Wednesday, April 07, 2010

First Quarter Report (or, Reading Travels from January to March)

I hope everyone had a good weekend. (Yes I know it's now Wednesday but I started the draft of this post on Monday and then other things intervened preventing me from posting until today, and the wish is still the same).  Easter is a complete non-event here in Japan, but I did manage to have a little chocolate, and we enjoyed strolling among the blooming cherry trees.  Spring is such a pretty season here in Japan.

I haven't posted any monthly wrap-ups yet this year so with March now behind us it seems time for a first quarter of 2010 reading report. I haven't actually properly reviewed most of these books yet either, only 2 out of 14, but I'm determined that April will be the month in which I finally start to seriously catch up on these late, stray reviews. So stay tuned for those. In the meantime, here are the books I've read so far this year, and a little about the armchair travels these books took me on.

January began with me finding out some shocking things about my childhood. This led to me having to leave Prentisstown, the town where I had grown up, and to making some difficult choices along the way.  But now I wonder if it was all in vain!  I next spent some time with Carrie Host in Boulder, Colorado, as she battled cancer.  Afterwards, I spent some time reminiscing about my childhood in Seattle, and especially about my friend and classmate, a young Japanese girl.  Then the war came to America and everything changed.  I then returned to Japan where I worked as a housekeeper for an aging math professor with an unusual disability.  Despite his limitations, he came to mean a lot to both me and my son.  I even began to appreciate math!  January ended with me in New York, readying myself for the ultimate sacrifice, martyrdom in the name of Islam.  Even as I mentally prepared, I couldn't help but think of my family and other people who meant a lot to me.  Unbeknownst to me they were worried about my disappearance, and looking for me.  Little did they know what I had planned...

I started February by studying the proper way to make sushi, and other traditional Japanese dishes, and occasionally even impressing the arrogant, obnoxious master chef, who is my father. After that, still in Japan, I hung around my master's study for a while contemplating him and his silly friends.  Then in Germany, having been wrongfully accused of committing a violent crime, I went on the run.  All the while trying to find out the whereabouts of the real villain, and searching his past for clues.  Things are not looking good... (to be continued).

March was an interesting month to say the least. Very surreal.  I started off the month in hell, literally, where I got to see some old friends, and which turned out to be not such a bad place actually.  After that unusual experience, I spent quite a bit of time in J's Bar in my hometown until I left for Tokyo and started a translation business with a friend.  I had a couple of memorable house guests.  I played a lot of pinball.  I dated a woman with indescribably beautiful ears. Then my life took an unusual turn.  All because of a photo, I ended up on a wild goose chase, as it were, for a sheep, which took me to Hokkaido, where I met up with an old friend.  A few years later I returned to Hokkaido where so many things had happened to try to reconnect with those I knew before.  I met a nice hotel clerk, and surprisingly became friends with a lonely teenage girl.  Then there was a murder.  A trip to Hawaii.  Late night meals with my movie-star friend.  Strange visions.  And a lot of waiting for the next thing to happen.  I'm still trying to work it all out. 

Books completed
(Click on the titles below to read my reviews, where available. Links elsewhere in this post will take you to Amazon or The Book Depository).

1. The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness
2. Between Me and the River: Living Beyond Cancer - Carrie Host
3. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - Jamie Ford
4. The Housekeeper and the Professor - Yoko Ogawa
5. 31 Hours - Masha Hamilton

6. Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine (manga) - story by Tetsu Kariya, art by Akira Hanasaki
7. I Am a Cat - Soseki Natsume
8-9. Monster, vol. 2 & 3 (manga) - Naoki Urasawa

10. Hell - Yasutaka Tsutsui
11. Hear the Wind Sing - Haruki Murakami
12. Pinball, 1973 - Haruki Murakami
13. A Wild Sheep Chase - Haruki Murakami (JLit Book Group Discussion)
14. Dance Dance Dance - Haruki Murakami (JLit Book Group Discussion)

Favourite(s)?  That's too hard to choose.  Looking at these titles, I have to say there isn't a dud in the bunch.  OK, I didn't love The Knife of Never Letting Go and want to marry it like everyone else who has read it seems to want to do, but I did still like it.  Although recently I have been wondering if YA just isn't really my thing.  Reading about Carrie's battle with cancer in Between Me and the River, made me a little paranoid (it's been a while since I had a proper health check-up but I will be having one soon), but it was a moving story that I'm glad I read.  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was a very enjoyable read and I loved the gentle story of The Housekeeper and the Professor.  Then watching the movie, based on the book, also added to the experience.  And the writing in 31 Hours was wonderful.  I'm now definitely looking forward to Masha Hamilton's next book.

Finishing I Am a Cat in February was a major feel-good accomplishment as it's a fairly thick book, and it's a book I'd had for quite a few years so I'm very happy to have finally read it.  Then it was fun to read, and chat about, Oishinbo, with my husband.  He'd read many of the original manga in Japanese years ago so it was fun for him to reminisce, plus it's even educational, if you're at all interested in Japanese food.  I also enjoyed continuing on in the Monster manga series.  There are 18 volumes in all so I've still got a long way to go but it was nice to see the story start to take off from the introductory first volume.

