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Jap Literature Challenge 13 logo
2019 was an all-time low in reading Japanese Literature for me. I managed only one book originating in Japan: The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa.
I hate and love this story at the same time.
And I might not even have read it if it wasn’t for Dolce Bellezza’s annual Japanese Literature Challenge! So I’m very happy to join in again this January 1st.

In a nice coincidence dear Mr Gnoe gifted me Hiromi Kawakami’s The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino last night on New Year’s Eve. That will be up first for the challenge; I already picked a bookmark to go with it :-D
The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino

Aiming high this 13th Japanese Literature Challenge

If everything goes the way I want I will be reading six pieces of Japanese literature for the JLit challenge, running from January through March. I committed to join the monthly reads of the Japanese Literature group bookclub on Goodreads AND their casual buddy read of The Aosawa Murders (Riku Onda), after publication in February. The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino was this group’s read for December so I’m tagging a little behind. But that’s okay since I have already read January’s choice.

Goodreads’ Japanese Literature group Bookclub reads for January – May 2020

  • January: The Woman in the Dunes by by Kobo Abe — a masterpiece unlike any other book so please try it if you haven’t yet! I read it in 2011.
  • February: Go by Kabuki Kaneshiro
  • March: The Lake by Yasunari Kawabata — maybe my favourite Japanese author!
  • April: The Emissary a.k.a. The Last Children of Tokyo by Yoko Tawada
  • May: Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura

On top of that I mean to read along with #JapaneseLitChallenge13 participants in March, tackling Junichiro Tanizaki’s The Makioka Sisters . I have the 576 page chunkster on my shelf since I failed a previous collective reading.

All in all a busy schedule this first quarter of 2020! I should be able to manage however, since I surpassed last year’s goal of reading 20 books with two. That’s almost two books a month. The new target I set for 2020 is 25. Participating in Susy’s 24-in-28 Readathon on Goodreads the weekend of January 18-19 will probably help me get off to a good start.

I can do this!

Looking forward to it all!

Do you like Japanese Literature as much as I do? Do you have any reading resolutions for the new year? I’d love to hear it!

On my last trip to Terschelling island I met a travelling cat. A handsome black fellow having its own raised bench on the passenger’s side of a grey van. Food and water in their slots on the dashboard. The car being parked, the cat was playing the cool dude, resting its elbow on the open window. Or so it seemed ;-)

I had to think back to this regularly while reading The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa — the first book I picked and finished for this year’s Japanese Literature Challenge 12. A picture of the cat I met would be perfect here but alas, I have none.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles coverThe Travelling Cat Chronicles is a novella about a stray cat called Nana () being taken in by Satoru. They become companions in life, and on the road in Satoru’s grey van.

When I finished the book -a month ago already- I threw it across the roomI HATE IT! I shouted — at the same time telling the hubs to quickly go read it… I guess the story more upsets me really than evoke rage. It is way too close to my heart, and I can’t take it.

So, kudos for Arikawa’s way with words. When another of her works is translated I will be sure to pick it up. But I may never read The Travelling Cat Chronicles again. It’s a thumbs up I don’t dare recommend. All I can say is: if you plan on gifting this book, be sure to include hankies.

Back to the Japanese Literature Challenge. Unfortunately not much will come of my plans to read a J-Lit for each of the three months. It ends March 31st and though I gave Haruki Murakami’s De moord op Commendatore (Killing Commendatory) first part; een idea verschijnt a shot, the story didn’t grab me at this moment — even inducing another reading slump. I’m giving up now but still declaring JLC#12 a success. I wanted to read Japanese Literature again, and did.

And so I can choose something new from Mt. TBR… it’s going to be John Irving: Last Night In Twisted River!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

I really don’t “do” New Year’s resolutions as I believe in starting changes right away and not just at the beginning of a year. However, the dark month of December is always a suitable moment for reflection. And glancing at my life I realised I want to read more often. I miss the cosiness and calm feeling of being curled up with a book. When did it stop being a big part of my life?

So this January I am thrilled to join the twelfth edition of possibly my favourite reading challenge: Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge!

