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Today is a special day: Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year. Yay, The Year of The Tiger has started! This afternoon I went to a Chinese festival and released Paper Tiger (Papieren tijger) by Olivier Rolin for our Bookcrossing Monopoly Game. And I hopped by our city’s red light district for a Valentine’s release called Solely Lust (Louter lust): erotic stories for women. Both have been caught already!
Now, this Valentine’s Day Sunday Salon provides me with a good opportunity to talk about Weekly Geeks 2010-6: ‘Romancing the Tome’. Have you heard of The Romantic, a book by Barbara Gowdy (one of my favourite authors)? You should have! It got longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2003, and was in the running for several other awards. I haven’t been able to write a coherent review of this book about a zillion kinds of love; I had too many feelings to make any sense of them. So I’m going to give you the synopsis from Waterstones:
How do you love someone who sits, smiling, at the edge of oblivion? Award-winning Canadian writer Barbara Gowdy unravels a romance, and the idea of romance, in this spry, witty, agile novel full of all the species of love. Louise Kirk falls in love. She’s 10, lives in a cosy, unremarkable suburban home, but, remarkably, has lost a mother already. Or, rather, her chic, sharp mother has disappeared. So, Louise, lonely and steeped in complicated yearnings, decides to fall in love. Furiously. First, she falls in love with her magnificent new neighbour, the operatic and exotic Mrs Richter. Then, within the year, she falls for Mrs Richter’s brilliant son Abel. Distracting him from his attentive study of everything around him — the constellations, the moths, the music — proves quite a struggle. But before long Abel finds he loves Louise ‘too much’. A dozen years later, Abel is gone and Louise is devastated. This is the unravelling story of their romance! In The Romantic, Barbara Gowdy tracks and identifies all the species of love. Each of her characters is iridescent, but Louise Kirk, who flies to love again and again like a moth at a lamp, is a creature from whom no reader will easily tear their gaze.
I am not a person to reread books — so many books, so little time! But I have been wanting to start over in The Romantic ever since I finished it (and that was in 2004). Yes, that’s how much I loved it. Well, I’d better finish my current book first — I seem to be STUCK in it! :-o That’s the 3rd part of I Am a Cat by Natsume Sōseki. And the bookgroup discussion starts tomorrow! I guess I’ve left it for too long. But I don’t want to put the novel aside; I should be able to finish the last part of this classic! Although it seems to be keeping me from reading at all…
The Pillow Book read-along
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Oooops, I still haven’t started reading yet! It’s because of my problems with I Am a Cat. I hope I’ll have some better news for you next week! Anyway, I did buy another book to read once The Pillow Book read-along has ended. A bit premature, I knoooow LOL, but I couldn’t leave this discarded library book for someone else to find, could I?
It’s My Name Is Sei Shonagon in Dutch (Mijn naam is Sei Shonagon), by Jan Blensdorf. You can find a review on Curled Up With a Good Book.
When this post goes ‘on air’ I’ll be lounging in a velvet chair on the final day of the International Film Festival Rotterdam, enjoying 5 movies that were favourites of the festival audience. Oh goody ;)
Of course I’ll be tagging a book along for possible interludes: I Am a Cat by Natsume Sōseki. I’ve started reading the last part (3rd volume) for the Japanese Literature Read-along, which ends February 15th. But that’s not the only read-along I’m participating in at the moment — sort of. This week we’ve begun reading the classic The Pillowbook by Sei Shōnagon. It’s in a leisurely pace of only 10 diary items a week. I’ve received a Dutch translation of the Ivan Morris Penguin edition, Het Hoofdkussenboek van Sei Shōnagon, which seems to be a little abridged. So at times I’ll be reading even less entries… But for now I haven’t even managed my first 10 yet — oops! Well, it’s on my nighstand, together with the Kitagawa Utamaro bookmark I used with The Housekeeper and the Professor — doesn’t that count for something? ;)
Velvet of vvb32reads has started a while ago and decided on editing her post about The Pillowbook on a regular basis. Tanabata from In Spring it is the Dawn will write an update post each Friday. So, how am I going to tackle it? I think I’ll be using my weekly Sunday Salon as a dumping ground for my thoughts on the book! The read-along project will take us until somewhere in autumn, so don’t say I haven’t warned ya ;)
I missed out on last week’s Sunday Salon because I had the flu :( Good thing I had my Hello Japan! music sessions scheduled! Otherwise it would have been even quieter on Graasland.
