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Literary Giveaway Blog Hop ButtonA big THANK YOU to all participants that joined in the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop for a brandnew copy of David Mitchell’s semi-autobiographic novel Black Swan Green. I’ve had a great trip down memory lane, enjoying your nineteen eighties recollections while listening to the hits that got mentioned — some of which I’d totally forgotten about… Shame on me!

Read this:

“OMG what a blast from the past! I was born in 1971 so I’m not far behind you and this Human League song was actually one of my favourites from the 80′s (in fact it was at #1 in the UK on my 10th birthday!).”

“I liked everything about the 80′s except the big hair. it was a bad hair decade.”

“I’m a total 80′s girl who still enjoys wearing pink and green (in a contemporary way) :)”

“Later on I was very serious about The Cure, The Cult and The Smiths.I’d raise my eyebrows at my brother listening to Bon Jovi, Europe and Heart, while I put on another Echo and the Bunnymen record.”

“Okay….as soon as the question was posed, I had an answer (Tainted Love), but by the time I scrolled down to actually answer it, two other songs popped into my head (Come On Eileen and Take On Me) and as I started typing my response….well…let’s just say if I continue this comment, I’ll NEVER stop with my list of favorite 80′s tunes!!!”

These comments are killing me! But you probably didn’t come here to hear even more raves about that 80s decade. ;) So let’s get on with announcing the winner Mr kindly selected for us! And since the Oscar Night is coming up, we’ll do it in style.

The winner of the 83rd Academy Award for BLACK SWAN GREEN is… result for Black Swan Green giveaway

ELLIE from Musings of a Bookshop Girl!

Let’s hear her enthusiastic comment (#2539).

Screenshot of Ellie's comment (#2539) on the Black Swan Green giveaway

Like many of you Ellie couldn’t decide on just one song. Among the 6 (!) she listed was one of my favourite bands: Depeche Mode! If you’ve visited my home you know their Black Celebration tour poster decorates my restroom wall even today. :) Cover Black Swan Green (David Mitchell)How cool to send a book of my fav author to someone with a similar love! Of course I’ve heard Just Can’t Get Enough just one time too many — I guess a grrl can get enough sometimes — and would rather listen to one of their other songs. Like this awesome soundcheck of Somebody by Martin Gore and Alan Wilder, reunited for the Teenage Cancer Trust in the Royal Albert Hall (February last year).

Now there was one comment that sent me right into eighties heaven. Leslie from Under My Apple Tree had a hard time choosing but she managed to narrow it down to the song and video combination she loved the most and still listens to today: Take On Me by A-Ha! My, did I have a huge crush on Morten Harket when I was 16 years old. :) Even a concussion -don’t ask- couldn’t keep me from going to their concert! Of course I also wore the leather paraphernalia around my neck and wrists — almost up to my elbows ;) Yes me, the wannabe vegan! ;) I gotta have a picture of that somewhere so I’ll prove it to you later if I can find it.

There was one other ‘eighties girl’ who singled out Take On Me: Birgit from The Book Garden. Now although you’ll never hear me say Take On Me is the best song of the eighties (heck, I could never choose one favourite) I’d like to offer Leslie & Birgit a small consolation prize: a CD with their very own Black Swan Green soundtrack to swing to!

Congratulations to Ellie, Leslie & Birgit! And I hope some of you may pick up Black Swan Green someday because of the fun we had in this giveaway!


This is the first, of hopefully many, guest posts by Mr Gnoe. As a listology addict he compiled a Black Swan Green Soundtrack for us!

In a book about a teenager situated after 1960, music has to play an important role. Music is a big part of youth culture and David Mitchell does a superb job of sketching the life of a young teenager in the eary 80s (I know, I’ve been there ;))

There is a lot of ‘boyish’ music, like Madness, Elvis Costello, Adam Ant and the Specials. Music a boy wouldn’t have to be embarrassed about to like in front of his friends. But secretly Jason likes some ‘softer’ songs as well, like ‘Heaven’ by Talking Heads and John Lennon’s #9 Dream (not coincidentally Mitchell’s second book is called number9dream).

