Falling in Love with the Barter Books Bookshop.

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DSC_0464 If there is magic anywhere in England it’s in this bookshop. Did I say bookshop?  Barter Books is so much more than that- it’s the home of the most intense passion for books that walls can contain. And what great walls they are…

Location, location! Barter Books is one of the biggest secondhand bookshops in England, located in an old Victorian train station in the historical town of Alnwick. The owners, Stuart and Mary Manley, put a lot of passion in creating a world dedicated to old books. They started the shop in 1991 and it has since proved to be such a success that it has been called by the New Statesman magazine “The British Library of secondhand bookshops.” The best landlord in the world and my dear friend Laura brought me there last weekend. It has proved to be an unforgetable trip, something I will probably talk about a lot to everyone that will listen. So please listen… Read the rest of this entry »


Reading What I Need Vs. Reading What I Want.

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English: Open book icon


As an English student there is a constant battle within me to read the books I really want to read or the books on my syllabus. Sometimes, if I’m taking a literature course, balancing things is impossible (like the time my class was going through one novel every week) but sometimes it’s more flexible and I can squeeze in some favorites. I normally try to read two things at one: one for school and one for myself (it helps keeping my sanity intact). If I happen to read British classics for school, I try and make my choice something completely different, like sci-fi or something (although that rarely happens).

This term things are a bit different since I’m not studying literature at all, but media. However, there is loads to read (textbook chapters, articles, massive amounts of googling to be done). This gives me the possibility to read more literature of my choice. Happy days ahead! Read the rest of this entry »

Stephen King’s On Writing, and How I Got to Read It.

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stephen-king-on-writingA couple of years ago I took a course that required me to try my hand at writing small texts on different themes. It was fun and made me realize how much I enjoyed writing, how good I thought I was, and how horrible I really was… .This was a course that simply asked me to write small texts, not literary masterpieces, but I always felt that if I am to show someone a text I produced it has to be good. I didn’t want to “just pass” a course, I wanted to be the best, I wanted to catch the attention of the teacher, I wanted to be THAT student that tries extra much. Basically, I wanted to know that I did everything that I could do before I submitted that assignment. The problem was, I never felt like I did everything I could for my prose; I always had the sensation that I could have done more, like I was missing a piece of the puzzle. It was a dilemma, since the course itself didn’t offer any support on writing technique and I felt like I was lost at sea and my boat was leaking as hell. And so I thought that maybe I should just buy a book on writing. Upon googling around this subject, I concluded that there are two major groups: people who think that writing is just something you have or you don’t, a gift that can’t be learned; and people who think a textbook is vital to get you started, giving the young writer a solid base to build upon. I personally believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle (doesn’t it always?) I think a textbook can improve your writing a lot, giving you ideas and hints on how to find your inspiration, or answer some questions you might have regarding the craft itself.

It so happens that whenever I really like an author’s style I tend to google him/her and see if I can find an interview where they talk about their writing. This, combined with my before-mentioned dilemma, helped me find a great book- On Writing by Stephen King. Yes, I came to find the book because I am a great fan of King, but this has really nothing to do with him or his books (in essence). The book contains some really good advices for beginner writers like me. Since I finished reading this book, I got my hands on other creative writing books and I took a real course on it (I am actually doing the second part now), but every now and then I come back to this one for reference. There are small things that stayed with me, like his thought on the overuse of adverbs: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs”. I never really understood what he meant until I saw it in my own prose. And when I stopped doing that mistake, my peer reviewers appreciated it, the text flowed better, and my paragraphs stopped sounding like something out of a novel with a couple making out on the cover (yeah, you know which ones, you are as guilty as I am). Read the rest of this entry »

The Book is Dead. Long Live the E-Book.

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Sony PRS-T2
© Per Palmkvist Knudsen (Own Work)

Except the book is not dead yet. As a matter of fact, far from it. The electronic vs. paper books seems to be a popular debate for today’s avid readers. Should we get our intake of literature from ink or pixels? Well… why choose just one option when you can have both? This is not going to be about the ongoing discussion where “the real book feels better in my hands and I like the smell of paper”, although I wholeheartedly agree. This is about what goes beyond personal preference and the olfactory sense. Read the rest of this entry »

The Arrival, by Shaun Tan. Teaching Children and Adults About Immigration.

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Shaun Tan is one of the most talented artists when it comes to children’s literature, and this is not merely my opinion. Winner of the most prestigious children’s literature prize, The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, Tan manages to reach out to both children and adults by bringing up contemporary and important themes wrapped in a beautiful world of fantasy. The Arrival is a wordless book, winner of many prizes such as New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award, Children’s Book Council of Australia, Western Australian Premier’s Book Award, and many others.

I am not here to list Shaun Tan’s accomplishments, but to explain how I believe The Arrival can be enjoyed by both adults and children, and used as base material for explaining important social issues.

The Arrival is a picture book containing no words. When I say ´´no words´´ I do mean it, so except the title you won’t stumble upon any other written language you can decode. This is smart for three reasons: firstly, little readers won’t have to know how to read about subjects that often have to be explained in ´´big words´´ and ´´complicated phrases´´; secondly, the readers will have to decode the illustration’s meanings themselves by looking at the pictures and letting their minds work (which is a great creative start); thirdly, the adult and the child can have much more fun making up names for the characters and places, or narrating the action themselves, which is a much more interactive way of storytelling than the classic adult reads- child listens approach. Read the rest of this entry »

Explaining Art to Hares and Defending Good Literature.

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Old Woman Reading. Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn.

I don’t understand something, so it must be wrong.