These are the bookish things I didn’t tell you about yet:
- I posted a review for The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, including a small giveaway that was won by Amanda from The Zen Leaf.
- I finished reading The Rapture by Liz Jensen. W O W what a great read! I was wondering if it could be called a Dystopian novel, but NO. And now I’m not sure if I should disclose what genre it does belong to. I hope to write a post about it soon but to be honest: it is not on top of my list because I had promissed myself to limit myself to challenge book reviews…
- Also finished reading the last ‘Lynley mystery’ (so far): Careless in Red, by Elizabeth George. I had it on my shelf for exactly a situation like this — being ill. I’ve read all the books in the series in succession. Remember I was disappointed last year when I thought I had another one in my hands but it wasn’t? And now there really is no comfort read standby anymore! :(
- Of course there are enough other books at hand; and Mr Mailman even brought us some more: Waltz with Bashir graphic novel (the ‘animentary’ was one my two best movies of 2009), Silence by Shusaku Endo (May’s read for the Japanese Literature Book Group), and The Makioka Sisters by Junichirō Tanizaki (JapLit Read-along from July to September). In February-March the bookgroup is reading Dance Dance Dance by Murakami, preceded by A Wild Sheep Chase — which I both recently read so I’ll be buddyreading Murakami’s Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman with Elsjelas instead. His The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is the current read-along and since that was the book that triggered my interest in this author (and Japanese literature?), I can take a break from all the herding ;)
- A comic book I read is In The Shadow of No Towers by ‘Mr Maus‘, Art Spiegelman. And I wrote a blogpost about my experience with a Dutch classic as a graphic novel: De Avonden. Oh, that was my Sunday Salon of two weeks back ;)
Now, about The Pillowbook. It’s a book of observations, musings, poetry etc. recorded by Sei Shōnagon, a Heian court lady to Empress Teishi, during the years 990 – early 1000’s. It is called a pillow book because precious personal possessions like this were stowed away in a cavity of the woodblock (?) that was traditionally used as a pillow. I have tried to find a picture of such a headrest but failed. I’ll keep looking! Or if anyone could oblige??
My experience with the I Am a Cat read-along has taught me to leave the introduction till last, so I don’t know much (more) about the book yet in advance. And I’m a bit reluctant to start because somehow (somewhere) I’ve gotten the idea that it might be dull. Something to find out eh? ;) I’m curious to know whether it will remind me of Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji) by Murasaki Shikibu, which is from approx. the same time — or if it’s completely different. I actually only read part of ‘Genji’ and have thought back to it when I read other Japanese books, like Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore.
Sorry, lots of text today for you, little images. For me it’ll be the other way ’round!
For today’s Sunday Salon I would like to share some thoughts about part 2 of Natsume Sōseki’s classic novel I Am a Cat, published in 1906. You’ll find other bookish news at the end of this post.
There comes a day when, unexpectedly, the first cool wind of autumn blows through the gaps torn in the sleeves of one’s kimono, making one feel a sniffling cold is surely on its way.
Although I enjoyed reading part 1, I am more enthusiastic about volume 2. The author seems to have gotten better at gripping attention from his readers and the chapters are better balanced.
In the beginning I got quickly immersed in the story and was pretty fascinated. Only towards the end I became a bit disinterested again; when the cat started a lot of ‘name-dropping’. Especially characters from Japanese culture, supposedly to give the story depth: “since Genzaemon warmed the room for laypriest Saimyoji,” “you just try to come down from a pine tree like a wolf on the fold in the headlong Yoshitsune style,” or “as pointless as Yoritomo’s gift of a solid silver cat to the unworldly Saigyo” (etc.).
