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Hello Japan! mini challenge logoHello Japan! is a monthly mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. Each month there is a new task which relates to some aspect of life in Japan.

MAY‘s mission was ‘Mystery and Mayhem‘: to enjoy a Japanese mystery story. And I did, but never got around to telling you about it. Until today! :)

My reading comfort zone is literary fiction. But every once in a while I’m in the mood for some suspense. A bookcrossing copy of All She Was Worth, by de Japanese author Miyuki Miyabe (translated by Alfred Birnbaum), dropped into the mailbox to meet my needs at exactly the right time.

Cover All She Was Worth (Miyuki Miyabe)All She Was Worth can be read as a straightforward detective story about the beautiful office girl Shoko Sekine who goes missing the night after her fiancé informs her the bank has turned down her request for a credit card. Police inspector Shunsuke Honma, single parent of a 10 year old boy, is asked to conduct the search.

But this book contains more than just the solving of  a mystery. It’s an intelligent tale about [this is a spoiler so you will have to check out the remark below if you want to know], contemporary Japan and life in a big city (Tokyo). I learned about how different it still is today being male or female, and about the pressure on women to marry before their early twenties — or you’ll be considered a spinster and not worth much. Hm, rather sounds like the age of the Brontë sisters! But we’re in 1992, after the money bubble exploded. The story unfolds linearly from January 20th on.

To be honest, all the background on the credit-based economy of Japan was the only thing that made me zone out every once in a while. Miyabe does a good job explaining but I just wasn’t interested. For the rest All She Was Worth is a real page turner and I would love to read more about Inspector Honma; an imperfect but likeable human being to whom I could really relate.

There’s just one more thing I feel I should add. Although the crime(s) described in this book may be horrible, the narration doesn’t contain any ‘gore’ like one might expect from a Japanese thriller. So don’t let that keep you from reading All She Was Worth! And don’t just take my word for it. ;) It won the prestigious Yamamoto Shugoro Literary Prize, which is awarded annually to a new work of fiction considered to exemplify the art of storytelling.

Original title: Kasha (火車)
ISBN: 0-395-96658-2
Publication date: 1999 (first publication 1992)

Sunday Salon logoThe Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of book lovers on the web, blogging about bookish things of the past week, visiting each others weblogs, and oh — reading books of course ;)

*** SPOILER ALERT ***
I learned a lot about identity theft — how scary: it sounds so easy!
[back to where you came from]

Japanese Literature Challenge #5 logo

Sunday Salon logoThe Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of book lovers on the web, blogging about bookish things of the past week, visiting each others weblogs, and oh — reading books of course ;)

My experience with Ann Gentry’s Vegan Family Meals: Real Food for Everyone kind of resembled a sugar-crash.

Know what that is? When you’re taking in big amounts of refined sugars at a time (like having a Mars bar or a donut), blood sugar levels spike, releasing insulin into your body which then causes your blood sugar levels to plummet. Some of you may call it an afternoon dip. ;) You experience a roller-coaster ride as the body works hard to stabilize its blood sugar levels.

Cover Vegan Family Meals: Real Food for Everyone (Ann Gentry)Reading the introduction to Vegan Family Meals got me extremely enthusiastic. Ann Gentry is the busy chef of Los Angeles’ popular vegan restaurant Real Food Daily. She wants to make plant-based cooking accessible for the time-strapped cook who craves delicious meals that are easy to prepare. By showing that the vegan cooking process isn’t so different from vegetarian cooking she specifically means to help omnivores wanting to reduce their intake of animal products, newbie vegetarians-turned-vegan like myself or even die-hard vegans. If you eat (strict) vegetarian for just one day a week, it will have a positive impact on your health and the environment. That’s why Meatless Mondays are getting more popular every day!

“If you’re intimidated by the thought of preparing plant-based foods, don’t be. A standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich is vegan. Most of the easy vegan recipes that follow have fewer than a dozen ingredients – and they’re much more delicious than a PB&J.”

YAY!

“The dishes in this books are designed for family meals. They are simple vegan recipes with approachable ingredients lists and techniques, relatively short preparation time, and, of course, wide appeal.”

Hear hear!

“For help with ingredients that might be new to you, simply turn to the Real Food Pantry listings throughout the book for extra information that will demystify the likes of spelt and umeboshi, and more plant-based staples.”

YES!

Can it get any better? Simple but yummy meals with less than twelve ingredients that do not rely heavily on unfamiliar ingredients or which components can easily be substituted. And Ann Gentry promises to do all this on an affordable budget.

So. You may understand I got a little discouraged when I discovered that the first recipe of Vegan Family Meals — Super Hippie Granola — contains 15 ingredients, among which dried Hunza mulberries (never heard of), goji berries (not in stock) and melted unrefined coconut oil (erm…). Thankfully the author suggests common substitutes like coconut flakes, cranberries or or other dried tropical fruits. And it’s a breakfast dish that you are meant to prepare in advance so maybe I should not worry too much about the long ingredients list.

On to the next breakfast recipe: Acai Granola Bowl. It consists of only 8 ingredients, but alas: one of those is the previously mentioned Super Hippie Granola and the main element is frozen acai berry bars… Can’t get those in in The Netherlands! The same goes for the following breakfast recipes: they either contain products that are ‘strange’, hard to get or need to be prepared well in advance. Also, vegan cheese substitutes are needed for several of them.

I couldn’t help feeling disappointed by this time. I guess the Vegan Family Meals cookbook isn’t really meant for the European market – and things are certainly different over here in The Netherlands. There are less vegan products and options. For example there are no vegan ‘cheeses’ that can be considered real alternatives for dairy cheese, as was recently confirmed by a test panel of Vegatopia (article in Dutch). The on the internet much appraised Daiya is not available in my country.

Still, there’s hope: on most things we’re supposed to be 5 years behind on the UK and 10 on the US. If I think back to when I stopped eating meat, there were much fewer vegetarian options as well. Ann Gentry herself writes that most products were only available in natural food stores when she started her alternative food journey. Now they’re sold in mainstream supermarkets – and being vegan is hip. :)

I was happy to find that further on in the book there were several recipes I felt I could try.

