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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..?
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…
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
Rayuela: 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.
Op 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?
I’ve called my yearly overview of books “The Pile of Books I Kicked Over..” once before, but this time the title fits even better. In 2011 I devoured a total of 38 books, which is nine more than I read in 2010!
Now how is that for a first post and Sunday Salon in 2012?
Of course I pledged to tackle eleven more books this year for the Books on the Nightstand +11 in ’11 Challenge, which would have brought my total up to the nice round number of 40. Well, there you have it: my first #FAIL. ;)
Looking over my list, it is not easy to pick an instant favourite. Although I liked most of the books I read, there aren’t many outstanding works worth mentioning. Although I gave three of them the max of 5 stars in Goodreads, concerning one I have a hard time remembering about what it was exactly…
Interlude: here I corrected myself thanks to the marvellous, but strict Dr Kermode who will not allow the word order of “what it was about.” A grammar lesson learnt in 2011. ;)
So, did I accept quantity over quality? No Ma’m, I did not. I could’ve easily picked two short novellas from my shelf when the end of 2011 was nigh. Like Murakami’s Sleep, for instance, T.S. Elliot’s Cats or Joost Zwagerman’s Duel. But just as I promised when I joined the BOTNS challenge, I did not bend my reading preferences according to book size.
Now quit digressing! Here are the books I read in 2011 in reversed chronological order. Other thoughts and statistics will follow later on.
Books read in 2011
- Kandy: een terugtocht (‘Kandy: a retreat‘), F. Springer
- Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre
- XY, Sandro Veronesi (Boekgrrls December read)
- De duif en De erfenis van Maître Mussard, Patrick Süskind
- Bandoeng-Bandung, F.Springer
- Van het westelijk front geen nieuws (Im Westen nichts Neues / All Quiet on the Western Front), E.M. Remarque (November Boekgrrls read)
- Season of the Rainbirds, Nadeem Aslam
- Tinkers, Paul Harding
- 1q84 (Boek een, twee & drie), Haruki Murakami (JLit Book Group November/December)
- Modelvliegen, Marcel Möring
- Thousand Cranes, Yasunari Kawabata (JLit Book Group August)
- The Help, Kathryn Stockett (Boekgrrls August read)
- Underground, Haruki Murakami
- Dagboek van een Geisha (Memoirs of a Geisha), Arthur Golden
- Witte oleander (White Oleander), Janet Fitch (bx copy)
- Before I Go to Sleep, S.J. Watson
- The Woman in the Dunes, Kobo Abe (JLit Book Group June)
- Zeitoun, Dave Eggers (Boekgrrls June read; nonfiction)
- Verraad, verleiding en verzoening: de rol van eten in speelfilms, Louise O. Fresco & Helen Westerik (nonfiction)
- Travels in the Scriptorium, Paul Auster
- The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, Jonathan Coe (Boekgrrls May read)
- Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America (a Food Memoir), Linda Furiya (nonfiction)
- Crime School, Carol O’Connell
- All She Was Worth, Miyuki Miyabe (Bookcrossing book ring)
- Vegan Family Meals: Real Food for Everyone, Ann Gentry (cookbook; Netgalley e-book)
- 2666, Roberto Bolaño (readalong)
- La Dolce Vegan! Vegan Livin’ Made Easy, Sarah Kramer (cookbook)
- In the Miso Soup, Ryu Murakami (JLit Book Group February)
- Pinball, 1973, Haruki Murakami
- Ik haal je op, ik neem je mee (Ti prendo e ti porto via / I’ll Steal You Away), Niccolò Ammaniti (Boekgrrls February read)
- Geketende democratie: Japan achter de schermen (‘Democracy in chains: behind the scenes of Japan‘), Hans van der Lugt (nonfiction)
- Sneeuwland (Yukiguni / Snowland), Yasunari Kawabata
- Blacklands, Belinda Bauer (Boekgrrls Januari read)
- Poelie de Verschrikkelijke (‘Poelie the Terrible‘), Frans Pointl
- Hear the Wind Sing, Haruki Murakami
- Kalme chaos (Caos Calmo), Sandro Veronesi (Boekgrrls December 2010 read)
Quite the list eh? And I also reread the beautiful short story Het geluid van een stoomfluit midden in de nacht (Yonaka no kiteki ni tsuite / ‘A Steam Whistle in the Middle of the Night‘) by Haruki Murakami.
The book(s) I enjoyed the most this year was Haruki Murakami’s 1q84 trilogy. Readers from the Japanese and English speaking hemispheres may wonder why I keep using a lower case ‘q’ (kyu) when referring to the author’s latest work, since it’s originally written as 1Q84. Well, the Dutch translators decided to use a small ‘q’, resembling the number ‘9’ much better!
