Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Salon (on Monday): Reading Retrospective - August 2002

Seven years ago, the highlight of my reading month was Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald. In my brief notes at the time, I wrote, 'to quote Rose from the book, this was a "crude and compelling" story of a very dysfunctional family, with well-written characters as well as an interesting look at religious and misguided zeal.' This book and MacDonald's more recent The Way the Crow Flies are both chunksters but they were both great reads and very worth spending the time on. I've forgotten many of the details of the story in Fall on Your Knees, and it's one that I'd really like to read again. I only wish she had another book out that I could look forward to too.

The rest of August 2002 was spent with easy reads, from kidlit, to chicklit, to ladlit, some of it more enjoyable than others. First off, the third and fourth books in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I again enjoyed for the sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek humour, but I apparently thought the fourth one, The Miserable Mill, was a little too unrealistic. I haven't read any further in the series, or felt any desire to, to be honest, but maybe one day.

Then I read Under the Duvet by Marian Keyes, a collection of articles and essays that were fun to read, and gave some insight into an author that is loved by many. I really liked Rachel's Holiday, so I'm not quite sure why I haven't read anything else by her yet. I do have a couple on my shelves though, so I may just have to pick one up the next time I'm in the mood for some chick lit.

And last for the month was some rather disappointing ladlit, Turning Thirty by Mike Gayle. I only rated it 4/10, and wrote down simply that it was 'an easy read but nothing special'. Apparently, since I don't remember a single thing about it now.

Back to the present, this week I finished reading the utterly surreal novel, Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui, where the line between dreams and reality became very tenuous indeed. Now, continuing with my recent Japanese-themed reading I'm about halfway into Be With You by Takuji Ichikawa. I can't quite decide yet if it is a touching love story or just plain cheesy but I guess time will tell. Next up I think will be something more seasonal. In fact, my Poe book, from my recent Book Depository order just arrived and I think I'll try to read a couple of stories a week, so expect to hear about them on Sundays over the next little while.

And please come back tomorrow, when I'll announce a new giveaway in conjunction with the Japanese Literature Challenge. Plus later this week, I hope to get up my reviews of Polite Lies and Paprika. Have a great week!

Week in review:
R.I.P. IV Challenge
Review: Beyond the Blossoming Fields by Jun'ichi Watanabe
Review: Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby

Saturday, August 29, 2009

'Shakespeare Wrote For Money'

by Nick Hornby
Non-Fiction/Essays, 2008 (pieces originally published in the Believer magazine between August 2006 and September 2008)
Believer Books, softcover, 111 p.
Two years of reading begat by more reading, presented in easily digestible, utterly hysterical monthly installments.
This is the final collection of Nick Hornby’s monthly column for the Believer magazine about the books he’s bought and the books he’s read.
I wish I could write book reviews like Nick Hornby! I fully enjoyed the two previous collections of his columns for the Believer magazine – The Polysyllabic Spree and Housekeeping vs. The Dirt - so I was very much looking forward to Shakespeare Wrote for Money. And it was just as funny, and witty, and sarcastic, and just so wonderfully bookish.
From Sarah Vowell's Introduction:
The fact that his Books Bought list is so often so different from his Books Read list makes his portrait of a real reader the most accurate I have ever seen. The hope! The guilt! The quest for shelving!
I didn’t actually jot down that many titles this time, but that’s because a lot of the ones I want to read but haven’t yet done so are already in my TBR piles. Reading his thoughts on them though only made me want to read them more. Especially amusing to read about this time around was his discovery of, and reaction to, YA fiction.
I see now that dismissing YA books because you’re not a young adult is a little bit like refusing to watch thrillers on the grounds that you’re not a policeman or dangerous criminal, and as a consequence, I’ve discovered a previously ignored room at the back of the bookstore that’s filled with masterpieces I’ve never heard of, the YA equivalents of The Maltese Falcon or Strangers on a Train. Weirdly, then, reading YA stuff now is a little like being a young adult back then: is this Vonnegut guy any good? What about Albert Camus? Anyone ever heard of him? The world suddenly seems a larger place.
But even the books that I’m probably not all that interested in, I still enjoyed reading about. Maybe it’s the sign of a hopeless book addict, but I think you’d agree, it’s just so FUN to read about other people’s reading experiences, especially when they’re written about so amusingly. The same could easily be said about book blogs. There’s a reason we’re all drowning in our feed readers.

