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Books I got for my birthday

Birthday Book Loot

Again, I am being a real lookgrrl this weekend. Yesterday some grrls came over to watch the 1967 movie In Cold Blood, which we read together in November (I posted my review of Capote’s book last month). I’m actually writing this Sunday Salon post on Friday, so I have no idea yet what I thought of it ;) And when my bookish things of the week go online, I’ll be making last minute preparations for a Dexter 3 marathon. Yay!

Btw I recently heard that the 2nd series and further are no real adaptations, so you can read the Dexter novels in addition to the serial. That would be fun! I guess I’ll wait until I’ve seen them all though, just to be on the safe side.

A week ago I finally finished the third volume of Natsume Sōseki’s I Am a Cat. I decided I would read on instead of composing a Sunday Salon post. Good idea, eh?

I’m not sure if I’ll write a real review this time because I feel I’ve spent enough time on it already. I’ve learnt a great lesson though: I prefer to read plot driven books! So what am I doing reading The Pillow Book? Erm… not sure ;) I think it will be my last one for a long, long time! Now I’m quite confident that I really shouldn’t read Moby Dick. I’ll just follow my instincts ;) In recent years I’ve bargained with Max Havelaar or The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company, dragged myself along The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha — and it has been enough. Gee, that I had to become 40 to acknowledge such a thing ;)

Next to The Pillow Book I am also reading Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: a compilation of short stories by Haruki Murakami. I’m buddy reading with Else, who has started a while back so it’s good to have started catching up. I’m just a few pages in but it already seems to be another great book! :)

The Pillow Book

Arrived at entry: 31/21
Entries read since last time: 31

Ha! Not only have I finally started reading The Pillow Book (Het Hoofdkussenboek van Sei Shōnagon), I’m also completely caught up!

What do I think about it so far? I like it, but it is very patchy. Of course I expected that since it’s not just a diary but a journal containing Shōnagon’s musings and descriptions of (court) life in Heian Japan. And I appreciate reading about the beautiful clothes (although it is starting to be much of the same), seasonal traditions and festivals, but… Shōnagon and I are not befriended. I don’t like the way she seems to look down on people, even laughs at them — especially women. Could it be a competitive atmosphere between women around the Emperor and Empress? I’m in a bit of a hurry so I haven’t thought this through very well.

The Pillow Book is quit poetic and the footnotes and appendix give some interesting, sometimes necessary, explanatory information. But I do not look them all up because that would interrupt my reading too much.

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 ;)

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A novelty, for me at least: in 2010 I will be reading more than 3 comic books or graphic novels for certain! How do I know? Because I’ve joined the Graphic Novels Challenge as an Intermediate! 3-10 books must be doable, since I have just finished reading The Best of Mutts and Persepolis 1 & 2 are already waiting on the shelf; all three books I bought especially for the purpose of a varied diet in last October’s 24 hour read-a-thon. That’s when I read my first graphic novel btw: Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. It felt really good to crawl out of my usual book nook.

It’s a good opportunity to check out Art Spiegelman’s In The Shadow of No Towers, which I’ve been meaning to do ever since it was published. You all know Spiegelman from his famous autobiographical comics Maus I & II, right? I’ve mentioned him before in my post about Coraline.

Now I know I said I wouldn’t join any more reading challenges… Well, bad habits are hard to break :\ And don’t you think this is a different story? Besides, I’ve just finished wrapping up my 2009 Classics Challenge, so there’s room for something new! ;)

Not to mention this month’s irresistable mini-mission: the classics in graphics, for which you need to read 1 classic of literature that has been made into a graphic novel. Interesting, right?! So you’ll be glad to hear that you don’t even have to join the actual GN Challenge to participate in this mini-challenge that Teresa is hosting! What’s keeping you?

The 2009 Classics Challenge ended on October 31st.
2009 that is. Hence the title :\
And only today I got to write a short wrap-up post in which I have some good news, and some bad news to share…

Let’s start POSITIVE. I finished reading my 5 classics for the Entree Level of the challenge in time! I did tweak the list of my admittance post a bit (substituting titles), but that’s allowed. So below you’ll find the books that made it to the finish line.