Volumes 1,2 and 3 together are over 1350 pages thick but I read all three of them in just two weeks. Enough proof of how much I liked it. :) It’s a typical late Murakami of which story you should know nothing beforehand.
Reading 1q84 I regularly had to think back to a work of non-fiction I read earlier this year: Underground, about the Tokyo gas attack. It’s amazing how delicate Murakami treats the subject, showing more about himself as a person than I ever saw, heard or read in interviews or previous books.
A further special mention goes to another Japanese novel: The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe. A strange story calling up an eerie atmosphere; bordering on a grim fairy tale. The images easily reappear before my mind’s eye so I have no problems recalling what this classic is about. Oops, preposition at the end of my sentence again, apologies to Dr Kermode! ;)
So it’s all Japanese favourites this year. Figures. ;) One of my intentions for 2012 is to read a little more OUT of my comfort zone. Another post will out-lay the rest of my reading plans for this year. *whispers* I haven’t really figured them out yet myself!
Luckily I also very much liked some non-JLit books like Sandro Veronesi’s XY (thought-provoking), Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (compelling), Belinda Bauer’s Blacklands (thrilling) and Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun (shocking).
The biggest bone to tackle this year was 2666 BY FAR. It’s supposed to be a contemporary classic and comes highly recommended by one of my favourite authors, Kazuo Ishiguro, but it could not charm me. I struggled all the way through to the end and I’m proud to say that I was at least able to finish it! 898 pages of small characters, in English. Gah.
2011 Book charts
As always I’d love to share some pie charts. About the gender of authors read, the ratio of fiction to non-fiction (to faction, which is null ;), where I got my copies from, peer-pressure (!) and the language area from which authors originate.
Gender of authors read
Hm, I’m not completely satisfied with the ratio of female authors to male among the books I read this year.. Needless to say it should be more of a fifty-fifty situation!
Fiction to non-fiction
The fiction / non-fiction chart doesn’t show much difference from previous years: I obviously prefer to read fiction — especially now that I’m having ‘concentration issues’. O_o
I haven’t looked at the origin of my books before, but as I seem to have read a lot of books being passed on by other Boekgrrls, I thought I’d analyse that data this year. ;)
Oh how I love my peer-pressure. Buddyreads, group reads, readalongs & readathons, challenges, book rings… You name it — been there, seen it, done that. ;) Of course I should also have put in this graph the books I read without any relation to others… Next time, I promise.
Now I did not read all of these books in their original language, it’s just a vague chart dividing my books into language areas. Most books that are written in English I read in their original language. The same goes for Dutch books. :) The rest I’ve read in translation to either Dutch or English. Maybe next year I’ll try my hand at some German..?
Note: of course Chilean and Pakistani are nationalities, not languages, but you get the idea.
So, did you surpass and/or surprise yourself with the books you’ve read?
Any favourites you’d like to share?
Did you read any of mine?
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 :)
- Tanabata’s Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge
- Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge #5
- Chinoiseries’ Chinese Literature Challenge
- Beth Fish’s What’s in a name #4
- Margot’s first Foodie’s Reading Challenge
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
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).
Hear the Wind Sing
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
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.
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
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!
I hope I can find the time and energy to write some more reviews!
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
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
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!
Pinball, 1973 ~ Haruki Murakami
2666 ~ Roberto Bolaño
1q84 ~ Haruki Murakami
Travels in the Scriptorium ~ Paul Auster
I’ll Steal You Away ~ Niccolò Ammaniti
Model Flying ~ Marcel Möring
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:
The Moonstone ~ Wilkie Collins
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?
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 Elephants, Met 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!
Today 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).
- 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!
That’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.
In 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
I 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!
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the unveiling of my Secret Santa and what she gave me for Christmas 2010!
Thank you so much Zee (a.k.a. @zommie) from Notes from the North!
Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods was one of the first books on my Bookdepository wishlist so it’s awesome to finally get my hands on it! :)) Zee’s twitter alter ego @zommie wrote she had no trouble deciding at all since it was one of her favourite books of 2009! Knowing that makes this gift even more special.
I haven’t seen a note about Zee’s Secret Santa yet… I hope she got something nice herself too! :) I guess anything Scandinavian will do, since she’s hosting a 2011 Nordic Reading Challenge! ;)
Of course I was allowed to play Secret Santa too (that’s part of the deal ;) and I thoroughly enjoyed finding the right gifts for my Santee: Iris from Iris on Books, whom I’ve known and liked for quite some time now. She did a very nice blogpost about her Persephone & Book Blogger Holiday Swap presents.
Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge 2011
I told you before I plan to read all books by Haruki Murakami. I am lucky enough to live in The Netherlands, where the first two volumes of his new novel 1Q84 came out in June this year, earlier than in other parts of the world. We got this treasure right away but the weird thing is… I still haven’t read it! Good thing tanabata from In Spring it is the Dawn decided to host a Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge in 2011. :) She made two awesome buttons which I can’t seem to choose from and will alternate between.
The level of participation I’m choosing is ‘Toru’: read 5 of Murakami’s works. That seems appropriate since Toru is the main character of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which is how I came to know this fabulous author. It also really constitutes a challenge for me because that comprises almost 25% of the amount of books I can currently read in a year! But who knows, I might even upgrade later this year if I feel like finishing the rest of his oeuvre as well. ;)
The books I plan on reading:
- Hear the Wind Sing
- Pinball, 1973
- The Elephant Vanishes (buddy-read with Elsje, just like we did with Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman)
- 1Q84 – part I
- 1Q84 – part II
The list is not in any particular order, except that I wish to read Hear the Wind Sing before ‘Pinball‘, and part 1 of 1Q84 before the second. ;)
Books read and to-be-read
I finished reading Nadeem Aslam’s The Wasted Vigil — which will probably end up real high on this year’s list of Best Reads — and Thomas J. Davies’ The Christmas Quilt (a warm blanket of a cozy x-mas story), just like I planned.
*pats herself on the shoulder*
Today I’ll start in my online book group’s December read: Kalme chaos (Caos calmo), by Sandro Veronesi. It’s quite a chunker and I don’t think I’ll be able to manage all of it this month, but I might at least get the ball rolling, so to say. I’ve heard raving reviews as well as people getting bored and/or annoyed, so I have no idea what to expect! Don’t you like it when that happens? :)
Are you free to read this week? What books are on your stack?
Hello Japan! is a monthly mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. Each month there will be a new task which relates to some aspect of life in Japan. Anyone is welcome to join in any time. You can post about the task on your blog. Or if you don’t have a blog, you can leave a comment on the Hello Japan! post for the month.
We’re going to do things a little differently this month. Instead of a general topic to post on, I have five questions about Japan for you to answer. A kind of short Japan meme, if you will, just as a fun way to talk about some of what we like about Japan, and perhaps get some suggestions from each other of other things to try.
1. My favourite Japanese cinematographer is Hirokazu Koreeda because years ago I fell in love with his movie After Life (Wandaafuru Raifu). It is set in a waystation where the souls of the recently deceased are processed before entering heaven. They have to choose one single memory from their lives before being able to proceed: keeping that one memory is heaven. Such a simple, moving and thought-provoking idea! All filmed in a naturalistic way. Since then I have seen more of Koreeda’s works and was often moved by them. Maybe you have seen Nobody Knows (Dare mo shiranai), a film based on a true story in which four children (each by a different father), are abandoned by their mother in their Tokyo apartment. As a director Koreeda often uses amateur actors and his stories derive from things that have happened in real life.
2. The best Japanese sake I’ve drank this year is Kizan Sanban Junmaiginjo. There was a time when I thought all sakes would taste the same… Not. This rice wine has a light ‘fruity’ taste and is great for aperitif. The blue bottle looks awesome too ;) I was supposed to write a post about the sake tasting we did for Hello Japan’s summer topic: Doubles, but alas.
3. What Japanese author(s) or book(s) have you enjoyed that you would highly recommend to others?
I could say Haruki Murakami of course. We’ve got a whole shelf of his books at home, sometimes both in English as well as Dutch. But that wouldn’t be much of a recommendation — although it was at the time when I read my first Murakami, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, in 2004.
A more ‘recent’ discovery is Yasunari Kawabata, whose 1962 novel The Old Capital was on the agenda for the November 2009 Japanese Literature Book Group. It turned out to be the second best book I read last year! You can imaginge how disappointed I am not to have been able to join this year’s book group read of his novel The Sound of the Mountain. Thankfully I have Snow Country on Mount TBR to look forward to :)
4. What is something Japanese that you’d like to try but haven’t yet had the chance?
Watching the cherry blossoms bloom in Japan :)
5. You’re planning to visit Japan next year. Money is not a concern. What is on the top of your list of things you most want to do?
