Imagination needs inspiration to bloom.


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol is one of the stories in the Selected Illustrated Works of Charles Dickens, which includes the Christmas stories, ghost stories and other tales. Many know the story about the miser that despises Christmas and learns an important lesson when visited by the Ghost of Christmas past, present and future. The story takes place during Christmas but it really is about other things. It's about the disadvantage of capitalism, which robs people of their human emotions, where selfishness and indifference take the place of humanity and generosity.

Another theme could be faith. In the beginning, Scrooge has no faith. He is a cynic, dismissing everything as "humbug", but after getting a new perspective of himself and the world, he turns into a believer.

Something worth mentioning about Dickens work is the occasional half-digressions that aren't necessary for the plot. The descriptions are beautiful and colored, but demands patience from the reader and, to a certain extent, actually slow down the pace.

During the Victorian era, ghosts were common in literature. If not as scary beings, they served to deliver a message, explain things, present the reader with feelings, emphasized with the supernatural element. In A Christmas Carol, the ghosts could be real or not. Ebeneezer Scrooge could be a man wakened by his conscience, hunting him in his sleep. Or he could actually be visited by those ghosts. Either way, the ghosts aren't important. The message about human greed and ignorance is the important matter, and that every man can choose to improve, it's never too late. And, that happiness doesn't come of money, but of humanity.


The Ebony Horse

One tale of the 1001 Nights, "The Ebony Horse" is an ancient story about kings, kingdoms and beautiful princesses. In a kingdom far away, in Persia, a prince receives a present from a wise man. The present is a magic horse, which can fly if managed in the right way. The prince visits many places, and finds a princess in Yemen. But he is not the only one that falls in love with her, and a chain of events follows.

1001 Nights is believed to originate as Sanskrit tales in ancient India. Then, before the ninth century, at the latest, they were translated into Persian. It narrates fascinating stories with great fantasy, but it also serves as a reminder of a past with no room for women's opinion and choice, and where women more often then not were treated as property, a piece of jewelry and merchandise.


Ali Baba and the forty thieves killed by a slave girl

This edition is one tale of the collection translated by Malcolm C. Lyons. "Ali Baba and the forty thieves killed by a slave girl" is one among many stories forming a sequence that lasted 1001 nights. Ali Baba is a woodcutter, less fortunate than his brother, well off married Qasim. One day, Ali Baba happens to witness a band of thieves opening a cave with the word "Open, Sesam", a phrase with which the world is familiar. In the cave, he meets glimmering gold. What happens next is a series of fortunate and unfortunate events which include Ali Baba and his relatives, the band of thieves and the inhabitants of the village. As is suggested by the title, a slave girl is the true hero of the book, which is surprising and fascinating considering the age of the book.


The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita was written between 1928 and 1940. It all begins with the Devil arriving in Moscow and interjecting in a conversation between to men about the existence of God.

It's layered, complicated plot with it's satire and philosophical context rises many questions. The novel consists of wizards, talking cats and flying pigs but at the same time it reveals a dysfunctional society. The paranoia, the fear of the police and the senseless arrests are common in this book and can be connected to the time of it's creation. The frequent, unnamed fear that bubbles beneath the surface within the characters mirrors the oppressed Soviet society in the 30's.

The really interesting aspect is that the Devil isn't the true evil in the book. The true evil lies within people, and Woland just brings it out. Bulgakov reveals man's inner nature in an exceptional way. Human flaws such as greed and selfishness destroy the characters. Had they been able to resist the temptations, they would have made it. It takes people to build a dysfunctional society. The author shows how easy people are manipulated and affected by money, for instance.

The book deals with contrasts such as good and evil, courage and cowardice, belief and denial, and freedom and imprisonment. When people speak their mind they end up at the psychiatric ward. This symbolizes the oppressed people in the Soviet Union in the 30's. Being free wasn't a choice in such a society, and it required for Margarita to become a witch to be able to brake the rules. The novel also contains the concept of atheism during the time of its creation, and the significance of every man's right to believe.

Something interesting and worth speculating about is the true identity of the Master.


