Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Salon: What I've Been Reading

I didn't get a chance to post last Sunday and I almost didn't today either. My head is not my friend lately. But anyway, time for a quick look at what I've been reading. Let's see ... since I last posted to the Salon two weeks ago I've finished Maus I and II (review here), Cave in the Snow (review here), Daisy Miller, and today I finished reading A Geisha's Journey.

A Geisha's Journey is part picture book, part memoir, and it was fascinating to read about the world of the hanamachi and enjoy the beautiful pictures at the same time. It makes me want to visit Kyoto again and wander around the geisha areas in the hopes of catching a glimpse of them.

I haven't reviewed the last two books yet but will do so this week. And even though the last two were both really short, I'm feeling pleased to have gotten through a few more books than I normally might have this month. I'm also pleased that I enjoyed Daisy Miller since I don't always get on with Henry James. One of these days I'll have to work up the courage to try one of his longer, wordier novels.

But now, just in time for the start of Carl's R.I.P. Challenge, I'm so in the mood for something gothic or spooky. So I think I'm going to start Sisters of Misery next. Never mind that it's still hot and terribly humid here from all the rain we've been having, I'll have to just pretend that the leaves are turning outside and the nights are crisp and cool. Hopefully it won't take too long for the weather to catch up to my reading mood.

As for recent acquisitions, I've been tempted by lots of books lately, but only two new books have arrived in the last couple of weeks. Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa, a graphic novel, and just yesterday Yellowknife by Steve Zipp, a Canadian author. (Thanks Steve!) I also got the Murakami Diary for 2009 that I mentioned awhile back. It's just as fun as I imagined and it makes me want to pull out something else by Murakami soon as well. With all the books clamouring for my attention these days, it's quite noisy around here!
Have a great week!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

PhotoHunt: Beautiful

Since it's raining yet again today, I thought this was appropriate. But really, there is so much beauty around us if we just take the time to notice.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Finds (on Saturday)

I'm a bit late for Friday, but I've added quite a few books to my wishlist lately so I thought I'd share some of them. Some of these I made a note of while browsing at a bookstore a couple of weeks ago, the others I found in some of my blog rounds.
The Amnesiac by Sam Taylor. Billed as "an engrossing gothic story that is sure to appeal to fans of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind", plus I quite like the cover.
The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery. Set in late-nineteenth-century Japan and about the tea ceremony. Of course it caught my eye!
Be With You by Takuji Ichikawa. It's been compared to Socrates in Love by Kyoichi Katayama which I loved.
Life in the Cul-de-sac by Senji Kuroi. A novel of linked stories that won the Tanizaki Prize.
The Foreigner by Francie Lin. "A darkly comic tale of crime and contrition, and a riveting story about what it means to be a foreigner--even in one's own family."
Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds. A modern take on the classic, Madame Bovary, in graphic novel form, which I heard about at A Life In Books.
On Reading by Andre Kertesz. Iliana mentioned this one recently. Photos of people reading. A combination of my two favourite hobbies!
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves. Terri B. recently enjoyed the second book in the series.
So many temptations! What books have you heard about lately that have you longing to read them?

And don't forget that nominations are now open for Book Blogger Appreciation Week coming up in a couple of weeks. Click on the button for information on registering, if you haven't already. Click here for the nomination rules and categories.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

'Cave in the Snow'