I ended up making 5 of them:

  • Ginger Miso Soup (p.98)
    Just a good miso soup recipe, flavourful but not really anything special.
  • Kombu Dashi (p.99)
    Needed for the Ginger Miso Soup.
  • Sweet Mustard Tempeh (p.116)
    Tasty. I had some of it on a sandwich and with the rest I plan to make a salad with the saffron-orange tahini dressing that accompanies this recipe in the cookbook (p.115).
  • Orange-Basil Tempeh (p.129; recipe below)
    Very flavourful: will definitely be making this again!
  • Watercress and Butter Lettuce Salad with Israeli Couscous, Orange Basil-Tempeh and Sweet Miso Dressing (p.128)
    This is a really good salad recipe, although I found that the many flavours pushed the orange-basil tempeh to the background. I will be making it again, especially for pot-lucks or a picnic, but probably without the tempeh – and with the Roasted Pistachios (p.55) that I forgot to add this time.

Still on the menu plan with pak choi from this week’s batch of organic vegetables: Szechuan Noodles with Spicy Hot Peanut Sauce (p.147).

Another positive aspect of Vegan Family meals is that it’s an easy and interesting read. It’s well-stocked with appetizing photo’s, cutting techniques, info on so-called exoctic superfoods, non-dairy milks, sweeteners, food history et cetera. Each of the sections (Breakfasts, Snacks & Sandwiches, Soups, Family-Style Salads, Simple Meals, Grains and Vegetables, Desserts) is introduced by a one page article that educates us a little more about the topic as well as the author’s life. So after plummeting from euphoric to frustrated, my end verdict for Vegan Family Meals: Real Food for Everyone is a positive one.

Thanks to Andrews McMeel Publishing I was given the opportunity to preview the e-book version of Vegan Family Meals through Netgalley. The key question is now: will I buy a paper copy when it is published on June 14th? I’m afraid not. The dishes take a little more time to prepare than expected and often times another component needs to be made first. I also felt I had to ‘tweak’ too many of the recipes because of lacking ingredients. But maybe this will change in few years from now, when we’re up to speed with the US here in The Netherlands?! ;)

To get a taste of the book yourself I’ll share the recipe for Orange-Basil Tempeh. Since Mr Gnoe and I are a family of two I just made half of it.

Salad with couscous, orang-basil tempeh and sweet miso dressing

Recipe for Orange-Basil Tempeh (salad condiment)

Ingredients
Serves 4.

  • 225 g tempeh, halved horizontally and then cut into 1 cm cubes
  • 120 ml fresh orange juice
  • zest of 1 organic orange
  • 3 tbs finely chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tbs agave syrup
  • 2 tbs tamari
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Preparation

  1. I immediately moved away from the recipe by steaming the tempeh for 10 minutes. I’ve read elsewhere that it improves absorbency (and alleviates the slightly bitter taste some people dislike). It’s your choice whether you do this or not.
  2. Whisk the orange juice, basil, agave nectar, tamari, garlic, olive oil and zest (= everything except tempeh ;) together in a bowl.
  3. Add the tempeh (either raw or steamed) and turn to coat.
  4. Arrange the tempeh in a single layer so it’s (partly) submerged in the marinade.
  5. Set aside to marinade for at least an hour or refrigerate overnight. I did the latter.
  6. Put in a sauté pan over medium-low heat. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes until tempeh is hot and the marinade has reduced.
  7. Serve the tempeh warm or at room temperature.

ENJOY!

Hop over to She Likes Bento for another review of Vegan Family Meals including the recipe for Sweet Potato Fries!

The recipe for a Spring to Summer Vegetable Dish can be found on the Real Food Daily website.

You want to have a look at the cookbook yourself? Go to the publisher’s page and check out the Google preview.

This is my first submission to Cookbook Sundays, a meme from Mom’s Sunday Café!

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Sunday Salon logoThe Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, blogging about bookish things of the past week, visiting each others weblogs, and oh — reading books of course ;)

- – - -

This is my first Sunday Salon of 2011 and I’m going to talk about a cookbook. As you may have noticed, food has been on my mind a lot lately! ;) For my 10-day ExtraVeganza! project I relied heavily on the World Food Café: Global Vegetarian Cooking cookbook. It is a feast for the eye — and your tummy!

Cover World Food Cafe cookbook, Chris & Carolyn CaldicottThe book was put together by Chris & Carolyn Caldicott. It contains recipes they collected, or got inspired, on the many journeys they’ve made across the globe. They did so with the aim to open their own restaurant: the World Food Café in London.

Chris Caldicott is an awesome photographer and the cookbook is littered with beautiful full-colour photos — at least one on each double page. So even if you don’t like to cook, you could display this treasure on your coffee table. ;) But that is certainly not what it’s meant for.

It really is a great collection of recipes, many dairy-free! Rather unique for a vegetarian cookbook these days… Still, it is vegetarian and not all-vegan. Especially the section on The Americas ‘regularly’ contains dairy or eggs: 5 of the 23 (disregarding butter). Now that’s not too bad, is it? Unfortunately the only dessert of the book is among those — a mouthwatering chocolate cake. I wouldn’t know how to substitute the 6 eggs needed for that, but in many cases it’s possible to omit or replace the non-vegan ingredient.

As you may have understood from the previous paragraph, the book is divided in different global regions:

  • The Middle East & Africa (p.10-57)
  • India, Nepal & Sri Lanka (p.58-111)
  • Southeast Asia & China (p.112-145)
  • The Americas (p. 146-185)

Each continent starts with a two-page photograph, followed by an introduction. And most of the recipes also have short description of where they came from. The book concludes with a short glossary of ingredients and an index.

I’m sure I made 10 dishes from this book, of which 7 got a BIG thumbs up. The other 3 were either okay or so-so and I need to stipulate that in two of the cases I didn’t use the proper ingredients… I mostly cooked from the Indian section and am still dying to try the potato bondas (fritters) from North India that seem perfect for a bento. But so far my expeditions in search for the essential ingredient ‘asefetida‘ (a.k.a. hing) were in vain.

List of recipes tried

Middle East:

  • Hummus (p.35)

India, Nepal & Sri Lanka:

Southeast Asia & China:

This book comes highly recommended! And I would like to express a huge THANK YOU to the globetrotter in-laws that gave it to me as a birthday present.

Here’s a recipe we’ve made several times. You’ll find a variation of it in tomorrow’s bento!

Spicy Bean Curd & Bean Sprout Salad from Thailand

Ingredients
Serves 4-6

  • 1 cucumber; grated
  • 1 red bell pepper; seeded, deribbed and cut into fine strips
  • 8 ounces / 225 grams of bean sprouts (I grow them myself!)
  • 1 tbs sunflower oil
  • 10 ounces / 275 grams of tofu; cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) slices and ready to fry
  • 1 garlic clove; crushed
  • 1-2 green Thai or serrano chilies; thinly sliced (red chili is fine)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tbs light soy sauce
  • 2 ts packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (150 grams) skinned peanuts; toasted and crushed
  • handful of fresh cilantro leaves; chopped

Preparation

  1. Combine grated cucumber, bell pepper and bean sprouts in a salad bowl.
  2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and fry the tofu slices until brown and crunchy. Set aside en let cool.
  3. Using the same pan, sauté garlic and chilies for a few seconds, then add the lime juice, soy sauce and brown sugar. Stir until all ingredients are combined.
  4. Arrange tofu slices on top of the salad and sprinkle with crushed peanuts.
  5. Pour on the hot dressing and garnish with lots of cilantro.