Japanese Literature Challenge #12 button

Since I have A LOT of unread books on my shelves, another one of my non-resolutions is picking mostly from our personal library. For this challenge I’m thinking of:

  • Killing Commendatore (De moord op Commendatore) 1&2 ~ Haruki Murakami
  • The Traveling Cat Chronicles ~ Hiro Arikawa
  • Kokoro ~ Natsumi Soseki
  • The Book of Tea ~ Okakura Kakuzo (non-fiction)

I won’t be able to read them all as the Japanese Literature Challenge is running for just three months and January is already almost at the end *SHOCK* but I can’t wait to tackle at least one of these longtime Mt TBR residents.

Which one of the titles I mentioned would you choose?

I’ll be posting my choice and updating on Instagram using the appointed hashtag #JLC12.

Button 24 Hour Read-a-ThonWOW, I’ve been so much looking forward to this October 2017 edition of Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon! It’s my favourite fall event :) I’ve done a minimum of prepping and will be participating low key as my main goal is to just read at long(-ish) stretches of time. I slowly seem to crawl out of a reading slump that’s been going on for years and I’ll do anything it takes to keep going forward!!

But the fact that so many people across the globe are reading and interacting about it at the same time is of course a big part of the thrill so you’ll also find me hopping a few blogs, and mainly post as @gnoe on Instagram, Litsy and now and then Twitter (@graasland). Join me there?!

My plans

Part-time participant

I’m never able to read for the full 24 hours so I’m not going to try. Just as much as I can! Next to that I will try to make my other activities book related. My film club is gathering tonight and it’s my turn to choose a movie. So I suggested a few adaptions of literature. I had hoped to watch Red Sorghum from Zhang Yimou again (one of my all-time favourites), but I wasn’t able to get a copy in time. Now my bet is on either Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone (based on a story by Dennis Lehane), or Alan Parker’s Midnight Express (Billy Hayes) – both available on Netflix. Which one would you pick if you could join us?

Nominating the next read for my book club is also up to me this month. I have a long list of options ready in Goodreads but I can only suggest five… Picking and sending out those is on my chore list for today as well.

Books

During the RaT I’ll definitely be reading the following two books:

  • Ghostly, A Collection of Ghost Stories ~ Audrey Niffenegger
    Thoroughly enjoying this selection of haunting fiction for the month of Spooktober. I’m currently at page 137 in Oliver Onions’ 1911 tale The Beckoning Fair One. Since I don’t read a lot of short story collections I will alternate this with other books.
  • Ezel-basics (Donkey Basics) ~ Margret Keijzer
    A while ago I stranded at chapter 8 of 12 in this nonfiction book about donkeys; probably because I don’t care about the subject of breeding. I’m really into rescue animals and know there’s a surplus of animals looking for a home without needing to add to that amount. Besides, as a volunteer at the Ezelsociëteit donkey sanctuary my interest goes out to the wellbeing of and caring for these wonderful creatures.
  • A novel from Mount TBR, to be chosen at the moment I’ll be starting it.

Optional reads

During household tasks and such I hope to listen to @weepingwillow84’s short story Memento Mori, broadcasted on BBC Radio4 on September 22nd. Chances are I won’t be allowed access though as I’m not an inhabitant of the Commonwealth…

I have plenty of books on my shelf that I’m looking forward to. Don’t you just love picking a new read that fits your mood? A few titles to choose from:

  • The Marriage Plot ~ Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Sisters Brothers ~ Patrick De Witt
  • De wijnrepubliek (The Republic of Wine) ~ Mo Yan
  • Lord of the Flies ~ William Golding
  • Here I Am ~ Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Monica, mijn vader (Monica, My Father) ~ Maaike Sips
  • De offers (The Sacrifices) ~ Kees van Beijnum
  • The Lives of Others ~ Neel Mukherjee
  • The Master and Margarita ~ Mikhail Bulgarov
  • Ghana Must Go ~ Taiye Selasi

Plus several J-lits. I’ve been neglecting my favourite genre and decided to join in Dolce Bellezza’s 11th Japanese Literature Challenge, running through January 2018 (sign-up post to be written later).