by Vicki Mackenzie
Non-Fiction/Religion/Biography, 1998
Bloomsbury, trade pb, 217 p.
How an Englishwoman, the daughter of a fishmonger from London’s East End, has become a Buddhist legend and a champion for the rights of women to attain spiritual enlightenment.
In 1976, Diane Perry, by then known by her Tibetan name, Tenzin Palmo, secluded herself in a remote cave, 13,200 feet up in the Himalayas, cut off from the world by mountains and snow. There she engaged in twelve years of intense Buddhist meditation. She faced unimaginable cold, wild animals, near-starvation and avalanches; she grew her own food and slept in a traditional wooden meditation box, three-feet square – she never lay down. Her goal was to attain enlightenment as a woman.
I enjoy visiting temples and shrines in Japan, usually with camera in hand, for the beautiful architecture and the peaceful atmosphere, especially of the Zen temples. So I’d like to know more about the religions behind them (primarily Buddhism and Shintoism) and to that end I read a couple of books on Zen Buddhism last year, but they only left me more frustrated and confused than before I’d read them. So you can imagine that I was a bit relieved to learn that Tenzin Palmo also found Zen inaccessible when she was first introduced to Buddhism.
Zen, with its riddles and clever intellectual gymnastics, the other form of Buddhism on offer at the time, filled her with despair. ‘I can remember lying in bed sobbing because it was completely beyond me! It was so full of paradoxes. Now I enjoy Zen but if that had been the first book I’d picked up I would never have gone on,’ she said.
After those two books, I did wonder when I’d get around to reading more on the subject. Thankfully my aunt gave me this book when I was back in Canada last fall. (Thanks O!) This proved to be a very interesting read! Of course it’s focusing on Tibetan Buddhism, rather than the Japanese variation, but it was a great way to get a feel for some of the basic ideology and the story of how Diane Perry became Tenzin Palmo was in itself fascinating! The author, Vicki Mackenzie, did a wonderful job of telling the story. It was completely readable and she essentially turned the story of a Buddhist nun into a page-turner! Recommended for anyone who likes a good biography, or likes to read about strong, determined women, or who is interested in learning a little about Tibetan Buddhism or spirituality.
When one begins to understand oneself then one can truly understand others because we are all interrelated. It is very difficult to understand others while one is still caught up in the turmoil of one’s emotional involvement – because we’re always interpreting others from the standpoint of our own needs.
‘Our minds are like junk yards. What we put into them is mostly rubbish! The conversations, the newspapers, the entertainment, we just pile it all in. There’s a jam session going on in there. And the problem is it makes us very tired.’
‘The film Ground Hog Day was a very Buddhist movie,’ she says. ‘It was about a man who had to live the same day over and over again. He couldn’t prevent the events occurring, but he did learn that how he responded to them transformed the whole experience of the day. He discovered that as his mind began to get over its animosity and greed and as he started to think of others his life improved greatly. Of course, it took him a long time to grasp this idea because at the beginning of the movie he was learning to play the piano and by the end he was playing a sonata.’
Interview with Tenzin Palmo
Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery

My Rating: 4/5
(#36 for 2008, Non-Fiction Five Challenge, What's in a Name Challenge)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

'Maus I & II'

by Art Spiegelman
Non-Fiction/Biography/Auto-biography/(or as Spiegelman calls it "realistic fiction"), 1973-1991
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize Special Letters Award, 1992
Pantheon, softcover box set, 280 p.
Maus is the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist who tries to come to terms with his father, his father’s terrifying story, and History itself.
Moving back and forth from Poland to Rego Park, New York, Maus tells two powerful stories: The first is Spiegelman’s father’s account of how he and his wife survived Hitler’s Europe, a harrowing tale filled with countless brushes with death, improbably escapes, and the terror of confinement and betrayal. The second is the author’s tortured relationship with his aging father as they try to lead a normal life of minor arguments and passing visits against a backdrop of history too large to pacify. At all levels, this is the ultimate survivor’s tale – and that, too, of the chidren who somehow survive even the survivors.
There have been several wonderful reviews of this lately (see below) that I'm tempted to just have you read those, if you haven't already. But what an incredible way to tell a story about the Holocaust! Art Spiegelman’s drawings are powerful and really make the words and the horror of what his father and all the other Jews experienced all the more vivid. Much has been said about his use of animals to depict different groups (the Jews as mice, the Nazis as cats, the Americans as dogs, etc.) and I think this works really effectively to make it not just the story of Vladek and Anya Spiegelman but all Jews and everyone who was affected by what happened.

One of my favourite parts of the story though was how Art related the process of getting the story from his father alongside the story itself. It was this look at their relationship that made it extremely personal, and touching.
Partly because of the visual style, and also Vladek’s resourcefulness, especially after he found himself in Auschwitz, I also couldn’t help but think of the film, Life is Beautiful, while I was reading this. Such a beautiful, moving film!
Thanks to the nudge from a couple of challenges, I'm so glad to have finally read this!