Spår by Lena Sundström

This is a true story about a big conspiracy that reached world wide. In 2004, a Swedish tv-program called ”Kalla Fakta” revealed that two men had been arrested and deported to Egypt in 2001, where they were tortured. They were suspected for having ties to al-Qaida. There were no evidence. No trial. It was viewed with the outmost confidentiality and secrecy and no one in Sweden outside the government and Säpo, the security police, new about what was really going on. It was not an deportation. It was an outright abduction.

Three years later, three Swedish journalists began to investigate the ”deportation” of the two men. In 2001, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed Alzery were arrested and deported. When their judicial representatives were informed, they had already arrived in Kairo. According to a ”human rights”-agreement between Sweden and Egypt they were not to be tortured. The problem was that the Swedish government never really investigated how they were being treated. They only inverviewed them in the company of prison guards and the Chief inspector. If they talked, they would be punished, and the prison guards heard every word they spoke. Therefor, little information about their true treatment escaped the prison walls.

The journalists travelled around the world, interviewed people involved and mapped out mysterious planes routes. The story unfolds and the truth, now well known, turned out to be a big conspiracy where even the CIA was involved. Sweden and 54 other countries let an American intelligence service operate on their soil, kidnap innocent people based on suspicions that came from obscure information, and then leave them to torture.

”Spår” has received good reviews, and is considered an important journalistic achievement. With this book Lena Sundström criticizes the government’s ignorant and non-caring approach. It also shows how difficult and wearing it is to fight for a story that is extremely important, but difficult to explain to people and where it’s almost impossible to bring the people responsible to justice.


Lasermannen by Gellert Tamas

The true story about a boy with German parents, growing up in Sweden, and finally shooting eleven people, of which one died. It began with a little boy being different from the Swedish children, having dark hair and a different name - back then it was Wolfgang Alexander Zaugg - being bullied at the playground and not defended by his mother, who didn't comfort him and used to beat him. This created the first spark that would become John Ausonius. There was another factor as well. Something within him wasn't quite normal, his mental psyche was a little unstable, but he was considerate, loyal to his friends and properly dressed, so he was naturally described as a very nice young man. Early on he took a liking to order and discipline, and despised people that didn't "do anything" with their lives, such as his younger brother. He hated the 70's hippies with their long hair and free spirits. 

Eventually, he imagined himself studying at the university and become someone "important". Being better than the Swedes, he would probably not be bullied, he thought. He would be accepted. That was presumably his subconscious intention. He began to study, but it didn't go according to plan. He wasn't successful at the university. He couldn't concentrate and he couldn't follow orders. He thought everyone was stupid, and was not afraid to say so, even to the teachers. Another carrier path was the military. During his military service he didn't get along with anyone. He finally became a criminal and when in prison he escaped several times, before he was moved to Kumla - a high security prison. He served his time for some minor crimes and then was released. This was before he came up with the idea to get rid of immigrants. He soon began to distance himself from them, thinking they were all criminals and feeding on the society. He began to hate people with foreign backgrounds, and eventually the hate grew into action. He decided he would eliminate them, but when he couldn't find such people, any immigrant would do. So he started to shoot people that looked non-Swedish. People with dark hair, just like himself. Apart from the tragic shootings, he committed many bank robberies, physical abuses and economic frauds. When he wasn't content with his lawyer, he abused him in court. 

I think it's a horrible but rather interesting story about a person trying to suppress his background and distance himself from his roots, thinking that was the right thing to do. He wanted to blend in. His mental disability naturally helped form the murderer in him, but this book is also about the tune of society in the early 90's. Would he have become what he became if not treated as he was as a little boy? Would he have come up with the idea to shoot people with dark hair if the society had accepted them as fellow citizens? The society criticism is prominent when discussing the role of politicians and media in the racism context, claiming that with their lack of interest and politicians and media in the racism context, claiming that with their lack of interest and knowledge, they, in a way, contributed to preconceived notions, fear and thus the segregated community. I think the book has much to say about Sweden in the early 90's. 

Ausonius' had an identity crisis. He switched names two times, colored his hair to a fairer shade and got blue contact lenses. He wanted to melt in among the Swedish people, but he also wanted status and to be economically independent. Therefor, he thought it important for people to know he was smarter than most in his environment. He wanted to be seen as someone special. He wanted to be admired. He persuaded others and himself that he was highly educated despite the fact that he hadn't made it through a single course at the university. He was intelligent but in a narrow kind. He was very talented at arguing and debating, but at the same time he rented his car for his bank robberies in his own name, which finally led the police to him. Although, it took a long time to capture him. 