  • The Book of Tea ~ Okakura Kakuzo
  • Kokoro ~ Natsume Sōseki
  • The Unconsoled ~ Kazuo Ishiguro

Then there’s also that DNF that’s been bugging me: The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel that I would still like to give another chance. It -literally- drove me crazy with its (so far) 87 pages of one Tomás driving a car on a quest to I’m-not-sure-what-yet.
These days I usually quit when the narrative still doesn’t grab me around page 80, but I’ve had trouble getting into Martel’s books before and they were totally worth pushing through the hard part.

Any of these you want to recommend? Or advise against? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Local starting time: 14.00 o’clock.
Reading from Utrecht, the Netherlands, Europe

Bout of Books

This week I’m playing BoBRaT again: participating in the Bout of Books readathon. Unofficially, because I was too late to sign up. But I so desperately need some pressure to tackle the books on my Mt TBR that I’m just ignoring that fact. Don’t need to win any prizes anyway, as long as I’ll achieve my goal. Which is..?

Readathon Goal

I want to read every day this week for at least 30 minutes, preferably in one sitting. It can be anything: from the pile of magazine clippings and leaflets that’s been bugging me to one of the three books I should be reading right now…

Cover Kleuroze Tsukuru TazakiJLT8 button (2014)De kleurloze Tsukuru Tazaki en zijn pelgrimsjaren / The Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. I’ve joined the August 12th – September 12th readalong of Master Murakami’s most recent book, which is part of Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge #8

Cover RayuelaRayuela: een hinkelspel / Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar. This notorious Latin American literary experiment of 500+ pages was picked by my IRL bookgroup to be read before September 7th. Oomph.

Cover Op de vleugels van de draakOp de vleugels van de draak (‘On the dragon’s wings’) was chosen as one of two books to be read in August by the Boekgrrls, a Dutch mailing list and on-line book group. And though reading along is always voluntary, I was the one to nominate Lieve Joris’ newest nonfiction. So I can’t drop out now, can I?!

It’s not that I don’t WANT to read these books, I just can’t get myself to do it :( Can you help?

Get read-y for 2012 banner

Now that December has arrived and I had a good and hard look at my reading challenges, it seems like the right moment to add another on the brink of the new year… Am I crazy? I assure you I’m not. ;)

Loving Books’ Get Read-y for 2012 Challenge is meant to help me get the books read I already wanted to finish!

Here’s my TBR pile for the rest of the year…

XY, by Sandro Veronesi. It’s the December read for my online book group, the Boekgrrls. I’m currently halfway this intriguing novel — giving me lots to think about!

Kandy, by the recently deceased F. Springer. A friend is visiting her place of birth, Sri Lanka, starting December 9th. Would love to read this book while she’s there!

I promised Elsje to buddy read Haruki Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes before the end of the year. Have to make good on my promise! This collection of short stories will also count for the Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge and Japanese Literature Challenge #5.

Ian Buruma’s Dromen van China (The China Lover). The book I pledged to read for the Chinese Literature Challenge. Come on… I need to read just one book for this challenge. Host Chinoiseries cheered me on so I can’t let her down!

These three books are absolute MUSTS for me. Then there’s a few more I’d love to finish before the year is over. To begin with, these 3 are not enough for the 6 I need to accomplish my +11 in 2011 challenge, in which I try to read 11 more books than I did last year. Also, I’m currently 2 books short for the What’s in a name challenge #4. So, here’s what I’d further LIKE to read this month… (though I already know I will never manage to ;)

Kokoro, by Natsume Soseki. I had wanted to join in the Japanese Literature Book Group read of October & November, but missed out. As the book is on my shelf (and ‘just’ 254 pages long) I may be able to submit a late contribution?!

Cover The Moonstone (Wilkie Collins)The Moonstone (Wilkie Collins) for the JEWEL/STONE categorie in the What’s in a name challenge.

Cover Vernon God Little (DBC Pierre)DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little for the SIZE categorie in the What’s in a name challenge, or Little Bee by Chris Cleeve which I borrowed from Elsje and should be returned to its lawful owner. But that would be a good one for next year’s CREEPY CRAWLIES as well.. ;)

Of course I may just cheat to get to my goal of 40 books in in the +11 challenge and pick up some shorties as the month comes to an end… Cover Slaap / Sleep (Murakami)Like the most recent Dutch publication of a Murakami novel: Slaap (Sleep). ;)

You can still sign-up for the Get Read-y for 2012 challenge!

