Thursday, November 30, 2006

Book #47 - The History of Love

by Nicole Krauss

Shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2006
Fourteen-year-old Alma Singer is trying to find a cure for her mother’s loneliness. Believing that she might discover it in an old book her mother is lovingly translating, she sets out in search of its author. Across New York an old man named Leo Gursky is trying to survive a little bit longer. He spends his days dreaming of the lost love who, sixty years ago in Poland, inspired him to write a book. And although he doesn’t know it yet, that book also survived: crossing oceans and generations, and changing lives…
When I started reading about Leo and Alma in The History of Love, I couldn’t help but to be reminded of Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved with its aging Jewish man, writing his memoirs, also called Leo. Then there was the young Alma in Oates’ The Tattooed Girl, working for an eccentric Jewish one-time novelist, told in alternating points of view. All 3 books were set in New York too. Is it a common theme for women authors to write about old Jewish men in New York? Of course that’s totally simplifying things and all 3 books were very well-written; I enjoyed them immensely. It just struck me as an interesting overlap of ideas in books I've read in the last couple of years.

For me,
The History of Love, was the slightest of these three, it didn’t move me as the other two did, but it was still a beautiful book about coping with loss, and “about the way in which books can change people’s lives” (from Guardian Interview).

I loved Leo’s sections, sadly funny, as he spills his coffee, or his change, or models nude for a drawing class, all to keep from dying on a day when he went unseen. A very memorable character.

It took me to at least halfway through the book before I started to see how the various threads might come together and it’s definitely a book that would suit rereading. I’m sure I’d get more out of it a second time. I have yet to read either of Foer’s books, although I plan to, so it’ll be interesting to see the similarities there that the critics have made much of.


My Rating: 4/5
“So many words get lost. They leave the mouth and lose their courage, wandering aimlessly until they are swept into the gutter like dead leaves.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Doctor is in the House

I finally ordered House from Amazon.com, just over a week ago and they arrived yesterday! Yay for Amazon and the efficiency of the postal service! I'm so looking forward to finally seeing how Season One ends and all of Season Two! (In all fairness House is showing in Japan and is about 2/3 of the way through Season One- but I couldn't wait anymore! And one episode a week is far too slow!) Of course I've already watched 3 episodes! Woohoo! It's like an early Christmas present!

Edit: umm. I've now watched all 5 remaining episodes I hadn't seen in Season One. Bring on Season Two! (And just how many more exclamation marks can I use in this post?!!!) ;P

Sunday, November 26, 2006

light up

To celebrate the fact that the leaves have finally started to turn in Tokyo, Rikugien has night-time illumination until early December.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Book #46 - In the Miso Soup

by Ryu Murakami

Translated from the Japanese by Ralph McCarthy
It's just before New Year.
Frank, an overweight American tourist, has hired Kenji to take him on a guided tour of Tokyo's nightlife on three successive evenings. But Frank's behaviour is so strange that Kenji begins to entertain a horrible suspicion: that his client may be in fact the killer currently terrorising the city...
In the Miso Soup reminded me of Out, with its violence and social commentary on urban loneliness, rampant consumerism, and moral corruption in modern-day Japan. What made it memorable, like Out, was that it went beyond the violence, and into the psychological aspect of what made the characters do what they did, and on the flip side, what they didn't do. A dark and unnerving tale, yet a compelling read with a great element of suspense- I was never sure what would happen next. This was my first time to read anything by Ryu Murakami but I'm curious now to try more.

My Rating: 3.5/5

(Interview with The Daily Yomiuri)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

chrysanthemums

Last Saturday we happened across an exhibit of chrysanthemums at Shinjuku Gyoen.
They came in all shapes and sizes but these big ones were rather impressive.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Book #45 - Plum Wine

