Saturday, June 30, 2007

Friday, June 29, 2007

Banned Book Challenge wrap-up

Since today is the last day of June, it's time to report in on the Banned Book Challenge that was sponsored by Elaine at Fahrenheit 451.

I set out to read 5 books, and while I'm technically not quite finished, I'm still considering this one successful.

From my original list I read: (clicking on the title will take you to my review)

Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition - Anne Frank
Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
and I'm about half-way through Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings - D.T. Suzuki

The last one is not the type of book I want to try to rush through just to finish today, but I will finish it. My other justification for successfully completing the challenge is that the Harry Potter books are also often on banned/challenged lists and since I've read 3 so far and will be reading the rest very soon, they surely count too! :P

Favourite? The Diary of Anne Frank. I'm not sure why I had never read it before but I'm so glad I finally did. While I didn't always like Anne, she's pretty precocious at times, she really grows up during her time in the secret annex, and it's a moving piece of history.
The Handmaid's Tale was also very memorable. It's one that I'd been avoiding for years and it has left me with some vivid images.

Least favourite? I didn't quite like Nineteen Eighty-Four or Love in the Time of Cholera as much as I'd perhaps hoped, but neither of these were a waste of time to read. All of these books are often referred to so I'm happy to have read them regardless.

New author? Gabriel Garcia Marquez was new for me, as was Anne Frank. I've already read some further writings of Anne's and someday I'll probably try another by Marquez.

Were there any books I didn't finish? As already mentioned, I'm not finished Zen Buddhism but that is purely from lack of time, not interest. And I do plan to continue reading it.

What did I learn from this challenge? That books I've avoided, for whatever reason, are worth reading, and even enjoyable!

Best part of the challenge? It encouraged me to finally read some books that I have been putting off literally for years. So thank you very much Elaine!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

'Love in the Time of Cholera'

by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman

WINNER of the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1982

Fiction, 1985 (in Spanish), 1988 (English translation)
Penguin UK, paperback, 344 p.

(Book #25 for 2007, Book #4 for the Banned Book Challenge, Book #5 for the TBR Challenge)
Fifty-one years, nine months and four days have passed since Fermina Daza rebuffed hopeless romantic Florentino Arizo’s impassioned advances and married Dr. Juvenal Urbino instead. During that half century, Florentino has fallen into the arms of many delighted women, but has loved none but Fermina. Having sworn his eternal love to her, he lives for the day when he can court her again.
When Fermina’s husband is killed trying to retrieve his pet parrot from a mango tree, Florentino seizes his chance to declare his enduring love. But can young love find new life in the twilight of their lives?

‘It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.’
I’m having a hard time putting my thoughts together for this one. I thought it started really well, but it lost some momentum along the way for me. I still can’t decide whether to feel sorry for Florentino Ariza, disgusted, or consider him just plain pathetic. Is his undying hope admirable or deluded? I couldn’t keep track of all the women in his life, and I got bogged down, and lost interest in the details of his numerous exploits. I can see why it’s regularly on banned/challenge lists, with all the references to sex and especially the underage relationship. The ending did redeem the story for me somehow, especially since even though I knew it was coming I wasn’t particularly rooting for that ending, but it was written very sensitively.

It certainly is a story of love and obsession, and love as illness, but I guess I couldn’t get past Florentino’s general creepiness and stalker-like behaviour, and I never really came to care about any of the characters, although if I had to choose one it would probably be the good doctor, which perhaps further explains my disappointment. They all seemed so selfish in their own way. I suppose this is a good evocation of real life but it left me not really caring. I’m a little sad though because I had hoped to like this book more than I did mostly because it's a favourite of some of my favourite bloggers. (I wish I could've had the same reactions as Robin or Nymeth). Is it one of those books that I've just read at the wrong time in my life? Regardless of my mixed feelings toward the story, the setting was splendid and I am curious to see how the book translates to film. This was my first time (finally!) to read anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I have One Hundred Years of Solitude here to try some other day.

Final verdict: Didn’t hate it but I wasn’t moved.

My Rating: 3/5
'He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.'
Also reviewed at:
A Striped Armchair

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


So, last night I was holding Jiro when he was startled but a loud noise! (You can probably guess what happened next..!)
Sure I understand that his instinct is to flee, but I'm now sporting several long, painful scratches! ouch!
The Culprit:

Then, I always knew my blog was tame but not even a PG? I'm disappointed!