It sounds funny when you read that, doesn’t it? Imagine a world where everything you don’t understand has no value and is disregarded. You can’t figure out how your computer works? Better get that pen and paper out. You don’t have the slightest idea about plumbing and running water? Better start digging that well. I could go on and on, but I think I’ve made my point. Not everything we don’t understand is bad or wrong. Being a skeptic is a healthy attitude most of the time, but we can’t blindly go around the world saying this and that is wrong just because we can’t figure it out.  The same analogy goes for taste: just because YOU think it’s bad, doesn’t mean it really is. It only means it’s not for you. Which is fine.

I could name tens or even hundreds of authors that were promised they will never get published, or artists that were told that they will never make it, all now renowned in their chosen field. In contrast, not everything you like is of real importance to the humanity (after all, ´´guilty pleasure´´ books didn’t get their nick name from nothing). Read the rest of this entry »

The Books I Never Finished Because I am a Wuss.

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I recently had a very interesting conversation with a friend regarding books both of us abandoned for various reasons. The majority of these reasons, it comes as no surprise, were along the lines of not liking the book after all or getting bored middle way. While these sound like legitimate reasons to close a book and call it a day, I admitted in having some very peculiar examples of my own. Here are my four books that I really liked, but never finished: Read the rest of this entry »

Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane.

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Ocean at the End of the Lane.

I have been waiting for this book for what can only seem to a Neil Gaiman fan such as myself an eternity. I have been talking about it to my friends, telling them how fantastic it will be, and how I couldn’t wait for it to finally be released. And then a thought crawled to my mind: what if it wasn’t going to be as good as I expected it to be? What if I was getting hyped about it only to get disappointed? The day I finally got the book I couldn’t wait to get home, so I started reading it on the train, horrified by a literary as well as a personal self-esteem catastrophe (I had been spending my days talking about the book and recommending it to virtually everyone I met). I am here to say (write) that I was wrong in thinking that this book could ever be bad or even mediocre. Oh so wrong….

Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane is everything I was looking forward to and much more. What I was expecting was a high level of craft. Gaiman’s writing leaves me hypnotized, drawing me into a fantasy world that is so delicately created it almost sounds plausible. As a literature student I always enjoyed paying special attention not only to what he writes, but HOW he writes it. There is that special feeling, that ‘’magical’’ something in the air as you read the book. Read the rest of this entry »

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories.

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The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy.
The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy.

I am a huge fan of the “creepy” literature genre. And in that category I believe there is only one person that does it right: Tim Burton.  I liked his movies ever since I was very young. One of the best memories regarding Burton is from when I was much younger, and was watching The Corpse Bride on TV. I was giggling, and I remember my mother reading something next to me while making nasty remarks from time to time. ´´How can you watch that? It’s disgusting´´. But soon enough she started giggling too and we ended up laughing together at the amusing ´´kinda-dead´´ characters. The episode had quite an impact on me and my way of thinking of a ´´good creepy movie´´, and ever since then I tried my very best to keep up with his stuff. I find it to be magic, funny, smart, and creepy just enough to make it interesting and detach it from the rest. And here I don’t mean movies only.

Yesterday I gave in and bought a book that was tempting me for quite a while: The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories´´.  I am not a big fan of poetry and verse in special, but this was such an experience I might just change my mind about that. The book is rather small, you can read it over lunch, like I did, trying not to laugh out loud. Read the rest of this entry »

Have You Heard of Harris Burdick?

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The Chronicles of Harris Burdick
The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is a very special picture book written by Chris Van Allsburg in 1984. “A picture book?”, you are probably asking now. Well hold on a second! This book is something much more than just that. If you answered my title  question with a  ´´No´´, looking all confused at your monitor, let me enlighten you on who Harris Burdick is. First of all, he is a fictional character. His story goes like this: One day Mr. Burdick, the prolific writer that he was, went to a publisher called Peter Wenders with a collection of 14 illustrations. After proudly telling him that he has a story for every illustration, as well as many more where those cme from, he was informed by Mr. Wenders that  he would love to publish his work. But Mr. Burdick, the tricky thing that he was, did something that would drive any publisher insane. While Mr. Wenders was dreaming of fortune and glory, looking greedily at the 14 illustrations, Mr. Burdick did something very  very rude: he never came back. So now Mr. Wenders was left with a sad-looking deadline and 14 illustrations together with their titles and short captions from the texts. But not the stories! Wait a minute! People can make the stories. So many people did their own stories, based on the Burdick illustrations, titles and captions. Some were scary, some were emotional, some perhaps a little dull.

Did this raise your interest? Well then I will spice it all up a little bit by telling you that the author of this amazing book, Chris Van Allsburg, wrote and illustrated  Jumanji and  The Polar Express. Now you know who wrote this. Now you even know who Harris Burdick is. You are very welcome!

If your answer to my question was a knowledgeable´´ YES! Everyone knows who Harris Burdick is. ‘Doh.´´ ,well then you have to calm yourself ! Do not worry though, this blog entry will not be about The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, but about The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. This is a collection of short stories based on the original illustrations. The authors involved in the project are: Sherman Alexie, M.T. Anderson, Kate Dr. Camillio, Cory Doctorow,Jules Feiffer, Stephen King, Tabitha King, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire,Walter Dean Myers,Linda Sue Park,Louis Sachar, Jon Scieszka, and Chris Van Allsburg himself. It is a great collection of short stories that are appropriate for children (most of them, some could be a tiny bit scary or hard to understand; this is of course depending on the age). Read the rest of this entry »