The Blue Castle

For me, who loved “Anne from Green Gables” or Emily series when they were young, “The blue castle” by Lucy Maud Montgomery was like a return to teenagehood. Even though the book is about a 29 year old woman, it is a story of first love. First love like in old books for teenage girls (at least the ones I read). Maybe a bit oversimplifies and naïve but very much optimistic. But the books is not only about love. More importantly it is about overcoming own fears, daring to live own life and be happy.

Valancy is an old maid who’s live is dominated by her conservative mother and gossipy family. She does what she is told and hates her life. Only when she escapes to her imaginary Blue Castle she feels better. When she is diagnosed with a fatal heart illness she decides to actually start living her life. Moves out of the house, says what she thinks and does things her family does not approve of. And she is happy. And, as I said, there is a love story. And a lot of description of Canadian wilderness.

A nice feel-good book. For people who want to escape reality, get back in the mood of teenage classics, get inspired to go out and enjoy the nature more or need help with fighting their fears.

Fear is the original sin. […] Almost all the evil in the world has its origin in the fact that some one is afraid of something. It is a cold, slimy serpent coiling about you. It is horrible to live with fear; and it is of all things degrading.

If you can sit in silence with a person for half an hour and yet be entirely comfortable, you and that person can be friends. If you cannot, friends you’ll never be and you need not waste time in trying.

Advertisements

Guide to real magic

The thinking woman’s guide to real magic” by Emily Croy Barker is a novel that in a big part is a fantasy, but it definitely is not only that. It’s a story of a modern-time young woman Nora (around thirty years old), who’s academic career and love life is not going so well, that by chance enters a different world that is just perfect. But things are not as good as they seem to be (I guess life can never be perfect) and Nora is nearly killed. Being saved by a magician she discovers that she has propensity for magic and she starts to learn using it. Of course a lot of things happen after that but I don’t want to spoil the plot.

The thinking reader (sometimes I had a feeling that “The thinking woman” from the title refers more to the reader than to Nora) will be able to see more than the heroine. For example, the reader soon realises that the perfect place Nora ends up in is suspicious, before she does (although she was enchanted, so we can’t really blame her). For me that sometimes leads to a frustration “why is she so stupid?”, but one the other hand things happening out of the blue, without a warning can be also frustrating. And of course reader cannot predict many events anyway.

The book refers to Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice” in a number of ways which is quite interesting.

It reads well and I did enjoyed it.

Bieguni

„Bieguni” Olgi Tokarczuk to książka, która otrzymała Literacką Nagrodę Nike i Międzynarodową Nagrodę Bookera. I to zasłużenie.

Bieguni to prawosławny odłam starowierców, ludzie, którzy zło oswajają ruchem (za opisem na okładce książki).

Ale ta książka nie jest o biegunach według tej definicji (poza jednym opowiadaniem). Piszę „książka”, bo według mnie nie jest to powieść, jedna historia. Nie jest to też zbiór opowiadań, choć jest ich w tej książce parę. Ale oprócz tych paru opowiadań rozrzuconych po książce, jest też w niej parę mini-historii i bardzo dużo przemyśleń i spostrzeżeń dotyczących podróży w przestrzeni i czasie (choć tu nie chodzi o SF, ale o podróż ciała w czasie, przez jego konserwowanie po śmierci).

Mi najbardziej utkwiły w pamięci opowiadania. Jedno o mężczyźnie, którego żona i dziecko nagle zniknęło w ostatni dzień wakacji. A drugie o kobiecie, która raz wyszła z domu od ułomnego dziecka, którym musiała się sama opiekować. Nie zdradzę jednak szczegółów (zakończenie pierwszego opowiadania można interpretować na różne sposoby), bo radzę samemu przeczytać tą książkę.

Cytaty:

„Opowieść ma swoją bezwładność, nad którą nie można nigdy do końca zapanować. Domaga się takich jak ja – niepewnych siebie, niezdecydowanych, łatwych do wywiedzenia w pole. Naiwnych.”

Co mówiła zakutana biegunica

Kiwaj się , ruszaj się, ruszaj. Tylko tak mu umkniesz. Ten, kto rządzi światem, nie ma władzy nad ruchem i wie, że nasze ciało w ruchu jest święte, tylko wtedy mu uciekniesz, kiedy się poruszasz. On zaś sprawuje rządy nad tym, co nieruchome i zmartwiałe, nad tym, co bezwolne i bezwładne.

[…] (On) Zajmnie ci myśli nieważnymi rzeczami, co kupić, a co sprzedać, gdzie taniej, a gdzie drożej. Będziesz się odtąd martwić drobiazgami – ceną benzyny i jak ona wpłynie na spłatę kredytu. Będziesz przeżywać każdy dzień boleśnie, jakbyś żyła za karę, lecz kto popełnił zbrodnię i jaką, i kiedy, nie dowiesz się nigdy.”

