Seven Snowy Stories

The winter’s first – and in these parts possibly only – snowfall put me in mind of books in which winter features prominently. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ones that came to mind immediately were children’s stories. So here are seven snowy stories to surprise your children (nieces, nephews, grandchildren, your best friend’s horrible brat…) with. Perhaps for Christmas? 🙂

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

The first in the so-called Chronicles of Narnia, (although a prequel was later written), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is quite simply unforgettable. The set up is simple: Four siblings are sent away from London during World War II to live with an old professor in the country. Exploring the professor’s house on a rainy day, the youngest, Lucy investigates a wardrobe full of fur coats – a wardrobe that has no back panel. She wanders into a winter landscape at night time and feels the falling snow on her face – and so discovers the magical land of Narnia, where “it’s always winter, but never Christmas”…

Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome

Like the title says: a winter holiday in the Lake District, as enjoyed by the Swallows and Amazons, Ransome’s enterprising heroes. Kids let loose on a frozen lake: ice-skating, sledging, building igloos, rescuing lost sheep and discovering ‘the Arctic’. What’s not to like? This is the fourth in the series about the Swallows and Amazons and introduces a new set of characters, the D’s, but perfectly readable as an independent book.

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

This is a picture book; so much so that there aren’t any words in it. That’s right: no text whatsoever. It’s the simple and – shall I say banal? – story of a snowman who comes to life. You make the plot up from the pictures as you go along. It’s a genius of a book, utterly enchanting, and not just for toddlers.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Perhaps Jack London’s best known story about a family pet kidnapped and sold off to be a sled dog in the Yukon area during the gold fever, this animal story is rather grim in places and definitely not a soppy Christmas read. Excellently written nevertheless, and no kid will be hurt by learning a little about the gold rush or the unfairness of life…

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

The fairy tales of the 19th century Danish writer, Hans Christian Andersen don’t always end happily in the traditional sense (take for example The Little Mermaid, quite contrary to singing-dancing rubbish that Disney sells your children) but that’s no reason not to read them. The Snow Queen, one of his longest stories, is a heartwarming tale of friendship enduring in the face of incredible difficulties. And it even has a happy ending.

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Much better known in her native United States than elsewhere in the English-speaking world, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote children’s stories based on her own childhood: her parents moved westward from Wisconsin to Dakota as settlers in the second half of the 19th century. The Long Winter is the sixth of the so called Little House on the Prairie series and describes the winter of 1880-81, one of the severest winters in the history of the United States.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

Not one of my favourites, this one, but then it was written for children after I already have grown up. The first in a trilogy of fantasy adventure, marketed for some unfathomable reason in the United States as The Golden Compass, this book takes place in the Arctic regions among witches and ice-bears. Well-written and atmospheric. The trilogy itself goes under the title of His Dark Materials.

You might also like:8 Beautiful Snow Scenes from Literature on Mental Floss

More book lists on Waterblogged:
Just One More PageNine Books to Read on a Greek HolidayThey that Go Down to the Sea in ShipsFive Books You Shouldn't ReadBooks that Transport YouFive Short Novels to Read on an Aeroplane
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Quote of the Week: Rainbow

From rain into sunshine: double rainbow (Dorset, England)

We get only transient and partial glimpses of the beauty of the world. Standing at the right angle, we are dazzled by the colors of the rainbow in colorless ice. From the right point of view, every storm and every drop in it is a rainbow.

(Henry David Thoreau: Journal, 11 December 1855)

Roads to Santiago

Images of Spain.

But not in the form of the sickeningly familiar, glossy pictures of crowded beaches on the Mediterranean coast with their ugly hotel developments serving as backdrop, nor those of flamenco and bull-fights, nor yet the image that we receive through the daily news of RTE of a corrupt political and business élite, the pollution over Madrid or the meaningless posturing over the status of Gibraltar or Catalonian independence.

The images of Spain presented to us by the Dutch author Cees Nooteboom in his book Roads to Santiago go far deeper than the stereotypes that we are all familiar with. He searches for – and finds – a different Spain: one that is more ancient, more elemental, more real, if you will. A Spain that would take a lifetime of living there to get to know, even just a little.

The old town of Cáceres

As you can guess, Roads to Santiago is not a guide book, although you could do much worse than follow in the author’s footsteps.

