Enheduanna's books 2008
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I moved over here from the 50 books challenge, so this is the first of the catch-up posts. Books read from January to March are as follows:
1. The Peony Pavilion by Xianzu Tang
The Peony Pavilion is a Chinese opera, and I have to say, it's got everything, from love, war, and battles, to sex with ghosts, grave-robbing and necrophilia references--even a scene in hell. I think what surprised me the most about it is the way it effortlessly combines the quality of really excellent literature with satire and (in some instances rather extreme) bawdiness. It was sort of like reading a combination of Shakespeare and Chaucer. There were quite a lot of similarities to Shakespeare, and while I do think that's a bit too easy a comparison, it was written at about the same time. I can't comment at all on the musical quality because I've never seen any of it performed and even if I had, I don't know the first thing about Chinese opera. I have only one small issue with the edition I read, and that is that there simply weren't enough notes to explain the MANY references within the text. I was surprised by how many I understood from my own previous reading, but for the majority, I simply had to accept that this was a reference I didn't understand and move on. Now.. I do understand why he avoided annotating the references. The play has 55 scenes to begin with (to perform the entire thing requires several days), and to sufficiently explain all the classical references would probably have at least doubled, if not tripled the size of the book and thoroughly overwhelmed any non-expert reader. But personally, I would have liked more elucidation. In terms of theme, I could not take seriously the idea of love as presented in the play. It was just asinine to my modern sensibilities. But you read these things with a suspension of disbelief, and it certainly was beautiful. However, I did find quite interesting the author's attempt to reconcile Confucian principles with the realities of human emotion, tendencies and relationships. I have enormous animus toward Confucianism, and I'll admit it. But the way he handled it didn't set me off, I think partially because he satirized it so often, and in a realistic way, by pointing out situations in which it's just plain silly. I should mention that the play is easy to read, the conventions of the style in which it was written don't get terribly annoying, and it's not in the least boring. Too much sex for that, really. It's surprisingly accessible and the translation must be good because all of the textual nuances were plain and easy to identify. Notes were not required, for instance, to tell when someone was telling a joke or making fun of someone, or when there was a lewd reference.
2. Murder on Several Occasions by Jonathan Goodman
Murder on Several Occasions is probably the best true crime book I've read. It covered a number of murders, only a couple of which were new to me, but I learned something new about even the ones I was thoroughly familiar with. But what made it especially good was not only the quality of the research, but the very high quality of the writing, rare in the field. To make it absolutely irresistible, there were wonderful illustrations for the frontispieces for each article. I became quite fond of the cutest picture of (one assumes) a raven or crow that was scattered all through the book.
3. The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
I think that the author thought he was really clever coming up with this. I don't agree. I think it could have been better; in fact, it could have been good. But there were too many scenes that seemed to fall totally flat primarily because of lack of skill on the part of the writer. I didn't dislike it, but I'm not able to say I thought it was well done. I was almost totally indifferent to it. Sometimes I thought I'd be able to get involved with it, but it never really panned out. I did like the incipient romance between Alyss and Dodge.... well, because I almost like Dodge. At least, I sympathize with him. I'd sympathize with Alyss, too, if the writer did a better job fleshing out her motivations and internal struggle. I just don't know if the prospect of reading more about their relationship will be enough to get me to read the sequels. But I had to at least check it out. If I didn't have to do most of the work imagining the inner lives of these characters, I'd be more inclined to continue with it. That said, I think it's probably sufficient for a few hours of diversion for the intended audience. There's really nothing wrong with disposable literature, so long as it doesn't think too much of itself. And if you ignore the smug face in the author's photo, this one doesn't really.
4. Love in Excess by Eliza Haywood
Well! That was quite the bodice-ripper. It has the advantage, however, of actually being written during the era one wore such things, as opposed to later anachronistic renderings. It was quite as silly--not at all realistic in terms of the action, particularly in the third section--but quite interesting in other ways. The major focus of the book was female sexuality constrained by a patriarchal system in which it was the height of shame for a woman to admit she loved before she was made an offer by the man. In another aspect, it was helpful to have read it when it comes to tracing not only the development of the novel in terms of literature, but also in terms of commerce--how such a thing became a viable way to support oneself. It was also interesting to compare it thematically and structurally with later 18th and early 19th century styles. I had some issues with the edition, though. I appreciate not wanting to excessively modernize an older text, but I don't think it would really be out of bounds to regularize at least the spelling of character names throughout. I did like that they used Johnson's dictionary as the reference for word definitions in the footnotes.
5. The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi
The Waiting Years was an exceptionally good novel. I'm still digesting it, and I'm really not sure quite what to say about it. It had that dramatic, understated power that I've come to expect from really excellent Japanese literature, but its quality extended to more than that. At the very end I just sat there blinking at the last page, because it really took me a few moments to comprehend what she had done.
6. Swedish Folk Tales by John Bauer
That was one of the best fairy/folk tale books I have read. I'm really surprised by not only how good it was but also by how much I liked it. I really didn't think I'd go for stories involving trolls and the like, though that's not all there was. But I did like them; I thought they were perfectly charming. Properly, the book was an anthology of stories written by several different authors but all illustrated by John Bauer, whose work is just lovely. The quality of the tales and the writing was consistent throughout. The book itself is big--solidly bound and with clear reproductions. There were just a couple of minor typos, but all around a thoroughly excellent story book. I am extremely pleased to have it.
7. Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith
Nothing can make you grateful for your blessings like a Precious Ramotswe book. They always seem to make me cry at least once. This one made me cry twice. I really like this series.
8. The Rebels by Sandor Marai
(this touchstone is incorrect but it won't let me fix it for some reason)
This was a reread. It's just one hell of a book. Even reading it again it lost none of its power.
9. The Grass-Cutting Sword by Catherynne M. Valente
The Grass-Cutting Sword is, like the other book of hers that I read, rather annoying. This one is like listening to someone get really excited about pretentiously interpreting a myth cycle, when you've heard it all before. Especially in the Orochi sections. And we all know that if there is a snake in a myth then the only interpretive place you can go is feminism. Oy. But that's not to say that it's a total waste of paper. I actually found myself commiserating with Susanoo, particularly when he has to interact with humans. One of the things that I think is so interesting about the Amaterasu/Susanoo myth is what it might reveal about the development of a matriarchal society into a patriarchal one, and the interaction between the Jomon and Yayoi cultures. But this is fiction; all I'm going to get is more tired feminist exploration of the ambiguity of male/female relationships. Frankly, it bores me. The sex is just beaten to death, and it loses its power and meaning. Kirino's treatment of the Izanagi/Izanami myth will be so much better, and I can't wait to read it. I wish I knew when it's going to be published.
10. Maurice by E.M. Forster
Maurice was very good. Such an incredibly perceptive and sensitive portrait. I'm really impressed with it. The writing is accomplished, which you'd expect, but though I've read two of his other books, it was so long ago that I didn't remember the feel of his prose. It was what D.H. Lawrence ought to be but isn't. Mostly because he's an ass, I think, but that's just my opinion. I really loathe his writing. Anyway, I thought this novel was particularly well constructed. Clive's chastity contrasted with Maurice's very physical nature; the repetition of the window scenes, the first with Clive asleep, the second with Maurice calling out; Clive's congenital hypocrisy, first in his homosexuality, then in his heterosexuality, and reflected even later in his social and political hypocrisy. It was just really very good. And written so early. It makes me want to reread his other books, but I've got no room in my agenda for him just at the moment. Maybe I'll get in another one later this year. Summer might be good. It would certainly raise the level of my reading. I usually only read garbage in the summertime.
11. 501 Must-Read Books
It's not the sort of thing I'd usually get for myself, but I have decided to think of it as a reference book. I have gotten quite a few good recs out of it, but honestly, I wasn't too impressed. For instance, in the entire list, there was only one east asian author represented (Mishima, of course). I really think the idea of making a list of even 500 books as the best or most important to read is impossible. Another major complaint I had was that the majority of the books they chose focused on social themes, and that they seemed to be a bit preoccupied with the booker award. I just don't think that literary awards really count for much. Personally, I think it's just another kind of popularity contest, albeit an elitist one. I certainly don't believe that awards are a sure indication of quality. There were some things I was pleasantly surprised by, however: Embers made the list, and Moomin in the children's section. I really don't want to count it in my reading tally, but...well, I read it.