I’m sad that he’s stopped writing the column and that this is the last collection, but as for his other books, since I’ve only read About a Boy, I suppose that means I still have some good reading to look forward to.
The annoying thing about reading is that you can never get the job done. The other day I was in a bookstore flicking through a book called something like 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (and without naming names, you should be aware that the task set by the title is by definition impossible, because at least four hundred of the books suggested would kill you anyway), but reading begets reading – that’s sort of the point of it, surely? – and anybody who never deviates from a set list of books is intellectually dead anyway. (p. 49)
Nick Hornby's blog
Nick Hornby's official website

First sentence: (August 2006) It’s been an unsettling couple of months.

Buy this book at: | | | |

My Rating: 4/5
(#44 for 2009, Non-Fiction Five Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
things mean a lot
Stainless Steel Droppings
an adventure in reading
If you've reviewed this title too, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

'Beyond the Blossoming Fields'

Beyond the Blossoming Fieldsby Jun'ichi Watanabe
Historical Fiction, 1970 (English translation, 2008)
Alma Books, trade pb, 298 p.
Translated from the Japanese by Deborah Iwabuchi and Anna Isozaki
As a young girl from a wealthy family, Ginko Ogino seems set for a conventional life in the male-dominated society of nineteenth-century Japan. But when she contracts gonorrhoea from her husband, she suffers the ignominy of divorce. Forced to bear the humiliation of being treated by male doctors, she resolves to become a doctor herself in order to treat fellow female sufferers and spare them some of the shame she had to endure.

Her struggle is not an easy one: her family disown her, and she has to convince the authorities to take seriously the idea of a female doctor, and allow her to study alongside male medical students and sit the licensing exam.

Based on the real-life story of Ginko Ogino – Japan’s first female doctor – Beyond the Blossoming Fields does full justice to the complexity of her character and her world in a fascinating and inspirational work of fiction.
Like the blurb says, this really was a fascinating look at the life of the woman who became Japan’s first licensed female doctor, and the intense struggles she underwent to get there. It’s a fictional retelling of her life but it’s based on a true story, which made it all the more poignant. I can’t imagine all the difficulties she had to overcome in what was then an extremely conservative, patriarchal society. Yes, Japan is still somewhat of a conservative, patriarchal society, and some of the attitudes towards woman haven’t really changed all that much, but at least women can become doctors, vote, and have a few other options besides staying in the home now, should they wish it.
At the fringes of the lecture hall, Ginko bore it all in solitude. And the single cause of her isolation was that she was a woman. She had never felt more bitter about her fate. It was an era when women waited to eat until men were finished, walked a few paces behind men and always spoke respectfully when addressing them. When a man had something to say, a woman’s response was expected to be “Yes, I understand”. Women’s concerns were supposed to be confined to housework and child raising.

It was in this context that Ginko, a woman, had suddenly appeared in a classroom full of men. Not only that, but it was a class in the medical field, where only men were allowed. Most people would have sided with the shocked and angry male students, who had always been taught that women were far beneath them. [p. 105]
Ginko seems to have been a bit stubborn, and very strict to herself and those around her, which no doubt helped her achieve all that she did, but it did make her a rather unpleasant person at times. I always find complicated characters to be more interesting to read about though, and I think the author did a wonderful job portraying the different sides of Ginko Ogino's personality.

In addition to Ginko’s story, it was equally fascinating to read about Tokyo in the late nineteenth century, and some of the things that were going on in the background of the story. The transition to the Meiji era after over 250 years of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the growth of Christianity, the newly-claimed island of Hokkaido and the settlers that went there to start a new life. All of these elements combined to present an engaging historical portrait of the Japan of the time.

The translation was great too; it read very smoothly and allowed me to fully enjoy the story for itself without being distracted by an obvious translation. Even considering its biographic style, I was completely engrossed and had a hard time putting it down. And I’m still thinking of Ginko despite having finished another couple of books since. A fantastic read; it’s one of the best I’ve read so far this year. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in Japan, or who enjoys well-told stories of strong women.

Interesting side note: This title was selected for the Japanese Literature Publishing Project, which I’d never heard of before but it sounds like a good program. I’m going to have to look for some of their other choices.

From the JLPP website* (according to this posting on the World Literature Forum):
The Japanese Literature Publishing Project (JLPP) was launched in 2002 by the Agency for Cultural Affairs to promote modern Japanese literature overseas. Literary works produced since 1868 are selected by a committee for translation into one or more of four target languages comprising English, French, German, and Russian. Reader response to this project introducing lesser-known gems of modern Japanese literature to the world has been enthusiastic.

As of October 2007, eighty-four works have been selected for translation, with every effort being made to choose a wide range of works to demonstrate the richness and diversity of modern Japanese literature. Of these, fifty works have been published in one or more of the four target languages.

As well as being on sale in bookstores, two thousand copies of each published title are purchased by JLPP for donation to libraries, universities, and other cultural organizations worldwide.
*The JLPP (Japanese Literature Publishing Website): the Japanese site and the English JLPP site are currently under renewal, but the French site and the German site seem to be fine, if you can read either of those languages.

