July’s Pages Upon Pages

I have a prediction for July. I will read a crap load of books. Actually, I am cheating. It’s not a prediction because I already know I will. Case in point – yesterday my husband and I spent seven hours on the water. He fished. I read. Yesterday was July 1st so I was already knee-deep in the July Challenge list and thanks to an iPad I had five books with me. I made a decent dent in the “Boat” books:

Fiction:

  • Jackie by Josie by Caroline Preston – in honor of Jacqueline O. Kennedy’s birth month.

Nonfiction:

  • The Coldest Day: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam – in honor of July being the month the Korean War ended.
  • The Book of Mediterranean Cooking by Elizabeth David – in honor of July being picnic month.

Series Continuation:

  • The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason – to continue the series started in June.
  • Midnight in Ruby Bayou by Elizabeth Lowell – to continue the series started in April.

Others on the list:

Fiction:

  • Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken – in honor of July being Kids Month.

Nonfiction:

  • Den of Thieves by James B. Stewart – in honor of July being Job Fair month (odd choice, I know).

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Into the Storm: Two Ships, a Deadly Hurricane, and an Epic Battle for Survival by Tristam Koten.

If there is time:

  • Gardens of Kyoko by Kate Walbert – in honor of Japan’s Tanabata Festival.
  • Animals by Alice Mattison – in honor of Mattison’s birth month.
  • Miss Lizzie by Walter Satterthwait – in honor of Lizzie Borden’s birth month.
  • Cop Hater by Ed McBain – to honor McBain’s passing in the month of July.

 

 


Artist of the Floating World

Ishiguro, Kazuo. An Artist of the Floating World. New York: Vintage International, 1986.

This is story about a change in cultural attitudes. After World War II many things are different for artist Masuji Ono. At the very simplest, his grandson idolizes the Lone Ranger and Godzilla instead of ancient emperors. At the most complicated, Masuji’s art is not received as it once was. His war efforts are not as admirable and are now making it difficult for his youngest daughter, nearly a spinster at twenty-six, to get married. Ono does what he can to eliminate “bad interviews” when the detectives investigate the family. But, as one former acquaintance remarks, “I realize there are not those who would condemn the likes of you and me for the very things we were once proud to have achieved” (p 94). Ono’s past is a heavy threat to the happiness of his daughter’s future. Throughout the story there is the theme of bondage. The conversations are retrained. The delicate relationships are bound by decorum.

As an aside: is it customary in the Japanese culture for people to repeat themselves so often? Complete sentences are uttered time and time again.

Reason read: On the second Monday in January there is a Japanese holiday to honor the tradition of coming of age. Since An Artist of the Floating World takes place in Japan….

Author fact: Ishiguro is better known for his book Remains of the Day which is also on my list to read.

Book trivia: An Artist of the Floating World won the Whitbread book of the Year Award in 1986.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Japanese Journeys” (p 116). Simple enough.


Snow Country

Kawabata, Yasunari. Snow Country. New York: Vintage International, 1996.

Read any review of Snow Country and you will find people making comparisons to a haiku or to music. Kawabata’s descriptions are like water, flowing easily from page to page, but indeed like water very powerful. The details of the story are like music, lilting and magical and sometimes, more often than not, sorrowful. The story itself is very stark. It’s the relationship between a wealthy businessman and his snow country geisha. Their relationship is complicated by an imbalance of feelings. She cares for him more passionately then he does for her. In fact, his feelings are as cold as the winter countryside. It is frustrating at times to know they will never bridge the cultural or emotional gap…until you remember he is married.

Favorite lines, “He knew that if he spoke he would only make himself seem the more wanting in seriousness” (p 15).

Even though I have complained about reading translations there is also something cool about learning new words like “kotatsu” which is a small heating device.

Reason read: March is supposedly one of the best times to visit Japan.

Author fact: Yasunari Kawabata has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Japanese Fiction” (p 131).