12. A Tale of False Fortunes by Fumiko Enchi
A Tale of False Fortunes was excellent. It was perfect Heian historical fiction. Evidently so perfect that when it was first published, scholars actually started looking for the book Enchi claimed to have gotten the story from, even though it was a complete fabrication. One can understand their mistake, though. The story as she rendered it had an extremely authentic ring to it, and the few passages she "quoted" from the supposed original source were compelling even in translation. She must have done an expert job of rendering the style of Heian writing. I wish I could read it myself. Even if I get decently proficient at reading Japanese, untranslated Heian will still be beyond my grasp, because the language is so different from modern Japanese. Anyway, I especially enjoyed reading this. The issues surrounding Michinaga's takeover of power, sidelining the reigning empress and installing a second one at the same time to mention just the most glaring incident, are really very interesting, and I certainly enjoyed reading a perspective on events that was hostile to Michinaga. Most everything we have that is contemporaneous is sycophantic in its praise of him (I can think of only one exception off-hand), and it wears a little after a while. But in particular I liked that she addressed the idea (institution, actually) of female mediums and spirit possession. It has always stood out to me as an obvious method of political scheming and yet not once so far in anything I've read have Heian writers seemed to question the legitimacy of the practice or the veracity of the identification of the malevolent spirit. At least, not directly anyway. It was clearly such an easy way of attacking one's enemies, and knowing perfectly well that people were just as perfidious a thousand years ago as they are today, it is out of the question that this practice was never taken advantage of to further political ambitions. So one is left to wonder exactly which episodes of spirit possession were "legitimate", that is, was the girl really led by the environment to believe she was in a trance, as sometimes happens even today; and which ones were specifically engineered to the detriment of a political rival? We can exclude here instances of simple convenience: for example, a spirit medium claiming that all the recent natural disasters plaguing the capital were due to the vengeful spirit of Sugawara no Michizane, and could therefore be mitigated if only they would propitiate his spirit by giving him posthumous pardons and titles. I also liked her attempt to present in the character of Teishi an unconventional model of indomitable feminine power that was the opposite of an aggressive or dominating woman. It's an interesting idea, and I think she did a fairly convincing job of it, particularly with regard to the standards of feminine behavior of the time. It was brilliant of her to contrast Teishi's character in the book with the dowager empress's character as we know it to have been--exactly that scheming, power-hungry, dominating female that is in direct opposition to the model of Teishi. All that said, if the name Michinaga means nothing to you, likely neither will this book have any meaning. It's an alright love story, but it is by its very nature so tied up in the conventions of a somewhat obscure (at least, to the average person) culture, and the specifics of the literature and history of that particular moment in time that without some prior knowledge of it, the book won't have much of an impact. This would not be a problem in Japan, but I can understand why this particular book by an extremely well-regarded author had to be translated by a university press, when her other novels were brought out by regular publishers.
13. Ai no Kusabi by Reiko Yoshihara
Ai no Kusabi was quite gritty. From the compactness of the oav, I was expecting the story to have progressed further than it had by the end of this book. I don't actually know how many books there are, but this one dealt quite a lot with the social circumstances of the story, at the same time building up the tension for the action later on. Oh, it's trash, don't get me wrong; you don't have to go more than two pages in before you hit a pretty explicit scene (which, incidentally, is the only one you get in this book). Still, I like this stuff, and it is a change from the happy flowers of blossoming love that you get at the other end of the spectrum.
14. Yoshitsune translated by Helen Craig McCullough
What was most interesting to me about this book is the particular quality of the Muromachi period hero. It is quite distinct from Heian-era idealizations, even from late-Heian or Kamakura. The legendary version of Yoshitsune is far inferior in my opinion to the historical version, and it's interesting to see the development of his legend over time, from known facts to total flights of fancy, utterly unrelated to the real man. In fact, this particular cycle almost completely omits the entire Genpei war, the period of his greatest action and accomplishment. But it is the first major literary source for the characters of Benkei and Shizuka. Yoshitsune actually becomes a secondary character in the book, eclipsed by Benkei, who totally dominates the narrative. Frankly, as I've noticed in the earlier No plays, Yoshitsune doesn't come off very well in the later legends of him. It's as though after the war, he just sort of falls apart and becomes child-like. In one No play, this is clearly marked by the fact that his character is given the young boy category (not older than 15), even though it's set after the war and he's travelling with his mistress. So the question of how this develops is fascinating. Why is it, exactly, that the character of Benkei becomes the focus of Yoshitsune's legend later on, when if the man existed at all, he was not important enough to warrant mention in the earliest chronicles. It bespeaks not only a shift in the concept of a hero, but also a new focus of the culture as a whole. It terms of literary quality the book suffers in comparison to works such as Heike monogatari, but is really pretty decent in structure and style, despite Muromachi-era literature being considered for the most part merely imitative and degenerate forms of earlier high styles.
15. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I've always liked Pride and Prejudice, and I read it slowly on purpose to make it last longer. I am always surprised that familiarity with Jane Austen's works does not lessen the enjoyment of reading them over again.
16. 100 Hieroglyphs by Barry Kemp
I really can't recommend 100 Hieroglyphs. It's just unreliable. He makes misleading statements, unfounded generalizations, and regularly speculates about the culture without evidence. All of which makes me question the accuracy of his explanations of the language.
17. Letters of a Portuguese Nun by Myriam Cyr
I was a little surprised by my reaction to the letters. I'd read them before, I know, but I can't remember how I felt about them. This time I had sort of an evolving sentiment. At first I didn't have a lot of patience with Mariana; I thought she had to be either stupid or extremely naive to have had any real expectations of longevity for this relationship between a nun and French officer. What sort of future could that have had? But who knows, maybe French nobility often married runaway nuns. And then of course, I didn't have much respect for Chamilly either, though I didn't think badly of him for not giving her any false hope after he was called back to France. But as the book went on, my attitude shifted. I ended up feeling quite sorry for Mariana, and Chamilly's character was almost totally rehabilitated. One of the main agendas of the book was to give the authorship of the letters back to Mariana, after later scholarship had decided that they were fiction, and written by someone else. It's pretty clear, if only by the coincidence of there actually being such a nun, in the exact right place, at the exact right time to fit each and every circumstance (even down to her actually being made doorkeeper as she claimed in one letter), that she did in fact write those letters. There is just as much evidence that the man who was later credited with them could not possibly have made them up himself, as he had never been to Portugal and would not have been in a position to know any of the details that were provided in the letters. It would have to be a bona fide miracle for him to create a work of fiction that so perfectly mirrored a real person, place and time that he could have known nothing about. The idea is ridiculous and I agree with the author of this book that it's outrageous that a bunch of men have decided that a woman wasn't capable of writing such passionate letters.
18. Prince of Darkness by Sharon Kay Penman
It wasn't great but it wasn't bad either. Really the only interest it holds is in the characters and the historical setting, if you happen to like that, rather than in the mystery/suspense. It suffered a bit from that in my case because this is, I think, the fourth in the series, none of which I've read, and it took me a while to orient myself. I wouldn't mind reading the others, but it's only a mild interest.
19. The Bedside Book of Death by Robert Wilkins
I've noticed some factual errors in The Bedside Book of Death. They're fairly minor, and understandable mistakes, but it's always weird to find that I know more about certain subjects. For instance, there was one Egyptian mummy that was identified incorrectly.
The book was mainly an investigation of our fears surrounding death through the medium of historical examples of individual and cultural circumstances, written by a psychologist. Not bad, really, if you're into that kind of thing, which I am.