OMG: shop! Normally I’m not much of a shopaholic but once I’m set loose in Japan I won’t be able to restrain myself. It would be awesome to pick my own bento boxes & gear, instead of being dependent on what is offered on-line. I’m addicted to lovely fabrics and paper (origami, wrapping paper, stationary), can’t resist fine tableware (tea cups, sushi dishes, chopstick holders), could use a low mahjong table (or other furniture as well) and would love some Japanese artwork on my walls. Hey, when money is no concern I can have my own plane to ship it all back to Holland! ;) Dream on grrl…
But something that’s as high on my list and less expensive: to watch the cherry blossoms in spring! You felt that one coming, didn’t you? ;) I’d also like to see the colouring of leaves in fall. And it would be awesome to go hiking in Japan — so much gorgeous land to explore! But I’d be afraid to as long as I don’t speak nor read Japanese. Better not get lost in the ‘Land of the Thousand Autumns’ ;)
This tells you a bit of who I am: I can be materialistic in certain areas but essentially I only need nature’s beauty & silence to be happy.
* Bonus question * What was your favourite Hello Japan! mini-challenge topic?
I love all Hello Japan! mini missions! But if I had to name three favourites, it would be A celebration of spring and sakura (have a look at what kind of goodies I like to buy!), Japanese food (although it’s true I didn’t really challenge myself by submitting a Flower Bento post) and Summer Double — even though I failed to participate in that one. I guess I prefer foodie topics and those in which we can be creative ;)
Now you know even more about me! And that’s what this topic was about, right?! :)
A while back I buddy read Haruki Murakami’s collection of short stories Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman with Elsje, from Elsjelas. We decided to turn it into a buddy review as well — such a fun project! Elsje usually blogs in Dutch but she immediately agreed to do it in English because of Graasland readers! How cool is that?!
We hope you’ll enjoy our ‘interview’ as much as we did :)
Why did you read Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman?
Elsje: Well, ever since I discovered Murakami, two years ago, I have been wanting to read his whole oeuvre. Not many authors have invoked this type of avidity in me, that’s for sure. And reading more only made it worse. So, this was my 10th Murakami… In addition, this was the most recent book published in Dutch (or any other language, for that matter). Last but not least, my friend Gnoe, also a true Murakami-addict, was looking for someone to read along with.
Gnoe: My reason for picking up Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is quite similar. Shortly after reading my first (and long-time favorite) Murakami The Wind-up Bird Chronicle in 2004, I decided to read all books by the master. Up until now I’ve read most of his novels, but I kept postponing ‘BWSW’ because I’m not really a short-story-grrl. A buddy read with Elsje was exactly what I needed! And it didn’t hurt either that March was Murakami Month at In Spring it is the Dawn ;)
What did you expect?
Elsje: After nine Murakami’s I pretty much knew what to expect: a little supernatural, complicated relationships, unobtainable love, desperate searches for lost loves, death by freak accidents and suicides, music and food. I always seem to like the Murakami novels better than his short stories: Murakami needs to elaborate to be able to hold my thoughts in his train of thoughts. So my expectations were not skyhigh.
Gnoe: Not being a fan of short stories I expected to be a little frustrated ;) Just getting into a story and then… oops! — The End. Hate that. Of course I hoped Murakami would surprise me with some enchanting writing… But I’d already read After the Quake (twice) and it didn’t impress me. Only Super-Frog Saves Tokyo lingers in my mind because it was weirdly sympathetic (or sympathetically weird).
Did Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman live up to your expectations?
Elsje: Absolutely, and more than that. I have to say that some of his most beautiful short stories can be found in this volume!
Gnoe: Well, having such low expectations Murakami could hardly disappoint. And indeed, I loved Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman! But it’s not just because of my anticipations. The stories are wonderful: little gems that are not too short at all. Of course I couldn’t (nor shouldn’t) read them in one sitting, so I had a great time savoring Murakami’s fantasies. Each had that magical touch of the master: lovely language and amazing atmosphere.
What was your favorite story?
Elsje: That one is hard to answer… Browsing the book to make a choice, I find myself absorbed anew… Impossible to choose just one. I believe my favorite stories are:
- Birthday Girl in which a girl experiences a very strange encounter on the evening of her twentieth birthday
- The Mirror in which a man finds himself looking at himself in a mirror. Creepy story!
- The Seventh Man in which a man tells a group of people how, when he was a boy, an enormous wave took the life of his best friend. The man felt guilty for years because he had not tried to save him.
- The Year of Spaghetti. A man obsessively cooks spaghetti. A whole year of loneliness. Interrupted only by his own thoughts. And then: a telephone call.
- Toni Takitani: a beautiful story about a man, the son of a jazzmusician, who looses his spendthrift wife in a car accident. The clothes she leaves behind form the basis of a strange advertisement: Toni pays a girl to wear his wife’s dresses, so that he can get used to her being dead.