Music plays a big part throughout the book, but Mitchell really goes wild in one of the last, hilarious chapters ‘Disco’ (or should I say one of the last stories, since every chapter reads like a story on its own). This reads completely natural because events occur while the music is playing and you can imagine the characters remembering exactly who did what during which song, years after. And if you know and love these songs, like Gnoe and me, it’s a feast to read :)

All the songs in the book together form a nice soundtrack. In the 80s I would’ve made a Black Swan Green compilation cassette but now it’s a playlist for my iPod. Here’s what’s on it!

January man

Don’t You Want Me – Human League (1982)

The first chapter ‘January Man’ starts with the phone ringing in the office of Jason’s father. From his sister julia’s room ‘Don’t You Want Me’ is thumping out dead loud and kicks off the book.


The Man with the Child in His Eyes – Kate Bush (1978)
Songbird – Fleetwood Mac (1977)

Julia is playing these two melancholic songs in her room, telling us (the readers) she’s not as tough as she pretends to be and not as lucky as Jason thinks she is.


Virginia Plain – Roxy Music (1972)

Jason secretly plays Julia’s Roxy Music LP in her room (“Julia’d go ape!“). At first I thought I had spotted a goof, because Virginia Plain was Roxy Music’s debut single but was not included on their debut LP. Wikipedia tells me it was rereleased in 1977 to promote their Greatest Hits album, so this must be the LP in Julia’s collection.


Heaven – Talking Heads (1979)

Jason is seriously impressed by Julia’s boyfriend Ewan’s new car and his taste in music.

An incredible song filled the car from four hidden speakers. ‘”Heaven”,’ Ewan told me, breezy but proud. ‘Talking Heads. David Byrne’s a genius.’ I just nodded, still taking it all in.


Mr Blue Sky – Electric Light Orchestra (1977)

Feeling good, Jason lays down on his bed and listens to ‘Mr Blue Sky’ five or six times in a row.

Souvenirs1st Walkman, 1979

Hungry Like The Wolf – Duran Duran (1982)
One Step Beyond – Madness (1979)
One In Ten – UB40 (1981)

Jason is away with his dad on a business trip. Going around town he hears music: Madness in a cafetaria, UB40 in the hotel at night.

Some girls share the earphones of a Sony Walkman and sing ‘Hungry Like A Wolf’. The Walkman was first produced in 1979 in Japan.


The Lion Sleeps Tonight – Tight fit (1982)

Some girls are singing ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ in the back of the bus. This is originally a South African song, first recorded in 1939 but probably much older. The version you couldn’t not have heard in 1982 in England or in the Netherlands was the version of Tight Fit. It reached no.1 in both countries even though it was recorded with session singers and not the models playbacking the song Boney M-style.

Knife Grinder

Words (Between The Lines Of Age) – Neil Young 1972)

Jason watches Top Of The Pops and listens to a cassette tape Julia has made for him from Ewan’s LP’s. The first song is Words (Between The Lines Of Age). “Neil Young sings like a barn but his music’s brill.”

Goose Fair

Oliver’s Army – Elvis Costello & The Attractions (1979)
Ghost Town – Specials (1981)
Waterloo – Abba (1974)
Get Off Of My Cloud – Flying Pickets (1982)

The Goose Fair is in town, and walking around the fairground Jason picks up music from different directions. He especially likes that ace song ‘Olive’s Salami’ by Elvis Costello. Another song he notices goes ‘Hey! (HEY!) You! (YOU!) Get Off Of My Cloud!’, coming from the Flying Teacups. It doesn’t say in the book wich version of the song is being played (the original is of course Rolling Stones, 1967) but I like to think it’s the a-capella version by Flying Pickets from 1982.


The grand finale of the book. Jason, who was not really a loser, but far from popular has suddenly earned the respect of his class mates (No spoiler – I won’t reveal here why). This happened just in time, because at the end of the year there’s the Black Swan Green Grand Christmas Village Hall Disco!

This already long post continues with the Black Swan Green Disco Party!

If you’re from my generation, this song will probably bring up some memories.