ENJOY!

This review is my first post for the Foodie’s Reading Challenge!

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Join Beth Fish’s weekend cooking with a food-related post!

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Cover Blind Willow, Sleeping WomanA while back I buddy read Haruki Murakami’s collection of short stories Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman with Elsje, from Elsjelas. We decided to turn it into a buddy review as well — such a fun project! Elsje usually blogs in Dutch but she immediately agreed to do it in English because of Graasland readers! How cool is that?!

We hope you’ll enjoy our ‘interview’ as much as we did :)

Why did you read Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman?
Elsje: Well, ever since I discovered Murakami, two years ago, I have been wanting to read his whole oeuvre. Not many authors have invoked this type of avidity in me, that’s for sure. And reading more only made it worse. So, this was my 10th Murakami… In addition, this was the most recent book published in Dutch (or any other language, for that matter). Last but not least, my friend Gnoe, also a true Murakami-addict, was looking for someone to read along with.
Gnoe: My reason for picking up Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is quite similar. Shortly after reading my first (and long-time favorite) Murakami The Wind-up Bird Chronicle in 2004, I decided to read all books by the master. Up until now I’ve read most of his novels, but I kept postponing ‘BWSW’ because I’m not really a short-story-grrl. A buddy read with Elsje was exactly what I needed! And it didn’t hurt either that March was Murakami Month at In Spring it is the Dawn ;)

What did you expect?
Elsje: After nine Murakami’s I pretty much knew what to expect: a little supernatural, complicated relationships, unobtainable love, desperate searches for lost loves, death by freak accidents and suicides, music and food. I always seem to like the Murakami novels better than his short stories: Murakami needs to elaborate to be able to hold my thoughts in his train of thoughts. So my expectations were not skyhigh.
Gnoe: Not being a fan of short stories I expected to be a little frustrated ;) Just getting into a story and then… oops! — The End. Hate that. Of course I hoped Murakami would surprise me with some enchanting writing… But I’d already read After the Quake (twice) and it didn’t impress me. Only Super-Frog Saves Tokyo lingers in my mind because it was weirdly sympathetic (or sympathetically weird).

Did Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman live up to your expectations?
Elsje: Absolutely, and more than that. I have to say that some of his most beautiful short stories can be found in this volume!
Gnoe: Well, having such low expectations Murakami could hardly disappoint. And indeed, I loved Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman! But it’s not just because of my anticipations. The stories are wonderful: little gems that are not too short at all. Of course I couldn’t (nor shouldn’t) read them in one sitting, so I had a great time savoring Murakami’s fantasies. Each had that magical touch of the master: lovely language and amazing atmosphere.

What was your favorite story?
Elsje: That one is hard to answer… Browsing the book to make a choice, I find myself absorbed anew… Impossible to choose just one. I believe my favorite stories are:

  • Birthday Girl in which a girl experiences a very strange encounter on the evening of her twentieth birthday
  • The Mirror in which a man finds himself looking at himself in a mirror. Creepy story!
  • The Seventh Man in which a man tells a group of people how, when he was a boy, an enormous wave took the life of his best friend. The man felt guilty for years because he had not tried to save him.
  • The Year of Spaghetti. A man obsessively cooks spaghetti. A whole year of loneliness. Interrupted only by his own thoughts. And then: a telephone call.
  • Toni Takitani: a beautiful story about a man, the son of a jazzmusician, who looses his spendthrift wife in a car accident. The clothes she leaves behind form the basis of a strange advertisement: Toni pays a girl to wear his wife’s dresses, so that he can get used to her being dead.
  • The Ice Man: a girl falls in love with, indeed, an iceman. Heartbreaking story!
  • Where I’m Likely to Find It describes the search for a lost husband. And when I say lost, I mean lost: he disappeared in between floors, going from the apartment of his wife to that of his mother in law.
  • The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day tells the story of a writer who has been told by his father that every man is granted only three true loves. Waiting for that love he is afraid to commit. When he meets Kyrie, he is stuck in one of his stories, a story about a kidney-shaped stone.

Gnoe: I just can’t choose one favorite story either… I liked many of them, but two really stand out (both already mentioned by Elsje): The Seventh Man and The Ice Man. Hm. There’s a striking similarity between those titles, what does that say about me?! LOL

Why did it become a favorite?
Elsje: These stories are little gems: they harbor all the Murakami ingredients, and, moreover, are complete stories. That which I found lacking in short story volumes I read earlier – elaboration – was more than sufficient in these stories. I was mesmerized by especially The Mirror, The Ice Man, Where I’m Likely to Find It and The Kidney-Shaped Stone.
Gnoe: Explaining why I rather like a story is always the hard part, but I’ll try to make sense. Beware of SPOILERS though! Elsje already gave a brief summary of the narratives in relation to previous question so I’ll just skip to my thoughts on The Seventh Man. It brings to mind early school camps & scouting outings, where the — older — supervisors (often teenagers or in their early twenties — like I said: old ;) told scary stories in the evening. The confession of ‘the seventh man’ gives me the chills, but rings true. It’s really heartbreaking, but heartwarming at the same time. I could imagine finding myself in his shoes: shock-reflexes triggering self-preservation but being paralyzed to the point where you can’t warn your ignorant friend for the approaching killer wave. I understood his feelings of guilt although we all very well know he cannot be held responsible. The image of the little boy swallowed by the sea is equally grim and beautiful at the same time. That scene is so vivid, it will stay with me forever. And I just listened to the seventh man telling his story — imagine what’s before his mind’s eye…
The Ice Man is just a beautiful love story: romantic and tragic at once, the way it should. In fiction I mean, ’cause in real life we’d like to live happily ever after ;) What I admire about this story is that I completely and totally believed in the existence of such a creature as an ice man — and in our protagonist’s unconditional love for him.
Fun fact: in his introduction Haruki Murakami says about these stories:

Ice Man‘, by the way, is based on a dream my wife had, while ‘The Seventh Man‘ is based on an idea that came to me when I was into surfing and was gazing out at the waves.

