Saturday, September 30, 2006

Book #38 - The Turn of the Screw and The Aspern Papers

by Henry James

4th book finished for the R.I.P. Autumn Challenge

My Rating: 2.5/5

I'm wondering if it's blasphemous to say that I was rather disappointed with both of these tales. For The Turn of the Screw, the ambiguity doesn't bother me, as I generally dislike endings with everything tied up neatly. However, I never felt or understood the supposed horror, or evilness, of the situation which means that it didn't do much for me as a ghost story. I enjoyed The Aspern Papers a bit more but again I wasn't overly impressed. To give them the benefit of the doubt, I can perhaps blame it on "wrong book at the wrong time" syndrome as I really struggled with his prose. I found myself often rereading sentences, even paragraphs, to attempt to grasp just what he was saying. The only other work by James that I've read is Washington Square, which I quite enjoyed. But since reading Colm Toibin's The Master, about the life of Henry James, I've wanted to read more. I will try again; I already have The Portrait of a Lady and Daisy Miller here, but I'll make sure to be in the right mood next time.

For much more eloquent comments on The Turn of the Screw, see recent posts by Danielle, and The Literate Kitten, also here and here.

Friday, September 29, 2006

heron


We couldn't tell what it was eyeing with such concentration. It certainly wasn't the large carp swimming around.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

glow


(click on image to enlarge)
Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto
(same place, different angle here)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Why blog?

I've been tagged by MissSin, so here goes...

Why do you blog?
I loved the IDEA of blogging but wasn’t sure it was for me. I’m not a good writer and I’m not the kind of person to lay themselves out there emotionally so I knew I couldn’t come up with fun, witty rants about my life on a regular basis. Then I discovered book review blogs and since I already keep track of what I read that seemed like a possibility. But I only read 50-60 books a year. A friend of mine
used to have a photo blog (I loved visiting it, she had great photos!) and since H and I have started taking pictures frequently, I decided to combine the two hobbies, also allowing for the odd random post, and voila my blog* was born!

*In case anyone was curious, In Spring it is the Dawnis the first line of The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. If she were alive today, her lists, stories and observations would make a fantastic blog!
I also explained about “tanabata” here.

How long have you been blogging?
I started on January 31st, 2006.

Self portrait?
book geek (obviously!), cat person, night owl, procrastinator, good listener, loyal, insecure

Why do readers read your blog?
Most of my “regulars” are other book bloggers and friends (the non-readers just skip the book reviews). I also get a few extra visits when I post a picture for a photo challenge.

What was the last search phrase someone used to get to your site?
”interesting things in England” I wonder if they were disappointed to land on my 5 most interesting things post. I never get any weird and/or rude search phrases which just goes to show how tame my blog is. The most common search is probably for McSweeney's (to which I have a subscription this year and have reviewed issues 18 and 19).

Which of your entries unjustly gets too little attention?
I’m just pleased whenever people stop by and comment. On the flip side, my recent food pics have probably generated the most comments. :P

Your current favourite blog?
It would be too hard to choose just one. See my sidebar for the blogs I visit regularly.

What blog did you read most recently?
Stuff On My Cat. Good for a chuckle.

Which feeds do you subscribe to?
My blogroll in the sidebar is run by blogrolling and it does a pretty good job of letting me know when blogspot blogs have been updated, but for some reason, which could very possibly be my lack of knowledge, it doesn’t work for other blogs. So I’ve recently started using bloglines for feeds from the wordpress, typepad and other non-blogger blogs that I visit.

What four blogs are you tagging with this meme and why?
I’m not going to tag anyone specifically but if you’re in the mood for a meme, feel free to keep it going.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

tree no. 638


(click on image to enlarge)
I actually didn't notice the number on the tree (bottom right corner) until I downloaded the pictures but I thought it was kind of funny.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Book #37 - Sleep, Pale Sister

by Joanne Harris

3rd book finished for the R.I.P. Autumn Challenge

My Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

It was fun to finally read one of her earlier books, before the French gluttony of Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, and Five Quarters of the Orange, especially since it was an English gothic story inspired by such classics as Collins' The Woman in White. The atmosphere made it a great autumn read, and although she lost me a bit near the end, it was a moody, ghost story that kept me reading. I'm glad it was resurrected from out-of-print purgatory, and her comments about the reprinting in the foreward suit the story perfectly: "My book was not dead, after all; only sleeping." I haven't read any of her more recent books, since the "food trilogy" mentioned above, but I've already got a couple here so it's only a matter of time.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

First day of Autumn


and to celebrate, some pumpkin cake (delicious!) in a cute little tea shop near Myogadani station.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

But, Enough About Books....

