Friday, December 29, 2006

O-shogatsu

(typical Japanese New Year's decorations)

While Christmas is just a fun, imported celebration here, New Year's is the main event when families get together, eat traditional food, pray for the New Year, etc.
So this evening we're off to visit the in-laws, and we'll be back on the 3rd.
For those who asked to see my New Year's cards, it's considered strange to wish someone a 'Happy New Year' before Jan. 1st so I'll post a pic when I get back.
Have a safe year end and I'll see you next year!

Best (and worst) Books of 2006


Top 5 books read in 2006:

The Way the Crow Flies - Ann-Marie MacDonald
How to Breathe Underwater - Julie Orringer
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon
Socrates in Love - Kyoichi Katayama

Honorable Mention:
Deafening - Frances Itani
The History of Love - Nicole Krauss
The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield

Best New Author to watch:
Julie Orringer

Best Non-Fiction:
Geisha of Gion - Mineko Iwasaki

Most Surprising:
Vernon God Little - DBC Pierre

Most Amusing:
The Fourth Bear - Jasper Fforde

Most Shocking (and Most Violent):
Out - Natsuo Kirino

Most Disappointing:
The Book of Secrets - M.G. Vassanji

Worst Book:
Vendetta - Michael Dibdin

(clicking on the book title will take you to my original review)

Book stats, 2006

I just finished my 52nd book, allowing me to reach my book-a-week goal (yay!), but a bit short of my personal goal of 60 books. I usually average between 50-55 a year so I guess I'm still within my usual, although I had hoped to read more this year.

Of the 52 books I read this year:
26 were by women authors
23 were by men
3 were compilations of short stories by both

29 were by American authors
9 Japanese
(and 1 of the compilations was by both Japanese and American authors)
6 British
3 Canadian
2 Australian
1 Brazilian
1 Nigerian

29 were by new-to-me authors, 12 of which I would definitely read something else by them
2 were rereads

Most of the books were Fiction, of which only 4 were Classics (yikes!).
Non-Fiction, 4 or 5 depending how you count Capote's In Cold Blood.

The longest book was Gone With the Wind at 1020 pages.
Only 3 others were over 500 pgs.
The shortest was Snakes and Earrings at 118 pages.
Total pages read = 16,176

Hm, I definitely see some things I'd like to work on for next year. More on that in the New Year.

Books Read in 2006

Clicking on the title will take you to my review.

1. Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
2. Snakes & Earrings - Hitomi Kanehara
3. The Book of Secrets - M.G. Vassanji
4. McSweeney's 18 - Edited by Dave Eggers
5. Zen Attitude - Sujata Massey
6. The 25th Hour - David Benioff
7. How to Breathe Underwater - Julie Orringer
8. Range of Motion - Elizabeth Berg
9. We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
10. after the quake - Haruki Murakami
11. The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon
12. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
13. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - Lisa See
14. Plain Truth - Jodi Picoult
15. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
16. Moon Palace - Paul Auster
17. McSweeney's 19 - edited by Dave Eggers
18. Socrates in Love - Kyoichi Katayama
19. Kuhaku & Other Accounts from Japan - edited by Bruce Rutledge, designed/illustrated by Craig Mod
20. The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
21. Deafening - Frances Itani
22. Close Range - Annie Proulx
23. Peace Like a River - Leif Enger
24. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It - Gina Kolata
25. Vernon God Little - DBC Pierre
26. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
27. The Flower Master - Sujata Massey
28. Geisha of Gion - Mineko Iwasaki
29. The Fourth Bear - Jasper Fforde
30. The Floating Girl - Sujata Massey
31. I am no one you know - Joyce Carol Oates
32. Black Water - Joyce Carol Oates
33. Kitchen - Banana Yoshimoto
34. Out - Natsuo Kirino
35. Strangers - Taichi Yamada
36. Coraline - Neil Gaiman
37. Sleep, Pale Sister - Joanne Harris
38. The Turn of the Screw and The Aspern Papers - Henry James
39. The Way the Crow Flies - Ann-Marie MacDonald
40. Straight Talking - Jane Green
41. Vendetta - Michael Dibdin
42. In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
43. A Year in Japan - Kate T. Williamson
44. The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield
45. Plum Wine - Angela Davis-Gardner
46. In the Miso Soup - Ryu Murakami
47. The History of Love - Nicole Krauss
48. PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives - edited by Frank Warren
49. About Grace - Anthony Doerr
50. The Notebook - Nicholas Sparks
51. McSweeney's Issue 20 - edited by Dave Eggers
52. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Book #52 - The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak

"It's just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery...."