My Rating: 4.5/5
(#35 for 2008, My Year of Reading Dangerously, Graphic Novels Challenge, Non-Fiction Five Challenge, Book Awards Challenge, Herding Cats Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
things mean a lot
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Bold. Blue. Adventure.
an adventure in reading
A Life In Books
Maw Books Blog
Thoughts of Joy - Maus I, Maus II - Maus I, Maus II
A Fondness for Reading - Maus I
Reminder: If you've read and reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.
(image googled then taken from this site)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

R.I.P. III Challenge

It's that time of year again. The time for gothic, spooky, thrilling reads. No matter how many challenges I'm drowning in, I wouldn't miss Carl's annual R.I.P. Challenge. (Click on the button for more info). It's nice that it's been unusually cool for the last couple of days as it really puts me in an autumn mood.

I'm going to try for Peril the First, which means reading four books (chosen from the genres of Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, Supernatural) between September 1st and October 31st, and here is the pool of books I'll most likely read from, unless something else crosses my path.

Three Shadows - Cyril Pedrosa
Sisters of Misery - Megan Kelley Hall
Perfume - Patrick Süskind
The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly
Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë
The Castle of Otranto - Horace Walpole
New Moon - Stephenie Meyer
Grotesque - Natsuo Kirino
The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova
The Ladies of Grace Adieu - Susanna Clarke

Sunday, August 24, 2008

cherry mocha

This weekend has actually been quite cool! It's also been rather rainy and miserable but it has actually felt a bit like autumn! We gave the air-conditioner a much needed break and it was nice to have a respite from the heat. Usually this would be the perfect weather to curl up and read but unfortunately a nasty headache ruined my reading and blogging plans. No new pictures either, so here is a tasty treat we had a few weeks ago when we stopped for an afternoon cake break.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday again

1. Dancing Listening to the Jonathan Ross podcast on my ipod (if you've spent time in England you probably know who that is) while I'm taking the train makes me laugh.
2. The last time I went to a bookstore I nearly didn't buy anything. (Just kidding!)
3. When I drive I enjoy the freedom of not having to rely on public transportation. (This only happens about once a year when I'm in Canada).
4. I thought I saw someone I knew standing at the crosswalk.
5. Give me a house with an ocean view (I can dream!), give me more hours in the day, give me Cheerios. (Seriously! I'll give you my address! They're not available here and I've been craving them lately. Raspberries too but they don't travel so well ;)
6. Next week I am looking forward to cooler weather (unlikely but fingers crossed).
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to reading more of Maus II, tomorrow my plans include maybe going shopping with H and eating out somewhere and Sunday, I want to relax and work on some stuff I didn't get done this week!

I was tagged by Jean Chia for the 123 Book Meme and I'm always up for another round of that one.

~Start Copy Here~
1. Pick up the nearest book of at least 123 pages.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences after the tag chain.
5. Spread this tag to as many people as you can.

Book Tag Chain: 1) Only The Good Stuff, What Simply Works 2) Reflexes 3) A Great Pleasure 4) Color It Green 5) In Spring it is the Dawn 6) Your Site Here
~End Copy Here~

Like I mentioned above, right now I'm reading Maus II by Art Spiegelman, and here's page 123:

A few years ago I went outside here to buy for Mala bagels. I got dizzy, so like now, I grabbed to a bush, and I fell...
I crawled to the side so people can see me but won't step on me. Finally someone helped.
I'm also reading Cave in the Snow by Vicki MacKenzie:
She looked upon these friendships as 'treasures' in her life. 'I have met some truly wonderful people - and I am always grateful for that', she said.
Her friends, family and the multitude of sentient beings she did not know were also included in her prayers and meditations.
I'm going to tag Florinda, Madeleine, Janet, Popin, Kailana, and anyone else who feels like it. And of course feel free to ignore the tag if you're not in the mood.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

2nds Challenge

I really have joined too many challenges already but this was one that I successfully completed last year so I thought I'd give it another go. Plus I figure I can read 2nds that fit in with my other challenges so it'll be just a little added incentive to read books that I was already planning on reading anyway. It runs from September to December with a goal to read 4 books by authors that you have only read one other. Click on the button for more info.