by Angela Davis-Gardner
Barbara Jefferson, a young American teaching in Tokyo in the 1960s, is set on a life-changing quest when her Japanese surrogate mother, Michi, dies, leaving her a tansu of homemade plum wines wrapped in rice paper. Within the papers Barbara discovers writings in Japanese calligraphy that comprise a startling personal narrative. With the help of her translator, Seiji Okada, Barbara begins to unravel the mysteries of Michi's life, a story that begins in the early twentieth century and continues through World War II and its aftermath.
A thoughtful story about the bombing of Hiroshima and how the survivors continue to be haunted by it, and shamed by their very survival. It also touched on some old folk tales and superstitions about foxes, which I found interesting, since you often see fox statues guarding small shrines here. However, I never really believed in the main relationship between the American woman, and the Japanese man, and through their various secrets and betrayals, so the ending didn't have much of an impact on me as had I been lost in their story. Also, there were several spelling errors and typos that distracted me throughout the book (not part of the 'Japanese English' which was used sometimes on purpose in dialogue. I've taught here long enough that that was amusing, it was when there shouldn't have been any errors that it jarred). All in all, an interesting but flawed story that, in my opinion, didn't quite live up to it's potential.

My Rating: 3/5

(See another review of the book from Bookslut
here.)

1st book finished for the From the Stacks Winter Challenge.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Squirrel Central

Lots of friendly (=bold) squirrels in the park that come right
up to your feet looking for treats.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Autumn

A nice thing about visiting Victoria in October was being able to see the reds and yellows of autumn leaves.


Beacon Hill Park

Monday, November 13, 2006

Book #44 - The Thirteenth Tale

by Diane Setterfield

My Rating
: 4/5

(click on the book jacket to link to The Thirteenth Tale website)
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”
A great book to read in this season, with winter on its way, and on the tails of the R.I.P. Autumn Challenge. I really enjoyed the gothic mood, and became quickly engrossed in the story. I got ever so slightly bogged down in the middle but it wasn't enough to affect my enjoyment of the story overall. It was described somewhere (can't remember where now) as "a book by a book lover for book lovers" and it certainly is that. The bookish quotes were a joy to read. One of my favourites:
“All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping through the cracks of another. Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes – characters even – caught in the fibres of your clothes, and when you open the new book they are still with you.”
And considering
my recent lukewarm review, I couldn't help but chuckle at Hester's comments about The Turn of the Screw:
“For the book is a rather silly story about a governess and two haunted children. I am afraid that in it Mr. James exposes the extent of his ignorance. He knows little about children and nothing at all about governesses.”
A fun, entertaining, well-written tale, or as Setterfield herself calls it, "a fairy tale for grown-ups". (B&N Book Club)

Friday, November 10, 2006

November

On Kailana's blog I just stumbled upon Chappy Mom's calendar challenge. A fun idea and mine's even book-related. Here's the November picture on the calendar above my desk..

Book #43 - A Year in Japan

by Kate T. Williamson (Author and Illustrator)
Non-Fiction/Travel, 2006
Princeton Architectural Press, softcover, 182 p.
The Land of the Rising Sun is shining brightly across the American cultural landscape. But the only way for a Westerner to get to know the real Japan is to become a part of it. Kate T. Williamson did just that, spending a year experiencing, studying, and reflecting on her adopted home. She brings her keen observations to us in A Year in Japan, a dramatically different look at a delightfully different way of life. Avoiding the usual clichés -- Japan's polite society, its unusual fashion trends, its crowded subways -- Williamson focuses on some lesser-known aspects of the country and culture. In stunning watercolors and piquant texts, she explains the terms used to order various amounts of tofu, the electric rugs found in many Japanese homes, and how to distinguish a maiko from a geisha. She observes sumo wrestlers in traditional garb as they use ATMs, the wonders of "Santaful World" at a Kyoto department store, and the temple carpenters who spend each Sunday dancing to rockabilly. A Year in Japan is a colorful journey to the beauty, poetry, and quirkiness of modern Japan -- a book not just to look at but to experience.
What a beautiful book! I'm so glad I saw it mentioned on Love Made Visible. It didn't take long to read through, but the short written comments enhance the beautiful watercolour illustrations perfectly. Living here, as I do, I found myself often nodding in understanding, but it was nice to see Japan through her eyes. A reminder of many of those things that I don't even think about as being specifically Japanese now, I'm so used to them. A book to keep and browse through often.

My Rating: 4/5


Illustrations © Kate Williamson
See more illustrations at
Kate Williamson's website.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Monday, November 06, 2006

From the Stacks Winter Challenge

I'm such a joiner! But Michelle at overdue books has a great challenge already underway that I can't resist! Plus it'll be good for me!