My favourite books of 2018

Here is a short list of books I liked the most, from the ones I read in English in 2018. (for the list of the ones in Polish, see here).

In general in the order I read them:

Mary Roach “Packing for Mars” – popular science book about being in space (not only Mars). Facts and stories of people who were in space or helped others to be there. Mary Roach writes well and with humour.

Kendare Blake Three Dark Crowns series – fantasy series about three sisters, each with a special gift. According to the law of the island they live on, they have to fight for the reign at the age of sixteen. Only one can survive and become a queen. Well written page-turner with characters you really start to like. You do not want any of the sisters to die. I liked the first two books (“Three Dark Crowns” and “One dark throne”) and a collection of two stories from the times before the series (“Queens of Fennbrin”) the most. The third book of the series (“Two dark reigns”) was added after publisher asked for it and it feels a bit forced. The last book is still not published.

Ben Coates “Why the Dutch are different” – an interesting story of an emigrant to the Netherlands, but full of facts about Dutch history and culture.

Liane Moriarty “Big little lies” – a story about friendship with a mystery. Apparently in many respects different than the series.

Jeff VanderMeer “Wonderbook” – great books for people who want to write their own fiction (mainly fantasy or SF, but not only). Full of pictures, weird ideas and tips also from other authors. On one hand intimidating, but on the other one inspiring.

Agatha Christie “An autobiography” – must read not only for Christie’s funs. Interesting stories of how life was hundred years ago, with deep thoughts about different aspects of life.

Frans de Waal “Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are?” – see a whole post here.

Moje ulubione książki 2018 roku

Krótka lista najlepszych książek, które przeczytałam po polsku w 2018. (Listę najlepszych książek – trochę dłuższą, które przeczytałam po angielsku można znaleźć tutaj). W kolejności w jakiej je przeczytałam:

Olga Rudnicka „Diabli nadali” – Rudnicka jak zawsze z humorem, plus postać, którą się zaczyna lubić i ma się nadzieję, że nie jest taka zła jak na to wskazują przesłanki.

Małgorzata Musierowicz „Ciotka zgryzotka” – kolejna książka z serii Jeżycjada. Niby dla młodzieży, ale ja ciągle te książki lubię. „Ciotka zgryzotka” nie wzbudziła we mnie takiego oddźwięku jak „Wnuczka od orzechów”, ale i tak jest bardzo dobra. Musierowicz jak zawsze pozytywna i wierząca w ludzi.

Regina Brett „Jesteś cudem” – cały post na temat tej książki można znaleźć tutaj.

Olga Tokarczuk “Bieguni” – książka, która zdobyła Nagrodę Literacką Nike i Międzynarodową Nagrodę Bookera. Warta przeczytania. Planuję napisać o niej osobny post.

Evolution of learning

Recently I read an article (“Cumulative cultural evolution in the laboratory: An experimental approach to the origins of structure in human language“ by Simon Kirby, Hannah Cornish, and Kenny Smith) from ten years ago, so not really news, but I found it interesting. It is about the experimental evolution of language. It shows that language when passed from person to person becomes easier to learn and more structured.

The scientists recruited students from Edinburg to participate in the study in which they were supposed to learn an “alien” language and what they learned was passed on to the next generation (next student in the chain).  At the beginning of the study 27 pictures (differing in geometric figure presented, its colour and indicated motion pattern) were paired with a short “word” made up of random syllables. 14 random pairs were shown to participants in a random order. Participants had time to learn them and at the end they had to name all 27 pictures (so also the ones they didn’t see). That created a new set of picture-word pairs that was used for the next participant in the chain (who again could learn 14 of them and later was tested on all). This procedure was repeated along the whole chain of 10 participants.

In the first part of the experiment many words gained multiple meanings. In one chain there was actually only two distinct words left at the end of the chain. So, the language became more learnable (easier), but also conveyed less information. However, “Rather than seeing the emerging language as ambiguous, some participants thought it revealed something about the way the aliens saw the world. For example, in posttest discussions, 1 participant noted that ‘‘color is not important to these aliens.’’ This observation suggests that the participants did not consider the language to be ambiguous, but instead thought that it reflected the distinctions in meaning that the aliens were interested in communicating.” (so true in our language)

In the second part of the experiment, scientists filtered “words” that have multiple meaning. So, in the training set of 14, on one “word” had more than one meaning, only one random version of the picture-word was used, but at the end all pictures were still tested. At the end of this experiment there were much more distinctive “words” used. But they had a structure, e.g. the beginning of the “word” would indicate colour (e.g. n for black) and other parts, other characteristics of the picture. (but exceptions also were seen). So, at the end language was more learnable (had structure) than at the beginning, but still could convey meaning.

In both experiments participants were not trying to make language simpler or more transmissible/learnable, it just evolved that way just by passing “words” and meanings from person to person (generation to generation).

Isn’t it fascinating? Of course it’s just a lab experiment, but I find it amazing how language can evolve.