Five hundred and twentythird Asic – The Grapes of Wrath- A Sort of Book Review

What Makes a Good Book Good Enough?

That is one of the things that keeps me busy when I start reading any book whatsoever… Like many other students I was forced to read ”Of Mice and Men” in school as a teenager, and I guess my teacher picked the novel for a few different reasons, among one was the endurable length… I was however thrilled by the way Steinbeck built up his characters and how the story developed.  From a few hints on how George and Lennie had to move on again, after something terrible had happened, I realized I was already thinking; What had happened? As a young reader of a classic novel I was thrilled enough to keep reading until the very last page… I also read ”The Pearl” with great interest and without any effort, but for a novel like ”The Grapes of Wrath” it takes 455 pages before you know the end of the story. As a young reader, I did not meet that challenge, but a summer a couple of years ago, during a vaction in California, ”The Grapes of Wrath” was my perfect companion. I drove past the road sign with ”Salinas” and I went to Monterey and the Monterey Bay Aquarium where a section in the Museum describes John Steinbeck’s writing and I was happy to know that in my car, the book was waiting for me to turn the next page and the next…

Nobelpris_medalj

John Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in 1962,

”for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception”

 Although ”The Grapes of Wrath” was written in 1938 and first published in 1939, the content is extremely important also in 2018. Migrants today, face the same kind of ignorance and racism as the Okies (people from Oklahoma, moving to California) in Steinbeck’s novel. Migrants both now and then, left for the thought of a better future, filled with hope, but also fear. Their plans and hopes are not always fulfilled…

Describing the process of change in a person’s life, like Steinbeck does in ”The Grapes of Wrath”, is a delicate matter between being true or being pathetic. Neither can you exaggerate too much nor be too shallow.

The novel very closely describes the extremely poor conditions for migrant workers in California in the thirties. Racism, cruelty and violence together with greed seems to be the rule and being from Oklahoma, means being an Okie, which is a stigmatised group at the time. No matter how hard they work, they seem to face very little understanding and empathy from the Californians. The Okies move from one workplace to the other and get less paid for each time they move, so it seems.

vindruvor

Throughout the novel, Steinbeck give descriptions of the surrounding landscape and certain topics of interest. One of the chapters is like a dialogue between a car salesman and an Okie buyer and written with humor, although the underlying message is that many poor Okies were fooled by the car dealers, selling off good cattle or mules in trade for a jalopy. Another such chapter is a very nice description of a few instruments, the harmonica, the guitar and the fiddle and how they blend in together for the coming dance evening, when a certain piece of music is played. That is also where ”Swedes up in Dakota” (p 342) are mentioned, which is fun to read for me as Swedish.

But apart from these humorous chapters, there are also some very critical topics, as when Steinbeck describes how land owners had too much fruit and too much potatoes, too many pigs and instead of giving the food to the extremely poor workers, they poisoned the potatoes, drowned the pigs and drenched the fruit in kerosene, only for the pleasure of not giving it to the starving workers. That is when ”The Grapes of Wrath”(p 349) is uttered…

A good book is a book you never forget…

That is what ”The Grapes of Wrath” was to me…

 

cotton-capsule

Four hundred and ninety fourth åsic- The Yellow Wall and The Blue Wallpaper

I used to teach in another classroom a couple of years ago. When I started off teaching there, I had an opportunity to decide for myself what the classroom would look like. I think that is one of the reasons that I liked it there. When moving out , I removed all the details because I wanted to give the new teachers the same opportunity to do whatever they wanted to make the classroom feel like ”theirs”.

This is something I wrote when I was still teaching in my old room: 

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is an American short story read  by many, but how many of the readers have spent a fortnight of pure creative language learning in a yellow classroom ? The teacher had painted her classroom herself and turned the dark dull room in the basement into a positive oasis for learning. All walls were painted in a bright yellow colour. Her combination of gifts from previous students, her own creations or things she had got here and there, together with wisdom on little plaques or instruction posters with different themes like weekdays, phrases or words for certain occasions, gave the impression of a nice and welcoming place where the soul of learning was more important than anything else. Soul in English almost sounds like sun in Swedish, sol.

