Monthly Archives: February 2009

Books meme

This morning, after reading about the new Kindle (which is sort of a US only product at the moment) I decided to download an eBook reader for the iPhone/iPod touch, and to download some classics from the Gutenburg Project which are thus freely available. I currently have waaaaay too many books in my British flat; they are threatening to take over the room, so it seemed a good idea.

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I then remembered the “100 Books” meme and decided this was a good way to try and pick some things to download; I’m posting this more as a note to myself than anything else, however I’d also love suggestions of other classics that are not on this list but that are highly recommended by someone who reads this blog. I also note that there are several versions of this list floating around and I don’t know which one this is. Today I downloaded “Ethan Frome,” and “Portrait of a Lady” which are two classics I’ve never gotten around to but which are not on this list.

Meme Instructions:

  1. Look at the list and put an ‘x’ after those you have read.
  2. Add a ‘+’ to the ones you LOVE.
  3. Star (*) those you plan on reading.

Note, spelling errors on the list are not mine; I copied it off another blog and tried to correct the obvious ones but I probably did not catch them all!

  1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen x+
  2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien x
  3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte *
  4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling (never plan to read–sorry!)
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee x
  6. The Bible x (well, large chunks of it)
  7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte *
  8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell x
  9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
  10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens x
  11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott x
  12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
  14. Complete Works of Shakespeare x (again, a large chunk of it)
  15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
  16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien x
  17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
  18. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger x
  19. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
  20. Middlemarch – George Eliot
  21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell x+++ (still my fave of all time)
  22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald x
  23. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
  24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy x
  25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
  26. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
  27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky x
  28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck x
  29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll x
  30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame x
  31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy x++
  32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens x
  33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis x
  34. Emma – Jane Austen x+
  35. Persuasion – Jane Austen x+
  36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis x
  37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
  38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
  39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden x+
  40. Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne x
  41. Animal Farm – George Orwell x
  42. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
  43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
  45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
  46. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery x+
  47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding x
  50. Atonement – Ian McEwan
  51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel
  52. Dune – Frank Herbert
  53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
  54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen x+
  55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
  56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens x
  58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
  60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez x
  61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck x
  62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov x+
  63. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
  64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
  65. Count of Monte Cristo – Aleandre Dumas
  66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
  67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
  68. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding x+
  69. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
  70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
  71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
  72. Dracula – Bram Stoker x
  73. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett x+
  74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson x
  75. Ulysses – James Joyce x
  76. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
  78. Germinal – Emile Zola
  79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  80. Possession – AS Byatt
  81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens x
  82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
  83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  84. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
  85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
  86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
  87. Charlotte’s Web – EB White x
  88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
  89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle x (large chunks of it)
  90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
  91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery x
  93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
  94. Watership Down – Richard Adams
  95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
  96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
  97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
  98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare x
  99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl x+
  100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

I’ve bought both Bronte books for my e-reader and should get started on them shortly. I have another bout of back-to-back European travel coming up (Eindhoven then Scotland then Switzerland again) so I plan to make good use of all that spare time. But seriously, all other recommendations welcome. Some of my own favorite classics are not on this list, like Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, anything by Solzhenitsyn (yes I love Russian Literature, it’s true) and the Master and Margarita by Bulgakov (still one of the best books I’ve ever read, and re-read, etc.)

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Whither the weather

There was a major winter storm in Minnesota yesterday, and now the cold is setting in. Today my transplanted self had to give a lecture in a different part of town than I’m normally in, and given the ambient warmth and sunshine I decided to walk back to the office instead of cabbing it as I had there. And I had left my coat and scarf in the office, and didn’t need them on the 3 mile walk. The English spring report: crocuses are out, as are snowdrops and the daffodils are up and getting ready to bloom in the next few days. The English spring comes early, and lulls us into thinking that the summer will be warm (it won’t). But on a day like today, I didn’t at all mind being here instead of in Minneapolis.

You say potato, I say…

Actually, it’s you (Brits) say “Pancake” and I say “Crepe.” I had seen so many pancakes and pancake stories floating around here this week, and when staring uninspiredly at a package of asparagus in my fridge tonight, decided to confirm my suspicions. I googled “English pancake recipe” and came up with Delia’s, which I noted looked remarkably familiar in all ways but one. The ingredients list is identical to what’s in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (well, once you’ve converted all the metric into amounts to mix my measuring cups) except for the method: in America we mix dry (flour and salt) and wet (milk and egg) ingredients separately, then combine, while here apparently the flour with salt gets slowly mixed into the beaten egg then the milk added. Regardless, it was a classic crepe recipe, and I filled mine with crispy asparagus spears and drizzled hollandaise sauce over the top. (No, not caster sugar, I don’t like sweet things and besides that always makes me think of actually eating crepes in Paris, which are still thinner than anything I have managed at home no matter how hard I swirl the pan.) But totally yummy for an easy dinner. But why the name? Is it because there is so much animosity between the Brits and the French? I will still call these “English pancakes” crepes, as for me a pancake has buttermilk and is thick and stacked.