March 2009 was…

March was all about the new house. Moving, moving, moving. Living in limbo. For books it managed to be:

  • The Concubine’s Tattoo by Laura Joh Rowland ~ fascinating tale that takes place in 17th century Japan (great sex scenes to get your libido revving). So good I recommended it to a friend.
  • The Bethlehem Road Murder by Batya Gur ~ Israeli psychological thriller.
  • The Drowning Season by Alice Hoffman ~ a grandmother and granddaughter struggle to understand one another.
  • Daniel Plainway or The Holiday Haunting of the Moosepath League by Van Reid ~ this was a really fun book with lots of subplots and meandering stories.
  • The Famished Road by Ben Okri ~ I will admit I failed on this one. Magical realism at this time is not a good idea.I need to keep my head grounded, so to speak.
  • The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes ~ This was a powerful little book, one that I definitely want to reread when I get the chance.
  • Lone Star by T.R. Fehrenbach ~ The history Texas. More than I needed to know. More than I wanted to know.
  • Saint Mike by Jerry Oster~ an extra book in honor of hero month. I was able to read this in a night.
  • Industrial Valley by Ruth McKenney ~ in honor of Ohio becoming a state in the month of March.
  • The Fan Man by William Kotzwinkle ~ in honor of the Book Lust of others. Luckily, it was only 182 pages.

For the Early Review program:

  • When the Time Comes: Families with Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and Solutions by Paula Span ~ this was gracefully written. Definitely worth the read if you have elderly people in your care.

For fun:

  • Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron ~ really, really cute story. Of course I cried.

I think it is fair to say work had me beyond busy. But, I will add it was a learning experience and for that, I am glad. Reading these books during the crazy times kept me grounded and for that, I am doubly glad and grateful.


Concubine’s Tattoo

Rowland, Laura Joh. The Concubine’s Tattoo. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

In addition to being a great 17th century Japanese murder mystery The Concubine’s Tattoo is a commentary on honor and relationships. Sano Ichirois the shogun’s investigator who has recently celebrated an arranged marriage. In both his professional and personal life Sano must balance a code of conduct that is morally, politically and, of course, honorably sound. Sano’s latest case (on the night of his wedding no less) is the murder of the shogun’s favorite concubine. Entwined in this murder are complications concerning an heir, long standing cultural differences and rivalries. Rowland displays Sano’s progress on the case through the eyes of Sano’s new wife Reiko, his enemy Chamberlain Yanagisawa, his partner Hirata, and Sano himself as well as many other fascinating characters. One of the best enjoyments of Rowland’s book is her vivid, descriptive use of imagery. The details are so sensuous and alluring. They exquisitely cater to all five senses. Here are two quotes I particularly liked, “Her voice was a husky murmur that insinuated its way into Hirata’s mind like a dark, intoxicating smoke” (p 86), and “The cold air had a lung-saturating dampness” (p 166). 

One other detail I thought I should point out – Rowland is not afraid to describe vivid sex scenes of varying natures. Man on man, woman on woman, husband and wife, illicit seductions, and even rape. The scenes while reminiscent of lusty bodice-rippers are not overly flowery or “heaving.”

BookLust Twist: In More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Crime is a Globetrotter: China” (p 60).


Child of Darkness

Child of DarknessFurui, Yoshikicki. Child of Darkness; Yoko and Other Stories. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1997.

I’ll be the first to admit it. In the beginning pages I wasn’t connecting to this book at all. The first story, “Yoko”,  opens with a nameless, faceless, ageless man hurrying down a mountain. He comes across a women sitting on a rock in a ravine. She’s stuck, not by a force of nature, but a force of her own mind. She can’t move from her perch and needs him to help her get down. Later she blames the incident on acrophobia. What’s interesting is this is the one place in the entire story where the same scene is described from both her and his point of view. Later her issues are only described as an “illness” and the word acrophobia never resurfaces. It is suspected that the illness is shrouded in vagrity because the Japanese view mental illness as a taboo subject. Yoko is a strange woman. Sane one minute, paralyzed by her illness the next. The rest of the story is how the nameless, faceless (now we know he is young) man copes with a relationship with Yoko. Half accepting her mental state as is, half wanting to “cure” her.

The next story also deals with mental illness but from the perspective of someone who is dying of cancer (also a taboo subject in Japan). I am more sympathetic towards the cancer victim. There is a sense of insanity when you have been told you have the disease. I can only imagine what depths your psyche would sink to when you are told it’s terminal.

The third and final story is also about sinking into insanity. This time a
These stories, translated by Donna George Storey, also includes her critiques. It’s interesting to rewalk the stories with an analytical map. It’s like seeing a city for the second time after you learn it’s history. Everything looks different.

BookLust Twist: Under the heading “Japan Fiction” Nancy Pearl calls Child of Darkness “dark.” Yup (p. 32).