Book recommendation: “Mach dir checklisten” by moses. Verlag

I was at the local library/stationery and I had to buy this collection of todo-list templates:

Book cover – from moses. Verlag

It’s a nice selection of lists, box patterns, lines, squares, crosses, checklists… on pages that you can easily take out of the book and stick on a board. The very sparse text is in German, but I don’t see it as a problem for non-German speakers… the layouts are too nice! You can see the preview of most of them on their website.

It reminded me of Calvin was right!’s Pretty Pretty Planner – I’m so thankful for this set of agenda formats in such a pleasant color palette. Have a look there as well!

Book recommendation: “Vegan to go” by Attila Hildmann

Today’s book review is about this collection of vegan recipes from Attila Hildmann:

Source: attilahildmann.de

I like the style of this book, the gorgeous pictures, the simplicity of the recipes and of the layout. You can see a preview of the book yourself. Vegan to go is currently only available in German, while two other books from him are translated to English (Vegan for fit and Vegan for fun) – I hope this one gets translated soon, because it has so many useful ideas for lunches and picnics! He also gives a ton of tips about how to optimise cooking (cook a larger amont and use it in other recipes, reuse leftovers, cook several side dishes and combine them in a tasty, varied lunchbox…)

Attila explains the basic principles of veganism in the introduction. I liked how he didn’t try to mass-convert the readers, or worse, to make non-vegans feel guilty about eating meat and dairy, and use that as a moral crowbar. He is great in telling his story and sharing his thoughts about his way of eating. I liked how he shows how vegan recipes don’t have to be boring or ascetic or the normal-recipe-without-meat, and that many recipes in Mediterranean cuisines are already vegan. I also liked how he talks about his hobbies on Facebook: fast cars, sports, vegan recipes… he doesn’t fit the description of the usual vegan, but then I got a revelation: does he have to in order to be considered a proper vegan? Shall we expect that all vegans have everything else in common? I think that he is building a bridge towards all people who are not interested in how vegans dress, have fun, shop and so on, and therefore assume are not interested in how they eat; he shows that eating vegan doesn’t involve the rest of your life, if you don’t make explicit, separate decisions to do so.

Thanks, Attila, for being a great ambassador, for your recipes and your positive vibe!

Book recommendation: “Barkskins” by Annie Proulx

I just finished reading this monumental book and I’d like to write its review while the characters and the atmosphere are still hovering in my mind.

article20lead20-20narrow1010285929gphwhcimage-related-articleleadnarrow-353x0-gphxm1-png1466077644226-300x0This book was mentioned in one of BBC Radio 4 “Open Book” episodes. I had the good chance of finding it in the small English section of my local library. I confess I was initially intimidated by its page count (700+ pages, plus two family trees (!) in appendix), and was not especially thrilled by the first few chapters. The setting remembered me of other books that I cherish, so the inevitable comparison made it hard to follow her way of describing those places and times. But I went on.

My perseverance was well rewarded! It is a magnificent tapestry of human destinies that the reader is guided to discover, one life at a time. I used to dislike when a whole group of people, century or country are condensed in the story of a few characters, but this time I saw it more as way of presenting several points of view, rather than making up a parable through simplification. I laughed so much at the tiniest details that made the whole picture come alive: noises, smells in particular. I find that Annie Proulx created a symphony. I am no writer, and when I do it’s more doodling than prosing; there has to be some different skillset in action when putting together such a book. It could compare to the difference between the training for a sprint and a marathon (also for the reader, when I think about it). I noticed that I had to read slower than usual if I wanted to understand what the book was about. It seemed to me like starting a week-long hike by properly warming up instead of running to the next landmark. The initial chapters have been able to slow down my pace and tune it to the speed I needed to complete the read. I like to think that it was intentional; either way, I am grateful for this little lesson.

For who is looking for the summary and comments on this book, I simply redirect you to the Internet and your trusted fellow readers/librarians. I didn’t search this book for the contents, but for the style; and my review is purposely focused on it.

Book recommendation – “Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam” by Amélie Nothomb

(I want to make an experiment and write this post in two versions, one in French and one in English.)

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Je viens de terminer la lecture de ce roman qui m’a doucement émue. Il m’est rarement arrivé de me reconnaître autant dans les pensées de quelqu’un d’autre et d’avoir reçu l’inspiration et la calme pour avancer dans ma propre partie d’échecs. Durant ces dernières années, j’ai cherché ce genre de modèle avec une frénesie croissante, n’en trouvant que de très partiels. Le récit de ce début de vie m’a si simplement fait comprendre que je peux renoncer aux développements sociaux classiques (travail, mariage, maison, enfants, chien etc.) sans forcément détruire mon futur ou me sentir coupable pour toujours. J’ai grand besoin d’histoires de survécus. J’ai besoin de savoir qui il y a d’autres histoires où un non n’engendre pas de rage, de bile, de résistance.

De plus, l’autrice est d’origine belge comme moi. Ceci pourrait n’être qu’un mot sur un document officiel, mais c’est ce qui m’a fait dire “Oh, moi aussi!” en lisant les quelques phrases du roman où l’autrice parle des nuages gris de la Belgique avec une affection simple et profonde. Moi aussi, j’aime le temps couvert de la Belgique. Il a été la lumière estompée d’autant de bonnes mémoires.

Je remercie Amélie Nothomb d’avoir réussi un livre aussi sincère et puissant.