20. The Letters of Abelard and Heloise
Well, Abelard could never be accused of being humble, that's for sure. But apart from that, I think a lot of what he says, particularly in regard to Heloise and their past relationship is specious. I think only Heloise is at all honest with herself. I tried to remain unbiased and not let any misandry creep into my opinion but I can't help it: Abelard is a selfish a--. There's just no way around it. He went from being a selfish, degenerate, arrogant a-- to a self-righteous, hypocritical, arrogant a-- who refuses to take responsibility for his actions and deal with the emotional wreckage he left in his wake. He admits if not to outright rape (which I highly suspect that it was), at least to beating her in order to force her to have sex with him. The only thing I agree with him about is that his forced castration was ENTIRELY deserved. I can't say I exactly enjoy Heloise's letters either. I can't sympathize much with her because her reverence is reserved for the aforementioned a--. It does not reflect well on her. I really have no patience for that in anyone. But on the other hand, her learning, her erudition, her ability to dispute, her insight, her depth of feeling and her honesty cannot be denied. In these, as well as in her constitutional willingness to defy convention for the sake of higher principles, she's quite impressive. Again, though, I'm having a not unfamiliar problem with the tradition surrounding this story. I do not understand what is so romantic about this pair. Am I missing something? He was a predator, he admits this, and then he turns around and becomes a raging hypocrite, sermonizing to the whole world despite a conspicuous lack of credentials for that particular vocation, but never once, from first to last, does he lose an ounce of his astonishing conceit. And she idolizes him throughout. So incredibly intelligent and so very blind and stupid. This is romance? I hardly think so. It rather makes me ill.
21. The Children's Garden Book by Olive Percival
The Children's Garden Book is lovely. The best part are all the garden plans included at the end of the book. I really want to try some of them. And the lady who wrote it is an inspiration.
22. Un Lun Dun by China Mieville
I really liked Un Lun Dun. It was charming and creative and really very entertaining. I became totally involved with it as soon as Deeba took over, and unreservedly enthusiastic once I got to the suburb of the dead.
23. There is a Bird on Your Head by Mo Willems
This book is maybe twelve pages long, so I really shouldn't count it. I had read it several times in the bookstore before Matt bought it for me as a surprise Valentine's Day gift. It's funny how I'm almost totally indifferent to his more popular Pigeon series, but I really like the Elephant and Piggy books. There's no question he's got talent, though.
24. The Narrow Road to Oku by Matsuo Basho; illustrated by Miyata Masayuki
The point of this edition was obviously the stellar illustrations, not really a scholarly treatment, but I thought it was good in many ways. The notes were usually adequate (though I've not been able to find out anything about Sato Shoji), and as it was a bilingual edition (and now that I can read kana), I was able to learn more about the language itself, just from reading what I could of the Japanese version of the text.
25. The Annotated Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The additional story in this edition that she wrote about her own robin made me cry. The annotations were mostly good, I think, but often they were repetitive, and I think occasionally they missed the point, or passed over without comment moments that could have been explored further. But in all, I thought it was quite a good edition of an excellent story. On the other hand, I have always found reading Yorkshire dialect intensely irritating and it also irked me that the children began to adopt it toward the end (though I agree it is only polite to try to learn the local language), but I remember that I had been a little irked by that even when I was a kid. And as good a story as I think this is, I couldn't help but reflect on how much better I like Edith Nesbit's work.
26. Death Note: Another Note by NISIOISIN
I really liked the death note novel. It was quite clever. You knew something was going on the whole time, but it wasn't forced at all. I liked all the little details. Even the fact that Mello narrated. It was a particularly good spin-off, as all the death note spin-offs seem to be. I'll probably read it again some time.
27. Theodora: Portrait in a Byzantine Landscape by Antony Bridge
This biography of Theodora is old, first published in the late 70s, I think, but it was a pretty good popular history, the regular references to communism notwithstanding. It didn't teach me anything I didn't already know about the Byzantine civilization, but what it was required to include in order to tell her story was comprehensive but still concise, and not misleading, as so often happens. I've always thought she was a fascinating character and I wish more was known about her. I originally got the book because the surveys of Byzantine history are really required to cover far too much (more than a thousand years!) to waste time detailing the life of even such an interesting character as Theodora, so I wanted to take the opportunity this book afforded, even if its scholarship might be out of date.
28. The Sun Over Breda by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Oh, I do like these books. I especially liked the editorial note at the end of this one, with all the supposed scholarly research into the presence of Alatriste in Velasquez's painting of the surrender of Breda. The footnotes were great and the interview with Perez-Reverte by the editor was a nice touch. One of the things that makes reading the series so enjoyable is the very obvious pleasure the author took in writing it. I do hope the movie does it justice because I'd really love to see it translated to film. Viggo Mortensten is a good actor, even though I don't like most of what he's been in, and I think he could probably do a pretty good job as Alatriste. Anyway, I'll be really sad if it stinks. Or if they never release it over here....
29. Binu and the Great Wall by Su Tong
Binu and the Great Wall was an odd story, as many Chinese folk tales are. But there were many things about it that I liked, though my favorite part was probably the deer boys. It's the sort of story that makes you keep thinking about it, about what it was telling you, long after you finish reading it.
30. Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander
I've been rereading the Prydain series for a couple of years now and I'm really enjoying picking the next one up every now and again. I'll probably finish it this year. Every time I get out the next volume I have to skip through the pages to read my favorite parts before I officially begin reading it. It is such a superbly crafted story.
31. The Tale of Saigyo
I'd be interested to find out how different this literary account of his life differs from his own collection of his poetry, and the research that has been done on his real life. This tale is not really historical at all, and it clearly reflects the preoccupations of the time it was compiled. I think the later interpretations of late-heian era personalities and events are really interesting to compare with more contemporary historical accounts.
32. The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
The last two chapters of this were amazing. They make the earlier chapters look positively pedestrian. I loved the characterization of Lancelot, especially his occupational resignation and wry quips. And I also loved what Steinbeck was trying to say with those two chapters. Not to mention they are excellent, lively and entertaining reads.
33. The Good Witch of the West book 1 by Noriko Ogiwara
I liked this. At first I thought the plot was going to be too thin to hold my interest, but this book just set up the intrigue and conspiracies for the rest of the story. By the end I was looking forward to getting to read the next one. I always try to read the original novels of manga and anime series that I'm interested in whenever they get published to encourage them to keep doing it, but I've been fortunate that I've not yet had to do it only on principle. It's rare, though, for me to buy the manga as well, but I might consider it for this one. I like the artist, and the story has a lot of visual potential.
34. Yakuza Moon by Shoko Tendo
The writing in Yakuza Moon is sparse, and frankly not especially good, but the content is absolutely fascinating. Her experiences are totally predictable thus far, but worth documenting. And the lack of polish in the writing serves to emphasize the gritty reality portrayed in the book.
35. The Babylonians by Gwendolyn Leick
This was a very general introduction to the Babylonians: geography, some general history, a little culture, and what can be learned about daily life from the material remains. Honestly, though, I really think it would be a little thick for a beginner who is totally ignorant of the area and time period. For me it was fine, because I've already read several books on the subject. I am interested in Babylonia, but my true interest is in Sumer, so while I liked this book, I can't really be terribly effusive about it. I bought it because I didn't have anything that really restricted itself to the culture of Babylon (most of what I have deals with a larger picture, from Sumer to Assyria), and because I really enjoyed another book by the same author about Mesopotamian cities. It was just about what I was expecting, and truly it had a high density of good information.
36. Persian Girls by Nahid Rachlin
I was surprised at myself for wanting to read this. I usually intentionally avoid this kind of thing because institutionalized misogyny sets me off in a big way and despite what many people might think, I don't actually enjoy being mad. But this book seemed to be (and in fact, is) more about an intensely personal attempt to understand a loss. Even so, I can't explain why I picked this up. I honestly don't know, even now. But it's good; it's well-written and interesting, and also relevant in an important way to our current political situation. She was very fair, and the narrative concentrated more on her emotional equilibrium than on taking a political or idealogical stance.
37. The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen
This was fantastic. The writing is excellent, the characters surprisingly fascinating and the story compelling. And Mme Fisher was so... insidious. That's really the only word for it. The children were magnificent. It was an excellent novel. I'll definitely be reading more of her work.
Whoa, I am really impressed!!! You are so organized in writing reviews for all the books you have read so far. I keep meaning to do that but I get sidetracked. Sounds like you have read fascinating books so far. Happy reading and welcome.
Welcome, glad for the review of the Steinbeck Arthur book.....I've had this one for a few years and never touched it even though he is one of my favorite authors.
Keep up the reading and especially the reviews.....they were great
Thanks for the welcome! ^_^
Second half of March:
38. Tales of the Heike by Burton Watson (translator)
I don't know how successful this abridgement of the Heike is. I don't dispute that sections of the full text could easily be left out without detriment to the story and to the enhancement of the experience of the general reader. However, I really think that in this case they left out far too much. It created a disconnected narrative, and made it seem more like a series of unrelated, or at most, loosely connected scenes. The selections also didn't allow for the development of any of the persistent personalities within the story that might have helped the reader to develop a sense of continuity. The translation itself was fine, though I prefer McCullough's. I like her choices better, but there really didn't seem to be anything to complain of in Watson's.