My classroom is not painted by me and it is not yellow either, but I have hanged The Blue Wallpaper myself and I have added a lot of blue accents, such as glass, fabric or decorations. Blue is my fave color and it also lead my thoughts to water or to a realxing feeling that makes me calm. In one of the corners of my room I have a waterdoor… In another corner are verbs connected to language use. The many hearts on the window to our pentry is decorated with thoughs or words on the theme LOVE. I think my students are important in many ways. I also find their background, culture and languages important. I think it is necessary for a classroom where languages are taught, that you actually can see that we speak different languages. All those languages are important. Knowing several languages is a true wisdom!

BLÅTT och GULT

 DSC_0016DSC_0017DSC_0015

 

The teacher I visited in NJ, USA was teaching about weather expressions in Spanish when I was there and both the students and herself were happy… and yellow is the happy color that perfectly suits a classroom for Spanish lessons. A saying by an ”unknown” author that suits the yellow classroom very well:

Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow

Four Hundred and Eightieth Asic – The Grapes of Wrath- A Sort of Book Review

What Makes a Good Book Good Enough?

That is one of the things that keeps me busy when I start reading any book whatsoever… Like many other students I was forced to read ”Of Mice and Men” in school as a teenager, and I guess my teacher picked the novel for a few different reasons, among one was the endurable length… I was however thrilled by the way Steinbeck built up his characters and how the story developed.  From a few hints on how George and Lennie had to move on again, after something terrible had happened, I realized I was already thinking; What had happened? As a young reader of a classic novel I was thrilled enough to keep reading until the very last page… I also read ”The Pearl” with great interest and without any effort, but for a novel like ”The Grapes of Wrath” it takes 455 pages before you know the end of the story. As a young reader, I did not meet that challenge, but last summer, during a vaction in California, ”The Grapes of Wrath” was my perfect companion. I drove past the road sign with ”Salinas” and I went to Monterey and the Monterey Bay Aquarium where a section in the Museum describes John Steinbeck’s writing and I was happy to know that in my car, the book was waiting for me to turn the next page and the next…

Nobelpris_medalj

John Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in 1962,

”for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception”

To me as a Swedish reader, both when I was young and now, I  must say Steinbeck really made a difference. I can see his deep engagement concerning important issues in society and although ”The Grapes of Wrath” was written in 1938 and first published in 1939, the content is extremely important also in 2016. In Europe where I live, migration is an every day topic, since many thousands of people are on the move between different countries. Some end up in camps or in asylum seeking procedures where bureaucratic systems cannot handle the massiv number of applications quick enough. Migrants today, face the same kind of ignorance and racism as the Okies (people from Oklahoma, moving to California) in Steinbeck’s novel. Migrants both now and then, left for the thought of a better future, filled with hope, but also fear. Their plans may be delayed or sometimes changed, and for a few the plans and hopes may never be fulfilled, due to accidents or other problems along the way.

Describing the process of change in a person’s life, like Steinbeck does in ”The Grapes of Wrath”, is a delicate matter, since it is walking on a thin line between being true or being pathetic. Neither can you exaggerate too much nor be too shallow. When the story begins we meet the American state Oklahoma when the weather conditions have been very poor for a long time. Draught and winds have left the land destroyed and every corn field has a layer of dust that makes the corn worthless. The protagonist Tom Joad, is an ex-convict from Mac Alester, where he sat four years for homicide. Now he is out on parole. Tom Joad comes back home in company with an old friend of the family, Jim Casy. In order to find job and better opportunities the Joads decide to leave Oklahoma for California. During the long trip from Sallisaw, Oklahoma to California both Grandpa and Grandma die. Tom’s brother Noah, and his sister’s boyfriend Connie leave the family for different reasons, but the rest of the family stick together. Ma and Pa, Tom and his brother Al, their sister Rosasharn who is pregnant and the younger children Ruthie and Windfield all come to California after a very tough trip through several states, over mountains and finally through the desert.