It's really tragic and depressing to follow a person turning into a monster, causing so much misery around him, destroying eleven people's lives. Ten survived, but they all suffered immensely and never became the same again. Furthermore, not only the people shot were affected. Everywhere, especially in Stockholm, people with a foreign background were afraid and wondered if they would be shot.

The author and journalist has chosen different perspectives in the book. The reader gets to see the world from the view of the victims, people in general, criminal investigators and Politicians. Tamas has adjusted the prose to the person thinking or feeling, and sometimes the reader gets to enter the head of the murderer, based on quotes from interviews with him.

This book reminds me of Gitta Sereny's "Into that darkness: An examination of conscience". People who like reading about the human psyche and what shapes people into monsters should definitely read this one.


Sophie's choice by William Styron

The book was published 1979. The young American Southerner and aspiring writer, Stingo, moves to a new apartment in Brooklyn, New York, and meets his neighbors Sophie and Nathan, a complex couple. At first, he can’t understand their relationship, but when the story unfolds, Sophie’s past is eventually revealed, and Stingo is beginning to see a bigger picture.

The dysfunctional relationship between Sophie and Nathan can eventually be understood, in a way. What makes Styron’s writing so strong is that he is able to delve into what happens to people after a traumatic experience. Not just any such experience, but that of having being changed forever, having survived a concentration camp. I think Styron portrays very convincingly how Sophie’s soul remained in Auschwitz, and how she is never really free. She is still mentally trapped in Auschwitz and her feelings of guilt and despair never left her. That explains her self-destructive relationship with Nathan. The way she punishes herself for surviving is tragic. It’s as if she needs to remind herself of her past, not being too happy. In a way, Nathan is both her savior and her destroyer. Nathan is as complex as Sophie, not able to accept the fact that he, a jew, was living an normal life in New York and was spared the big suffering of millions. He doesn’t know how to handle that Sophie, not even a jew, was a part of that, and not him.

The theme of sexuality and sexual frustration shows how people are influenced by conventions, religion or some other ideology. During the forties Freud seems to have been very popular, and everyone needed an analyst, which they listened to and obeyed blindly. It’s interesting how people everywhere are objects of indoctrination. In the book it’s the Poles' anti-semitism as well as the American Southerners' former abuse of slaves. People in a society get told what to think and what to do. There’s not much room to think for oneself. The easy way is to buy the concept. The hard way is to widen one's perspective.

The prose is wonderful and flows beautifully. The story feels so convincing and real. The part where Sophie's choice is revealed is very powerful and tremendously tragic.


Extremely loud & incredibly close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Title in Swedish is "Extremt högt och otroligt nära".

The life of a nine years old boy, called Oskar Schell, changes forever one day, after several phone calls. It happens to be 11 september 2001. This is the beginning of a difficult time for Oskar, coping and struggling in the aftermaths of his father's death in WTC.

This book is very uneven. Sometimes Foer manages to hit all the right buttons, but then, suddenly the prose drift into a seemingly endless combinations of words and too many commas, and too long sentences which include the same words over and over again, like "crack up" and "heavy boots". Normally I like many commas and long sentences, but this was crazy.

It becomes a confusing mess, which is a big disappointment. Why the quotes from different persons on the same row, without explanation as to who says them? Is that a good distinguishing feature, or just messy and confusing? Sometimes, it's convenient because it creates a flow, but often it's not. The prose is too much, too often, and thereby there's no dramaturgy. That means the reader runs the risk of being desensitized. The 9/11-attacks are terribly sad and horrible, and therefor, when writing about it, it's very important to make it justice. However, occasionally Foer manages to capture the right words at the right time and portray it in a very moving way.


"The Genesis Code" by John F. Case

In Swedish the title is "Fader okänd"

Private detective Joe Lassiter suspects more than a simple murder, when his sister and her son are burned to death in a manmade fire. He uses his company and contacts to find some explanation, and it leads him  to a small community in Italy, where a priest has received a mindblowing confession.

The story that follows feels a little far-fetched but at the same time very fascinating. The thing most interesting is the reminder that today’s science is yesterday’s science fiction. When this book was published in 1997 the thing happening in the book was a relatively unknown science to the public. It wasn't exactly common knowledge and it didn't attract media attention.