Yesterday was… ?

I was at meetings in East London yesterday, which I do about once every month or two, and these events inevitably end in the pub with the group. I managed to divulge one of those little pieces of Americana that I don’t even think about as being unusual, but it shocked the assembled Britain-dwelling (although not all Britain-born) masses into silence, and left everyone staring at me with their jaws hanging floorward. They were discussing “pancake day” (Shrove Tuesday) and how they needed to go home and make pancakes. I had been seeing signs in the kitchenware shop down the street from me advertising pancake day and trying to sell pancake-making implements, but I had certainly not heard of “pancake day” before moving here and it’s not something I would have thought of yesterday. I was, however, from reading American papers, aware that it was Mardi Gras. Someone must have asked me in passing if the Americans celebrated pancake day, to which I replied (too hastily), “No, but today there will be loads of girls in New Orleans for Mardi Gras drinking too much and lifting their shirts to flash strangers.”

Yeah, you could have heard a pin drop. Oops. But, it’s true, New Orleans is the only place I can think of where people plan in advance to go out drinking and purposefully not be wearing bras for this adventurous practice. I have not been to NoLa for Mardi Gras, although I was there one year for a conference that fell close to St. Patrick’s day, which I have been assured was very Mardi Gras-like, including a parade, beads, t*ts, the whole thing. The conversation moved on to discuss Carnivale and the fact that there were a variety of interesting things happening yesterday depending on where you were. It’s a pretty funny cultural commentary, I thought: the Brits are eating pancakes while the Americans, North and South, are flashing a lot of skin at passers-by. Hmmm. Not sure what that means. But Lent starts today regardless of what you did yesterday.

Manna from heaven

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This amazing gift arrived today from Almost American (a Brit in the US) and it absolutely made my day; nothing is better than a bit of home, especially from a fellow blogger. I have been stunned in the last few months by the sense of community in the expat blogging world; I’m always amused when I comment on a post in the general category of UK/US expat blog exchanges that I read, and I realize that I know several names or handles within the commenters. What a pleasant surprise it has been for me to find that the expat community can be so strong; I have several “facebook friends” within as well as sympathetic voices commenting when I need a little pick-me-up. But let’s face it, four boxes of Cheez-its will last me for several weeks, especially if I ration them like a responsible adult, so I will be reminded for weeks to come of the kindness of not-quite-strangers. To me, cheese-flavored crackers from America truly equates to Manna from Heaven.

The trouble with expat friends

The trouble with expat friends is that they are more likely than other friends to move to another country! I had dinner last night with one of my favorite “real-life” (as opposed to blog-life) expat friends, who is an EU person living in England, but is about to move to Japan. Yes it’s temporary, yes she’ll be back in the UK after a year or two if things work out according to plan, but it does highlight the issue of being a displaced person who befriends other displaced persons. We are all so mobile, you never know where we might end up next!

A rave review

I just finished the utterly fantastic book, “Postcards from Across the Pond” (link is to the blog of the same name) by Michael Harling.

I have read a number of books on the US/UK expat experience as well as on the Brits/England in general, but this one takes the cake–it is hands down the best overall summary of what an American living here would notice and find amusing. And I say amusing, because it’s Harling’s light-hearted tone and wry observations done in the context of admiration, unlike, say, Sarah Lyall’s frequently condescending tone. The book is laugh-out-loud funny in places, the writing is crisp and the stories are brilliant. Of course, I now realize that I could never turn my blog into a book, as many of the same things seem to amuse and confound me and Michael, perhaps providing a reminder that there are some generalities to the expat experience, especially for an American in the UK.

After two and a half years here, I feel as though my overall attitude is similar to Harling’s, in that I am mostly amused at the crazy things I notice and that surprise me; in the early days I was admittedly frequently angry and disgusted because life was proving remarkably difficult (e.g. the whole bank account/credit card fiasco). Yes at times I am critical of the locals, especially on topics about which I care deeply (access to quality education regardless of parental income) but most of the time I too am wryly amused. Reading Harling’s book brought back a memory from last week that I neglected to blog about, which was wandering aimlessly around Manchester in the dark because there are frequently no stand alone street signs in UK cities, and you have to hopefully look for the names of streets to be on placards on the side of buildings, which are not always there on each corner. I had a map and still ended up making two wrong turns, which is quite unusual for me, normally pretty good at navigation (and having won orienteering medals in girl scouts!) but the streets being unlabeled and not at right angles definitely did me in. I know I keep getting off topic here so I’ll conclude this ramble with one more bit of praise for the book; almost every single anecdote made me feel like nodding, yep, I agree, been there, done that, wondered that, rolled my eyes at that, so for any new American expats in the UK or those considering taking the plunge, this book is mandatory reading.