(click on button for list of participants)


The Challenge:
November 1st, 2006 to January 30th, 2007
"If you are anything like me your stack of purchased to-be-read books is teetering over. So for this challenge we would be reading 5 books that we have already purchased, have been meaning to get to, have been sitting on the nightstand and haven't read before. No going out and buying new books. No getting sidetracked by the lure of the holiday bookstore displays."

The Books:
Plum Wine - Angela Davis-Gardner --FINISHED
The History of Love - Nicole Krauss --FINISHED
Roxanna Slade - Reynolds Price --FINISHED
About Grace - Anthony Doerr --FINISHED
The Fall of Light - Niall Williams --FINISHED

For extra credit:
Natural Flights of the Human Mind - Clare Morrall
Them - Joyce Carol Oates
The Shipping News - Annie Proulx
the love of a good woman - Alice Munro
Surfacing - Margaret Atwood

*last updated January 25, 2007

water and salt


One highlight of my trip home was being able to see the ocean (ok, technically it's a strait) and smell the salty air. Very calming. I hadn't realised how much I missed it.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Book Loot

I always make a point of buying some Canadian books while I'm 'home' as they're not always easy to come by unless they've won awards or had some recognition outside Canada. So my suitcase(s) are always rather weighed down on the return journey.

First stop, Munro's Books downtown. Such a great space; I love looking through their sale books and often have to use extreme willpower to resist.

Next stop, Chapters. It seems that every time I go there, there are fewer books and more gifty-type things. Very sad. But I did find the 2 Nick Bantock books there for a really great price so I guess I can't complain too much.



And last but not least by any means,
Bolen Books. Ahhh! Lovely big bookstore and the fact that it's independently -owned is a nice plus!



There were so many that I picked up and contemplated but forced to choose because of space and weight constraints, here's what came back with me:

Hitching Rides with Buddha - Will Ferguson (previously published as Hokkaido Highway Blues, the full version has been restored for the Canadian version, "along with the title I always wanted. (That title was nixed by the American publisher on the complaint that it sounded too religious. Sigh.)"

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) - Ann-Marie MacDonald (her award-winning play because I loved both of her books)

Write Turns: New Directions in Canadian Fiction (so cheap at Munro's I couldn't resist, plus I thought it might be a great introduction to new Canadian writers to watch out for)

Three Views of Crystal Water - Katherine Govier (storyline has a Japanese angle- something that always catches my interest for obvious reasons- and my aunt, who I went browsing with, said she'd read and loved an older book of Govier's so would recommend anything by her sight unseen. Good enough for me!)

The City of Yes - Peter Oliva (another Canadian in Japan memoir-type book, that I'd heard of but couldn't find here)

The Morning Star and Alexandria - Nick Bantock (great price and I already had the previous 4 so just HAD to. Now if I would only actually READ them instead of just flipping through them randomly admiring the artwork)

The Birth House - Ami McKay (does this need an explanation?? I've heard nothing but wonderful things about this book!)

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield (the only non-Canadian book in the bunch but I decided that I could no longer resist it, especially with this cover)

Plus since getting home, I've also received The Book Thief - Markus Zusak (another one that has had nothing but rave reviews from many a book blogger) and A Year in Japan - Kate T. Williamson (which is full of beautiful illustrations- thanks to Love Made Visible for bringing it to my attention)

I hope to get to some of these soon, but it's always a pleasure knowing they're waiting for me on the shelves!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Victoria

Some typical sights...
The Inner Harbour

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

R.I.P. Autumn Challenge - The End

The 5 books I read for the R.I.P. 2006 Autumn Challenge:
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Sleep, Pale Sister by Joanne Harris
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Strangers by Taichi Yamada

I had finished all but In Cold Blood before my trip to Canada, and I decided not to take it with me for various logistical reasons. Luckily I was able to finish it in the last couple of days of October, after I got back, thereby successfully completing the challenge. Yay! I didn't get around to reading any of my alternate choices, but if they're still around I can always read them next year, right? And I probably wouldn't have even gotten around to reading these if it wasn't for the challenge so a big thanks to Carl for getting us all organised!
As for a new challenge, I'm considering joining in bookfool's 'Chunkster Challenge', when I figure out exactly what that entails. In the meantime, I look forward to choosing what to read purely by what pops out at me from the shelves. :)