Friday, March 30, 2007

'McSweeney's Issue 21'

Edited by Dave Eggers

With work by Roddy Doyle, Stephen Elliott, Peter Orner, Joyce Carol Oates, Yannick Murphy, and Miranda July, as well as the triumphant return of Arthur Bradford and stories concerning fistfighting Mormons, New Zealand police
malfeasance, and a man named Trang, and with all of those works interspersed with heartfelt letters to Ray Charles and storyboards by some of the finest pen-and-ink artists of our day, our twenty-first issue is sure to be one of our best assemblages yet.

I quite enjoyed this issue. The pen-and-ink storyboards were great and the stories, even though some of them were a touch bizarre, were all quite interesting this time around. A couple that stood out as memorable for me were “The Pram” by Roddy Doyle, “The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan” by Rajesh Parameswaran, and “I Feel Free” by Greg Ames. I’ve heard Issue 22 is quite spectacular but I’m still waiting for it to arrive. Something to look forward to.

My Rating: 3.5/5

“That day I carried the dream around like a full glass of water, moving gracefully so I would not lose any of it.”
("Majesty" by Miranda July)


Had a little hanami (cherry blossom viewing) party yesterday.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fantasy illiterate

I've discovered that I'm completely unknowledgeable about fantasy. I haven't read a lot and what I have has mainly been children's fantasy, of the Harry Potter or Narnia ilk. I have some fantasy on my shelves, like the Tales of the Otori series by Lian Hearn. Inkheart and Inkspell by Cornelia Funke. And the Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix waiting to be read, among some others but again they are mainly YA fantasy. I do have a Guy Gavriel Kay book. He's for adults I believe. And I've read Gaiman's Neverwhere. I'm currently reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and thoroughly enjoying it, by the way. And there are probably a few more books here that could be classified as fantasy. And I keep meaning to read more fantasy but other books always seem to take precedence.
Carl has of course launched his tempting Once Upon a Time Fantasy Challenge. But this is where the problem lies. I have a hard enough time separating fantasy from science fiction. Never mind sub-genres! Trying to figure out which categories (Mythology, Fairytale, Folklore, Fantasy) the books on my shelves fit into was starting to make my brain hurt. Hey, I never said I was clever! So I gave up. I honestly don't really have time right now what with all the other challenges I'm doing but I was curious all the same. For the time being I think I'll stick with Jonathan Strange, and then have my Harry Potter binge and with any luck, toss a bit of fantasy, without puzzling over which type of fantasy it is, into the mix down the road. I'm looking forward to reading the reviews though and getting ideas for possible future reads. And I'll be cheering you all on from the sidelines.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

or maybe a rabbit...

I really appreciate the comments about your experiences and suggestions for a good friend for Bailey. But I had to chuckle. Here's a really trimmed down synopsis of the advice given so far:

2 boys good
2 boys bad
2 girls bad, boys better
2 girls ok
big age gap bad
don't get a kitten
do get a kitten

hee hee hee! Absolutely no offense intended, by the way!

I have a couple of friends who both have 2 male cats who are good friends.
Back home, we used to have 2 female cats who never got along.
Anyone out there with good or bad boy/girl combinations?

Bailey's actually pretty easy-going, and social, and he's fixed (forgot to mention this in the earlier post). He's still quite young as he's not yet 2. He loves to play and sometimes plays quite rough. A kitten is always cute and fun, and at first I thought this might be best since a kitten should have a lot of energy. But now I wonder if it may not be a good idea, as Bailey is fairly large. Basically I think we need a cat that can hold his/her own with Bailey and be able to keep up with him. Hmmm.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

boy or girl?

We're thinking of getting a friend for Master Bailey. For those of you with experience of more than one cat, what's a better match for a rather big, playful male? Or does it matter?

Friday, March 23, 2007

'Nineteen Eighty-Four'

by George Orwell

(Book #10 for 2007; Book #1 for the Banned Book Challenge)


Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels against the totalitarian world he lives in, which demands absolute obedience and controls him through the all-seeing telescreens and the watchful eye of Big Brother, symbolic head of the Party. In his longing for truth and liberty, Smith begins a secret love affair with a fellow-worker Julia, but soon discovers the true price of freedom is betrayal.

Having lived in Britain, one of the most watched countries in the world, with its over 4 million CCTV cameras, not to mention its obsession with the reality show Big Brother, I’m glad I finally read the source of such terminology as Newspeak, doublethink, Big Brother, Room 101, Thought Police, and others. It’s certainly an influential book, with thought-provoking ideas, but I found a good portion of the story rather dry. I especially got bogged down with “The Book” and the political commentary. Repeatedly banned or challenged for being “pro-communist”, or for sexual content (so tame compared to what’s on offer nowadays) the totalitarian alternative in the book, heavily influenced by the regimes of Stalin and Hitler, hardly seems better. Worth the read for the background on many concepts and phrases now common in English, but a bit of a struggle to get through.