Here are a few possibilities for the challenge of seconds that I already have here. Title in brackets is the one book that I've read previously by the author with a link to my review where available.
Grotesque - Natsuo Kirino (Out)
Quicksand - Junichiro Tanizaki (The Makioka Sisters)
The i Tetralogy - Mathias B. Freese (Down to a Sunless Sea)
New Moon - Stephenie Meyer (Twilight)
Mr. Muo's Traveling Couch - Dai Sijie (Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress)
The Dogs of Riga - Henning Mankell (Faceless Killers)
The Book of Proper Names – Amélie Nothomb (Fear and Trembling)
The Delicate Storm - Giles Blunt (Forty Words for Sorrow)
Swing Low - Miriam Toews (A Complicated Kindness)
The Ladies of Grace Adieu - Susanna Clarke (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell)
Not Wanted on the Voyage or Pilgrim or The Piano Man’s Daughter - Timothy Findley (Spadework)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

'When Twilight Burns'

by Colleen Gleason
Fiction/Paranormal Romance
Book 4 in The Gardella Vampire Chronicles
Signet Eclipse, mm pb, 346 p.
Ruining Victoria’s homecoming, a vampire stalks the streets of London – during the daylight. Not only is Victoria unable to detect the vampire with her heightened senses, but she’s being framed as the prime suspect behind the killings.
Meanwhile, her heart is still divided between the enigmatic Sebastian Vioget and her fellow slayer Max Pesaro. The battle is made even more difficult by the legacy of a vampire’s touch – a vampire who left in Victoria’s veins boiling blood that forces her to fight evil on two fronts: against the new breed of undead threatening London and against the darkness within herself.
This made for fun reading on the bullet train on our way to visit the in-laws and it was the perfect kind of book to get lost in to forget the heat!. Even after we arrived I kept sneaking a few more pages whenever I could and finished it up the next day!
It continues the story where the previous book left off and was another fun, exciting adventure into the world of the undead, vampire slayers, petticoats and romance. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll just say I was glad a certain something happened that had been building up for awhile but I still feel a bit sad for a certain other someone. But it was great to revisit these characters and I can’t wait to read the fifth book when it comes out early next year!

My Rating: 4/5
(#34 for 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Stainless Steel Droppings
Bookfoolery and Babble
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
Reminder: If you've read and reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

a feathered friend

I haven't really taken any pictures lately, mostly due to the weather and preferring to hide from the heat indoors. This was taken at Koishikawa Korakuen earlier in the summer.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday Salon: Summer vacation

It's back to work again tomorrow which means our short summer vacation is unfortunately at an end. I didn't end up getting anywhere near all the stuff done I would've liked to. I'd gladly have another week or so but it was nice to have at least a few days off. I did finally start on a project that I've been thinking of for some time so that's something. And I recently got Photoshop Elements so have been playing around with it a bit too. I can't do anything fancy yet but I did make a new header! And I've also just started a new, purely photoblog, which I hope to post to frequently. You can find it here.

As for reading, since I last joined the Salon two weeks ago, I finished reading Clouds Over Mountains, which was an interesting historical mystery that took me to Hawaii and Japan (review here). Then luckily my copy of When Twilight Burns arrived before we left to visit the in-laws. It made for fun reading on the bullet train and didn't take me long to polish it off! This latest installment was just as fun as the previous books and now I'm looking forward to the fifth and last to come out next year.
Currently I'm nearing the end of my third non-fiction read for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge, Cave in the Snow. It's the story of Tenzin Palmo, an Englishwoman who became a Tibetan Buddhist nun and lived in a remote cave in the Himalayas meditating for 12 years! And today I've also picked up and started reading Maus I, finally. So some quite varied reading so far this month.

