Jul 30, 2007

Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borge’s Fictions is a collection of short stories, many of which defy the definition of just what a story is. Some are written in the guise of seemingly non-fictional essays, essays about infinite libraries with all the books that ever were, are and could be, about non-existent countries, about imaginary words, about authors who are as fictional as their work.

My interest in Borges comes from the fact that he is one of those “respectable” authors who make wide use of fantasy elements in their work. He is Argentinean, and yet his use of the imaginary is very different from that of the authors that ones associates with the South American Magic Realist tradition. His work is very rational – he is concerned with possibilities, with ideas, with philosophy, with literature, with the impact of the imagination in men’s lives. Unlike in the work of authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, here one doesn’t feel “landscape as a shaping force”. Argentina itself makes few appearances in these pages. He often moves in the realm of abstract ideas, ideas that could, one tends to believe, be thought of regardless of place.

In “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, the first story in this collection, the narrator comes across an encyclopaedia entry about a mysterious and previously unheard of country, Uqbar. This discovery will lead him to the possibility of a whole world being imagined, and thus created.

In “The Circular Ruins”, a similar theme is explored: a wizard dreams up a man, and thus shapes him into existence.

In “The Library of Babel”, we follow the search for the Book of all Books, in an endless library that contains all possible books.

“Death and the Compass” is a detective story about the search for the criminal behind three ritualistic murders.

Like I said, Borges likes to toy with abstract ideas and philosophical concepts. That and his somewhat dense prose would have made the book hard to read if it wasn’t for the fact that the stories are mostly very short. The pace is always just right, and he finished them before they run the risk of becoming tedious.

However, the book does demand concentration, and that the reader be in the mood to entertain the ideas that are presented in it. I wouldn’t say this is something everyone will like, but I do think it’s worth a try.

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Jul 28, 2007

Another Meme / No Rest for the Wicked

Dark Orpheus tagged me for the 5 reasons why I blog meme:
  • I blog because of the great sense of community I found among fellow book bloggers. I’ve never quite been able to meet people who share my interest – I do know others who read, but not as voraciously as I do. Before I started my blog, I never really had people to discuss books with. Now I can see what people from all over the world are reading, what they think of what they read, what they have to say about my reviews… it’s wonderful and very enriching.

  • I blog because writing about books helps me sort my thoughts. Knowing that I’m supposed to write a little something about what I read makes me more attentive, more reflective. Sometimes, I sit down to write a review without quite knowing what I’m going to say, and surprise myself with what I come up with. Book blogging makes me think about what I read in ways I didn’t before.

  • I blog because I like writing – I always have. I’ve been keeping journals in every shape and form since I was 11 years old. Books are one of my favourite things in the world, so it makes sense for me to write about them.

  • I blog because keeping in touch with other bloggers has made me learn a myriad of things. I hear about books I wouldn’t otherwise hear about, I discover new perspectives about books I’ve read in the past, I get to know very interesting people, etc.

  • Finally, I blog because I like keeping track of what I read and of when I read it. Sometimes a book I read at a certain moment becomes associated with what is going on in my life at the time. It’s nice having a sort of book diary with little details like dates and such.
I'm tagging Jean Pierre, Kim and Tanabata for this one. But if anyone else wants to do it, I'd love to read your responses.

No Rest for the Wicked by Andrea L. Peterson

No Rest for the Wicked is a fabulous webcomic that I discovered just two days ago. It tells the story of November, an insomniac princess who hasn’t been able to have a decent night’s sleep ever since the moon disappeared from the sky. She concludes that the only way to cure her affliction is to discover what exactly happened to the moon and how to make it return, and thus her quest begins.

What first attracted me in this comic was the fact that it uses characters from well-known (and less well-known) fairy tales, such as "The Princess and the Pea", "Puss in Boots", "Hansel and Gretel" or "The Boy who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was". You can find a complete list of the faerie tales that inspired this comic in the extras section.

Using these familiar characters, Andrea L. Peterson weaves a completely original and enthralling tale, reminiscent at times of Sandman and Fables. The story is sometimes humorous, sometimes deliciously spooky, and always very gripping. The writing is superb, and the artwork is beautiful. Like I said, I discovered this comic only two days ago, and already I have read the entire archive – it’s a fast an satisfying read that I very much recommend to lovers of fantasy, of fairy tales, and of good storytelling in any shape or form. The story is supposed to have around 12 chapters, and so far there are only four. I will be anxiously awaiting the next update.

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The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

Once upon a time, there was ...
'A king!' my little readers will say right away.
No, children, you are wrong. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood.
The Adventures of Pinocchio is the story of a wooden marionette whose greatest ambition is to become a real boy. This wish will only be granted, however, if Pinocchio acts like a good boy. Instead, he is ruthless, irresponsible, gullible and lazy, but deep down, he has a good heart. Throughout the book, he faces the consequences of his bad behaviour, and ends up learning from his mistakes.

Like most people, I was familiar with this story because of the Disney animated version. This was the reason why I wanted to read the book - I like knowing the original story of characters that have become a part of popular culture. I watched the Disney movie many, many years ago, though, so I didn’t remember the story all that clearly. But after reading the book, I was left with the impression that Disney took many liberties when adapting this tale. For example, the cricket that acts as Pinocchio’s conscience plays a much smaller role in the book. Also, Pinocchio’s best known feature, having his nose grow when he lies, is only mentioned in two situations in the book, the first of which is more than halfway through the story.

This book was enjoyable, but I found it too moralistic for my taste. But this is only to be expected from a children’s novel first published in 1883, of course. The intention of the story is to show what happens to boys who don’t obey their parents, don’t go to school and don’t work hard to achieve their goals. These lessons are taught through a mostly entertaining story, but they're too over the top for my taste. Although I didn’t love the book myself, I can see why it is a children’s classic.

Other Opinions:
Rebecca Reads
Puss Beboots
The Movieholic and Bibliophile's Blog

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Jul 27, 2007

Blogging Tips Meme

I was tagged for this one by both Stephanie at Confessions of a Book-a-holic and Kailana at Twisted Kingdom. It took me some thinking to come up with something to add, because most of the tips I'd want to give had already been given. In the end, I decided to add a tip I think I could use myself.

It’s very simple. When this is passed on to you, copy the whole thing, skim the list and put a * star beside those that you like. (Check out especially the * starred ones.)

Add the next number (1. 2. 3. 4. 5., etc.) and write your own blogging tip for other bloggers. Try to make your tip general.

After that, tag 10 other people. Link love some friends!

Just think- if 10 people start this, the 10 people pass it onto another 10 people, you have 100 links already!

