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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!
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: 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.
In 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.
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!
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
In 2006 I read 39 books, amounting to a total of 11.762 pages. I put 3 books aside without finishing, all nonfiction. If I’d count the number pages that I did read of these books, my total would pass 12.500!
Glancing over my list you can probably guess what my personal reading challenge was? If not, look again and pay special attention to the bold titles ;)
- Canal dreams , Iain Banks ( 1989 )
- Dietrich: mijn moeder ( Marlene Dietrich ) , Maria Riva ( 1992 ) nonfiction (biography); abandoned
- The kite runner , Khaled Hosseini ( 2003 )
- The ninth life of Louis Drax , Liz Jensen ( 2004 )
- The fourth hand , John Irving ( 2001 )
- Driedaagse reis ( Three day road ) , Joseph Boyden ( 2005 )
- De Verdieping van Nederland: duizend jaar Nederland aan de hand van topstukken , Koninklijke Bibliotheek en Nationaal Archief (  ) nonfiction
- Not on the label , Felicity Lawrence ( 2004 ) nonfiction; abandoned
- Een verhaal dat het leven moet veranderen , Hans Goedkoop ( 2004 ) nonfiction
- A traitor to memory , Elizabeth George ( 2001 )
- After dark ( Afutaa daaku ) , Haruki Murakami ( 2004/2006 )
- De collectie (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen) , Erik Beenker ( 2005 ) nonfiction
- Black Swan Green , David Mitchell ( 2006 )
- The tattooed map , Barbara Hodgson ( 1995 )
- The man who cast two shadows , Carol O’Connell ( 1995 )
- Canongebulder , K. Paling ( 2006 ) nonfiction; abandoned
- Slaughterhouse-Five , Kurt Vonnegut ( 1969 )
- A dry white season , André Brink ( 1979 )
- Everything is illuminated , Jonathan Safran Foer ( 2002 )
- The woman in white , Wilkie Collins ( 1860 )
- The Great Gatsby , F. Scott Fitzgerald ( 1926 )
- De grote wereld , Arthur Japin ( 2006 )
- Brokeback Mountain , Annie Proulx ( 1997 )
- Ongelukzoekers ( Fools of fortune ) , William Trevor ( 1983 )
- The Murder Room , P.D. James ( 1983 )
- Less than zero , Bret Easton Ellis ( 1985 )
- Lunar Park , Bret Easton Ellis ( 2005 )
- Dead famous , Ben Elton ( 2001 )
- Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde , Robert Louis Stevenson ( 1886 )
- Mary Reilly , Valerie Martin ( 1990 )
- The third man / The fallen idol , Graham Greene ( 1950 / 1935 )
- When we were orphans , Kazuo Ishiguro ( 2000 )
- Hong Kong Souvenir , Lisa Bresner ( 1995 )
- The night watch , Sarah Waters ( 2006 )
- A short history of tractors in Ukraïnian , Marina Lewycka ( 2005 )
- Maps for lost lovers , Nadeem Aslam ( 2004 )
- Zuidvleugel (Rijksmuseum) , Annemarie Vels Heijn ( 1996 ) nonfiction
- One flew over the cuckoo’s nest , Ken Kesey ( 1962 )
- Eight cousins , Louisa May Alcott ( 1875 )
- On beauty , Zadie Smith ( 2005 )
- Studio Zes ( Studio Sex ) , Liza Marklund ( 1999 )
- Seven up , Janet Evanovich ( 2001 )
Although there were several favourite reads, the best by far was Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam. Just beautiful. *sigh* Other highlights: Black Swan Green (of course), The Woman in White, A Dry White Season, Slaughterhouse-Five (!) and The Ninth Life of Louis Drax.
Even though I had seen the movie adaption of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest some 20 years ago, I kept seeing Jack Nicholson while reading the book. (Oh, he’s on the cover, is he? ;) Still, that was a memorable read as well.
Some stats to end with…
Female authors: 15
Male authors: 23
Unknown authors: 1
Dutch authors: 5