I don't really know what to say about this book that hasn't already been said very eloquently and enthusiastically by others, such as booklogged, Les, Heather, bookfool and no doubt others. But I can say that like Death, the unusual narrator, who claims he is "haunted by humans", this is a haunting, moving story. The characters came alive so vividly, I couldn't help but be drawn into their lives. Full of unique, imaginative language,
"The soft-spoken words fell off the side of the bed, emptying to the floor like powder."

"This time, his voice was like a fist, freshly banged on the table."

"Liesel's blood had dried inside of her. It crumbled. She almost broke into pieces on the steps."
it was compelling reading. A beautiful book about the power of words, and the "ability of books to feed the soul."

My Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

TBR Challenge

OK, finally, here are the books I plan to read for Jenn's 2007 TBR Challenge.

THE CHALLENGE:
** Pick 12 books - one for each month of 2007 - that you've been wanting to read (have been on your "To Be Read" list) for 6 months or longer, but haven't gotten around to.

** Then, starting January 1, 2007, read one of these books from your list each month, ending December 31, 2007.

THE BOOKS:
1. The Crimson Petal and the White - Michel Faber
2. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - Susanna Clarke --FINISHED
3. White Teeth - Zadie Smith --FINISHED
4. The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck --FINISHED
5. Them - Joyce Carol Oates --FINISHED
6. The Shipping News - Annie Proulx --FINISHED
7. Everything is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer
8. number9dream - David Mitchell
9. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith
10. Brick Lane - Monica Ali
11. Unless - Carol Shields
12. (One Hundred Years of Solitude OR) Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez --FINISHED

FOR EXTRA CREDIT:
Natural Flights of the Human Mind - Clare Morrall
Inkheart - Cornelia Funke
Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
House of Sand and Fog - Andre Dubus III
My Name is Red - Orhan Pamuk

*Last updated December 18, 2007

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas, Japanese-style

For some reason, to the Japanese, Christmas = cake, specifically cake with strawberries (they're red!) and white icing (looks like snow?!). I'd really like to know who introduced this 'tradition' to Japan as it's now standard and my students never believe me when I tell them strawberry shortcake reminds me of summer, not Christmas. But as the saying goes, and add in H's sweet tooth, what harm does a little cake do? Our Christmas dinner in pictures:



Merry Christmas!
However you celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful day!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

'Twas the Night Before Solstice

Twas the night before solstice and all through the co-op
Not a creature was messing the calm status quo up.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
Dreaming of lentils and warm whole-grain breads.

We'd welcomed the winter that day after school
By dancing and drumming and burning the Yule,

A more meaningful gesture to honor the planet
Than buying more trinkets for Mom or Aunt Janet,

Or choosing a tree just to murder and stump it
And dress it all up like a seasonal strumpet.

My lifemate and I, having turned down the heat,
Slipped under the covers for a well-deserved sleep,

When from out on the lawn there came such a roar
I fell from my futon and rolled to the floor.

I crawled to my window and pulled back the latch,
And muttered, "Aw, where is that Neighborhood Watch?"
...

*From Politically Correct Holiday Stories by James Finn Garner

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Book #51 - McSweeney's Issue 20

Edited by Dave Eggers

Every fourth page is a full-color figurative painting, each one by an excellent artist. The other three pages have fiction on them, with only one color but lots of words, including punched, pants, and Puerto—that’s actually just the first page. After that, there are stories exploring animal-plant romances, psycho librarians, and passive-aggressive ventriloquism. No fewer than two dictators appear as protagonists.

