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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 ;)

The Pillowbook

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!

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 ;)

Today’s Booking Through Thursday question is soooo easy I can’t resist replying shortly during my lunch break.

What’s the biggest book you’ve read recently?

We just talked about that while having a Bookcrossing OBCZ maintenance meeting during dinner on Monday (that’s what happens when booklovers meet ;)

  • Think ‘volume’: With No One as Witness, by Elizabeth George (774 pages; it took me 2 weeks).
  • Think ‘fame’: Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh (post upcoming), followed shortly by The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (post also upcoming).
  • Think ‘size’: Falling Angels, by Tracey Chevalier (352 pages of hardback; not extraordinarily huge).
  • Think ‘biggest hype’: books by Haruki Murakami — I recently read Dance dance dance and South of the Border, West of the Sun.

Let me guess: next week’s question will be What’s the smallest book you’ve read recently?! Where can I place my bets?

On the threshold of Thursday I would like to write a quick post about the Booking Through Thursday topic of last week: Preferences.

Which do you prefer? (Quick answers–we’ll do more detail at some later date)

Well, I’ll be as brief as possible but I do feel the need to add short explanations to my answers. Why? Because I never like to read plain lists myself either!

  • Reading something frivolous? Or something serious?
    That depends on my mood. Frivolous when I’m tired (busy at work) or on a holiday, but over all I like a serious read.
  • Paperbacks? Or hardcovers?
    Hardcovers look good on my bookshelf ;) And their sustainability is probably better. But paperbacks are often lighter and thus easier to bring along, read in bed etc.
  • Fiction? Or Nonfiction?
    Mostly fiction because it is easier (quicker) to take in and I read for recreation. But I like to alternate with non-fiction when the topic is interesting or (and) the book well-written. Right now I’m reading non-fiction: The Mapmaker’s Wife by Robert Whitaker.
  • Poetry? Or Prose?
    Prose. Prose. And prose.
  • Biographies? Or Autobiographies?
    I like both, as long as they are well-written. Autobiographies are in danger of being badly written (having an interesting personality is no guarantee for being a good writer), and the author might keep his/her secrets hidden in the closet. Or overexagerate ;) Then again, the information is first hand! Biographies can get too sensational or spin a story out of nothing because well… the writer could not really find anything really interesting to talk about. Besides The Mapmaker’s Wife the last biography I read was about Marlene Dietrich, written by her daughter. And it was really b o r i n g — more than 1000 pages long!
  • History? Or Historical Fiction?
    Hm, probably authentic historical fiction ;) Although… The Mapmaker’s Wife seems good ;) My favourite read of 2008 was historical fiction: The Teahouse Fire, by Ellis Avery. I really loved it!
  • Series? Or Stand-alones?
    Again: both. Series to read in a span of several years so that you know what to expect of the characters etc. I wrote about that in my review of What Came Before He Shot Her, the 14th Elizabeth George mysteries I recently read.
  • Classics? Or best-sellers?
    YES! (Wasn’t that the question? ;)
  • Lurid, fruity prose? Or straight-forward, basic prose?
    I guess I prefer straight-forward, basic.
  • Plots? Or Stream-of-Consciousness?
    Plots. (What can I say, I am learning to be short here! ;)
  • Long books? Or Short?
    Long or medium so you can really dive into a story. I don’t like ‘m short because then they are over when I am just beginning to enjoy myself.
  • Illustrated? Or Non-illustrated?
    Depends on the book. But if I really have to choose: no illustrations because I like to create my own images.
  • Borrowed? Or Owned?
    Owned if it is so good I would like to keep the book. Borrowed if I don’t (that saves money, doesn’t it? ;)
  • New? Or Used?
    Erm, used is okay if the books are in good condition: not dirty (!) or smelly or falling apart :( New is better :)
  • Adding my own question: Translation? Or original language?
    I’m Dutch but I like to read English books in their original language as much as possible: I believe the author’s style of writing is important to a good book as well. I would like to do so with all languages I can understand (French and German), but my vocabulary is too rusty and don’t feel like training myself when I am actually having time off.

So much for my preferences. I am afraid I will get excommunicated by btt for being too verbose… But really, this is quick for me! ;)

It must have been ten years ago that I started reading Elizabeth George’s mystery series about detective Barbara Havers and DCI Thomas Lynley from Scotland Yard. Yes, I’ve taken my time: picking one up every once in a while, in chronological order. Reading these books is a treat: the characters are familiar and their personal lives run through the story as a continuous thread. I also find it relaxing that I know what to expect :)

A minor point of critique is that each following tome seems to get heavier. That is partly why I hadn’t read a ‘Lynley Mystery’ (as the tv-adaptions are called) for a long time — since 2007! But when I had a short vacation last month I was really eager to meet my old ‘friends’ again and I took the first of 3 unread Georges of the shelf: With No One As Witness. I enjoyed it very much! And the ending is REALLY exciting!