Booking Through Thursday

But, enough about books. . . what else do you read?? Magazines? Newspapers? Professional journals? Cereal boxes? Phone books? Purchase invoices? Homework? (Please be specific. There may be a test later.)

The easy answer, pretty much anything. At least if I'm not specifically reading a book or magazine, or watching tv, my eyes will drift to whatever text is available, including the soap dispenser, toothpaste tube, cereal boxes, whatever. Growing up in Canada meant that I would read the English side, and then the French side too! And kept reading them over and over every time I brushed my teeth or ate the cereal! Phone books? Not so much, but it's usually tucked away so it's out of sight anyway. Newspapers? Only when I'm on holiday somewhere and I pick up the free hotel copies. I've tried having a subscription and they just stack up, each one partly read. Magazines? Definitely. Besides the ones I just pick up on a whim when I'm at a bookshop, I currently have a subscription to TIME (small, easy to carry and keeps me up on world news once a week so it works much better for me than newspapers), McSweeney's (just started this year), Zoetrope: All-Story (another one I started this year), and newbooks. When we lived in the UK I would also regularly pick up Pages and the Waterstone's Quarterly Books Magazine (free when you spent over £20 so of course I always spent over £20!). There are plenty of others I've been tempted by but shipping costs to Japan make me think twice. Plus I've already gotten loads of great book suggestions and info from blogs and websites to keep me going for years!

sculpture


(click on image to enlarge)
Rodin Museum, Paris
February 2005

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

'House' fans- please help!

I'd like to buy the DVDs of 'House' but if at all possible I'd like them to have English subtitles. From the searching I've done online, it seems that for the US Region 1 versions, Season 2 has English subtitles, but Season 1 only has Spanish subtitles. Is this true?

Then, for the Canadian Region 1 versions, it seems there might be English subtitles on the Season 1 set, but it's not certain because at another site I checked it only listed Spanish like the US version.

The UK, Region 2 versions also seem to be missing English subtitles, at least on the Season 1 set but I'm not sure about Season 2 either, which hasn't been released there yet.
As you can see I'm not fussy about the region. Can someone somewhere please let me know if House, Season 1 is available with subtitles?

Thanks muchly!

red


(click on image to enlarge)
It's still too early for autumn colours around here this year.
This was taken in Kamakura last year, in early December.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

angle


(click image to enlarge)
London Eye

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Friday, September 15, 2006

Book #36 - Coraline

by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Dave McKean

2nd book finished for the R.I.P. Autumn Challenge

My Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

This was actually a reread for me but the first time I read it, it was the UK hardback edition which wasn't illustrated. So it was fun to read it again with the illustrations this time, which do help add to the spooky factor. It's not an entirely original premise but it's a clever fairytale nonetheless.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Men and Women

Booking Through Thursday


  1. Do you tend to read more books written by one gender over the other?

  2. If so, which one? Men? Or women? Is this a deliberate choice? Or just something that kind of happened?

  3. And (without wanting to get too personal), is this your gender?


I'm always happy to read women authors, being female myself and the mild feminist that I am, but it's not usually a conscious decision when I choose which books to read. There are too many other factors that lead me to a book- whether the story will interest me, whether I've heard good things about it, whether I've read the author before so trust the author and read it sight unseen, whether it's won any awards (there are a few awards that I like to follow when I can) and so on. So the gender of the author isn't something I really think about.

I started keeping track of what I read in 2002 so I had to go back and see just what the breakdown was over the past few years.
(Note: I didn't include any short story anthologies with authors of both gender).