The Great Wave of Kanagawa by Hokusai

Explanation of the title
Elsje: The title refers to the first story, in which one of the friends of the antagonist writes a poem about a blind willow, of which the pollen, when conveyed to the ear of a girl make her fall asleep.
Trivia: I found a video on YouTube by a band named
Willow, called Blind of which I don’t believe it was an inspiration for Murakami…
Gnoe: Well, there’s nothing much to add to that, is there? Unless I could elaborate on how this title reflects the complete collection of short stories, but I don’t have a clue ;) I would also like to muse a little on the meaning and importance of the poem — but again I’m tongue-beaten. I just can’t seem to put my finger on it; frustration finally setting in! ;) The story goes that the long, long roots of the blind willows go deep into the ground where there’s complete darkness. (Darkness: No Good, right?) Then there’s a medium — those little flies — that transfer the doomed pollen to innocent people. Nothing you can do about it: we all got that vulnerable spot (our ears). And then you fall asleep: lead a passive life (not living to the fullest). But what does it all mean? I’m stuck.
Anyway, the darkness reminds me of another Murakami novel: Dance Dance Dance, in which the Sheep Man (the medium between the darkness and the human world) tells the main character he has to dance to keep living. And there’s a connection to After Dark of course, in which a girl falls into a deep sleep as well. But hey, book connections is a question further along!

Theme
Haruki Murakami Elsje: I really cannot think why Murakami specifically brought these stories together in this volume.
Gnoe: I don’t believe there’s an overall theme linking the stories in this collection either, except for some general elements that keep recurring in Murakami’s books. I’ll talk about that relating to next topic. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman probably just consists of stories not previously published outside Japan.

Links with other Murakami stories/books
Elsje: Plenty links can be found. For instance

  • Blind Willow reminded me of Norwegian Wood, in which the main character forms a kind of triangular friendship with a girl and a boy. The boy kills himself and the girl suffers as a result of that. In addition, the memory of the antagonist is jogged by a song he hears on a plane. In Blind Willow, a similar triangular friendship existed in the past, and entering the hospital with his cousin brings memories back about their friendship.
  • Birthday Girl reminded me of A Wild Sheep Chase, probably because of the mysterious events in a hotel. Room 604… Is that the same room number?? No, the room number in A Wild Sheep Chase is 406… Remarkably similar, though!
  • New York Mining Disaster stirred a faint memory of South of the Border. I think that is because the main character owns a bar.
  • Man-Eating Cats: I believe Murakami used part of this story to construct Sputnik Sweetheart.
  • Firefly: this story contains the same early morning ritual as Norwegian Wood. In addition, the roommate is again spic and span. I don’t remember if in Norwegian Wood this roommate was a geography student, but I think he was…
  • The brilliant pianoplayer in Hanalei Bay could be based on the same idea as Reiko in Norwegian Wood?
  • The Kidney-Shaped Stone reminded me somewhat of Thailand, one of the stories in After the Quake.

Gnoe: First I’d like to say that I find it amazing how much Elsje remembers of those books! I guess my taking ages to read the complete works of Murakami has its downside…
I was thinking more of book relations through recurring elements, like ears, food, storytelling, young people dying (early) / entering new life stages and (unrequited or lost) love. Of course there are many more but these come to mind thinking of Blind Willow. Elsje considered them her expectations! (I’m referring to her answer on our second question ;) A Murakami theme I actually missed in this book is the QUEST.
I’d like to highlight some of the elements because they seem important (or beautiful) in any way.

  • Ear: you’ve already heard how ears play a special role in the title story. But it’s not just the poem: the antagonist’s cousin has a hearing problem that was caused by a baseball that hit his right ear as a child. Again an innocent victim hurt by external causes. And it wouldn’t be a Murakami without a special earlobe; in Birthday Girl.
  • Food: Next to the obvious titles The Year of Spaghetti and Man-eating Cats there’s a disgusting story called Crabs (another vivid image I can’t erase from my mind but I’ll spare you that), which shows us a meaningful insight on the topic of food.
    “You know, eating’s much more important than most people think. There comes a time in your life when you’ve just got to have something super-delicious. And when you’re standing at that crossroads your whole life can change, depending on which you go into — the good restaurant or the awful one. It’s like — do you fall on this side of the fence, or on the other side.”

    Yeah well, nice observation but it doesn’t help us much, does it? ;)
  • Death (young people dying):
    “A man’s death at twenty-eight is as sad as the winter rain.” (New York Mining Disaster)
    And a quote from Firefly:
    “Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.” (How zen!)
  • Storytelling: plenty of storytellers in this book, but there’s a special narrator in Chance Traveller. The story begins as follows:
    “The ‘I’ here, you should know, means me, Haruki Murakami, the author of the story. [..] The reason I’ve turned up here is that I thought it best to relate directly several so-called strange events that have happened to me. [..] Whenever I bring up these incidents, say, in a group discussion, I never get much of a reaction. Most people simply make some non-committal comment and it never goes anywhere. [..] At first I thought I was telling the story wrong, so one time I tried writing it down as an essay. I reckoned that if I did that, people would take it more seriously. But no one seemed to believe what I’d written. ‘You’ve made that up, right?’ I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that. Since I’m a novelist people assume that anything I say or write must have an element of make-believe.”
    How mean ;) The author made me feel guilty for not believing his story! And it brought to mind that other book in which a (failed) writer appears with a familiar sounding name: Mr Hiraku Makimura in Dance Dance Dance!

Musical links
Elsje: Just a few suitable musical links to listen to while reading the book…

Gnoe: Thank you for the music!

Anything else to say?
We didn’t believe it at first but Elsje discovered that dabchicks really exist! From now on they’re my favorite waterbirds ;)

A cute palm-sized dabchick!

A cute palm-sized Dabchick like in the story!

Elsje: Mr. Gnoe kindly lent me a book on Murakami, written by his English translator Jay Rubin: Haruki Murakami and the music of words. I really recommend this book to Murakami-adepts. Rubin addresses some of the things Gnoe and I have commented on above, in addition, he touches a whole lot of things we seem to have missed. For instance, when answering question no. 8, Gnoe confessed to feeling guilty for not believing one of the stories. Well, Gnoe, let me ease your guilt: according to Rubin, Murakami did make this story up after all!
Gnoe: That’s good to hear Elsje! But as you know there’s something else that keeps bothering me… It’s probably supposed to, but I’d like to hear people’s opinions anyway! Even though it can be considered a spoiler… What is the wish Birthday Girl made? I wanna know! Do you have any ideas?

