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For today’s Sunday Salon I would like to share my thoughts about The Gargoyle, published last year (2008). You’ll find other bookish news at the end of this post.

This picture of a gargoyle overlooking Paris was made by Simon & Vicki.

According to the online Merriam – Webster dictionary a gargoyle is

1a : a spout in the form of a grotesque human or animal figure projecting from a roof gutter to throw rainwater clear of a building
1b : a grotesquely carved figure
2 : a person with an ugly face

I read Andrew Davidson’s The Gargoyle during the dark days before Christmas because it’s the December read of my virtual book group, the Boekgrrls. And it was an excellent time for reading this book! It’s an easy pageturner (no brainteaser), although pretty gruesome at times.

*** spoiler alert ***
*** read on at your own risk ***

The Gargoyle is a story about a vain, superficial ‘Greek God’ type of boy getting massively burnt in a car crash. Outwardly turning into a grotesque creature (like a gargoyle; even his voice gets distorted to a gurgling sound), he becomes more human than he ever was during the healing process — thanks to his new acquaintances in the hospital.

The story starts with the accident and I can’t imagine anyone NOT wincing at the visual description. It was hard to read on (and I know people who didn’t), but you’ll be rewarded if you do. After a while the story makes a turn when the protagonist gets a weird visitor while being hospitalized, Marianne Engel.
Engel’ is the Dutch (and German) word for ‘angel‘ btw.

It’s a book in the style of The Shadow of the Wind (by Carlos Ruiz Zafón) and The End of Mr. Y (Scarlett Thomas). But I think I like The Gargoyle best, probably because it appears to be the least ‘pretentious’. Even though there’s a lot in it: history, art, (medical) science, religion, language and — of course — literature.

The most literal connection is La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy) by Dante Alighieri. I wish I had read it before I got my hands on The Gargoyle, like I’ve been meaning to for so many years! I think it would have added something extra to the reading experience. Next to being a pageturner about redemption (sic), this was a good read for the season because the stories about the rings of Dante’s Hell reminded me of the three ghosts of Christmas in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

I have thought about whether the horrifying descriptions in The Gargoyle were ‘justified’ — if you can even question a thing like that. I mean it as opposed to sensationalism in trying to reach an audience that has grown used to violent movies and video games. The strange thing is that I can’t recall wondering about that while reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, or Iain Banks’s debut The Wasp Factory, both with their own gruesome scenes. Maybe because they happened later in the story, while The Gargoyle begins with a bad one. Like its narrator says:

Truth be told, I started with the crash because I wanted to catch your interest and drag you into the story. [p.5]

Aside from that it’s just plainly well-written, I do think it is valid. I believe I now have a better understanding of what burn victims have to go through and indeed it grabbed my attention. Also it is important for the story as a whole; fire being the first association of Hell, and a medium for purification. Like water that washes away sin.

Other contemplations:

  • Can the protagonist feel sorry for himself or does he only have himself to blame?
    A fate like that can never be said to have been deserved. It is inhumane to think so. “And I am unanimous in that.” ;)
  • How do I react to people that are deformed?
    I wish I would react like I do in relation to ‘normal’ people, but the fact is that I get self-conscious. Not that I look away as if that person doesn’t exist, but I do wonder about what the best way to react is. Usually I tend to get over-friendly, which might not be a good way either :\
  • The way the story is told it could either be true that the main character has been reincarnated, or not. So which is it?
    Like the protagonist himself I believe it is all in the head of Marianne Engel. But still, I like the idea that it could be possible and maybe there are too many coincidences to doubt the truth… In example the hallucination about arrows that cause the car accident to begin with.
    (“You do not want to believe.”)
  • How about the moral dilemma that the main character did not call out to Marianne in the end, considering his own thoughts about the truth?
    This is something I can’t put my finger on yet. I actually feel the need for a real life discussion to get my thoughts together on this point!

Like I said, The Gargoyle was a good read for these cold & dark winter days. But it won’t make my top-5 reads of 2009.

Andrew Davidson is a Canadian author who has lived an worked as an English teacher and website editor in Japan for several years. Look at the book’s website to read more.

Want to know what tea I drank with the book?