March was certainly memorable.  Tsutsui's concept of Hell was quite intriguing.  And the highlight of the month was definitely reading 4 Murakami books in a row (plus the first third of a fifth).  I was glad to finally read Murakami's early books.  It was especially interesting to see how his writing has evolved compared to his later, often more ambitious titles, but also to see some very familiar themes.  If pressed, I think I'd say Dance Dance Dance is my favourite of the four books, but I really like A Wild Sheep Chase too, and as all four books follow the same narrator, they all build on each other and essentially combine into one long story.  So you see, I simply can't choose a single favourite!

Reading Challenges Progress Report
(click on the Challenges tab in the menu for more info on all current challenges)

Challenges completed
Japanese Literature Challenge 3 (July 30, 2009 - Jan. 30, 2010): 4/1

Ongoing Challenges (with current standings)
Once Upon a Time IV Challenge (March 21 - June 20, 2010): 0/1
Canadian Book Challenge 3 (July 1, 2009 - July 1, 2010): 1/13
Reading Resolutions Challenge (Jan. 1 - Dec. 31, 2010) -- will post an update later this month
2010 Reading From My Shelves Project (Jan. 1 - Dec. 31, 2010):  Read 6/20;  Passed on 0/20
Flashback Reading Challenge (Jan. 1 - Dec. 31, 2010):  0/3
Buy One Book and Read It Challenge (Jan. 1 - Dec. 31, 2010):  3/6
Manga Challenge (Jan. 1 - Dec. 31, 2010):  3/6
Graphic Novels Challenge (Jan. 1 - Dec. 31, 2010):  0/3
Read the Book, See the Movie Challenge (Jan. 1 - Dec. 30, 2010): 1/2

Coming soon
Non-Fiction Five Challenge (May to September 2010): 0/5

Long-term Projects (total read in 2010)
Reading Japan Project: 8 (not including manga, see above)
Orange Prize Project: 0

I'm failing miserably in the Canadian Book Challenge this time around, and am sad that I haven't read more Canadian literature over the last several months.  Considering the other books I have lined up to read over the next couple of months, that number might not even change, but all I can do is hope that maybe there will be a happy reading miracle between now and the end of June.  Otherwise, I'm pretty much holding my own with the other challenges that I've joined this year.  I purposely tried to keep my reading challenge participation for 2010 low commitment, and low stress, and so far it seems to be working.

Coming up in April and beyond 
So far this month I've already finished Admit One: My Life in Film, an amusing memoir by Emmett James, which took me from England to Hollywood.  And right now I'm in Nazareth, reading Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.  I couldn't help myself, I just had to sneak it in even though I have other books I should be reading.  Speaking of which, at the top of the pile for this month is Book Two of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle for the Japanese Literature Read-along on April 15th.  Plus I pulled my copy (my heavy, brick-like copy!) of The Count of Monte Cristo off the shelf, as I'll be reviewing it for The Classics Circuit Alexandre Dumas tour near the end of the month, and really need to start soon.  I'll also be continuing with my leisurely read of The Pillow Book on Fridays.  It's been a few years since I first read it and I'm quite enjoying revisiting it now.  Sei really was something else!  Of course the 24-Hour Read-a-thon is this coming weekend and even though I probably won't be able to take part in the whole event, I'm looking forward to some dedicated reading time.  In addition to the Murakami, I'm hoping to read some manga, and Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa.  Plus whatever else I add to the stack between now and Saturday.

In May for the Japanese Literature Book Group we'll be discussing Silence by Shusaku Endo on the 10th, and for the read-along, the third and final book of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle on the 15th.  And I can't forget Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski, which I plan to read during Persephone Reading Week the first week of May.  In addition to those I also have several review books to get to in the next several weeks, some of which I'm very much looking forward to, like The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel, and Taroko Gorge by Jacob Ritari. And then I'll be reading The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler for The Classics Circuit Golden Age of Detective Fiction Tour in early June.  So it'll be a busy couple of months but hopefully with some fun reading ahead.

Where has your reading taken you so far this year?

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  1. You could very well be the ONLY person I've read thus far who didn't want to pet, caress, and generally marry The Knife of Never Letting Go. And I admire that! I haven't read it yet because the hype has been a bit too much for me.

    Great travels!

  2. This is such a brilliant post! I love the section on your reading travels. I'm sorry I couldn't join you for the Hello Japan March Murakami month, but hoping to participate more in the future. Also, I love Oishimbo as well and have started to read Monster too. Have you read Urasawa's 20th Century Boys? It's amazing.

  3. I love your way of reviewing the books you've finished: as if you really went there!

    I hope you enjoy your upcoming reads. Thanks for the reminder about SILENCE. I'd wanted to join in for that.


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