- The Ice Man: a girl falls in love with, indeed, an iceman. Heartbreaking story!
- Where I’m Likely to Find It describes the search for a lost husband. And when I say lost, I mean lost: he disappeared in between floors, going from the apartment of his wife to that of his mother in law.
- The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day tells the story of a writer who has been told by his father that every man is granted only three true loves. Waiting for that love he is afraid to commit. When he meets Kyrie, he is stuck in one of his stories, a story about a kidney-shaped stone.
Gnoe: I just can’t choose one favorite story either… I liked many of them, but two really stand out (both already mentioned by Elsje): The Seventh Man and The Ice Man. Hm. There’s a striking similarity between those titles, what does that say about me?! LOL
Why did it become a favorite?
Elsje: These stories are little gems: they harbor all the Murakami ingredients, and, moreover, are complete stories. That which I found lacking in short story volumes I read earlier – elaboration – was more than sufficient in these stories. I was mesmerized by especially The Mirror, The Ice Man, Where I’m Likely to Find It and The Kidney-Shaped Stone.
Gnoe: Explaining why I rather like a story is always the hard part, but I’ll try to make sense. Beware of SPOILERS though! Elsje already gave a brief summary of the narratives in relation to previous question so I’ll just skip to my thoughts on The Seventh Man. It brings to mind early school camps & scouting outings, where the — older — supervisors (often teenagers or in their early twenties — like I said: old ;) told scary stories in the evening. The confession of ‘the seventh man’ gives me the chills, but rings true. It’s really heartbreaking, but heartwarming at the same time. I could imagine finding myself in his shoes: shock-reflexes triggering self-preservation but being paralyzed to the point where you can’t warn your ignorant friend for the approaching killer wave. I understood his feelings of guilt although we all very well know he cannot be held responsible. The image of the little boy swallowed by the sea is equally grim and beautiful at the same time. That scene is so vivid, it will stay with me forever. And I just listened to the seventh man telling his story — imagine what’s before his mind’s eye…
The Ice Man is just a beautiful love story: romantic and tragic at once, the way it should. In fiction I mean, ‘cause in real life we’d like to live happily ever after ;) What I admire about this story is that I completely and totally believed in the existence of such a creature as an ice man — and in our protagonist’s unconditional love for him.
Fun fact: in his introduction Haruki Murakami says about these stories:
‘Ice Man‘, by the way, is based on a dream my wife had, while ‘The Seventh Man‘ is based on an idea that came to me when I was into surfing and was gazing out at the waves.
Explanation of the title
Elsje: The title refers to the first story, in which one of the friends of the antagonist writes a poem about a blind willow, of which the pollen, when conveyed to the ear of a girl make her fall asleep.
Trivia: I found a video on YouTube by a band named Willow, called Blind of which I don’t believe it was an inspiration for Murakami…
Gnoe: Well, there’s nothing much to add to that, is there? Unless I could elaborate on how this title reflects the complete collection of short stories, but I don’t have a clue ;) I would also like to muse a little on the meaning and importance of the poem — but again I’m tongue-beaten. I just can’t seem to put my finger on it; frustration finally setting in! ;) The story goes that the long, long roots of the blind willows go deep into the ground where there’s complete darkness. (Darkness: No Good, right?) Then there’s a medium — those little flies — that transfer the doomed pollen to innocent people. Nothing you can do about it: we all got that vulnerable spot (our ears). And then you fall asleep: lead a passive life (not living to the fullest). But what does it all mean? I’m stuck.
Anyway, the darkness reminds me of another Murakami novel: Dance Dance Dance, in which the Sheep Man (the medium between the darkness and the human world) tells the main character he has to dance to keep living. And there’s a connection to After Dark of course, in which a girl falls into a deep sleep as well. But hey, book connections is a question further along!
Elsje: I really cannot think why Murakami specifically brought these stories together in this volume.
Gnoe: I don’t believe there’s an overall theme linking the stories in this collection either, except for some general elements that keep recurring in Murakami’s books. I’ll talk about that relating to next topic. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman probably just consists of stories not previously published outside Japan.
Links with other Murakami stories/books
Elsje: Plenty links can be found. For instance
- Blind Willow reminded me of Norwegian Wood, in which the main character forms a kind of triangular friendship with a girl and a boy. The boy kills himself and the girl suffers as a result of that. In addition, the memory of the antagonist is jogged by a song he hears on a plane. In Blind Willow, a similar triangular friendship existed in the past, and entering the hospital with his cousin brings memories back about their friendship.
