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The book
I’m still reading part 3 of I Am a Cat by Natsume Sōseki, a Japanese classic from 1907.

The tea
I’m drinking some Chung Hao Jasmine in original Japanese tea cups made from Arita porcelain. This Chinese tea is also a classic.

The comfit
With my book and tea I’m relishing the #1 award winning Dutch bonbon of 2009: ‘bullet’, by Visser Chocolates. It’s a luxurious cherry flavour, with a soft mochi-like filling at bottom.

Thursday Tea buttonDo they go together?
The protagonist of my book is (obviously) a cat and I don’t see it drinking tea, but its master Sneaze could definitely be enjoying this classic beverage during the many languishing hours in his study or on the veranda. In the early 1900’s Chinese tea had been an imported product in Japan for many centuries.

The cat is a sweet tooth and likes mochi… so the candy is perfect too! And look at those gorgeous colours: all gold, green and burgundy red in the glow of a soft winter sun!

Thursday Tea is a fun meme for tea loving readers, hosted by Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog.

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

It’s really weird: looking back on 2009 I seem to have only seen movies from the past decade… (2000-2009). Not consciously though!

Usually I’m quite conscientious in keeping track of what I’ve seen, but this time I noticed some titles were missing… I hope I recovered them all by thinking hard about it! That’s why I’m late posting my list ;)

I’ve chosen two pictures as best movies of 2009; a feature film and a ‘documation’, or ‘animentary’.

Starting with the motion picture: my favourite film of 2009 was Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank. Man, it was GOOD. We had a lot to talk about afterwards, but unfortunately I didn’t write it down so I forgot most of it :\ I guess I’m getting old! LOL

Fish Tank is a movie about Mia, a difficult adolescent in a working class environment. She’s got a pretty tough life, but she’s tough herself and strives to get the future she wants. It is not always an easy movie to watch (shouting and strong language being the least of it). But it is so much less depressing than a Ken Loach movie, the master of Social Realism! I found the story realistic, but hopeful and energizing. Inexperienced leading actress Katie Jarvis really is amazing as the angry teenager. It is said she was plucked off the street by director Arnold while she was having an argument with her boyfriend, LOL.

Really, if you get the chance: GO SEE FISH TANK! Meanwhile, I’m very much looking forward to Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights

But I said I have two favs for 2009. If you would put a gun to my head and force me to choose just one, I think it would be the other: Waltz With Bashir. I wrote a review on Graasland, in Dutch. It’s an animated documentary, hence my labels documation and animentary — I haven’t decided yet on the best term. What would you call it?

Waltz with Bashir depicts its Israeli director Ari Folman in search of his lost memories from the 1982 Lebanon War. All interviews were filmed in the ordinary way, and animated afterwards. That gives the images a certain atmosphere. Now that I’ve told you that, look for example at the house and garden of Ari’s friend in Holland. Thanks to the method used, the interviewees are relatively anonymous. But you do hear their actual voices.

I was really impressed by Waltz with Bashir. The story is interesting and humane. I didn’t know much about the Lebanon war and I usually don’t watch animation — so I didn’t expect to like it much. What a surprise that it turned out to be so good! I actually believe I understand a little better what it means to be (and have been) young in Israel and its surrounding countries. But not only that: the strong imagery of the film also makes it just very attractive to look at. And the soundtrack is great too! As I wrote in my Hello Japan! post about Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, it is one of my two most popular music discoveries of 2009 as well :)

Waltz with Bashir is the first animated film ever to have been nominated for an Academy Award in the category Best Foreign Language Film.

Now, before I close with my complete list of all 35 films and 13 tv-series I watched in 2009: what is your favourite movie of 2009???

