Wednesday, February 28, 2007

'Hotel du Lac'

by Anita Brookner

WINNER of the Booker Prize 1984

(Book #9 for 2007)

Into the rarefied atmosphere of the Hotel du Lac timidly walks Edith Hope, romantic novelist and holder of modest dreams. Exiled from home after embarrassing herself and her friends, Edith has refused to sacrifice her ideals and remains stubbornly single. But among the pampered women and minor nobility Edith finds Mr. Neville, and her chance to escape from a life of humiliating spinsterhood is renewed…

On the back cover (Penguin UK edition), The Times calls it “a smashing love story. It is very romantic. It is also humorous, witty, touching and formidably clever.”
Love story? Romantic? Huh? I must’ve read a different book!

Wiki does a better job, saying “her works explore the alienation of a character, usually female, whose quiet, solitary lives are punctuated by destitution and disappointments in love.”
At the other extreme, I had to chuckle at the comment from a reader on Amazon UK:
“I was extremely disappointed in this book. The woman is supposed to be in love, yet in the height of its expression, she utters "Oh David, oh David". She has all the passion of a dead jellyfish. It read like a creative writing student had sat down in a hotel to describe the guests in a rather superficial way.
Its one redeeming feature is that if this truly trivial piece can win the Booker Prize, then there really is hope for anyone who can pick up a pen!”*
I wouldn’t go quite that far, but do agree that the characters seemed rather flat, and cold. I simply never came to care what happened to any of them. Luckily it was a short book.
And like another reviewer commented, Brookner seems to be a writer that either draws you in (there are plenty of reviews praising the book, and her as a writer), or doesn’t. Obviously, this book didn’t do much for me.

My Rating: 2/5

This book is now off to a fellow Bookcrosser, as promised. I hope she has better luck with it than I did.

*I apologize for my excessive use of quotes by others, but they managed to say what I wanted to much better than I could've.

MISC: In an Interview with Brookner, she herself ridicules the comparison of her writing to that of Jane Austen. Whew!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Classics Challenge wrap-up

Well, I simply ran out of time this month and wasn't able to complete the challenge. Poor Wuthering Heights there on the bottom of the pile will just have to go back on the shelf unread. I still want to read it but with so many other books vying for my attention at the moment, it's just going to have to wait. I did finish 4 classics though which is 4 more than I probably would've read without the challenge to urge me on.

Clicking on a title will take you to my review of:
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
Gigi and The Cat - Colette
The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck
The Makioka Sisters - Junichiro Tanizaki

Thanks again booklogged. I look forward to next year's challenge!

Monday, February 26, 2007

'The Makioka Sisters'

by Junichiro Tanizaki
Translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker

In Osaka in the years immediately before World War II, four aristocratic women try to preserve a way of life that is vanishing.
Tsuruko, the eldest sister, clings obstinately to the prestige of her family name even as her husband prepares to move their household to Tokyo, where that name means nothing. Sachiko compromises valiantly to secure the future of her younger sisters. The unmarried Yukiko is a hostage to her family’s exacting standards, while the spirited Taeko rebels by flinging herself into scandalous romantic alliances. Filled with vignettes of upper-class Japanese life and capturing both the decorum and the heartache of its protagonists, The Makioka Sisters is a classic of international literature.
The writing seemed a bit choppy at times, but whether that is due to the original, or the translation, or the fact that it was originally published serially, I don’t know. But I was always eager to get back to the book when I wasn’t reading it and I thoroughly enjoyed this story of four very different sisters.

Commentary at wikipedia calls the story Austenesque, which helped me realise what kept drawing me back to it. Of course it’s set in Japan, and much more modern, and didn’t have Austen’s wonderful witty prose, but it did kind of have an Austen feel to it, with marriage as the main theme, and issues of class and propriety. So while in the background it hinted slightly at the history leading up to WWII, the women were the story.

It seemed to be a realistic glimpse at what life was like then, and I especially enjoyed the references to various customs, some that I knew of, and others that were entirely new to me. Some of the illnesses mentioned in the book were also very interesting. I’d never heard of ‘beriberi’ before, a thiamine deficiency seen primarily in Asian people who rely on white rice as their staple food (the polished rice contains virtually no B1 as the thiamine-rich husk has been removed). And the dark spot over Yukiko’s eye that would come and go in itself wasn’t remarkable, but the fact that it would, according to the doctors, only go away when she was married, was amusing. (She ended up having hormone injections which made it fade considerably).

Overall, a great read and I look forward to reading more by
I’ve already put Some Prefer Nettles in my basket, which Lotus didn’t like very much but I’m now curious about.