- Birthday Girl reminded me of A Wild Sheep Chase, probably because of the mysterious events in a hotel. Room 604… Is that the same room number?? No, the room number in A Wild Sheep Chase is 406… Remarkably similar, though!
- New York Mining Disaster stirred a faint memory of South of the Border. I think that is because the main character owns a bar.
- Man-Eating Cats: I believe Murakami used part of this story to construct Sputnik Sweetheart.
- Firefly: this story contains the same early morning ritual as Norwegian Wood. In addition, the roommate is again spic and span. I don’t remember if in Norwegian Wood this roommate was a geography student, but I think he was…
- The brilliant pianoplayer in Hanalei Bay could be based on the same idea as Reiko in Norwegian Wood?
- The Kidney-Shaped Stone reminded me somewhat of Thailand, one of the stories in After the Quake.
Gnoe: First I’d like to say that I find it amazing how much Elsje remembers of those books! I guess my taking ages to read the complete works of Murakami has its downside…
I was thinking more of book relations through recurring elements, like ears, food, storytelling, young people dying (early) / entering new life stages and (unrequited or lost) love. Of course there are many more but these come to mind thinking of Blind Willow. Elsje considered them her expectations! (I’m referring to her answer on our second question ;) A Murakami theme I actually missed in this book is the QUEST.
I’d like to highlight some of the elements because they seem important (or beautiful) in any way.
- Ear: you’ve already heard how ears play a special role in the title story. But it’s not just the poem: the antagonist’s cousin has a hearing problem that was caused by a baseball that hit his right ear as a child. Again an innocent victim hurt by external causes. And it wouldn’t be a Murakami without a special earlobe; in Birthday Girl.
- Food: Next to the obvious titles The Year of Spaghetti and Man-eating Cats there’s a disgusting story called Crabs (another vivid image I can’t erase from my mind but I’ll spare you that), which shows us a meaningful insight on the topic of food.
“You know, eating’s much more important than most people think. There comes a time in your life when you’ve just got to have something super-delicious. And when you’re standing at that crossroads your whole life can change, depending on which you go into — the good restaurant or the awful one. It’s like — do you fall on this side of the fence, or on the other side.”
Yeah well, nice observation but it doesn’t help us much, does it? ;)
- Death (young people dying):
“A man’s death at twenty-eight is as sad as the winter rain.” (New York Mining Disaster)
And a quote from Firefly:
“Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.” (How zen!)
- Storytelling: plenty of storytellers in this book, but there’s a special narrator in Chance Traveller. The story begins as follows:
“The ‘I’ here, you should know, means me, Haruki Murakami, the author of the story. [..] The reason I’ve turned up here is that I thought it best to relate directly several so-called strange events that have happened to me. [..] Whenever I bring up these incidents, say, in a group discussion, I never get much of a reaction. Most people simply make some non-committal comment and it never goes anywhere. [..] At first I thought I was telling the story wrong, so one time I tried writing it down as an essay. I reckoned that if I did that, people would take it more seriously. But no one seemed to believe what I’d written. ‘You’ve made that up, right?’ I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that. Since I’m a novelist people assume that anything I say or write must have an element of make-believe.”
How mean ;) The author made me feel guilty for not believing his story! And it brought to mind that other book in which a (failed) writer appears with a familiar sounding name: Mr Hiraku Makimura in Dance Dance Dance!
Elsje: Just a few suitable musical links to listen to while reading the book…
- Chance Traveller: Star crossed lovers – Duke Ellington and Barbados – Charlie Parker
- New York Mining Disaster: New York Mining Disaster – The Bee Gees
- Firefly: Dear heart – Henry Mancini
Gnoe: Thank you for the music!
Anything else to say?
We didn’t believe it at first but Elsje discovered that dabchicks really exist! From now on they’re my favorite waterbirds ;)
Elsje: Mr. Gnoe kindly lent me a book on Murakami, written by his English translator Jay Rubin: Haruki Murakami and the music of words. I really recommend this book to Murakami-adepts. Rubin addresses some of the things Gnoe and I have commented on above, in addition, he touches a whole lot of things we seem to have missed. For instance, when answering question no. 8, Gnoe confessed to feeling guilty for not believing one of the stories. Well, Gnoe, let me ease your guilt: according to Rubin, Murakami did make this story up after all!
Gnoe: That’s good to hear Elsje! But as you know there’s something else that keeps bothering me… It’s probably supposed to, but I’d like to hear people’s opinions anyway! Even though it can be considered a spoiler… What is the wish Birthday Girl made? I wanna know! Do you have any ideas?
Elsje: My volume is a first print, published by Uitgeverij Atlas in 2009. Translation into Dutch was executed by Elbrich Fennema. I am not sure wether she translated the stories directly from Japanese or from the English translation Gnoe read.
