Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year

2010 is the Year of the Tiger, so here is our little tiger to wish you a Happy New Year! I'd also like to say thank you to everyone who stopped by here in 2009. It is still a thrill for me to know that people are actually interested in what I have to say here, and it always makes my day when someone leaves a comment on one of my posts. Like recently, I sometimes get very behind in replying to your thoughtful comments. And sometimes I don't have time to visit your wonderful blogs in return, until long after the fact. So I really appreciate you sticking with me, and I value all of the friends I've made through In Spring it is the Dawn. Thank you, truly! I wish you all the very best for a Happy, Successful, Book-filled New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Japanese Literature Poll (JLit Book Group and Read-along)

Thank you to everyone who has joined in the discussions for our first Book Group selection, The Old Capital , and for those of you who are reading along with I Am a Cat. My apologies for not being a good host this month.  December ended up being quite busy for me so I haven't been able to host or participate as much as I would like. [Note to self: Don't schedule any group reads in December next year.] However, I hope as the group finds its feet, it will grow and most importantly, that we can read some good books together next year.

Our current schedule is as follows:

Japanese Literature Book Group

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
Discussion to begin January 25th.


I Am a Cat, Volume Three  by Sōseki Natsume, 
Discussion to begin January 15th. Is everyone ok with that? I know there are a couple of people who still need to catch up with Volume Two. As long as those who have kept to the schedule don't mind, I'd be happy to push the date back a little. Perhaps the end of January instead? Or even one month later, for February 15th? Volume Three is the longest of the three, so please let me know either way.

Then we will go ahead with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami for our next selection, as a few people expressed interest and hopefully they still will once it comes up. Schedule to be determined, but it will be after we have finished I Am a Cat.

So now it's time to choose our future reads for both/either the Japanese Literature Book Group or as a Read-along. About a month ago I asked you to nominate some Japanese literature titles that you'd like to read. Thank you to everyone who left suggestions. Below are the books you recommended. Titles are linked to Amazon if you'd like to find out more about the books before making your selections. I'd pretty much like to read all of them myself but what I'd like you to do is vote for the 5 or 6 titles you'd most like to read in 2010. Unless you want to start having the Book Group every month (I'd be willing to consider it if there was enough interest), our current pace means that we won't be able to read all of them next year, which is why you must choose the ones you're most interested in. I set up a poll in the right sidebar, so if you're reading this in a feed reader, please come by to my actual blog to vote on your preferred titles, or have your say by leaving a comment on this post. I'll leave the poll open for two weeks to give everyone who would like to join a chance to vote. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Some Prefer Nettles - Junichiro Tanizaki
Quicksand - Junichiro Tanizaki
The Makioka Sisters - Junichiro Tanizaki
Kokoro -  Natsume Sōseki
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion - Yukio Mishima
A Quiet Life - Kenzaburō Ōe
The Silent Cry - Kenzaburō Ōe
Silence - Shusaku Endo
Goodbye Tsugumi - Banana Yoshimoto
Kitchen - Banana Yoshimoto
Battle Royale - Koushun Takami
Dance Dance Dance - Haruki Murakami
The Sound of the Mountain - Yasunari Kawabata
The Pillowbook of Sei Shōnagon
Train Man - Hitori Nakano

The small print:  Links in this post to Amazon contain my Associates ID.  Purchases made via these links earn me a small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Wrapping up some 2009 Reading Challenges

It's hard to believe that 2009 is almost over. I didn't quite manage to finish all the reading challenges I joined this year, but I got to read some great books over the course of the year, many that I may not have gotten to without that little incentive. And now I'm looking forward to starting fresh in the new year with new books, new plans, and new challenges. I've gotten rather behind on reviews and such in the last month so you'll have to forgive me, I'll be posting those reviews and other end of the year stuff for a little while into January. In the meantime though, it's time to wrap up some of the challenges that I took on this year. Thank you, thank you to all the challenge hosts and hostesses for your cute buttons and fun challenges. Titles link to my reviews where available.

Graphic Novels Challenge
I signed up to read six graphic novels in 2009, and I'm over halfway through my sixth book right now.  I'm sure to finish it either tonight or tomorrow, and even though I will have a couple of reviews pending, I'm considering this challenge successfully completed.

Books read:
1. Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 - David Petersen
2. Skim - Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki
3. Embroideries - Marjane Satrapi
4. Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 - David Petersen
5. French Milk - Lucy Knisley (review pending)
6. Kabuki: The Alchemy - David Mack (reading in progress, review pending)

These were all so different from each other, the stories ranged from personal memoirs to adventure tales, all told through some fabulous art, and each one was enjoyable in its own way. I'm really enjoying discovering the great variety and richness in graphic novels and look forward to discovering even more great stories and art next year. So I'm joining in the 2010 Graphic Novels Challenge as well. Click on the link for more info.  I know that in my Looking forward to 2010 post about reading challenges for 2010, I said that I don't want to feel tied down to too many challenges next year, but I also said that I will still join a few focused reading challenges, and when I wrote that I already had this one in mind. I like the incentive it gives me to read more graphic novels, especially as it's a format I'm still new to.  I'm going to start out at the Beginner Level, to read 3 graphic novels, but we'll see how it goes and hopefully I'll be able to upgrade to Intermediate later on. 

