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The Sunday Salon.comThe Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, where they blog about bookish things of the past week, visit each others weblogs, oh — and read ;)

This is my first time participating in the Sunday Salon. So what bookish things happened to me in week 35?

Sunday dinner (vegan)I finally finished reading The Mapmaker’s Wife by Robert Whitaker. If it hadn’t been a Bookcrossing bookring that came highly recommended by people I trust, I would never have read this book. But now I spent a long time in South American atmospheres, unconsciously stimulating me to eat Moros y Cristiani (Cuban black beans with rice) Cover The Mapmaker's Wifeand have a Mexican meal three times, while listening to the soundtrack of my favourite movie The Mission. I also wrote a review on Graasland because I am participating with this book in the What’s in a Name reading challenge, filing it under two categories: profession and relative. No, I’m not cheating ;) It was my second review for this challenge — but the last book I needed to read! That means I’ve been procrastinating on 4 other reviews… :\

Cover AwayAfter that I started reading Away, by Amy Bloom. And I almost finished it in one go! It is on the list for September in my Dutch online bookgroup (the Boekgrrls) and since it was nominated by me I had to write a reminder to the mailinglist. So I did ;) They’ll have to wait for my review until September has started though! But I can say I especially liked the vivid images of Lillian Leyb’s 1927 journey from New York to Alaska. It was no easy travelling!

Cover Butterfly in the WindSomething that also ‘happened’ (ahum) to me this week: I subscribed to another reading challenge! O no, not again! LOL. But the Japanese Literature Challenge has a very easy target: read one (yes, 1) work by an author of Japanese origin before the end of January 2010. Well, I already started Butterly in the Wind by Rei Kimura: a biographic novel about Okichi Saito, Cover Giftwrappingthe unwilling Japanese concubine of the first American Consul to Japan in the mid 1800’s. I might not stop at that because I LOVE reading Japanese authors — or books about Japanese culture (like non-fiction about origata I am also looking into: Giftwrapping, by Kunio Ekiguchi) — and there’s a chance I’ll be reading some along with other participants of the JLC. I’ll tell you about that when it happens ;)

I feel like I’ve been on a long (and sometimes arduous) expedition. I started reading The Mapmaker’s Wife on Quatorze Juillet, the French national holiday, and it took me more than f i v e weeks to finish those 350 pages of non-fiction by Robert Whitaker! I could have lost a lot of weight during this undertaking, but thankfully I didn’t (according to a fact on page 261):

Because women have a higher percentage of body fat, they tend to outlast men in starvation situations.

Isabel Godin GramesónThat information might come in handy ;) So, who is the mapmaker’s wife? Isabel Gramesón, a Peruvian girl who married Jean Godin (geographer in a 18th century scientific expedition at the equator), when she was thirteen years old. The title suggests the book is all about her — but it isn’t. For the most part it’s the story of the French-Spanish quest that meant to solve the Newtonian – Cartesian dispute about the shape of the earth: flattened at the poles or elongated, with a ‘waist’ at the equator. More details about this mission can be found in Monalisa(a)’s journal entry of the book — her enthusiasm made me participate in this Bookcrossing bookring (that is almost at the end of its journey).

Even though the main subject is not what you expect beforehand, The Mapmaker’s Wife is an interesting read. Scientists of the Enlightment still had lots to discover! Jean Godin and his group were the first foreigners allowed by the Spanish rulers to explore the New World in 1735. So their curiosity went way beyond their main objective: measuring a degree of latitude at the equator. Their expedition took 9 years — and even (much) longer for those members of the team that couldn’t return home immediately.

Cover The Mapmaker's WifeI sometimes felt that the author identified too much with the ‘scientific omnivores’ of that time. There were soooo many details holding up the story. In example: a long way into the history I really didn’t feel the need to hear extensively about Riobamba city. I wanted to learn more about the characters (some of whom I didn’t get to know very well at all). Let’s say that in his enthusiasm, Whitaker was very thorough ;)

This might also be the cause of why Isabel’s story only really starts somewhere in the second half of the book. And that is when it all gets very exciting. After having been separated from her husband for about 20 years, Isabel has to conquer the Amazon rain forest by herself to be able to join Jean in French Guyana and move to France with him. At times her journey left me in complete horror. And pretty astonished in the end! It is a moving tale, well worth reading.

Maybe I would have finished the book quicker had I read it in my native tongue (Dutch) — and maybe then I would have been less bored occasionally because of the scientific descriptions that I didn’t all ‘get’ but couldn’t find worth looking up? It did trigger associations with some favorite cinema though: Longitude, a tv-series about the 18th century quest to find the key to determining longitude, and one of my most cherished movies about a repenting slave trader in South America: The Mission. Attentive readers may notice that Jeremy Irons plays a main part in both ;) I will definitely watch The Mission again on a rainy day this autumn! I advise you to do the same :)

But for now: if you want to get a feeling of the adventures in The Mapmaker’s Wife, you can explore the book’s website where you’ll find reproductions of prints made by the expedition members, a copy of Jean Godin’s letter in which he takes 7000 words to describe his wife’s perils and, last but not least, a slide show of the author, Robert Whitaker, retracing Isabel’s steps in 2002.

Myself, I am going on another journey with a female traveler in the New World: next I will be reading Away, by Amy Bloom.