Gnoe: My paperback is a first print, published by Harvill Secker in 2006 (copyrighted 2005 by Haruki Murakami). The stories are variably translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin; both seem to have done the job very well!
Elsje: I love the way in which the Dutch translations have been styled. Always bicolored, with a tiny picture at the border between the two colors, signifying one of the main themes. The cover of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Jerry Bauer, depicts the eyes and nose of, indeed, a sleeping woman.
Gnoe: I prefer my English copy to Elsjes’s Dutch because it’s more poetic, suitable to the stories. There’s a Japanese woman sleeping underneath a persimmon branch. She lying on a soft, white underground — obviously a mattress when you take a close look, but it evokes the image of snow. The woman is wearing a spring/summer dress or nightgown, so she has definitely been sleeping for quite some time! In Buddhism the persimmon stands for transformation. The picture is a combination of a modern photograph and a detail of the early nineteenth century painting Persimmon on Tree by Sakai Hoitsu. Yep, I like it ;) The book has a white background with lettering in silver, black and several reds — colors that ‘we’ (Western people) associate with Japan. A subtle detail is that the author name is embossed, not the title (as in the thriller genre).
Well, that’s a long description of something you can largely see for yourself at the beginning of this post ;) The combination of these colors on a white background is visible in the designs of other Murakami editions from the same publisher. Of course it’s a smart move to make them look like a ‘series’ because what bibliophile wouldn’t want to show of his collection of books by Murakami? It would be fun to compare several different Murakami ‘series’ someday! By the way: did you know there’s a group on Flickr with pictures of Murakami book covers?
Gnoe: Hey Elsje, now that our buddy review is ready — let’s make plans for a follow-up to see the Tony Takitani movie?!
Elsje: I think that would be an excellent idea! In addition we could buddyread 1Q84 which appears in print next week… #hinthint
Yep: real fans, that’s what we are ;)
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 Zoet — I 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
On 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:
- 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.
The 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?
Aikido looks like dancing!
On the second day of Pentecost we went to the Japan fair in Leiden, like we did last year and the year before. We scored some nice sake, shincha (2010 first flush sencha tea) and a few other goodies. But we also went to see a demonstration of Aikido, one of the ancient martial arts.
The art of self-defense is not supposed to be just a sport or hobby, but a way of life in which body and soul become one: winning is achieved by your mindset (not just physical capability).
Aikido is often translated as the Way of harmonious spirit; ‘-do‘ referring to spiritual enlightment. The idea is to redirect the force of an attack rather than opposing it head-on. So aikido teaches one to fight, but its main objective is not to kill. Unlike judo and karate there’s no competition either.
Japan is often considered the cradle of martial arts. But they actually originate in India, where a secret art of fighting based on animal principles was taught aside yoga and massage, more than 3000 years ago. It was brought to China in the 6th century by the Indian monk Bodidharma who traveled to Shaolin monastery to promote his country’s religion. He taught the friars exercises to prevent stiffness caused by the day-long meditations. And because the monastery was often raided he also trained them in self-defense. Shaolin monks became the ultimate fighters because they combined meditation, focus and the art of breathing with physical training and fighting techniques. A code of honour evolved when the Chinese involved the monasteries in military training.
Martial arts came to Japan from China and were incorporated by the elite social order of Samurai. Being masters in perfectionism, they further developed it into an art of its own. Aikido as we know it today even has a Japanese traditional ‘uniform’: wide Samurai pants (hakama) and a jacket resembling a short kimono tucked into the baggy pants.
Aikido is an elegant sport and really looks like dancing to me. Yeah well, why did I think it was called martial ARTS? Dancing as a way of life, that’s something another Master of Arts, Mr Murakami, recommends in his book Dance Dance Dance… ;)
“So what do I have to do?”
“Dance,” said the Sheep Man. “Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays. Yougottadance. Don’teventhinkwhy. Starttothink, yourfeetstop. Yourfeetstop, wegetstuck. Wegetstuck, you’re stuck. Sodon’tpayanymind, nomatterhowdumb. Yougottakeepthestep. Yougottalimberup. Yougottaloosenwhatyoubolteddown. Yougottauseallyougot. We know you’retired, tiredandscared. Happenstoeveryone, okay? Justdon’tletyourfeetstop.”
I looked up and gazed again at the shadow [dancing] on the wall.
“Dancingiseverything,” continued the Sheep Man. “Danceintip-topform. Dancesoitallkeepsspinning. Ifyoudothat, wemightbeabletodosomethingforyou. Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays.”
