Thursday, August 31, 2006

Summer Reading Challenge - The End

It's the last day of August so the Summer Reading Challenge officially comes to an end. Here are the books I intended to read this summer, and pictured above are the books I actually read this summer.

They are:
Deafening - Frances Itani
Close Range: Wyoming Stoires - Annie Proulx (not pictured)
Peace Like a River - Leif Enger
Flu - Gina Kolata
Vernon God Little - DBC Pierre
Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
The Flower Master - Sujata Massey
Geisha of Gion - Mineko Iwasaki
The Fourth Bear - Jasper Fforde
The Floating Girl - Sujata Massey
I Am No One You Know: Stories - Joyce Carol Oates
Black Water - Joyce Carol Oates
Kitchen - Banana Yoshimoto

I did read 6 books from my original list of 10, plus I read 2 Joyce Carol Oates books as my Bonus read. This last month I just haven't been in the mood for long books, and the remaining 4 from my list were all rather long. Probably why I kept putting them off even at the beginning of the challenge. But especially in August, the heat seemed to affect my attention span so instead I reached for fun and/or short reads that weren't on my list.
I'd rather wait though and read the other books when the mood is right since, as you know, being in the right mood for a book can sometimes mean the difference between loving it, or hating it.

Of the 6 books from my challenge that I did read, my favourite was Deafening, closely followed by Geisha of Gion. None of the books I've read this summer have been bad though so no complaints here.
Thanks to Amanda for setting up the Summer Reading Challenge and inviting us to join her.

Book #33 - Kitchen

(Including the novella, Moonlight Shadow)
by Banana Yoshimoto

Translated from the Japanese by Megan Backus

My Rating: 3/5

"Kitchen juxtaposes two tales about mothers, transsexuality, bereavement, kitchens, love and tragedy in contemporary Japan." (from the back cover)

I was still in the mood for something short and this caught my eye on the shelf. While the stories were easy and enjoyable to read, they also felt rather slight, seeming to focus more on surface emotions than any real depth of character. They suit my short attention span, but didn't really make a lasting impression.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


There are over 250 islands, of various sizes, in Matsushima Bay. We could only see a few of them because of the heavy fog, but on a clear day, the view is supposed to be quite something. In fact, Matsushima, which literally means "pine islands", is considered one of the Three Views of Japan, Japan's most scenic spots.
Oh well, better luck next time!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Book #32 - Black Water

by Joyce Carol Oates

My Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

"The rented Toyota, driven with such impatient exuberance by The Senator, was speeding along the unpaved road, taking the turns in giddy skidding slides, and then, with no warning, somehow the car had gone off the road and had overturned in black rushing water, listing to its passenger's side, rapidly sinking. Am I going to die? - like this?"

I have to admit I knew nothing of the actual incident that this short fictionalised novel is based on, but politics aside, it's a dark and desperate story. It's narrated entirely by the young girl who drowns, and by moving back and forth in time, Oates slowly builds the drama while bringing Kelly to life, as it were. And even knowing the outcome from the very first page, I couldn't stop reading, hoping all the while that it would somehow turn out differently.

Book #31 - I Am No One You Know: Stories

by Joyce Carol Oates

My Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Oates is definitely not for those wanting happy stories with tidy endings and you could certainly never accuse her of shying away from grim topics. The stories in this collection are, for the most part, very dark and disturbing. And while some of the stories were rather difficult to read, they were ultimately thought-provoking and poignant.

"I Am No One You Know is filled with stories that perfectly represent America's warped and undying fascination/repulsion with acts of violence and sex. In a single volume of stories of less than 300 pages, Oates says more about the human condition than most authors can communicate in a lifetime." - Denver Post

Sunday, August 27, 2006


We happened across a special event in Matsushima. Enshrined in this temple are 5 statues, which are only open for public viewing during a special ceremony, held once every 33 years, for 3 days. As luck would have it, this was the right year and we visited Matsushima on the first of the 3 days!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Reading Geography

Booking Through Thursday

  1. Have you ever wanted to travel to a place described in a book?

  2. Have you ever ACTUALLY travelled to a place because of the way it was described in a book?

  3. And if so, did it live up to the expectations, feelings, emotions you expected from the book? Did you feel like Anne was going to come romping around the corner of Green Gables? Was it as if Jo was upstairs at Orchard House, scribbling on a story? Or was it just a museum, or just a city street? Like Abbey Road without the Beatles?

  4. Definitely! I love it when books inspire me to visit someplace!

    Reading Sarum made me want to visit Salisbury and Stonehenge which was fun to see at sunset.
    Girl With a Pearl Earring made me want to see work by Vermeer and visit Delft which we did last year.
    Memoirs of a Geisha made me want to visit Gion which is great fun, if a little papparazzi-ish at dusk when the geisha are heading to their evening appointments.
    Having the story of
    The Lady and the Unicorn in mind, made seeing the actual tapestries at the Cluny Museum in Paris all the more mesmerising.
    And the list could go on...