As for acquisitions, three books have made their way onto my shelves this month. One was of course When Twilight Burns which I've already read. Then to make up the free shipping I also ordered Silent in the Grave, which I'm pretty sure I first heard about from Danielle. And then I was in central Tokyo to get a haircut and stopped by to pick up the summer issue of Bookmarks magazine and since it was a pretty good price, A Thousand Splendid Suns found it's way into my hands as well. You know how books have a way of doing that!

Anyway, here I am back again, and thanks to a few days of not doing much, I'm also in a better humour than when I last posted. I've barely read any blogs in over a week though so you can imagine just how scary my Google Reader is right now! But I hope to stop by soon. Have a great week!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

too tired to blog...

That could also be too hot and cranky to blog, but there you go. I'm having a hard time concentrating on much of anything lately except for reading, as long as it's not too taxing (thank goodness, because if I couldn't read the situation would be dire indeed!), and perhaps what flavour of ice cream to eat! Plus we're also off soon to visit the in-laws for a couple of days (where it's even hotter than Tokyo!! Gah!), so I'm going to take a little blogging break.
But before I go, I must thank the lovely people who have nominated me for blog awards lately: Jean Chia, Bibliolatrist, Iliana, and Stephanie. (I'm extremely behind on reading blogs as well so if I've missed anyone, please let me know). Thanks so much. It makes my day to know that you enjoy stopping by, and I'll try to return in an improved mood next week.

Bailey even got his own special award! He's so pleased with himself!

I think this one should go to Literary Feline's Anya, if for no other reason than as an excuse to see more photos!

As for passing on the other awards, that feels a little too challenging right now in my current state. I truly enjoy all the blogs in my blogroll and/or Google Reader, even if I haven't been by or commented lately. I haven't forgotten you though and the blog world wouldn't be the same without every one of you! So if you're reading this, please consider yourself awarded (take your pick)! :)

See you in a few days.

Friday, August 08, 2008

'Clouds Over Mountains'

by Matt Joseph
Fiction/Mystery, 2007
AuthorHouse, trade pb, 429 p.
Fifty three years after the end of World War II, a former Japanese navy pilot lives in quiet retirement concealing a dishonorable wartime past.
Margaret Roberts, a senior U.S. government official at the end of her pioneering career, confronts her mother’s failing health while she juggles nagging ambition and her quest for happiness.

Saito and Roberts each take refuge in Hawaii, where they help the FBI solve a mysterious shooting in Pearl Harbor. As that murder investigation unfolds, hidden stories are revealed that link Saito and Roberts to December 7, 1941, a day of infamy that pushed the world into war and would prove pivotal to both of them.

Against the backdrop of a stunning crime in late 1998 and its aftermath, Clouds Over Mountains moves between modern-day Hawaii, Japan, and Washington, D.C., weaving recollections of pre-war Japan with contemporary political intrigue. The novel examines themes of love and family, shame and redemption, truth and hope, and considers how historical events continue to effect people six decades later.
I’m always interested in reading books with some sort of Japanese connection, and this was no exception. This seems to be the year that I’ve started reading about WWII, from different perspectives, first with The Ash Garden, Black Rain and Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, then Farewell to Manzanar, and now this mystery that delves into both the Japanese and American sides of the war and the long-lasting effects it has had.

I'm perhaps being picky but I had a couple small problems with the book. The chronology was occasionally difficult to follow, especially at the beginning (although this could've been because I was too tired to read more than a few pages at a time at the start), and there were quite a few typos. They were relatively minor but I still found them distracting. (No need to point out that my grammar isn't always perfect!) And I agree with this review at Curled Up With a Good Book (by The Sleepy Reader) that perhaps Agent Swanson’s Southern accent was a bit overdone even though it did grow on me by the end of the book.

But I also think the author has done a very good job setting the scene, bringing the various pieces of the story together, and creating characters to care about. As the story slowly unfolded, it kept me reading, wanting to know how it turned out for everyone involved. Plus I even learned a little history, about the Japanese navy, the attack on Pearl Harbor and then their defeat at the battle of Midway (I’ve never been much for military details). However, it's the human stories behind the war that really make the story. All in all, it was an enjoyable read.

Thank you to the author, Matt Joseph, for sending me a copy of his book. It’s his first venture into fiction, but I look forward to reading more by him in the future.
You can read a short excerpt from the book here.