Movies watched in 2009

Mourning Forest ( Mogari no Mori ) Naomi Kawase ( 2007 )
Slumdog Millionaire Danny Boyle ( 2008 )
The Wrestler Darren Aronofsky ( 2008 )
Changeling Clint Eastwood ( 2008 )
Waltz with Bashir ( Vals Im Bashir ) Ari Folman ( 2008 )
Frost / Nixon Ron Howard ( 2008 )
Contractpensions, Djangan Loepah! Hetty Naaijkens-Retel Helmich ( 2008 )
Man on Wire James Marsh ( 2008 )
The Reader Stephen Daldry ( 2008 )
Tokyo Sonata Kiyoshi Kurosawa ( 2008 )
Brideshead Revisited Julian Jarrold ( 2008 )
Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk Greg MacGillivray ( 2008 )
Milk Gus van Sant ( 2008 )
Chérie Stephen Frears ( 2009 )
Adaptation. Spike Jonze ( 2002 )
Departures ( Okuribito ) Yôjirô Takita ( 2008 )
Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure Sean MacLeod Phillips ( 2007 )
La tourneuse de pages Denis Dercourt ( 2006 )
Megane Naoko Ogigami ( 2007 )
Dark Water ( Honogurai mizu no soko kara ) Hideo Nakata ( 2002 )
30 Days of Night David Slade ( 2007 )
Boy A John Crowley ( 2007 )
Frozen River Courtney Hunt ( 2008 )
Fish Tank Andrea Arnold ( 2009 )
Grizzly Man Werner Herzog ( 2005 )
The Number 23 Joel Schumacher ( 2007 )
Revolutionary Road Sam Mendes ( 2008 )
Incendiary Sharon Maguire ( 2008 )
Surveillance Jennifer Chambers Lynch ( 2008 )
Bug William Friedkin ( 2006 )
Survivor Marjolein Duermeijer ( 2009 )
Inglourious Basterds Quentin Tarantino ( 2009 )
Snatch Guy Ritchie ( 2000 )
La Siciliana Ribelle Marco Amenta ( 2009 )
Flags of Our Fathers Clint Eastwood ( 2006 )

Television series

It’s impossible to say which one I liked best. In 2009 I saw Six Feet Under, Dexter and Ashes to Ashes, all series to die for!

The Last Enemy
Criminal Justice
6 Feet Under
(all series)
Spooks (several series)
Burn Notice
Ashes to Ashes II
Tess
Sense & Sensibility
X-Files
Dexter I
Dexter II

24 day 7
Sopranos (several series)

Note: television series are NOT included in the diagrams.

Hello Japan! is swinging into 2010. January’s topic is ‘Music to my ears’. I found it really hard to decide what musical subject to concentrate on, so I am presenting a 5 part series of ‘Music Lessons’ on Fridays. Welcome to #3! Which is actually more of a report on a concert I visited ;)

Time flies… almost a year ago I went to a performance of classical music by contemporary Japanese composers that are influenced by ‘the West’ but have kept their Oriental identity. The works were selected by conductor Reinbert de Leeuw and performed by the Asko/Schönberg Ensemble.

The evening consisted of music by the well-known Tōru Takemitsu (Tree Line / Archipelago S.), Jo Kondo (Isthmus / Syzygia), Toshio Hosokawa (Voyage V) and the Dutch premiere of Vanishing Point by Dai Fujikura. Because of the program’s diversity the hosting concert hall, Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, had called it ‘Japanse Mix‘; a Dutch name for a combination of rice crackers… Not surprisingly Reinbert de Leeuw pleaded in his introduction to forget about those nuts. So, apologies for the following ;)

My main sensation of the evening was that it completely cleared my head, almost like a yoga session! LOL. I don’t think I would have been able to listen as relaxed if I had been at home though. But tonight I was forced to stay put and listen ;)

Some thoughts & impressions…

Takemitsu is said to be the first Modern Japanese composer to be known in the West. Of course that has something to do with his affinity with jazz (among others); a genre not much to my liking — what might be the reason that I have to make an effort to appreciate his music. Although his oeuvre is quite varied of course. Here’s a quote on the interconnection of East and West by the master himself:

There is no doubt [...] the various countries and cultures of the world have begun a journey toward the geographic and historic unity of all peoples [...] The old and new exist within me with equal weight.

The evening was enclosed by two compositions of Takemitsu. The final, Archipelago S., was more ‘accessible’ to the untrained ear. It’s a piece written for 21 musicians and they all sat in a half-circle (crescent moon) on stage. Lots of solos so each got their fair share of attention ;) I’ve only got two different works of Takemitsu at home, so I’ll share with you Stanza II, performed by harpist Naoko Yoshino. Just to give you a general idea. It’s from Insomnia, a collaborative album with Gidon Kremer.