Manga Challenge
I'd never read any manga before this year, but I had been wanting to try some for a while so this was just the nudge I needed.  The goal was to read 6 books and I ended up reading 14.  Manga does read really fast and each book is only one volume in a longer series, but it still counts, right?

Books read:
Emma, vol. 1 - Kaoru Mori
Monster, vol. 1 - Naoki Urasawa
xxxHolic, vol. 1 - CLAMP
Emma, vols. 2 - 7 - Kaoru Mori
Emma, vol. 8 - Kaoru Mori
Vampire Knight, vol. 1-3 - Matsuri Hino
Battle Royale, vol. 1 - Koushun Takami, illustrated by Masayuki Taguchi (review pending)

My favourite?  I really loved the Emma series, for the Austen-esque storyline and because it is just so beautifully drawn.  It was a wonderful introduction to manga, especially as it proved that not all manga is sickeningly cute or superhero violent action adventure stories.  A couple of the other series that I tried, namely Monster and Battle Royale, also have me intrigued so I'll be continuing on with them next year.  And I have several other series I'd like to try too.  I don't really need to join a challenge as now that I've begun reading manga I will definitely be reading more of it next year, but I look forward to hearing about the manga that everyone else reads and recommends so I'm signing up for the 2010 Manga Challenge too.  Click on the link for more info.

Everything Austen Challenge
I ended up mostly watching Jane Austen related TV adaptations for this challenge, but I did read Northanger Abbey which was a lot of fun. I'm so glad I revisited it this year. And the challenge was a great excuse to watch some adaptations that I hadn't seen before, especially the version of Persuasion with Ciarán Hinds. Sigh.

Northanger Abbey

Lost in Austen
Northanger Abbey
Mansfield Park
Bridget Jones's Diary

I never did post about the last two, both of which I watched earlier this month. I caught Mansfield Park on TV and really quite enjoyed it. It's not my favourite Austen book, or adaptation, but it was still a pleasure to spend some time with these characters, and it was certainly worth ignoring the housework for a couple of hours.
Then I convinced H to watch Bridget Jones's Diary with me. It's been quite a few years since I saw it, so it was good fun to watch clumsy ol' Bridget get her man. Jane's stories really are just as amusing and relevant today.

Herding Cats II: Attack of the Hairballs
There was no minimum requirement for this year's Herding Cats Challenge but I ended up reading 3 books from the Herding Cats Master Book List of books recommended by the other participants.

Books read:
The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
Looking for Alaska - John Green
Embroideries - Marjane Satrapi

These were all good reads and, I think, worthy of being on the list. There are other books on the list that I'd like to read too. Someday. And I have to say that I still just adore the button!

What's in a Name? 2 Challenge
So close, but not quite. I only managed to read books for 5 of the 6 categories. I had a couple of books picked out for the last category (body part) but I just ran out of time to read either of them this month. Oh well. I had fun choosing and reading the books for the other categories.

Books read:
An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro
After Dark - Haruki Murakami
Breaking Dawn - Stephenie Meyer
Mother Superior - Saleema Nawaz
The Museum Guard - Howard Norman
The Death of Ivan Ilyich - Leo Tolstoy
The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant - Michel Tremblay

I think the most fun part of this challenge, is initially thinking "What on earth can I read for these categories?", but then finding plenty of options in my overflowing TBR stacks, especially as it often reminded me of books that have been languishing unread for far too long. Now I just need to read them.

YA Dystopian Challenge and DystopYA Challenge
I set out to read 3 books by the end of the year and I've read two so far, and I plan to start The Knife of Never Letting Go tomorrow so there's a possibility I'll either finish by midnight on the 31st or soon thereafter. So while I may not technically complete the challenge on time, I think you'll forgive me a day or two, won't you?  Reading volume one of the manga also made me really want to read Battle Royale, the novel, soon. So hopefully I'll get a chance to fit it in early next year as well. 

Books read:
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
Battle Royale, vol. 1 - Koushun Takami, illustrated by Masayuki Taguchi (review pending)
The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness (starting very soon)

I still have a couple other challenges to wrap up but I'll leave them to have their own posts.

How did you do with your reading challenges, if you joined any, in 2009?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays
Bailey, wishing you all a festive holiday season.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas in Japan

I didn't sign up for the Virtual Advent Tour initially because we don't really have a big celebration for Christmas, but Kailana asked me whether I'd like to post something on Christmas in Japan so here is a little about how we spend this time of year.

In fact I always have a hard time feeling completely festive this time of year in Japan because a) there's no snow and I adore a white Christmas! and b) most importantly Christmas isn't quite Christmas here. At least not the kind of Christmas I grew up with. First of all December 25th is just a regular work day (the year end holiday officially begins on Dec. 29th), and even if it were to fall on a weekend, most Japanese seem to think Christmas is only celebrated on Christmas Eve anyway. Needless to say, despite the small percentage of the population that are Christians, for this largely non-practising Buddhist/Shinto nation, Christmas is a borrowed festival, but one that they have somehow made their own.

In recent years, most of the major shopping areas have lots of lights and decorations. So most places you go shopping you'll see Christmas trees, and there will often be Christmas music playing in the background. Nothing remotely religious though, no Silent Night, or Away in the Manger, and no Nativity Scenes anywhere. Instead Santa reigns supreme and it's Jingle Bells, and We Wish you a Merry Christmas! You don't see many lights or decorations on homes though, and I miss that. This year I got a little Christmas tree for our apartment though, and I have to say it makes me smile every time I look at it.