39. The Twelve Kingdoms (book 2)
Taiki was really cute and it was a sweet story.
40. Jigsaw Man by Paul Britton
This was great. I thought it was an excellent design decision to spread the cases out and shift from one to another. I'm definitely going to get his other book as well, but I'm going to try to put it off for a bit, so I don't exhaust my material all at once. It was an absolutely fascinating look into his work as a criminal profiler, but it also clearly described the personal challenges involved. I just think he's so talented, but it can obviously be a heavy burden.
41. Memoirs of the Warrior Kumagai by Donald Richie
I'm not sure if this book about Kumagai was intended to be as laugh-out-loud funny as I regularly found it, but the narrator certainly does an excellent and forceful job of hauling the pretty legend of this war right back down to earth to land hard in the mud. And how could it not be intended to be blackly comic when the very set-up of the book has the warrior credited in the legend with killing Atsumori and then becoming a monk in order to pray for the boy's soul, writing his memoirs in the temple--right down the hall from the blind novices who are at the same moment composing the legend? Matt was surprised that I apparently had no hostility toward a novel the main purpose of which seems to be to totally debunk one of my very favorite books of all time. And then I started reading passages to him, and he understood. (I have a suspicion that he might even want to read it himself.) The fact that Heike monogatari is not what one would call a realistic account doesn't in the least factor into my near-obsession with it. That was not the point, which this narrator cannot quite seem to grasp. But you can't blame him for that; after all, he's one of the characters in it, and in his opinion, being made to look like a fool. Kumagai, as the narrator of the memoir, of course claims that his account is the true one, but that is naturally suspect, and plays beautifully into the theme of art vs. fact.
42. Spring Essence by Ho Xuan Huong
These poems are fantastic. I was really surprised by how effective the translations were. He really did a good job of making the sexually charged double meanings apparent without allowing them to overpower the poems. And the poems themselves were fantastic. She was clearly an amazing poet and an interesting personality from 18th century Vietnam.
43. Dr. Ikkaku Ochi Collection
There's very little text in the Dr. Ikakku Ochi Collection, but I'm not hesitating to count it in my reading tally because of the immense investment required to go through it. It's a collection of medical photographs from turn of the century Japan. They display patients afflicted with various diseases and disorders, many of them quite deforming, and all of them painful, not only for the patient, but also for anyone looking at the images. What distinguishes these pictures from other images of medical pathology is that the patient, as a person, clearly exists in these photos. They are distinct individuals, obviously in pain, many of whom will have died shortly after the photograph was taken. They are very hard to look at, but also profoundly affecting. I hadn't gotten halfway through before I started to feel a little ill, and some of the pictures are just heart-breaking. For instance, the one of a child being held in the lap of a woman, and from out of the frame a man's hand is reaching to lay on the child's head. It is absolutely astonishing that the pictures survived, and I don't at all question the decision to publish them.
44. Trio for Blunt Instruments by Rex Stout
Another good Nero Wolfe book.
Well, April was mighty pathetic in terms of what I managed to read. I became obsessed with my video game and only managed to read while I was on the exercise bike. By the end of the month my brain was soup.
45. Ballad of a Shinigami
Not a work of staggering genius, but I enjoyed the stories.
46. Ai no Kusabi (book 2) by Reiko Yoshihara
More gritty, futuristic, dystopian smut.
47. Trinity Blood: ROM (book 2)
I really enjoy reading these when the translations come out, even though I already know everything that happens.
48. Vampire Hunter D: Dark Nocturne by Hideyuki Kikuchi
I really enjoyed this collection of short stories. I thought it suited the style of the series very well.
49. The Eaten Heart by Boccaccio
A rip-off. $10 for a dozen stories from the Decameron? It has a pretty cover though.
50. The Toys of Princes by Ghislain de Diesbach
My favorite quote from The Toys of Princes comes from the Die Fledermaus story, about a woman who becomes obsessed with watching a certain opera over and over again:
She gave birth to a bat. Not to a real bat, which would immediately have fluttered around her bedchamber, bumping into the walls, but to a kind of tiny hairy monster with deformed limbs.
Oh, it was funny. The humor was brilliant, but less ostentatious than, say, in Saki stories. I still like Saki better, but I really appreciated these stories.
51. Prisoner's Base by Rex Stout
This one focused more on Archie, but I don't think it suffered from that.
52. St. Trinian's: The Entire Appalling Business by Ronald Searle
Every now and again I think that Harry Potter is one of the worst things ever to happen to literature. I then console myself by remembering how many children, even adults, who, thanks to those books, read more than they would have otherwise. My mother-in-law is such an example. But they're BAD. Badly written, painfully derivative, obvious and unsophisticated. And the less they're mentioned the better. So imagine my chagrin when reading the introduction to the St. Trinian's illustration collection to find that the entire theme was constructed around $#%^ Harry Potter! What the hell does St. Trinian's have to do even remotely with Harry Potter??? Boarding school. They both involve British boarding schools. I was disgusted. After enduring that, if there turns out to be a similar mention in the Penguin introduction to the St. Custard's collection I'll be hard-pressed to resist the overwhelming impulse to expunge those pages from my copy. However. The drawings really are amusing and apart from the eye-rolling introduction, there's nothing amiss with the content of the book.
53. The Soul of Kindness by Elizabeth Taylor
Reading this book is like watching one of those incredibly repressed movies from the 50s, only in the book you get to hear all the subtext instead of having to supply it yourself. I now completely agree with all those authors who say that Taylor is underrated. Her work is filled with social commentary and the complex issues of relationships, focusing on the way people behave and interact when socially constrained. In this book she uses seemingly incidental moments to illustrate a person's character, fatal flaw, mindset, or whole life path, and she does it extremely well. She is capable of being very concise in those illustrations, and their meanings spread over the whole text. Her characters appear to the outside world to be perfectly normal, but are in fact quite disordered or disturbed or suffering; and by this inconsistency she shows that "normal" is always a facade. There are two ways of "knowing" in her constructions, from what is seen and heard, and from what is never said. She also manages to clearly telegraph that the misery of these people stems almost entirely from their choices, whether made from an imperfect knowledge of oneself, or under pressure from external sources, lacking the will and courage to choose what's truly best for themselves. Flora is the menace in this novel, but also complicit are the individuals who willingly allow her to cause as much damage as she does by following her lead whether they really want to or not. I also liked how she set up Liz as such a coarse character, utterly outside of the norms of society, and therefore the only one able to call Flora on her behavior and force her to a moment, however brief, of true insight into her own nature.
54. A Young Girl's Diary
This book, as the title makes obvious, is the diary of a young girl, growing up in Vienna at the turn of the century. I picked it up while I was on vacation. I can't shake the feeling that I may have read this before, or at least have had some acquaintance with it... I keep thinking that it would be good material for one of those pbs mini-series--for example, a modern frame of someone finding the diary and starting to read it, and then plunging into a period drama about coming of age in pre-WWI Vienna. The Freud angle annoys me; it's obvious he was crazy about it because the girls were obsessed with finding out about sex and the author of the diary was especially fond of her father. But the real interest to me has more to do with the way it illustrates how many things have stayed exactly the same when it comes to growing up, yet how alien the culture and time are to our own. I felt so bad for her at the end. It really was heartbreaking. However, there is the question of authenticity. While it doesn't seem to be an obvious fraud, so many things like this are, and it's difficult to know for sure. There was certainly some controversy at the time of publication over whether it was genuine, and it was eventually pulled from print. Later the ostensible editor of the work was murdered by her nephew, so either way there are several points of interest to the story.
Even if it's not legitimately the transcribed diary of a young girl, and rather a fictional document composed by an adult, there's no question that it represents an authentic middle-class experience of the time period, and in that respect it's a fascinating document for people interested in the everyday reality of another era. Even as fiction, it's a compelling portrait of adolescence.