MISC: The original Japanese title, sasame yuki, translates approximately as ‘a light snowfall’ or ‘small snowflakes’.

My Rating: 4.5/5
(Book #8 for 2007; Book #4 for the Classics Challenge; Book #1 for the Chunkster Challenge; and Book #2 for my Japan Challenge)
“The cherries in the Heian Shrine were left to the last because they, of all the cherries in Kyoto, were the most beautiful. Now that the great weeping cherry in Gion was dying and its blossoms were growing paler each year, what was left to stand for the Kyoto spring if not the cherries in the Heian Shrine?”
I made a note of this quote because the garden of Heian Jingu (Heian Shrine) is one of my favourite places in Kyoto.

Heian Jingu, April, 2006

Sunday, February 25, 2007

a little early

Last week it was a little early but it shouldn't be long now before the ume (plum) are in full bloom.

Friday, February 23, 2007

'The bridegroom was a dog'

by Yoko Tawada

WINNER of the Akutagawa Prize
Translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani

(Book #7 for 2007; Book #1 for my Japan Challenge)

In these three narratives, an ingenious story-teller has created a new kind of fantasy, playful yet vaguely sinister, laced with her own brand of humor, which reviewers have labeled variously as "funky," "mischievous," "weird," and "hilarious."

I took this slim book, of 3 short stories, with me to read on the train yesterday. I finished the first one, and then read the other 2 later at home. And what bizarre little stories they were too! I’m really not quite sure what to make of them.
As a young girl, Yoko Tawada made a discovery that would later mold her life. “I found it fun to speak a jumble of words, sheer nonsense, and make grown-ups laugh,” she says. Tawada has made a career from such phrases.

There seems to be a fine line between quirky and just plain weird! I guess her style just didn't work for me. I think I’ll stick with Haruki Murakami when in need of a dose of surrealistic Japanese Lit.

My Rating: 2.5/5

Thursday, February 22, 2007

last look

Here's a last look at the snow in Sapporo. Yesterday was a beautiful day in Tokyo with the plum trees starting to blossom, so it's time to welcome spring.
(on the grounds of 'akarenga', Sapporo, February 2007)

Hokkaido salmon

Sapporo, February 2007

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

fish market

Being winter, crab was in season. At least the day we went, taraba gani (Red King Crab) was displayed prominently in every shop.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What Season Are You?

So NOT surprising!!!
You Belong in Winter
Quiet, calm, and totally at peace...
You're happy to be at home, wrapped in a blanket, completely snowed in
Whether you're lighting a fire or having a snowball fight, you always feel best in the winter.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Hikone Castle (2)

Hikone Castle

Perhaps not too surprisingly, this one was my favourite.

(Sapporo Snow Festival - February 2007)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Trip Notes

'Akarenga' (literally "red bricks"), an old government building

“So how was the Snow Festival?” you ask.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Antarctic

(Sapporo Snow Festival - February 2007)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Monday, February 12, 2007

'The Good Earth'

by Pearl S. Buck

WINNER of the Pulitzer Prize 1932; WINNER of the Nobel Prize for Literature 1938

(Book #6 for 2007; 3rd book finished for the Classics Challenge; Book #1 for the TBR Challenge)

In the reign of the last emperor a servant woman married a humble man. Together they began an epic journey…

"I can only write what I know, and I know nothing but China, having always lived there," (Pearl Buck)
Coming as she did from a missionary background, what I most appreciated in Buck’s epic story was that I never felt any judgement on her part of the Chinese customs, traditions, or superstitions, towards religion, marriage (and concubines), and death. She did a wonderful job of explaining them and portraying the people and their lives very realistically, so it seemed. Simply told, (I didn’t make a note of any quotes while reading), this only made it extremely readable, and allowed the story of Wang Lung to shine through. Married to a slave-woman, O-lan, they suffer together through intense hardships, but Wang’s eternal reverence and love of the land, allows them to finally achieve a better life. Or at least it was a better life for Wang and his sons. To read about O-lan’s life is heartbreaking, and like others have said in their reviews*, I can not imagine being a woman in that time and place, and can only be thankful to have the life I do! With Wang Lung in centre stage, the other family members didn’t come across quite as vividly, but I would still be very interested to read the next book in the trilogy, Sons. I like the idea (from Lotus) that the land, the good earth, represents the value system to keep their morals in check. Unlike Wang, who strayed but always returned, it would be interesting to see how the sons fare as they distance themselves ever more from the life-giving land.

