Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reading the end - cheating or not?

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine told me about a complaint her brother had about Dan Brown's The lost Symbol: The book lied to him, making him believe that Langdon is dead. This didn't happen to me, because by the time I reached that section of the book, I had already read the end. 

There seems to be a lot of controversy about reading the end first. Most people yell at me, when I do this, saying that it's cheating. However, the few that do it too (like my friend) find it normal. 

I see reading a book similar to watching an opera. If I know the opera well, I can enjoy the music and the story much more, because I know what it happening, and am not distracted by suspense. When I don't know the opera, I concentrate too much on the development of the story to be able to actually listen to the music properly, and enjoy it. This happened recently, when I was seeing Stiffelio at the Met. Stiffelio is a fairly unknown Verdi opera written shortly before Rigoletto. I had never heart of it before, however, it had been produced by the Met once before, in 1993. The music is gorgeous,  the singers were great, it was a very enjoyable performance. However, I would have to see it again to be able to say more about the music, because I concentrated too much on the development of the story (a weird story about a protestant minister in Austria that had issues with his wife, who got seduced by some slimebag). 

When seeing an opera a second time, or third or fourth .... I notice more and more nuances of the piece, also because every performance and production is different. 

I don't have the patience to read books two times in a row. There are too many books, there is not enough time, it takes much longer to read a book than to see an opera. 

When I am about one third through, I therefore often read the end, so that I can enjoy more of the development of the story, and understand the little hints the lead to the end. And when I finally arrive at the end the old-fashioned way, it feels like I reacquainting myself with an old friend.

Friday, January 29, 2010

My Global Reading Challenge Status

I upgraded since to the Expert group, and added two novels from Antarctica. I am continuously updating this page for the planning stage and the reading stage. (s) for "on the shelf or ordered", (r) for "read", (p) for "in progress".

The Expert Challenge
Read two novels from each of these continents and two novel situated in Antarctica in the course of 2010:

Mala Nunn: A Beautiful Place to Die (r) (South Africa)
Benjamin Kwakye: The Sun by Night (s) (Ghana)

Rampo Edogawa: The Black Lizard (r) (Japan)
Smita Jain: Kkrishnaa's Konfessions  (s) (India)

Kel Richards: The Second Death (r) (Australia)
Yvonne Eve Walus: Murder @ Work (r) (New Zealand)


North America (incl Central America)
Sylvia Maultash-Warsh: Find me again (r) (Canada)

South America
Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza: December Heat (r) (Brazil)
Guillermo Martinez: The Book of Murder  (s) (Argentina)

Kim Stanley Robinson: Antarctica (r)
Andrea White: Surviving Antarctica: Reality TV 2083 (s)
Try to find novels from twelve different countries or states.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Canadian Vacation Reading

Finally, I have been able to read a bit more, since I am on vacation. It didn't occur to me until now, that all three authors are Canadian. Should have gone to Canada. Here are a couple of reviews:

Sylvia Maultash-Warsh: Find me again (a Rebecca Temple mystery)

This book has two parallel story lines from two different centuries: WWII Poland in one of them, and in the other, 18th century Europe including a larger number of countries, especially Britain, Poland and Russia. The latter is mainly about the life of young Catherine the Great and the politics around her. The two stories have a surprisingly similar ending, and become intertwined and unraveled in 21st century Canada. I find the inter-culturalism very appealing (Jewish/Christian, Polish/Canadian, Communist/Capitalist). The book is very entertaining, and touches several areas of my interest, including European history and opera singing. I guessed one of the two ending-surprises very early on, but I don't really mind, because I often read the ending after the first third of a book anyway.

This is my first North American Book for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge

Linwood Barclay: Too close to home
It's creepy when your neighbors are getting killed. It's even creepier, when the killer made a mistake, and meant to kill you. Great stand-alone mystery situated in a small college town in upstate NY. It has it all: the egocentric politician, the controlling and overbearing college president, the trophy wife, the difficult teenager, the genius, the thief. Nice picture of small town life and politics.  