Sunday Salon logo

The 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 ;)

I love reading challenges. Not that I need any, but I like how they tend to shuffle my reading pile. Still, after feeling overwhelmed in 2010 I decided to be very careful with challenges in 2011. So I accepted only five! #goodgrrl :)

What’s the status now that December is around the corner? Am I getting stressed like last year? Do I feel accomplished? Need to get my act together and READ?

Completed 2011 reading challenges

Before I go any further I humbly bow my head and confess that even though I’ve read all the books I commited to for the following three challenges, I reviewed hardly any. 2011 has not been a great year of blogging for me. But as we’re talking reading challenges, I’ll consider my missions accomplished!

HARUKI MURAKAMI READING CHALLENGE

Murakami Challenge 2011 cover button

For the Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge I chose level TORU (named after our dear friend from The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, the first Murakami novel I ever laid my hands on). That means reading 5 books by the master (here’s my admission post). So far I’ve read 6 (!) and I plan to read one more before the year has ended — ask Elsje if you don’t believe me. ;) If I live up to my promiss that collection of short stories will lift me to the level of Nakata (from Kafka on the Shore).

Books read:

Hear the Wind Sing
Pinball, 1973
Underground
1q84 Boek 1
1q84 Boek 2
1q84 Boek 3

And yes, the Dutch translation of 1Q84 was published in three seperate volumes, coming out in June 2010 and April 2011. Also, the title is deliberately written with a lower case ‘Q’ because it much resembles a ‘9’. I like that and have no idea why it should be different in the Japanese original and English version. Us Dutchies are pedantic. ;)

Last week Elsje and I went to a lecture about Haruki Murakami by translator Luc Van Haute in Leiden’s Sieboldhuis. He explained to us how the often stated opinion that Murakami’s novels are not typically Japanese is just plain wrong. It was fun — I have a huge reading list of Japanese authors to follow up ;) — and we also got to see the Hello Kitty exhibition and meet ennazussuzanne and Seraphine, who surprised us with the gift of an origami bookmark! Aw, that’ll come to good use when reading… JLit!

JAPANESE LITERATURE CHALLENGE #5

Japanese Literature Challenge #5 logo

The fifth Japanese Literature Challenge only started in June and runs to February, but on October 1st I had already finished the 6 books I commited to. That day I turned over the last page of 1Q84 Book 3. As I still plan to read Sōseki’s Kokoro for the Japanese Literature Book Group (I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!), and Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes together with Elsje, I’ll probably up my level by the end of January 2012.

Books read:

The Woman in the Dunes ~ Kobo Abe
Underground ~ Haruki Murakami
Thousand Cranes ~ Yasunari Kawabata
1q84 Boek 1 ~ Haruki Murakami
1q84 Boek 2 ~ Haruki Murakami
1q84 Boek 3 ~ Haruki Murakami

FOODIES READING CHALLENGE

Foodie's Reading Challenge 2011 button

In the Foodies reading Challenge I cowardly safely labeled myself a NIBBLER, going for 1 to 3 books (admission post). So far I’ve read 5, and –YAY– even reviewed two!

Books read:

World Food Café
La Dolce Vegan!
Bento Box in the Heartland
Verraad, verleiding en verzoening
Vegan Family Meals

I hope I can find the time and energy to write some more reviews!

Unfinished business

But I’m not there yet. With only five weeks to go I need to finish two more challenges… Will I be able to do it???

CHINESE LITERATURE CHALLENGE

Chinese Literature Challenge button

I was half a year late in joining the Chinese Literature Challenge and I full-heartedly use that as an excuse for why I haven’t reached my goal of 1 book yet. ;) Here’s what I plan to read. Cheer me on and maybe I’ll be able to cross of this challenge before the year has passed!

WHAT’S IN A NAME CHALLENGE #4

What's in a Name Challenge #4 button (2011)

The What’s in a name challenge is always one of my favourites. It’s a thrill to pick your next book just based on a random word in the title. Call me crazy. ;) Alas, this year I’m having trouble finishing: even though I read several more than one fitting titles for four of the six categories, two are still open!

