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“Who are you?”, “Where does the world come from?”, these are the questions that mysteriously appear in the mailbox of 14 year old Sophie Amundsen.  This is the beginning of Sophie’s correspondence course in philosophy.  It may not seem like a natural fit for a book; a fourteen year old schoolgirl living in Norway and learning philosophy but it works.

As mentioned, the story is set in Norway and this book was translated from Norwegian.  The story starts with Sophie walking home from school and finding these mysterious, anonymous notes.  As with most novels we see everything from the perspective of the protagonist, Sophie.  So we are as much in the dark as she is as to where the notes came from or why they are in her mailbox.  We are then taken on an intriguing journey as her mysterious correspondent keeps delivering more notes and papers to expand her knowledge.  At this point we start to learn about the beginnings of philosophy ourselves as we are reading everything Sophie reads.  This is an interesting way to position what is, in many ways, a text book.  It’s a history and explanation of philosophy and philosophers surrounded by a fictional teenage narrator dealing with normal teenage life.

I studied philosophy at University and I have a basic grounding in some of the major players in this field but I wouldn’t say I could explain exactly who believed what and who came up with specific ideas or ways of looking at the world we live in.  But since reading this book I feel much more confident that I really do understand the philosophy movement and how it has spread and developed over the centuries.

Gaarder has created a story that allows us to connect with a character and their life and interspersed it with fact.  I won’t give anything away but I will say that Sophie’s story develops into part of the philosophical discussion and by the end of the book my head was full of questions.  I really enjoyed this work, perhaps it helped that I enjoy philosophy but I do believe that anyone with even the vaguest interest in philosophy would get a lot from this.  It’s fiction but it’s not, it’s a text book but it isn’t, it’s just a really well written work that provides a great overview of the history of the philosophy movement and the major players and asks questions of the reader that we don’t always take the time to ask ourselves, never mind try to answer!

“Who are you?”, “Where does the world come from?”; I sometimes think it would be nice to have an easy answer but then again, isn’t that why we read;  to explore new worlds and ideas, and try to put ourselves in others shoes?  It’s good to ask questions we can’t answer; the world would be a bit boring if we knew everything.

Tomorrow is world book night; celebrate by giving someone a book or by going along to one of the numerous events happening at bookshops and libraries all around the UK and Ireland.

Check out the website: www.worldbooknight.org for more information on what’s happening near you.

I applied to be a giver and I’m giving my copies of Ben MacIntyre’s Agent ZigZag to St George’s hospital in South London so the books can be given to patients.

I’ve been getting the RSS feed for the blog 1000 Awesome things for over a year now and it’s so much fun to read the headline and think, yeah that’s awesome!  All those everyday experiences that you take for granted but are actually really awesome, such as finding good reading material in someone else’s bathroom, the clean baby smell, finding out what song is in the commercial, the smell of a library, or getting the lid off a jar no one else could open!  I don’t agree with all the awesome posts but it’s nice to be reminded that we’re surrounded by awesome things everyday and we should celebrate the everyday achievements and pleasures just as much as the exceptional.

As I mentioned I’ve been reading this blog for over a year, but I’ve never commented on it.  But todays post really stood out for me; All the food that comes out of a pig is awesome!!  I love pigs; they’re intelligent, cute and extremely tasty.  Think I might need to have a bacon butty soon.

Whilst browsing the BBC website I noticed a link to a photo gallery of World Press Photo winners.  The photos are stunning and sometimes disturbing but definitely worth a look.  After looking at the BBC gallery I thought I’d find out more about this competition.  A quick google search brought me to the World Press Photo website.  According to the website the organisation was founded in 1955 and is run as an independent, non-profit organization based in Amsterdam.  Their mission, “is to encourage high professional standards in photojournalism and to promote a free and unrestricted exchange of information.”

I had a browse through the winners gallery and this photo stood out for me:


It doesn’t make the same impression when it’s so small but it’s well worth a closer look.  I just loved the clarity of the colours and the simplicity.  Many of the other winners focus on current affairs such as natural disasters.  The photos are amazing and they really do bring home the plight of the people involved and the reality of the situation they’re living with; but I probably wouldn’t want a copy on my wall.  I can appreciate the truth of the images but I think I’d rather look at something beautiful.

I went on to Google today and I noticed a new link, actually I’m not sure how new it is but I’d never noticed it before!  It said, “Museums of the World – now introducing the Art Project, powered by Google“.  So I clicked on the link to see what it was, and I’m loving it.  You can choose a museum take a tour around various rooms or look at specific paintings.  For example, I chose the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and it opened in the Arles room, as you can see below.

So I took a little look around and then I decided to look more closely at a few of the paintings and when you select an individual painting you get more information and history via the viewing notes.  One of the paintings I chose was the Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, I love the use of colour and the texture of this work.  It’s as if I can feel the spray from the sea and smell the salt in the air.