Christmas 2009
The Christmas decorations at our nearby shopping mall.

As I mentioned, December 25th is just a regular day, but December 23rd is a National Holiday as it's the current Emperor's Birthday. Since H had the day off (but working again as usual today and tomorrow) we decided to celebrate our Japanese style Christmas yesterday.

Christmas in Japan typically involves fried chicken, and cake. Turkeys are very rare and usually only to be found in import food stores in central Tokyo. Even whole chickens aren't too common in the supermarkets because Japanese kitchens just don't have anywhere to cook them. Nowadays you can buy a combination microwave/convection oven but it's not quite the same, and still on the small side. So thanks to some clever marketing, KFC has become the standard Christmas meal with people lining up on the 24th to buy their buckets of Christmas chicken. This is then followed by the 'oh so traditional' Christmas cake which is most commonly a version of strawberry shortcake with lots of white icing. Of course there are all kinds of choices available nowadays though, and the department stores offer some super fancy ones. Not a big fan of KFC, H and I started our own Japanese Christmas tradition a few years ago of Christmas sushi, we are in Japan after all, followed by the aforementioned cake, which I have to admit is mostly for H's benefit as he has a major sweet tooth. So yesterday we went to a nearby kaiten sushi restaurant (click on the link to visit the previous post), and this year* we opted for a chocolate Bûche de Noël from a local cake shop.

Bûche de Noël Christmas 2009

*Last year we were in Canada for Christmas but I've posted about our Japanese style Christmas before: Christmas 2007 and Christmas 2006.

Not your usual Christmas dinner, eh?! However, tomorrow, the 25th, I'm going to make a more Canadian style Christmas dinner with chicken, and gravy, and stuffing and cranberry sauce. More my idea of a proper Christmas meal anyway. And then next week we'll spend some time with the in-laws to celebrate New Year's. In Japan, New Year's is the main event. It is like the Western world's Christmas. Everyone is off work then, and it's the time to visit family, laze around the house, and eat traditional food, which I'll post some photos of in the New Year.

But for everyone getting ready for Christmas tomorrow, メリークリスマス (Meri kurisumasu), and however you celebrate, I wish you all a very Happy Holiday!

kaiten sushi

Yesterday for our annual Christmas sushi, we went to a nearby kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi restaurant.

kaiten sushi

kaiten sushi
The price of the sushi depends on the colour of the plate it's served on.

kaiten sushi
H helping himself to some hot green tea.

kaiten sushi kaiten sushi
kaiten sushi kaiten sushi
kaiten kaiten sushi
Top left: pickled eggplant, top right: tako (octopus), middle left: salmon, middle right: tamagoyaki (egg omelet), bottom left: anago (salt-water eel), bottom right: chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) with crab

kaiten sushi

Monday, December 21, 2009

Books to treasure

Recently I splurged on some books (monthly book budget be damned) that I'm considering my Christmas present to myself. I actually blame Frances of Nonsuch Book completely for these since it was because of her mentioning them on her blog a couple of months ago, that I began to lust after them. I had been happy in my ignorance but once I knew they existed, I couldn't help myself.

What are they? The specially designed cloth-bound Penguin Classics. There are 20 in total (10 from last year, and 10 from this year) but I'm happy with my small collection of them. Especially as they're a little bit hard to get a hold of. It seems that Waterstone's have the exclusive online rights to this year's set, at least for the time being, but their international shipping costs are completely ridiculous. But from last year's set, I found a couple on Amazon, got another 3 from The Book Depository, and then just last week I managed to find one from this year's set at a bookstore in Tokyo! I don't really want all 20 of them since a couple that I've read, I didn't care for and have no desire to treasure. The Picture of Dorian Gray for one. Plus there are others I'm not sure I'd ever want to read, like The Odyssey.  But I definitely wouldn't mind a few more and it seems that this year's set will be more widely available later next year so maybe I'll be able to pick up a couple more then. I would really love to get my hands on one of the copies of Madame Bovary from the previous set but unfortunately it's not even available through online used sellers. Not that I could find anyway. As it is, it's a pretty set of 6 books, so I'll just be content to admire these. The picture doesn't do them justice.  They are truly lovely books and really do look so nice lined up on the shelf.

Four of these are books I love, while two are ones I didn't entirely love when I read them, in one case many many years ago, but I thought they deserved a second chance.  Can you guess which are which?

Have you ever bought a pretty edition of a book you'd already read, to treasure?

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Salon: Looking forward to 2010

Even though I'm still trying to fit in a few books this month as a last minute attempt to complete a couple of 2009 reading challenges, I've been thinking about which ones I'd like to join for 2010.  There are so many tempting ones, it's been difficult!  I'm a fairly slow reader so signing up for several challenges this year, plus accepting the odd review book, meant that it seemed I rarely had the chance to just pick up any ol' book.  I thought I'd been more selective but it still felt like most of my reading choices this year were dictated by some obligation.  On the other hand, I have really enjoyed how the challenges encourage me to read books, or genres, that I either may not have, or that have been ignored for too long.  So my goal for 2010 is trying to find a balance so that the challenges are still motivating but not restricting, but overall to have a bit more freedom in my reading next year.  Boiled down, I think my reading plan for 2010 is simply to read more of what I want to read when I want to read it.