Other bookish things

During X-mas I also finished reading Zijde (Silk) by Alessandro Baricco. And I received the last book I was awaiting, 2666 by Roberto Bolaño (again a recommendation by Kazuo Ishiguro)… It scared the wits out of me! It is a real chunker: 898 pages in small print!

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 ;)


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; Juno hugging I Am a Cat againto 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.

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

Currently reading

  • 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

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 ;)

Thursday Tea is a fun meme for tea loving readers, hosted by Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog. I might not participate every week (so no need to worry ;) but I would like to every once in a while! To play along, all you need is some tea, a book, and the answers to these questions:

  • What tea are you drinking (and do you like it)?
  • What book are you reading (and do you like it)?
  • Tell us a little about your tea and your book, and whether or not the two go together.

The tea
I’m drinking organic green tea with ginger and lemon. Spicy! Because it’s cold outside: it has been snowing for the first time this winter :) It’s a Dutch brand, Piramide, using Vietnamese green tea from around Suoi Bu village. It is perfect for days like this.

The book
I’m reading The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson for my online bookgroup, the Boekgrrls. I can’t say much about it yet because I’ve only just begun and I like to know as little as possible about a book before I start… One thing I found out yesterday though is that one of my teenage idols, Simon Le Bon, has read it as well — and it was his disappointment of 2009 :\

Do they go together?
Yes, definitely! You only need to look at the picture to see that even the colours match ;) GOLD & hot! Since the tea is spicy it warms me up quite thoroughly; the ginger having a ‘bite’. This all fits with the beginning of my book, in which the protagonist causes a terrible car accident, getting horribly burned… Fire, heat and pain. Yes, I winced while reading :\
The cup I’m drinking from is one of my favourites, Arito ceramic from Japan. I’ve got a whole set of these :)

There’s also a thematic relation to tea as a water based drink. Of course burn victims dehydrate enormously, so they need a lot of fluids. And the title, The Gargoyle, refers to a grotesque carved stone with a spout designed to convey water from a roof and away from the side of a building. The term originates from the French gargouille, originally ‘throat’ or ‘gullet’; cf. Latin gurgulio, gula, and similar words derived from the root gar, ‘to swallow’, which represented the gurgling sound of water (according to Wikipedia). I admit that this is a bit far-fetched and would make all teas appropriate if taken seriously. I just thought you might find the information interesting ;)

You must admit that I’ve been really strong so far, not signing up for any 2010 reading challenges even though the rest of the book blogging world seemed to be doing so. Well, before you start congratulating me: today I could no longer resist… :)

Beth Fish Reads is taking over the third What’s in a Name challenge. I liked participating in #2 and I did finish reading all my entries… I just still need to review –whispers– half of them :\ Well, I’ll get to that. Someday.

Here’s the new challenge in brief: between January 1st and December 31st I need to read one book in each of the following categories.

  1. A book with a food in the title.
  2. A book with a body of water in the title.
  3. A book with a title (queen, president, sir) in the title.
  4. A book with a plant in the title.
  5. A book with a place name (country, city) in the title.
  6. A book with a music term in the title.

Ha! I am quickly going to browse my shelves for books to be admitted to this challenge! :)) Maybe I should postpone my Boekgrrls December read, The Gargoyle, to January? ;) No need: in April we’ll be reading John Irving’s Last Night in Twisted River! There are two other titles on our list that would fit loosely, but I want to play fair — to begin with :)

Another challenge that I’ve had my eyes on has already started: the Women Unbound challenge, running from November 2009 until November 2010. When I was reading The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata last month I kept thinking about this challenge. So now I’ve actually made the decision to join! I just need to figure out which level: Philogynist (“read at least two books, including at least one nonfiction one”) must be doable since I have already read Kawabata and will definitely pick up Sei Shonagon’s classic The Pillow Book soon, which counts for non-fiction. But it should be a challenge! Of course I could always upgrade along the way?

Since the Japanese Literature Challenge is running until February 2010, I am now officially participating in three 2010 reading challenges before the year has even started. Add the remaining three books of my personal 2008-2009 challenge to that and you’ll all think that I must be crazy. So be it. I love you too ;)

Subtitle: What on earth would we do without podcasts??? :)

iPodcast Simon Mayo
What a coincidence: the day after I had recommended some podcasts to my online book group, Weekly Geeks 2009-42 asked about our favourite book podcasts as well! It must be in the air ;)

Podcasts anyone? Share with us a podcast you love, preferably book related, but not necessarily so.