    And of course living in London and then Cambridge was great. There are still places where if you use your imagination just a little you can almost believe you're back in the era of Austen and Dickens and company.

    Another place we haven't been yet but I've really been wanting to since reading The Shadow of the Wind is Barcelona. Someday!

Entsuin - the garden

soooooo foggy and the air- it was like walking in mist!
Nice mood though.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

changing colour

We were surprised that even with it so hot and humid, a few leaves were already starting to turn red. Apparently, or so I've been told, Fall arrives much earlier there than around Tokyo.

Book #30 - The Floating Girl

by Sujata Massey

4th Book in the Rei Shimura series

My Rating: 3/5

A couple of typos, and a minor clothing inconsistency were slightly distracting, but it was another fun, quick read that I finished on our short vacation. I haven't read a lot of mysteries (although I'm recently getting the urge to try some more) so I can't really compare it, but the mystery part seemed a little weak to me. But again, I stress, what do I know?! The best part of this series for me is definitely the Japanese setting. I also like how each book in the series deals with a different aspect of Japanese culture- this time it was manga, the previous book was about ikebana. The next one, which I'm sure I'll get to sooner rather than later, is about kimono. So for me, at least, it's a fun series that I plan to continue with.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sunday, August 20, 2006

...and saw many lanterns

We climbed many steps...

Back from Sendai

Well, the weather was pretty bad. It was so hot and so extremely disgustingly humid!! Oh how I love Japanese summer!!! Probably one of the most uncomfortable weather experiences of my life!
BUT we still did manage to have a nice time. Even dripping sweat, we saw some beautiful shrines and temples, saw a few of the famous Matsushima islands through the fog (the fog was incredible, you could barely see - the pic here is not clear because of the fog), and ate lots of fresh sushi. H also had beef tongue, a local specialty, but I wasn't too keen on trying that. And we decided it's an area we wouldn't mind going back to, except NOT in the summer!
Pics to follow over the next few days.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

heading north

(map from about)

It's Obon, and much of the nation is on summer holiday. So we're heading north to Sendai for a few days. The weather's not looking too promising, just our luck, but hopefully it'll be nice just to get away and see someplace new. See you in a few.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Book #29 - The Fourth Bear

by Jasper Fforde
2nd book in the Nursery Crime series

My Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

"The Gingerbreadman - psychopath, sadist, convicted murderer, and cake/biscuit - is loose on the streets of Reading."

Hehehe! Another fun, clever story from Jasper Fforde. I didn't really warm up to the first book (The Big Over Easy) in this new series, an offshoot of his Thursday Next series which I loved, but this 2nd book tickled my funny bone! How does he come up with his ideas?!

In this episode, Jack Spratt and Mary Mary of the Nursery Crime Division are once again caught up in a bizarre case, this time involving the Gingerbreadman, bears, Goldilocks, cucumbers, and a WWI theme park to name a few.
Good fun for those willing to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride! Next year will bring a new Thursday Next novel- definitely something to look forward to.

making a delivery

Gion, Kyoto
(for Pxite "Blurred")

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A long week!

I've been rather under the weather this week, plus add in the heat and it's truly been sapping my will to live!
Luckily Bailey always makes me smile!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A geisha dances..

at the Miyako Odori, April 2006
(more Miyako Odori pics here)

Book #28 - Geisha of Gion

(US title: Geisha, A Life)

by Mineko Iwasaki
with Rande Brown (translator)

6th book finished for my Summer Reading Challenge

My Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

A rare peek inside the secret world of the karyukai, geisha district, of Gion. Mineko Iwasaki is the geisha that Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha is loosely based on, and you can definitely see where he took her story and then let his imagination run wild. (For info on why she sued Golden click on her name above; she also addresses some of the common misconceptions of geisha in this interview).

As for the memoir itself, she occasionally came across as a bit self-important, but overall her story felt very frank and real. From her move to the geisha house aged 4 to her retirement from geisha life aged 29, she shares the pivotal moments along the way. Plus we get an insight into how the "flower and willow world" is organised and the strict hierarchies involved. She also mentions briefy a few of the famous people she entertained. One particular story made me chuckle, about when she was invited to take part in a banquet for Prince Charles. At one point he asked to see her fan and then suddenly scrawled his signature on it. She was so dismayed that he'd ruined her fan, one of her favourites, that she promptly got the maid to dispose of it! A very readable, enjoyable memoir.

Monday, August 07, 2006


at Tsuki Shrine, Urawa
(click images for larger view)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

rain on the horizon

view of Burrard Inlet from West Vancouver
*for Thursday Challenge "sky"
(click image for larger view)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


(click image for larger view)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

One more month...

Only one month left in the Summer Reading Challenge and I'm so behind. I just finished the 6th book of my main list of 10. The remaining 4 are all thick books so I'm pretty doubtful that I'll manage to get all of them read. Plus I'm still reading, and have a long way to go in my extra challenge, The Tale of Genji, which has been a bit neglected lately and I really want to get back to it. I need more time!