Reading Resolutions Challenge
Hosted by Jenny at Jenny Loves to Read. The challenge is essentially New Year's resolutions for reading.  The idea is to list some reading or blogging resolutions and then every couple of months during 2010, we're encouraged to check-in and see how we're doing.  Here are mine:

Read more Japanese Literature.  I've been trying to read more Japanese literature over the last couple of years and I will be continuing next year as well with my personal Reading Japan Project.  Since starting the Japanese Literature Book Group and Read-along this fall, I've also committed to reading Japanese books on a more regular schedule.  This is a good thing, and next year I will read all the group selections and as many others as I can.

Read more books from my shelves.  I want to read more of my own books next year.  I have way too many unread books on my shelves, many that have been there for years.  In 2010 I plan to read more of them.  See Reading From My Shelves Project below.

Re-reading allowed.  In addition to reading more of the books from my shelves next year, I'd like to give myself permission to re-read.  Sometimes I think of such and such a book and wouldn't it be fun to read it again, but usually I feel guilty about it with all those poor, neglected books waiting to be read, so I don't.  Next year I will allow myself to re-read if I feel like it, without guilt.  See Flashback Challenge below.

Read some Orange Prize books.  I joined the Orange Prize Project in 2008, and I really do want to read more of the Orange Prize books, but I didn't read a single longlisted, shortlisted, or winning book this year!  Not one!  I'm not going to set a specific number but in 2010, I WILL read at least one Orange Prize book, but hopefully more.

Reading From My Shelves Project
Hosted by Diane from Bibliophile By the Sea.  The idea behind this project is not only to read books from our own shelves* but to pass them on when we're done.  My groaning bookshelves could certainly benefit from that, but I also know that I won't want to pass on ALL of the books I read from my shelves next year.  I'm a bit of a hoarder where books are concerned and love to be surrounded by them.  And I usually keep the books that I enjoyed reading with the perhaps delusional thinking that I may someday re-read them.  So I'm hoping to read considerably more but I'm going to set myself the goal of reading AND passing on 20 books from my shelves next year.
*For the purposes of this project, I consider any book that entered our apartment by December 31st, 2009, as already on my shelves.  

Buy One Book and Read It Challenge
Hosted by Amy of My Friend Amy.  The challenge was inspired by the fact that over 50% of Americans don't read a single book in a year.  As an avid reader and book buyer, this seems perhaps a strange challenge to join, especially since I want to read more from my own shelves next year, but it ties in with my plan to also read more spontaneously next year.  I have no problem with the buying part (sticking to my monthly book budget is the hard part) but often after I get my new treasures home they just end up sitting on the shelves.  I'm signing up for the Level Two, which means I'll buy AND read six books when the mood strikes instead of putting them off due to other reading commitments.

Flashback Reading Challenge
Co-hosted by Aarti and Kristen.  Like I mentioned above, I rarely allow myself to re-read as there are so many shiny new books waiting to be read, but there are books that I would like to read again so this challenge gives me the permission to do so.  I'm signing up for the Bookworm Level to re-read 3 books, but may read more.  I have no idea yet just which books I'll re-read next year.  In keeping with my desire for non-restrictive challenges next year, I'm just going to let my mood decide. 

As well as these more general reading goals and challenges for 2010, I still plan to join in some focused challenges, like John's Canadian Book Challenge.  Since I have quite a few unread Canadian books already on my shelves, I'll not only be reading more Canadian literature, which I want to do, it's my home country after all, but also reading my own books.  Win-win.
And of course I will join Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge, which I assume she'll host again next year.  I also wouldn't dream of not taking part in Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge, and the R.I.P. Challenge, neither of which I felt I was fully able to join in this year due to other reading obligations at the same time.  So hopefully I'll be able to participate more fully next year.  And there are a couple of other challenges that haven't been announced yet but are being planned, that I am looking forward to, a Persephone Challenge being one of them.

There are so many other wonderful challenges that I decided not to join even though I was very tempted.  I have books on my shelves that would fit many of them and I may indeed read some of those books next year, but I just didn't want to commit myself and later feel tied down because of them.   I look forward to seeing everyone's progress though in the challenges they choose to join, and cheering you all on.

What are your reading plans for 2010? 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

'The Vampire of Ropraz'

Le Vampire de Ropraz
by Jacques Chessex
Fiction, 2007 (English translation, 2008)
Translated from the French by W. Donald Wilson
Bitter Lemon Press, trade pb, 90 p.
Mildly spoilerific blurb from the back cover:
Jacques Chessex, winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt, takes a true story and weaves it into a lyrical tale of fear and cruelty.

1903, Ropraz, a small village in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland. On a howling December day, a lone walker discovers a recently opened tomb, the body of a young woman violated, her left hand cut off, genitals mutilated and heart carved out. There is horror in the nearby villages: the return of atavistic superstitions and mutual suspicions. Then two more bodies are violated. A suspect must be found. Favez, a stable-boy with blood-shot eyes, is arrested, convicted, placed into psychiatric care. In 1915, he vanishes…
From the title you might be tempted to think this is just another typical vampire story, but this slim novella isn’t really a vampire story at all. It’s more the story of the people of a small village and how they react to the belief that there is a vampire in their midst. It’s a story of fear and superstition and how that makes people behave when they feel their way of life is threatened. How previously friendly neighbours start locking their doors and turning on each other on little more than rumour. I don’t know how much of it is factual, but what I found especially interesting, and sadly believable, is that this story is allegedly based on an actual occurrence. Which in turn makes the final twist a fascinating ‘what if’. The writing is very sparse, but the brevity of the prose is actually quite effective. I should probably also mention that the descriptions of the attacks can be rather gruesome albeit matter-of-fact. All in all though, an insightful look at human nature and a tale that lingers long after the last page has been turned.