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#33 for 2008)

Also reviewed at:
ForeWord Magazine
Book Chase
The Sleepy Reader
Reminder: If you've read and reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Monday, August 04, 2008

hanabi (fireworks)

Fireworks festivals are very popular here in the summer. But they also tend to be extremely crowded, never mind hot and humid, so we don't usually go. But once a year, we can catch glimpses of a nearby festival, the high ones at least. Sorry the pictures aren't great but this is what we saw from our apartment last Saturday night.
Photobucket Photobucket
(click on photos to enlarge)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sunday Salon: July in review

This past week I finished How to Be a Canadian, which was a perfect, fun read to get me out of my funk. I still feel tired all the time from the heat but at least I don't feel so blue anymore. I also posted my review of Shutting Out the Sun this week (links to both reviews below). So this weekend I've started reading Clouds Over Mountains by Matt Joseph. I'm still meeting the main characters so we'll see how it goes, but it's holding my interest so far and I'm looking forward to getting back to it.

This coming week, I'm hoping to get my hands on When Twilight Burns by Colleen Gleason. I've pre-ordered it so hopefully it won't take too long to get here after it's released on Tuesday. Fingers crossed. I've also watched a couple of trailers for the movie Twilight lately and of course lots of people are reading Breaking Dawn this weekend, so I'm beginning to feel a vampire mood coming on. In the series, I've only read Twilight so far but New Moon has been leering at me from my shelves the last few days, not that I really have time to fit it in as I'm getting rather behind on my challenges. Maybe I can wait and read it for this year's R.I.P. Challenge.

Anyway, July was a little disappointing in that I'd hoped to get more reading in. This darn heat and humidity are just wiping me out. Lately I can barely keep my eyes open to read at night before bed. Blah! What do you do to beat the heat?

Books completed in July:
(click on the title to read my review)
29. Matrimony - Joshua Henkin
30. 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style - Matt Madden
31. Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation - Michael Zielenziger
32. How to Be a Canadian - Will Ferguson & Ian Ferguson

Favourite of the month:
That's a hard question this month as I enjoyed them all and they were all quite different. Matrimony was a good relationship story, 99 Ways to Tell a Story was an interesting look at the variations of storytelling, Shutting Out the Sun was a well-researched analysis of modern Japanese society and How to Be a Canadian made me laugh. So I'm going to abstain from naming a favourite this month.

Books in: 3 (all review copies - I didn't buy any books in July!)
Books out: 6

Reading Challenges- Progress Report:
My current status on all active challenges. See sidebar for links.
Non-Fiction Five Challenge (May 1 - Sep. 30, 2008) - 2 out of 5 completed
Herding Cats Challenge (May 1 - Nov. 30, 2008) - 1 out of 3
Orbis Terrarum Challenge (Apr. 1 - Dec. 20, 2008) - 2 out of 9
My Year of Reading Dangerously (Jan. - Dec. 2008) - 5 out of 12
What's in a Name Challenge (Jan. - Dec. 2008) - 3 out of 6
Graphic Novels Challenge (July - Dec. 2008) - 1 out of 3
Reading Jane Austen (Jan. - Dec. 2008) - 1 out of 2
1% Well-Read Challenge (May 1, 2008 - Feb. 28, 2009) - 1 out of 10
2nd Canadian Book Challenge (July 1, 2008 - July 1, 2009) - 1 out of 13

Just started:
Japanese Literature Challenge 2 (July 30, 2008 - Jan. 30, 2009) - 0 out of 3
Book Awards II Challenge (Aug. 1, 2008 - June 30, 2009) - 0 out of 10

Reading Japan - I've read 9 books so far this year (1 in July).
Orange Prize Project - I've read 2 books so far this year (none in July).