Book details
Elsje: My volume is a first print, published by Uitgeverij Atlas in 2009. Translation into Dutch was executed by Elbrich Fennema. I am not sure wether she translated the stories directly from Japanese or from the English translation Gnoe read.
Gnoe: My paperback is a first print, published by Harvill Secker in 2006 (copyrighted 2005 by Haruki Murakami). The stories are variably translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin; both seem to have done the job very well!

Cover Blinde wilg, slapende vrouw (Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman)Styling
Elsje: I love the way in which the Dutch translations have been styled. Always bicolored, with a tiny picture at the border between the two colors, signifying one of the main themes. The cover of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Jerry Bauer, depicts the eyes and nose of, indeed, a sleeping woman.
Gnoe: I prefer my English copy to Elsjes’s Dutch because it’s more poetic, suitable to the stories. There’s a Japanese woman sleeping underneath a persimmon branch. She lying on a soft, white underground — obviously a mattress when you take a close look, but it evokes the image of snow. The woman is wearing a spring/summer dress or nightgown, so she has definitely been sleeping for quite some time! In Buddhism the persimmon stands for transformation. The picture is a combination of a modern photograph and a detail of the early nineteenth century painting Persimmon on Tree by Sakai Hoitsu. Yep, I like it ;) The book has a white background with lettering in silver, black and several reds — colors that ‘we’ (Western people) associate with Japan. A subtle detail is that the author name is embossed, not the title (as in the thriller genre).
Well, that’s a long description of something you can largely see for yourself at the beginning of this post ;) The combination of these colors on a white background is visible in the designs of other Murakami editions from the same publisher. Of course it’s a smart move to make them look like a ‘series’ because what bibliophile wouldn’t want to show of his collection of books by Murakami? It would be fun to compare several different Murakami ‘series’ someday! By the way: did you know there’s a group on Flickr with pictures of Murakami book covers?

Gnoe: Hey Elsje, now that our buddy review is ready — let’s make plans for a follow-up to see the Tony Takitani movie?!
Elsje: I think that would be an excellent idea! In addition we could buddyread 1Q84 which appears in print next week… #hinthint

Yep: real fans, that’s what we are ;)

My copy of De Ongelofelijke ReisThis is my my first favourite book — or is it my favourite first book? Anyway, not having kids myself I’ve waited 10 years (!) for the first child in our family to become old enough to read my childhood favourite: The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford.

The story of two dogs & a cat crossing the Canadian wilderness in search of their owners moved me beyond words. I have mentioned several times before that I don’t like to reread books, but De ongelofelijke reis (as the book is called in Dutch) was read to, and by me several times. I’m remembering at least 4 sessions ;) The first time being on a summer holiday to France. My mom read it to my big brother and me — a memory I cherish :)

This is me on my way to France…

Gnoe en route to France 1979

Gift copy of De Ongelofelijke ReisSo now that our animal-loving nephew turned 10, I really wanted to give him the book! :) But what the heck?! It is out of publish in Holland! OH NO! :-o

But I am not.to.be.deterred. Thank God for the internet… I managed to get a second hand copy. This will be my first time giving a used book for a present, but it can’t be helped! He needs to read this book. Or I need him to ;)

And no, I have never seen the Disney movie that was made of the book. I’ve never wanted to, and I still don’t. But now I do feel like rereading The Incredible Journey..!

This post is part of Weekly Geeks 2010-11: ‘In the beginning…

Picture of book
March was Murakami Month. 31 days of special attention for the famous & well-loved author Haruki Murakami. What a good idea for a Hello Japan mini challenge!

This month’s task is to read, or otherwise experience Haruki Murakami’s work.

I have already read a LOT of Murakami’s books, so I decided not to join in the The Wind-up Bird Chronicle read-along, nor the Japanese Literature Book Group choice of A Wild Sheep Chase & Dance, Dance, Dance. But of course I could not let March pass without any Murakami on my plate! And since I don’t get much reading done these days, I have only read Murakami this month! Next to Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book read-along that is…

Cover Blind Willow, Sleeping WomanFirst I picked Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman of the shelf; a collection of Murakami tales. I’m not really a short-story-grrl: I like to dig into a book and need some time to get acquainted with (get a feel for) the characters. My problem with short stories and novella’s is that they seem to be over before they begin :\ But I do want to read the complete works of Murakami, so ‘Blind Willow’ became a buddy read with Elsje. She finished it a while ago whereas I’m still only half way! Is it that bad??? No, not at all ;) I like the characters and the magical atmosphere, so I am really enjoying myself. It’s also nice that I can (often) finish a story in one sitting. But the book does not call out to me to come and read NOW, the way a pageturner does.

So. To complete my mission I could have chosen to write a review of just one of the stories. Or to rent the Tony Takitani dvd again. But nooooo. I did something else I want to tell you about: I reread another, special edition of short stories by Haruki Murakami! It’s called Een stoomfluit midden in de nacht and was a 2006-2007 New Year’s gift of a group of Dutch publishers. Not for sale :) My copy was generously given to me by maupi, who came by it through her work as a translator.

Special edition of short stories by Haruki MurakamiNext to the title story Yonaka no kiteki ni tsuite (originally published in 1995), this publication contains two other stories: Kreta Kanō (Kanō Kureta, 1993) and De tweeling en het verzonken continent (Futago to shinzunda tairiku, 1985). It’s a real scoop because these stories have never before been translated into a foreign language! ^_^

So I now stand for the great task to translate the titles in English — from Dutch, because I don’t read Japanese LOL. The name of the book means literally: A Steam Whistle in the Middle of the Night. Maybe someone can give a hint whether it is the same in Japanese?

* * * Note: the rest of this post contains spoilers! * * *

The story A Steam Whistle in the Middle of the Night is REALLY short: only 3 pages. But it’s the most beautiful of the lot, and maybe that’s why it is also the title of the book; even though it’s the closing story. It’s a heartwarming narrative of a boy expressing his love for a girl. To truly feel the extent of it, she needs to understand first how awful, absolutely gruesome it is to wake up alone in the middle of the night, far from reality. Like being locked up in an iron coffin that has sunk to the bottom of a deep sea — running out of oxygen. The only thing that can bring you back is the faraway sound of a steam whistle. That’s how much he loves her.

Aw.. The image of a steam whistle in the night recalled my childhood, lying in bed on those rare nights of extreme fog.

