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These are the books I’ll be picking from next Saturday, when I’m participating in the fall 24 Hour Read-a-thon (starting at 14:00 local time).
As you may notice it is an a-typical pile in that they’re mainly Dutch titles! The bulk of my yearly reads is in English but I decided to make it easy for myself since I haven’t been reading much lately and I may be easily distracted the coming weekend as well. Juno, one of my kittehs, is very ill and last Sunday we didn’t even think she’d make it till readathon weekend. But this tough old gal is still fighting to get better! So instead of her keeping me company in my reading chair and bed (like previous RaTs), I might go sit with her on a pillow in a corner of the room. Less comfy, but darn well cosy and I’d be so much enjoying her presence! Of course if worse comes to worst I might drop out of the challenge to read for 24 hours. But let’s not think about that yet!
Now, which books are you looking at in that picture (clockwise)?
- Dromen van China (The China Lover), Ian Buruma
- Nocturnes, Kazuo Ishiguro (short stories)
- Het volgende verhaal (The Following Story), Cees Nooteboom (novella)
- Isabelle en het monster and Allemaal monsters! (Adèle and the Beast / Adèle et le bête & Monsters All! / Tous des monstres!) from the series Les Avontures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec, Jacques Tardi (graphic novels)
- Sneeuwlandschap / Snow Country (雪国, Yukiguni), Yasunari Kawabata
- Het hoofdkussenboek van Sei Shōnagon (The Pillow Book), Sei Shōnagon (short autobiographical entries)
- Modelvliegen (‘Model Flying‘), Marcel Möring (audiobook)
I feel like starting these books RIGHT NOW — all at the same time! LOL But I guess I’m most excited about The Following Story because it was recommended by David Mitchell and I will be buddy reading it with tanabata from In Spring it is the Dawn. That’ll be so much fun! It’s a story about Herman Mussert (a former teacher of Latin and Greek), who falls asleep in Amsterdam one evening only to wake up in a hotel room in Lisbon with the fear that he is dead.
I’m also looking forward to The China Lover, of which The Independent writes:
Reading Ian Buruma’s novel is like your first visit to a sushi shop with a knowledgeable friend. Everything is unfamiliar, some of it unpalatable, but your companion ensures you finish sated, delighted and feeling that bit more knowledgeable yourself. [..]
The story traces the real-life career of a Manchurian-born Japanese movie star, known variously as Ri Koran, Shirley Yamaguchi and Yoshiko Yamaguchi. Her three incarnations act before very different backdrops: the colonial experiment of “New Asia” in the 1930s and 1940s, the post-war MacArthur administration, culminating in the student protests of 1960; and the armed resistance of the Japanese Red Army in Palestine in the 1970s.
But Yamaguchi merely guest-stars in her own biopic, for each section is narrated by a different man: a China-loving mentor, a restless American expat, and a pornographer-turned-terrorist.
This year’s graphic novels are from Tardi’s series about Les Aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec. I’ll be rereading these because part of the adventures take place in Paris (France) and Mr Gnoe and I have been photographing the very same places when we were there a month ago. Our plan is to make a thematic Google map! Having graphic novels at hand for a change of palate is one of the great tips I got when I first joined the readathon. Although I was completely wrong in thinking that reading comics takes less time… It rather doubles it: reading the story and looking at the pictures!
Something special about this year’s readathon is that I actually know 2 other Dutch participants: Leeswammes and JannyAn. I hope this will make me feel less lonely in the dark hours of the night, when it’s still daytime at the other side of the globe. Although I do not plan to go completely without sleep, because I tend to get depressed if I do so ;) These grrls even live in the same state as I do (Utrecht province), so maybe next year we’ll be holding a pyjama party during the readathon?! ;)
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.
- 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.
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!
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; to 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. [p.235-237]
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
- 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
This is my final readathon pile! The third book from above (Model Gliding by Marcel Möring in Dutch: Modelvliegen) I will actually not read on paper: I have the audiobook waiting on my iPod. With thanks to Elsje las!
Listening to the advise of oldtimers I’ve decided to start with a short book to get a feeling of accomplishment: The Pianoman (also in Dutch: De Pianoman), by Bernlef. It’s the boekenweekgeschenk from 2008: ‘book week present’. Each year in March there’s a week devoted to books and reading. If you spend 20 euro’s on Dutch literature, you’ll get that year’s gift written by a famous author. This started as early as 1930! In the beginning the public had to guess who the author was by reading the novella.
Oh my, I suddenly discover I forgot to put one book in the photograph… The China Lover! Well, I might even never get to it anyway ;)
I wonder what this readathon will do to my daily post statistics… LOL The hard part of coming 24 hours will be not to spend too much time behind my computer blogging and following other readathonners! Beneath you can see my starting position. Good luck to all! :)
This is very exciting: on Wednesday the Monopoly 2.0 release game got started! My teammate myranya and I are called De boekenleggers, which can be translated into bookmarks — but it is a better name in Dutch because it is literally ‘the book layers’ (people laying books). Our first assignment is to leave a book at an IKEA shop… This is my 2nd time playing Bookcrossing monopoly and it was great fun last year!