It’ll be my birthday next week so when Leeswammes announced she was hosting a literary giveaway blog hop, I figured that would be a nice opportunity to share a book of my all-time favourite author: David Mitchell. And which novel would be more appropriate for a forty-something birthday than Black Swan Green? You’re only turning 41 once. ;)

Do not set foot in my office. That’s dad’s rule. But the phone’d rung twenty-five times. Normal people give up after ten or eleven, unless it’s a matter of life and death. Don’t they? Dad’s got an answering machine like James Garner’s in The Rockford Files with big reels of tape. But he’s stopped leaving it switched on recently. Thirty rings, the phone got to. Julia couldn’t hear it up in her converted attic ‘cause ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ by Human League was thumping out dead loud. Forty rings. Mum couldn’t hear ‘cause the washing machine was on berserk cycle and she was hoovering the living room. Fifty rings. That’s just not normal. S’pose Dad’d been mangled by a juggernaut on the M5 and the police only had this office number ‘cause all his other ID’d got incinerated? We could lose our final chance to see our charred father in the terminal ward.
[Black Swan Green, p.1]

Cover Black Swan Green (David Mitchell)Black Swan Green is Mitchell’s fourth novel and can be considered a semi-autobiographical ‘coming of age story’. The book’s thirteen chapters each represent one month—from January 1982 through January 1983—in the life of 13-year-old Worcestershire boy Jason Taylor.* The story is written from his perspective and contains teen speech and popular-culture references from early-1980s England.

Although the novel was published in 2006, the first chapter, January Man, appeared as a short story in Granta 2003 Best of Young British Writers. At a reading I attended Mitchell confessed he had not felt ready to write (t)his story, that is so close to home, before.

Needless to say that Black Swan Green is a nostalgic trip. Not everything is familiar to me as a Dutch person (like the Rockford Files from the first paragraph), but it’s a feast of recognition anyway. All the 1982 hits passing by are a party treat in itself! Mr Gnoe has been busying himself with tracking down the songs in this novel (as ‘children’ of the eighties we just love lists ;) Through this he found out that what seems like random stage setting at first actually gives the story depth. Jason assumes for example that his elder sister Julia is having ‘a ball’ now that she’s old enough to leave home. But from the songs Jason says she’s playing — we, who have been there and know the lyrics by heart ;) — understand Julia is having her own troubles.

I definitely need to reread this book! Now how about you? Would you like to get to know Jason Tyler? Don’t you want to discover which characters from Mitchell’s universe reappear in this story?? Here’s your chance! I have a brand new copy of Black Swan Green to give away. Just leave a comment and tell me what is your favourite 80’s song. But you can only participate if you’re 35+.
LOL Just kidding!!! Open to all ages of course — and worldwide. Make sure I know how to contact you! If I have no way of contacting you, you can’t win.

[* For those of you too lazy to do the maths, in 1982 I was just a year younger: 12.]

* Stay tuned for your very own Black Swan Green Disco Party! *

This giveaway ends on February 23rd, 23:59 GMT+1 (=Amsterdam/Berlin time zone). A winner will be randomly selected at the end of the week.

Literary Giveaway Blog Hop Button

Now go and have a look at all the other fabulous books that you can win!
(Note: the Literary Blog Hop has ended.)

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 Decorative Food Carving

I’ve been away form the computer a bit longer than the week I expected, but now I’m back :) And… we’ve got a winner in my 3 year bentoversary giveaway! decided on Bentoversary Giveway

The Decorative Art of Japanese Food Carving goes to…: Lena from Lenas Abentoyer! She started bentoing on Easter Monday this year and her (vegetarian) bento sounds absolutely delish for a first! I hope the book will inspire her to new bento adventures — when she’s back from her concert trip in Bolivia ;) Please check out her weblog: there’s a link in the right sidebar that’ll translate Lenas Abentoyer (such a smart variation on Abenteuer = adventure) into English. If we all ask her nicely, she might share a Bolivian bento recipe! ;)

Congratulations on winning the prize Lena, I hope you’ll make good use of it!