The first story of A Steam Whistle in the Middle of the Night is Kreta Kanō. Those of you who have read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle will immediately recognize the name :) Kreta works for her Sister, Malta Kanō, who listens to the sounds of body fluids to solve people’s problems. Kreta’s got a huge problem too… She is so irresistible to men that once they lay their eyes on her, they need to possess her: assault being the result. All men. Malta says it’s because her water is out of synch with her body. That’s why men are attracted to her — like the tides, I guess. It’s a fascinating story, set after her adventures in ‘Wind-up Bird’. Kreta also brought to mind the woman in Taichi Yamada’s novel Strangers

The ‘longest’ story in this 61 page booklet is called The Twins and the Sunken Continent (again my translation is very literal so I’m open to improvement :) I should read it for a third time because it’s a typical Murakami, making me wonder what the hell it’s all about. There are two mysterious twin sisters (who are also supposed to appear in his novel Pinball, 1973; a book I unfortunately still lack!), a glass club in Roppongi, weird dreams and a missing colleague called Noboru Watanabe — again a name that may sound familiar. In an early story that was later made into The Wind-up Bird Chronicle both the missing cat and the protagonist’s brother-in-law bear that name. In the novel they were renamed to Noboru Wataya. It is said that in real life Haruki Murakami has a very good friend called Noboru Watanabe ;)

Een stoomfluit in het midden van de nacht is a real gem to have. It even makes me reread – and read once again; something I normally just don’t do.

So as you can probably tell, I’ve had a great Murakami March!
I hope I’ve made you join in the fun a bit?!

* All stories in Een stoomfluit midden in de nacht are translated from Japanese by Jacques Westerhoven, © 2003.

Earlier I’ve posted some of my thoughts on A Wild Sheep Chase on Graasland (in Dutch).

After the crime
I’m not Truman Capote so I’m not going to take as long as he did to write his book In Cold Blood and ponder 7 years over a review. Let’s just get it over with.

In Cold Blood is a faction novel: fiction based on facts. It tells the story of a horrible murder that happened in Holcomb, Kansas, on the night of Friday 13th 1959. Is that where our superstition about Friday 13th originates from? (No, it’s not.) That night, the much loved Clutter family was slaughtered in cold blood by two young man that had met in jail: Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. The book concentrates on the events leading up to the killing, the quest to find the murderers, their trial(s) and eventually their execution.

Cover In Cold BloodI’ve had the book on my shelf ever since I saw the biopic Capote in which Philip Seymour Hoffman plays an awesome leading role as the author. But I never picked it up for fear of being bored… Because of the movie I already knew what had happened, see. But I’m glad I no longer procrastinated! I buddy read it with the Boekgrrls in November 2009; exactly 50 years after the crime. And it was quite a powerful experience.

Knowing about the case was no problem at all: the events are revealed at the beginning of the story. That’s partly what’s good about the book: although the outcome is public knowledge, it is still interesting to read. Most times… it is a bit slow in some parts as well.

The Clutter FamilyI admire how Capote skips around the actual murder for quite some time; getting us to know Herb Clutter, his wife Bonny, daughter Nancy and son Kenyon. Meeting Dick and Perry ‘warming up’ with some petty crimes. The author guides us through the days preceding and following the massacre, showing us the town and its people, following the detectives that are hunting down the killers. And then finally, the moment of horror.

In Cold Blood is supposed to be the first in a genre that is now well-known: ‘true crime fiction’. Capote was looking for inspiration as a writer when he read a small newspaper article about the case in Holcomb. It took him 5 years of ‘investigating’ and another 2 to finish the book. Its suggests to be factual (presenting letters, reports etc.), so many of the people involved criticized him for not being completely true to the case. Capote himself replied that it was obviously a novel = fiction.

Capote in Clutter Home

An interesting question is why Capote was so immensely fascinated by this case that he worked on it for so many years. I recall from the movie that the author seemed extremely ‘attracted’ by the perpetrators, especially Perry. And the weird thing is that even I felt sorry for him at times — or even sympathy, no matter that he was such a ruthless killer. On of the strongest scenes in the book is Perry’s confession to KBI (Kansas Bureau of Investigation) officer Albert Dewey. The murders, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith

*** spoiler alert *** The suggestion that Perry Smith would have suffered from schizophrenia is pretty convincing. Unfortunately for him at that time in Kansas state the Durham rule was not yet in practice. This act decrees that “an accused is not criminally responsible if his unlawful act is the product of mental disease or mental defect“. I must say that I’m against the taking of any life, which means I do not approve of the death penalty in any case – not even in a horrible crime like this.

Bookish connections
Capote’s childhood friend Harper Lee accompanied him to the Midwest as his research assistent. I recently read her most acclaimed novel To Kill a Mockingbird which she wrote a few years after the Holcomb tragedy. It has nothing to do with this case, but it does deal with legislation and justice, telling the story of a murder courtcase in Alabama. Capote is depicted in the book as the boy Dill. But Lee is never mentioned in Capote’s In Cold Blood.

BTW from the movie Capote I had gotten the impression that the author himself would play a role in his book as well, which he does not…

Perry’s childhood during the Great Depression, his family travelling the country in search of work, also brings to mind John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which I had read just before In Cold Blood:

‘Tex John Smith Family picking berries in Oregon. 1933′ Was the caption under a snapshot of four barefooted children wearing overalls and cranky, uniformly fatigued expressions. Berries or stale bread soaked in sweet condensed milk was often all they had to eat. [His sister] Barbara Johnson remembered that once the family had lived for days on rotten bananas, and that, as a result, Perry had got colic; he had screamed all night, while Bobo, as Barbara was called, wept for fear he was dying. [p.177]

Women Unbound buttonBecause of some quotes about the role of women, the story also made me think of the October Boekgrrls’ buddy read: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, which is set in fifties as well. Since I’m participating in the Women Unbound challenge, I’ll give this topic its own heading.

The role of women
Bonny Clutter was a very troubled housewife (according to this book = according to Capote? The people in the village? Her family?). Bonny herself believed that a pinched nerve was the cause of her problems. But to the contemporary reader it is obvious that she was depressed; which might be postnatal depression as is suggested in the book, but I rather believe her unfulfilling everyday life must have amplified it. In the past she had been living in Wichita for 2 weeks, having her own apartment and a job. Doctor’s orders. And it seemed to help…

[..] but she had liked it too well, so much that it seemed to her unchristian, and the sense of guilt she in consequence developed ultimately outweighed the experiment’s therapeutic value. [p.26]

So she turned into a woman that:

[..] had reduced her voice to a single tone, that of apology, and her personality to a series of gestures blurred by the fear that she might give offence, in some way displease. [p.23]

Then there’s Nancy’s attitude to her father Herb Clutter.