I like illustrations so that made this an interesting issue. McSweeney's definitely gets points for the creative ways they bind and package their literary magazine. As I've come to expect though, some of the stories weren't to my taste, but that's not to say I didn't like any of them. My favourite is The Man Who Married a Tree by Tony D'Souza, which reminded me slightly of a couple of Ali Smith's tree-centred stories.
It's always hard to rate a collection of short stories by different authors, but since the ones I didn't like neutralised the ones I did, overall I'd give it a rating of average.


My Rating: 2.5/5

Friday, December 22, 2006

tori no ichi (rake fair)

Last week was the annual rake fair at the nearby shrine. It's the time for businesses to buy their good luck decorated rake (kumade) to bring prosperity in the coming year.

Then of course there were food stalls lining the streets in all directions. Here, making okonomiyaki.

and here, takoyaki - octopus balls, anyone?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Book #50 - The Notebook


by Nicholas Sparks

Noah is haunted by images of the beautiful girl he met fourteen years earlier, a girl he loved like no other. Unable to find her, yet unwilling to forget the summer they spent together, Noah is content to live with only memories… until she unexpectedly returns to his town to see him once again.

I wanted something quick and easy to read after About Grace, and this certainly fit the bill. The love story was moving at times, but overall it felt rather contrived, as if I’d been manipulated to have a certain emotional response to the story. (I don't mind a good love story, but I have a low tolerance for sappy). The writing was nothing special, and I didn’t care for the ending. All in all, a rather mediocre read.

My Rating: 2.5/5

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Book #49 - About Grace

by Anthony Doerr

David fell in love with Sandy at the supermarket in Alaska – as he dreamt he would. Moving from Alaska to Ohio to escape his fear of the future, they have a child: Grace. But a shadow of fear hangs over David. And when the floods come, he can’t face up to the future he has seen for his little girl and leaves both the people he loves.
Twenty-five years later, he finally finds the strength to discover his daughter’s fate…
“The things we see are only masks for the things we can’t see.”
I finished this several days ago and I’m still not sure what to say about it. It’s beautifully written in places, with some vivid images, yet in others my eyes started every so slightly to glaze at the detailed descriptions. It’s a very slow story, with little real action. It’s essentially about a long journey to overcome fear, yet it was oddly compelling.
According to The Washington Post, it probably would help if I was more familiar with some Greek legendary figures:
“Like Oedipus, Winkler is cursed with a terrible prophecy about himself that he does his utmost to avoid, and, like Odysseus, he must go on a long journey and endure many hardships before he can return home.”
Nature plays a big role and water was also a major symbol although I have to admit I didn’t come away with any real understanding of what was intended by it. I could also never really accept why the main character fled and stayed away for so long which made it hard to sympathise with his experiences. Yet, all that said, I can’t say that I regret reading it either. It was an interesting premise. And perhaps someone with a more critical reading sense would get a lot more out of it.

My Rating: 3.5/5
“What is time? Must time occur in sequence – beginning to middle to end – or is this only one way to perceive it? Maybe time can spill and freeze and retreat; maybe time is like water, endlessly cycling through its states.”

Sunday, December 17, 2006

getting creative

This year I decided to put together my own New Year's Cards. (The Japanese send New Year's cards, not Christmas cards, but I'm still late as I am every year. Why is it that I always have the best of intentions to get them out on time, but year after year it never happens? Probably says a lot about my procrastinating nature!) Anyway, I'm not usually very crafty but I love all the traditional paper products here and I've been having fun.
Now, better get back to it...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Chunkster Challenge

I've been having such a hard time deciding which books to choose for the challenges, but finally here is my list for bookfool's lovely, flexible Chunkster Challenge. (click image for link to the Chunkster Challenge Guidelines).
Click
HERE for the list of participants.