Online Dating

But at least even though my posts are extremely mild and non-offensive, the spelling is apparently impeccable.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

guest photo: blue hydrangea

This is one of my favourite photos that H took earlier this month, and I wanted to share it with you. You can see more of his pictures here. (It's written in Japanese but just click on the month tags at the top of the page).

Monday, June 25, 2007

Chunkster Challenge wrap-up

Well, there's no way I'll have time to start, never mind finish, another chunkster this week so I guess it's time to bid this challenge farewell. I originally set out to read 4 books from this list.
I didn't quite make it, but I did read 3 of them, all of which had been languishing in TBR purgatory for quite some time.

Books completed: (clicking on the title will take you to my review)
The Makioka Sisters - Junichiro Tanizaki (530 p.)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke (780 p.)
White Teeth - Zadie Smith (536 p.)

Favourite? I enjoyed all 3 of them but The Makioka Sisters is my highest rated book so far this year! Which is wonderful really because I'd started it a few years ago but then got distracted and never made it back to the book. This time though it really seemed to hit the spot. All three of these authors were new-to-me and I look forward to reading more books by all of them.

So, a big big thank you to Nancy for hosting this challenge and the nudge to finally get these books read. And with any luck I'll manage to get through another 1 or 2 more chunksters from the list by the end of the year!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Goddess of the rainbow

According to the flower expert:
The Iris was named after the Goddess of the rainbow because of it's many colours.

Friday, June 22, 2007

the spirit of OKASHI

From the wrapper: (click on image to enlarge)

The spirit of OKASHI*. It is what gives a peaceful and
pleasant mind to the human race. All the time, man seeks
romance in the OKASHI. We have been working hard
and carefully, and work on. To weave the romance and
the fancy into each OKASHI. This, at last, we have made
up "The HAKATA SEIYO-WAGASHI." If you taste the
feeling and the spirit of the OKASHI which value tra-
dition and living in the times, there is no pleasure better
than it.
*okashi translates approximately as 'sweet' or 'confectionery' and wagashi is 'Japanese-style confectionery'

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Countdown to Autumn

Summer has arrived this week bringing with it the requisite, and dreaded, heat and humidity.* I find it fascinating (yeah really!!) that rainy season officially started a week ago, but we've only had one day of rain so far yet the humidity has jumped dramatically! And I should mention that although it's already too hot for me, it's technically not that hot yet- so much fun in store! I have a feeling that as fast as the first half of this year seemed to fly by, the summer will draaagggg. So this snow-loving Canuck is counting down the days to cooler weather.

Best case scenario, also the least likely, is that it'll cool down by the Autumnal Equinox (Sept. 23): 94 days
Slightly more likely is that Oct. 1st will bring with it cooler weather: 102 days
Most likely scenario is that it'll be mid-October before venturing anywhere will not be uncomfortable and miserable: 116 days

Only 116 days to go!! Thank goodness for ice cream and air conditioners!

*Apologies in advance for any excessive whining over the next few months. Feel free to ignore as desired.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

white for a change

So, are you sick of my iris pictures yet?
Only a couple more, I promise!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

'Buddhism: Plain & Simple'

by Steve Hagen

Non-Fiction/Religion, 1997
Broadway Books, paperback, 152 p.