55. The Lifted Veil by George Eliot
Eliot is one of my favorite authors, and I was quite surprised to find that she had written a supernatural story--something that, while entirely Victorian, seemed very close to Lovecraft: in the disposition of the main character, the use of modern (for the age) scientific technology being put to fantastic experiment, even resurrecting the dead. I couldn't help but think "not quite fresh enough" when the corpse expired for the second time. ^_^ I loved it. I really like that sort of story anyway, and I enjoyed the sense of some possible autobiographical features in it. Not, obviously, in the clairvoyance or the bit about raising the dead, but in her descriptions of the poetic sensibility, or in the hostility toward the average, beautiful, social climbing female--exclusively materialistic with absolutely no soul. But what I especially liked was the way she used the story to illustrate the human habit of making choices based on what we want to be true, rather than what we know in our hearts to be true, and how we intentionally deceive ourselves in order to prolong our illusions. In Latimer the faculty is preternatural, but he is simply an exaggerated example of what millions of people do everyday, and it never ends well.
last two for May:
56. The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear by Edward Lear
Most of this was amusing, but some of it was.... tiring. I liked the nonsense botany the best.
57. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale
Well, it was not exactly a work of crime-writing genius, but it certainly was fascinating. Despite a particular interest in Victorian murderesses, I had only slight acquaintance with this case before reading the book, so it was almost entirely new material. It was unquestionably well researched, and the writing wasn't bad at all. It seemed to wander occasionally, but really, the issues I had with it were minor. The author decided to merge the history of this crime with the almost exactly contemporaneous development of the fictional murder-mystery, and to a lesser extent, the origination of detective inspectors as part of the police force in Britain, which I think was an appropriate way to expand the content. I am really ambivalent about crime writing--most of it seems to be nothing more than hack writers pandering to the salacious interests of their audience, and I don't enjoy that at all, but some of it is quite good and I'm always pleased to come upon such an example.
and the first for June:
58. The Estate of the Beckoning Lady by Margery Allingham
I feel as if I am fifty years too late and of the wrong national extraction to really get this. Which, of course, I am. Reading it was like hearing someone tell an inside joke and having it explained after the fact. You do know what's going on, but you still can't really appreciate it the way someone in the know would. It was fun and she is a good writer, but I probably won't be reading any more of her books.
Regarding The Warrior Kumagai, having had the dual pleasure of reading it and of talking with Mr. Richie about it, let me assure you that your interpretation (laughing out loud), and your distrust of the narrator, are justified.
And as for Margery Allingham and her ilk, I need to confess, too, that I don't really get English cozies. I even (gasp!) find Dorothy Sayers all but unreadable.
Likewise, I've always had trouble warming up to the whole English jocular tradition--P.G. Wodehouse, et al.
I'm not saying Allingham, Sayers or Wodehouse are bad writers; they're not. But I do—and this is, of course, my problem—have a great deal of trouble warming up to them.
I enjoy your comments on the books you've read.
Thank you for telling me about your talk with Mr. Richie! That's awesome. I really enjoyed that book and I'm glad to know I didn't totally misunderstand it.
I like Wodehouse, but the general type does seem to be hit or miss with me. Unfortunately, I can't tell whether I'm going to find it incomprehensible until after I've read it. Still, I soldier on. ^_^
I periodically try again with these genres and authors because so many people I admire admire them. Maybe one day something will click.
Oh, and by the way, I've starred your thread.
59. Geisha in Rivalry by Nagai Kafu
The english title of this book makes it sound as if it's going to be describing a back-stabbing cat fight between rival geishas, and that's not at all what you get. The rivalry of the title isn't even limited to women. What it seems mostly to be about is watching a slice of the Edo-period demimonde pursue their selfish desires, as though it was a survey of the myriad ways you can self-indulgently live your life. The author snuck himself in there briefly--consumed with nostalgia, rejecting the present-day life of the city and its inhabitants, and focused entirely on making sure the property next door remains the same as it always has, frozen in time. Obviously, some of those selfish desires are less destructive than others... The scene which describes that property reminded me vividly of a similar scene in Genji, and later it was made clear in the text that it was an intended association. It was also clear that Memoirs of a Geisha owes at least a small debt to this book, though they are very different. I thought it was funny that even the one character that seems to have substance--educated, literary--proves to be just as shallow as the rest of them.
I first noticed this book recently when a new translation was released. I wasn't interested enough in it to pay for the hardcover, but then I saw this older translation in the used bookshop. I didn't notice any issues with the translation I read.
60. Izumi Shikibu Diary translated by Edwin Cranston
It was lovely to finally read a decent--if somewhat free--translation of this. The notes were exhaustive, and the discussion was interesting, but I finally got fed up with the absolutely endless debate over who wrote it. No one knows, no one will ever know, so why don't we just move on to something else?? The edition is gorgeous, and rightly so--I certainly spent enough on it.
61. The Shooting Gallery by Yuko Tsushima
Bored me to death. It's a collection of short stories, all of which revolve around (usually marital) infidelity, most with the mistress as the herione. I just didn't care. The one story I was sort of enjoying (under the mistaken impression that it was going to be a ghost story) totally veered off near the end into what seemed like a different story altogether. I thought that maybe I had drifted off or something, so I went back to the last part of the story that had made sense and read again until it didn't, and I just could not figure out what happened. It bored me to the last page.
I have read very little Japanese literature. But, I just watched a Japanese movie called Riding Alone For Thousands of Miles and was very moved!! Thought I'd see if you might have heard of the movie and seen it. If so, I'd be curious about what you think given how well read you are in Japanese titles.
blackdogbooks: I have not seen that movie; I hadn't even heard of it. But I looked it up and found out that Zhang Yimou, probably my favorite film director since Raise the Red Lantern, wrote and directed it and nearly had a small fit. So even though I can't say anything about it, I have to THANK YOU for bringing it to my attention. I can't wait to see it.
After watching it, please do let me now what you think. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
62. Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara
This was quite a good fantasy novel, using the Kojiki as a source. Sort of. I hope they translate the rest of the books, because I'd really like to get to read them. I like her other series, The Good Witch of the West, as well, but it doesn't seem to be as mature as this one and that's odd, since this was her first book. I don't think the difference can be entirely ascribed to the quality of the translation.
63. Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman
I kept forgetting that I had this book. I've enjoyed both of the extra books he put out for this series, which is one of my all-time favorites. It was fun to read about how Lee and Iorek met, and I always love Hester. I had wanted there to be more of her in the original books because she's such a great character.
64. Men and Gods by Rex Warner
This is illustrated by Edward Gorey and has been on my list for some time and I was really surprised to actually see it in the store, particularly when I had a coupon I was looking to use. It was just a basic review of stories from classical mythology. The prose was nice but it wasn't anything spectacular.
I did enjoy it though. It was a nice read. It might be a good introduction for younger people.
65. The Foreshadowing by Marcus Sedgwick
Despite the fact that I have really liked Marcus Sedgwick's books so far, I hedged about this one because it's set during the first world war. For some reason I tend to avoid fiction set during either war. Hmm. Wars in general, I guess. But especially the modern wars. But this book is just as good as his others. It was actually quite compelling. I believed it, and that was necessary or the whole thing would have fallen apart. I thought the race in the last part of the book was particularly well constructed. I'm really looking forward to reading his latest book.
66. Khufu's Wisdom by Naguib Mahfouz
I only got to the third chapter before finding a glaring anachronism. Khufu, the fourth dynasty Old Kingdom pharaoh, racing across the plains in a chariot. But I am enormously sympathetic to this particular inaccuracy because horse-pulled chariots are so wonderfully evocative and dramatic. It's difficult to reconcile the sweeping grandeur of pharaoh's army with everyone on foot, except the one guy being carried in a chair. That is so not cinematic. ^_^
I probably would have liked the book better if the main character didn't have the most amorphous personality in the whole book. I was never really sure I knew him. I also found Meresankh's change of heart difficult to believe in without a monumental effort. I did like that the narration kept the reader at a distance from the tale, emphasizing the enormous distance in time and culture. I never expect much from historical fiction, and this was a nice light read, based on an old Egyptian legend.