Read an excerpt of Beyond the Blossoming Fields
Wikipedia entry on Ginko Ogino

Thank you to Clémence and Alma Books for the opportunity to read this book.

First sentence: The Toné is the largest river flowing through the Kanto Plain.

Buy this book at: | | | |

My Rating: 4.5/5
(#43 for 2009, Reading Japan Project, Lost in Translation Challenge, Orbis Terrarum Challenge, ARC Reading Challenge, Japanese Literature Challenge 3)

If you've reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

R.I.P. IV Challenge

As if to celebrate the fact that it's almost time for Carl's 4th annual R.I.P. Challenge, it's been slightly cooler here the last couple of days. It's certainly been a nice respite from the usual heat and humidity.

I can't wait to read some gothic, spooky, chilly reads so I'm signing up for Peril the First, of which the goal is to "read Four books of any length, from any subgenre of scary stories that you choose", including mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic, horror, and supernatural. I think I might also join in the Short Story Peril since I'm hoping to read some Poe. You can find out more about the challenge by clicking on the button.

I went ahead and ordered a few books from my R.I.P. Book Coveting post, so these are the ones I'm most likely going to choose from for the challenge.

A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle
This was a gift from Nymeth for guessing her favourite reads of 2008 and winning her contest back in December. I've been saving it specially to read this autumn.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
As I mentioned in that Sunday Salon post, I've never read this but have recently become quite interested to do so.

The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings by Edgar Allen Poe
I decided to go with this Penguin Classics collection as my introduction to Poe, and I'm really looking forward to it. I have a feeling I'll be wondering what took me so long.

The Vampire of Ropraz by Jacques Chessex
I seem to be in the mood for vampires!

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
I'd forgotten about this one when I wrote the Coveting post, but I've heard great things about both the book and the movie so I added this to my order.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
This one has been sitting on my shelves for a few years now. The size of it scares me a little, so I'm not sure I'll get to it this year either but I'll add it to the pile, yet again, and maybe the mood will strike to just dive in.

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
I meant to read this one for last year's R.I.P. Challenge but didn't get to it. Hopefully this year.

Drood by Dan Simmons
Another chunkster, but I would love to read it. I really must get over my ridiculous fear of chunksters.

Be With You by Takuji Ichikawa
I'm not sure how spooky this one actually is, but it seems to be a ghost story of sorts, and I'd love to fit in a Japanese literature title this autumn.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
I'm not one of the lucky ones who already has an ARC of this but I'll be ordering it as soon as it's published later next month.

So many yummy books! Except for the last one, the problem is going to be choosing which one to read first! And I'm looking forward to hearing about everyone else's choices.

Are you planning to join the R.I.P. Challenge this year? You really should! But even if you're not, what are you looking forward to reading this autumn?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Salon: TBR Purgatory

I spent the past week travelling back and forth between Japan and the US Midwest as I read Polite Lies: On Being a Woman Caught Between Cultures by Kyoko Mori, a memoir in the form of essays about her experiences of growing up in Japan and now living in the US. Even though it was non-fiction, it was a very quick read and I really enjoyed reading her perspectives on the differences and similarities between Japanese and American culture. This week I also posted my review of Goodbye Madame Butterfly: Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman which was quite a fascinating read. Now I'm reading Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui. It's very surreal and a nice change of pace from the non-fiction I've been reading this month. Oh, and I changed the 'Featured Book' over there on the right to A Year in Japan by Kate T. Williamson. It's essentially a travel memoir of the author's year in Japan, as the title clearly states, but the author is an artist and the book includes some gorgeous illustrations. I first read it about 3 years ago and I had fun flipping through it this weekend. It's definitely a keeper, one that I'll enjoy looking at again and again.

It's been ages since I've managed to participate in Weekly Geeks, but this week's question is one that often comes to mind when I look at my loaded bookshelves.
I think just about every reader has a least one book that they've been meaning to read for awhile (months or even years) but, for one reason or another, they just haven't gotten around to it. Maybe it's a book a friend recommended last year, or a title you've flirted with in a bookstore on more than one occasion, or maybe it's a book that's sitting right there on your bookshelf, patiently waiting for you to pick it up -- but the thought is always there, in the back of your mind: Why haven't I read this yet?

This week, tell us about a book (or books) you have been meaning to read. What is it? How long have you wanted to read it? And, why haven't you read it yet?
I have several books that have been languishing in TBR purgatory, the place where books that I own but haven't read yet live, for no very good reason. Including some books that I really do want to read. But for some reason they continue to sit there unread, sometimes for years. Poor neglected books. Here are a few of them.