The cover pics are links to the posts about the books here on Graasland. Well… that’s how it’s supposed to be anyway. Because the BAD news is that I still haven’t reviewed all of them! Baaaaaad Gnoe. I hope to make it up by stating a short (ha!) opinion right here, followed by a quick recap of the other reviews. And you never know; once the fuses are blown (is that the correct phrase?), when the pressure is off — I might actually get to writing a full-scale evaluation of Brideshead Revisited and Revolutionary Road ;)

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
I saw the 1981 tv-series of Brideshead Revisited twice, so I couldn’t help seeing — and hearing! — Jeremy Irons in my head whenever Charles Ryder entered the story. (Likewise with the Sebastian Flyte character, although I didn’t know that the actor was called Anthony Andrews. It’s just Sebastian.) I loved the book and I got to understand the story better than I did before. Everything seemed to go SO much quicker than on the telly! I seemed to have forgotten big parts, like all that happened after Sebastian went abroad… But what I enjoyed most is that I understood why the novel is called Brideshead Revisited. I had never noticed it before and I think it’s grand. Maybe it was left out of the television series? Gosh, now I need to watch it a third time! ;)

After reading Brideshead Revisited with my online bookgroup, the Boekgrrls, some of the women came over to watch the 2008 adaptation on dvd. Of course we had a fun night, but I didn’t like the film at all. It was way too explicit about the homo-erotic motive that was so subtly hidden in the book. Maybe Waugh would have liked that if he had lived in our era. But for me it took the edge of the story. Also, I hated that ‘they’ had tried to find clones of the original actors — Matthew Goode even sounded like Jeremy Irons. Well, of course with a voice like Sir Irons (really, when is he going to be knighted?), such a thing is not really possible, but they obviously tried. Shame.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird was a quick and entertaining read ad I’m glad to have read it. The story immediately grabbed me and I liked the atmosphere of doom, suggesting that ’something was going to happen’.
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
Revolutionary Road got under my skin, but in a different way than Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (see below). After I had picked it up I immediately got immersed in the story. But it’s quite depressing… The feeling of doom hardly left me during the day, even when I was not reading! It’s obvious from page 1 that something bad is going to happen. And still, the end came as a painful surprise.

The story revolves around image. “The important thing, always, was to remember who you were.” Frank and April Wheeler think they’re special, even though they live in the suburbs, like their peers, and Frank has a job in an advertising agency that is not much of a challenge. It is shockingly recognizable: don’t we all think we’re different? I kept seeing Jon Hamm = Don Draper in Mad Men, as Frank Wheeler btw. But that might have something to do with the cover picture ;)

Again, I watched the movie adaptation afterwards. Unlike Brideshead Revisited I really liked it — although I’m not sure if I’d have appreciated it as much if I hadn’t read the book.

I Am a Cat (vol.1), Natsume Soseki
After reading volume 1 of I Am a Cat I wasn’t sure yet what to think of it. I’m not much of a person for satire and I preferred the parts concentrating on the cat over sections digressing on humans. Reading the 2nd volume helped me form a clearer opinion — but only the 1st tome counts for the Classics Challenge ;) The fun thing was that while reading I Am a Cat I came across several parallelisms with graphics I read at the same time; Coraline and Mutts. That must mean typical cat tricks are pictured lifelike!
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath ended as my favourite read of 2009. I had been holding off this classic for a long time, not knowing what to expect, and even for about a 100 pages into the book I had my doubts. But after a while it really got under my skin — and I still can’t get it out of there. Heart rendering. A Must Read for anyone.

You know what? I believe reviews are not even required for the Classics challenge! Phew, three things to cross off my to-do list in one go. I am so relieved! I might even join the new Classics challenge in February/March… Or I may not ;) Let’s see what the future brings.

Usually I don’t win any prizes… But lately I’ve been really lucky!

Velvet from vvb32 reads gave me not one, not two, but four awards!

Click on the award pics to go to the different blogposts on vvb32 reads. From left to right: I received The B for Beautiful of the The BINGO Award, the Ohh la la! I love your blog Award, The Lemonade Award (a ‘feel good’ trophy that shows great attitude or gratitude), and the Honest Scrap Award for bloggers who write from the heart.

I’m so honored! I have to answer a few questions to actually pick two of them up, so I’ll do that at the end of this post.

But my luck does not end here. I also won the cutest maki-e stickers (shiny things are excellent for a magpie like me) and mobile phone charm in the Japanese Literature Challenge at Dolce Belezza. I’m not linking to the post because I want to show them to you once they’ve arrived ;) Now I definitely need to buy an iPhone so that I can personalize it with my new goodies! ;) In situations like these I’m always thinking of Ren & Stimpy: HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY!