2002- Men 21, Women 33
2003- Men 31, Women 22
2004- Men 24, Women 35
2005- Men 25, Women 27
2006*- Men 15, Women 20
TOTAL- Men 116, Women 137

So the verdict is that I've read slightly more women authors but like the question said, it's just something that kind of happened.

(*so far this year)

shadow


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Book #35 - Strangers

by Taichi Yamada

Translated from the Japanese by
Wayne P. Lammers


1st book finished for the R.I.P Autumn Challenge

My Rating: 2.5/5

A ghost story that unfortunately really didn't do much for me. With a "highly recommended" from David Mitchell on the front cover, I guess I expected more (too much?) from this story. A slim book, it was a quick read, but compared to Out, the writing here feels somewhat awkward so perhaps the mystical, spooky element I was hoping for is lost in translation.

Happiness is...

...not having to use the air conditioner today!
Sure, it's wet and miserable outside, but it's COOL!!!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Book #34- Out

by Natsuo Kirino
Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder
Fiction/Crime Thriller, 1997 (English translation, 2003)
Vintage UK, trade pb, 520 p.

What happens when you cross the line...
...when you discover a taste for the unthinkable?
Could you be drawn into a murder?
For friendship?
For a way out of your dreary existence?

In the Tokyo suburbs four women work the draining graveyard shift at a boxed-lunch factory. Burdened with chores and heavy debts and isolated from husbands and children, they all secretly dream of a way out of their dead-end lives.

A young mother among them finally cracks and strangles her philandering, gambling husband then confesses her crime to Masako, the closest of her colleagues. For reasons of her own, Masako agrees to assist her friend and seeks the help of the other co-workers to dismember and dispose of the body...

Out is a psychologically taut and unflinching foray into the darkest recesses of the human soul, an unsettling reminder that the desperate desire for freedom can make the most ordinary person do the unimaginable.
A dark, disturbing story and a pretty bleak look at urban Japanese culture, especially in terms of the role of women in it. There was no real mystery to solve, as we know from early on who murdered who, and who helped dispose of the body, but the tension kept building throughout the novel, and kept me turning the pages. Narrated as it was by the culprits, even while not condoning what they did, I found myself siding with them; their desperate actions seemed to make a certain kind of sense. It was pretty gruesome at times and I'm still not sure what to make of the violent ending. Not for the faint of heart, but an intense, well-written, psychological thriller.

Note on the translation: This was one of the rare cases, at least in my experience, when the translation seemed to stand out as being especially smooth and well-done. Even when he added in subtle descriptions, that I can only guess weren't in the original Japanese, to make it more accessible for English readers, it was never obvious or clunky. I would happily read something else he's translated.

My Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Also reviewed at:
Tip of the Iceberg
Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Sunday, September 10, 2006

reflection


(click image to enlarge)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Blog of the Day

Blog Of The Day Awards Winner
for Friday, September 8, 2006

I'm pretty sure Jenn is the nominating culprit so thank you! :)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

candles


in Rodez Cathedral

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Rodez Cathedral

5 most interesting things

Reading bookfool's post on Five of the Most Interesting Things I've Ever Done got me thinking about what my own 5 would be. As she rightly predicted, mine are all travel-related in some way.

1. Living with a French family in Aveyron, France for one year.
After graduating high school, I went on a student exchange to France and ended up staying in a small town, Rodez, in Aveyron. In Canada, both French and English being national languages, I did study French for several years at school. But it was more in the 'memorise vocabulary and write grammar tests' style, so I could barely have a basic conversation when I arrived in France. Surrounded by non-English speakers, plus going to French school (not a language school, but a regular all-French high school) meant I was truly and thoroughly immersed. By the end of the year I was reasonably fluent and had reverse language and culture shock on returning to Canada. This sojourn in France was the beginning of my desire to travel and live abroad. Without having this experience I seriously doubt I would have ended up where I am now. Something I still believe is that to truly understand another country, it's people and culture, you must live among them for a while. As a tourist you barely scratch the surface.