Love van Gogh and I’m loving this Art Project from Google.  Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to travel and see works like these first hand and I think the internet is a powerful tool for expanding people’s knowledge of art and culture and what’s out there.  It’s also a great way to see what’s on your doorstep and encourage us all to pop down to our local galleries and museums.

“A fascinating, intelligently told tale, full of intriguing revelations that penetrates deeper into the Andean past than previously attempted.” Traveller Magazine

I’m off to Peru in a couple of months for a holiday so a friend bought me this book as a Christmas present and I decided that the best way to say thank you was to try to get across how fabulous I found this book in a blog post.

I thought I knew what I was going to visit when I booked my trip to Peru, I was excited at the thought of seeing Machu Picchu, but it turns out I really didn’t know anything about the history and culture of this fascinating country.  Hugh Thomson takes on the immense task of trying to convey five millennia of Peruvian history and culture in one book, whilst also attempting to express his own intellectual and physical journey through a country he has been exploring for over twenty five years, in a way that the non-scholar can relate to.  And as far as I’m concerned, he succeeds.

This is a tale of his own journey, so it allows Thomson to interweave personal stories and experiences alongside the historical and archaeological facts.  This brings a human touch to the book and gives the reader an insight into Thomson’s own feelings about Peru and its people.  It’s astute, captivating and, most importantly for a book full of dates and facts, not dry.  Thomson introduces us to Peru’s cultural history and the people who lived and worked the land over millions of years and why they may have lived the way they did.  He also introduces explorers and archaeologists, their viewpoints and arguments and provides his own opinions and perspectives.  The book may be full of detail and history but it’s written like a travel book rather than a history book.  And it’s also inspiring!  Thomson takes us on a journey through Peru’s past but also introduces us to the modern Peru and the beliefs and lifestyles.

His accounts of his travels and discoveries got my adrenaline pumping and heart racing with anticipation.  I know I’m not going to hunt for any undiscovered temples but Thomson allowed me to imagine how it would feel and experience it vicariously.  If I hadn’t already decided to visit, this book would have had me reaching for the travel brochures and I’m now counting the days until I get to follow in some of Thomson’s footsteps.  Plus I really feel like I’ll be able to appreciate what I’m seeing now that I have a much clearer idea of why the temples and other structures were built and how the different cultures relate to each other. 

As further proof of how much I enjoyed this book, before I had even finished it, I purchased Thomson’s earlier book, The White Rock.  I can’t wait to see this amazing country for myself and thanks to Hugh Thomson (and my friend for buying me the book) I’ll be able to view the sights and really feel like I understand what I’m looking at.

I realise it’s been a while since I posted; I think I was so overwhelmed that I’d finished Ulysses (and therefore my reading challenge) before Christmas that I was a little lost.  So I read a couple of easy detective novels on my new kindle (loving it!) to ease myself back into reading for pleasure!

I’ve just updated the list of books I read in 2010 and there’s 99 on the list, which I think is pretty good for one year.  So the question I ask myself is, ‘what book(s) stood out for me in 2010?’.

The first book that comes to mind is The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee, a memoir of a bookshop lover.  This is a fantastic book written by a bookshop afficiando and brings to life the history of the booksellers trade.  I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about it since I read it but I’ve been putting it off as I wanted to spend time on it to do it the justice it deserves.  So I’ll say no more for now, suffice to say it was definitely one of my stand-out books of the year.

I also really got in to Sherlock Holmes this year, not sure why but I really enjoyed reading these books and I highly recommend them.  I’m a big fan of detective fiction in general so it was nice to read some of the classics and spot the elements used as inspiration by later novelists.

I also read a few biographies and histories, including Ben MacIntyre’s A Foreign Field.  I do love true stories that are well written and capture the era and characters, really bringing them to life.  So many good stories are lost in poor writing.  But MacIntyre does an excellent job and I’m looking forward to reading Operation Mincemeat and any future works.  But I’m also keen to identify other authors who can do justice to a true story, so all suggestions welcome.

Obviously one of the more memorable books was Ulysses but it’s probably not memorable for the right reasons!  Overall I think 2010 was a good year in terms of books read.  There was a decent mixture of genres and authors, old favourites and new discoveries, great books and poor.

So now that brings us to 2011 and the question of what my next reading challenge should be.  I’ve taken a look at a number of challenges that other bloggers are doing at the moment and there were a few that sounded interesting but then I took a look round my living room and realised that my ‘to-be-read’ piles are getting a bit out of hand.  So I’ve decided that before I start any new challenges I should read everything currently in a TBR pile.  If you’ve been reading carefully you’ll notice I said ‘currently’ in a TBR pile.  So this leaves room to purchase books and start a new pile and it doesn’t include books downloaded to my kindle!

I think the books currently piled up make a good place to start and there’s a variety of genres and authors so it’s a good mix.  If you’re interested in what’s in the piles check out this page.