Review of The Vampire of Ropraz at Three Percent (where I first heard about this book)

Buy this book at: | | | |

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#55 for 2009, R.I.P. IV Challenge, Orbis Terrarum Challenge, Lost in Translation Challenge)

Also reviewed by:
The Complete Review
Medieval Bookworm
Detectives Beyond Borders
Literary License
If I've missed yours, let me know and I'll link to it here.

The small print:  I purchased this book for my personal library. Links in this post to Amazon (including book cover) or The Book Depository contain my Associates or Affiliates ID respectively.  Purchases made via these links earn me a small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Book Blogger Holiday Swap

My Holiday Swap parcel arrived today and I just had to open it up right away to find out what was inside. On a side note, someone at Japan Post was apparently also curious about the contents as it was opened and inspected at Customs. I wonder what they thought it might contain - it was distinctly book-shaped - and if they were disappointed. LOL. I'm thrilled though. Inside was a copy of The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, a book that has been on my wish list ever since it was making the blog rounds a while back, along with some yummy-smelling foot soak and lotion. A very big thank you to my Book Blogger Secret Santa, Marion of the blog, Books & Fiber. I'm very much looking forward to reading the book, and treating my tired feet to a nice hot soak, preferably with a good book, some chocolate and a big mug of tea at hand. :)


And in other good news, I only have one more day of work (tomorrow, which is Friday here) and then I'm off for two weeks! Some of that time will be spent doing the New Years thing with the in-laws but I so can't wait to catch up on my sleep, to have some 'me' time, and some quality reading time. Let's not talk about the Christmas New Years cards that I haven't written or sent yet, ok?

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

'I Am a Cat' Volume Two (JLit Read-along)


Welcome to the Japanese Literature Read-along discussion of Volume Two of I Am a Cat by Sōseki Natsume. I hope you're enjoying the book so far.

You'll have to forgive me, I've barely read anything over the last week so I'm very behind and still have not finished reading Volume Two of I Am a Cat. However, in the meantime, here are a few questions to get the conversation started. As always feel free to talk about any aspect of the story, or bring up any questions you had.

What do you think of Volume Two? How does it compare to Volume One?
Do you feel like you got to know the characters better in this section?
Do you have a favourite character? Least favourite?
Do you have a favourite scene from Volume Two? (The scene in Volume One with the cat getting his teeth stuck in a rice cake and dancing around the kitchen still makes me chuckle when I think of it.)
What do you think of the cat's sometimes seemingly human actions or thoughts?
Do you think the location of the story is important or could it have taken place anywhere?
Is there any aspect of the story so far that strikes you as uniquely Japanese?
[Your Question Here...]

Reminder: Comments may contain spoilers from Volume One and Two, so please read at your own risk. If you have read on, please wait to discuss Volume Three until next month.

If you post about Volume Two on your own blog, please let me know and I'll update this post with any links. I'd also suggest clicking the box to subscribe to comments so that you will be notified when new comments are left on this post.

And just a reminder that you can follow @readingjapan on Twitter for updates on both the Read-along group and the Japanese Literature Book Group. For I Am a Cat, we've been using the hashtag #iamacat.

The following participants have shared their thoughts on Volume Two:
Paperback Reader

Previous post:
'I Am a Cat' Volume One

The small print:  Links in this post to Amazon (including book cover) contain my Associates ID.  Purchases made via these links earn me a small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Persephone Secret Santa

I've mentioned it before that one of the main reasons I'd held off buying any Persephone books, even though I love the concept and the design, it was because I knew that once I started, I would want them all! But when Stacy of Book Psmith decided to organize a Persephone Secret Santa, I knew the time had come for me to finally become a Persephone collector. So it was with much excitement that I opened up the parcel from Persephone to find this inside.

Persephone Secret Santa

Even though the bookmark hinted at what was inside, I didn't open it right away. Instead I admired the wrapping, and simply revelled in the fact that I now had my very first Persephone! Well, tonight, with camera in hand, it was the moment to peel back that hot pink paper to reveal the contents... Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski.

Persephone Secret Santa

Thank you so very much to my Secret Santa, Karen of Book Bath. I couldn't have been more thrilled with your choice, and I can't wait to read it. In fact, can I tell you a funny coincidence? This is the very title that I ordered for my Santee! When I was browsing the site, I decided on this one because it sounded so fabulous, and I'd also heard some very good things about it from other bloggers. I so wanted to order one for myself as well but knew I should wait until after the Secret Santa exchange, but in my mind I determined that it would definitely find a home on my shelves next year. Well, you should've seen the delighted smile on my face when I opened the package! So really, you made the perfect choice! Thank you. I will always remember you for giving me my very first Persephone.  And thank you to Stacy for making it happen.

Persephone Secret Santa

The catalogue arrived not too many days after the parcel and as I expected, I'm now coveting pretty much the whole library. Ah well, there are certainly worse things to desire.