The novel very closely describes the extremely poor conditions for migrant workers in California in the thirties. Racism, cruelty and violence together with greed seems to be the rule and being from Oklahoma, means being an Okie, which is a stigmatised group at the time. No matter how hard they work, they seem to face very little understanding and empathy from the Californians. The Joads and the other Okies move from one workplace to the other and get less paid for each time they move, so it seems. For several reasons Tom gets in trouble again.

vindruvor

Throughout the novel, Steinbeck give descriptions of the surrounding landscape and certain topics of interest. One of the chapters is like a dialogue between a car salesman and an Okie buyer and written with humor, although the underlying message is that many poor Okies were fooled by the car dealers, selling off good cattle or mules in trade for a jalopy. Another such chapter is a very nice description of a few instruments, the harmonica, the guitar and the fiddle and how they blend in together for the coming dance evening, when a certain piece of music is played. That is also where ”Swedes up in Dakota” (p 342) are mentioned, which is fun to read for me as Swedish.

But apart from these humorous chapters, there are also some very critical topics, as when Steinbeck describes how land owners had too much fruit and too much potatoes, too many pigs and instead of giving the food to the extremely poor workers, they poisoned the potatoes, drowned the pigs and drenched the fruit in kerosene, only for the pleasure of not giving it to the starving workers. That is when ”The Grapes of Wrath”(p 349) is uttered…

For a period of time, the Joads live in the Weedpatch camp, which is a state camp. For the first time in their lives, Ruthie and Windfield see toilets. The workers are all involved in taking care of the camp together, making sure it is kept clean. Here the Joads meet other people they can trust and make friends with and for a moment the reader is fooled to think this book has a happy ending…

I highly recommend ”The Grapes of Wrath” if you would like to get a glimpse of migrant life from the inside. The novel reveal several complex issues and through the Joads and their discussions throughout the novel, you and I get a chance to consider those issues, too. With the coming election in the USA last year when I was there, the voters could decide whether there would be harder times or not for migrant workers from abroad, picking fruit and cotton in California for the benefit of American producers. Some of the migrants came there just like the Joads, with the hope of a better future. Some of the current Californians are likely to be decendants from Okies who came in the thirties.

Let us read books like ”The Grapes of Wrath” and never forget what made us the ones we are today.

cotton-capsule

Fyrahundrasextionde åseriet- En bön för Tjernobyl

Den 26 april 1986 inträffade kärnkraftsolyckan i Tjernobyl. De svenska myndigheterna var först av västländerna med att larma om att något inte stod rätt till, eftersom man kunde notera ökade strålningsvärden vid svenska anläggningar. Det visade sig dock komma från någon annan plats och snart stod det klart att det var ifrån Tjernobyl i Ukraina. 1986 var jag en ung vuxen, 19 år gammal. Visst var jag orolig och visst blev jag bestört och alldeles i början var jag beredd att aldrig mer äta någonting som funnits i en skog på Sveriges östkust, men i takt med att tiden gick åt jag hjortron och renkött igen, trots varningar i medier, eftersom jag resonerade som så att en gång ska jag ändå dö och då spelar det inte någon roll om jag gör det av bestrålade hjortron eller en renstek.

Hjortron

Medan jag kunde avfärda problemen med strålningen så lättvindigt fanns människor i omedelbar närhet till kärnkraftverket i Tjernobyl som inte gavs någon möjlighet att faktiskt välja. De var exponerade för ofattbart stark strålning utan några som helst åtgärder de första 36 timmarna, varefter den första större evakueringen skedde. I mitt yrke som lärare hanterar jag ofta källkritiska frågor. Bland många kriterier som jag funderar över vad gäller sanningshalten i en text, är ”närhetsprincipen”, det vill säga hur nära den är som ”berättar”. Om jag återkopplar till min egen nittonåriga tanke, så hade jag tillgång till fakta från t ex Strålsäkerhetsmyndigheten och kunde ta ställning till om jag var i omedelbar fara eller inte. Informationen fanns på den tiden inte lika smidigt som nu, ett en knapptryckning bort…men genom information i TV och radio och även i skolan, fick jag tillräckliga kunskaper för att känna mig förberedd att välja hur just jag skulle hantera situationen.