67. Mateki: The Magic Flute by Yoshitaka Amano
I've been waiting for Mateki and it didn't disappoint. I read it right out of the box and then I read it again. Obviously his art is wonderful, and I especially liked his use of Japanese theater masks as sources for a lot of the images of Yasha. It was really effective. I was also pleased by the story--the way he used the opera to explore creation and descent to the underworld myths in the telling of a love story. And I liked that he used the flute (music) as a method of accessing and channeling the divine to effect resurrection. However, I found the use of font and color changes to emphasize portions of the text intensely annoying. But this was a very minor flaw, which probably will irk only me. Otherwise the edition is excellent: big, solid, with high print quality.
68. Treasures of Ancient Egypt by Alessandro Bongioanni
This is a catalog of the collection of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. I found it on a sale table somewhere. It was an interesting overview. Nice pictures. I got to see some of the things in the book at an exhibition last year, so that was sort of neat. There were some inconsistencies in the translation but it wasn't a big deal.
69. Ithaka by Adele Geras
The plot of Ithaka centers on Penelope's wait for Odysseus. I didn't like it as well as Troy, but I also prefer the Iliad to the Odyssey, and it's the subject matter more than anything else that determined my preference. I did like Klymene as the heroine; I thought she was well-developed. There were only a couple of things that I thought were... well, trying: the italicized, sentence fragment weaving scenes, and the dog dreams. And Telemachus didn't hang any handmaidens. Obviously many things were left out or modified.
70. On Murder as One of the Fine Arts by Thomas De Quincey
This book collects the two papers and the postscript, as well as a short story. I can't say that I understand the appeal of the second paper on murder as one of the fine arts. It seems to be nothing more than a rambling description of an ancient, half-mad member of the club, without any real focus, or purpose. Perhaps it is amusing, but in comparison with the first paper, which is genius, there is definitely something lacking. The postscript was interesting as a true-crime exposition of events, and I quite liked the short story. As I read this, I couldn't help but wonder if he would have become as obsessed with the Ripper murders if he'd lived to see them.
71. Dayan's Birthday by Akiko Ikeda
Dayan was awesome. The leaps of logic were perfect, the art was unusual and very engaging, and it was in every respect a true joy to read. If I was going to have children (which I'm not) this would certainly be a story-time staple, alongside Treehorn, Varjak Paw and the Bears' Famous Invasion. I can't wait to read the three other books that are available.
72. The Good Witch of the West (book 2) by Noriko Ogiwara
The plot thickens. I hope this series doesn't end up a casualty of tokyopop's consolidation because I'd really like to read the whole thing.
73. Real World by Natsuo Kirino
Excellent as always. I'm always impressed with Kirino's ability and this book is absolutely no exception. Her range is amazing, and her penetration unequaled. I will probably have to read this book again before I am able to say anything intelligent about it, but I am always struck by the way she uses the titles of her books as a statement of theme to give the reader the key by which they can interpret the entire work.
74. The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley
It's part mystery/suspense and part idealist philosophy, and altogether lovely.
75. Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila
Not being catholic, I first learned about St. Teresa from Bernini's sculpture of her. I became fascinated with her, as I am naturally fascinated by all mystics, but I had never read one of her books cover-to-cover before now. It's difficult to think how to quickly describe the content--perhaps something like a topography of the soul. I don't discuss my personal religious leanings, so I won't comment on her beliefs, but nothing I read lessened my opinion of her. Apart from anything else, her humility was refreshing. I also appreciated the restoration of the text to exclude the interpolations, the translation was easy to follow and the notes, though few, were illuminating with regard to her language and how she used it.
76. The Red Tree by Shaun Tan
I seem to collect children's picture books, and I love Shaun Tan. The art is always gorgeous, but I especially like the ones he wrote as well. This one is probably my favorite.
77. The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum by Kate Bernheimer and Nicoletta Ceccoli
Another picture book, as usual it was the art that drew me in. It's unusual and beautiful, and the compositions are surreal, very Dave Mckean/Mirrormask but light and airy. But I also liked the story. It was a very pretty fantasy.
I always hesitate to count such short books on my reading list, but these (including Dayan) were especially good, and I didn't want to dismiss them. It does tend to inflate the numbers, though.
I really wanted to like Valente, but I just couldn't make it work for me. I've not read Orphan Tales, but at least Yume no Hon wasn't actually awful.
Oh, I read it in English. The only way I can slog through the Japanese is if I have a bilingual edition so I can cheat when I get lost, and those are rare. The only Japanese lit I can read without serious difficulty are children's books and comic books. ^_^ I'm getting better but oh, it is such a long road.
Un Lun Dun is awesome! I've given it to everyone I know.
My reading (and my posting) were heavily affected by a family illness, so here I am trying to catch up...
78. In A Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor
I love Elizabeth Taylor. I really don't understand why she's not more highly regarded as a writer. Her books are so accessible; from the first page you drop right into them, not only into the place and time in which the story transpires, but also the psychological landscape of the characters, which is where the most important events of the story occur.
Taylor has such a sympathetic understanding of her characters, and she conveys this to the reader so well that it's usually impossible to identify any of them as villain or hero, strictly one or the other. They're too well-rounded, too obviously realistic in terms of the combinations of positive and negative character traits. And yet, she does occasionally use certain characters to stand for a more generic type of personality.
This book traced the various paths of romantic relationships (or the lack thereof) of the members of a family over the course of one summer. There is the usual suffocating but invisible presence of society norms, restraining the actions of nearly everyone, but never the emotions. This book made me think about how she chooses which events to narrate, and which to allow to happen in the background or between chapters, and only narrate the effects these events have on the characters and how they deal with them. She's especially good at telling you things without actually telling you anything; as if each sentence carries with it an overlay of further meaning not expressed. I was especially struck this time by how suggestive her prose was of things it wasn't actually talking about. All of this is, of course, why you can reread her books with interest even though there's never much adventure or activity in them. Although, that's also what made the end of this book so surprising. It shook up the perceived flow of the story, as well as some core assumptions about certain characters. Everyone wants to know what Dermot and Minty were doing together, but the likeliest possibilities are ones neither Kate nor Tom want to attach to the memory of the people they love and so they do not speculate about it. Neither does Taylor allow the narration to speculate, though it had on several previous occasions invited the reader to do so.
All of which is to say that I liked this book and that it confirmed my admiration of the author and my determination to read the rest of her work.
79. Stroke for Dummies
My father had a stroke, so obviously I needed to learn about it. The only book in the bookstore was a "For Dummies" edition, and though it offended my dignity to buy it, I didn't have any other options. And let me tell you when they say it's for dummies, boy do they mean it. It spent so much time easing the reader into the subject with little baby steps that I was ready to pitch it across the room before I finished the introduction, which I so totally should have skipped. In fact, I skipped quite a lot as I went through the book. I got fully halfway through it before I encountered even one fact that I didn't already know, and I'm hardly an expert.
However, having had the subsequent experience of looking through a very good hospital-published book on the subject that used a more conventional approach to imparting information, I will say that if you need the basic information very quickly, primarily to orient yourself in your new situation, the for dummies book would probably fit the bill quite well. It's like the cliff's notes version of a good book about stroke. I wouldn't recommend it as your only resource, you should certainly look further, but it sufficed in the interim.
80. Lirael by Garth Nix
Lirael is really very interesting. It is a satisfying sequel to Sabriel, and that's not a common feeling for me to have when the sequel doesn't follow the characters from the first book. I'm usually not a big fan of fantasy novels, not because I don't enjoy the genre, but because frankly, most of them are not very good. These are.
81. Island of Exiles by I.J. Parker
This is from a series of mysteries set in Heian-era Japan. I quite like them, and this one was more of the same.
82. The King's Gold by Arturo Perez-Reverte
I just really like the Alatriste novels. I can't explain it, except to say that the writing is good and the characters are sympathetic. Which only explains why I can read it, not why I actually like it. If you had told me five years ago that I would be impatiently awaiting the fifth book in a series of 17th century Spanish swashbucklers, I'd never have believed you.
83. A Woman's Weapon: Spirit Possession in the Tale of Genji
I was glad to finally be finished with this. It wasn't all bad, but I just take enormous issue with major interpretive points in the discussion, and that made it more annoying than it ought to have been. Psychoanalysis has its place, but I think it was an inappropriate direction to take the Genji. I would have been far more interested in the anthropological studies of spirit possession in primitive cultures that were mentioned in the beginning but that never went anywhere. She just said a lot of absurd things, and it weakened the credibility of her arguments. Like when she makes the interpretive leap of claiming that Oigimi has metaphorically fed her own body to her sister by making the wedding rice cakes for her. Less outrageous but still problematic is her assertion that anorexia is caused by over-controlling parents, rather than the slightly more correct, and more revealing in terms of Oigimi's motivations, fact that anorexia is usually a subconscious attempt on the part of the victim to exert control over themselves, to compensate for feeling out of control in other areas of their lives.