Joe Lassiter is a credible character, apart from the fact that he seems capable of turning off his emotions occasionally. He would have benefited from being more emotional, but perhaps it is his way of coping. 

I will definitey check out more of the books written by the couple under the pseydonym John F. Case.

The following text contains spoilers!

A little information about the science theory of the book: When writing this book Case didn't know that in fifteen years the whole world would notice it. In 2012, John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for the science which could be called a kind of reversible engineering - the fact that mature cells can be programmed to become pluripotent stem cells, capable of developing into other, different cells. It is fascinating to read and speculate about how far this science hypothetically could reach. And that is exactly what Case did, back in 1997.


The happy prince by Oscar Wilde

Whatever I read by Oscar Wilde I really like, and it always gives me a bittersweet feeling. The pattern in Wilde's literature is so beautiful. This one is no different. Similar to "The nightingale and the rose" this one is about great sacrifices for people in need, sacrifices that go unnoticed by the shallow and rich people - which could really make a big difference. The swallow is thrown away just like the nightingale was run over in the gutter. Certain deeds require a lot of unselfishness and determination, and can save the lives of other people. Simultaneously, everyone else continue their lives without caring. This contrast is heart-breaking because it makes me wonder how the world would be if everyone cared - especially the powerful people.


Jag tjänar inte by Jenny Åkervall

This is a book about the psychiatry of today, the political hierarchy, how a powerful bunch of people rule over the individual, and Sweden, in general, of today. It's very good at times, especially the society criticism and personal relations. 

The main story is about a psychiatrist who gets to help the security police with judging the level of danger a threat poses to a politician. However, that is not the most interesting part of the book. The thrilling part somehow falls into the shadows. Perhaps Jenny Åkervall handled too many themes, and the book would have benefited from just a few.

I think Åkervall is a talented, promising author and we probably haven't seen the last of her. As a former speech writer for the Swedish prime minister, she knows what she's writing about, and therefor worth reading. Interesting and insightful.


Inferno by Dan Brown

It all starts when Robert Langdon wakes up at a hospital and remember nothing of the previous days. Where is he? What has happened? How did he end up there? And what does he know that is so dangerous? Dan Brown has an ability to awake great topics of interest. His books lack some of the authenticity and credibility that makes some authors’ books considered great pieces of work, but he scrapes on the surface of fascinating history and introduces such interesting topics that you are bound to discuss them later. The theme of this book was as interesting.

However, there are some flaws that are irritating, as in most of Brown’s work. There are too many repetitions. There are illogic comments. There are history lessons, which I really like, but in the wrong places. Oh, the government is after us, and is trying to kill us. Let's go to a museum! I just had an idea that could solve the mystery of symbols on a painting! Almost that illogical. Why the rush? Why not lay low, change one's appearance and cut and dye one's hair if you want to get away?

But I can ignore that. I think people sometimes concentrate too much on the flaws. As I am a fan of history and culture, I have a certain indulgence when it comes to his prose. It’s something with his books that makes me want to learn more about the content, and that’s wonderful.


About the theme of the book: The fact that during a 90-year old person’s life, living today, the world’s population has quadrupled is mind-blowing! It has grown from two billion to eight billion people since the 1920's. The rising numbers can become a problem one day, in the future, and it's interesting to use that as a theme.


Källkritik by Torsten Thurén

Thurén, a senior lecturer in journalism, discusses sources in media and what to consider when valuing information. Real or not real, reliable or unreliable, unbiased or biased, independent or dependent? Other things to consider are how to select information and how to determine level of reason. There's an interesting part about the need to question oneself as well - one's own interpretation and prejudices.

It's clear this is not one of these academic books that people forget having read instantly. To illustrate the impact of sources, Thurén uses real life examples like the disappearance of the heroic Raoul Wallenberg during the second world war, the murder of the Swedish prime minister in the 80's, Olof Palme, and other murders. This brings a authentic perspective to the book that also serves as confirmation of the importance the author applies to sources.