Genom att läsa boken ”Bön för Tjernobyl” av nobelpristagaren i litteratur 2015, Svetlana Aleksijevitj blir jag medveten om vad mycket vi inte visste 1986 om vad som egentligen hände på plats i Tjernobyl. Författaren har gått till väga med denna bok på samma sätt som hon gjort med de övriga delarna i serien ”Utopins röster”. Hon har besökt och samtalat med hundratals människor, spelat in intervjuerna med enkla små bandspelare, transkriberat dem, sparat kärnfulla citat och därefter kokat ned det mest intressanta till en samling ögonvittnesskildringar. I just den här boken är det för min del extra hudnära, eftersom jag ju faktiskt minns händelsen.

Jag har tidigare läst både ”Kriget har inget kvinnligt ansikte” och ”De sista vittnena” som handlar om andra världskriget från kvinnors respektive barns perspektiv. Båda de böckerna utgår ifrån människor från Belarus som upplevt kriget och som berättat om händelser och erfarenheter från krigsåren för Aleksijevitj. Gemensamt för alla de berättelser författaren har samlat ihop är att hon lyckats fånga krigets grymheter på ett ytterst personligt sätt från varje informants perspektiv. Man upplever krigets fasor genom informanternas ögon, rått, obarmhärtigt och fruktansvärt. I ”Bön för Tjernobyl” har Aleksijevitj genom de många informanterna gett en helt annan bild av kärnkraftsolyckan i Tjernobyl än vad jag någonsin hade kunnat föreställa mig.

Det är hur människor resonerat med sig själva som är mest intressant med boken, som jag ser det. Vi får följa hur informanterna gradvis ändrar uppfattning, först är de säkra på att det är farligt när ett kärnkraftverk brinner och röken ovanför kraftverket är blå. Men när myndighetspersoner intygar att elden är släckt och läget är under kontroll, så invaggas många i den felaktiga tanken att allt är riskfritt. Dessutom är väldigt många i området inte alls ifrågasättande när det snart förestående firandet av första maj ska gå av stapeln. De allra flesta firar, trots att de är bara några kilometer bort ifrån kraftverket. Vissa informanter berättar hur man menat att det varit viktigt att stå enade mot ”fienden”, medan andra menar att det var befängt att inte inse att ”fienden” denna gång var själva strålningen.

En efter en vittnar de om betydande slarv med skyddsutrustning, bristande säkerhetskontroller, ofullständiga eller obefintliga hälsokontroller och nästan ingen utdelning av  t ex jodtabletter. Förutom detta berättas om fruktansvärda händelser i samband med olika uppdrag inom säkerhetszonen, upprepade fall av maktmissbruk från befäl på olika nivåer i hierarkin, tragiska sjukdomsfall och dödsfall som inträffat enbart för att människor fördes bakom ljuset angående hälsorisker. Om jag då återkommer till min tanke om källkritik, så menar jag att jag tror dem, alla dessa vittnen. Många av informanterna är fysiker, läkare, ingenjörer och andra högt utbildade personer. De ger ett mycket trovärdigt intryck. En tanke som slagit mig är att flera av informanterna upplyst om att den sarkofag som byggdes över kärnkraftverket skulle ha en livslängd på trettio år… Det är min förhoppning av det nya höljet blir klart i tid, med tanke på konsekvenserna om så inte sker. Boken är ett skrämmande tidsdokument och precis som Svetlana Aleksijevitj säger i början, så handlar inte boken om historia, utan om vår framtid. Så är det verkligen.  Boken borde läsas av alla, ingen nämnd ingen glömd!