About Newspeak:
It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take “good”, for instance. If you have a word like “good”, what need is there for a word like “bad”? “Ungood” will do just as well- better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of “good”, what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like “excellent” and “splendid” and all the rest of them? “Plusgood” covers the meaning; or “doubleplusgood” if you want something stronger still. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words- in reality, only one word. Don’t you see the beauty of that, Winston?
Winston reading "The Book":
The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him. In a sense it told him nothing that was new, but that was part of the attraction. It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order. … The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.
My Rating: 3/5

See also this BBC article on "How we are being watched".
Or for more on Nineteen Eighty-Four, see

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mt. Fuji in Spring

As seen from Matsuda during the sakura matsuri.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Happy Vernal Equinox Day

A bit early but it's past midnight here and therefore technically the first day of spring. It's also a National holiday in Japan (we get a day off for the Autumnal Equinox too- love Japan's nature-based holidays!) Anyway, to celebrate, I thought I'd have a tinker and try out a new header. Have a great day!
P.S. The bookmarks have indeed been posted and are now in the hands of Japan Post.

Monday, March 19, 2007

At last!

For everyone who took me up on my offer:
The bookmarks are finally done and ready to go! I'm really sorry it's taken me so long! As well as the 'Year of the Boar' ones you saw before, I also came up with these for spring.

Being a bit of a perfectionist, I'm not entirely satisfied with them, but I hope you enjoy them all the same. I should manage to get to the post office tomorrow, so hopefully they will be with you in the next couple of weeks. Again many apologies for the delay.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

M&N's Summer 7 Challenge

At first I was pretty sure I wouldn't be joining M&N's Summer 7 Challenge, especially considering the rules:

Time frame:
May 1st to September 1st, 2007

To complete an entire series (of 7) from start to finish!

From their suggested series, I would like to read Proust's In Search of Lost Time someday, but I know that I could never do it in only 4 months. Likewise, the complete novels of the Brontë sisters. I still have that copy of Wuthering Heights waiting on my shelves unread. But I'd really hate to force myself through them in such a short time. So although tempting, I knew it just wasn't realistic for me. I also tried to think of a series or set of 7 Japanese books, but couldn't come up with a good grouping.
Then Nessie said that I could indeed count the Harry Potter series, and since I was already planning to do so, it's PERFECT! Thanks Nessie! I feel a little bit like I'm cheating since Harry Potter is hardly as challenging as Proust, but it'll still be quite a few pages to read.

So between May 1st and September 1st, I plan to read:

1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - FINISHED
2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - FINISHED
3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - FINISHED
4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - FINISHED
5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - FINISHED
6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - FINISHED
7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - FINISHED

*Challenge completed on July 22, 2007

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


I'm not the only one who looks forward to a box from Amazon!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Japanese bush warbler

Sometimes also translated as 'nightingale'. Known in Japanese as 'uguisu', it has many nicknames including 'hanami dori' ("spring-flower-viewing bird") which is quite appropriate here. Spotted in Matsuda at the cherry blossom festival we went to a couple of weeks ago.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Theme Reading

Inspired by Iliana, Danielle, and Susan, who started it, here are some Themed Reading Lists from my stacks.

I could easily spend several months reading nothing but CANADIAN authors.

I could also just as easily spend the rest of the year reading only CLASSICS, including some seriously CHUNKY ones, such as:
War and Peace-Tolstoy
Les Miserables-Hugo
The Count of Monte Cristo-Dumas
The Three Musketeers-Dumas
Don Quixote-Cervantes
The Decameron-Boccaccio

I could spend some time with my favourite season. I seem to subconsciously, or not, be attracted to books with winter or snow in the title! Maybe I should try this when it's hot, sticky and unbearable this summer.
A Spell of Winter- Helen Dunmore
The Snow Geese- William Fiennes
Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow- Peter Hoeg
Encyclopedia of Snow- Sarah Emily Miano
Snow- Orhan Pamuk
Light on Snow- Anita Shreve
Ice Road- Gillian Slovo
The Ice Palace- Tarjei Vesaas
The Winter Mantle- Elizabeth Chadwick
If on a Winter's Night a Traveller- Italo Calvino
The Winter Queen- Boris Akunin
Snow Country- Yasunari Kawabata

And I could do a fair bit of armchair traveling.
in addition to a handful of Japanese titles,
Lands of Glass-Alessandro Baricco
Soldiers of Salamis-Javier Cercas
The Half Brother-Lars Saabye Christensen
The Visit of the Royal Physician-Per Olov Enquist
The Name of the Rose-Umberto Eco
The Silence of the Rain- Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza
Silence in October- Jens Christian Grondahl
Hunger- Knut Hamsun
Fateless- Imre Kertesz
The Unbearable Lightness of Being- Milan Kundera
Embers- Marai Sandor
My Name is Red- Orhan Pamuk
Journey by Moonlight- Antal Szerb
...among several others.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Banned Book Challenge

Freedom to Read Week is finished but I've decided to take the Banned Book Challenge (I'm such a sucker for a reading challenge, but who can resist such a worthy one?) which is ongoing to the end of June.