Continue reading “Roads to Santiago”

Porqué no deberías leer Shakespeare (Why You Shouldn’t Read Shakespeare)

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)

Hace mucho tiempo el escritor argentino, Jorge Luis Borges estaba enseñando literatura inglesa en la universidad de Buenos Aires. Un día dijo a sus estudiantes:

A long time ago the Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges taught English Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. One day he said to his students:

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:

Si Shakespeare les interesa, está bien. Si les resulta tedioso, déjenlo. Shakespeare no ha escrito aún para ustedes. Llegará un día que Shakespeare será digno de ustedes y ustedes serán dignos de Shakespeare, pero mientras tanto no hay que apresurar las cosas.”

(Jorge Luis Borges: Curso de literatura inglesa en la universidad de Buenos Aires)


If Shakespeare interests you, that’s fine. If you find him tedious, leave him. Shakespeare hasn’t yet written for you. The day will come when Shakespeare will be right for you and you will be worthy of Shakespeare, but in the meantime there’s no need to hurry things.

(Profesor Borges: A Course on English Literature)

The View from My Window (La vista desde mi ventana)

Recently I had to spend several days in a building in Central London. (I leave you to speculate whether I’ve been arrested, called on jury service, hospitalised or something else. 🙂 ) What consoled me for having to be away from my family was the view from my window.

Recientemente tuve que pasar unos días en un edificio en el centro de Londres. (Os dejo hacer conjeturas si me han detenido, llamado al servicio de jurado, estaba ingresada al hospital or alguna otra cosa. 🙂 ) Lo que me consoló por no estar con mi familia fue la vista desde mi ventana.

Enjoy this ‘study’ of the changing skies of London, November 2017.

Que disfrutéis este ‘estudio’ de los cielos cambiantes de Londres, noviembre de 2017.

 

Quote of the Week: The God of Triangles

It seems to me, Usbek, that we never judge anything without secretly considering it in relation to our own self. I am not surprised that black men depict the devil as brilliantly white, and their own gods as coal-black, that the Venus of certain peoples has breasts that hang down to her thighs, and in short, that all idolaters have depicted their gods with human faces, and have endowed them with their own propensities. It has been quite correctly observed that if triangles were to make themselves a god, they would give him three sides.

(Montesquieu: Persian Letters)

The Grammar of Ornament (The Beauty of Patterns II)

The Beauty of Mathematics

Back in July I almost managed to convince myself that mathematics was beautiful.

And certainly, the result of mathematics at least is often quite beautiful:

Chambered nautilus shell by Jitze Couperus via Flickr. [CC BY 2.0]
The bit of mathematics illustrated above is a favourite of nature, and goes by the name of the Fibonacci sequence. Today, however, we’re going to ignore nature to see instead what man can do with a bit of mathematics. Or rather, what one particular man did with a bit of mathematics.

Decorations from Pompeii, image plate in The Grammar of Ornament. Photo by Eric Gjerde via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Continue reading “The Grammar of Ornament (The Beauty of Patterns II)”

Van Gogh in the Bookshop (Van Gogh en la librería)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

So often, in the past as well, a visit to a bookshop has cheered me up and reminded me that there are good things in the world.

Vincent Van Gogh: Letter to Theo Van Gogh, 30 October 1877

A menudo, en el pasado también, una visita a la librería me ha animado y me ha recordado que haya cosas buenas en el mundo.

Vincent Van Gogh: Carta a Theo Van Gogh, 30 de octubre de 1877

The Battle of Marathon (According to Herodotus)

Casus Belli

In 491 B.C. King Darius I of Persia sent out his envoys to the various Greek city states, demanding of them earth and water – in those times, a sign of submission, the acceptance of, in this case, Persian rule. Some city states were cowed into complying while others refused; but the demand went down particularly badly in Athens and in Sparta:

…the Athenians cast these heralds, when they made their request, down into a pit, and the Spartans had thrown theirs into a well; and the heralds were told to take their earth and water to the King from there!

(Herodotus: The Histories, Book VII.133) 

Continue reading “The Battle of Marathon (According to Herodotus)”

Water (Agua)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Lao Tse (6th century BC) [public domain via Wikipedia]

There is nothing in the world more soft and weak than water, and yet for attacking things that are firm and strong, there is nothing that can take precedence of it.

Lao Tse: Tao Teh King 78:1


No hay nada el mundo tan blando como el agua.
Pero nada hay que la supere contra lo duro.

Lao-Tse Tao te king LXXVIII

Quote of the Week: The Council of Trent

George Borrow portrait
George Borrow (1843), courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

In 1842, a  nobody called George Borrow wrote a detailed, 550-pages long account of his day job. Sounds boring? It isn’t: Borrow’s day  job was to sell Bibles in war-torn, Catholic Spain. The Bible in Spain is a book I cannot recommend enough; it’s a travelogue, an adventure story and comedy all in one. If you want to know more, you can read my review here.

