28 April 2019

Vonnegut on Wealth Inequality

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Kurt Vonnegut
Dial Press, 1965
275 pages

Another book read for #1965Club. Thanks to Kaggsy and Simon for hosting! I read some Vonnegut back in the 60s and 70s, during and after college, and I remember liking his offbeat vision of the world, especially in light of the large anti-war protests going on then at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Recently I started thinking about reading more of his novels and was pleased to find one from 1965 for the club reading week.


The story centers around Eliot Rosewater, a very wealthy man, and how he handles the funds of his family's tax-sheltering foundation. There's not much to the plot. The book is more about the various characters in the Rosewater family, past and present, plus the impoverished citizens of Rosewater County, Indiana, which is pretty much owned by the family, lock, stock, and barrel.

Eliot, who may or may not be insane for most of the book, gives a lot of philosophical musings/speeches about wealth in America and the plight of the poor. The whole story is farcical, satiric, a bit slapstick, take your pick of adjectives. I found it overblown and too snarky for my taste, and therefore more tedious than funny. It's not that I don't agree with Eliot, I just don't like the tone.

I think it's terrible the way people don't share things in this country. I think it's a heartless government that will let one baby be born owning a big piece of the country, the way I was born, and let another baby be born without owning anything. The least a government could do, it seems to me, is to divide things up fairly among the babies - Eliot Rosewater, page 121

Fifty-four years after Vonnegut wrote it, the book seems extremely relevant to today's world, where wealth inequality is a hot topic for the country. A publisher should re-issue it with a foreword by some current politician, scholar, or activist.

This is my entry for the Back to the Classics 2019 Challenge, in the Twentieth Century Classic category.

27 April 2019

#1965 Club: A Classic Police Procedural Novel

Roseanna: a Martin Beck Mystery
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö
Pantheon Books, 1967 translation by Lois Roth
Swedish original "Roseanna: roman om ett brott", 1965
212 pp.

Mysteries have never been at the top of my reading list. I do like the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series by Canadian author Louise Penny, and when I'm not in the mood for more serious Literature, I have a few cozy mystery series on tap. (Hello, Amelia Peabody!) I think the common thread here is that I like mysteries without a lot of blood and gore, graphic violence, serial killers, or misogynistic violence.

But I needed books for the #1965Club and quickly. So I followed the hashtag and found a few blogs with lists of books published in 1965. One review that caught my eye was for a Swedish police procedural called "Roseanna". As it didn't seem too bloody or dark, I got the Kindle version and plunged into 1960s Sweden.


I really enjoyed this story. The main character is First Detective Inspector Martin Beck of the Swedish National Police, Homicide Bureau. He seems like a very ordinary person, although "There were people who thought that he was the country's most capable examining officer." As such he was called out to a small town where dredging of the navigation channel near the locks had scooped up a naked female body.

The emphasis is on the police procedures as they attempt to solve the murder of the unknown woman, which eventually takes them over six months, all in a rather short book. The language is quite plain, without long passages of description. Conversations between the policemen often consist of short phrases or single words, a very realistic depiction of co-workers communicating. The inevitable government bureaucracy gets in the way. The story is about determined, even obsessed policemen working a difficult case, no heroes in sight. This is most assuredly not an action novel!

Ten books - Ten letters in the character's name

"Roseanna" is the first of 10 Martin Beck mysteries by Sjöwall and Wahlöö, often considered the "godparents of Nordic Noir". The series has greatly influenced writers in Sweden and around the world, especially for police procedural mysteries. Check out the web sites below for more information about the authors and Nordic Noir.

Further Reading

"The couple who invented Nordic Noir"
Maj Sjöwall and her late partner paved the way for Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbø. Jake Kerridge meets her

"The queen of crime"
When Maj Sjöwall and her partner Per Wahlöö started writing the Martin Beck detective series in Sweden in the 60s, they little realised that it would change the way we think about policemen for ever

"Nordic Noir: Consider this home base for all things Scandinavian crime fiction."