The top 3 bookcasts on Hopi (my purple iPod nano) are:

  1. Book Reviews with Simon Mayo
    Simon Mayo A weekly show on BBC radio 5 Live in which three book reviewers talk about 2 books in the company of the authors. A fun feature is that the book analysis usually starts with a description of the book cover: it really gives an extra dimension to the review, especially on ‘radio’, read: podcast ;) It sometimes happens that the author believes the evaluation ends here… and (s)he is not amused. Most times it is pretty nerve wrecking for them to be present as it is ;)
    It is nice that the authors often have read each other’s books as well. And we’re not talking only debutantes here, but established writers like Margaret Atwood, Nick Hornby, Patricia Cornwell, Will Self and Fay Weldon as well. I actually get some great tips from this program, like The Crossroads by the Italian writer Niccolò Ammaniti or The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. I would have picked up The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam anyway (because I loved his book Maps for Lost Lovers), Cover Transitionbut it was great to hear him reviewed by the Mayo Book Panel as well :)
  2. Number 2 will only be a favourite for a while, since it is going to end at some point: the latest book by Iain Banks, Transition, is available as a free podcast in the UK iTunes store. No link, since you’ll have to go find it via your iTunes application. And you know what? I heard of this podcast in an extra edition of Simon’s book show :)
  3. At the moment I am also enjoying the — to my ears very American — Books on the Nightstandpodcast of the Books on the Nightstand blog. Two Random House employees talking about books (on their own accord), usually themed around a topic like graphic novels, YA (Young Adult), cookbooks or challenges. This podcast is like a little snack ;) I especially like the presenters’ personal book ecommendations at the end.

A podcast that doesn’t please me is the Guardian Books Podcast; somehow I have a hard time keeping up with that — I’m not sure what the problem is. Also I am sorry that the BBC Radio 4 Book Club archive is not available as podcast, since I would love to listen to the episodes about David Mitchell, Barbara Kingsolver and Jonathan Franzen, but I don’t seem to get to that when I’m sitting behind my computer… I have other things to do then, like blog ;)

Other favourite podcasts

Film ~ Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews
Entertainment (including literature) ~ R4 Frontrow Highlights, Kunststof (Dutch), R3 Arts & Ideas
History ~ OVT (Dutch)

Go check them out!

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 ;)

This week’s Booking through Thursday asks everyone to share their Mt. TBR. Well, here’s mine!

As you can see my Mount To Be Read contains 14 books. 14? Not 15? No, better look closely and count again! :)

From top to bottom, small to large:

  • Away (Amy Bloom)
  • The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (Michael Chabon)
  • Travels in the Scriptorium (Paul Auster)
  • The Brooklyn Follies (Paul Auster)
  • Drivetime (James Meek)
  • Dead Air (Iain Banks)
  • The China Lover in Dutch (Dromen van China, Ian Buruma)
  • Butterfly in the Wind in Dutch (Vlinder in de wind, Rei Kimura)
  • Dreaming Water (Gail Tsukiyama)
  • The Language of Threads (Gail Tsukiyama)
  • The Street of a Thousand Blossoms (Gail Tsukiyama)
  • The Mapmaker’s Wife (Robert Whitaker) — just starting this one
  • The Wasted Vigil (Nadeem Aslam)
  • The Gargoyle (Andrew Davidson)

This stack shows what you might consider my ‘priority reads’. I have some more books lounging unread in several spots in my home, like The Chosen (Chaim Potok) and Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck). Hm, I really should put those higher on the list since they are part of several personal reading challenges ánd they are Bookcrossing books that like to travel!

But wait a minute… where are Revolutionary Road and Easter Parade by Richard Yates???

Good thing Booking Trough Thursday made me check my Mount! I guess I I have some rearranging to do — I don’t think my (literal) bookshelf will hold any more copies without coming off the wall.. So, bye for now!

Gnoe goes ExtraVeganza!


Currently grazing

Gnoe herding…

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My current fav spot to graze

Lazy bums.. 😂☀
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