The Timeframe:
January 1st - June 30th, 2007

Of the following my official goal is to finish at least 4 of them. To help ensure that happens, the first 4 overlap with either the Classics Challenge, or the TBR Challenge (my list for that will be up soon). The additional titles are a few of the other Chunksters that have also been on the pile for too long. I'm being optimistic, but if things are going well, I'd like to read a couple of these too, and make it one a month for a total of 6. And wouldn't it be great if I could finish all of them this year? (sigh) But we all know how that goes..

The List:
1. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - Susanna Clarke (780 pgs.) --FINISHED

2. The Crimson Petal and the White - Michel Faber (806 pgs.)

3. The Makioka Sisters - Junichiro Tanizaki (530 pgs.) --FINISHED

4. White Teeth - Zadie Smith (536 pgs.) --FINISHED

Carnevale - M.R. Lovric (626 pgs.)

The Half Brother - Lars Saabye Christensen (764 pgs.)

The Tea Rose - Jennifer Donnelly (542 pgs.)

City of Dreams - Beverly Swerling (577 pgs.)

I am a Cat - Natsume Soseki (634 pgs.)

Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts (929 pgs.)

*Last updated May 28, 2007

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Mont Blanc

Speaking of food, H has a major sweet tooth and this is his latest favourite. I'm not usually a fan of Mont Blanc, but this one, from Patisserie Angelina, really is quite lovely.

Six Weird Things

I've been tagged by bookfool so here are Six Weird Things About Me.

1. Eating raw onion gives me a headache. I also can't eat much garlic as my stomach rebels. This is all rather unfortunate and it just generally makes eating out an adventure sometimes.

2. I can't sleep if my feet are cold, and they always seem to be cold. So I often wear socks to bed, even in the summer.

3. I'm pretty really anal about my books. I never write in them. I never fold over the corners. They usually still look brand new after I've read them. Needless to say, I'm not a big fan of libraries and used bookstores because you just never know where those books have been. I've even been known to not buy a new book if it's the only copy and it's battered up. Every time we move, I'll let the movers pack the dishes and furniture and stuff, but I pack my books in advance so they don't get all bent up. I have gotten a bit more relaxed lately..a bit.

4. I love bookmarks and when I start a new book I like to match a bookmark to the book, by colour, or theme, for example.

5. I sometimes take on the mood of characters in books. Not so great if they're lonely or depressed. Also try explaining: I'm not mad at YOU. And it's not PMS. The character in the book I'm reading is having an argument with another character and...

6. (a) I usually dream about mundane daily events, such as having a conversation with someone. In the morning I'm often slightly confused as to which conversations or happenings were real.

(b) I occasionally have deja-vu from dreams. Not in a dramatic way, but in a gentle 'this is familiar' way. It used to happen quite a bit, then for a few years, nothing. Recently I've felt it again a few times. Whenever it happens it always makes me feel like my life is on track.

I'm behind on my blog-reading so I'm not sure who has already done this one. If you haven't and you're in the mood to share, please consider yourself tagged.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Classics Challenge

I've been slow to post about all the great Reading Challenges starting in January, mostly because I have soooo many unread books here that I just can't decide which ones to choose. Which ones I'm ready for. And which ones to put on more than one list so that I can actually succeed in reading some of them and yet keep it so that my whole year isn't booked up because that's no fun either. I know I need to leave breathing room for mood reads and new ones that come along. Decisions. Decisions.
But without further ado, here are the books I plan to read for booklogged's Winter Classics Challenge.

THE CHALLENGE:
***The challenge is to read five classics during the months of January and February***


THE LIST
:
1. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (would you believe I've never actually read this?)
2. The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck (Lotus reminded me of this one that's been on my shelves for a little while) --FINISHED
3. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury (Les didn't like it very much but it's been on my shelves for quite a while and I need to finally just get it read) --FINISHED
4. Gigi and the Cat - Colette (slim, French, and a story about a cat- sounds good to me!) --FINISHED
5. The Makioka Sisters - Junichiro Tanizaki (I started this a few years ago then got distracted from it for some reason and never made it back. I'm determined to read it through this time. And at over 500 pages this one also qualifies for the Chunkster Challenge). --FINISHED
I actually have several BIG classics that would easily fit the Chunkster Challenge as well, but with only 2 months for 5 classics, I'm leaning towards short.