Obviously the book was written for a Japanese audience; to me, being a Westerner, these references only have a superficial meaning. Worse is that I didn’t feel encouraged to google any of them — just because there were too many. Of course ‘Neko’, nor Natsume, wouldn’t have minded: both have not much regard for Westerners anyway — even ridiculing us, together with the way their fellow Japanese copied foreigners after bakumatsu (the ending of Japan’s isolationist foreign policy).
And why, while they’re about it, don’t they and their families stroll around Ueno Park in no more than that nakedness they so affect to love? It can’t be done, they say? But of course it can. The only reason they hesitate is not, I bet, because it can’t be done, but simply because Europeans don’t do it. The proof of my point is in their dusk behaviour. There they are, swaggering down to the Imperial Hotel, all dolled-up in those crazy evening dresses. What origin and history do such cockeyed costumes have? Nothing indigenous. Our bird-brained ladies flaunt themselves in goose-skinned flesh and feathers solely because that is the mode in Europe. Europeans are powerful, so it matters not how ridiculous or daft their goings on, everyone must imitate their daftest designs. [p.244]
Of course it occurred to me that the name-dropping I found tedious could be meant as satire — in real life I am bored accordingly by people who do so as I was now in I Am a Cat ;) And thankfully my patience was rewarded. After the tiresome bit came a lively scene in a sentō, a Japanese public bath house, that was much fun.
Of course, I can’t be sure that it actually is a bath, but I make the wild surmise that it can’t be anything else.
So, while I posited in my review of book 1 that I was only interested in the cat(s) of the story (finding the narrative about people regularly boring), I now really liked to read about human activities. How different!
When I wrote about my first graphic novel Coraline I spoke about ‘reading synchronisity’ with I Am a Cat. Whatdoyaknow? It happened again! Relating to part 1 as well as 2. Together with Coraline I bought The Best of Mutts for the 24 Hour Readaton and I only started reading it recently. Remember the scene about Neko getting his mouth stuck with mochi in I Am a Cat 1? Meet Earl & Mooch at Halloween!
Then I saw this gag where Mooch’s equilibrium is ruined by Earl.
It reminded me of another enjoyable story, in part 2 of I Am a Cat where our feline protagonist is exercising on the garden fence.
I was just about halfway home on my fourth time around when three crows, gliding down from the next-door roof, settled on the fence-top, side-by-side, some six short feet ahead of me. Cheeky bastards! Quite apart from the fact that they’re interrupting my exercise, such low-born, ill-bred, rain-guttersnipes have no right whatsoever to come tresspassing, indeed seemingly to start squatting, on my fence-property. So I told them, in terms of hissing clarity, to get lost. The nearest crow, turning its head toward me, appears to be grinning like a half-wit. The next one unconcernedly studies my master’s garden. And the third continues wiping his filthy beak on a projecting splinter of the fence bamboo. He had all too evidently just finished eating something rather nasty. I stood there balanced on the fence, giving them a civilized three minutes grace to shove off. I’ve heard that these birds are commonly called Crowmagnons, and they certainly look as daft and primitively barbarous as their uncouth nickname would suggest. Despite my coureous waiting, they neither greeted me nor flew away. Becoming at last impatient, I began slowly to advance; whereupon the nearest Crowmagnon tentatively stirred his wings. I thought he was at last backing off in face of my power, but all he did was to shift his posture so as to present his arse, rather than his head, toward me. Outright insolence! [..] I do not greatly care for the idea of being stuck here while a trey of brainless birds waits for whatever impulse will lift them into air. For one thing, there’s my poor tired feet. Those feathered lightweights are used to standing around in such precarious places so that, if my fence-top happens to please them, they might perch here forever. I, on the other hand, am already exhausted. This is my fourth time around today, and this particular exercise is anyway no less tricky than tightrope-walking. [..] I had just decided to hop down when the arse-presenting savage offered me a rudery. ‘Arseholes,’ he observed. His immediate neighbor repeated this coarse remark, while the last one of the trio took the trouble to say it twice. I simply could not overlook behavior so offensive. [..] I began slowly to advance. The crows, oblivious to my action, seem to be talking among themselves. They are exasperating! If only the fence were wider by five or six inches, I’d really give them hell. But as things are, however vehemently vexed I may feel, I can only tiptoe slowly forward to avenge my honor. Eventually, I reached a point a bare half-foot away from the nearest bird and was urging myself onward to one last final effort when, all together and as though by prearrangement, the three brutes suddenly flapped their wings and lumbered to hang a couple of feet above me in the air. The down-draught gusted into my face. Unsportingly surprised, I lost my balance and fell off sideways into the garden.