Image ©
Freedom to Read

Without realizing it, I've already read two banned/challenged books this year (Fahrenheit 451, and A Wrinkle in Time) so I'm off to a good start!

For the current challenge, I plan to read 5 books that have been banned or challenged from the following:

The Diary of Anne Frank --FINISHED
1984 - George Orwell --FINISHED
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood --FINISHED
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings - D.T. Suzuki
Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (also on my TBR Challenge list) -- FINISHED

Plus, as I've already mentioned, I'm planning to read the entire Harry Potter series, which has been widely challenged. These should keep me busy!

*Last updated June 28, 2007

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Last weekend in our search for plum blossoms, we happened upon a small group of taiko drummers performing at Yushima-tenmangu.

Monday, March 05, 2007

100 Books - which ones have you read?

Finally getting around to doing the meme that has been making the rounds. I'm copying Les' lovely idea of breaking the list into groups.

Books I've Read* (Including those that I no longer remember in any detail, or almost at all)
(Books in Blue have been read more than once)

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Philospher's** Stone (J.K. Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
28. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth(Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Ludlum)

Books That I Read in an Abridged Copy as a Child (so they don't really count)

23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)--therefore also in Books I'd Like to Read

Books I'd Like to Read (Books in Green are Already on my Bookshelves)

27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
34. 1984 (Orwell)
38. I Know This Much is True(Wally Lamb)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)

Books I Might Read, or I Wouldn't Say No To if I Had Nothing Else to Read

9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
86. Watership Down (Richard Adams)

Books I'm Not Interested In, or Books That I Would Rather Read Magazines or Cereal Boxes Instead Of

14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. Bible
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

Books I Haven't Heard Of

84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)

*I like the caveat that I read on someone's meme (sorry I don't remember who):
Just because I've read it, doesn't mean I'm proud of it! :P
**Do NOT get me started on the Americanizing of British books!!

Saturday, March 03, 2007


We went in search of ume (plum) blossoms in Tokyo today, but it was still a little early. We did find a few trees though that were beginning to bloom.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Reading Update: February

Well, February seemed to just fly by. I finished only 4 books, and while I didn't really like 2 of them, those two were both quite short. So except for some bizarre stories and a short, uninteresting stay in Switzerland, most of my month was spent in Asia. First in early twentieth century rural China with all the hardships that entailed, then to pre-WWII Japan. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay with the 4 sisters of a dying aristocratic family, and it's put me in 'Japanese mood'. I'm looking forward to reading much more Japanese Lit in the coming months.

The Books: (clicking on the title will take you to my review)
The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck
The bridegroom was a dog - Yoko Tawada
The Makioka Sisters - Junichiro Tanizaki
Hotel du Lac - Anita Brookner

As for the Reading Challenges, February saw the end of the Classics Challenge. I didn't quite make it but 4 out of 5 isn't too bad (at least that's my take and I'm sticking with it!).

Progress in the other challenges as follows: (see sidebar for links)
Chunkster Challenge - 1 completed, with 3 more to go. Still do-able by the end of June.
TBR Challenge - only 1 out of 12 completed so far but if I can read 2 this month I'll be caught up.
Japan Challenge - 2 completed so I'm on target for 12 for the year.
O'Canada Challenge - um, 0 completed so far. But I'm going to try and add some Canadian reads in soon, I hope.

And then because I can't seem to get enough, I've been working on a list for Joy's Non-Fiction Five Challenge to start in May. And I can't quite believe it but I'm also considering the Banned Books Challenge! Call me crazy! If I do join these though I'm definitely going to need some books that overlap with the other challenges too, otherwise it will truly be impossible.

For my reading in general, I usually don't do well reading more than one book at a time. It's usually better if I can concentrate only on one. But I'm going to try having a book of short stories to dip into on the go as well. We'll see how that goes. And I really want to start my Harry Potter rereads this month. But next up, I'm thinking it's time to jump into another chunkster, and I think my mood is leaning towards Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Wish me luck!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

early bloomers

Last Sunday, we went to the Matsuda* sakura matsuri (cherry blossom festival). Situated on a hill that gets considerable sun, this area is known for its early blooming cherry trees.
*Matsuda is about an hour and a half south of Tokyo