I've been meaning to read Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for a few years now. I'm pretty sure I picked this up soon after it's release in paperback in 2004. Five years later and there it still sits. Another one that I bought as soon as it was available in paperback is The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. I loved her previous three Victorian novels and I remember anxiously awaiting the release date but I still haven't read it! Now that she has a newer one out, The Little Stranger, I feel even guiltier about it.

I read about 200 pages (out of over 1000) of The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu quite a few years ago, but never got any further. I've been meaning to start again and read it through properly ever since. The book travelled with us to England, where it sat for three and a half years, then back to Japan where it's been another three and a half years or so. It's such a chunkster it intimidates me, and I think it'll take a bit of effort, but I really do want to read it. Last year I actually bought a different translation, the The Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition translated by Royall Tyler, which I think I'll enjoy more. But now I have two copies, neither of which I've read. Sigh. One of these days/months/years...

Speaking of chunksters, with all the buzz at the time I bought The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber in hardback when it first came out in 2002. I often enjoy getting caught up in an long, epic story once I'm in, but I always hesitate to start them. So the size of this one has kept me from reading it, even though I've heard good things about it.

When Cloud Atlas came out, I was able to go to a live interview and signing with David Mitchell in London. Along with my copy of Cloud Atlas, I brought along a copy of Number9Dream, which I'd already bought previously because I'd really enjoyed Ghostwritten, and then Cloud Atlas. Plus Number9Dream is set in Japan and you know that always appeals to me. I'm embarrassed to admit that I met David in November 2004, and my signed copy of number9dream is still unread, as is the copy of Black Swan Green that's been published in the meantime.

A very long-time resident of TBR purgatory is Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross. Once upon a time, before blogging, before moving to England, and back to Japan, I belonged to several Yahoo book groups. I first heard about Pope Joan from Andi in one of those groups. My copy has travelled half the world and back, with a few stops on the way, yet I still haven't read it. And I have no good reason why not except that somehow other books keep pushing it aside. Maybe now that the film is coming out, it'll inspire me to finally read it.

Which books have you been meaning to read?

I'd also like to say thank you again for the BBAW Award nominations. In addition to Best General Review Blog and Best Cultural Review Blog, I found out that In Spring it is the Dawn was also nominated for Best Blog Name. Sometimes I think that my blog's name is too long, or obscure, that the bookish connection isn't obvious, but I'm pleased that someone else likes it. :)
The competition in all the categories is pretty strong so I think my chance of being shortlisted is very slim but I'm extremely honoured to have been nominated. Thank you so much!! Have a great week, and happy reading!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

'Goodbye Madame Butterfly: Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman'

Goodbye Madame Butterflyby Sumie Kawakami
Non-Fiction, 2007
Chin Music Press, hardback, 214 p.
Translated from the Japanese by Yuko Enomoto
Edited by Bruce Rutledge
Kawakami’s interviews and reporting take us into a world where fortune tellers serve as counselors, where a female executive who turns tricks by night is seen as a heroine and where the hot blood of newlyweds quickly grows cold.

Goodbye Madame Butterfly offers a modern twist on the tradition in Japanese literature to revel in tales of sexual exploits. Kawakami’s nonfiction update on this theme offers strands of hope for women struggling to liberate themselves from joyless, sexless relationships.
The book consists of stories told to the author, a journalist, as she was researching the sexuality of women in modern Japan. When I told my Japanese husband about some of the stories, about the many sexless marriages, the affairs, he said that the writer obviously didn’t choose the ‘normal’, or everyday, boring, stories. The scandalous ones are more interesting to read about, he said. Perhaps this is partly true since the book was put together with a Western readership in mind, but I think, and the author suggests in her introduction, that this type of marriage is maybe a lot more common than my husband likes to admit.

Of course not every marriage in Japan is an unhappy one, but there sure do seem to be a lot of them. Many of the situations described in the book weren’t particularly surprising, or shocking, to me as I’ve heard, or read about, similar stories before, but it was still fascinating to be privy to these stories of real women’s personal lives and disappointments. And there were some things that were new to me, like the sex clinic and the sex volunteers, not prostitutes exactly but men, carefully selected, who try to help women feel better about themselves sexually.
“Mature men are hard to find in Japan. They can’t let go of their image of mother as the ideal woman. For them, women are either mothers or lovers, and many say making love to their wives feels like incest,” Mr. Kim [an anthropologist who specializes in sexology and runs a clinic for sexually frustrated women] says.
After I finished reading the book, I was left feeling rather sad about the state of so many marriages and relationships in Japan. How so many women seem to simply endure the situations they are in because society makes it difficult to do otherwise. How marriage in Japan is more like a business contract, or a job, than a friendship or partnership. I know I’m looking at it through a foreigner's eyes but I can’t help feeling that at least in Western countries, there is a strong belief in second chances, and nowadays at least, there tends to be less of a stigma to divorce.