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[English version]

I just finished the last pages of this novel and I feel so moved. It rarely happened to me to identify myself so easily with the thoughts of someone else, and to receive inspiration and serenity to keep playing my own chess game. I have been looking for such models with increasing frenzy, as I only found very partial ones. This story made me understand that I can give the usual social upgrades up (good job, marriage, house, children, dog, etc…) without automatically condemn my future or feel guilty forever. I need survivor stories so badly. I need to know that there are other stories where a “no” does not generate rage, acrimony, opposition.

Moreover, the autor is Belgian like me. This could be a dry word on an official document, but it is what made me say: “Me too!” when reading the few sentences in which the author writes with simple and deep affection about the dull grey clouds that are so typical of Belgium. I love the overcast skies of Belgium too. They have been the background and the diffuse light of so many good memories.

I would like to thank Amélie Nothomb for her sincere and powerful book.

Book recommendation – “South Pole Epic” by Daniel Burton

I haven’t finished the book yet, but I am too impatient to review it!

I knew about Daniel‘s expedition from the Wikipedia page about South Pole biking expeditions, when I was looking for references for my previous post about Antarctic expeditions. We (I and my bike-addicted boyfriend) subsequently read a bit of his blog and had to buy his book:

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We started reading it and were initially puzzled by the choice of third-person narrative. I was moreover not that happy with the occasional bumpiness of sentences, and the simple choice of words. But the epic of the adventure captivated us fully,  and made these choices look minor.

The main difference that I noticed from Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen’s narratives is the un-heroism of the protagonist. Of course this is also due to the fact that the three former explorers lead huge teams of people, had any sort of communication difficulties, were on uncharted land most of the time, and missed one hundred years of progress in technology and materials. Daniel’s epic is on another dimension. It is a personal challenge on an Antarctica where he follows ski, truck and snowcat tracks, and is able to use a satellite phone and connect to the Internet every day.

What I like most about this book is the apparent draft-like flow of words. Some could find it “unfinished”, but that’s what makes it more personal, closer to what actually happened. All the moments when Daniel has issues with his bike or with the insidious terrain (crevasses, sastrugi, katabatic wind, soft snow, whiteout…) are told with the knowledge of that very moment, not with the serenity of who knows how the adventure will develop. Many times he loses hope that he will make it, and he tells it quite simply. He mentions a lot of little details that make the reader understand that he is a man like many others, but with a great goal, determination and preparation. It makes me feel like meeting him in person and listening to his recollection of the adventure, with ordinary words, with occasional irregularities in the narrative, with emotion and affection.

I also liked that the first half of the book is about the preparation of this bike trip, from the first ideas that popped up in his mind to the economic difficulties, the support of his family, the endless logistics, the technical details of the bike and clothing. It makes it useful to someone who would like to repeat his feat, there or elsewhere with similar climate.

Definitely a book that I recommend! You can read his blog for excerpts of his adventure.

From the kitchen: Pellegrino Artusi’s cookbook

Today I wish to write about an iconic Italian cookbook: La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene, from Pellegrino Artusi. It is so famous that people call it simply “l’Artusi”. The book is the collection of hundreds of regional and family recipes from all around Italy, sampled by Artusi during his business travels and published, with significant difficulties, in 1891. No editor dared to publish such a book, considering it too trivial, so he resolved to publish the first edition at his own expenses and risk. After a short time, with great surprise, he became so popular that it sold over 1 million copies and reached 111 editions!

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I bought a copy of it on a street market in Mantua, not suspecting its value, and after a closer inspection, not understanding why someone would sell it. Each recipe starts with a paragraph about how and where he first knew about the dish, a careful explanation of the cooking steps and special attention to the quality of ingredients. It is nowadays not easy to put into practice, because tools, ingredients and quantities have changed so much: he often mentions the large ovens that were common in farms (forni da campagna), meat cuts that I have never seen, and suggests to cook for 8-12 people. It is more an overview of the Italian society than a cookbook, with its rich descriptions, hints on ingredients availability, perils of travelling, funny anecdotes, common ailments, even the final section with menu suggestions for the common holidays you find “Festa dello Statuto”, that was the anniversary of the first Constitution approved by the king.

I have read it in Italian, the rich, musical, aged Italian of the book’s last edition of 1911. There are translations in multiple languages, that I hope keep its peculiar atmosphere. Enjoy!

Book recommendation – Calligraphie arabe vivante

I have started to post more regularly about the various topics that interest me, and Friday  is book recommendation day!

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Today I wish to present Hassan Massoudy‘s “Calligraphie arabe vivante”, a book that I got to know from another book, “La goutte d’or” by Michel Tournier. In Tournier’s novel, the young protagonist Idriss meets a master calligrapher, who teaches him Arabic calligraphy and its abstract, powerful grace. In the post-scriptum, Tournier thanked Massoudy for introducing him to calligraphy, “a traditional art where beauty is weaved to truth and wisdom” (personal translation from French). The citation pointed to Calligraphie arabe vivante. Without hesitation, I bought the book and got fascinated by the plasticity of Arabic writing – sometimes elegantly round, sometimes hatched and mechanical, even expressionist. I am amazed at how much additional information and force can be integrated in the shapes that build up actual words – and how, by not understanding the words as such, I am exposed only to their art.

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You can see many more Massoudy’s creations on his personal website. If you want a high-quality photo book with a great selection of calligraphy works and detailed explanations of traditional techniques, I totally recommend this book!

(Picture credits: islamic-arts.org)