1. Look, read, and learn. **-http://www.neonscent.com/

2. Be, EXCELLENT to each other. **-http://www.bushmackel.com/

3. Don’t let money change ya! *-http://www.therandomforest.info/

4. Always reply to your comments. *****-http://chattiekat.com/

5. Link liberally — it keeps you and your friends afloat in the Sea of Technorati. *-http://chipsquips.com/

6. Don’t give up - persistence is fertile. *-http://www.velcro-city.co.uk/

7. Give link credit where credit is due. ***-http://www.sfsignal.com/

8. Pictures say a thousand words and can usually add to any post.*-http://scifichick.com/

9. Visit all the bloggers that leave comments for you - it's nice to know who is reading! *-http://stephaniesbooks.blogspot.com/

10. Be Brave, some of the best posts are when you step out of your comfort zone. *-http://twisted-kingdom.blogspot.com

11. No matter what your blog is about, write a little bit about yourself every now and then. Readers will want to learn about the person behind the blog. -http://thingsmeanalot.blogspot.com/

Now I'm supposed to tag 10 more people, but this meme has been going around fast, so most of the people I'd tag have been tagged already. If you'd like to contribute and haven't been tagged yet, feel free!

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Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett

In this Discworld novel, the small countries of Borogravia and Zlobenia are at war. In fact, Borogravia is at war with just about everyone. The deity worshipped in the country is Nuggan, a god who decreed that crop rotation, the colour blue, people with red hair, accordion players and sneezing, among other things, are Abominations. Following these decrees has made life in Borogravia increasingly harder. The nation is starving, and everyone knows they are losing the war, although no one will admit it, out of fear of spreading Alarm and Despondency. Polly Perks, the young daughter of an innkeeper, decides to disguise herself as a boy and join the army, in the hope of finding out what happened to her brother, Paul. She joins the Tenth Regiment, and her fellow recruits include an Igor, a Troll, and a caffeine-addict Vampire. Little by little, she discovers that in the army not everything is what it seems.

It took me a bit to get into this book. Like tanabata, I found it hard to read something else after Harry Potter. But I warmed up to it considerably as I went along. My initial reaction also had to do with the fact that this book introduces new Discworld characters., and I was in the mood for familiar faces. There are, however, appearances by old favourites like Sam Vimes and Angua from the Watch, and William de Worde and Otto Chriek, from Ankh-Morpork newspaper The Truth.

After the first one hundred pages or so, I already felt that Polly was an old favourite too. She's a great character. She’s a smart young woman who just cannot stop herself from thinking, even when thinking will seemingly get her in trouble. She cannot help but try and make sense of the world around her, and this in a world that doesn’t always make sense. She’s perceptive, sensible, and subtle, and she learns fast; these end up being her greatest strengths.

While telling a good story, Terry Pratchett also makes some excellent points about gender, war and peace, and, well, people. Their stubbornness, their secrets, their fears, the way they work and why.

One of my favourite things about this book was the ending. I will not give it away, of course, but I will say that it perfectly exemplifies some of the things I love the most about Terry Pratchett. He writes fantasy novels, but in them I find some of the most accurate portraits of the way people work, of how things normally go in real life. Sam Vimes, for example, is a good example of this. He is cynical, yes, and grumpy and sarcastic, but he is such a pragmatic man. He understands people, and he knows how to solve problems and make things work.

One often wonders what happens after a revolution. Or after one of those turning points in history, one of those moments of change that make people think, “the world will never be the same again”. It’s never quite simple. Does the world really change? Or do people, perhaps, after the initial enthusiasm, settle back into their old ways? And yet they are changed in little ways, so maybe there are people whose job is to make sure that these little changes are extended, rather than forgotten. It takes more than a single moment, a single triumph, to change the world.

Monstrous Regiment is not one of my favourite Discworld novels, and it's possibly not the one I’d recommend to a new reader, but it’s certainly very much worth reading all the same.

Other Blog Reviews:
Read Warbler
Everyday Reads
Rhinoa's Ramblings

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Jul 24, 2007

Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic

In the introduction to this book, editors F. Brett Cox and Andy Ducan write:
"More Broadly, what southern literature and the the literature of the fantastic share is a rootedness in a particularity of place - "landscape as a shaping force", as Alabama native Gregory Benford observed in his groundbreaking essay "The South and Science Fiction". The Mississipi of William Faulkner and Richard Wright and the Georgia of Flannery O'Connor and Alice Walker are akin to Bradbury's Mars, Tolkien's Middle-Earth, Baum's Oz, and the German forests of the Brothers Grimm. All are lands simultaneously real and imagined, luminously inventive yet as accessible and specific as the reader's backyard."
I found this a very interesting idea, and one I'd never considered before. Indeed, in some of these stories there is an acute sense of place, of a place both real and imagined, and the landscapes of the South merge with the surreal and the fantastic.

I could clearly see this intersection taking place in the book as a whole, but not in each individual story. Perhaps this is an unreasonable thing to expect, though. Crossroads is definitely a very varied anthology, and while diversity is a good thing, it also brings some risk - it makes it less likely that every story in the collection will appeal to any given reader, and this is what happened in my case.

There are some very good stories in this collection. The ones I loved, I really loved. However, there are quite a few others that didn't quite appeal to me, and unfortunately in some cases I couldn't quite see why they were in this anthology, except perhaps because they had been written by writers from the south. The kind of intersection I hoped to find here was often absent. That doesn't necessarily make those stories bad, of course. They were just not what I was expecting to find in this book.

A few words on some of the most noteworthy stories:

"A Plate of Mojo" by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers is the story of a black woman who succeeds where others expected her to fail and
is therefore suspected of mojo, or magic.

"Houston, 1943" by Gene Wolfe was one of my very favourites: it is a tale of black magic that reads like a dream, and it features appearances by characters from Peter Pan, Treasure Island and Edgar Allan Poe's tales.

"The Specialist's Hat" by Kelly Link is a beautifully written story about two neglected young sisters living in a haunted house.

"Rose" by Bret Lott is a retelling of William Faulker's "A Rose for Emily" told from Emily's perspective and adding a further horror to the story.

"See My King All Dressed in Red" by James L. Cambias is set some 20 years in the future, at a time when the whole city of New Orleans has been flooded. In this sad tale, a couple returns to the flooded city for one last Mardi Grass, and one last goodbye to its traditions.

I expected Daniel Wallace's story to be one of my favourites in the collection, and the fact that unfortunately this wasn't the case at all largely contributed to my feeling of mild disappointment. It also didn't help that my favourite stories were all in the first half of the book. I felt progressively disenchanted as I moved through the second half.

But I do not mean that this was a bad anthology, not in the least. There is certainly something here for everyone: ghost stories, fantasy, science fiction, horror, seemingly realistic tales, conventional southern tales. It is just hard, in the midsts of this great diversity, that a single person will like the entire book.

This was my second and last extra read for Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge. Thank you Maggie! Thanks to this challenge I read some wonderful books I might not have picked up otherwise.

Other Blog Reviews:
Stuff as Dreams are Made On

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Jul 23, 2007

Discuss Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Dewey created a special blog for those who have finished the book and want to discuss it, but also want to keep their own blogs spoiler-free. If there are any aspects of the book you wish to discuss, come and visit here. But remember, it will be full of spoilers, so those who haven't finished the book should stay away!

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Jul 22, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

First of all, I will try to write a few paragraphs without spoilers, but there will be spoilers after the cut. Also, it is likely that the comments will end up having spoilers, so do not read them if you haven’t finished yet!