Louise Penny: Still Life (The first chief Inspector Gamache Novel)

The first book written by Louise Penny. Great characterizations bring people to life, and describes the meticulous process her protagonist goes through to solve a crime. Situated in a French-Canadian town, it also gives insight into the Anglo/French frictions.

There even is a lesson in the book, coming from a disillusioned ex-shrink. I summarize it here, because I really think that it is an important lesson for many of us in all kinds of situations:

There are two types of patients: the ones that want to get better, and are prepared to change their life and their attitudes, and the ones that are so involved with their problems, quirks, issues and hang on to them for dear life, that they are not willing to change. The first group, if in therapy, changes fast, gets out of therapy, and gets better within months. The second group, however, lingers in therapy forever, because it is an outlet and an opportunity to have a captive audience, and just doesn't want to change, because it is not comfortable.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Grimms Märchen

The last time I read all of Grimm's fairy tales was probably about 35 years ago, when I was a child. We had a big, green hardcover book, printed in small font, with strange lithographs accompanying the tales, and I found it quite intimidating, but nonetheless, I read them all.

Re-reading the complete Grimm's, I find them just as gruesome as I did as a child. There are about 200 tales, and I am right now at #12, already observing one strange trend: the kings and queens can do whatever they want, if they repend, they will stay rich and happy. The little people are the ones that usually end up screwed by fate. Especially enlightening was the tale of cat and mouse, which shows, that if you do what you are supposed to, and be a honest and nice person, you'll get eaten, so better lie and be mean.

I am looking forward to reading the rest. One or two before going to sleep is perfect. I am curious, whether the trend is going to continue, and whether there are more strange things to observe.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On Poetry

Poetry is a strange animal.

Reading poetry for me needs a lot of attention, and I find it hard to read and enjoy it with my usual impatient mind.

The poetry I like has been set to music. What I don't like reading, I like singing, listening to.

The change of speed, and the added expression when poetry and music merge brings poetry to live.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Clarity of Night 2010 Writing Contest

In the Graveyard
(my entry to the contest, see details below)

Good, I made it before the gate closes. The graveyard is such a wonderful place at twilight. The view over the town and the Bay is exceptionally spectacular tonight. The fiery sunset behind the mountains is breathtaking, and reminds me of the unimportance of my own being and dramas. However, this place also confronts me with my deepest fears.

A large bird flies above me. Is he looking for prey, or is he like me just enjoying the quiet evening?

Am I the prey or the hunter? I thought I escaped you, but still you hunt me as if you were alive. Stay under your stone, and don’t bother me!

Why didn’t we stay friends, play in the fields, and dream together about a future of getting away and exploring the world? I loved you, and I trusted you.

Why did you turn against me, forcing me to kill you? You did this to yourself, you bitch! You didn’t let me love you as you promised me!

I taught you, now you know that you didn’t suffer enough. Don’t you worry, I’ll live.

Debra is just wonderful. Soon she’ll keep you company, and then you are not alone anymore.

What a wonderful evening, reconciling with my little girl. Time to go home.

“Are you leaving, we are closing!”

Thank you officer, have a great night, (and a gruesome morning)!

About the Clarity of Night contest

The Clarity of Night blog owner Jason Evans is sponsoring the Silhouette Short Fiction Contest for short fiction inspired by a picture that he provides. The picture depicts a bird (raven, craw, eagle, ?) flying at twilight through branches of wood.

I am not new to writing itself, but until now, I have mostly written scientific publications, which are completely different animals. With the exception of a number of weird poems in German, written in times of depression and despair a long time ago, my contribution (also pasted below) to the contest is my first serious effort on writing creatively.

Here are a few things that I learned from this exercise:
  1. It is good to have a concept of a story before starting to write
  2. Don't be surprised if the concept changes drastically as the writing goes on, because it develops on its own, and doesn't necessary go where it is supposed to go
  3. Don't give in to the temptation to add cheap effects (I should have omitted the last few words).
  4. This is fun!

