book was written in 1941 by Austrian writer Vicki Baum. I had never heard of her and had to look her up on Wikipedia ( it turns out she was one of the first modern bestseller authors and she among others also wrote a book about Shanghai (note to self: I need to find this book). I loved the book, it describes the events that happen during one night on a ship that is due to harbour on an island in the Dutch West Indies. It’s a story about love, plantation life in the tropics in the late 1930’s and the racial tensions between the white planters and the local workers. I loved it and found it so good that I may reread it in a couple of years. The descriptions of life on board and on the island are very vivid and make the story come alive. The story itself is very special as well, the further you get into the book the more you start to understand the characters and what motivates them. If this book is still available somewhere (or would become available as an ebook in the future) I would highly recommend it.

Tomorrow I will post the second part of this article, with among others the best book I read so far this year and a book that will appeal to all long-distance runners out there.

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