Something else Takemitsu said about his compositions appeals to me so much it really makes me want to love his music.

My music is deeply influenced by nature and Japanese gardens. From gardens, I’ve learned to treasure the Japanese sense of timing and color. Each element is precious… every rock and tree, and, somehow, we see reflected in all of them… the entire universe.

Back to the concert and other composers. What I especially liked about Voyage V by Hosokawa, were the Western flutes simulating the sound of Japanese wind chimes, ending in utter silence. A vanishing point, so to say, but that was another piece of music; by Fujikura. Is there any relation to the 1971 cult movie Vanishing Point? Anyway, the premiere of this piece was impressive in that it seemed to require the utmost concentration of all performers. The composer was present and seemed very satisfied.

Now you might have noticed I didn’t mention Kondo’s music.. I’m afraid I don’t remember much about it and I didn’t note down any striking thoughts. Maybe it was so minimalistic that it seems never to have existed? Bad joke, I know :\ Dutch readers can look it up in this review in de Volkskrant of January 31, 2009.

Although it wasn’t all as exhilarating as I might have hoped, we had a nice evening out that we concluded in the bar with a drink and snacks. Nuts, of course.

Who doesn’t know this famous picture of a Migrant Mother of the American Dust Bowl? It could be the icon of John Steinbeck’s famous novel The Grapes of Wrath, which I read in the autumn of 2009; 60 years after its publication date (1939), which was also the year that my mother was born. It came to be my favourite read of 2009 — something I would never have expected!

Set during the Great Depression preceding World War II, the novel focuses on the Joad family, farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in the agriculture industry. Because of their hopeless situation they set out for ‘The Promised Land’ of California, along with thousands of other Okies in search of land, jobs and dignity.

Highway 66 is the main migrant road. 66 — the long concrete path across the country, waving gently up and down on the map, from Mississippi to Bakersfield — over the red lands and the grey lands, twisting up into the mountains, crossing the Divide and down into the bright and terrible desert to the mountains again, and into the rich California valleys.

66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert’s slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there. From all of these the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight. [p.108]

This quote vividly evokes the story of the east to west migration in the US during the Great Depression. The paragraph above is followed by an enumeration of places along the road and it strongly brought to mind the 1946 song that I came to know decades later, thanks to one of the best pop groups of my teenage years, Depeche Mode: Route 66.

The Grapes of Wrath was banned (and even burned) several times. Though I absolutely not agree with it, of course not — the very idea, I can understand see how that happened: there’s a lot of swearing, violence and carnal stuff in it, plus an apostate preacher, Jim Casy. I read the book in Banned Books Week — and what did I think of it?

Cover Grapes of WrathWell, I had a hard time getting into it. The paperback has a small font on thin pages so it reveals itself to be quite a chunker when you open it for the first time. The spoken language needs a bit of getting used to. But my biggest problem was that the chapters alternate between the (interesting) story of the Joad family and some sort of epic story telling that I couldn’t figure out — and bored me a little at first. Was it the (ex-)preacher preaching? Sort of a ancient Greek choir commenting on events? An omnipresent character? Biblical, mythological? Eventually I decided it must be the oral tradition of history — I could picture the poor travelers meeting around a camp fire at night; neighbours and friends for just a short time.

And then suddenly the machines pushed them out and they swarmed on the highways. The movement changed them; the highways, the camps along the road, the fear of hunger and hunger itself, changed them. The children without dinner changed them, the endless moving changed them. They were migrants. [p.259]

But after a while the story really got under my skin. It made a huge impression that still lasts, even after a few months. I believe it is a great truth that the less people own, the more they’re willing to share. That reminds me of a television program in Holland about hospitality ;)

The attitude of Western Americans was often repulsive.

Them goddamn Okies got no sense and no feeling. They ain’t human. A human being wouldn’t live like they do. A human being couldn’t stand it to be so dirty and so miserable… They ain’t a hell of a lot better than gorillas. [p.203]

This.is.so.un.fair.
It almost made me swear out loud.
But of course, those people were scared too…

I copied whole pages in my notebook because I wanted to remember them. Better buy a copy of my own eh? Since this one was a Random Act of Bookcrossing Kindness, sent to me by boekenxnl. I’ll pass it along as soon as I’ve finished writing this review!