Books read:

Categorie NUMBERS
Pinball, 1973 ~ Haruki Murakami
2666 ~ Roberto Bolaño
1q84 ~ Haruki Murakami

Categorie TRAVEL/MOVEMENT
Travels in the Scriptorium ~ Paul Auster
I’ll Steal You Away ~ Niccolò Ammaniti
Model Flying ~ Marcel Möring

Categorie EVIL
Poelie the Terrible ~ Frans Pointl
Crime School ~ Carol O’Connell

Categorie LIFE STAGE
Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America ~ Linda Furiya

Still hoping to get around to:

Categorie JEWEL/GEM
The Moonstone ~ Wilkie Collins

Categorie SIZE
Vernon God Little ~ DBC Pierre

BTW you can always follow my progress on the special Challenge page on Graasland!

What’s new for 2012?

2012 is more than a month away but I have already lined up some reading plans. Wanna know what they are?

WHAT’S IN A NAME CHALLENGE #5

What's in a name challenge #5 button

Of course I can’t resist participating in the new What’s in a name challenge. I must say that I never buy or borrow books specifically for this challenge — picking titles that are already on Mt TBR, or have been on my wishlist for quite some time, is part of the fun. So what are the categories for 2012 and which books fit the bill?

  • A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title
    Choosing from: Last Night in Twisted River, Sunset Park, Lunar Park, The Street of a Thousand Blossoms
  • A book with something you’d see in the sky in the title
    Choosing from: The Moonstone, Sunset Park, Lunar Park, A Ride in the Neon Sun, Noorderzon (sun), Dead Air, Star of the Sea
  • A book with a creepy crawly in the title
    Choosing from: Little Bee, Een tafel vol vlinders (‘A table loaded with butterflies‘)
  • A book with a type of house in the title
    Choosing from: The Graveyard Book, Black Box, Het huis op de plantage (‘House on the plantation‘)
  • A book with something you’d carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title
    Choosing from: Dreaming Water, Water for ElephantsMet bonzend hart : brieven aan Hella S. Haasse (‘With a throbbing heart: letters to Hella S. Haasse‘) [open to suggestions]
  • A book with a something you’d find on a calendar in the title
    Choosing from: The Eigth Day, Silence in October, Nocturnes

Don’t you think I have a whole lot of books available just to pick from? :))

THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES GROUP READ

Let me state first that I haven’t commited to the following task yet. I’m only considering it! Caravana de Recuerdos hosts a Roberto Bolaño The Savage Detectives readalong in January. I have the book on my shelf — it was a recommendation by the great author Kazuo Ishiguro — and I guess now is as good as ever. Especially since I didn’t much appreciate Bolaño’s 2666, which I read together with Leeswammes & Co. earlier this year. I’d better say it’s now.. or never!

Are you making plans for 2012 yet?
Looking back on your accomplishments for 2011?
I’d love to know!

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 ;)

Chinese Literature Challenge buttonToday I’m on a hike in National Park De Hoge Veluwe with my fellow Wandelgrrls. Chinoiseries is among them and she put the screws to me with her Literary Blog Hop Giveaway rules… I’ve thought about joining the Chinese Literature Challenge she’s hosting ever since it started early February and now she finally got me to! So here’s a quick post about my –ahem– ‘list’.

Level of participation: Merchant (read 1-3 books from Chinese authors or about China).

  1. Dromen van China (The China Lover), Ian Buruma

I may add a second and third title in the future but I’m wary of creating ‘reading stress’ ;) Because I also joined the 5th Japanese Literature Challenge that started this month!

Japanese Literature Challenge #5 logoThat’s not really much of a challenge because I’ll be reading several books by Japanese authors anyway. Currently on my night-stand: The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe. I haven’t read anything by him before and I’m impressed so far: a Story with a capital S. It’s the June read for the Japanese Book Group on In Spring it is the Dawn and I also plan on reading along Thousand Cranes, Kokoro and 1q84 (I-III). Then there’s my readalong of The Elephant Vanishes with Elsjelas coming up. Counting my recent review of All She Was Worth (Miyuki Miyabe) that makes… 6 books. And there are plenty more on my shelf that I’m dying to read! Of course the difficult part in my case is never the reading, but reviewing.

