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Sunday Salon logoThe Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, blogging about bookish things of the past week, visiting each others weblogs, and oh — reading books of course ;)

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.

Nina cat checking out our bookshelves

Nina, the Grande Dame who came to live with us this year, checking out our bookshelves

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.

Thoughts

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.

Cover 1q84 Book One (Haruki Murakami); Dutch version Cover 1q84 Book Two (Haruki Murakami); Dutch version Cover 1q84 Boek drie (Haruki Murakami)

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.

Cover Underground (Haruki Murakami)

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! ;)

Cover Woman in the Dunes, Kobo Abe

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.

Cover 2666 (Roberto Bolaño)

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!

Pie chart author gender 2011

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

Pie chart fiction to nonfiction 2011

The Pile

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. ;)

Pie chart copies 2011

Peer-pressure

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.

Pie chart peer pressure 2011

Language areas

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.

Pie chart of author language areaSo, 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?

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No Sunday Salon, no It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?, just a Tuesday update on Gnoe’s reading.

Fiction

Cover 2666 (Roberto Bolaño)After I needed about a month to plod through Roberto Bolaño’s 898 page chunkster 2666 for Leeswammes’ readalong, I honestly feel like picking up something easy like a Carol O’Connell mystery.

But there’s another deadline coming up: the 25th of this month discussion starts on the Japanese Literature Book Group read of Kenzaburo Oë’s novel The Silent Cry. The Dutch translation has been waiting on my shelf for quite a few years now so I really want to grab this opportunity to join. Cover Voetballen in 1860 / The Silent Cry (Kenzaburo Oe)That I haven’t taken it up before has mostly to do with the title: Voetballen in 1860 (something like ‘Soccer in 1860‘). I’m not a sports person (ha! you can say that again ;) and since the name is about the only thing I know of the book — and I haven’t read anything by this author before — I feel quite reluctant. Still, Tony Malone mentioned on twitter that Oë has been an inspiration to Haruki Murakami and pointed out the similarity of the latter’s book title Pinball, 1973. So now at least I do look forward to discovering Murakamish things in The Silent Cry. ;)

Non-fiction

Cover Vegan Family Meals: Real Food for Everyone (Ann Gentry)My current non-fiction reads are all food-related… Could that have anything to do with the fact that I recently turned into a newbie vegan (or rather ‘strict vegetarian’)? Or is it just the Foodie’s Reading Challenge, or maybe the Whip Up Something New! challenge that gets me this obsessed focussed? Anyhow, I (virtually) picked up the Vegan Family Meals: Real Food for Everyone cookbook by Ann Gentry this week. It will be released on June 14th but I received an early e-book for preview through Netgalley in February. I normally don’t request review copies but it seemed a smart thing to do in my Quest to find a good vegan cookery book. Of course I could not know I’d get one soon for my Birthday! ;) Cover La Dolce Vegan: Vegan Livin' Made Easy (Sarah Kramer)My sister-in-law presented me with La Dolce Vegan! Vegan Livin’ Made Easy by Sarah Kramer. I’ve read it from A to Z and made at least (!) one dish from each of the sections so I hope to write a review soon. I usually don’t actually read cookbooks so it says a lot already that I did now! ;)

Cover Verraad, verzoening en verleiding: de rol van eten in speelfilms (Helen Westerik & Louise O. Fresco)I’m also still reading about food in film in Verraad, verleiding en verzoening: de rol van eten in speelfilms by Louise O. Fresco and Helen Westerik. It’s taking me much longer than I thought, just because it’s not as interesting as I had hoped. It seems only to touch the subject of each film instead of going further into the aspects relating to food. Of course I’ve only read about a quarter of the book so I really can’t have an honest opinion yet. Anyway, the booklet is just 144 pages thin so I should be able to finish it soon, right?! I guess I’ll have more time for it once my course on film reviews has ended. ;)

Other Bookish News

Cover The Cherry Blossom Festival: Sakura Celebration (Ann McClellan)Last but not least I received a sweet seasonal present from my friend elm@: The Cherry Blossom Festival: Sakura Celebration, by Ann McClellan. It’s a book about the cherry blossom trees surrounding the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. (been there, seen it, done that — but have to go back sometime when the sakura is blooming ;) that were planted in 1912 as a gesture of friendship from Japan. Every year the National Cherry Blossom Festival is held, just like Hanami Matsuri in Japan. And like my personal ‘Holland Hanami‘. ;) The book covers not only the history of the park and its festival, but also their roots and traditions in Japan. If you want to have a look yourself, check out this Google preview or a YouTube video on the festival.

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


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

According to the online Merriam – Webster dictionary a gargoyle is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other contemplations:

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

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

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

Want to know what tea I drank with the book?

Other bookish things

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

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

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