Today’s quote is rather lengthier than usual but gives you a flavour of Borrow’s style of writing. Enjoy this excerpt about his run-in with the famous Spanish bureaucracy:

Continue reading “Quote of the Week: The Council of Trent”

Passport to Pimlico

There’s an old (1949) British comedy film in which Pimlico, a part of London, becomes the Duchy of Burgundy practically overnight with all the complications that this entails – the kind of complications that Carles Puidgemont, the Catalan ex-president, should have foreseen before he unilaterally declared independence from Spain.

Continue reading “Passport to Pimlico”

Quote of the Week: The Blaze of Summer

Photo by Joerg-Design [public domain via Pixabay]

On the other side of the closed blinds, in the scorched, withered garden, summer ignited a last blaze like an arsonist setting the fields on fire in senseless fury before making his escape.

(Sándor Márai: Embers)


A csukott redőnyök mögött, az aszalt, pörkölt és elszáradt kertben utolsó dühével lobogott a nyár, mint egy gyújtogató, aki esztelen dühében felgyújtja a határt, mielőtt világgá megy.

(Márai Sándor: A gyertyák csonkig égnek)

 

The Amazing Cynicism of the Tao Teh King

In Search of Tranquility

I occasionally see world weary westerners traipsing down Regent Street in loose robes and sandals chanting ‘Hare Krishna’, apparently believing that this would ease their existential angst, or, better still, solve all their problems – I blame the Beatles. Personally, I’ve never yet felt tempted to sing ‘Hare Krishna’; mainly because it’s somebody else’s cultural background and I’ve got a perfectly serviceable one of my own. Even so – and despite the Beatles – I recognise that the East has much to offer us.

Continue reading “The Amazing Cynicism of the Tao Teh King”

Argos vs Sparta (Argos contra Esparta)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana

When an Argive said once upon a time, “There are many tombs of Spartans in our country,” a Spartan said, “But there is not a single tomb of an Argive in our country,” indicating by this that the Spartans had often set foot in Argos, but the Argives had never set foot in Sparta.

(Plutarch: Morals, Vol. III., Sayings of Spartans)


Cuando un argivo dijo en una occasión: «En nuestra tierra hay muchas tumbas de espartanos», un espartano le respondió: «Pues en la nuestra no hay ni una sola de argivos», porque ellos habían invadido muchas veces Argos, pero los argivos jamás Esparta.

(Plutarco, Obras morales y de costumbres, III., Máximas de espartanos)

 

A Bear of Very Little Brain (The World According to Pooh)

The other day, in the course of an argument, somebody called me a person with a small brain.

Even while I took offence, I recalled a line from my childhood bible, Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne:

“For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain and long words Bother me.”

(Winnie-The-Pooh)

I’m all with the Bear of Very Little Brain on this one: long words bother me too. Especially when used by people who don’t know what they mean.

Continue reading “A Bear of Very Little Brain (The World According to Pooh)”

A World View in Stone (Una visión del mundo en piedra)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Santa María de Eunate, Navarre, Spain / Navarra, España. Photo by By Jule_Berlin [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

…Romanesque art is a world view expressed in stone.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)


…el arte románico es una visión del mundo expresada en piedra.

(Cees Nooteboom: El desvío a Santiago)

8 Seconds Independence (8 segundos de independencia)

On Tuesday evening the Catalan president Carles Puigdemont declared unilateral independence from Spain – only to suspend said independence in the same breath, the same sentence. This has to be some sort of a record; according to Wikipedia, the next shortest lived sovereign state lasted a full 6 hours.

El martes por la tarde el presidente catalán, Carles Puidgemont declaró la independencia unilateral de Cataluña de España – sólo para suspender dicho independencia con el mismo aliento, en la misma frase. Es una especie de marca; según Wikipedia, el segundo más corto estado soberano duró un total de 6 horas.

Continue reading “8 Seconds Independence (8 segundos de independencia)”

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Leave it to me: I’m always top banana in the shock department.

A Truman Capote novella about Holiday Golightly, a New York socialite in 1943. A girl who makes a living from being taken out by men. Not at all the kind of girl I’d have thought I had time for, not even if she only took up a hundred pages. Not at all the type of novella I’d have thought I had time for either, even it was only a hundred pages.

I found Breakfast at Tiffany’s on the bookshelf of Sophisticated Young Lady, whose bedroom I appropriated for my study while she’s at university. I’ve never read anything by Truman Capote and I was between books. I picked it up and glanced idly on the first paragraph.

I couldn’t put it down afterwards.

It made me think I might like to see New York in the rain. 
(Photo by Lei Han via Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)