The seventh and last instalment of the Harry Potter series does not disappoint. Rowling ties up all the loose ends nicely, and manages to answer the remaining questions, as well as some others that are raised during this book.

It comes as no surprise that this is, by far, the darkest book in the series. The trio’s decision not to return to Hogwarts at the end of book 6 had assured that many of the familiar comforts of the other books would be absent. In their search for the remaining Horcruxes, Harry, Ron and Hermione have to face danger and hardship, and the mood of most of the book is rather bleak.

Even more than the previous books, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a page-turner. The story is action-packed, and I found myself reading feverishly and holding my breath half the time. Had this been a movie, I would have closed my eyes and hoped for the best at certain points. But among the danger, among the loss and the despair, there are still truly heart-warming moments, moments of happiness, moments of humour, moments that made me smile. New lives, love both old and new, laughter, friendship, bonding.

There are writers whose way with words I admire much more than Rowling’s. Sometimes I feel that her writing can be a little awkward, especially when dealing with strong emotions (Harry in book 5 would be an example of what I mean). However, she is excellent at plot and dialogue. She has created a world that feels extremely real, and characters I truly care about, as if they were people I know. This is why these books are so memorable for me, and it is a praiseworthy feat indeed.

Spoilers from here on:

Wow. I am not even sure what to say. These are mostly scattered thoughts because I’m not sure if I have digested everything yet.

So many deaths. At some point I was just thinking, “Please, no more. It’s enough”. I guess this goes to show the horror of a war – there are loses, and it would take a lot of luck for nobody Harry cared about to die. I felt bad enough for Hedwig at the start of the book, but then right after we have Mad-Eye, and then Dobby (poor Dobby!) and, worst of all, poor Fred. I felt terrible about Lupus too.

I was so disappointed with Ron when he left. I think I stopped liking him all together for a few pages, but I did forgive him fast enough when he returned. And I smiled when the true use of Dumbledore’s present was revealed. It goes to show that he truly knew his students.

As for Dumbledore, wow. So many things were revealed about him. I really like how in this book he became a more ambiguous character. It made him seem more human. Ultimately he was still good, but he made mistakes like most of us do. And I have to confess that I truly hated him for quite a few pages when I thought he had been raising and protecting Harry like a lamb for the slaughter. I felt ashamed of myself later on for thinking so, but really, that would have been so terrible. I imagine how Harry must have felt. But of course, Harry had to really believe he was going to die, or else it wouldn’t work, the killing curse wouldn’t just kill the bit of Voldemort in him.

And speaking of it, so Harry really was a Horcrux. For some reason, I thought that if he were one, it would mean that the snake wasn’t, but no, it only means Voldemort was split in eight after all. But that makes sense, of course. If he had known Harry was a Horcrux, he would have done something about it immediately.

Returning to ambiguous characters, the Malfoys didn’t do anything heroic after all, but they did help in little ways. I guess it wouldn’t be very believable if they had a complete change of heart, but they did prove that, despite being unpleasant, arrogant people, they are really terrible deep down.

Speaking of changes of heart: Kreacher! I was so happy to see him being conquered by kindness at long last! I actually laughed with delight when I saw him caring for Ron, Hermione and Harry like a loving mother.

And so it turns out that RAB really was Regulus Black, and that the locket was the one mentioned in book 5. There weren’t many doubts left concerning this – especially because just this week I read that the Portuguese translator actually leaked this information. She asked Rowling the gender of the character and Rowling gave her the full name, and she promptly passed this information to the press. How very unprofessional. So yeah, I wasn’t surprised with Kreacher’s tale. I did have some hope that Regulus would have been able to destroy one more Horcrux, but he couldn’t have known where to find them, so that would have been impossible.

What else…Snape! Oh, I was so glad to be right about this. In the light of what was revealed, I now think Snape definitely is one of the most interesting characters in the series. I actually had suspected that there was something about him and Lily. I loved how at the very end Harry says he was one of the bravest men he ever knew. I just wish he’d died more heroically. It seemed a bit unfair that he died like that, without the chance of doing something great. He endangered himself for so long, and for what? Well, I guess he did get to protect the students as the new Hogwarts headmaster.

I also didn’t much like the way Tonks’ and Lupin’s deaths were handled. I remember thinking, “okay, I’m sure no more important characters have died, because if they had, she would actually describe the scene, she wouldn’t just have someone report it and leave us wondering how they even died.” And then I turn the page, and there they are. It was really saddening.

I agree with Rhinoa that the scene at King’s Cross felt a little out of place. We were always led to believe that in the world of Harry Potter, the dead stay dead, unless they specifically desire to stay behind as ghosts. So it was strange to see Dumbledore again, but at the same time, I was too happy to be hearing from him to really mind. I’m glad he was given the chance to explain everything, to tell Harry what his intentions were. Of course he had to pretend that he was protecting Harry so he could be sacrificed at the right moment, or else the plan wouldn’t work. And it was good to hear that happened with his sister from his own lips. And so that’s what he say when he drank the potion. It makes sense.

Somehow I expected the hunt for the Horcruxes to be different – I expected the trip to travel to places like that cave, to be always on the trail of the next one. But it makes sense that they didn’t know where to start. The months they spent camping were so miserable, and I think they really tried the bonds that unite them. Fortunately, they were able to resist and remain friends. The way the locket affected those who wore it sort of reminded me of Frodo and the One ring.

Despite the bleak mood for most of the book, there were still moments that made me happy. First and foremost, Ron and Hermione’s kiss at long last. It took them almost 3000 pages! The news about Tonks’ baby was a ray of hope when it was most needed. I was very happy to see Neville being so brave and making a difference. And finally, seeing Molly kill Bellatrix was extremely satisfying.

And finally, the epilogue. I did wish for something more straightforward: that she would tell us who married who and what they grew up to become and whatnot. But at the same time, the way it was written really worked for me, because it made me feel that bit by bit the curtain was being closed, and these were the last glimpses of this world I was allowed to catch. I was filled with such sadness, such a great sense of loss, such longing. How I wished to accompany Albus and James and Rose – a new generation – into Hogwarts. How I wished I were allowed to remain in this wonderful world Rowling has created for longer.

In the end, I was left wanting more. I wanted to have seen Fred’s funeral at least, I wanted to mourn some characters properly. I wanted to know how George coped. I wanted to know how the others reacted to the truth about Snape. I wanted to know what the trio grew up to become. I wanted to know who raised Teddy. But this is what happens with great books, with books one really grows attached to. They have to end at some point, and no matter when it happens, it always seems too soon.

Reviewed at:
Rhinoa's Rambings
In Spring it is the Dawn
Dolce Bellezza
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Trish's Reading Nook
Books & Other Thoughts
Musings of a Bookish Kitten
A Fondness for Reading
Orpheus Sings the Guitar Electric
Once Upon a Bookshelf
Valentina's Room
Tipping Towards Lucidity
Framed and Booked
My Year of Reading Seriously
Biblio File
Dog Ear Diary
Bart's Bookshelf
Back to Books
Lost in a Good Story
Diary of an Eccentric
My Own Little Reading Room
Books Love Me!
Books of Mee

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Jul 20, 2007

Obasan by Joy Kogawa

In this semi-autobiographical novel, Joy Kogawa tells the story of the Japanese Canadian internment that took place during and after the Second World War, as seen through the eyes of a child.