I didn't make it to the top group, but it is a good start, and I learned from the comments and especially from Jason's criticism.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Inspired by a blog post from, I have been thinking about mushrooms. Is there a more dramatic food? Wonderfully flavorful and potentially deadly?

My mushroom history goes way back to my parent's honeymoon. They  stayed in a village in the Harz mountains in Germany, renting a room in a Pension (something similar to a B&B). There is nothing to do but hiking, and on every hike they went, they found wonderful mushrooms. My mother couldn't let a good mushroom stand, so soon, to my father's annoyance, their room was full of strings with mushrooms to dry. According to legend, these were mostly Steinpilze (porcini, king bolete, whatever you call them).

When I was little, we usually would go to the forest on Autuum weekends, to hunt mushrooms. My mother was an expert,  knew all of them and all about them, a side effect of growing up in wartimes. Most of the time, we would collect mushrooms that are quite ordinary (honey fungus (Hallimasch), sheathed woodtuft (Stockschwämmchen), Puffball (Bovist, only edible when very young),Parasols, etc.), since we mostly went to beech forests, where the prime species didn't grow as well. 

We were taught to harvest the edible ones, but always leave a few so that there are enough spores for next year, and to admire the poisonous ones, not destroy them. The prettiest mushrooms are certainly the fly agaric, a mushroom we encountered several times.
I remember once finding a death cap. She used gloves to get it out of the ground, and showed us its unique properties, so that we wouldn't accidentally collect it, when being on our own.

I recently saw a death cap in St. Helena, Napa Valley, right next to the Twomey winery. They are very pretty, with an iridescent color.

By the time I got interested in mushroom hunting on my own, Chernobyl happened. That put a hold to all mushroom hunting in many parts of Europe for a couple of decades, because mushrooms mistake Caesium for Calcium, and the radioactive rain from Chernobyl contained a lot of Caesium. When I moved to the US, I was told that nobody eats wild mushrooms. When I later married a mushroom lover, I had to learn to identify mushrooms all over again. I still only know how to identify the most common edible ones: chanterelles, boletes (to some extend), oyster mushrooms, morels.

A mushroom that is prolific in our neighborhood, is probably the yellow russula. The coloring is similar to chanterelles, but the gills are white, and they grow in clusters. Also, the gills don't go down all the way on the stem. They are supposedly edible, but  not very tasty. I have not taken a chance.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I love bread, and what's not to love? After all, bread used to be a synonym for all food. Baking my own bread has been a joy, and experimenting with different kinds from frustrating to a deep sense of satisfaction. For my favorite breads, I use a modified version of the No Knead Bread, I just substitute the flour partially with whole rye flour, to give it more substance.

While testing different kinds of white flour, I have gotten the best results using the unbleached white flour from the Old Mill of Guilford, a place where the have the most wonderful biscuit and scone mixes, and great grits and polenta.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Gender of Mystery Writing

My last post raises the question on gender in fiction-writing. I for one tend to try an unknown female writer more easily than a male writer. This is on some level quite illogical, since my favorite writers include a lot of males, like Lion Feuchtwanger and Klaus Mann. 

However, for mystery writers, I always think I prefer female writers because they more often write from a female point of view, and frankly, not so many women die. However, there are a lot of male mystery writers, most of them Scandinavian, that I just love (e.g. Henning Mankell,Stig Larsson), and a lot of female writers that I got tired of (Anne Rice: too religious, Patricia Cornwell: too obsessed with serial killers).

Which brings me to the latest mystery I read: M.R. Hall's The Coroner. 
Great book, complex plot and background story, totally from a woman's point of view. Good thing the author decided to use his initials only. Otherwise, I'd probably not have picked it up. I am looking forward to reading the sequel. 

The Coroner's protagonist is, surprise, a coroner. Since she just starts out in this position, she teaches herself, and the reader, on the duties and rights of the coroner as needed, and as the investigations proceed, a point of view that I knew little about before I read this book. 