‘[..] Can’t you make your father understand that?’ No, she could not. ‘Because,’ as she explained it to Susan, ‘whenever I start to say something, he looks at me as though I must not love him. Or as though I love him less. And suddenly I’m tongue-tied; I just want to be his daughter and do as he wishes.‘ [p.19]

I don’t have any intelligent thoughts about this but I do think it says a lot about the way women wore culturally imposed and emotional straitjackets at the time. It seems to have been engraved in our x-chromosomes — and the leftovers sometimes pop-up… Because although it’s 50 years later and I’ve been raised by a feminist mom, I’m embarrassed to say that the feelings described are not completely unfamiliar to me. (Can I get another Honest Scrap Award now, please? ;)

Other thoughts on the book…
I did think the Clutters were a bit too good to be true — except for poor Bonny of course, who was such a troubled, incompetent mother & wife :\

If I had not known the book was based on facts and written relatively short after the real events, I would have sworn to have come upon an anachronism:

[..] Nancy had cleaned up, put all the dishes in the dish-washer, [..] [p.49]

OMG my well-to-do grandparents (or should I say my grandma?) first got a washing machine about a whole decade later! Let alone I would know anyone who had a dish-washer at that time… But hey, I wasn’t born yet either ;)

Movie connections…
In Cold Blood has made such an impression that I was reminded of it during several movies I saw shortly after. That happened because of the schizophrenia in the horror movie Bug and the bloody massacre in Jennifer Lynch’s Surveillance.

But it doesn’t end here; the bookgroup read will result in a film follow-up real soon! Some Boekgrrls are coming over to watch the 1967 film In Cold Blood with me. It got 8 stars in the Internet Movie Databse so I’m having no worries about being bored because I already know the story ;)

Clutter home in recent times

Soon after I began working for the Professor, I realized that he talked about numbers whenever he was unsure of what to say or do. Numbers were his way of reaching out to the world. They were safe, a source of comfort. [p.7]

Cover The Housekeeper and the ProfessorThe Housekeeper and the Professor (Hakase no Aishita Suushiki) is a novel by Yoko Ogawa about a single mother who comes to work as a housekeeper for a former mathematics teacher whose short time memory lasts for only 80 minutes — needing multiple post-it notes pinned to his suit to help him remember things. Each day it’s like meeting eachother for the first time; still they grow close.

Names are not relevant in such a situation, basic properties are. So it’s just ‘the Housekeeper’ and her 10 year old son ‘Root’, nicknamed by the Professor because his head is flattened like the square root sign: . Just like characters of a mathematical puzzle that need to be named to be able to calculate with them.

It’s a charming, heartwarming story about family bonding between people that are not related. I was afraid I would be bored because I’m not particularly interested in mathematics… Nor do I know anything about baseball, which appeared to be another main subject of the book :-o But I had no problem at all enjoying this lovely story. I actually learned something ;) About ‘amicable numbers’ and ‘twin primes’ for example. You can look them up in Wikipedia but it’s much more fun to read this book! It probably explains it better too ;)

Being a museumgrrl I also liked the concept of collecting baseball cards. Though I didn’t learn much about it ;) But something I did come to know more about through the baseball topic, are Devas. I looked them up after reading the following depiction of a famous Japanese baseball player ‘in the field’.

Enatsu on the mound, his fierce stance like a Deva King guarding a temple. [p.81]

Deva King by Aschaf

Deva king, picture courtesy of Aschaf

Devas are Buddhist deities — those angry looking red giants that you must have seen somewhere, sometime. These temple guardians ward off evil = anything that threatens Buddhism. The biggest museum in The Netherlands, the Rijksmuseum (where Rembrandt’s The Nightwatch is on display), recently acquired two of these statues originating from the 14th century Iwayaji temple in Shimane, that was restored in 1839. Research will determine the exact date of these ‘heavenly generals’ (Niō).* When the Rijksmuseum reopens after many years of building activities — hopefully in 2013 — they will flank the entrance of the new Asian Pavilion.

Bookmark Japanese servantAlthough The Housekeeper and the Professor is (obviously) about living in the present, the story is constructed of memories from the housekeeper. She has a gentle way of telling, so when the story unfolds you know something is about to happen, but there’s no real shock effect.

Because of the Professor’s loss of memory and the sticky notes that aid him, this book of course strongly reminds of the fascinating movie Memento. Except in the film Guy Pearce relies on tattoos — and it’s not a kind story like The Housekeeper… But the book also reminded me of another very good movie: Goodbye Lenin, in which a son pretends their hometown East Berlin is still communist when his mother awakens from a long coma in 1990. The Professor’s memory ends in 1975, the year he had his accident, so the Housekeeper and her son often act as if no time has passed as well.

Now, how do you like my bookmark with a Japanese housekeeper on the left? It’s a print from around 1795 by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806), called Servant Naniwa O-Hisa carrying a cup of tea and a smoker’s set. Would you like to have one just like it? I bought a duplicate to give away! Just comment on this post telling me if you know of any more GOOD movies about memory, numbers, mathematics or science (you get the picture). The giveaway ends on Friday 5th of February and is open to all!

I read The Housekeeper and the Professor for the Japanese Literature Book Group (discussion post) and as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge and 3rd What’s in a Name challenge (category ‘title’). It was a fine story to begin the year with.

What's in a name challenge button

* As far as I’ve been able to figure out, Niō and Deva kings are (almost) the same kind of temple guardians. But I’m open to correction!

This week I could no longer keep myself from joining the Graphic Novel Challenge as an Intermediate, which means I need to read 3-10 comic books before January 1st. It was a logical step because I had just finished Mutts earlier in the week (short review to be added later on) and I was also really interested in Read All Over’s mini challenge about reading the graphic version of a classic.

So I picked up Dick Matena’s illustrated version of Gerard Reve’s De avonden (The Evenings) at the library; 4 volumes in total. So far I’ve only read part 1 — and I think that might be enough…

De Avonden (The Evenings) graphic novel part 1-4

De avonden: een winterverhaal (The Evenings: a Winter Story) is a Dutch 1947 classic by Gerard Reve (1923-2006), one of The Grand Threesome of Dutch postwar authors. It’s his most famous work, that is known by all generations that lived during and since the forties. The novel describes the last 10 days of 1946 from the perspective of Frits Egters, an office clerq (not a job he’s proud of). It’s a gloomy depiction of a bourgeois existence — and it shocked many people at the time because of its bleakness. And it still does. Then again, the final paragraph of the The Evenings is considered the best prose of Dutch 20th century literature:

Hij zoog de borst vol adem en stapte in bed. ‘Het is gezien,’ mompelde hij, ‘het is niet onopgemerkt gebleven.’ Hij strekte zich uit en viel in een diepe slaap.