Did you get a Persephone book for Christmas?  Which one was your first?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

November in review

I started the month off in England where I soon departed on a ship for the Arctic. We'd hoped to navigate the Northwest Passage but the weather was tragically against us.  Then I travelled to Japan with my band, who I soon abandoned in favour of staying in Japan with the object of my desire.  After that it was to Bath, England, for carriage rides, walks in the country, evenings at the opera, among other social events, followed by a short stay at Northanger Abbey.  I ended the month in Kyoto, Japan where I discovered some family secrets. Most of the month was spent living in the past and I have to say I quite enjoyed my time there.

Books completed
(click on the titles below to read my reviews; the book covers are linked to Amazon)
56. The Frozen Deep - Wilkie Collins
57. Big in Japan: A Ghost Story - M. Thomas Gammarino
58. Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen
59. The Old Capital - Yasunari Kawabata (review pending, but the discussion is underway).

Favourite of the month?  Northanger Abbey, but they were all very good.

New-to-me authors:  Only one this month, with M. Thomas Gammarino's debut novel.
Books in translation: 1 (The Old Capital, translated from the Japanese). 

Books in: 5 (4 purchased: The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson, The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy, One World: A Global Anthology of Short Stories; 1 review copy: Comfort Living by Christine Eisner)
Books out: 0

The Year of Readers: Reading for the Book Wish Foundation.
Money raised this month: $9
Total raised (year to date): $161

Reading Challenges Progress Report
(see sidebar for current challenges)

Dewey's Books Reading Challenge (by Dec. 31, 2009): 3/5
Lost in Translation Challenge (by Dec. 31, 2009): Completed - 17/6
Orbis Terrarum Challenge (by Dec. 31, 2009): 9/10
What's in a Name? 2 Challenge (by Dec. 31, 2009): 5/6
Herding Cats II: Attach of the Hairballs (until Dec. 31, 2009): Completed - 3
Manga Challenge (by Dec. 31, 2009): Completed - 7/6
Graphic Novels Challenge (by Dec. 31, 2009): 4/6
ARC Reading Challenge (by Dec. 31, 2009): Completed - Current ARC/Review status (for 2009): 16 read, 8 to go
Everything Austen Challenge (July 1, 2009 - Jan. 1, 2010): 4/6
Japanese Literature Challenge 3 (July 30, 2009 - Jan. 30, 2010): Completed - 4/1
Canadian Book Challenge 3 (July 1, 2009 - July 1, 2010): 1/13

Long-term Reading Projects (Total read in 2009)
Reading Japan Project: 18 (including manga, 2 in October)
Orange Prize Project: 0

Reading plans for December  
My main goal for the month is to try and finish some of the reading challenges that only run to the end of this year, plus a couple of review books that I'm behind on. I'm not sure I'll finish all of the challenges but I'm pretty close in several of them so I'm going to give it my best shot. I can't wait for some time off for the holidays and hopefully I'll be able to get some quality reading time in then.

I hope you all have a great December, what's left of it. Happy reading!

The small print: Links in this post to Amazon (including book covers) contain my Associates ID.  Purchases made via these links earn me a small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.

'Northanger Abbey'

by Jane Austen
Fiction/Classic, written 1798-99, published posthumously in 1817
Feedbooks ebook (read on iPhone), 256 p.
Jane Austen’s first novel, Northanger Abbey – published posthumously in 1817 – tells the story of Catherine Morland and her dangerously sweet nature, innocence, and sometime self-delusion. Though Austen’s fallible heroine is repeatedly drawn into scrapes while vacationing at Bath and during her subsequent visit to Northanger Abbey, Catherine eventually triumphs, blossoming into a discerning woman who learns truths about love, life, and the heady power of literature. [Modern Library Classics]
I read this on my new iPhone and it was a truly wonderful way to pass the time while stuck in trains commuting. This was actually a re-read for me as I first read Northanger Abbey, along with all of her other novels, during my Austen phase in my teens, but I hadn’t read it since, and had never seen any adaptation of it to refresh my memory, so I had largely forgotten the storyline. This was quite nice though, as it was almost like reading it again for the first time. And what fun it was! I loved spending time in Bath (I really regret that we never got a chance to visit while we were in England), and getting to know the characters with all their foibles.  For the love story, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion are still my favourites but Mr Henry Tilney is definitely one of my favourite of Austen’s leading men. However for a bibliophile, some of the most enjoyable parts of the story are when the characters talk about their love of reading, and Jane Austen’s ‘Defense of the Novel’.
Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens – there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the perfomances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them.
“I am no novel-reader – I seldom look into novels – Do not imagine that I often read novels – It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss - ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language. (From chapter 5)
Her writing is always witty and clever, but Austen outdoes herself in Northanger Abbey. The satirical element is distinctly amusing, yet playful, never condescending. I chuckled several times while reading, as she poked fun at the gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe and others. I read The Mysteries of Udolpho back during my Austen phase as well, and like with Northanger Abbey, I have forgotten many of the details. Reading Northanger Abbey has definitely made me want to read Udolpho again though, and some of the other classic gothic novels that I haven’t read yet.
Catherine to Isabella on reading The Mysteries of Udolpho:
“Oh! I am delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole life in reading it. I assure you, if it had not been to meet you, I would not have come away from it for all the world.” (From chapter 6)

Catherine to Henry:
“But you never read novels, I dare say?”
“Why not?”
“Because they are not clever enough for you – gentlemen read better books.”
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and most of with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; I remember finishing it in two days – my hair standing on end the whole time.” (From chapter 14)

I got the recent ITV adaptation of Northanger Abbey on DVD earlier this year, so after finishing the book, I finally watched it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought the visualization of her dreams and gothic fantasies worked really well, and that the actors did a great job, especially for the characters of Catherine and Henry. Plus it stayed reasonably close to the original, and most importantly remained true to the mood of the book. My only real complaint is that I wish it were longer. I’ll definitely be watching it again.