The combination of the crime story, and political issues like private prisons and the difference between punishment and rehabilitation, together with a background story of a woman struggling with mental issues, makes this book a wonderful read. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Gender of Writing

I just came across a blog post on copyblogger from
James Chartrand.
James is a successful freelance writer, making a good living from it. When his blog, that is essential for him to get writing jobs, made the top ten list of writer's blogs, and additionally somebody outed him, he decided to go public about his/her gender.

This writer has chosen a male name for economic reasons. With a male name, she could get more and higher paid jobs. With a male name she got more respect from clients. With a male name the clients were happier with her work. Working under a male name enabled her to provide for her children and become financially stable.

This in itself is a wonderful example on how much work there still is cut out for feminism. Additionally to the article from James, the comments and related blog posts are quite revealing.

Reading James' blog, and a blog post from Tiger Beatdown (,  raises the question whether it is really just the name change that made James so successful. The blog design makes a distinctly male impression. James created a whole male persona by making references to his (either invented or modified) real life. Many posts include sexist remarks.

Since it is common for bloggers to write about their personal life, and the followers feel like they know the real person, be familiar with it/him/her, the creation of a persona would in my opinion help getting jobs and income. But does it have to be so blatantly male and sexist?

There are several things that come to my mind:
  • James got a kick out of being perceived as an alpha male
  • James rejects her femaleness secretly
  • No matter what, this is in retrospect a great social experiment
  • Will the writing and the perception of the blog change now?
I am looking forward to further writings from James. 

Monday, January 4, 2010

2010 Global Reading Challenge

Check out the 2010 Global Reading challenge:

That's a great way to explore novels/mysteries from different continents. My reading has been way too Euro-centric and America centric, so I decided to participate.
Last year's list didn't include anything from other continents (except one Jo Nesboe that took place in Australia, but I think that's cheating since she is Norwegian). And I guess, S.J.Rozan's mysteries that take place in Hongkong don't count either.

I wonder which continent Island belongs to. One of the books on my wish list is from Yrsa Sigurdardottir, sounds quite interesting. Also, I have seen a lot from Arnaldur Indridason, which probably means that he should be on the list for this year.

An interesting list of Brazilian authors can be found at

For Antarctica, Robert Masello's Blood and Ice sounds interesting.

Holiday Break 2010

After reading the last eight novels of Nevada Barr in December and a wonderful mystery from Tana French (The Likeness), I started the new year with the remnants of my bookshelf: Zoo Station by Dan Downing and No Place like Home from Mary Higgins Clark. Both of them don't come close in entertainment level to the Tana French mystery, which had some issues, mainly that the story was not very believable, but still was my recent highlight.

Mary Higgins Clark: No Place like Home

I nice mystery about a woman with a hidded past that is threatened to be exposed. A grand house in New Jersey with it's posh country club surroundings, in an in-bread small town atmosphere, with envy, greed, gossip, all the good things you see in close communities.
It's entertaining, a nice easy read.
This book reminds me a lot of the 1944 movie "Gaslight". These two have several overlapping features: The house with a secret; the sane husband and the insane wife, which turn into the insane, greedy husband and innocent wife; the prosecuter that comes to the rescue; I kept thinking that I read this book before.

Dan Downing: Zoo Station

A spy novel set in 1939 Berlin. This is also nice read, however, I was wishing it would be a bit more complex. The story is interesting, as far as I can tell well researched, but is not very gripping (Es plaetschert vor sich hin). It is a good reminder of Nazi brutality, and describes the information level and the consequences drawn from it between different groups of people (polititians in foreign contries, regular people, business people, etc). I liked the way the protagonist listed all the streets and places he passed, because I know most of them, having lived in Berlin for a while. However, for somebody who doesn't know the city, the enumeration of streets might be a bit cumbersome. I'll probably read the sequel: Silesian Station.

Food for Drama

Since I have been reading a lot of mysteries recently, this blog is part of an effort to organize my reading a bit, as much for my own book-keeping as for a source of reviews for others, in case anybody is interested. I primarily am looking to create an outlet for the 2010globalchallenge, and will throw in other books, food related posts, photographs, and other drama and fun.