Naomi Nakane, the first person narrator, is 36-year-old school teacher when the novel opens. The death of her uncle, and her subsequent reunion with family members, brings back memories she had been trying to cast aside: the memories of what she and her family went through in their own homeland because of the war.

In the 1940s, following the Pearl Harbor attacks, Canadian citizens of Japanese descent living in British Columbia were forced to move to the interior due to fear of espionage. First men between 18 and 45 years of age were moved to camps, and then entire families had to leave their homes and were divided in the process. Naomi, a third-generation immigrant, is forced to leave her house in Vancouver and moves with her brother and her aunt to Slocan, an abandoned mining town. Her mother, who had temporarily returned to Japan with her grandmother, simply vanishes from her live, and the full horror of their ultimate fate is only revealed at the end of the book, in Naomi’s adulthood. Her father, who was ill, is left behind. After Slocan, they are forced to move to a farm in Alberta where they are exposed to extreme hardship and forced to live in appalling conditions.

It seems to me that the internment is a relatively little known fact. Here in Europe, at least, it seems to have been forgotten among the other, more well-known, horrors of WW2, and you don’t hear much about it at all. This book is a reminder of what happens if people, acting individually or collectively, let fear take over and guide their actions. Great injustices are committed if we act out of blind fear, and unfortunately, during the war, even those who were fighting against the atrocities of Nazism let other injustices take place.

It also seems to me that racism against Asian minorities is less spoken of than other types of racism. There could be cultural reasons for that, and this novel exemplifies this well. In Obasan, all characters except one (Emily Kato, Naomi’s other aunt) refuse to speak of what happened. But it is not cowardice that holds them back. There are cultural reasons – Naomi is taught, as a little girl, to be discreet, to avert her eyes, not to be a nuisance – and there is also an understandable reluctance to open old wounds that hurt still, to revisit memories that are very painful. This attitude is understandable, and the novel portrays it with respect. But as Emily Kato says, these things must be remembered, and it is important that they are spoken of.

Obasan is as much about memory and childhood as it is about the war. Things are shown through the eyes of Naomi as a young girl, and her understanding of events was at the time limited, but because she is remembering, the knowledge she possesses now, the information her aunt Emily provides, fills the gaps and shows the full significance of things that were hazy for a child.

The book is beautifully written – Joy Kogawa’s use of imagery is particularly exquisite. I loved her description of the woods surrounding Slocan. At the time, despite the horrors that were taking place, Naomi, her brother Stephen, and some friends they were to lose when they were forced to move again, were allowed to keep on experiencing some of the simple joys of childhood. They play together, explore the woods and swim in a nearby lake. But not for much longer, unfortunately.

It was interesting for me to notice how reading this book seemed to give me a greater glimpse of Japanese culture than reading Murakami a little while ago. This could be because Joy Kogawa knows both the Japanese and the Western ways of seeing things, and so she explains what needs explaining, she picks the right words to portray the right feelings, she creates a bridge that allows greater understanding.

Obasan was first published in 1981. In 1986, Naomi’s Road was published – an adaptation of the same story into a children’s book. There is also sequel called Itsuka, later retitled Emily Kato. I plan on reading both.

Reviewed at:

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Jul 18, 2007

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

When re-reading this book, I realized with some alarm the great amount of details I had forgotten, and once again found myself wishing I had re-read the whole series before book 7. Then again, this is the only book in the series I haven’t read countless times – I avoided it in the last two years because I knew it’d make me anxious for the last one. But now the time has come at last.

I’m going to miss these books so much. I know I can revisit them whenever I want, but it pains me to know that, after Saturday, there will be no more new stories. These books are such perfect comfort books for me. And I’m dying to know how the story ends, but funnily enough, I think it’s the moments that don’t add that much to the general plot that I will miss the most.

If it can be said that the Harry Potter books follow a formula of sorts, it’d be something like this: Harry is staying with the Dursleys, and something mysterious/exciting happens. The school year begins, and things are more or less normal. Throughout the year, more clues/little mysterious events take place, until, around the time of the end of the school year, we have the climaxing scene, and the initial mystery (along with other smaller ones) is revealed.

Now, I love the main plot of this book. In my opinion, it is at plot that Rowling is excellent. But I’m really going to miss those quieter times when “nothing much” is happening. The trip on the Hogwarts Express, the ceremony of the sorting hat, the little moments of humour, going to Diagon Alley, Fred and George, the Quidditch matches, the times spent in the Gryffindor common room, their lessons, the tensions between characters, the moments of misunderstandings between Ron, Harry and Hermione, the moments when they laugh together – everything, really. These are characters I truly enjoy spending time with. This is a world I love to immerse myself in, and I’m going to miss that the most.

Now, I know that almost everyone has read these books, and for those who haven’t, not knowing what goes on in them anyway is a little hard, in a "Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s Father" sort of way. But I’m still going to include a warning, because I don’t want to ruin things for anyone:

There are SPOILERS after the cut.

Harry’s decision not to return to Hogwarts, and Ron and Hermione’s decision to accompany him on his mission, has assured that many of the familiar, comforting Hogwarts moments will be absent in the final book. When I first read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince this upset me quite a bit, but I have to admit now that it makes perfect sense. Things have been getting increasingly darker since book four, and it is now pretty much impossible for Harry and his friends to carry on living “normal” lives, given the state of things.

Everything in this book made much more sense this time around – perhaps because I expected things, so I looked for the signs. The thing with Tonks and Lupin, for example – I remember being disappointed the first time I read the book, because I expected the mystery surrounding Tonks to be something more… relevant for the main plot. I expected her to be under the Imperius curse or something. But the second time around, it made perfect sense. The signs are all there.

The same goes, of course, for Dumbledore’s death. The first time, I was beyond shocked. I couldn’t believe it. I kept expecting it not to be true – until the very last page, I hoped something would happen – Fawkes would resurrect him or something. But I have to admit that it makes perfect sense. After all, Harry would never be the one to defeat Voldemort if Dumbledore was around. If Dumbledore, “the only one he ever feared”, was still alive, he would be the logical choice for the one to defeat the Dark Lord. So it makes sense that he had to pass away, to leave the path open for Harry.

And this brings me to the subject of Snape. I have never really liked Snape, but I have to say, I’ve never trusted him as much as I do after this book. For him to be on the bad side, Dumbledore would have to be wrong, and I just can’t believe it. Plus, the fact that he knew something about Snape somebody else does keeps being hinted at, and Rowling doesn’t normally give false hints. I think that what happened was that Dumbledore told Snape to kill him if he must to secure his cover. That is what he was pleading before he died – “Severus, please do it”, and not “Severus, please don’t kill me”. I just don’t see a man like Dumbledore pleading for his life. And there are a number of other clues. He made the unbreakable vow at the beginning of the book, and there is the talk between him and Dumbledore that Hagrid overheard, where he said he didn’t really want to do it.