I’m afraid I don’t have any translational skills but I’ll give it a try:

He took a deep breath and got into bed. “It was seen,” he muttered, “it hasn’t gone unnoticed.” He stretched out and fell into a deep sleep.

Page 9 from De avonden, part 1In 2001 Dick Matena converted The Evenings into an unabridged illustrated story for a Dutch newspaper, Het Parool. The graphic novel which was published in 2003-2004. As you can see it’s done in (indian?) ink; in different tones of grey instead of black and white pictures full of contrast. Almost sepia, giving it an ancient feeling ;) But I have no idea if the style fits 1940′s comics; anyone can comment on that?

Anyway, it looks quite sombre, matching the story. The characters’ features aren’t very sharp either. As far as I’m concerned the artwork doesn’t add anything to the narrative; actually I think I’d rather read the original book. One thing I did like though was that Frits Egters is about the same age as my father was at the time; so clothes, haircut, etc. are quite familiar from photo’s ;) But I didn’t feel any connection with the story, nor the personae. Of course maybe I’m not supposed to ;) But it should be fun to read, not a chore.

Graphic Novels mini-challenge button

Which brings me to the reason I picked up this classic… My 2007 personal reading challenge consisted of reading all books on the shortlist for the election of the Best Dutch Book (ever). I skipped The Evenings because I thought I had already read it many years ago. Now I’m not too sure anymore… It might be that I just saw the movie? reading the ‘picture book’ seemed a good alternative. But now that I’ve finished part 1, I don’t feel like spending any more precious reading time on the following 3 volumes. Sorry!

Even worse: Dick Matena is a well-known ilustrator and I considered reading his version of Willem Elsschot’s 1933 classic Kaas (Cheese). But now that I’ve concluded I don’t particularly like Matena’s style I think I’ll pass. But you never know… Last year I wouldn’t have believed that I would be reading so many (ahem) graphic novels by now!

Other Bookish things

But graphic novels weren’t the only bookish thing grabbing my attention this week. I’ve also written a wrap-up post for the 2009 Classics challenge — finally. The one for last year’s What’s in a Name Challenge is still on my to-do list and in only a few days I will need to add another because the 3rd Japanese Literature Challenge ends next Saturday!

Now I need to leave it at this because I really should begin writing my review for The Housekeeper and the Professor. Discussion at the Japanese Literature Book Group starts tomorrow! But you might want to know what book I’m currently reading: The Rapture by Liz Jensen. It is GREAT!

The Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, where they blog about bookish things of the past week, visit each others weblogs, oh — and read ;)

The 2009 Classics Challenge ended on October 31st.
2009 that is. Hence the title :\
And only today I got to write a short wrap-up post in which I have some good news, and some bad news to share…

Let’s start POSITIVE. I finished reading my 5 classics for the Entree Level of the challenge in time! I did tweak the list of my admittance post a bit (substituting titles), but that’s allowed. So below you’ll find the books that made it to the finish line.

The cover pics are links to the posts about the books here on Graasland. Well… that’s how it’s supposed to be anyway. Because the BAD news is that I still haven’t reviewed all of them! Baaaaaad Gnoe. I hope to make it up by stating a short (ha!) opinion right here, followed by a quick recap of the other reviews. And you never know; once the fuses are blown (is that the correct phrase?), when the pressure is off — I might actually get to writing a full-scale evaluation of Brideshead Revisited and Revolutionary Road ;)

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
I saw the 1981 tv-series of Brideshead Revisited twice, so I couldn’t help seeing — and hearing! — Jeremy Irons in my head whenever Charles Ryder entered the story. (Likewise with the Sebastian Flyte character, although I didn’t know that the actor was called Anthony Andrews. It’s just Sebastian.) I loved the book and I got to understand the story better than I did before. Everything seemed to go SO much quicker than on the telly! I seemed to have forgotten big parts, like all that happened after Sebastian went abroad… But what I enjoyed most is that I understood why the novel is called Brideshead Revisited. I had never noticed it before and I think it’s grand. Maybe it was left out of the television series? Gosh, now I need to watch it a third time! ;)

After reading Brideshead Revisited with my online bookgroup, the Boekgrrls, some of the women came over to watch the 2008 adaptation on dvd. Of course we had a fun night, but I didn’t like the film at all. It was way too explicit about the homo-erotic motive that was so subtly hidden in the book. Maybe Waugh would have liked that if he had lived in our era. But for me it took the edge of the story. Also, I hated that ‘they’ had tried to find clones of the original actors — Matthew Goode even sounded like Jeremy Irons. Well, of course with a voice like Sir Irons (really, when is he going to be knighted?), such a thing is not really possible, but they obviously tried. Shame.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird was a quick and entertaining read ad I’m glad to have read it. The story immediately grabbed me and I liked the atmosphere of doom, suggesting that ’something was going to happen’.
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
Revolutionary Road got under my skin, but in a different way than Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (see below). After I had picked it up I immediately got immersed in the story. But it’s quite depressing… The feeling of doom hardly left me during the day, even when I was not reading! It’s obvious from page 1 that something bad is going to happen. And still, the end came as a painful surprise.

The story revolves around image. “The important thing, always, was to remember who you were.” Frank and April Wheeler think they’re special, even though they live in the suburbs, like their peers, and Frank has a job in an advertising agency that is not much of a challenge. It is shockingly recognizable: don’t we all think we’re different? I kept seeing Jon Hamm = Don Draper in Mad Men, as Frank Wheeler btw. But that might have something to do with the cover picture ;)

Again, I watched the movie adaptation afterwards. Unlike Brideshead Revisited I really liked it — although I’m not sure if I’d have appreciated it as much if I hadn’t read the book.

I Am a Cat (vol.1), Natsume Soseki
After reading volume 1 of I Am a Cat I wasn’t sure yet what to think of it. I’m not much of a person for satire and I preferred the parts concentrating on the cat over sections digressing on humans. Reading the 2nd volume helped me form a clearer opinion — but only the 1st tome counts for the Classics Challenge ;) The fun thing was that while reading I Am a Cat I came across several parallelisms with graphics I read at the same time; Coraline and Mutts. That must mean typical cat tricks are pictured lifelike!
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath ended as my favourite read of 2009. I had been holding off this classic for a long time, not knowing what to expect, and even for about a 100 pages into the book I had my doubts. But after a while it really got under my skin — and I still can’t get it out of there. Heart rendering. A Must Read for anyone.

You know what? I believe reviews are not even required for the Classics challenge! Phew, three things to cross off my to-do list in one go. I am so relieved! I might even join the new Classics challenge in February/March… Or I may not ;) Let’s see what the future brings.

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