I think anyone interested in sociology, and women’s studies, or cultural studies, or those simply wondering what life is really like for women in Japan, would appreciate this book, and perhaps find it rather eye-opening.

Image © Chin Music Press

The physical book itself is lovely to hold and admire. The obvious care taken with the design, the beautiful endpapers (apparently inspired by old kimono patterns), the font, and the binding, really shows. I’ve read one other Chin Music Press title, Kuhaku & Other Accounts from Japan, which was, to me, even more impressive but then I'm always a fan of illustrations. (To see images of Kuhaku, visit the designer Craig Mod's webpage). There’s just something so appealing about a book that has been thoughtfully put together. It's clear that they are passionate about the books they produce and I certainly look forward to future titles from Chin Music Press.

For more information check out the Goodbye Madame Butterfly website, where you can read the informative preface, a sample story, or purchase the book.
Also interesting is this interview with Sumie Kawakami.

First sentence: (Washoi!) It’s seven PM in Kabukicho and the neon is just beginning to flicker.

You can also buy this book at: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | The Book Depository UK | The Book Depository US

My Rating: 4/5
(#42 for 2009, Reading Japan Project, Non-Fiction Five Challenge, World Citizen Challenge, Japanese Literature Challenge 3)

If you've reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Could you help a girl out?

I've been a bit down in the dumps lately, an effect of, what I like to call, the summer blues. I simply wasn't designed for the hot, humid Japanese summer. But I just got an email which totally made my day. I've been nominated for a Book Blogger Appreciation Week Award in the category of Best General Review Blog. The criteria: "This blog doesn’t specialize in any one book genre, but it’s still excellent. Their book reviews usually cause you to add one more book to the TBR pile."

Mine is such a little blog compared to many out there, so I'm absolutely thrilled! As you can tell, my blogging has been less frequent since our move and I still haven't got properly back in the swing of things, so it's especially appreciated right now. Thank you so much!

Now I need to submit 5 blog posts "that you consider to be the best representation of your blog", and I have no idea which ones to choose. I hope this isn't against the rules but I would be extremely grateful if you'd let me know a specific post, or the kinds of posts that you have particularly enjoyed here at In Spring it is the Dawn, or any posts you think best represent my blog. Pretty please with a cherry on top. And a big thank you in advance.

Update: I've also been nominated for Best Cultural Review Blog. Thanks so much guys! This means so much to me!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Salon: Book Coveting (R.I.P. edition)

This morning we went out with our cameras for the first time in ages. But boy was it hot out! This is why I tend to want to just hide indoors with the air conditioner all summer. I did get a few shots of some water lilies though, and it was nice to take my camera for a little spin.

As for reading, this week I finished Beyond the Blossoming Fields by Jun'ichi Watanabe, which I found completely fascinating. I also finished Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby. As always it was such fun to read his thoughts on reading. It's so sad that he's not writing the column for The Believer magazine anymore.

So now I've started Polite Lies: On Being a Woman Caught Between Cultures by Kyoko Mori. A Japanese American who has lived most of her adult life in the US, I'm looking forward to reading her essays about the differences in culture. I've read the first two so far, and already I've found myself nodding in agreement with much of what she had to say about Japan and the Japanese.

Even though it's sweltering, or maybe because I wish it were autumn already, I've been thinking of more autumn type books lately, specifically those that I'd like to read for Carl's R.I.P. Challenge which is coming up soon. So here are a few that I'm particularly coveting.

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange
I first heard about this one over at Stephanie's blog when she mentioned books for her Everything Austen challenge. Not being a fan of zombies, I've had no desire to read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but vampires! This sounds like a fun twist that I just might enjoy.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
We watched the first two episodes of Jekyll, the BBC series, which is a modern re-telling of the classic, and it made me want to read the original. Moving interrupted our watching of it, but I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the series when we get a chance to rent it.

something by Edgar Allen Poe
Can you believe that I've never read any Poe? Terrible, I know. And I think that this year I should definitely rectify that. Any suggestions on where I should start?

The Vampire of Ropraz by Jacques Chessex
I saw this on the Three Percent website, and it sounds positively delicious. Inspired by a true story, it's "a lyrical tale of fear and cruelty".

The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston
This is a true crime story, about a kind of Italian Jack the Ripper. I heard the author on Simon Mayo's Book podcast and the story behind the story is fascinating in itself, including uncooperative police and the fact that Preston was essentially kicked out of the country because of this book.