Also, I think that the reason why Dumbledore was willing to be killed just to save Snape’s cover was because he was going to die anyway. It could be the potion that he drank, or it could be his wounded hand, which was maybe a sign of something more serious. That would also be why he shared all the knowledge he gathered about Voldemort with Harry. He knew Harry would have to destroy the Horcruxes on his own after he died, but he also wanted to get as much of the work done as possible before his time came.

The scene where Harry feeds Dumbledore the potion is, for me, the most powerful scene in the book. It’s so heartbreakingly sad. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for Harry to put someone he cares about through something like that, and yet know that, as hard as it was, he had to do it.

Some predictions for the next book: I think Draco, perhaps along with Pettigrew, will end up doing something important, something worthwhile. The fact that he was unable to kill Dumbledore showed that there was some hope left for him. And the same, as I said above, goes for Snape.

I think it is possible that RAB will end up being Regulus Black, Sirius’ brother. Not much is known about what he did before he died, after all.

I think Remus will finish Fenrir Greywolf off, perhaps along with Bill.

I think Hermione and Ron have to survive, even if just because they have to end up together. Things between them have been developing from book 1, pretty much, and by the end of “Half-Blood Prince” their mutual feelings for each other were pretty much out in the open. How frustrating would it be to go through all that just to see one of them die?

Unfortunately, it’s quite possible that the same cannot be said about Harry. There is something I wonder about – could Harry himself be a Horcrux (this would explain his strange insight into Voldemort’s mind, incidentally)? Could he have been made into one with Cedric’s murder, at the end of book four? Rowling did say that something crucial for the final outcome of the series takes place in book four, and Dumbledore said that when Voldemort first tried to kill Harry, not all of his Horcruxes had been made. This, of course, means that Harry himself will have to be destroyed.

Unfortunately, I think that even if he isn’t a Horcrux, it is likely that he will die. It’s just so sad. I hope I’m wrong, because it will be so depressing to see a character I spend 7 books with, a character the reader watched grow up, a just die in the last book.

Voldermort will die for sure. I think there is no way she will let the bad side win. The only question is who he will take along with him. If Harry dies, I know it will be heroically – saving his friends, maybe, like his mother died saving him – but even so, it will be so depressing. So I really, really hope my hunch is wrong.

When Saturday comes, I am inclined to take measures as extreme as this blogger’s to avoid spoilers. I will cut contact with the world until I’m done reading. I will immerse myself in the books, and only return to reality when all these questions have been answered.

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Jul 16, 2007

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day is the story of Stevens, one of the last old-fashioned butlers in England. Stevens served Lord Darlington at Darlington Hall for 35 years, and after his master’s death, he remained working at the house when it was sold to an American gentleman. When he is given a week off by his new employer, Stevens decides to take a road trip to Cornwall to see Miss Keaton, a former housekeeper at Darlington Hall. The story, told in the first person, alternates the account of Stevens’ trip with reminiscences of the past.

I could never have guessed that an account of the life of a butler and of the details of his profession could make for such an entrancing story. But of course, the details of professional affairs of a butler are only the beginning of what this story is about. This is a tale of loss, of sacrifice, of choices and regret. Set in the 1950’s, the story also examines, through Stevens’ memories, the state of Europe before and during the Second World War, dealing with topics like anti-Semitism and fascism.

There is a sad quietness to this book that really gripped me. The degree of emotional restraint Stevens shows is almost alarming. When wondering what it is that makes a great butler, he comes to the conclusion that it is having “a dignity in keeping with his position”. In other words, it is his opinion that a truly great butler never steps outside his role unless he is completely alone. But as one reads the books, it becomes increasingly obvious that Stevens doesn’t step outside his role even when he is alone. He denies himself things like a personal life, an occasional emotional outburst, the right to criticize his employer.

As the story advances, then, one realizes that Stevens is a narrator that cannot be fully trusted. His emotional restraint is such that he is ultimately lying to himself about key matters. His memories are distorted, and, although this is never clearly stated in the book, he seems to be aware of this at some level.

I loved the subtlety of this book. It is full of feelings – full of sadness, regret, and ultimately, hopefulness – but they are palely lurking behind the page, hiding between the lines. They are disguised, but remain ever-present throughout the story.

The use of language in this book is very formal, to a degree that is almost stiff, but it remains beautiful and charming despite of that. And the ending – without giving anything away, I’ll just say that the ending is absolutely perfect. Very moving, very sad, but hopeful in a quiet sort of way.

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Jul 15, 2007

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

I’ve discovered yet another thing about mysteries – they can be addictive. I’ve owned this book for years, and yesterday, after finishing my very first Sherlock Holmes, I could not resist the urge to read it.

In A Study in Scarlet, a man is found dead at an empty house in Brixton Road. He shows no signs of injury, and yet there are blood marks on the walls of the room where he is found. In fact, the German word “rache” (meaning revenge) is written in blood in a corner of the room. Sherlock Holmes is called to the scene of the crime by two Scotland Yard inspectors who are quite clueless about the crime, and yet wish to keep the credit of its resolution to themselves.

I was already half familiar with this story because of Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald”, which is, to some extend, a retelling of this. That familiarity wasn’t, however, great enough to give away key aspects of the story.

This is the first of the Sherlock Holmes novels, and in it we get to see how Dr. Watson meets Sherlock Holmes, and how they come to share the house on Baker Street. I found that that alone made the novel very interesting to read.

The greater problem with this story is the fact that, unlike what happens in The Hound of the Baskervilles (and in most mysteries, I believe), the reader has no possibility whatsoever to figure things out on his own. The book is divided in two parts, and the story told in the second part, taking place in American and involving the settling of the Mormons in Salt Lake City, is essential to the solving of the mystery. And yet the reader has no access to it until after Sherlock Holmes has solved the crime. Holmes works in silence. We see him from Dr. Watson’s eyes, and so we are kept in the dark. What we have here is more a display of Sherlock Holmes’ powers of reasoning than anything else, and this fact makes the story less enjoyable.

I would say, though, that despite this the book was a worthy read. And considering that this is the first of Sherlock Holmes’ adventures, and a pioneering work in the genre of mystery, I think Conan Doyle can easily be forgiven for not putting the necessary cues in the book.

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Jul 14, 2007

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of the most famous of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. It tells the story of the intriguing death of Charles Baskerville, who was found death with no physical injuries, but with an expression of extreme terror upon his face. According to legend, due to the actions of one Hugo Baskerville, a terrible curse was put on the family. A fearsome hellish hound would forever pursue the Baskervilles, and indeed many members of the family meet unfortunate and mysterious deaths. After the death of Charles Baskerville, the one remaining heir of the estate, Sir Henry, returns from Canada. It is the job of Sherlock Homes and of Dr. Watson to shed light on this mystery, and to make sure Sir Henry doesn’t meet the same end.