Reading plans for August:
I'm going to try to finish the Non-Fiction Five challenge, which means I need to read 3 more this month. This could be do-able as long as I don't get too distracted by other books, such as When Twilight Burns that I mentioned above. And as long as the heat doesn't completely kill off my dwindling powers of concentration. I'd also like to try to catch up on My Year of Reading Dangerously, but I'll just have to see where the month takes me.
How has your reading been so far this summer? Any books you're dying to read?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

'How to Be a Canadian'

by Will Ferguson & Ian Ferguson

Humour, 2001
Douglas & McIntyre, pb, 201 p.
How to Be a Canadian is a hilarious insider’s look at the country, covering subjects as diverse as fashion, culture, sports, religion, politics and mating rituals. Sample topics include Twelve Ways to Say “I’m Sorry”, Rules of the Road, The Mating Habits of Canadians, and Canadian Cuisine (and How to Avoid It). Fast and funny, loaded with wry advice and barbed commentary, this book will teach you everything you need to know about how Canadians really act.
After reading Will Ferguson’s Japan travel memoir last year, Hitching Rides with Buddha, I knew I needed to read more. So when I found this on the discount shelves (if you’ve read this and remember his comment in the introduction, that might make you smile) at Munro’s in Victoria last fall, of course I had to get it. And it was the perfect antidote to my recent summer heat-induced lethargy and general feeling of blueness. Even though I’ve lived away from Canada for over 11 years now, I’m still a Canadian at heart, and the Ferguson brothers had me chuckling throughout. A very fun read.
Canadians speak French and English, often at the same time. Trayz sophisticated, n’est pah? Known far and wide as master linguists, Canadians excel in particular at translating cereal boxes. Often, when the U.N. needs a cereal box translated, they call in the Canadians, who parachute out of stealth bombers clutching boxes of Capitaine Crounche and K de Special. In a situation unique among the world’s nations, English Canadians know what the French is for “riboflavin”, “niacin” and “part of a complete breakfast”. And vice versa. English Canadians don’t know what riboflavin is (no one does), but they sort of know what it looks like in French. And vice versa. (p. 12)

[Tips on how to write a Canadian novel]
Setting – Setting is important. It has to be bleak and foreboding: maybe Cape Breton or outport Newfoundland or a cabin in northern Ontario.
Plot – Avoid this at all costs. Instead, the characters should just sort of mope from scene to scene, maybe staring into the distance now and then to remember events that happened long before. You don’t want a sense of forward momentum in a novel. You want “atmosphere.”
Humour – God, no. Instead of humour, you want irony. And lots of it. Your book should be drenched in irony. Soaked in it, even. When someone squeezes your book, irony should ooze out from between the pages. It should reek of postmodern alienation and ennui. The more postmodern the better.
Character – In Canadian novels the men – especially the father figures – should be brooding alcoholics, or brooding violent alcoholics, or pathetic losers who aren't really alcoholic but are still quite pathetic, or recovering alcoholics, or violent losers, or brooding pathetic recovering alcoholics who are also violent.
The main female character must be victimized. That goes without saying. She has to be victimized. But here’s the thing – she should also be empowered. That’s right. In Canadian novels, you get to have it both ways: “empowered victims.”
Style – Keep it simple. Stark. Unfurnished. Underwritten. Subject + verb + object again and again and again and again. SVO. SVO. Stick to the bare minimum offered by the English language. Do not use adverbs. And if you have to use adjectives, keep them short and simple and obvious to the point of redundancy (i.e., “blue sky,” “white clouds,” “wet rain,” “unfaithful husband”). (p. 144-146)
My Rating: 4/5
(#32 for 2008, 2nd Canadian Challenge)

PhotoHunt: Cloud(s)

I really like the clouds in this photo with rain on its way, or in this photo taken this spring, but here are a couple taken during my trip to Canada last autumn. Boy am I missing that weather and that view!


Friday, August 01, 2008

It's Friday, you know what that means...

1. If I could travel back in time, I'd go to a certain place at a certain time, to see a certain person and do something a little differently.
2. Give me more hours in the day or give me at least a good night's sleep.
3. I am listening to the whirring of the fan and the hum of the air-conditioner.
4. Somewhere, someone is thinking that maybe this wasn't such a good idea.
5. I'll always be me!
6. My idea of a good time includes spending time with H and the boys, going out with H somewhere to take pictures (when it isn't so hot) or simply curling up with a good book.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to relaxing, tomorrow my plans include something or other and Sunday, I want to read and try to catch up on blogging!