Exploration journal: The Mapmaker's Wife

Ik was even een weekendje weg met familie. Op de boerderij, in een hooiberghut. Ik had veel plannen en een deel heb ik ook gedaan: veel buiten geweest — gewandeld, gefietst en gegeocacht. Maar mijn boek… nee, dat heb ik nog steeds niet uit. Ik hoop dat de volgende op de ringlijst nog even geduld heeft!

On the threshold of Thursday I would like to write a quick post about the Booking Through Thursday topic of last week: Preferences.

Which do you prefer? (Quick answers–we’ll do more detail at some later date)

Well, I’ll be as brief as possible but I do feel the need to add short explanations to my answers. Why? Because I never like to read plain lists myself either!

  • Reading something frivolous? Or something serious?
    That depends on my mood. Frivolous when I’m tired (busy at work) or on a holiday, but over all I like a serious read.
  • Paperbacks? Or hardcovers?
    Hardcovers look good on my bookshelf ;) And their sustainability is probably better. But paperbacks are often lighter and thus easier to bring along, read in bed etc.
  • Fiction? Or Nonfiction?
    Mostly fiction because it is easier (quicker) to take in and I read for recreation. But I like to alternate with non-fiction when the topic is interesting or (and) the book well-written. Right now I’m reading non-fiction: The Mapmaker’s Wife by Robert Whitaker.
  • Poetry? Or Prose?
    Prose. Prose. And prose.
  • Biographies? Or Autobiographies?
    I like both, as long as they are well-written. Autobiographies are in danger of being badly written (having an interesting personality is no guarantee for being a good writer), and the author might keep his/her secrets hidden in the closet. Or overexagerate ;) Then again, the information is first hand! Biographies can get too sensational or spin a story out of nothing because well… the writer could not really find anything really interesting to talk about. Besides The Mapmaker’s Wife the last biography I read was about Marlene Dietrich, written by her daughter. And it was really b o r i n g — more than 1000 pages long!
  • History? Or Historical Fiction?
    Hm, probably authentic historical fiction ;) Although… The Mapmaker’s Wife seems good ;) My favourite read of 2008 was historical fiction: The Teahouse Fire, by Ellis Avery. I really loved it!
  • Series? Or Stand-alones?
    Again: both. Series to read in a span of several years so that you know what to expect of the characters etc. I wrote about that in my review of What Came Before He Shot Her, the 14th Elizabeth George mysteries I recently read.
  • Classics? Or best-sellers?
    YES! (Wasn’t that the question? ;)
  • Lurid, fruity prose? Or straight-forward, basic prose?
    I guess I prefer straight-forward, basic.
  • Plots? Or Stream-of-Consciousness?
    Plots. (What can I say, I am learning to be short here! ;)
  • Long books? Or Short?
    Long or medium so you can really dive into a story. I don’t like ‘m short because then they are over when I am just beginning to enjoy myself.
  • Illustrated? Or Non-illustrated?
    Depends on the book. But if I really have to choose: no illustrations because I like to create my own images.
  • Borrowed? Or Owned?
    Owned if it is so good I would like to keep the book. Borrowed if I don’t (that saves money, doesn’t it? ;)
  • New? Or Used?
    Erm, used is okay if the books are in good condition: not dirty (!) or smelly or falling apart :( New is better :)
  • Adding my own question: Translation? Or original language?
    I’m Dutch but I like to read English books in their original language as much as possible: I believe the author’s style of writing is important to a good book as well. I would like to do so with all languages I can understand (French and German), but my vocabulary is too rusty and don’t feel like training myself when I am actually having time off.

So much for my preferences. I am afraid I will get excommunicated by btt for being too verbose… But really, this is quick for me! ;)

This week’s Booking through Thursday asks everyone to share their Mt. TBR. Well, here’s mine!

As you can see my Mount To Be Read contains 14 books. 14? Not 15? No, better look closely and count again! :)

From top to bottom, small to large:

  • Away (Amy Bloom)
  • The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (Michael Chabon)
  • Travels in the Scriptorium (Paul Auster)
  • The Brooklyn Follies (Paul Auster)
  • Drivetime (James Meek)
  • Dead Air (Iain Banks)
  • The China Lover in Dutch (Dromen van China, Ian Buruma)
  • Butterfly in the Wind in Dutch (Vlinder in de wind, Rei Kimura)
  • Dreaming Water (Gail Tsukiyama)
  • The Language of Threads (Gail Tsukiyama)
  • The Street of a Thousand Blossoms (Gail Tsukiyama)
  • The Mapmaker’s Wife (Robert Whitaker) — just starting this one
  • The Wasted Vigil (Nadeem Aslam)
  • The Gargoyle (Andrew Davidson)

This stack shows what you might consider my ‘priority reads’. I have some more books lounging unread in several spots in my home, like The Chosen (Chaim Potok) and Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck). Hm, I really should put those higher on the list since they are part of several personal reading challenges ánd they are Bookcrossing books that like to travel!

But wait a minute… where are Revolutionary Road and Easter Parade by Richard Yates???

Good thing Booking Trough Thursday made me check my Mount! I guess I I have some rearranging to do — I don’t think my (literal) bookshelf will hold any more copies without coming off the wall.. So, bye for now!

Gnoe goes ExtraVeganza!

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