The use of a legend drew me to this story immediately. In the author’s dedication, Conan Doyle thanks someone named Robinson for the account of an actual West Country legend that inspired him to write this story. I hope to discover the name of the legend, and to read it if I can get a hold of it.

I like the character of Dr. Watson, who narrates the story, better than Sherlock Holmes. This could be because Dr. Watson’s occasional doubts make him seem more human. Holmes is a logical man, and he completely trusts his own powers of reasoning. His goal is to use reason to dispel superstition and the supernatural, and he refers to his methods of investigation as scientific.

I am fond of science myself, but it is interesting to note that the conception of science in this book is very typical of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. For example, Dr. Mortimer, a man Holmes and Watson befriend and refer to as a fellow man of science, is an expert in phrenology. Phrenology is, of course, a sad excuse for science, and it was responsible for many unfortunate injustices. However, I did think that his musings had historical interest.

Reading this book made me wonder what kind of man Conan Doyle was. The Sherlock Homes stories certainly seem to endorse logic and science, and yet he was involved in spiritualism and in the Cottingley Fairies affair. But these are, of course, curiosities that aren’t relevant when it comes to the stories themselves.

I must say that the outcome of this story was not very surprising, but I wouldn’t say it was sadly predictable either. The clues are in the book, and the fact that the reader can figure things out on his own is very satisfying. I had enormous fun discovering the identity of the Man on the Tor, for example.

Another thing I loved about this book was how very atmospheric the descriptions were. This excerpt, for example:
The longer one stays here, the more the spirit of the moor sinks into one’s soul, its vastness, and also its grim charm. When you are once out upon its bosom, you have left all traces of modern England behind you, but, on the other hand, you are conscious everywhere of the homes and the work of prehistoric people. On all sides of you as you walk are the houses of these forgotten folk, with their graves and the huge monoliths which are supposed to have marked their temples.
There was something about this description that made me think, for half a second, of how cool a cross-over between Sherlock Holmes and H. P. Lovecraft would be – until, of course, I remember that this has indeed been done. It is a splendid idea, and I really must read the Shadows Over Baker Street anthology. It would be a perfect choice for the RIP challenge now that I think of it.

This book made me realize that I’m a bigger mystery fan than I took myself for. I’ve always loved stories with elements of mystery (Harry Potter being a perfect example) and yet I am not at all well-acquainted with the genre. I have a feeling that is going to change in the near future.

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Jul 13, 2007

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore is the story of two characters, who we follow in alternating chapters: a 15-year-old boy who calls himself Kafka Tamuta, and who decides to run away from home on his birthday; and a man in his sixties, Nakata. Nakata experienced a very strange accident during WW2, when he was only 9 years old, after which he lost his memory, the ability to read and write, and became, in his own words, “dumb”. He gained, however, some very unusual abilities in return.

This story begins realistically enough: a boy decides to run away from home, and so he takes the night bus from Tokyo to Takamatsu, a small town where he has no friends or relatives, and where, thus, he is not likely to be looked for. Soon enough, though, the reader is confronted with a series of surreal events: cats speak, fish and leeches rain down, spirits walk about, prophecies are made, and entrances to other worlds are opened. And there are appearances by popular culture icons like Johnny Walker or Colonel Sanders (the Kentucky Fried Chicken logo guy, in case anyone is wondering).

There was something about this book that reminded me slightly of Neil Gaiman's American God. The use of these two last figures helped, but there’s something else, something about the mood of the book that I can't quite pinpoint.

As the story advances, a lot of questions are raised, and we realize that there is a connection between the boy Kafka and the man Nakata. However, not all the questions are answered at the end. At some point in the book, one of the characters says:
I went all over Japan interviewing people who’d survived lightening strikes. It took me a few years. Most of the interviews were pretty interesting. A small publisher put it out, but it barely sold. The book didn’t come to any conclusion, and nobody wants to read a book that doesn’t have one. For me, thought, having no conclusion seemed perfectly fine.
This made me smile, because it so obviously applies to Murakami’s books. Not that they have no resolution, but, like I said, there are many questions that linger. This got me thinking that in a way his books are a little like songs. A song doesn’t necessarily have to make sense – in fact, more often than not, the concept of “sense” doesn’t even apply to music. Its realm is not that of logic. And yet, it still moves us, it still makes us experience a myriad of emotions; it still has power over us. The same can be said, to some extent, of Murakami’s novels. They don’t always make sense, but they still resonate within me. And music is very often mentioned in this book. For an interesting take on the relationship between Murakami and music, read this post by Dark Orpheus.

Books are another thing that is very important in this novel. Kafka is an avid reader, and this drew me to him immediately. There is a delightful library where Kafka ends up working and where many important scenes take place. And there are a lot of books that are mentioned or quoted throughout the story.

A little warning that perhaps not everyone will find relevant – this book contains a very disturbing scene involving cats. I am a cat lover, but more than that, I am a person who is extremely disturbed by any violence towards animals, especially cats. It’s the kind of stuff that haunts me and seriously gives me nightmares. There is a horrifying scene in this book, and I know that the emotional effect it had on me is exactly what Murakami was trying to achieve, but it was still very painful for me to read. It’s a scene I sincerely hope to forget. I’m not saying that this scene should keep anyone from reading the book, but I think it’s good to be prepared for it.

I really liked this book. It had a very unique mood, interesting and memorable characters, and it was a story I responded to emotionally, even if I’m not sure I completely made sense of it. I will certainly be reading more of Murakami’s work in the future.

Other Blog Reviews:
Bombastic Bagman
In Spring it is the Dawn
Dolce Bellezza
My Own Little Reading Room
Trish's Reading Nook
Tip of the Iceberg
Books of Mee

I was planning on reading The Remains of the Day after this book. Today, however, I had to go out, and finished the book on the train, which left me facing a 1:15min train ride back with nothing to read. I went to a bookstore and found a Dover edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles for a little over 2 euros. Having read Literary Feline’s review of this book just the other day, I decided to pick it up. I’m enjoying it quite a lot so far. I wasn’t planning on reading Sherlock Holmes this summer, but hey, I’ll just go where my reading takes me.

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Jul 12, 2007

Seconds Challenge

Joy at Thoughts of Joy is hosting this challenge. It goes from October to December, and the idea is to read 3 books by authors you've read something by before and would like to get to know better. I shouldn't be joining any more challenges for the Fall, but this is such a good idea I just can't resist. Plus, it's only 3 books.

It took me a while to come up with my list - not because I couldn't think of what to choose, but because I could think of too many potential choices. I've been introduced to so many wonderful authors this year that it's hard to pick just 3. In the end, I decided to pick 3, but also list some possible alternatives/extras. Here's what I came up with:
  • Magic Street by Orson Scott Card. I loved "Enchantment", and Chris recommended this one. Plus, the plot involves "A Midsummer Night's Dream"!
  • Thraxas by Martin Scott (aka Martin Millar). I've been meaning to read more of his work after the wonderful "The Good Faeries of New York". This book, the first of a series, won the World Fantasy Award, so it could also work as an extra for the Book Awards Challenge.
  • We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates. I asked Joy, and she said it was okay to pick authors we're only acquainted with through short stories. I LOVED the Joyce Carol Oates short stories I've read, so it's about time I try a novel
Possible extras/alternatives:
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. His "Everything is Illuminated" is one of my all-time favourite books. The reason why this is not on the main list is the fact that I own this book already, so I'm not sure if I'll be able to wait until October to read it.
  • The Accidental by Ali Smith. Again, I love her short stories, and I've been meaning to try a novel. This one's also on my Reading Across Borders list.
  • Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire. I really liked "Wicked", so I'm sure I'll get around to this one eventually.