Won: Traditional Framer's Gouda Cheese

Now for those of you who are wondering what that cheese is doing in this blogpost… It was a prize also! We’ve got a fabulous new cheese shop in our shopping center and although we missed out on the first prize, a garden kitchen, we were lucky enough to win the 2nd: real Gouda farmer’s cheese. Yum! We are actually happy to have come second because we wouldn’t have been able to fit the kitchen on our balcony anyway! LOL

Now that we’re feeling lucky we’ve bought a ticket to the New Year’s Lottery..! Keep on dreaming eh? ;)

As promised, here’s my acceptance speech for the awards…

Ohh la la! award
J’adore your blog!

Where is your favorite place to read a book?
Actually… while commuting by train! And in my reading chair at home, cosying up with da kittehs.

Bookmarks or dog ears?
Bookmarks.

What is the best book you have read so far this year?
It’s almost time to compile my top list for 2009… Best read so far is either John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or Yasunari Kawabata’s The Old Capital. Both classics..!

Do you like to snack while reading and if so, what is your favorite snack?
Not especially, just when I feel like snacking. I have a taste for salty — but potato chips & reading do not go well together… (no grease spots in my books please ;)

Book borrower or book collector?
In 2009 I was mostly a book collector.

For the Honest Scrap award I need to disclose 10 honest things about myself…

  1. I still prefer a nickname when socializing on the web.
  2. I’m keeping my blog separated from my professional life as a museum employee.
  3. I’m a vegetarian but I sometimes crave meat.
  4. Thankfully my lust for meat vanishes when I recall why I’m a veggie.
  5. I wish I was strong enough to stop eating dairy as well — but I’m not.
  6. I feel I’m the slowest book blogger on the planet when it comes to writing reviews.
  7. Making bento’s usually takes more time than it should too :\
  8. I can’t decide on a favourite book of all-times, nor a fav author.
  9. I lied. I think David Mitchell is the best writer ever ;)
  10. I’m not very good at passing awards along.

Well, that’s pretty honest, isn’t it?! And because of confession #10 I’ll just round up with a big THANK YOU!

For today’s Sunday Salon I would like to share some thoughts about part 2 of Natsume Sōseki’s classic novel I Am a Cat, published in 1906. You’ll find other bookish news at the end of this post.

There comes a day when, unexpectedly, the first cool wind of autumn blows through the gaps torn in the sleeves of one’s kimono, making one feel a sniffling cold is surely on its way.

Although I enjoyed reading part 1, I am more enthusiastic about volume 2. The author seems to have gotten better at gripping attention from his readers and the chapters are better balanced.

In the beginning I got quickly immersed in the story and was pretty fascinated. Only towards the end I became a bit disinterested again; when the cat started a lot of ‘name-dropping’. Especially characters from Japanese culture, supposedly to give the story depth: “since Genzaemon warmed the room for laypriest Saimyoji,” “you just try to come down from a pine tree like a wolf on the fold in the headlong Yoshitsune style,” or “as pointless as Yoritomo’s gift of a solid silver cat to the unworldly Saigyo” (etc.).

Obviously the book was written for a Japanese audience; Juno hugging I Am a Cat againto me, being a Westerner, these references only have a superficial meaning. Worse is that I didn’t feel encouraged to google any of them — just because there were too many. Of course ‘Neko’, nor Natsume, wouldn’t have minded: both have not much regard for Westerners anyway — even ridiculing us, together with the way their fellow Japanese copied foreigners after bakumatsu (the ending of Japan’s isolationist foreign policy).

And why, while they’re about it, don’t they and their families stroll around Ueno Park in no more than that nakedness they so affect to love? It can’t be done, they say? But of course it can. The only reason they hesitate is not, I bet, because it can’t be done, but simply because Europeans don’t do it. The proof of my point is in their dusk behaviour. There they are, swaggering down to the Imperial Hotel, all dolled-up in those crazy evening dresses. What origin and history do such cockeyed costumes have? Nothing indigenous. Our bird-brained ladies flaunt themselves in goose-skinned flesh and feathers solely because that is the mode in Europe. Europeans are powerful, so it matters not how ridiculous or daft their goings on, everyone must imitate their daftest designs. [p.244]

Of course it occurred to me that the name-dropping I found tedious could be meant as satire — in real life I am bored accordingly by people who do so as I was now in I Am a Cat ;) And thankfully my patience was rewarded. After the tiresome bit came a lively scene in a sentō, a Japanese public bath house, that was much fun.

Of course, I can’t be sure that it actually is a bath, but I make the wild surmise that it can’t be anything else.