(Book #24 for 2007, Book #2 for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge)
One day, soon after the Buddha’s enlightenment, a man saw the Buddha walking toward him. The man had not heard of the Buddha, but he could see that there was something different about the man who was approaching, so he was moved to ask, “Are you a god?”
The Buddha answered, “No.”
“You’re a magician, then? A sorcerer? A wizard?”
“Are you some kind of celestial being? An angel, perhaps?”
Again the Buddha said, “No.”
“Well, then, what are you?”
The Buddha replied, “I am awake.”
Having visited many beautiful Buddhist temples in Japan, I’ve been wanting to learn a little bit about the religion behind them. From the title, and the fact that it’s not too long, and because the author has studied Buddhism for over 30 years and has received the endorsement to teach, I thought this would be a good start. How wrong was I? If it wasn’t putting me to sleep at night, it was certainly the most annoying book I’ve read in quite some time. Why? Because after introducing the key ideas and the key words he proceeded to simply rearrange these same words and ideas and repeat them over and over and over for the rest of the book. Worst of all was the italicized 'see' used numerous times on almost every page. (Italics as in the book)
Simply by seeing your state of mind, by seeing your inclinations toward this and away from that, you are awake. All you have to do is to continue bringing yourself back to seeing. To see is to heal an otherwise fragmented mind and to prevent further scattering of mind from occurring. (p. 97)
To see doesn’t mean to initiate a program of inaction. People often misunderstand this. To act, or not to act, is not the question. The question is whether or not we’re awake.
What we have to do is see what’s happening in each moment, and base our actions on what we see, not on what we think. (p. 148)
I did make a note of a few quotes I liked from the beginning before his repetitive style started driving me crazy.
The teaching of the Buddha does not take what is set down in writing too seriously. Buddhist writings (including this book) can be likened to a raft. A raft is a very handy thing to carry you across the water, from one shore to another. But once you’ve reached the other shore, you no longer need the raft. Indeed, if you wish to continue your journey beyond the shore, you must leave the raft behind. (p. 9-10)

We think we have to deal with our problems in a way that exterminates them, that distorts or denies their reality. But in doing so, we try to make Reality into something other than what it is. We try to rearrange and manipulate the world so that dogs will never bite, accidents will never happen, and the people we care about will never die. Even on the surface, the futility of such efforts should be obvious. (p. 18)
Otherwise though, besides having the fact that I need to learn how to 'see Reality' hammered home incessantly, I didn’t come away with too much else from this book. Overall, it was an extremely disappointing introduction to Buddhism. I’m still interested in trying to learn a bit about Buddhism though and I have a couple more books here so hopefully they’re written in a more informative, less grating style.

My Rating: 1/5

Monday, June 18, 2007

dipped in purple

Don't these just look like they've been held upside down and dipped into purple paint?

Sunday, June 17, 2007


A little fun for the weekend from Laura at Fiber Dreams.

Rules: Use the 1st letter of your name to answer each of the following.

I stalled out very quickly on "N" so went with my online persona--tanabata.

1. Famous singer/band: ———– Tina Turner
2. 4 letter word: —————– tart
3. Street name: —————— Tottenham Court Road (London)
4. Color: ————————- turquoise
5. Gifts/presents: —————- tie
6. Vehicle: ———————– Toyota
7. Things in a souvenir shop: —– toys
8. Boy name: ——————– Thomas
9. Girl name: ——————— Teresa
10. Movie title: —————— Terminator
11. Drink: ———————— tea
12. Occupation: —————— Teacher
13. Flower: ———————- tiger lily
14. Celebrity: ——————– Tom Cruise
15. Magazine: ——————– TIME
16. U.S. city: ——————– Tucson, Arizona
17. Pro sports teams: ———— (Hanshin) Tigers - Japanese Baseball league
18. Fruit/vegetable: ————– tomato
19. Reason late for work: ——– tired
20. Something you throw away: — trash
21. Things you shout: ———— "Tada!"
22. Cartoon character: ———– Tweety

If you're in the mood, feel free to have a go. And please let me know so I can check out your answers.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dessert first

1. Do you cheat and peek ahead at the end of your books? Or do you resolutely read in sequence, as the author intended?
2. And, if you don’t peek, do you ever feel tempted?
I resolutely read through the book as the author intended. While reading I often flip to the last page to see the page number and gauge how many pages I have left but I can't think of a time (unless I've blocked it out!?) when I've read the words on the last page beforehand, or skipped ahead to see what happens. The only time I can imagine doing so is if I'm really hating a book and have decided not to finish it. Then I might read the end to see how it turned out. In a way I'm surprised I'm not more tempted to do so. For TV series, being perpetually behind, I often know what happens later on and still enjoy watching the episodes up to and anticipating said events. But I don't really seem to do that with books. Wonder what this says about me?