Read Northanger Abbey online (courtesy of Project Gutenberg)
Subscribe to Northanger Abbey (via DailyLit)
Listen to Northanger Abbey (courtesy of LibriVox)

Buy this book at: | | | |

My Rating: 4/5
(#58 for 2009, Everything Austen Challenge)

Also reviewed by:
things mean a lot
Melody's Reading Corner
Trish's Reading Nook
Life and Time of a "New" New-Yorker
Shelf Love
Reading Upside Down
You Can Never Have Too Many Books
The Book Book
Everyday Reads
English Major's Junk Food
A Striped Armchair (the TV adaptation)
If I've missed yours, let me know and I'll link to it here.

The small print:  I downloaded this book for free online. I purchased the DVD for my personal collection.  Links in this post to Amazon (including book cover) or The Book Depository contain my Associates or Affiliates ID respectively.  Purchases made via these links earn me a small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Remembering Dewey - The Dewey Tree Project, and Dewey's Books Reading Challenge

I didn't know Dewey very well personally, but I read her blog, and participated in some of her community building events, and she always exuded such a love of books, and a keen desire to bring people together. It's a true testament of her enthusiasm that her presence is still felt in the book blogging community, and that several of the events that she started are still going strong.

Dewey was also very generous both in giving away books to her fellow bloggers and supporting book-related charities. In her memory, Lisa at Online Publicist has created The Dewey Tree Project.

As I write this, I think of a favorite blogger who passed away this time last year. Her spirit lives on in the Dewey Read-a-Thon, Weekly Geeks, and The Bookworms Carnival. She loved reading. She loved books. She supported Banned Books Week and believed everyone had the right to reading material. In her honor, I'm calling this donation project The Dewey Tree. It's a little bit The Giving Tree, a little bit Dewey, a little bit charity. :-D

Here's what you do:
*Gather up the books you can live without. It can be 4 books, 10 books, or 20 books!
*Find a worthy group you would like to donate your overflow books to. It can be your local library, a literacy campaign (mine will go to the literacy center I volunteer for), or overseas. There's a great list of book donation sites here on the ALA. Find a charity that speaks to you!
*Then take a picture of your donation and email it to me (onlinepublicist [AT] gmail [DOT] com). It can be a pic of the mailing label on your package, one of your kids giving a box of books to a librarian, or you handing books over to your literacy center. Be creative and have fun!
Such a lovely idea, I think that Dewey would be pleased. Click on the button for more information. I'm not taking part directly, but as you know I've been reading for Book Wish Foundation this year as part of The Year of Readers, and I'll top up my December total with a little extra in memory of Dewey.

* * *

I also took part in Dewey's Books Reading Challenge this year. The goal was to read 5 books that Dewey reviewed. Here are the books I read (click on the titles for the first three to read my reviews; the comments from Dewey are taken from her reviews of the books on her blog):

1. After Dark - Haruki Murakami
Dewey: I would be very unlikely to recommend this book, really. But if I had to pick a group of people to recommend it to, I’d say people interested in Japanese culture. I did find that the most intriguing aspect of the novel. I ended up reading the Wikipedia articles on honne and tatemae, hikikomori, Nihonjinron, giri, and more.

2. The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
Dewey: I’ve read several Gaiman books by now, but The Graveyard Book is my favorite.

3. Looking for Alaska - John Green
Dewey: It’s really an outstanding book. I usually feel that the highest praise I can mentally (or in this blog) give a YA book is that it will make kids think. But then I read this book, which made me, a sophisticated adult reader with an actual literature degree, think.

It made me think about death, and what happens after we die (my answer = I don’t know and neither does anyone else). And it made me think about the ways in which emotional pain can be as deadly as physical pain. It made me think about my friend who studies religion and has expressed some of the same ideas as Green (who also studied religion). It also made me think about belonging, and what it meant to me as a kid, and what it means to kids I know. It made me think about what, exactly, home is.

4. Varjak Paw - SF Said (review pending)
Dewey: I think that for a kid reading this, the way Varkjak Paw grows emotionally, and becomes stronger both physically and mentally, would be very encouraging. It sends a message that yes, you can just choose to become a stronger version of yourself, whatever stronger version you choose, if it really matters to you and you really work at it.

5.  The Three Incestuous Sisters - Audrey Niffenegger (review pending)
Dewey: I believe this is the first book of 2008 that I own but am keeping rather than giving away to a reader. For one, it’s the sort of beautiful book that you leave out, maybe on a coffee table, for guests to look at, or for you to browse through again now and then. For another, it’s astonishingly heavy, and I’m afraid postage would be more than the cost of the book. But I do recommend that you buy it yourselves, if you love visual art.

I agree with Dewey, After Dark is my least favourite of these 5 but I'm still glad I read it. The Graveyard Book stands out as my favourite but I enjoyed all of the other books and I'm glad this challenge gave me the nudge to finally read them. I still have several other unread books in my TBR that Dewey had read as well. I look forward to reading her thoughts on them too. Thank you to Chris and Robin for hosting the challenge.