So, while I posited in my review of book 1 that I was only interested in the cat(s) of the story (finding the narrative about people regularly boring), I now really liked to read about human activities. How different!

When I wrote about my first graphic novel Coraline I spoke about ‘reading synchronisity’ with I Am a Cat. Whatdoyaknow? It happened again! Relating to part 1 as well as 2. Together with Coraline I bought The Best of Mutts for the 24 Hour Readaton and I only started reading it recently. Remember the scene about Neko getting his mouth stuck with mochi in I Am a Cat 1? Meet Earl & Mooch at Halloween!

Then I saw this gag where Mooch’s equilibrium is ruined by Earl.

It reminded me of another enjoyable story, in part 2 of I Am a Cat where our feline protagonist is exercising on the garden fence.

I was just about halfway home on my fourth time around when three crows, gliding down from the next-door roof, settled on the fence-top, side-by-side, some six short feet ahead of me. Cheeky bastards! Quite apart from the fact that they’re interrupting my exercise, such low-born, ill-bred, rain-guttersnipes have no right whatsoever to come tresspassing, indeed seemingly to start squatting, on my fence-property. So I told them, in terms of hissing clarity, to get lost. The nearest crow, turning its head toward me, appears to be grinning like a half-wit. The next one unconcernedly studies my master’s garden. And the third continues wiping his filthy beak on a projecting splinter of the fence bamboo. He had all too evidently just finished eating something rather nasty. I stood there balanced on the fence, giving them a civilized three minutes grace to shove off. I’ve heard that these birds are commonly called Crowmagnons, and they certainly look as daft and primitively barbarous as their uncouth nickname would suggest. Despite my coureous waiting, they neither greeted me nor flew away. Becoming at last impatient, I began slowly to advance; whereupon the nearest Crowmagnon tentatively stirred his wings. I thought he was at last backing off in face of my power, but all he did was to shift his posture so as to present his arse, rather than his head, toward me. Outright insolence! [..] I do not greatly care for the idea of being stuck here while a trey of brainless birds waits for whatever impulse will lift them into air. For one thing, there’s my poor tired feet. Those feathered lightweights are used to standing around in such precarious places so that, if my fence-top happens to please them, they might perch here forever. I, on the other hand, am already exhausted. This is my fourth time around today, and this particular exercise is anyway no less tricky than tightrope-walking. [..] I had just decided to hop down when the arse-presenting savage offered me a rudery. ‘Arseholes,’ he observed. His immediate neighbor repeated this coarse remark, while the last one of the trio took the trouble to say it twice. I simply could not overlook behavior so offensive. [..] I began slowly to advance. The crows, oblivious to my action, seem to be talking among themselves. They are exasperating! If only the fence were wider by five or six inches, I’d really give them hell. But as things are, however vehemently vexed I may feel, I can only tiptoe slowly forward to avenge my honor. Eventually, I reached a point a bare half-foot away from the nearest bird and was urging myself onward to one last final effort when, all together and as though by prearrangement, the three brutes suddenly flapped their wings and lumbered to hang a couple of feet above me in the air. The down-draught gusted into my face. Unsportingly surprised, I lost my balance and fell off sideways into the garden.
Kicking myself for permitting such a shameful mishap to occur, I looked up from the ground to find all three marauders safely landed back again where they had perched before. Their three sharp beaks in parallel alignment, they peer down superciliously into my angry eyes.
[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

Currently reading

  • The Best of Mutts, Patrick McDonnell
  • Zijde (Silk), Alessandro Baricco
  • The Gargoyle, Andrew Davidson

In the mail

  • The Rapture, Liz Jensen (I loved The Ninth Life of Louis Drax)
  • The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolaño (recommended by Kazuo Ishiguro)
  • Crime School, Carol O’Connell

The Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, where they blog about bookish things of the past week, visit each others weblogs, oh — and read ;)

I am a cat. As yet I have no name. [p.5]

Logo Japanese Literature Read-a-longI started reading I Am a Cat (Wagahai wa Neko dearu) during the 24 hour read-a-thon and finished part 1 on October 31st. I’m reading this classic from 1905-1906 for the Japanese Literature Read-along. I wish I had the edition shown on Wikipedia, because I absolutely love that cover! But the picture on my ‘complete edition’ resembles my own cat Juno, so I am happy with that as well :)

I am a catWhat do I think of the book so far? Unfortunately I read the preface first, so there wasn’t much to find out for myself :\ This way I knew beforehand that the first chapter had been written as a short story, to be published in the journal Hototogisu. Originally it was not meant to be a book at all! But one of the the magazine editors persuaded the author to expand it into a novel because of its success.