Now, on a side note: I was wondering who made the cover of this 1970 Penguin Modern Classic edition. I couldn’t find it in the book details, nor anywhere on the web. What I coincidence that I went to an exhibition on Edward Hopper and his contemporaries in the Rotterdam Kunsthal, where I came face to face with a painting by Ben Shahn (1898-1969) that immediately reminded me of the cover image! Because of the style, and of its subject: Social Realism (or social-documentary). The exhibition note explained that the artist used to make a photo first, which he later developed into a graphic work.

I figured it would be very appropriate to use a work of art by Shahn as a book cover for The Grapes of Wrath, because during the Great Depression he traveled and documented the American south alongside photographers like (among others) Dorothea Lange, who made the picture of a Migrant Mother that you saw at the beginning of this post. What a great discovery to make!

You can guess how proud I was of myself — until I accidentally found out that the blurb on the back mentioned that “it is a detail of a poster by”… Ben Shahn. DÔH. Well, I would like to say in my own defense that I usually never read the back cover because I want to know as little as possible about a book in advance. And in the end I just forgot. But yes, I admit I must be the dumbest person in the whole wide universe. Still, it’s fun to have figured it out all by myself ;)

Edward Hopper's Railroad Sunset (1929) Whitney Museum of American Art

Except for Hopper’s painting Railroad Sunset the rest of the exhibition actually was a bit of a disappointment. An Edward Hopper expo is no Hopper expo when his most famous painting Nighthawks isn’t there. But of course that picture doesn’t belong to the Whitney Museum of American Art, the institution that put the show together with works out of its own collection.

Back to The Grapes of Wrath. A minor point of critique is that the women in the story are horribly subdue. The following quote doesn’t show that for a 100%, but it made me go BWAAAGH ;)

Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great if their men were whole. [p.7]

But I guess some ‘male dominance’ was normal in those times (& that place) and so Steinbeck is being realistic. But then he talks about Jule, who’s partly Native American:

Tom and Willie and Jule the half-breed sat on the edge of the dance floor and swung their feet. [p.327]

Each time Jule makes an appearance this ‘half-breed’ fact is mentioned. That irritated me — and I got the feeling it wasn’t because Steinbeck happened to be such a great observer, but maybe because that was how he approached Amerindians himself. Or am I terribly wrong??

Thirdly, the poor migrants were at times too good to be true. But these things aside: I am SO glad that I have read this classic!

Btw if you’re interested: I stumbled upon a (really) short article about one of the daughters of the Migrant Mother…

The Grapes of Wrath is part of my Personal 2008-2009-2010 Reading Challenge and the 2009 Classics Challenge.

Sunday, actually most of the weekend, was dominated by my first Bloggiesta. And it’s not over yet, so I’m still having fun! Even though I didn’t get as much work done on Graasland as I had hoped. Especially regarding my review backlog… :(

Anyway, following last week’s Sunday Salon about the books I read in 2009 I made some pie charts on:

  • gender,
  • fiction/nonfiction,
  • original language.

I forgot about statistics on authors new to me: 22 of 34!

Yesterday I finally finished reviewing my best read of 2009: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. That is such a relief! Post scheduled for later this week.

I decided to cut back on challenges this year that require me to write reviews. That means I have to stick with the ones I’ve joined until now — and maybe even drop out of the What’s in a name? challenge. Unless I’ll be able to write really short reviews, or even just comments on the challenge blog. Let’s not be too radical at once ;)

During the week I finished reading 2 books, one of which belongs to the What’s in a name? challenge, category ‘title’ (Professor):

Both were VERY good, so I’m off on a good start this year! :)

My Gnoegle map of Bookcrossing releasesThanks to the Bloggiesta I added two challenge pages to Graasland: current and finished. That way I could declutter my sidebar of old challenge buttons. But I replaced them with something new: a Gnoegle map button leading to my Google map of Bookcrossing releases. I completely made it myself! *solliciting compliments*

One of the things you’ll be able to find on the Gnoegle map is team De Boekenleggers’ release in week 10 of Bookcrossing Convention Monopoly. Search for Een echte Lizzie kerst (A Real Lizzie X-Mas) on page 2. It was hung in a real life Christmastree and happened to be the 200th release of the game!