The Nature of Monsters by Clare Clarke
Sylvie really liked this one, plus it's set in 18th century London, and it just sounds really good.

And of course I can't wait to read Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.

What books are you coveting recently?

Week in review:
Favourite publishers (Monday Musing)
Wishing I were here... (photo, Friday Fill-ins)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Wishing I were here ...

Quite a while ago now, Les tagged me for a photo meme, but I forgot about it for a while, then we moved and with all the packing and unpacking... well, let's just say that it's been a very long time. Sorry Les!

Find your 5th photo file folder, then the 5th photo in that file folder. Then pass the meme to 5 people.

I'm not going to pass it on since it's been so long, but looking up this photo made me smile so I thought I'd share, even though it is so late.


The 5th photo within the 5th folder within the 5th folder ... is a shot taken in October 2006 at Cadboro Bay in Victoria, BC. I would so rather be there right now instead of sweating it out here in Tokyo!!

Graphic courtesy of Tonya!

1. When will this hot, humid weather finally be over?

2. Beyond the Blossoming Fields by Jun'ichi Watanabe was the last good book I read. The Namesake was the last movie I watched. The last episode of Dexter Season 3 was the last tv show I watched.

3. Everything has its beauty but I'm still not a fan of insects.

4. 回鍋肉 (hoikoro, or twice-cooked pork) is what I had for dinner.

5. I'd like your recommendation of a great summer read.

6. Somewhere cooler, preferably near water (see above) is where I want to be right now.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to bed and my book, tomorrow my plans include maybe going out to take some photos for the first time in ages and Sunday, I want to read and maybe watch a movie!

What are you reading or watching this weekend?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Favourite publishers

Do you have a favourite publishing house -- one that puts out books that you constantly find yourself wanting to read? If so, who? And, what books have they published that you've loved? (question courtesy of MizB)

I'm a couple of days late with this, and was just going to skip it since I didn't have time to post at the beginning of the week, but then I was curious to see which publishing houses showed up more often on my shelves.

A quick scan of my stuffed bookshelves reveals quite a variety of publishers, but I suppose I do have a few favourites. I usually look to Penguin for classics, their Black classics do look so nice lined up together on the shelf.

I'm also a big fan of Hesperus Press, who focus on short, lesser-known classics and they have such gorgeous covers. I've only read a few Hesperus Press titles so far but every time I get a new catalogue from them, I want them all!
With a similar focus on lesser-known classics, as well as some of the famous ones, Oneworld Classics has become a recent favourite too, due to books like The King's Bride by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Along with its sister publishing house, Alma Books. The book I'm reading right now, Beyond the Blossoming Fields, is an Alma Books title and I'm really enjoying it a lot.

Ultimately though I choose a book for a combination of reasons, the most important being that the story itself appeals to me. Then the cover might also have a little bit of sway, but other than a few niche publishers like those above, I rarely consider the publishing house when purchasing a book. So if I have more of one publisher represented on my shelves than another it's not a deliberate choice on my part, and I'm guessing that I have books from most, if not all, the major publishing houses. However, of the big name publishers, I do seem to have a fondness for Vintage titles (a division of Random House), as Vintage US, Vintage Canada, Vintage UK, and Vintage International are all well represented.

And if I look at the last 10 books I've bought, 5/10 or 50% are imprints or divisions of Random House.
The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter - Kodansha International
Real World by Natsuo Kirino - Vintage International (Random House)
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery - Gallic Books (first published in French by Éditions Gallimard)
What the Birds See by Sonya Hartnett - Candlewick Press (first published by Penguin Australia)
The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano - Doubleday (Random House)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows - Dial Press (Random House)
Looking for Alaska by John Green - Speak (Penguin)
Tears of the Desert by Halima Bashir & Damien Lewis - Hodder & Stoughton
The Love We Share Without Knowing by Christopher Barzak - Bantam (Random House)
The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz - Vintage (Random House)

Interesting question. It won't change my buying habits but I'll have to pay more attention in the future.
Do you have any favourite publishers?

Musing Mondays is hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sunday Salon: July in review

My reading in July took me first to Montreal in the early 1940s, where I strolled through the neighbourhood, meeting the local residents. Then it was on to modern day New York where I began to doubt my husband of 15 years, which lead to some devastating consequences. After that it was across the Atlantic, first to Sweden and then on to Latvia, in search of a killer. And I ended the month in Paris, where I managed to escape the manuscript of my creator, learned how to drink absinthe, was challenged to a duel, and had many other adventures in the "real" world.