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Jul 10, 2007

Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves

I’m very glad I had the chance to read Chris and Carl’s thoughts on this book before reading it myself. This allowed me to readjust my expectations, and thus enjoy the book for what it is. If I had been expecting a typical Neil Gaiman book I’m sure I’d have been disappointed.

This, of course, raises the question of what is a “typical Neil Gaiman book”. He is a versatile author and that’s one of the things I love about him, but after a while, and regardless of how diverse his work is, you learn to detect a certain Neilness in his books that was mostly absent here. Every once in a while a Neil sentence would jump at me, but that was it. I think one of the main differences in Interworld was in the writing itself. I normally love Neil’s writing, but I can’t say I did in this book. Not that it was bad – it was simple and effective and it got the story told, and that’s the most important thing of all.

Interworld is the story of Joey Harker – or should I say, of several Joey Harkers. In what begins as a mostly normal day (except for a very unusual Social Studies exam), Joey discovers that he has the ability to Walk between worlds. This discovery is just the tip of the iceberg. It turns out that, for every important decision made, two alternate universes are created, and in each of them one of the paths is followed. This means that there are billions of Earths out there, and in each, a different Joey (or Jay or Jo or Josephine) Harker. What makes the Harkers special is exactly the ability to walk between worlds. Joey becomes familiar with the concept of the Altiverse (not to the confused with the Multiverse) which is, simply put, the collection of all the different Earths that exist. And the Altiverse is in danger. Two organizations want to dominate it, one using magic and the other using science, and what it takes to stop them and keep the balance is an army of Harkers.

I normally like stories based on the concept of alternate realities/universes. And while reading this one, I started thinking – the several Harkers we meet in the book are very different, and despite this, Joey knows that at some level they all are him. One of them is a half-wolf girl, another is part robot. Some come from worlds in which humans are not exactly what we normally think of as human. Now, in worlds so completely different from ours, what are the chances of Joey’s parents still meeting and of him (or a version of him) still being born? But of course, even thought there are billions of worlds in which that did not happen, there is bond to be one in which it did. This brings me to the author’s note, which put a smile on my face:
This is a work of fiction. Still, given an infinite number of possible worlds, it must be true in one of them. And if a story set in an infinite number of possible universes is true in one of them, then it must be true in all of them. So maybe it’s not as fictional as we think.
This story, as you must have gathered, is much more science-fiction than anything else by Neil I’d read before. If I were to pair it with anything, it would be with his Books of Magic, perhaps, which isn’t necessarily to say that they are smilar.

This book is very fast-paced and action-packed, and it’s a very quick read. That is yet another big difference – Neil’s books, even the ones in which a lot of things happen, like Stardust or Neverwhere, are generally more introspective. At the core of the action there are people figuring themselves out, and people connecting with one another. That is another one of the reasons why he is my favourite author. But one must keep in mind that Interworld was originally meant to be a TV series, and in a way it reads like one. I think it will make a very good action/adventure movie.

This was an enjoyable book, even if it is my least favourite Neil Gaiman. It’s not something I’d have picked up if it wasn’t for his name attached, but I’m glad I did, because reading it was fun. It is also not something I’d ever recommend as an introduction to Neil Gaiman, but it is a book I’d think of instantly if I had, say, a younger cousin whose taste for reading I wanted to stimulate. Which isn’t to say, of course, that this story can’t be enjoyed by people of all ages.

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Twisted Kingdom (Kailana)
Melody's Reading Corner
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Jul 9, 2007

Rainbow by Banana Yoshimoto

I think part of my problem with this book was due to the fact that I have been reading so many amazing books lately. Just in the past month there was The Color Purple, The Watermelon King, Beloved, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc. In comparison with those, Rainbow felt a little... frivolous.

Rainbow is the story of Minagami Eiko, a Japanese young woman who works at Rainbow, a Polynesian food restaurant in Tokyo. The book takes place both in Tokyo and in the Polynesian island of Bora Bora. In the past year or so, Minagami went through a lot. First her mother died, then she was forced to take a break from her job due to exhaustion, and finally she began to develop some feelings for the man she works for. After all these events, she decided to go on a holiday to Bora Bora, and in the book her time on the island is intertwined with the recollection of the recent events in her life.

Minagami is a likeable character, but this book is very short, so there wasn't much room for development. The love story aspect of the book felt especially rushed. All in all, I found this an enjoyable but not memorable book. At least it gave me a glimpse of a visit to the South Pacific Islands, which is something I often daydream about.

I've noticed that this is one of the few by Banana Yoshimoto that are not yet available in English, which just goes to show that it is probably not one of her best works. Whenever she was recommended to me, people always mentioned books like Kitchen and Goodbye, Tsugumi. I suppose I need to read those before I make up my mind about her.

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Girls Who Rock

The lovely Literary Feline has given me a Rockin' Girl Blogger Award. Her blog is one of my favourites as well, and her kind words about me put a big smile on my face. So, again, thank you so much!

I decided to pass it on to a few of my favourite girl bloggers. These are just a few, of course - there are plenty of others whose blogs I love, both girls and boys. I'll pass this award to:
  • Robin at A Fondness for Reading. Robin has a way with words - I always enjoy reading her reviews. She also strikes me as such a gentle, pleasant person. Her family, friends and students are very lucky to have her.

  • Quixotic. Like Robin, Quixotic writes beautifully. Her reviews are always a pleasure to read. And she seems to be such a creative person in general - everything about her blog is beautiful and elegant, and her Poppet pictures are now the stuff of legend!

  • Rhinoa at Rhinoa's Ramblings. I think Rhinoa is such an interesting person. One of the reasons why I love her blog is the fact that, along with book reviews, she posts about her other interests, and gives us little glimpses of her life. She is also very friendly.

  • Kailana at The Written World. I am always amazed with the amount and diversity of books she reads. Reading her blog, I am constantly being introduced to books in all genres that I had never heard of before, many of which sound just like my cup of tea. Plus, I love the layout of her blog.
In other news, my copy of Interworld arrived this morning! Yay, I'm so glad it's not lost! I think I'll just have to read it as soon as I finish Rainbow. My apologizes to Kafka on the Shore, which will be neglected for a few more days.