Kicking myself for permitting such a shameful mishap to occur, I looked up from the ground to find all three marauders safely landed back again where they had perched before. Their three sharp beaks in parallel alignment, they peer down superciliously into my angry eyes. [p.235-237]
I must say that I noticed some inconsistency in the cat’s views about tresspassing, like in the quote above or in the scene about Rickshaw Blacky that I transcribed in my earlier post. In volume 2, there’s a whole paragraph about the impossibility of tresspassing in Neko’s philosophy. It comes down to this (p.120):
What right, then, do human beings hold to decide that things not of their own creation nevertheless belong to them?
[..] there can be no possible justification for them prohibiting others from innocent passage in and out of so-called property.
But of course cats will always reason in their own advantage ;) I wonder what surprises volume 3 will bring. It needs to be read in the new year (!), before January 15th. For now, as promised, I present to you Kahimi Karie’s version of I Am a Kitten.
Since I Am a Cat is a Japanese Classic I’ve also admitted it to Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge.
Other Bookish things
- The Best of Mutts, Patrick McDonnell
- Zijde (Silk), Alessandro Baricco
- The Gargoyle, Andrew Davidson
In the mail
- The Rapture, Liz Jensen (I loved The Ninth Life of Louis Drax)
- The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolaño (recommended by Kazuo Ishiguro)
- Crime School, Carol O’Connell
I am a cat. As yet I have no name. [p.5]
I started reading I Am a Cat (Wagahai wa Neko dearu) during the 24 hour read-a-thon and finished part 1 on October 31st. I’m reading this classic from 1905-1906 for the Japanese Literature Read-along. I wish I had the edition shown on Wikipedia, because I absolutely love that cover! But the picture on my ‘complete edition’ resembles my own cat Juno, so I am happy with that as well :)
What do I think of the book so far? Unfortunately I read the preface first, so there wasn’t much to find out for myself :\ This way I knew beforehand that the first chapter had been written as a short story, to be published in the journal Hototogisu. Originally it was not meant to be a book at all! But one of the the magazine editors persuaded the author to expand it into a novel because of its success.
I’ll let the introduction introduce the story ;)
[..] though Sōseki’s total book is held together by the continuing theme of a nameless cat’s observations of upper-middle-class Japanese society of the Meiji period, the essence of the book resides in the humor and sardonic truth of those various observations, not in the development of the story.
The preface also gave away that the voice of the cat gets more and more human. I recognized that in the following quote from the 3rd (and last) chapter of volume 1:
The more that humans show me sympathy, the more I am inclined to forget that I am a cat. Feeling that I am now closer to humans than to cats, the idea of rallying my own race in an effort to wrest supremacy from the bipeds no longer has the least appeal. [..] Moreover, I have developed, indeed evolved, to such an extent that there are now times when I think of myself as just another human in the human world.
Reading that, a relation to the song I Am a Kitten became apparent. Momus wrote the piece of music originally in French for the Japanese pop star Kahimi Karie. The booklet of his 20 Vodka Jellies cd even acknowledges that it owes something to this “excellent novel”.