I have no problem believing that The Tale of Genji contains criticism of the Heian societal norms. Having read Shikibu's diary, it's pretty clear that she was quite astute and perceptive, and that she used those faculties to interpret her environment with an encompassing perspective on her world. And there is no doubt that she was very good at penetrating the character of the people she knew. Considering the culture, I can easily believe that there was as much intentional subtext as there was invisible text--meaning that she naturally expected her readers to divine completely unstated and unreferenced but concrete events, reactions, or feelings. A perfect example of this is that Genji's death is rendered with nothing more than a chapter title. And I mean that literally: the only text for that chapter is the title, by which the reader is meant to understand the event of the main character's death (by no means directly stated), and its general effect, thus proving that what is left out of the text is often just as or more important than what is expressly stated. But even so, it is still possible to fall right off the map in interpretation.
84. Boogiepop at Dawn by Kouhei Kadono
After three or four years, another Boogiepop book. I apparently have not matured much in that time because I still really enjoy reading them.
85-87. Dayan: Chibikuro Party, Dayan: White Eurocka, Dayan: Rainy Thursday Party by Akiko Ikeda
The Dayan books are awesome.
88. Ballad of a Shinigami vol 2 by K-Ske Hasegawa
I guess you would really have to be into the Japanese "light novel" genre to be much interested in these, but I like them.
89. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
By the author of Moomin. The Summer Book was wonderful. It quietly illustrates ways of coping with loss, and therefore, with life. The other thing I especially liked about it was that it was full of wonderful details that immersed the reader in the location.
90. Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Wartime Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic
There's just nothing to compare with primary sources. For anything, but especially for a war. First-hand accounts really ground you in reality and make it clear that all the rhetoric that supports violent action is just that: rhetoric. Apart from documenting her experiences, I think the most valuable aspect of Zlata's diary is her utter confusion as to why anyone would want to separate people based on ethnicity or religion. She simply can't comprehend it, and rightly so. It isn't comprehensible.
91. Spirit Walker by Michelle Paver
The Wolf Brother series is certainly conventional in its basic structure (young boy with special powers endures many trials in his predestined quest to save the world from evil), and it's occasionally difficult not to see it as Paver's answer to the Harry Potter series (soul eaters/death eaters, etc.), but it is so much better in every conceivable way that I simply cannot associate the two. Rather than a thin veneer of world-building, impotent antagonists, and blatant, impoverished thieving from countless superior sources, Wolf Brother provides an unusual, alien setting while maintaining a rational narrative credibility and strong, authentic characters. I think it's fantastic to set an adventure tale in the mesolithic, quite a bold decision but full of possibilities, and I was captivated from the beginning. I'm sure I've said this before, but I do think that the American publishers did themselves a disservice by abandoning the original cave-art style covers for a more photographic rendering of people dressed up in stone-age attire. Which is why I refuse to buy that edition. What I don't understand is why, when there are clearly quality book series for kids available, do they insist on reading garbage?
92. Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip - Book 3
There are very few joys that can compare to the joy of reading a Moomin book one has not read before.
93. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
I have seen in reviews that people seem to want to read the further adventures of Bod, but come on... it's the Further (or Previous) Adventures of Silas that everyone ought to want to read, as those would clearly be far more interesting. I simply can't be the only person who thinks so.
94. Trinity Blood: Rage Against the Moons Volume 3 by Sunao Yoshida
Oh, I just love them. I'm not even going to try to justify it.
95. Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris by R. L. LaFevers
I really like Theodosia. I hope she writes more of these. They're wildly implausible, of course, but I do enjoy reading them just the same.
96. How Not to Die by Dr. G
I could hardly pass up a book by Dr. G. I love her. It was pretty much common sense stuff, but obviously a lot of people seem to lack just that.
97. The Witch of Ravensworth by George Brewer
The Witch of Ravensworth is a gothic novella, and not great. But I like gothic novels, so I'm able to put up with them better than most people, I think. The ending was bizarre and contrived, but at least it exonerated the characters from actually having used witchcraft. What I liked about it was the fact that the author gave an enormous amount of power to a female character, who basically manipulated the entire plot. And that it was mercifully short.
98. At the House of Gathered Leaves: Shorter Biographical and Autobiographical Narratives from Japanese Court Literature by Joshua Mostow
Leave it to a man to assign other men the credit for texts authored by women. First, I have to mention that this is a specialist work, intended for a narrow audience and not the general reader. It assumes familiarity with the major works of Heian literature, and even assumes a slight acquaintance with at least the existence of the lesser-known works translated here. His approach to these works is to argue that they, as well as most other similar works, were all politically motivated, if not commissioned outright by important political figures. Certainly I do not think that it's impossible that certain diaries or poetry collections were politically motivated, and I do not object to the possibility that some of the "private" writings of a personal nature were specifically commissioned. But his evidence, what little there is of it, doesn't convince me. Clearly the Eiga was commissioned, the Kagero and the Makura no Soshi had at the bare minimum an undercurrent of political agenda, but I simply can't agree that they all were artificially engineered by men for political ends. I do not believe that the female authors were only capable of, and only succeeded in, finding ways to "write for themselves and other women in the interstices of texts ultimately controlled by men." However, that is neither here nor there, because the reason I bought the book is only to get translations of what are not widely available texts. The man is not quite insufferably full of himself, but I do appreciate the thoroughness of the notes in providing several alternate readings from scholarly sources of parts of the text.
99. My Swordhand is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick
My Swordhand is Singing is a very quick and satisfying eastern European vampire tale. I was quite pleased with it. I always enjoy his books.
I am a Dr. G fan, too, so I will definitely have to look for her book, as well as several of the others you have mentioned. Thanks for the comments and recommendations.
I just loved what you said about DH Lawrence on book 10 -- lol. Thanks.
On your 20. The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, I thought the remarkable thing about it was its existence as much as anything else. I'm not a scholar of that period but I get the impression that there aren't a lot of items like that from the 12th century for us to read. Of course, I'd be happy to add them to my list if there are. I loved your descriptions of them. Way to call 'em.
On Pullman, I didn't realize there were others in the (in)famous trilogy's world. I'll have to keep an eye out for them as I quite enjoyed the set.
And thanks for the thoughtful response to the Interior Castle (75). Sounds intriguing.
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your thread and will be back. Sorry about your dad's health -- my dad's been touch and go for the last couple of years, so much so that we've broken our "every other year" rule and are going back this Christmas to be with them after having been there in 2007. Bon courage.
>24 suslyn: Suslyn
I certainly do think the letters are remarkable and they are absolutely worth reading. My only issue is that they are widely thought of as a romantic couple, and I just don't understand that aspect of it. It's certainly a fascinating relationship dynamic... but great love story? I don't know.
I hope you have a nice visit with your father this Christmas!
100. Classic Ghost Stories edited by Bill Bowers
I love ghost/horror/supernatural stories. This book has some excellent ones. Several of them I've read before, but that's to be expected. Of the ones that are new to me, my favorite is The Screaming Skull, by F. Marion Crawford, which somehow manages to be extremely amusing as well as rather disturbing.
101. Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories by M. R. James
I've read several M.R. James stories, but that is, of course, what prompted me to buy a whole book full of them. I found two volumes of his ghost stories available in Penguin editions that are edited by S.T. Joshi and I seriously thought about getting those because I really liked how he handled his Lovecraft anthologies, but in the end, my choice was determined by frugality. By buying the Oxford edition, I practically got two books for the price of one, which was compelling, even if I would have preferred Joshi's notes. I already knew I liked James' writing, and I really enjoyed most of the stories in here. There were none I disliked, but the one story that stood out as the most surprising was The Malice of Inanimate Objects. It was apparently an attempt at humour, which I don't think completely succeeded. But it was amusing, and certainly had the best title.