I 'found' quite a few tempting books while visiting blogs this past week.
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicolson
The Witch's Trinity by Erika Mailman
Playing Cards in Cairo by Hugh Miles (reviewed by Lotus Reads here)
Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa (graphic novel- love the cover!)(reviewed by Popin here)
Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale by Nagai Kafu (reviewed by Popin here)
The Ruined Map by Kobo Abe
Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo (reviewed by Nymeth here)
and I'm quite tempted by the collector's edition of The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling. Doesn't it look like fun?

'Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation'

by Michael Zielenziger
Non-Fiction/Current Affairs, 2006
Vintage, trade pb, 302 p.
The world’s second-wealthiest country, Japan once seemed poised to overtake America as the leading global economic powerhouse. But the country failed to recover from the staggering economic collapse of the early 1990s. Today it confronts an array of disturbing social trends, notably a population of more than one million hikikomori: young men who shut themselves in their rooms, withdrawing from society. There is also a growing number of “parasite singles”: women who refuse to leave home, marry, or bear children.
In this trenchant investigation, Michael Zielenziger argues that Japan’s tradition-steeped society, its aversion to change, and its distrust of individuality are stifling economic revival, political reform, and social evolution. Shutting Out the Sun is a bold explanation of Japan’s stagnation and its implications for the rest of the world.
This was a very interesting read even though reading it made me feel rather blue about the state of modern Japanese society. After reading it I also felt I could understand somewhat why the hikikomori retreat from society as they do. Not nearly to the same extreme of course, but I certainly have days when I’d like to hide away myself, when I just don’t want to cope with it all.

Some of the aspects of Japanese society that he discusses in the book I’ve experienced either first hand or indirectly so it was interesting to read the author’s thoughts on the root of many of these problems and behaviours. Although the overall message and tone of the book is mainly a negative one, it’s obvious the author cares about his subject matter (the book is dedicated to one of the hikikomori whose experience especially touched him).

Zielenziger spent many hours interviewing hikikomori and various care providers and specialists, analysing this recent phenomenon and other sociological aspects of life in Japan, and it was these sections of the book that I found most interesting. Did you know that, “the split between true feeling and public “face” is so deeply ingrained in the Japanese, they suffer far fewer cases of multiple personality disorder than do Westerners” (p. 64) or that regarding the Japanese obsession with brands, “94 percent of all Tokyo women in their twenties have at least one Vuitton product” (p. 148) or that “more than 660 Japanese commit suicide every single week – ninety-four persons per day, according to the National Police Agency” (p. 196), and that “no other country as prosperous suffers such a high rate of suicide.” (p. 197)?

But even though I found the sections on economy a little drier, they did teach me a little about Japan’s domestic economy and the complicated financial relationship that exists between Japan and the U.S. Also enlightening was his discussion of South Korea, its advance toward globalization, and how it now differs considerably from Japan.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad here, and of course no country is perfect, but neither my husband nor I want to settle permanently in Japan and the book reaffirmed some of the reasons why. Overall I think it was a very well-researched, well-presented look at the Japan of today and perhaps tomorrow.

My Rating: 4/5
(#31 for 2008, Non-Fiction Five Challenge)
“We lost our own narrative,” Haruki Murakami, one of Japan’s most prominent contemporary novelists told me one day, when I asked him to explain the meaning he drew from his nation’s lost decade. When the bubble collapses, “what we lost was confidence. Confidence in ourselves – socially and economically.”
Japan’s postwar story had been constructed around feverish economic conquest, and relentless growth had served as a sort of national religion binding citizens together, Murakami said. “We believed in the strength of the society and the power of our economy. And we believed that things were getting better and better, year by year and day by day … That’s a kind of confidence, but that was lost … Once the Cold War ended, everything changed. We couldn’t adjust to the new situation. It was a kind of chaos and we lost [our] sense of direction.” (p. 120)
You can read more about the book and the author on the website or the author's blog. Or listen to the author discuss the book, and read an excerpt here.