Speaking of Bookcrossing: I received no less than two RABCK’s this week! (Weekly Geeks made us improve our weblogs, so I’m referring you to my new glossary for the explanation of RABCK ;) First came Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections from Marsala. It is #1 on the list of Best Fiction of the Millenium (so far)! Marsala read the book during the September readathon. And yesterday my surprise gift for joining in that same monthly readathon arrived! I had joined in preparation of the 24 hour Read-a-Thon of October 24th. I am really excited that I already got my pile of books done! Here’s what I will be reading during those 24 hours (although I probably won’t manage all of the books/hours):
- short stories: Nocturnes, by Kazuo Ishiguro
- De pianoman (‘The Piano Man‘), by Bernlef
- audiobook: Modelvliegen (‘Model Gliding‘), by Marcel Möring
- [my current book of that moment]
- Dromen van China (The China Lover), by Ian Buruma
- graphic novel: Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
- graphic novel: Persepolis & Persopolis 2, by Marjane Satrapi
- comic: The Best of Mutts, by Patrick McDonnell
There’s just one title I would like to add: Zijde (Silk), by Alessandro Baricco. So if anyone has got a copy available, in Dutch or English..?
Buying graphic novels for the upcoming read-a-thon was a first for me! I figured it would be great for variety. But the funny thing is I can hardly wait to start reading them now! I should keep myself from picking them up first thing on THE Day ;)
My mailbox really had to work overtime this week: I also received my three online Japanese book group reads yesterday!
- I Am a Cat (Wagahai wa Neko dearu 1905), by Natsume Sōseki — readalong, part 1 TBR before November 15th
- The Old Capital (Koto 1962), by Yasunari Kawabata — TBR before November 30th
- The Housekeeper and the Professor (Hakase no aishi ta sūshiki 2003), by Yoko Ogawa — TBR before January 30th 2010
Next week I hope to have finished John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath… I’ll see you then!
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?
I should be locked in a cabin with just books and NO internet. Or my computer should block all book blogs. What happened? I joined another reading challenge! Like I need one… with those other 3 I already have going on :\
Well, at least Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge shouldn’t be too difficult for me: I need to read one work of Japanese origin before the end of January 2010. Hey, I can do that, right? I read three in the first half of 2009 and I have several waiting on the shelf anyway! For example:
Butterfly in the Wind (Rei Kimura), in Dutch
Dreaming Water (Gail Tsukiyama)
The Language of Threads (Gail Tsukiyama)
The Street of a Thousand Blossoms (Gail Tsukiyama)
Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Haruki Murakami), in Dutch
The Unconsoled (Kazuo Ishiguro)
Nocturnes (Kazuo Ishiguro)
But first I should make sure I finish my current book because it is taking waaaaaaaay too long!
Edited to add: I was thinking… The Pillowbook by Sei Shonagon is not on my bookshelf yet, but it IS on my other challenge lists already. I should make things easy for myself and try to get my hands on a copy!
Ja, ik ben op de helft van mijn huidige boek (What came before he shot her, van Elizabeth George), maar dat is niet waar deze post over gaat. Het is 1 juli! Tijd om kort terug te blikken op de 17,5 boeken die ik in de eerste helft van 2009 las.
Boeken die eruit springen:
The Remains of the Day van Kazuo Ishiguro
Brideshead Revisited van Evelyn Waugh
Dans dans dans van Haruki Murakami
Zo God het wil van Niccolò Ammaniti
Maar nog niets waarvan ik nu al weet dat het zéker in mijn top-3 favorieten van dit jaar terechtkomt. De volledige lijst kun je vinden op mijn Bookcrossing boekenplank. Was ik nou ook maar halverwege met wat ik dit jaar nog moet lezen voor mijn persoonlijke challenge..! :(
Voor de tweede helft van 2009 kijk ik érg uit naar de volgende boeken op mijn Mount TBR:
Revolutionary Road van Richard Yates
Away van Amy Bloom
The Wasted Vigil van Nadeem Aslam
The Mapmaker’s Wife van Robert Whitaker
To Kill a Mocking Bird van Harper Lee (als de Bookcrossing boekenring op tijd binnenkomt)
Wat hebben jullie in het vooruitzicht? En wat las je dat ik, als het even kan, nog dit jaar te pakken moet krijgen?
Booking Through Thursday dares us this week to organize our books in a different way, using titles as a guideline.
Although I wouldn’t actually dream of doing this IRL on my book shelves, it was sure fun being challenged to think about it! So I’ve got 3 title stories to share with you (saving the best for last).
It was hard getting all titles readable in the picture, so I got a little help with the first one ;)
After the quake
Dance with death
Through the green valley
In the country of men
Servant of the bones
In cold blood
Through the green valley
Everything is illuminated
After 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!
- A book with a ‘profession‘ in its title:
The Little Emperor (Dutch title: De kleine keizer), by Martin Bril
read in May
- A book with a ‘time of day‘ in its title:
The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro
read in January
- A book with a ‘relative‘ in its title:
The Mapmaker’s Wife, by Robert Whitaker
This title also fits review theme 1: profession!
- 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
- 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
- A book with a ‘medical condition‘ in its title:
What came before he shot her, by Elizabeth George
reading in June