Books completed:
(click on the title to read my review, click on the book covers below for more information on the books themselves)
38. The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant - Michel Tremblay
39. Best Intentions - Emily Listfield
40. The Dogs of Riga - Henning Mankell
41. The Flight of Icarus - Raymond Queneau

New-to-me authors: 3
Books in Translation: 3

It's hard to choose a favourite because even though they were quite different, I rated them almost the same. However, if forced to choose I'd go with The Flight of Icarus just because it made me smile, and was just so clever and fun to read.

Except for Henning Mankell, the others were all new-to-me authors. I wouldn't mind reading more by any of them, but I'm most interesting in continuing with Mankell's series, and reading something else by Raymond Queneau.

Books in: 6
Books out: 0

The Year of Readers: Reading for the Book Wish Foundation.
Money raised this month: $10
Total raised to date: $116

Reading Challenges Progress Report
(see sidebar for current challenges)
New Challenges joined
Everything Austen Challenge: 1 watched, 5 to go (July 1, 2009 - Jan. 1, 2010)
Japanese Literature Challenge 3: 0 read, 1 to go (July 30, 2009 - Jan. 30, 2010)
Canadian Book Challenge 3: 1 read, 12 to go (July 1, 2009 - July 1, 2010)

Non-Fiction Five Challenge: 0 read, 5 to go (May 1 - September 30, 2009)
Dewey's Books Reading Challenge: 3 read, 2 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
Lost in Translation Challenge: 10 read, 0 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
Orbis Terrarum Challenge: 5 read, 5 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
World Citizen Challenge: 0 read, 3 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
What's in a Name? 2 Challenge: 5 read, 1 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
Herding Cats II: Attach of the Hairballs: 2 read (until Dec. 31, 2009)
1% Well-Read Challenge: 0 read, 10 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
Manga Challenge: 6 read, 0 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
Graphic Novels Challenge: 2 read, 4 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)
ARC Reading Challenge: currently 11 read, 7 to go (by Dec. 31, 2009)

Long-term Reading Projects (Total read in 2009)
Reading Japan Project: 11 (including manga, 0 in July)
Orange Prize Project: 0

Reading plans for August
I'm hoping to read mostly Japanese authors or books about Japan this month, although I would also like to fit in some non-fiction. Non-fiction about Japan being the perfect combination!

I finished my first book for August a couple of days ago, a non-fiction title, Goodbye Madame Butterfly: Sex, Marriage and the Modern Japanese Woman by Sumie Kawakami. It was a really interesting book. I wasn't especially surprised by many of the true stories depicted, as I've heard about some of it before, but they were still compelling to read and I think this would be quite an eye-opening read for people not familiar with Japanese society.

After finishing Goodbye Madame Butterfly I picked up Beyond the Blossoming Fields by Jun'ichi Watanabe. It's fiction but based on the true story of Japan's first female doctor. She hasn't even started thinking about studying to be a doctor yet but I'm already quite caught up in the story. And I still have Shakespeare Wrote for Money on the go. I'm really quite enjoying just dipping into it once in a while. It is the last collection of his columns after all, so I'm trying to make it last.

How about you? What are you reading this weekend?

Week in review:
Beautiful new books
Review: The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell
Review: The Flight of Icarus by Raymond Queneau

Saturday, August 08, 2009

'The Flight of Icarus'

by Raymond Queneau
(Original title: Le Vol d'Icare)
Fiction, 1968 (English translation, 1973)
Oneworld Classics, trade pb, 164 p.
Translated from the French by Barbara Wright
In late-nineteenth-century Paris, the writer Hubert is shocked to discover that Icarus, the protagonist of the new novel he’s working on, has vanished. Looking for him among the manuscripts of his rivals does not solve the mystery, so a detective is hired to find the runaway character, who is now in Montparnasse, where he learns to drink absinthe and is picked up by a friendly prostitute.
These hilarious adventures make Queneau’s novel, presented in the form of a script and parodying various genres, one of the best literary jokes in modern literature.
I’d heard of Raymond Queneau before and I believe I even have a couple of his most well-known books, in French (Zazie dans le métro, and Exercices de style) that I still imagine I might read someday, but The Flight of Icarus was my first direct experience of his writing, albeit in English. I have to say right off the bat that I am in complete awe of the translator, Barbara Wright! Queneau seems to love puns, alliteration and generally playing with unusual words and she did a fantastic job keeping the witty, playful prose that I imagine is in the original. Just… wow!
She had this to say in the Translator’s Note at the beginning:
The man in the street takes it that when he reads a book in translation he is simply reading an exact replica of the original in a language he happens to understand. The ideal translation sustains him in this illusion.
I agree, and while I'm no expert on translation, I feel that she succeeded.