Which reminds me of some other Bookcrossing related activities I participated in last year, that haven’t been mentioned yet on this blog.

Being in the mood for archiving I also added two posts to Graasland about books read in 2005 en 2006. And I have updated my profile on the Bookcrossing bookshelf. Such a lot of maintenance I got done! HOORAY!

So, how was your week???

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 ;)

I my post about the books I’ve read last year (it needs a bit of getting used to, calling 2009 “last year” ;) I promised you some additional stats. Here they are!

I also read 1 graphic novel and listened to 1 audio book.

Do you like these kind of statistics as much as I do? Anything else you would like to know?

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 ;)

2009 was a good year for reading. I completed 35 books (5 more than last year) and I didn’t put any aside because I found them too disappointing. My eyes have goggled a total of 10.038 pages ;)

2009 FIRSTS:

I’m afraid I have a lot of ‘wrapping up’ to do on my challenges — writing reviews and wrap-up posts — so thank god for next weekend: it’s Bloggiesta!

Now, the highlights of 2009…. (drum roll)

BESTEST book: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (published in 1939)

I would never have guessed it would end as my best read of 2009. I had a hard time getting into the book, especially because of the ‘epic’ chapters intertwining the story of the Joad family during the Great Depression in the US. But it really got under my skin. And looking back The Grapes of Wrath definitely made the biggest (and a long lasting) impression.
I still need to review it so I guess it’d better be one of the first to tackle. (Review added)

SECOND best book: The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata (1962)

I had never heard of Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata, even though I’ve been reading Japanese authors for a while now. So I’m really glad I got to know him thanks to the Japanese Literature Book Group that started this year. Again, I haven’t reviewed this book yet :\ But I absolutely loved the detailed descriptions of Kyoto and Japanese culture. It reminded me of last year’s favourite: The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery. But The Old Capital is way more subtle — Japanese, where The Teahouse Fire is recognizably American in comparison. So, another review that’s high on my to-do list.

Worst book: Butterfly in the Wind by Rei Kimura (2000)
What do you know, I do have a review of this year’s worst read on Graasland! ;) That’s because it was the first book I read for the Japanese Literature Challenge (for which I actually only needed to read 1 book, but why stop, especially after such a disappointment? ;) I read Butterfly in the Wind in Dutch (Vlinder in de wind) and found the content, the way the story was told ánd the translation all h o r r i b l e.

I have thought of listing more books especially worth mentioning, but I had many good reads this year so I’ll just give you the whole lot of them. The first title (Silk) was read last, the last of the list my first book of 2009 (Falling Angels). Are there any of these you would have picked as your best read?

  • Zijde (Seta / Silk), Alessandro Baricco
  • The Gargoyle, Andrew Davidson (online reading group)
  • I am a cat (Wagahai wa Neko de Aru), 2nd volume, Natsume Sōseki (Japanese Literature Read-along, JapLit Challenge)
  • The Old Capital (Koto 古都), Yasunari Kawabata (Japanese Literature Reading Group)
  • Persuasion, Jane Austen audio book
  • In Cold Blood, Truman Capote (November Book Group read; What’s in a Name)
  • I am a cat (Wagahai wa Neko de Aru), 1st volume, Natsume Sōseki (Japanese Literature Read-along, JapLit Challenge)
  • Coraline, Neil Gaiman (graphic novel)
  • De pianoman, Bernlef
  • Be With You (Ima, Ai ni Yukimasu), Takuji Ichikawa
  • The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck ((multiple) challenge book) TNX to boekenxnl for this rabck!
  • Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates (Classics challenge; online reading group)
  • Het Pauperparadijs, Suzanna Jansen (non-fiction)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (Bookcrossing bookring / (multiple) challenge book)
  • Vlinder in de wind (Butterfly in the Wind), Rei Kimura (Japanese Literature challenge book)
  • Away, Amy Bloom (online reading group)
  • The Mapmaker’s Wife, Robert Whitaker (Bookcrossing bookring / What’s in a name challenge book)
  • What came before he shot her, Elizabeth George (What’s in a name challenge book)
  • With no one as witness, Elizabeth George
  • Zo god het wil (Crossroads / Come Dio Comanda), Niccolò Ammaniti
  • De inboorling, Stevo Akkerman
  • Ten zuiden van de grens, ten westen van de zon (Kokkyo no minami, Taiyo no nishi / South of the Border, West of the Sun), Haruki Murakami
  • De kleine keizer (‘The Little Emperor‘), Martin Bril (What’s in a name challenge book)
  • Nikolski, Nicolas Dickner (ring)
  • Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh ((multiple) challenge book / bookgroup)
  • Slam, Nick Hornby
  • Notes from an exhibition, Patrick Gale
  • Rivier der vergetelheid (Meuse l’oubli), Philippe Claudel
  • Dans dans dans (Dansu dansu dansu / Dance dance dance), Haruki Murakami
  • The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro ((multiple) challenge book)
  • Grijze zielen, Philippe Claudel (What’s in a name challenge book)
  • The National Trust for Scotland: Brodie Castle (non-fiction)
  • De ijdele engel, Godfried Bomans
  • The End of Mr Y, Scarlett Thomas (TNX to rapturina for this rabck!)
  • Vallende engelen (Falling Angels), Tracey Chevalier