'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'

by J.K. Rowling

Fiction/Fantasy, 1999
Bloomsbury UK, paperback, 312 p.
Book #3 in the Harry Potter series
WINNER of the Whitbread Award- Children's Book of the Year, 1999

(Book #23 for 2007, Book #3 for M&N's Summer 7 Challenge)
Harry Potter, along with his best friends, Ron and Hermione, is about to start his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry can’t wait to get back to school after the summer holiday. (Who wouldn’t if they lived with the horrible Dursleys?) But when Harry gets to Hogwarts, the atmosphere is tense. There’s an escaped mass murderer on the loose, and the sinister prison guards of Azkaban have been called in to guard the school…
The fun continues. I like Book #3 as it starts to get a bit more complicated, and things are building up to later events. Plus there’s the Knight Bus, the Marauder’s Map, Buckbeak, Sirius Black, Dementors, Hermione’s secret and lots more. As for the movie, plenty of changes as usual but all of the main stuff is there. I love how they’ve done the Marauder’s Map! And it’s interesting to see the actors growing up on-screen. I’m looking forward to reading and seeing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire later this month.

My Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

purple velvet

There were lots of different kinds and colours of irises but the dark purple ones looked like soft purple velvet in the sunshine. Made me want to reach out and touch it. (Course I didn't really).

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

iris garden

I haven't been out to take pictures much lately and I've really been wanting to get out to a garden to see the irises which are blooming now. (And getting anxious that I'd miss them, or they'd be past their peak by the time I managed to). But today it was sunny and I had the afternoon off so I headed to Koishikawa Korakuen to visit their iris garden. Other than being a bit too hot in the sun (I'm a perpetual shade-seeker), it was wonderful. However be warned..I took loads of pictures. Of course not all of them are good and some are very similar, but you'll be seeing a few more over the next little while.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

after the rain

It was a pretty wet and thundery weekend here but it stopped this afternoon and we got out to enjoy the cool, fresh air. Having felt rather cooped up and surrounded by dusty concrete lately, it was much needed!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

'Tales from the Secret Annex'

by Anne Frank

Translated by Susan Massotty
Edited by Gerrold Van Der Stroom and Susan Massotty
Bantam Books, 2003 (portions published previously in other versions)
Paperback, 192 p.

(Book #22 for 2007)
Hiding from the Nazis in the “Secret Annex” of an old office building in Amsterdam, a thirteen-year-old girl named Anne Frank became a writer. The now famous diary of her private life and thoughts reveals only part of Anne’s story, however. This book rounds out the portrait of this remarkable and talented young author.
Newly translated, complete, and restored to the original order in which Anne herself wrote them in her notebook, Tales from the Secret Annex is a collection of Anne Frank’s lesser-known writings: short stories, fables, personal reminiscences, and an unfinished novel, Cady’s Life.
Having recently read her diary I was curious to read this short collection of her lesser-known writings. She mentions some of these stories in her diary so it was interesting to read them here. Some of the stories were simply re-tellings of events that are included in the Definitive Edition of her Diary. Many of the others were strongly influenced by the people and daily life in the annex, as well as her life before going into hiding, and it’s perhaps blasphemous to say so but it got a bit repetitious after awhile, especially her recurring nature theme. Still, many of the stories were charming and imaginative and considering how old she was when she wrote them, she had the potential to become a talented writer. It’s such a shame she never had the chance.

Friday, June 08, 2007

'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets'

by J.K. Rowling

Bloomsbury UK, 1998
paperback, 246 p.
Book #2 in the Harry Potter series

(Book #21 for 2007, Book #2 for M&N's Summer 7 Challenge)
Harry is in his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Little does he know that this year will be just as eventful as the last…
‘It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.’
More adventures for Harry- flying cars, Polyjuice Potion, house elves, giant spiders, haunted toilets... It’s perhaps not as memorable as the first book but a fun sequel all the same.

Continuing with my reread extravaganza, yesterday I got a chance to watch the movie. Kenneth Branagh as Professor Lockhart is great! Lots of little changes and things left out though, and some scenes that seemed to be exaggerated for cinematic effect. So while it was fun I definitely preferred the book this time around. On to the next and I’m already halfway through book 3.

My Rating: 3.5/5
‘But why’s she got to go to the library?’
‘Because that’s what Hermione does,’ said Ron, shrugging.
‘When in doubt, go to the library.’

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Book Awards Reading Challenge

There are a few Literary Awards that I keep half an eye on (Giller Prize, Governor General's Literary Awards, Orange Prize, Booker Prize, International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award) so there was no way I could possibly resist this challenge.