The song is about a cat falling in love with a human being (= impossible love). I don’t think that’s going to happen in Natsume’s story, but you never know ;) Here’s Momus singing I Am a Kitten (in English), while you read along. We’ll save Kahimi’s performance for another time ;)
And though I’d love to be loved
The gods ordained it that
You were made a human being
And I turned out a cat
(I am a kitten)
Back to the novel. I’m not really sure what to think of it. Of course it’s interesting to read about Japanese intellectuals and their surroundings in early 20th century — seen through the eyes of a cat. But how realistic is it? And what is there to ‘learn’ about Japan it if I can’t determine that? Okay, I admit to not having a taste for satire. And yes, I’m embarrased to say so; it’s like confessing to not having a sense of humor — in other words being a sourpuss :\
Anywho. Aside from the above, I am not able to identify with the cat, even though it is portrayed lifelike (that is to say: the way we humans perceive feline characters). And this time it can’t be designated my shortcoming because in Barbara Gowdy’s book The White Bone I actually imagined I was the elephant Mud.
Am I not enjoying the read-along of I Am a Cat? Oh yes I am! :)
I really had to laugh about a scene where ‘the cat’ — I am going to baptize it Neko here and now — gets its jaw stuck in a rice cake. I transcribed part of it for a mini challenge in the 24 hour read-a-thon, but it actually goes on for several pages and it is very evocative.
I guess this novel, for me, is about cherishing specific quotes; I’ve jotted many down in my notebook. In my blogpost about the graphic novel Coraline I have already talked about reading synchronisity on the basis of some similar quotes. But I was also affected by a scene in which ‘Neko’ finds Rickshaw Blacky sunbathing in his garden. This part reminded me very much of our belated tomcat Jumbo (who was HUGE and named Jumbo because of that by the animal shelter when he was only a few weeks old). He was a shy guy btw, not some bully like the cat of the rickshaw owner ;)
[..] and there I saw an enormous cat fast asleep on a bed of withered chrysanthemums, which his weight had flattened down. [..] there he was, stretched out at full length and snoring loudly. I was amazed at the daring courage that permitted him, a tresspasser, to sleep so unconcernedly in someone else’s garden. He was a pure black cat. The sun of earliest afternoon was pouring its most brilliant rays upon him, and it seemed as invisible flames were blazing out from his glossy fur. He had a magnificent physique; the physique, one might say, of the Emperor of Catdom. [p.9-10]
In conclusion I just think the cat(s) in the story interest me, and not so much the storylines about the people. Yes, I am a cat person :)
For surely even humans will not flourish forever. I think it best to wait in patience for the Day of the Cats. [p.7]
Part 2 of I Am a Cat needs to be read (and reviewed) before December 15th and the final part in the middle of January 2010. To be continued…
Note: I had a hard time deciding whether I should write Natsume Sōseki or Sōseki Natsume. The Western way would be Sōseki Natsume, since Natsume is the writer’s last name. But the Japanese put their family names first. In the end I considered decisive that 1) in my museum profession author and creator names are usually documented in the way the person presents him-/herself publicly and 2) that is probably also why I know the author by the name Natsume Sōseki best myself.
I really have to get away from this computer and do some serious reading! I had planned to join the The Golden Notebook Readalong Project that started yesterday, but I haven’t finished my current book yet (Hitsuji o meguru bōken, or: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami). I don’t seem to get as much reading done as I used to these days :(
The Golden Notebook (by Doris Lessing, of course) was an important feminist book in its day, and I guess that’s how it came on my wishlist ‘to be read someday’. But I haven’t really felt like it up until now (and I still don’t to be honest). I’m afraid it will be difficult or boring… So I made it part of my personal 2008-2009 reading challenge. In the ‘readalong project’ seven female writers will read The Golden Notebook for the first time and blog about it. People like me can have their say on the forum. (Oops, that will get me behind the computer again ;) Well, I should at least try to read this golden oldie from a writer that won last year’s Nobel Prize in Literature!