Friday, March 22, 2013

Books on my ski holiday

We took a ski holiday in Lapland, in Äkäslompolo, next to the Ylläs fell, in Kolari, which is the northernmost railway stop in Finland. Äkäslompolo is the most popular ski holiday center in Finland. On the tracks and in the café stops we met, besides the kuukkeli birds (Siberian jays), Englishmen, Italians, Frenchmen, and Germans. The weather was superb, but the ski tracks were a bit gruff after the exceptionally low night temperatures.

Jörn Donner: Mammuten eller Jörn Donners efterlämnade handlingar. Om illamåendets historia i Finland. Första delen [The Mammoth, or Jörn Donner's Posthumous Papers. About the History of Ill-Being in Finland. First Volume]. Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2013. - My first impression of these 1100 pages were of a mere notebook, a cut-up job, but soon it became evident that there is a basic epic drive in this distanced anti-autobiography. Large chunks have been published before elsewhere, but the episodes make different sense in this context. In the first 200 pages there is an account of Donner's last meeting with Kari Kairamo, the Nokia CEO, only days before his suicide, candid revelations of the family's (and Jörn's) German sympathies during WWII, and many pages about Donner's lifelong passion for fishing, even including an essay on the ruda / ruutana / Crucian carp. There have been many reactions to this book (see for instance: Michel Ekman, Hufvudstadsbladet, 5 Feb, 2013), and some may have just glanced at it, but I would recommend it for focused reading page for page (well.. some pages maybe just for skimming...)

Patrick McGilligan: Nicholas Ray. The Glorious Failure of an American Director. New York: It Books / HarperCollins Publishers, 2011. Patrick McGilligan is a great scholar about screenwriting, and his many volumes dealing with screenwriters are indispensable. I don't know if he is actually working for the Writers Guild of America and for the Motion Picture Academy in verifying screenplay credits, but if he isn't, he should. The strength of this book, too, is in the account of the pre-production of films. Book publishing companies have departments which collect materials for possible biographies, and they push the writers to find a commercial angle. "The dark side of the genius" used to be a fashionable angle in the 1980s, and they made McGilligan write a dreary book on Fritz Lang with such a bias. The life of Nicholas Ray is so full of actually sensational tabloid matter that nothing needs to be exaggerated. Bernard Eisenschitz already gave an honest account in his great Nicholas Ray biography twenty years ago (still highly recommended!). The distaste of this writer towards the subject is obvious from the beginning, and I was reluctant to read this, but I forced myself to. There is no new insight here, and when the author quotes something positive about his subject, there is usually a slightly ironic twist. It may indeed be the case that Nicholas Ray had great difficulty in expressing himself verbally, but he had a unique talent in visual expression. Might that be one of the secrets to the fact so many of his movies (even those whose pre-production and production histories were catastrophic) are still so enthralling to new generations of lovers of the art of the cinema around the world? Perhaps the author, a screenwriting expert, is constitutionally incapable of understanding such a purely visual artist as Nicholas Ray? - Among the juicy details: I did not know or had forgotten that Ray conducted affairs with Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Gavin Lambert simultaneously.

Samuli Paulaharju: Wanhaa Lappia ja Peräpohjaa [Old Lapland and Deep North]. Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Kirja, 1923.
Samuli Paulaharju: Sompio. Luiron korpien vanhaa elämää [Sompio. From the Old Ways of Life in the Deep Forests of Luiro]. Porvoo * Helsinki: WSOY, 1939.
Kalervo Niskakoski, Keijo Taskinen: Äkäslompolo. Seitsemän tunturin kylä ajan virrassa [Äkäslompolo. The Village of the Seven Fells in the Stream of Time]. Äkäslompolo: Kirjakaari, 2012.
Ismo Korteniemi: Aakenuksen mailta [From the Lands of the Fell Aakenus]. Helsinki: Metsähallitus, 1990.
Ismo Korteniemi: Ylläksen kairoilta [From the kaira Forests of Ylläs] [kaira = a huge uninhabited forest area in North Finland]. Helsinki: Metsähallitus, 1991.
Janne Narvio: Tunturimaan lauluja [Songs from the Land of Fells]. Raisio: Janne Narvio, 2009. - Great Lapland reading. The word magic of Samuli Paulaharju works best, he is in a league of his own.

Tapio Rautavaara: En päivääkään vaihtaisi pois [I Wouldn't Change a Day] 5-cd collection. Warner Music Finland, 1995. Probably the best release of Rautavaara's songs, this edition is chronological, and makes sense in this way. In the 2004 edition they changed the order, to the worse. At Ylläs Rautavaara and his friends wrote the beloved "Rakovalkealla" [By the Log Fire]: "tuo köyhä karu maa / mut lumoihinsa saa / on avautunut sydämeni sille" ["this poor and rugged land / has caught me in its spell / I have opened my heart to it"]. In the silence of Lapland music and lyrics were more powerful, and I paid more attention to how Rautavaara interprets not only original song lyrics but also poets such as Runeberg ("Joutsen" / [The Swan]), and Paloheimo ("Ontuva Eriksson" / "The Limping Eriksson").

Robert E. White: "A chance to remake U.S.-Cuba relations". International Herald Tribune, 9-10 March, 2013. - Interesting insights to the Latin American politics of the U.S. by an expert who was the U.S. ambassador to Paraguay 1977-1979 and to El Salvador 1980-1981. The death of Hugo Chávez offers Washington an opportunity to a new opening in Latin America. White's perspective ranges from the Monroe Doctrine (1823) to the present.

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