Dance, as long as the music plays, echoed my mind. [p.86]
May’s Hello Japan! mission was a suggestion of Novroz and it urged us to appreciate Japanese sports. Not being much of a ‘Sporty Spice’ I thought I could talk some more about the baseball theme in Yoko Ogawa’s book The Housekeeper and the Professor, or maybe transcribing quotes about samurai arts in the recently read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (by David Mitchell). But I decided to really challenge myself and actually look into one of the martial arts.
It was fun!
I began this Easter Sunday reading in bed. Cuddling up to Mr Gnoe with cats & coffee; can’t get any cosier than that :) Yeah well, the dwarf hamster prefers to stay in her cage ;)
I’m still enjoying Murakami’s Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. Only a hundred pages to go until the end of the book. So far my favourite stories are The Ice Man and The Seventh Man. The latter I read at least a week ago, but yesterday I feared the ocean I saw in Nowhere Boy because of it… :\
You might remember I was already reading ‘Blind Willow’ during my previous Sunday Salon 3 weeks ago. I don’t seem to get much reading done these days; I’m also slowly progressing in Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book (see below). Still, there’s no need to worry, because there’s a new 24 hour read-a-thon coming up next week! I had great fun in October, even though I got so over-excited I really couldn’t get much reading done… LOL Why don’t you join us this time?
Things I’ll do differently:
- I’ll start a few hours early because 2pm is not a good time to begin the read-a-thon.
- Compensation for my early start will be taken Saturday night: I’m going to see butoh dancer Takateru Kudo perform Go-Zarashi.
- I will not put my laptop directly beside my reading chair…
- I will check in every two hours on the dot so I can do some cheering, join in mini challenges and get the community feeling, but won’t get too distracted. Maximum pc time allowed: 15-20 minutes.
- Mini-challenge entries will be short (at first; I might make ‘em more fancy after the read-a-thon has ended).
- Maybe I’ll even let Mr Gnoe guard my new iPhone because it’s such a distracting device ;) LOL
- I’m not buying any books especially for the read-a-thon; there’s enough on my shelves to choose from.
- I have no need for excessive snacks & sweets… Really I don’t. Cross my heart and hope to die.
Although I’m free to pick anything of my liking of the shelves, I actually have a small pile of books set aside already. Last time I really benefited by the advice of some ‘old-timers’ to have a selection of different genres at hand. So my book stack contains novels and short stories, fiction next to non-fiction in both English and Dutch, plus comics and a graphic novel. I even have some audio books available for when my eyes get too tired :)
- Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, Haruki Murakami; or, if finished:
- a choice of the following short stories: De arm (One Arm) by Yasunari Kawabata, The January Man by David Mitchell, Helen and Julia by Sarah Waters
- Het hoofdkussenboek van Sei Shōnagon (The Pillow Book), Sei Shōnagon; just the journal entries to keep up with my read-along
- Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger
- Dromen van China (The China Lover), Ian Buruma
- Geketende democratie: Japan achter de schermen (‘Democracy in Chains: Behind the Scenes of Japan‘), correspondent Hans van der Lugt: a belated birthday present — that’s what happens when you flee the country at the actual day: gifts pouring in for a while afterwards ;)
- Mutts: Dog-eared, Patrick McDonnell
- Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon War Story, Ari Folman & David Polonsky
So, how do like my ‘short’ list? :) And do you have any good advice for the read-a-thon?
This week’s bookish posts on Graasland:
- My First Favourite Book about The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
- ‘A Steam Whistle in the Middle of the Night‘ a selection of Haruki Murakami’s short stories that haven’t been translated to English yet (Hello Japan’s Murakami March entry).
The Pillow Book
Arrived at entry: 41/41
Entries read since last time: 10
It’s been a while since I last read in Sei Shōnagon’s Pillow Book and not much comes to mind when I try to think of something to say about it. I guess it’s not making much of an impression :( Maybe the pace is too slow for me (not really getting a feel for the narrator), or or it might have to do with my recent discovery of preferring plot-driven books. I will admit I’m looking at 7 post-its sticking out of my volume: quotes that I should copy into my own journal but that I haven’t gotten round to. Once I’ve done so, maybe I’ll have more to say.
Unfortunately I had to cancel my visit to the Sketches from the Pillow Book theater play in Amsterdam. But blogging-buddy-to-be Marion went and wrote a short post about it. Feels a bit like I’ve been there anyway ;)
Now, back to my leisurely Easter Sunday. I’m going to read some more, have a nice dinner of cannelloni and mandarin tiramisu dessert (recipe will follow later), and will finish watching the first season of Damages. What are you doing today?