* * *

As a final wrap-up to the reading challenge, Kailana at The Written World presented a mini-challenge to all the participants.
[Dewey's] blog was all about community building and [her] influence is living on through the 24-hour Read-a-thon, Weekly Geeks, and other blog events. So now the challenge is for the members of [Dewey's Books] reading challenge to take a page from your book and do something for the good for the community. It could be something you would do anyways, like participating in Weekly Geeks, or it could be something new like starting your first reading challenge. The point is to either make difference in the blogging community or to start something new and then post about it. You can also do something in your own community; it doesn't just have to be the blogging one. It is not for me to tell you what to post, though. It is your decision if it fits.
I'd been toying with the idea of incorporating more Japanese content on my blog and this autumn I finally decided to go ahead with a couple ideas. I started a Japanese Literature Book Group, and Read-along group, which are both pretty self explanatory I think. I also started Hello Japan!, a mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. The concept and structure of Hello Japan! was largely inspired by Dewey's Weekly Geeks. The idea of having a topic, or task, that others would complete in the time frame allowed. The recaps after each task has been completed, and so on. If not for Dewey, who can say if I would've come up with the idea on my own. I'm not sure if it's making much of a difference in the blogging community but I hope that people will learn a little more about Japan because of it. And it is definitely still new.

PhotobucketThank you Dewey for all your great ideas, and for making the book blogging community a better place. We'll never forget you!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

a few new books

I'm a day late for Mailbox Monday, but I got some new books recently that I'd like to tell you about. A couple of weeks or so ago, H got a 10% coupon from The Book Depository, but I didn't. I probably order regularly enough that there was no need to entice me to shop. Luckily though H was willing to share, plus with the yen being strong he actually encouraged me to add a few books to his order. Of course I was only too happy to, and I seem to have been in an international mood. Here are the ones I got:

Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy
From the back cover: On his way to a linguists' conference in Helsinki, Budai finds himself in a strange city where he can't understand a word anyone says.
One claustrophobic day blurs into another as he desperately struggles to survive in this vastly overpopulated metropolis where there are as many languages as there are people. Fearing that his wife will have given him up for dead, he finds comfort in an unconventional relationship with the elevator-operator in the hotel.
A suspenseful and haunting Hungarian classic, and a vision of hell unlike any other imagined.
As someone who is fascinated by languages, I think this one sounds pretty interesting.

The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson
From the back cover: The Fox Woman in an achingly beautiful love story, a fable wrapped in smoke and magic set against the fabric of ancient Japan. A haunting novel of people who are trying to see through the illusions and confront the truth of who they are.
I've been wanting to get this one for a while. Just read Nymeth's glowing review to know why!

One World: A Global Anthology of Short Stories
From the back cover: A teenage Nigerian girl struggles to shed her cultural roots in the US...
An Inuit girl is rowed by her parents to the shore, unaware of the fate that awaits her...
A Filipina maid in Hong Kong gets entangled with her employer...
The lover of an African freedom fighter has to choose between fidelity and survival...
One World is a collection that speaks with the clarity and intensity of the human experience. The swift transition from story to story, from continent to contineent, from child's perspective to adult's: together, these evoke the complex but balanced texture of the world we live in. The diversity of subject, style and perspective results in vivid and poignant stories that will haunt the reader.
I stumbled upon this one while looking up another book (I don't remember for sure now but it might have been The Boat by Nam Le). I really should read more short stories and this collection, including stories by Jhumpa Lahiri (who I love), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (who I still haven't read yet, the shame, but really want to), certainly added to the appeal.

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
From the inside flap: One day in early spring, Dorrit Weger is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. She is promised a nicely furnished apartment inside the Unit, where she will make new friends, enjoy the state-of-the-art recreation facilities, and live the remaining days of her life in comfort with people who are just like her. [...] She is resigned to her fate and discovers her days there to be rather consoling and peaceful. But when she meets a man inside the Unit and falls in love, the extraordinary becomes a reality and life suddenly turns unbearable. Dorrit is faced with compliance or escape, and ... well, then what?
This one has been mentioned quite a bit in the book blogosphere and it sounds like a great dystopian story, and I do like a good dystopian novel. I'm glad to finally have a copy.

Comfort Living by Christine Eisner
From the inside flap: Learn how little it takes to introduce positive change into day-to-day living!
People talk about comfort foods - foods that not only satisfy an appetite, but also nourish the soul.  What about Comfort Homes and Comfort Lives?  Comfort Living: A Back-to-Basics Guide to a More Balanced Lifestyle introduces a new way for people to think about, create and live with their physical surroundings and daily routines.
Author Christine Eisner demonstrates that creating a balanced lifestyle doesn't have to be time-consuming, complicated or costly - and that living a good life is within easy reach.  In Comfort Living, there are no rules or mandates; just some very simple and practical tools, presented in a casual, contemporary and relevant way.
I received this one for review.  I don't usually read self-help or lifestyle books but I am interested in interior design, and since we moved this summer I wouldn't mind adding a few touches to our apartment to make it more comfortable.  And any hints on how to achieve a balanced lifestyle would be much appreciated.

I also received my very first Persephone book from my Persephone Secret Santa!  But I haven't opened it yet and I'll tell you about it next week. 

Have you got any new books recently?

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

The small print: Links in this post to Amazon (including book cover) or The Book Depository contain my Associates or Affiliates ID respectively.  Purchases made via these links earn me a small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.