The Goal:
To read any 12 award-winning books from July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008.
(click on button for more info)

Here's my tentative list of 12 plus alternatives, all of which are currently in my stacks. I could easily do the challenge twice without buying any new books! Of course that's unlikely.
Since we don't have to stick to a fixed list, my final choices may, and probably will, change as the challenge progresses. And happily since books may be cross-posted with other challenges, there's still hope for me to catch up a bit on the O'Canada Challenge. I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of these.

1. The Love of a Good Woman – Alice Munro (Giller Prize 1998)
2. Mercy Among the Children – David Adams Richards (Giller Prize 2000)
3. My Name is Red - Orhan Pamuk (IMPAC Dublin Award 2003, Nobel Prize 2006)
4. No Great Mischief - Alistair MacLeod (IMPAC Dublin Award 2001)
5. The Tenderness of Wolves - Stef Penney (Costa/Whitbread 2006)
6. An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro (Costa/Whitbread 1986)
7. A Spell of Winter - Helen Dunmore (Orange Prize 1996)
8. Larry’s Party - Carol Shields (Orange Prize 1998)
9. A Crime in the Neighbourhood - Suzanne Berne (Orange Prize 1999)
10. Property - Valerie Martin (Orange Prize 2003)
11. The Road - Cormac McCarthy (Pulitzer Prize 2007)
12. The Silent Cry - Kenzaburo Oe (Tanizaki Prize 1967, Nobel Prize 1994)

Other Possibles:
The Polished Hoe - Austin Clarke (Giller Prize 2002)
This Blinding Absence of Light - Tahar Ben Jelloun (IMPAC Dublin Award 2004)
The Line of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst (Booker Prize 2004)
True History of the Kelly Gang - Peter Carey (Booker Prize 2001)
Schindler’s Ark - Thomas Keneally (Booker Prize 1982)
The Sea, The Sea - Iris Murdoch (Booker Prize 1978)
English Passengers - Matthew Kneale (Costa/Whitbread 2000)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - Michael Chabon (Pulitzer Prize 2001)
A Thousand Acres - Jane Smiley (Pulitzer Prize 1992)
Beloved - Toni Morrison (Pulitzer Prize 1988)
The Great Fire - Shirley Hazzard (National Book Award 2003, Miles Franklin 2004)
The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen (National Book Award 2001)
Waiting - Ha Jin (National Book Award 1999)
Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata (Nobel Prize 1968)
Independent People - Halldor Laxness (Nobel Prize 1955)
L’Étranger – Albert Camus (Nobel Prize 1957)
Doomsday Book - Connie Willis (Hugo Award 1993, Nebula Award 1992)

Monday, June 04, 2007

cold udon

Yesterday's late lunch at the udon shop I mentioned in the Five Favourite Restaurants post. Now that it's getting warmer it's the season for cold noodles. Give it another month and just the idea of hot soup will probably make me sweat. Ick!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Friday, June 01, 2007

Reading Update: May

Books Completed: (clicking on the title will take you to my review)
The Bride's Kimono - Sujata Massey
The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling
White Teeth - Zadie Smith
Who Killed Zebedee? - Wilkie Collins

Favourite read for May?
That's a tough one because I enjoyed all the books I read this month and rated many of them the same. But maybe I'll go with Harry, just because it was so fun to revisit the beginning.

Reading Challenge Progress Report:
(see left sidebar for links)
Chunkster Challenge = 3 done, 1 to go (by June 30th - I'm not sure I'm in the mood and/or will have time to get to the last chunkster this month but we'll see)
Banned Book Challenge = 3 done, 2 to go (by June 30th)
M&N's Summer 7 Challenge = 1 done, 6 to go (by Sept. 1st)
Non-Fiction Five Challenge = 1 done, 4 to go (by Sept. 30th)
Japan Challenge = 2 done, 10 to go (by Dec. 31st)
TBR Challenge = 4 done, 8 to go (by Dec. 31st)
O'Canada Challenge = 1 done, 11 to go (by Dec. 31st)

And the Summer Mystery Challenge has started so I'm looking forward to reading 6 new-to-me Mystery authors over the next 3 months.

I also just found out about a new challenge that I can't resist (surprise! surprise!) and have already started making a list for it. It's the Book Awards Reading Challenge that starts on July 1st and runs to June 30th, 2008. I'll be posting about that one soon.

And last but not least I'm playing Dewey's Blogroll Game. You? (click button for more info)