22 April 2019

Heading Back to 1965

Today's the start of the #1965Club, presented by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings. They pick out a year and everyone reads and reviews books published during that year. Sounds like fun! Plus since I graduated from high school in 1965, I thought it would be interesting to see what was happening in the wider world as I was being unleashed upon it.

As this was a last-minute decision, I have no idea if any of the books I own are from then, so I have some on order from the Cincinnati Public Library. I've been reading the Mrs. 'Arris series lately, and I see Ada is off to be an MP now. And just yesterday I decided to read and re-read Vonnegut novels, so there's one of his. And I loved Dodie Smith's "I Capture the Castle" so I'll check out another of hers. I'm hoping to finish 2 of them this week.

Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Parliament, Paul Gallico
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or, Pearls Before Swine, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr
The Town in Bloom, Dodie Smith

UPDATE: After reading a favorable review of another 1965 novel, I've downloaded it to my Kindle! So I'm currently reading Roseanna: a Martin Beck mystery by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Translated from the Swedish by Lois Roth.

20 April 2019

World Book Day 2019

Are you ready for World Book Day? It will be upon us this Tuesday, 23 April 2019. This special day was officially proclaimed in 1995 by UNESCO, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and is celebrated by over 100 countries on that day. Except that the UK celebrates it on the first Thursday in March, apparently to avoid conflicts with Easter and school holidays.

According to the UNESCO web page, the full name is World Book and Copyright Day, and many festivities are planned all around the world. In addition, a World Book Capital is named each year, and that city promotes literacy throughout the year until April 23rd of the next year. Sharjah, a United Arab Emirates city on the Arabian Gulf, is the World Book Capital for 2019.

 23 April is a symbolic date for world literature. It is on this date in 1616 that Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. It is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors, such as Maurice Druon, Halldór K. Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo.
    - UN web page

I'm all for promoting books, reading, and literacy; they have always been a big part of my life. What makes me especially happy is that Amazon.com is celebrating by offering 9 Kindle books for free! The 6 novels, 1 biography, and 1 true crime book have all been translated into English, and come from a wide variety of languages. In addition the books are by authors who are prize winners or best sellers in their native countries. Such a good chance to peek into another culture. I am looking forward to reading most of these books, and applying them to the Reading All Around the World Challenge!

But hurry, these books are only free until 11:59 PM [Pacific Daylight Time] on Wednesday night. The time remaining is shown at the top of the download page, so check it in your local time zone. Here's the page on Amazon.com to get your free ebooks:

Further Reading

* UN: World Book and Copyright Day 23 April

* UNESCO: World Book Day

* World Book Day - a British site for their day, 7 March 2019

19 April 2019

Classics Club Spin #20

It's Classics Club Spin time again! Each Clubber has a personal list of 50-100 classic books that we have chosen to be our challenge list. For the Spin we pick 20 of those titles and put them into a numbered list. On April 23rd the Club moderators will draw a number from 1 to 20 and we have to read that book on our list by the end of May and report back to the Club.

So here's my list! I want to read them all, but I've wanted to read "A Tree G rows in Brooklyn" for ages, so I'm hoping for #10.

1. Greenwillow, B.J. Chute 1956
2. The Dubliners, James Joyce (1914)
3. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (1869)
4. Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton (1911)
5. The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, Gertrude Stein (1933)
6. Candide, Voltaire (1759)
7. Giles Goat Boy, John Barth (1966)
8. Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell (1864)
9. Elizabeth Gaskell, May Barton (1848)
10. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith (1943)
11. Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome (1889)
12. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe (1958)
13. The Reef, Edith Wharton (1912)
14. The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins (1868)
15. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins (1859)
16. Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis (1954)
17. The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain (1869)
18. Enemies, A Love Story, Isaac Bashevis Singer (1966)
19. Main Street, Sinclair Lewis (1920)
20. Howards End, E. M. Forster (1910)

Ready for Spin!

UPDATE: The spin is #19, so I'm reading Main Street by Sinclair Lewis!