Läs mer:

Strålsäkerhetsmyndighetens webbsida

Om bygget av det nya höljet runt kraftverket i Tjernobyl

Etthundranittioandra åseriet om Bön för Tjernobyl

Fyrahundrafyrtiosjunde åseriet- Merabs skönhet av Torgny Lindgren är en av mina favoriter

Färglada böcker med vit bakgrund

I en hastigt ihopknåpad tio-i-topp på Världsbokens dag 2016, blev det så att författaren Torgny Lindgrens bok Merabs skönhet toppade min spontant framvärkta lista… Alldeles nyss kom en avisering från Dagens Nyheter om att Torgny Lindgren avlidit. Det är tur för oss alla att han valde att skriva och publicera sina böcker, så att hans fantastiska berättelser kunde spridas utanför de byar och avlägsna skogspörten han så väl lyckats skildra. Senare ikväll när jag tänkt lite noggrannare ska jag grotta ner mig i tanken om varför jag tycker att denne författare var så fantastisk, men nu kan ni notera vilka böcker jag har placerat längre ner på listan… Om ni händelsevis läst någon av de andra, så vet ni i förhållande till just den, exakt hur bra Merabs skönhet är…

Här är mina tankar från 2016 angående listan:

Inte kan man rimligtvis mäta vilken bok som är bäst? Det kan i alla fall inte jag göra. Det finns böcker som talar till mig en viss period i mitt liv och vid ett annat tillfälle ter sig samma innehåll alldeles platt och meningslöst. När jag läser händer något med mig själv. Man kan säga att det är hur mycket som händer med mig själv och hur mycket jag funderar under läsningens gång som avgör för just mig om jag anser att en bok är läsvärd eller inte. Därför har jag många gånger varit med om att människor har tipsat mig om böcker som de beskriver som ”den bästa boken jag har läst någonsin” och när jag själv läser den så tycker jag något annat. Även det omvända har inträffat. Jag kanske frågar en person angående en viss boktitel och får veta att boken är fullständigt värdelös och att boken inte ens lästes ut. Är jag ändå tillräckligt nyfiken på den där boken, så börjar jag läsa den trots det nedslående omdömet. Det har hänt att en sådan bok ändå i mitt eget tycke är läsvärd och ibland också får en alldeles egen vrå i mitt minne, i kategorin oförglömligt bra.

Men genom att samtala om litteratur med andra har jag alltså blivit van vid att vi har olika uppfattningar om det vi läser. Min lista här, är därför inte någon pretentiös lista som gör anspråk på att vara ”Listan med stort L”… I stället kan du se den för vad den är. Det är en lista av böcker som jag, just när jag läste dem, tyckte var väldigt tänkvärda och givande och dessutom lämnade ett bestående minne. De är alla böcker jag kan tänka mig att läsa på nytt, men av väldigt många olika skäl. Se böckerna i min lista som en lista på bredden! Det går inte att rangordna en bok! Man kan inte säga att en bok är ”den allra bästa som någonsin utgivits”. Det avgörs av så många andra faktorer. För att understryka detta att man inte kan göra en lista med de tio mest läsvärda böckerna som skrivits, låter jag listan ha 14 böcker… 😉

 

  1. Merabs skönhet, av Torgny Lindgren
  2. Tea-Bag, av Henning Mankell
  3. Inferno, av August Strindberg
  4. Harens år, av Arto Paasilinna
  5. Utvandrarna, av Vilhelm Moberg
  6. Fem människor du möter i himlen, Mitch Ahlbom
  7. Mina drömmars stad, av Per-Anders Fogelström
  8. Kartago, av Joyce Carol Oates
  9. Stoner, av John Williams
  10. Gösta Berlings saga, av Selma Lagerlöf
  11. Korparna, av Tomas Bannerhed
  12. Kvinnor och äppelträd, av Moa Martinson
  13. En halv gul sol, av Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  14. Himmelsdalen, av Marie Hermanson

Fourhundred and thirty-fifth åsic- As cold as in ”To Build a Fire”, by Jack London? #Londonfrossa

Today we had round -20C in my town. The crisp air and the cold did not bother me, since I had planned my walk in the forest thoroughly and was dressed in warm winter clothes.