The story too was very fun to read. Basically the main character of a manuscript in progress goes missing and hilarity ensues, with duels in the park, romantic misunderstandings, pranks, and various adventures. I recently talked about how much I enjoy Jasper Fforde’s wacky imagination and this reminded me of Fforde’s books quite a bit, although of course Queneau’s work predates Fforde’s. I occasionally felt it was almost too witty and clever for this unsophisticated reader, but I still found myself smiling or chuckling throughout.

I’ve never studied Greek mythology so I’m going to admit my ignorance here but in a little bit of reading synchronicity, I first learned about the Greek tale of Icarus just a couple of months ago. Early on in Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel, the main character Lilia refers to a print by Matisse, ‘The Fall of Icarus’, which prompted me to look it up and the myth behind it. I’m very glad I did because it definitely added another layer to my understanding and enjoyment of this amusing story. Queneau also makes a nod to the play by Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of an Author, which from the title alone sounds equally intriguing, and which I’m now curious to read as well.
Final verdict: A highly entertaining, intelligent novel.

Thank you to Clémence and Oneworld Classics for the opportunity to read this book.

First sentence: On the papers – no sign of Icarus: between them - ditto.

Buy this book at: | |

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#41 for 2009, Orbis Terrarum Challenge, Lost in Translation Challenge, ARC Reading Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
If you've reviewed this title too, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

'The Dogs of Riga'

by Henning Mankell
(Original title: Hundarma i Riga)
Translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson
Fiction/Crime, 1992 (Sweden), 2001 (English translation)
Vintage UK, mm pb, 342 p.
Inspector Kurt Wallander series, Book 2
Sweden, Winter, 1991. Inspector Kurt Wallander and his team receive an anonymous tip-off. A few days later a life raft is washed up on a beach. In it are two men, dressed in expensive suits, shot dead.

The dead men were criminals, victims of what seems to have been a gangland hit. But what appears to be an open-and-shut case soon takes on a far more sinister aspect. Wallander travels across the Baltic Sea, to Riga in Latvia, where he is plunged into a frozen, alien world of police surveillance, scarcely veiled threats, and lies. Doomed always to be one step behind the shadowy figures he pursues, only Wallander’s obstinate desire to see that justice is done brings the truth to light.
I picked this up while I was reading Best Intentions, which was a hardback, because I needed something easy to pop into my bag for my train commute. Sometimes if I’m tired, and the book I’ve brought along is a bit slow, I’ll end up dozing off in the train or I’ll put my book away and listen to a podcast or two instead. But there were no sleepy eyes with this one, it kept me wide awake, and it certainly made the train journeys go by that much faster. I actually almost wished the train ride home had been just a little bit longer one particular day as I got to our station with only a few pages left to go. However, as soon as I got home, I quickly polished them off.

The writing, or perhaps it was the fault of the translation, was occasionally awkward and clunky, and I had a couple of instances when I didn’t completely buy into certain events that took place. But the story itself was interesting and most of it took place in a country I know very little about. I love reading about new places and getting to experience them through the pages of fiction, so this was an added appeal. As The Dogs of Riga was originally published in 1992, and the story set in early 1991, in the unstable period of political turmoil as the Baltic States were moving toward independence from the Soviet Union, the imagined events of the plot were very current and topical. I’ve only read the first two books now in the Inspector Wallander series, but I really enjoy the fact that Mankell draws on current events and actual social issues for his inspiration. I’m looking forward to continuing on in the series and seeing what aspect of northern European life he can introduce to me next time.

Henning Mankell's website

First sentence: It started snowing shortly after 10 a.m.

Buy this book at: | | |

My Rating: 3/5
(#40 for 2009, Orbis Terrarum Challenge, Lost in Translation Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
Of Books and Bicycles
If you've reviewed this title too, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Beautiful new books

I got a couple of really beautiful books in the post last week.

First, the straggler from my recent Book Depository order finally showed up. Kabuki: The Alchemy by David Mack. I'd been coveting this ever since I first heard about it on Carl's blog, Stainless Steel Droppings. It's technically a graphic novel, and I don't really even know what the story is about yet but it has some really fantastic art inside! Click on the link to Carl's blog to see some of the art for yourself.

Then I decided I just had to have a couple more books for the Japanese Literature Challenge 3!

Real World by Natsuo Kirino. I loved Out by the same author, but didn't much care for Grotesque. However, I'm still looking forward to reading this one and hopefully it'll live up to the first one.

The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a famous Japanese folk tale written over 1000 years ago, it's even older than The Tale of Genji. Retold here by Yasunari Kawabata, it also includes several beautiful illustrations by Miyata Masayuki. It's so glossy and tempting, I think it won't be too long before I succumb.

What new books have you got lately?

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.