1st Literary Giveaway Blog Hop ButtonIn case you haven’t noticed yet: there’s another Literary Giveaway Blog Hop going on at Leeswammes’, from June 25th-29th. There are over 70 participants! Although I joined the first hop around my birthday in February, I decided to let this one pass since it’s a busy weekend. Would have been fun to do another giveaway though, ‘cause this time it’s Mr Gnoe’s B-day! ;)

Other bookish news

Cover Zeitoun (Dave Eggers) 9789048806577I started and finished reading Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun this week, nonfiction about a family living in New Orleans during Katrina — the June read for the Boekgrrls book group. I’m probably not going to review it on Graasland. You can always check out my notes on Goodreads! The one thing that I must add is that it was translated to Dutch by one of the Wandel-/Boekgrrls and she did a GREAT job! Kudos MaaikeB!

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 ;)

Cover The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet (David Mitchell, 2010)May has almost ended and I have read just 1 book this month (next to the The Pillow Book read-along, that is). But it was FABULOUS! I’ve been reading the long expected new novel by David Mitchell: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetCover Blind Willow, Sleeping WomanI already told you a little about it in a Sunday Salon earlier this month and you can find a quote in my post about new bento goodies. I’m working on a review but it’s not the only blogpost that needs to be written and I don’t seem to have enough time on my hands. It’s #3 on my todo list: first I need to focus on a buddy-review of Murakami’s Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman with Elsje and next is somethingIcan’ttalkaboutyet ;)

Things I’m looking forward to this week

JLC4 logo gicleeOn Tuesday a new Japanese Literature Challenge is setting of! I’ve been looking forward to it very much since I finished the 3rd edition in January :) Er.. I am a bit embarrassed to admit I still haven’t written 2 of my reviews, nor a wrap-up post :\

I hope to finish Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book during those 6 months of JLC4 (150 of 342 pages left) and I also plan to read the next 5 books:

  • 'Pinball, 1973' has arrived!Silence by Shusaku Endo (Japanese Book Group Read for June 28th) – 306 pages
  • The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (JLit Read-along from July – September) – 530 pages of small print
  • Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata (a gift of velvet) – 142 pages
  • Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami – 130 pages
  • Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami (acquired this week through a bookswap with tanabata from In Spring It Is The Dawn, one of my favourite weblogs) – 179 pages

This means I need to read a book a month (amounting to 1437 pages in total)… Gotta speed up!
ETA: the challenge will run from June 1st – January 30th 2011 so that gives me 2 months extra ;)

If you’d like to join the challenge as well (you actually only need to read one book by a Japanese author!) I can recommend Be With You (Takuji Ichikawa), one of my 2 favourite reads of 2009: The Old Capital (Yasunari Kawabata), The Housekeeper and the Professor (Yoko Ogawa) and any book by Haruki Murakami or Kazuo Ishiguro.

Program guide & tickets opera WakeThe other MAJOR EVENT I’m looking forward to is a trip to Teylers Museum in Haarlem next Saturday, where I’ll be listening to David Mitchell talking about his inspiration for Dr. Marinus in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

Of course I’ll also have my copy signed, together with our program guide of the opera Wake for which Mitchell wrote the libretto. I hope I won’t be tongue-tied this time… As a non-smoker I need to ask him not to draw a joint — he did that twice before when we got our books signed LOL.

The Pillow Book

Arrived at entry: 85/86
Entries read since last time: 25
Edition: 1986 Dutch translation of Ivan Morris’ Penguin edition: Het hoofdkussenboek van Sei Shōnagon (transl. from English by Paul Heijman)

I’m enjoying Sei Shōnagon’s book more than before. Although I’m really more of a plot-reader I like to learn about the culture & court life of 10th century Japan. I was surprised to find out that Shōnagon was not just writing her journal out of her own initiative but that ‘people’ were expecting her to write everything down and not leave anything out… (entry #67). Also, there are more ladies called Shōnagon among the courtesans: Gen Shōnagon and Shin Shōnagon. Does the name mean something special relating to court? Do the women get a new name (pseudonym) once they enter the Empress’s circle? I hope to find out someway! Maybe you can tell me?

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 ;)

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.

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* 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!

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