2. Moving to Japan....twice! (technically three times if you count moving back here last year)
I majored in Applied Linguistics (Teaching English as a Second Language) in University primarily because it would lead to a job that I could do outside of Canada (see how the experience in France had long lasting effects!). So after I finished my degree, I ended up taking a job in Japan. I had looked at other countries but money talks, as they say, and by working in Japan I could send money home regularly to pay off the dratted student loans.
My first stay in Japan was for one year in Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu. I taught English to kids, from the age of 1 (yes, really!) to about 12. I was there on a Working Holiday Visa, and after the year was up I returned to Canada.
But after just over a year in Victoria, I decided to go back to Japan. This time I was hired by a school in Tokyo that focused on Business English. Over the next 4 years I taught English at many corporations all over Tokyo. Honda, Nissan, Bridgestone, Hitachi Software, NEC, glass companies, pharmaceutical companies, to name just a few.

3. Marrying H.
I met H while I was teaching a class at his company. Yes, he was my student- so scandalous!! We ended up getting married not quite 2 years later, and while I still can't speak Japanese very well (we started out speaking English and continue to do so) or claim to fully understand the culture, marrying into it definitely is a step in the right direction.
I was going to include meeting and marrying H in the Japan section above but he thought he should have his own number, and deservedly so since I wouldn't have been able to tag along otherwise when his company transferred him to England. :P

4. Living in a church.
Our flat in London was in a 100 year old church that had been converted into 20 odd flats. Ours was in the corner and came complete with a stained glass window. It was rather small but it was a fun atmosphere for the time we were in it. We then moved to a terraced townhouse in Cambridge that was over 200 years old!

5. Watching 67* plays and musicals in 3.5 years.
I could do a subset of the 5 best things about living in England (the history, the architecture, within easy travelling distance to the rest of Europe, the bookshops and meeting authors [this will get a separate post sometime soon]) but one of the best things was definitely the theatre. Before we moved to London, I had seen a handful of plays and one musical, Phantom of the Opera. I decided to make the most of the opportunity and tried to see as many shows as I could. As we were originally only to stay for 15 months, it was quite intensive at the start, but even when our stay was extended twice and we moved to Cambridge, I still went to the theatre quite often.

*67 refers to the number of times I physically went to the theatre and does include a few repeat viewings- the ones that were so good I had to see them again!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Shinjuku Gyoen

The sun was out, the sky was blue and there was a breeze so it wasn't quite so hot. So we headed to Shinjuku gyoen for a little while this afternoon. We enjoyed the lake of lily pads!

Friday, September 01, 2006

R.I.P. Autumn Challenge

At first I resisted (for all of a day!) thinking I just finished the Summer Reading Challenge, I don't want to join another challenge, I want to read what I want to read when the mood strikes. I don't want to follow another set list. Plus I don't usually read spooky, scary type books. I do like gothic though...hmmm...so I looked at a few lists. Ex Libris reminded me of all the talk of Capote lately. Danielle reminded me that I have been wanting to read some James. Carl reminded me of Gaiman. Hmmm...over half way there. What else could I find on my shelves that would fit the challenge guidelines:

"pick out any 5 books that you want to read that you think meet the very open, broad criteria of being scary, eerie, moody, dripping with atmosphere, gothic, unsettling, etc."

Then I remembered an early book of Joanne Harris' that I've been wanting to read for ages and would fit under gothic. And a Japanese book that very loosely fits but David Mitchell, who is brilliant, does call it (from quote on the front cover) "a cerebral and haunting ghost story". And one of THE classic masterpieces of gothic. And a couple of Wilkie Collins short stories. And a book by Daphne Du Maurier. And a very disturbing, depraved story (or so I've heard) of scent. Oh, I thought, I might be in the mood after all. I have other books I want to read too but I guess they'll wait....so, I give in, but Carl, it's all your fault!!

Here are the 5 books I plan to read for the R.I.P. Autumn Challenge:
1. In Cold Blood - Truman Capote --Finished
2. The Turn of the Screw - Henry James --Finished
3. Coraline - Neil Gaiman --Finished
4. Sleep, Pale Sister - Joanne Harris --Finished
5. Strangers - Taichi Yamada --Finished

And if I have the time and/or inclination I have these to tempt me as well:
Who Killed Zebedee? - Wilkie Collins
The Monk - Matthew Lewis
Perfume - Patrick Suskind
The King's General - Daphne Du Maurier

*Last updated 31 October 2006