Many years ago I read the wonderful short story To Build a Fire by Jack London. If you haven’t read it, then DO! It is one of the best short stories I have ever read. Here’s a link to the full text:

To Build a Fire by Jack London

I learned from reading the story long ago that whatever we think we accomplish, we never win a competition with Nature! Jack London tells his story from the point of view of a man who decides to leave the main trail and seek another way, thinking maybe it will be a shortcut… London lets us know that the protagonist is new in the area. He has never spent a winter in Yukon Territory before. Then the author adds:

”The trouble with him was that he was without imagination.”

That is all information we need, really… We understand that he will not be fully prepared for what he will experience in this unfriendly and cold whiteness. When London describes the extreme cold, we understand the danger, but does the man?

”He knew that at fifty below spittle crackled on the snow, but this spittle had crackled in the air.”

The man does realize that it has to be below fifty, but that doesn’t lead him into the conclusion that he will not manage in this weather for long. Throughout the story several situations point out how unaware the man seems to be of the hidden dangers in the surrounding landscape. The man chews tobacco and his beard is filled with ice and along the telling of the story we notice how the beard is slowly built up like an ice-muzzle. If he will take a pause, he will not be able to eat or drink…

London describes many aspects of the Yukon winter that this man is not familiar with and as he paints the icecold scenario the reader slowly comes to the insight that this will lead to a disaster of some sort. The protagonist is followed by a dog, a native husky that knows enough of this weather as to wait for the man to soon build a fire… but the man does not stop to build a fire… As the dog once breaks through and wets his forelegs when being forced by the man to cross over at a hidden creek, the man first admires the dog’s instinct to quickly get rid of the wet and ice, then he foolishly removes his own gloves to help the dog…unaware of the risk for his own sake. His fingers instantly turn numb and that is in a way the beginning of the end…

When I took a walk today, I was taking one single step aside of the track, because I was searching for a better angle for my photo… Afterwards, my boots were filled with snow that first melted for a while, then re-froze and from being perfectly comfortable with my situation I was now slowly getting more and more cold. I was however lucky to know I was only fifteen minutes from home. I didn’t even need to think of building a fire… Instead I went indoors, thinking I was lucky who lived in the middle of a town and not in Yukon Territory, but also remembering this wonderful short story by Jack London with warmth. What a great piece of literature that is!

The three hundred and ninetyfifth åsic- The Yellow Wall and The Blue Wallpaper

I used to teach in another classroom a couple of years ago. When I started off teaching there, I had an opportunity to decide for myself what the classroom would look like. I think that is one of the reasons that I liked it there. When moving out a few months ago, I removed all the details because I wanted to give the new teachers the same opportunity to do whatever they wanted to make the classroom feel like ”theirs”.

This is what I wrote when I was still teaching in my old room: 

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is an American short story read  by many, but how many of the readers have spent a fortnight of pure creative language learning in a yellow classroom ? The teacher had painted her classroom herself and turned the dark dull room in the basement into a positive oasis for learning. All walls were painted in a bright yellow colour. Her combination of gifts from previous students, her own creations or things she had got here and there, together with wisdom on little plaques or instruction posters with different themes like weekdays, phrases or words for certain occasions, gave the impression of a nice and welcoming place where the soul of learning was more important than anything else. Soul in English almost sounds like sun in Swedish, sol.

My classroom is not painted by me and it is not yellow either, but I have hanged The Blue Wallpaper myself and I have added a lot of blue accents, such as glass, fabric or decorations. Blue is my fave color and it also lead my thoughts to water or to a realxing feeling that makes me calm. In one of the corners of my room I have a waterdoor… In another corner are verbs connected to language use. The many hearts on the window to our pentry is decorated with thoughs or words on the theme LOVE. I think my students are important in many ways. I also find their background, culture and languages important. I think it is necessary for a classroom where languages are taught, that you actually can see that we speak different languages. All those languages are important. Knowing several languages is a true wisdom!

BLÅTT och GULT

 DSC_0016DSC_0017DSC_0015

 

The teacher I visited in NJ, USA was teaching about weather expressions in Spanish when I was there and both the students and herself were happy… and yellow is the happy color that perfectly suits a classroom for Spanish lessons. A saying by an ”unknown” author that suits the yellow classroom very well:

Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow