Posts

Nordic exotica: 7 great books about Finland written by foreigners

best-finnish-books

Finland’s long been something of an exotic destination for adventurers, both those who arrive in person and those who voyage here via their imaginations. Focusing on the latter category, we’ve collected a shortlist of some the finest books you can read about Finland written from a non-Finnish perspective. This shortlist contains everything from Cold War spy novels, adolescent coming of age drama to aching love stories. So, sit tight, and prepare to voyage, from the comfort of your couch, to the far north.

Read more

Lessons in life: 5 books about schooldays everyone should read

school

There’s a good reason school-stories have always done well: we can all relate, right? We might not have gone to boarding school like the Mallory Towers gals, or gotten our Hogwarts invitation like Hermione Granger, but the French class/homework/detention/Sports Day cycle is pretty much the same the world round. Children’s literature is dominated by it, whether we’re talking Enid Blyton’s The Twins at St Clare’s or Gillian Cross’s The Demon Headmaster, and the adult version, tipping into university life (a.k.a. the campus novel), is another perennial variety. So it’s not exactly obscure, but we love it all the same! Here are five examples of educational romps for all ages that kept us up all night with our torches under the bedclothes.

1. The Secret History, Donna Tartt

tartt

A creepy classic of modern literature, this is set in a small upmarket university in Vermont, and it’s about a group of classmates who commit a murder. The characters are oddballs, in that they’re peculiarly snooty classics students, and the narrator, Richard, is so determined to impress them that he gets in way over his head… It’s melodramatic and completely mad but very, very captivating. You’ll never look at Ancient Greek in quite the same way again.




2. Back Home, Michelle Magorian

back home

A little girl is evacuated to the US during WWII and has a jolly old time, but then, boom, the war is over, and she’s shipped back to boarding school in England, where everything’s rotten, the other girls are awful and there isn’t anything to eat (damn those rations). And then drumroll, she meets a boy. Of course, it’s not that simple: this is a really bleak look at alienation and bullying and loss, but even if it might put you off boarding school, you’ve still got to read it! Complex and heartbreaking and, finally, uplifting.

3. Cat Among the Pigeons, Agatha Christie

agatha christie

It’s Agatha Christie so it’s got to be mystery, and this is an article about school stories, so… yes! A murder mystery set in a boarding school! If ever there were two genres that cried out to be combined… It’s got jewel thievery and spies and kidnappings and Middle Easter revolutionaries and it’s even got Poirot (albeit only briefly)! With high drama and a lot of humour, like anything by Christie, you’re going to enjoy it, even if your own school days are going to seem pretty lame in comparison.

4. Moo, Jane Smiley

moo

A campus novel set in an agricultural college in the American Midwest, Moo features a memorably cast of academic freaks and misfits – one is conducting experiments on an unfortunate boar called Earl – and pokes fun at the genre as a whole, with one chapter labeled ‘Who’s in Bed with Whom?’ There’s certainly a lot of bed-hopping, as well as back-stabbing and conniving, and we thought that Dr. Gift, a professor who refers to the students as ‘customers’, is right on the money for today’s educational zeitgeist, though the book itself came out in 1995. A dry satire with a complex weave of plots, this will appeal to pretty much anyone who’s worked anywhere near the university sector.




5. Madeline, Ludwig Bemelmans

madeline

Bringing it back home with one for the kids, this beautiful picture book and its series of successors features a little girl – Madeline! – who’s away at a Parisian boarding school (‘an old house with vines’ where live ‘twelve little girls in two straight lines’ and their long-suffering teacher, Miss Clavel. The near-monochromatic illustrations (black, white and yellow, mostly) are gorgeous and even the slight awkwardness of the English translations of the original French rhymes don’t make this anything less than enchanting. This first book came out in 1939, and while it spawned a still-expanding franchise of spin-off and sequels, we still love the original the most: after all, a book that makes even appendicitis seem fun has got to have something going for it.

We could go on: there’s Tom Brown’s School Days, for a start, and the opening sections of Jane Eyre and Angela’s Brazil’s brilliantly anarchic stories – but which are your favourites?

14 English-language Finnish blogs every Finland-lover should follow

15 English-language Finnish blogs every Finland-lover should follow

Image: Timo Newton-Syms

Finland can sometimes be a difficult place to get to grips with, especially if you don’t speak or read either of the official languages, Finnish and Swedish. So, to help Finns, immigrants and foreign Finophiles alike get a new perspective on this Nordic wonderland, we’ve gathered a list of blogs written in eloquent English about a wide range of subjects related to life here.

Read more

Fictional feasts: 5 tasty books for food-lovers

cooking

When readers think about literary food fiction, the inevitable spectre of Proust and the infamous madeleine is often invoked, or as a male friend of mine, who rarely reads, immediately exclaims, “You mean, Like Water For Chocolate?” Literary food fiction though can be so much more than that — food has and can provide fictional frameworks that enable one to tell a larger-than-life story, and simultaneously introduce you to a whole different world. Here’s a sampling across genres for the food enthusiast.

Read more

10 things you probably didn’t know about the world of illustration

5 Batman

So, my fifth book, Beautiful Trees, came out a couple of weeks ago and, like all of mine, it’s illustrated (this time by the wonderful Miranda Sofroniou). Which I guess is a little unusual for an author of books for adults. And yes, I say that knowing that writing a picture book for adults might be a little unusual too. Especially when it’s about the trees that are significant to its characters.

So, to help me celebrate, and because I’m generally super-interested in things like this, here are ten surprising and interesting facts about the world of illustration and the brilliant and wondrous people who inhabit it.
Read more

Fooled you! Fiction’s biggest pranksters

fictionalpranksters

The first of April is when all the pranksters come out to play: repressed all year, forced to hide their talents, springtime becomes their valedictorian moment as the traps are baited and set, and the rest of us shriek and cower while the practical jokers take their bows. Some of the most memorable amongst them are figures from literature – here are a few fictional pranksters that shocked, scared and startled us:

Read more

13 websites that will make you a better writer

Ernest Hemingway quote

 

Aspiring writers often look to Hemingway for inspiration, and he’s given us plenty of good advice. But let’s face it — his advice above, while a beautiful notion, is not exactly practical. Most of us can use a little extra help with getting creative and staying focused.

Creative writers can find tons of writing advice on the internet — read more, write more, drink more — we’ve heard it all before. Happily, we can also find resources that are designed to help both amateur and professionals writers alike. Whether you need a random generator to develop your characters, an app that helps you stay on task, or a few creative exercises to pass the time with, there’s something out there that can help you get creative, overcome writer’s block, and hone your skills. Here’s our list of 13 online tools, applications, and websites that will make you a better writer.

For an extra boost of inspiration before you get started on your next masterpiece, take a look at a few words of wisdom about writing from some of our favorite American authors.

Read more

5 female Scottish writers you should be reading

writers in scotland

We’re always on the lookout for new books and new voices, and we’re especially attuned to writing that veers from the straight-white-English-and-American-male demographic. So, assuming you’ve got similar interests, here’s a small selection of writers we’re digging that don’t quite fit that canonic mould – a handful of women who happen to be the some of the greatest Scottish writers of the moment.

Read more

5 must-read books about gender inequality

gender inequality

Gender inequality may not be number one on the political agenda of all the world’s leaders and all the mainstream media – shame on them! – but we were still pretty psyched to see the release of a slate of top-notch feminist, LGBT and trans-aware books over the course of the last twelve months. Here are five of our favourites: buy them, read them, pass them to your friends! Solidarity!

Read more