My Rating: 4/5

*Please also see the excellent reviews (and for music to read along to) on Lotus Reads and Lesley's Book Nook. Also reviewed at Age 30 - A Year of Books.

Note: My copy (Pocket Books by Simon & Schuster UK) contained several typos, which I always find annoying and rather interrupted my reading.

Misc: While browsing online, I found a picture of this U.S. Commemorative stamp from 1983.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Imperial Palace- The Hall of Supreme Harmony

(Sapporo Snow Festival - February 2007)

The imperial palace (also known as the Forbidden City) in Beijing was the Chinese imperial palace during the mid-Ming and the Qing Dynasties. One of the most historically important buildings within the palace is the Hall of Supreme Harmony located at its central axis. The original hall was built in 1406, on the site where a part of the imperial city during the Yuan Dynasty once existed, by the Yongle Emperor who became known as Chengzu of Ming Dynasty soon after he moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing. The imperial palace served as the seat of the Ming Dynasty from 1421 until 1644, when a peasant revolt invaded and razed it. The following Qing Dynasty reconstructed the palace and also occupied it. In 1912, after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the imperial palace ceased being the political center of China with the abdication of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. Under an agreement signed between the Qing imperial house and the new Republic of China government, Puyi was, however, allowed to live within the walls of the Forbidden City. Puyi stayed in the Forbidden City until 1924, when Feng Yuxiang took control of Beijing in a coup. Denouncing the previous agreement with the Qing imperial house, Feng expelled Puyi. Soon after, the Palace Museum was established in the Forbidden City on October 10th in 1925.

*Blurb from the Snow Festival website.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Magic

(Sapporo Snow Festival- February 2007)

Milk Land

(Sapporo Snow Festival- February 2007)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

slow going

It's already the 10th, and I'm still working on my first book of the month! I'm never a very fast reader but I'm starting to feel antsy, wanting to move on to my next book. That's not to say that I'm not enjoying The Good Earth, because I am, very much. But I can't help thinking about the other books waiting for me, and the Classics Challenge deadline coming up!
I didn't get much reading done while away, which is part of it. On top of that is the fact that I haven't been feeling that great and today I'm feeling downright lousy, which means I'm also having a hard time concentrating and/or staying awake. I actually caught whatever this is just before going to Sapporo, but managed to keep it somewhat at bay, until today that is! Blah!!!
I'd also intended to work on the bookmarks today, but when I started getting out the stuff, I found I just didn't have the energy. So please bear with me, I haven't forgotten and will get to them soon.
I'm off to curl up and attempt to read some more. Pictures of some of the snow sculptures from the Snow Festival coming up next.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Thursday, February 08, 2007


A little coffeeshop near our hotel.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Sunday was a bit chilly (about 25F) compared to the recent spring-like weather in Tokyo, but seems positively balmy compared to the -40C (-40F) temps recorded in Winnipeg, Canada on Monday, Feb. 5th!!

first glimpse

New Chitose Airport- February 4, 2007

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Gone... search of snow. See you in a few days.
(pic taken Jan. 21st, 2006)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Breaking News!

Just saw this at Heather's!
And from Bloomsbury:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling will be published around the world in the English language on Saturday, 21st July 2007.

In making the announcement, J. K. Rowling's British publishers, Bloomsbury, said they are delighted at the prospect of publishing this most anticipated of books.

2007 marks the tenth anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. The Harry Potter series has gone on to sell 325 million copies worldwide and been translated into 64 languages. The last book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, sold 2,009,574* copies in the UK on the first day of its release, making it the fastest-selling book of all time. All six Harry Potter books have been number one bestsellers around the world.

Bloomsbury will be publishing their children's hardback edition (ISBN 978 0 7475 9105 4), an adult hardback edition (ISBN 978 0 7475 9106 1), as well as a special gift edition and, jointly with HNP, the audio book, read by Stephen Fry and released simultaneously for the first time. The standard hardbacks have a Recommended Retail Price of £17.99.

Sale of the book in all time zones is embargoed until 00:01 BST (British Summer Time) on Saturday 21st July 2007.

* Figures supplied by Nielsen Bookscan

Woohoo! I've been planning to reread all the books before the release of Book 7, so it looks like I better get started! Let's see, if I read the first 3 in the next 2 months, then one a month for April, May, June, that would put me right for Book 7 in July! Hmm, challenges, what challenges??? ;P

which austen heroine are you?

I am Elinor Dashwood!

Take the Quiz here!

Quite appropriate- I just watched this again last week...after watching both versions of Pride and Prejudice! Sometimes the Austen mood strikes and just must be obeyed!