102. Esther's Inheritance by Sandor Marai
Marai's books are never especially long, but this one was particularly short. It was about denial, about pathological selfishness and the devastation it can cause, about passivity and willing victimization. It was difficult for me to read because I have some unpleasant experience with just the sort of conscienceless, self-serving, rapacious user that Lajos represents. More than one, actually. It brought up some latent anger on that score for me, and I struggled with Esther's passive response, the antithesis of my own. But I did come to understand that she was only truly free of Lajos when she allowed him to take the last bit she had. It was only when there was nothing left for him to take that she could be liberated. It is not my favorite of his novels, but it maintained all the strengths of his writing that I so appreciate.
103-104. Vampire Hunter D: Pale Fallen Angels Parts 1 & 2 by Hideyuki Kikuchi
If you like this series, then this is great. (I love it.) If you don't... well, spare yourself.
105. The Professor by Charlotte Bronte
Charlotte Bronte is one of my very favorite authors. There is something so calming and rational about her prose, and that was the chief enjoyment I had from this book. It was a little painful to read, because it so clearly embodied her fantasy hopes for her life--inspired by her feelings for her married teacher when she was in Belgium--written in the aftermath of that unrequited love. At first I was surprised that she wrote it from the male point of view, but then I seemed to understand this as a way of distancing herself from the emotional content she was working with.
106. xxxholic: Anotherholic by NISIOISIN
I had been pretty excited about the xxxholic novel because the author did such a good job with the Death Note novel, but sadly, he really failed this one. The characterization of Yuuko and Watanuki was off--for example, both of them said things they would never say in the CLAMP series--and whether it was intentional or not, he completely misrepresented their relationship and the dynamic between them. His stories were mostly interesting, if somewhat simplistic, but I didn't know these people. And that was pretty annoying, because obviously I bought the book to read about them, not to read more words by this author. Also, there was nothing supernatural about any of it, and while I appreciate that at least half of Yuuko's skill is in her deep understanding of human nature, there are always supernatural goings on in that series and it would have been nice to see just a bit of consistency there. By the end it seemed to me to be negating the series, rather than supplementing it. Still, they did a good job with the edition; it was beautiful, and I did really appreciate that.
107. Angelica by Arthur Phillips
I usually adapt entries from my reading journal for my comments on the books in this list, and while I certainly had plenty to say about this book, it's filled with spoilers from first to last so I won't render it here. Well, I think I can say that it's probably a pretty good book, but.... it irriated me. A lot.
***This is so annoying. I set all the touchstones correctly but when I post it, they're all wrong again! Well, there's nothing I can do about it, so be advised, most of them are wrong.
108. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
Mistress of the Art of Death is about a twelfth century female forensic pathologist-turned secret agent.
But if you can manage to choke that down, it's not too bad, really. Or it wasn't, until the main character fell in LURVE. Spare me. I swear, more promising heroines are made utterly ridiculous by the overwhelming power of unexpected love than I care to count, and here's another one. I had some hope on several occasions that it would redeem itself, but it never did. I certainly won't be wasting my time with the sequel.
109. The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte
The Club Dumas was fun, a densely and intricately plotted mystery, unlike that last one, and I was pleased to find that the ending of the book was not as stupid as the end of the movie. I saw it long before I'd even heard of the author and still I thought it was highly unlikely to have been present in the source material.
110. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
I saw the movie, and it was excellent. Brilliant, I would say. I didn't go to see it because I especially wanted to; I went because I knew I Should. Because it was Important. I often do things for that reason; I don't usually seek out books or films that I know will break my heart or make me miserable or lessen even further what little faith I have in humanity, but sometimes you just have to. I am glad I went, I will probably see it again, and I would recommend it to anyone. I figured that I had done my duty by this story by going to see the film, so I didn't think it was necessary to seek out the book. But then I was in the bookstore and I happened to see it on display in the children's section. I hadn't known the book was intended for an older child/young adult age group. Well, that really settled it: I had to get it. It is a similarly brilliant piece of art, perfectly constructed for the format and audience. There are differences between the movie and the book, but they are appropriate to the medium of each and there is no inconsistency. Unlike most adaptations, I can't say that I think the book is better than the movie; I think they are both equally accomplished. And I would similarly recommend the book to anyone.
111. The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
Well, I can't say that I sympathize with Pesoa's doctrine of inaction, but this was enormously enjoyable to read. It was unusual, full of fascinating little insights, and he has a wonderful turn of phrase. Very quotable. It got to be a bit tiring in the last section, the Disquiet Anthology, mainly because all that material had been covered throughout the rest of the book, and it wasn't the most interesting discourse. But on the whole, I loved it. It must have been difficult material to work with, and I thought the editor did a pretty good job.
112. The Sylph by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
The Sylph is one of the more interesting 18th century books I've read. Its premise and plot are not far out of the ordinary, but it has the distinction of being written by one of the leading members of fashionable society. So when she describes the shallow, dissipated life of the ton from the perspective of the naive young heroine of the novel, she is quite obviously describing herself; and there are several sections where it seems as though she is putting her own personal self-reflection into the mouth of her lead character. In letter 10, for instance. They're the most compelling passages in the novel. She clearly had the capacity to laugh at herself but there's also a lot of pain in evidence. Makes for good reading, but a sad life. Really it's a fairly accomplished novel for the time. Well, compared to what I've read, at least. And certainly from the pen of an 18-year-old, though she was, by all accounts, well-read and highly educated.
113. Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
It was not exactly a work of art, or anything, but Let The Right One In was a solid novel. More than just another vampire novel, it provided depth that I would not have anticipated from it had I not seen the film first. It did a good job of quietly contrasting the pedophile with the sincere concern of the gym teacher, as well as setting up the relationship between Eli and Oskar as one of honest devotion, as opposed to the shallow connections of Oskar's other friends; and it compellingly portrayed the predicament and latent hostility of a child who is bullied and how the system fails such children, and conveyed with realism the many ways adults let them down--as well as themselves and each other. But first and foremost it was a vampire novel, and a pretty good one at that. It gave nothing as black and white, arguing the natural desire to live and the inherent value of life as the compelling force in the narrative, where the justifying motive for pivotal action, whether perceived as good or evil, is the value each person places on events in their emotional lives. My one complaint was that it was lousy with run-on sentences. I assume this was a choice on the part of the author rather than the translator, but either way, it was unnecessarily distracting and occasionally downright annoying.
114. Three Witnesses by Rex Stout
When I pulled this off the shelf, I didn't realize that I had just days before re-watched the episodes for two of the stories in the book. This was not annoying as I enjoy all Nero Wolfe stories.
115. Death at the Priory: Love, Sex and Murder In Victorian England by James Ruddick
Death at the Priory is a non-fiction treatment in two parts of an unsolved 19th century murder, namely that of Charles Bravo, Victorian gentleman and bastard extraordinaire, by a person or persons unknown. The first part is a fairly rote digest of the circumstances of the crime and subsequent investigation, as well as the people involved. In this there was nothing objectionable. Well, except for some early self-congratulation on the part of the tv journalist-author who unashamedly claimed to have been the first person ever to have conclusively solved the murder. Thankfully, he limited the account of his genius to the second half of the book, about which there is much to object, but which I will not go into too thoroughly lest someone mistake this book as something worth the bother of a point-by-point refutation.
116. Tales of Moonlight and Rain by Ueda Akinari
It's easy to see, though impossible to fully appreciate in translation, why these stories have been so influential on Japanese writing ever since their first appearance in the 18th century, and why they are so well-regarded even today. I loved the translator's approach and the notes were perfect.
117. Ai no Kusabi (book 3) by Reiko Yoshihara
Smut. Pure and simple.
118. The Tale of the Lady Ochikubo
The Tale of the Lady Ochikubo is a Heian-era romance, and isn't bad, really, but it suffers enormously in comparison to the Genji. It appears common and clumsy and because that isn't really fair, it serves rather to emphasize the astonishing achievement of the Genji. I have just called it common, but I have to admit I did find some of the more vulgar scenes slightly amusing. I'm apparently not entirely immune to low comedy. It did, however, make me sigh as I reflected that Murasaki would never have written such trash.
I also can't help but see in it the exact kind of romantic fantasy that Michitsuna's mother claimed inspired her to set down a more realistic (and vituperative) account.
Wow! 118 books in 2008 - great job! I hope you are joining us on the 2009 Challenge, too.
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