The ‘stats’ (for real geeks like me ;) will have to wait until another day. But here’s what I read in 2008 and in 2007 — for those of you who haven’t had enough yet (are you also from the Eighties generation, too fond of making lists? ;)

My Google map will show you my Bookcrossing releases of all-time. Making a sidebar button for it is one of my wishes for next week’s Bloggiesta! As is, maybe, a special page where I can bring my year lists together?

Coincidently (dôh) this week’s Booking Through Thursday wants to know exactly what I’ve been talking about today!

Another mission accomplished: I crossed the 100 Mile Fitness Challenge finish line in the company of some Wandelgrrls on December 30th, 2009! * whispers * There were two more secret challengers among them… :))

The original hike from Garderen to Putten got canceled because of the bad weather forecast, but 5 of us decided to go on another hike anyway: NS-wandeling Utrechtse Heuvelrug, from Driebergen to Maarn. We made a pitstop in Austerlitz, where we had some hot chocolat! The weather was fine btw; none of the promised rain, snow or ice came in our way. Still, we didn’t make a detour for Austerlitz Pyramide. But we did pass Stoop Pavilion, where I ate my Herfst Hike Bento on my first walk for the fitness challenge ;)

So, the numbers (drum roll): from October 20th – December 31 I walked 107 miles / 172 kilometers!

Better still, I’ll probably update this post later on with a new total because I am going to end this year DANCING. And in the new year? I will join in the new 100 Mile Fitness Challenge! Because I have had fun :))

WISHING EVERYONE A WONDERFUL 2010!

Like I said I am starting as a Philogynist in the Women Unbound challenge.  That means I need to read at least two books, including (again at least) one nonfiction one. What exactly is the purpose of this challenge?

Participants are encouraged to read nonfiction and fiction books related to the rather broad idea of ‘women’s studies.’ [..]

For nonfiction, this would include books on feminism, history books focused on women, biographies of women, memoirs (or travelogues) by women, essays by women and cultural books focused on women (body image, motherhood, etc.). [..]

It’s trickier to say what is applicable as fiction. Obviously, any classic fiction written by a feminist is applicable. But where do we go from there? To speak generally, if the book takes a thoughtful look at the place of women in society, it will probably count. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to explain in your review why you chose this for the challenge and its connection to women’s studies.

For now, my books for this challenge are:

  • The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata (read in November),
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (autobiographical graphic novel),
  • The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon, a book of observations and musings recorded during her time as court lady to Empress Teishi (my nonfiction entry for this challenge).

The Old Capital & The Pillow Book are both written by Japanese authors, so it will be interesting to look for differences and similarities in Kawabata’s male, and Shōnagon’s female view on the role of women in Japanese society. Of course the social strata in these books are very different: Chieko the merchant’s daughter in The Old Capital vs. a court lady in The Pillow Book. Well, at least I hope there will have been progress in almost a 1000 years from the year 990 (Heian Period) and the 1960’s… Let’s read and see!

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