Cover What Came Before He Shot HerSo I treated myself and immediately grabbed the next one: What Came Before He Shot Her. I had a good excuse in that the title fits nicely in the ‘What’s in a namereading challenge I joined. At least I think so ;) I’m filing it under the ‘Medical Condition category’…

Beware of spoilers in the rest of this post!

Oooooow how disappointed I was on discovering about 50 pages into the book that there was not going to be a murdercase to begin with! Worse, it appeared this book was not a mystery at all but a psychological novel about people I hardly knew! Whilst I was dying to hear (no pun intended) if Lynley would come back to work and how Havers and Nakata would cope with everything going on.

Thankfully the story grabbed me anyway around page 100. I usually stop at this point if a book still doesn’t engage me. But What Came Before He Shot Her became the gripping telling of three Campbell children of mixed race: Joel, Ness and Toby, who come to live with their aunt in a poor, black neighbourhood in London. Precocious adolescent Ness is a girl on the loose, detached and estranged from her brothers. Joel, being 12 year old and still a child himself, is required to take care of their younger brother Toby, who is a bit ‘behind’ mentally and depends on the guidance and protection of his brother to survive in the outside world.

On the bus even in a place like London, [..] the Campbell children still garnered looks, each for a reason peculiar to the individual. In Toby it was the great bald patches across his head, where his half-grown hair was wispy and far too thin for a seven-year-old boy, as well as the life ring, which took up too much space and from which he resolutely refused to be parted even so much as to remove it from his waist and “bleeding hold it in front of you, for God’s sake,” as Ness demanded. In Ness herself, it was the unnatural darkness of her skin, obviously enhanced by make-up, as if she were trying to be more of what she only partially was. Had she shed her jacket, it would also have been the rest of the clothing beyond her jeans: the sequined top that left her midriff bare and put her voluptuous breasts on display. And in Joel it was, and would always be, his face covered by the tea-cake-size splotches that could never be called freckles but were instead a physical expression of the ethnic and racial battle that his blood had gone through from the moment of his conception.

What Came Before He Shot Her is a compelling but depressing story. All through the book I kept hoping that the protagonist and his family would live happily ever after. Against better judgment I stayed optimistic that we would get to know about the family “after he shot her”. But the harder Joel tried to fix things, the deeper they all got in trouble. I felt sooo sorry for him; it is SO unfair! I kept wanting to give ‘m a good shaking and tell those people to C O M M U N I C A T E. But in their troublesome lives the Campbell children have learnt to stick together through thick and thin, and keep their family secrets to themselves. Disastrous.

The author has proven she can write other stories than mysteries. But I am grateful the next book in row is a real detective story again. Alas, after 1500+ pages and a month of reading Elizabeth George, it is time to start something else. On top of Mt. TBR is The Mapmaker’s Wife, by Robert Whitaker (also fitting the What’s in a name challenge), a Bookcrossing bookring. But I am still keeping my hopes up that in Careless In Red, the last George on TBR, all will end well for Joel and his siblings… I am a cotton ball. Meaning I’m a sentimental person — and getting softer with the years ;) What is the correct English expression?

What's in a name 2(009) buttonAfter stumbling upon it in Puss Reboots Weekly Geeks post, I decided to join the ‘What’s in a Name?reading challenge (2nd edition): 6 different ‘themes’ requiring a fitting title.

It’s a bit sneaky of me that I can already cross of five of them but hey, it is supposed to be fun right? I just hope I won’t be castigated for taking the categories too loosely… :\ No need to add extra stress to my reading life!

So, here’s the list!

  1. A book with a ‘profession‘ in its title:
    The Little Emperor (Dutch title: De kleine keizer), by Martin Bril
    read in May
  2. A book with a ‘time of day‘ in its title:
    The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro
    read in January
  3. A book with a ‘relative‘ in its title:
    The Mapmaker’s Wife, by Robert Whitaker
    awaiting bookring
    This title also fits review theme 1: profession!
  4. A book with a ‘body part‘ in its title:
    Grey Souls (Dutch title: Grijze zielen), by Philippe Claudel
    read in January
    In Cold Blood
    , by Truman Capote
    read in November
  5. A book with a ‘building‘ in its title:
    Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh — I could have put this one at 3 (‘bride’) or 4 (‘head’) as well LOL
    read in April
  6. A book with a ‘medical condition‘ in its title:
    What came before he shot her, by Elizabeth George
    reading in June

Gnoe goes ExtraVeganza!


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