It's difficult to decide whether sources are affected by other people, the environment or the conventions of society and whether the questions asked are open or closed, leading the sources to truthful or false statements. Another thing to consider is how much time that has passed since the actual event. A person's memory tends to be more reliable just after something happens than years later, but at the same time the memory might be blocked because of chock. At the other hand, even though the memory gets worse in the beginning, the deterioration slows down after some time and it doesn't matter if the person is interviewed one year or five years later. Furthermore, people remember what they are interested in, whatever time has passed. These facts really emphasize the complicated world of journalism.

The book does digress sometimes, but it's important issues that needs reflexion.


Reportage: Att få fakta att dansa by Anders Sundelin

Anders Sundelin, a swedish journalist, discusses journalism and commentaries, terms like ”new journalism”, how to find the story and how best to succeed as a journalist. It’s essential not to preach, to be able to follow the ”show, don’t tell”-principle, and know what the phrase ”off the record” really means. A reporter should keep to the truth, but at the same time he chooses, simplifies, rearranges, connects events, fantasises, works with a limited field of vision, misunderstands and affects. Of course, the truth is relative, but perhaps journalists should ask themselves what their profession is all about, keep to the truth, even if the story is somewhat dull.

The book feels a little repetitive and jumps between many people, but otherwise it's interesting. The reader follows Sundelin on a journey through time - to a lot of different journalists and authors and their writing style, thoughts about writing and the reason for writing. Among them Truman Capote, Harper Lee, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Günter Wallraff, Hanna Krall, Nuruddin Farah, V. S. Naipaul, Kevin Kerrane, Ben Yagoda, Dieter Strand, Amira Hass, John Mcphee, Leon Dash, Michael Herr, Jane Kramer, Vasilij Grossman, Carl von Linné, Sebastian Junger, Alexander von Humboldt, Wilfred Thesiger, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Gitta Sereny and more.

It's interesting to learn about famous authors thoughts and mottos. Little do people know that George Orwell hated metaphores and parables that are used commonly in print. Or that Svetlana Aleksijevitj sometimes makes things up to increase the suspense. Or that Ernest Hemingway thought that you should only read dead authors:
”De flesta levande författare existerar inte. Deras ryktbarhet skapas av kritiker som alltid behöver ett säsongsgeni, någon som de förstår helt och hållet och kan bedöma utan risk, men när de här fabricerade genierna är döda så kommer de inte att existera” - Eernest Hemingway, p. 232. 
My own translation: ”Most of the living authors don't exist. Their eminence are created by critics that always need a season genius, someone they understand completely and can criticize without risk, but when these fabricated geniuses are dead they won’t exist.”

Sundelin also discusses the writingprocess. Hemingway used to finish for the day when he had the most fun, to make his subconscious work during the night. Richard Ben Cramer wrote 1000 words a day before he let himself leave his chair. Jonathan Harr thinks that ”writing is always torture”. Isaak Babel claims that he got cardiac convulsions when he didn’t manage to complete a sentence, and describes the feeling as being forced to dig up Mount Everest by himself, with a pick and spade. Claes Hylinger views time as the only way to distance himself from his text, and be able to see the flaws. If a tight deadline, he even tries to trick himself into believing that he finds a text in his desk drawer, to manage to view the text as new and discover the faults. Svetlana Aleksijevitj uses a tape recorder during interviews to keep the person’s tone, and calls the polishing of the text ”the refining process”. What is inspiring about writing commentaries, then? Svetlana talks about her book "Voices from Chernobyl":
”Denna kvinnas känslor kan mäta sig med de känslor som finns hos Shakespeare. En helt vanlig kvinna, som livnär sig på att baka kakor, bär på samma sorts känslor som vi hittar i världslitteraturen. Det fascinerar mig.” - Svetlana Aleksijevitj, p. 178. 
My own translation: "This woman’s feelings is equal to the feelings by Shakespeare. A completely ordinary woman, who earns her money by baking cookies, is carrying the same kind of emotions that we find in the world literature. That fascinates me.”

Another topic is the journalism of today. Sundelin claims that eighty percent of the online news 2007 in Sweden originated from paper magazines. The reports and commentaries are shorter nowadays and future online news will, according to Sundelin, be short as today, but paper magazines will be more customized and luxurious to keep readers.

Journalism is really important for understanding, questioning and democracy. But it looks like the traditional journalism is beyond rescue.
”Litteratur är språk, laddat med mening” - Ezra Pound, p. 236. 
My own translation: ”Literature is language, charged with meaning”.