Bento #106 marked my 3 year bento anniversary!
Really? Yes, honestly!

Première Bento (#1) served as a picknick for two on June 16th, 2007. It sounds like such a long time ago!

I’d like to celebrate this milestone with a small giveaway, which you can read about further along. Let’s put the spotlight on today’s bento! Not that it’s anything spectacular; I didn’t want to stay up all night like Pikko did for her 500th Bento Adventure! LOL

Bentoversary Bento #106, 17-06-2010

Left tier: Russian salad (huzarensalade; potato, yoghurt, corn, gherkin, carrot, celery, red onion and spices) on red lettuce, half a boiled egg, 2 tiny toms from our windowsill and basil.

Right tier: Italian salsa (skinned & chopped plum tomatoes with lots of fresh basil, ground pepper, slices of sundried tomato and FairTrade Sundried Tomato spice mix with pepper and olive), pearl onions preserved in balsamic vinegar, radish slices and indulgent nut mix: pecans and almonds coated in sugar & spices (I’ve been meaning to post a recipe…).

On the side: yoghurt with nectarine; red bell pepper.

Organic & local: bell pepper, radish, celery
Organic: potato, pickled onions, egg, yoghurt
About 9 ww propoints

Bento #106 packed

Here’s my lunch packed away in the lovely sakura bento bag I recently received from a kind soul. I couldn’t resist showing it of! ;)

Now, about the giveaway. As you might have gathered from Graasland, bento-ing is not my only hobby. Among other things I also like cooking in general and books. So, how would you like to win a copy of the book: The Decorative Art of Japanese Food Carving by Hiroshi Nagashima?

Cover Decorative Food CarvingI treated myself to it after a raving review of Sheri from Happy Little Bento. The Japanese switchback cut that I posted a how-to of came from this book! Now I’d like to inspire someone else by giving away a copy…

So to be eligible for this prize you just have to comment on this post, and answering the following question:

How long have you been bento-ing yourself (and do you remember what your first box contained)?

If you’re NOT a bento-er:

Would you like to try it sometime (and why)?

Hey, I’m a curious grrl! And don’t forget: make sure I’ll know how to contact you when you win!

The giveaway ends on July 1st 23:59 GMT+1.

Note: The Decorative Art of Japanese Food Carving is almost, but not completely vegetarian.

Amanda from The Zen Leaf won the Japanese bookmark by Kitagawa Utamaro from my The Housekeeper and the Professor giveaway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deva King by Aschaf

Deva king, picture courtesy of Aschaf

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

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

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

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

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

What's in a name challenge button

* As far as I’ve been able to figure out, Niō and Deva kings are (almost) the same kind of temple guardians. But I’m open to correction! has decided: the lucky winner of two tickets for Monday’s premiere of After Life, the opera is… Hendrickje! I hope you’ll have a nice evening out! Maybe yill you let us know afterwards what you thought of it? Enjoy!


Hirokazu Kore-eda is one of my favourite film directors. I discovered him around 1998-1999 when I saw Afterlife, or: Wandaafuru Raifu in Japanese (‘Wonderful Life’).

The movie is about a place in between life and the afterlife. Once you’ve departed and arrived here, you are being guided in choosing one memory to take with you to heaven (on film). You will forget everything else. Not easy, eh?

This wonderful story made us reminisce for hours afterwards. I love(d) it!

And so does music composer Michel van der Aa, it seems. In 2006 he made an opera based on the movie (libretto by Kore-eda) and it became a big international success. Now, with some adaptations, After Life the opera will premiere again next Monday! It will play for a short week in Het Muziektheater in Amsterdam. And… you could be there! After that it will go on a world tour again.

So, would you like to go see it? I have 2 tickets available for Monday’s premiere as a giveaway!!! To enter the contest, just leave a comment on this post.* You’ll have to do so before next Sunday, September 27th at 21:00 Amsterdam time. Then will pick a winner!

Good luck!

* Make sure I know how to contact you by leaving a correct e-mail address in the comment form (it won’t be displayed here).

Gnoe goes ExtraVeganza!


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