FOR EXTRA CREDIT:
Love and Friendship - Jane Austen
The Green Dwarf - Charlotte Bronte

*Last updated February 25, 2007

Saturday, December 09, 2006

That's a relief!

You are 91% Canuck!

You rock, you are an almighty Canadian through and through. You have proven your worthiness and have won the elite prize of living in a country as awesome as Canada. Yes I know other countries think they are better, but we let them have that cuz we know better than they do, eh?

How Canadian Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz


Sure, I haven't lived there in years, but it's nice to know I still deserve the passport! ;P

December

Last month I posted the November page from my calendar for a challenge. No challenge this time, but I'm quite enjoying this month's library so I thought I'd share.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Autumn meets Spring

This was also taken last weekend. Cherry blossoms against a backdrop of red Japanese maple leaves. (Technically, it's a winter cherry, but it was quite interesting to see the contrast of typical spring flowers with the colours of autumn.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Book #48 - PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives

Edited by Frank Warren
The instructions were simple, but the results were extraordinary.
“You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project. Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession, or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything – as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before. Be brief. Be legible. Be creative.”
Like the website (that I visit every week after it's been updated), the postcards range from funny to tragic, silly to disturbing, trivial to profound. Some of the postcards are wonderfully creative - they truly are works of art.
Layout-wise, I didn't like the cards that were displayed over 2 pages as the text was often partly hidden in the crease, but it's still a clever idea turned into an interesting coffee table book. It's also nice to know that part of the proceeds go to a suicide hotline.

My Rating: 3.5/5
“Like fingerprints, no two secrets are identical, but every secret has a story behind it.”

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

the colours of autumn

..and some yellow

The camera didn't exactly catch it, but this tree was so pretty, lit up by the sunshine.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Poetry Meme

When I saw that Les had tagged me, my first thought was a POETRY meme?? Yikes! How can I get out of this one? But I see I'm not entirely alone, so here goes...

1. The first poem I remember reading/hearing/reacting to was...
most likely Mother Goose rhymes.

2. I was forced to memorize (name of poem) in school and........
I don't remember having to learn any specific poems by heart, but I do remember having to memorise Puck's final speech in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Grade 8 I think it was.
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumb'red here
While these visions did appear
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call.
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
3. I read/don't read poetry because....
I don't read poetry because I usually don't "get it". I never really learned to read critically. I don't read fiction critically either. I like meaningful stories, I just don't search out symbolism in anything I read. I realise I'm probably missing out on stuff, and I always appreciate it when in a book discussion someone points out some underlying theme or symbols, but I don't want to get bogged down in looking for them while I read.

4. A poem I'm likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem is .......
ROBERT FROST
The Road Not Taken


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
It ties into a theme that I also love in literature- that of how the choices we make have a ripple effect.

And I've always quite liked, since studying it in high school, Sir Walter Raleigh's The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd, the reply to Christopher Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, since she doesn't fall blindly for the shepherd's beautiful promises, instead stating realistically, that material things don't last. Yay for the nymph! ;P

5. I write/don't write poetry, but..............
I don't write poetry but I did write a few during a Creative Writing class in Grade 10. They were quite angtsy, and not very good. Nothing since.

6. My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of literature.....
I either read poetry very slowly, trying to understand it, and sound it out in my mind, or my eyes start skipping over it, which usually leads me to rereading, and eventually frustration.
If Non-Fiction gets too dry or technical I start having the same problem. I love the flow of fiction, and being lost in a good story.

7. I find poetry.....
rather intimidating. Which is why I tend to avoid it.

8. The last time I heard poetry....
Gosh, no idea. Probably in a movie.

9. I think poetry is like....something I think/wish I could like if I gave it half a chance. I'm ashamed at how poetry illiterate I am and I really would like to enjoy poetry more. I probably should just read some and find out what works for me. It's getting past that mental wall to begin in the first place.