I’ll let the introduction introduce the story ;)

[..] though Sōseki’s total book is held together by the continuing theme of a nameless cat’s observations of upper-middle-class Japanese society of the Meiji period, the essence of the book resides in the humor and sardonic truth of those various observations, not in the development of the story.

The preface also gave away that the voice of the cat gets more and more human. I recognized that in the following quote from the 3rd (and last) chapter of volume 1:

The more that humans show me sympathy, the more I am inclined to forget that I am a cat. Feeling that I am now closer to humans than to cats, the idea of rallying my own race in an effort to wrest supremacy from the bipeds no longer has the least appeal. [..] Moreover, I have developed, indeed evolved, to such an extent that there are now times when I think of myself as just another human in the human world.

Reading that, a relation to the song I Am a Kitten became apparent. Momus wrote the piece of music originally in French for the Japanese pop star Kahimi Karie. The booklet of his 20 Vodka Jellies cd even acknowledges that it owes something to this “excellent novel”.

The song is about a cat falling in love with a human being (= impossible love). I don’t think that’s going to happen in Natsume’s story, but you never know ;) Here’s Momus singing I Am a Kitten (in English), while you read along. We’ll save Kahimi’s performance for another time ;)

And though I’d love to be loved
The gods ordained it that
You were made a human being
And I turned out a cat
(I am a kitten)

[complete lyrics]

Cover I Am A CatBack to the novel. I’m not really sure what to think of it. Of course it’s interesting to read about Japanese intellectuals and their surroundings in early 20th century — seen through the eyes of a cat. But how realistic is it? And what is there to ‘learn’ about Japan it if I can’t determine that? Okay, I admit to not having a taste for satire. And yes, I’m embarrased to say so; it’s like confessing to not having a sense of humor — in other words being a sourpuss :\

Anywho. Aside from the above, I am not able to identify with the cat, even though it is portrayed lifelike (that is to say: the way we humans perceive feline characters). And this time it can’t be designated my shortcoming because in Barbara Gowdy’s book The White Bone I actually imagined I was the elephant Mud.

Am I not enjoying the read-along of I Am a Cat? Oh yes I am! :)

I really had to laugh about a scene where ‘the cat’ — I am going to baptize it Neko here and now — gets its jaw stuck in a rice cake. JumboI transcribed part of it for a mini challenge in the 24 hour read-a-thon, but it actually goes on for several pages and it is very evocative.

I guess this novel, for me, is about cherishing specific quotes; I’ve jotted many down in my notebook. In my blogpost about the graphic novel Coraline I have already talked about reading synchronisity on the basis of some similar quotes. But I was also affected by a scene in which ‘Neko’ finds Rickshaw Blacky sunbathing in his garden. This part reminded me very much of our belated tomcat Jumbo (who was HUGE and named Jumbo because of that by the animal shelter when he was only a few weeks old). He was a shy guy btw, not some bully like the cat of the rickshaw owner ;)

[..] and there I saw an enormous cat fast asleep on a bed of withered chrysanthemums, which his weight had flattened down. [..] there he was, stretched out at full length and snoring loudly. I was amazed at the daring courage that permitted him, a tresspasser, to sleep so unconcernedly in someone else’s garden. He was a pure black cat. The sun of earliest afternoon was pouring its most brilliant rays upon him, and it seemed as invisible flames were blazing out from his glossy fur. He had a magnificent physique; the physique, one might say, of the Emperor of Catdom. [p.9-10]

In conclusion I just think the cat(s) in the story interest me, and not so much the storylines about the people. Yes, I am a cat person :)

For surely even humans will not flourish forever. I think it best to wait in patience for the Day of the Cats. [p.7]

Part 2 of I Am a Cat needs to be read (and reviewed) before December 15th and the final part in the middle of January 2010. To be continued…

Note: I had a hard time deciding whether I should write Natsume Sōseki or Sōseki Natsume. The Western way would be Sōseki Natsume, since Natsume is the writer’s last name. But the Japanese put their family names first. In the end I considered decisive that 1) in my museum profession author and creator names are usually documented in the way the person presents him-/herself publicly and 2) that is probably also why I know the author by the name Natsume Sōseki best myself.

Since I Am a Cat is a Japanese Classic I’ve also admitted it to Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge and the 2009 Classics Challenge.

Here’s my review of part 2!

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