(Should I be worried that I'm now addressing my books? Hmmmm :P)

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Jul 8, 2007

Beloved by Toni Morrison

You protected yourself and loved small. Picked the tiniest stars out of the sky to own; lay down with head twisted in order to see the rim of the trench before you slept. Stole shy glances at her between the trees at chain-up. Grass blades, salamanders, spiders, woodpeckers, beetles, a kingdom of ants. Anything bigger wouldn’t do. A woman, a child, a brother – a big love like that would split you wide open in Alfred, Georgia.
Toni Morrison’s Beloved takes place some years after the end of the American Civil War, and it follows the lives of mainly two ex-slaves, Sethe and Paul D., who escaped from a plantation named Sweet Home.

This book is based on the true story of the slave Margaret Garner, and I don’t recommend doing what I did, which is looking the story up before reading the novel. While this knowledge will help one make sense of things at first, it also spoils one of the best things about this novel, which is the way in which things are slowly revealed.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that slavery was terrible. And yet “slavery was terrible” can easily become a cold, abstract fact. The horrors that are described in this novel force us to break down that fact until it no longer is cold or abstract. We need books like this to go from knowing to understanding just how terrible slavery was.

The things the characters in this book go through are beyond horrific. They are beyond most of our worse nightmares. The way Toni Morrison describes these horrors, however, is not always by giving us the straight facts. The picture she paints is diffuse, and it comes into focus gradually. We often get a character’s emotional reaction to the facts before we get the facts themselves. There is a dream-like, blurry quality to Morrison’s writing.

Beloved is a historical novel and a ghost story at the same time. It’s also one of the heaviest books I’ve read in my life. The things we gradually learn throughout the book – who Beloved is, what Sethe did, how and why – are unimaginable, and yet Toni Morrison enables us to imagine the sort of despair that could be behind something like that.

This is an uncomfortable book to read, but, exactly for that reason, a necessary book. We need books like this to keep history from becoming cold and abstract.

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Jul 7, 2007

I'm back

I had a great time this week, and saw some fantastic bands. Unfortunately, and as expected, I didn't get that much reading done. Music festivals are not exactly the ideal place to read. I'm a little over 70 pages into Beloved, and I really like it so far.

Things didn't go as well as expected in terms of book buying either. All I got was Murakami's Kafka on the Shore. They didn't have The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, so I guess I'm going to have to order it online.

When I got home I had a package waiting for me. This normally makes me very happy, but I couldn't help but also notice the absence of the other package, the one that was supposed to contain Neil Gaiman's Interworld. It's been so long now, I'm starting to get worried. I think I'm going to wait to see if it arrives on Monday, and if not, I'll e-mail the store.

The package I did get, however, contained a book called Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic. It is, as the name suggests, an anthology of Southern stories by Southern authors with a magic realist, fantastic or sci-fi-ish twist. I've had my eye on it for a while, and I thought I'd be a perfect book to read during the time of the Southern Reading Challenge. It includes authors like Gene Wolfe, Kelly Link and (another strong reason why I got it) Daniel Wallace.

Well, time to catch up on everyone's blogs, and get some reading done.

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Jul 2, 2007

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

As most of you probably know, The Color Purple is mostly Celie’s story – Celie is fourteen when the book opens, and has been repeatedly raped by her own father. She had two children from this forced union, and both were taken away from her. Shortly after the book opens, she is given away in marriage to a man who was after her younger sister – a man who does not love her, and whom she does not love, and, worse of all, a man who beats and abuses her.

Like Dark Orpheus, I did not expect to like this book so much. The book is written in the form of letters – Celie writes to God, and later to her sister Nettie, the only ones she feels she can unburden her heart to. Celie’s letters are in what could be called “broken English”, but this only adds to their earnestness.

What I found in this book was mostly a story about abuse – Celie is poor, uneducated, coloured and a woman, and all of these factors make her vulnerable to abuse. What is especially terrible is that those who abuse her share some of her vulnerabilities, and are themselves abused in other circumstances. But is is also a story about struggling, about determination to live, about finding peace and companionship.

I read somewhere that this book brought Alice Walker much trouble. She was accused of portraying black men negatively, and thus adding to racism. This is not what I saw in this book at all, though. I think that to find that here you need to already be predisposed to attribute people’s flaws to their face. Alice Walker looks beyond race. Not that race doesn’t matter – it is, unfortunately, a very important factor that determines these characters’ lives in many ways, and it is an important theme in the book – but it’s not, in any way, an implied reason for the flaws of Celie’s husband or her father, or any other of the men in the book. Alice Walker shows us how circumstances can harden people, and also how, despite that, there is sometimes still hope for them.

I cared deeply about the characters in this book. Not only Celie, but her sister Nettie, Shug Avery, Sofia, Samuel, even Celie’s abusive husband by the end.

This is a very touching book. The two last letters had me in tears. The way Celie finds companionship, and then love, in no one but her husband’s mistress, Shug Avery, is very beautifully described. And the ending is very moving. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that Celie learns to stand up for herself, and to be content with her life.

I remember watching the movie adaptation many years ago, but all I had left was a very vague recollection of the story. I think now would be a good time for me to watch it again. I would like to see how it compares to the book.

Other Blog Reviews:
Orpheus Sings the Guitar Electric
Lost in a Good Story
Care's Online Bookclub
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
Jenny's books
Kristina's Favorites
Books of Mee

This was my first read for the Book Awards Reading Challenge, and also an extra for the Southern Reading Challenge.

Tomorrow when I leave for the festival, I am taking Toni Morrison’s Beloved to read on the trip – this is another Pulitzer-Winning novel that I have heard wonders about. I’m also taking my most recent book purchase, Banana Yoshimoto’s Rainbow. Banana Yoshimoto is a Japanese author I have heard a lot about, and I thought this book would be a good addition to my Reading Across Borders list. Also, it’s a thin book that will probably make good on the road reading.

Have a nice week everyone, and I will see you in the weekend.

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Jul 1, 2007

Summer's here at last

Inspired by Carl's Post, I found myself, in the last few days before my final exam, scribbling lists of reading goals for the summer on the back of my notes.

Well, I am finally free to read all I want, and I decided to write a list of those reading goals. They are mere suggestions, because I know I will end up reading mostly what I'm in the mood to read. For that reason, the list is unachievable, but that's part of the spirit. I want to have a lot to choose from.

When I say summer, I actually mean mostly the month of July. In August, my boyfriend returns, and we'll have to start preparing to move. In September, when we go to England, who knows where my reading time will go. But in the meantime, I plan on reading as much as I can.

My goals include:
  • Reading at least half of my Book Awards Reading Challenge list

  • Finishing, or getting as close as possible to finishing, my Reading Across Borders list

  • Re-reading The Half-Blood Prince in preparation, and then the last Harry Potter (no doubt in my mind that I will achieve this one!)

  • Reading Interworld! (Hopefully my copy will be here next week)

  • Reading, or at least starting, The Odyssey

  • Reading Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment, because it's one of the 3 I haven't read yet, and because few things make me happier than Terry Pratchett

  • Reading the rest of the Dark Alchemy (aka Wizards) anthology
  • Reading Shakespeare's The Tempest

  • Having a "Children's Classics Weekends", in which I do my best to have a personal 48 hours book challenge. The titles I have in mind are, for starters, Anne of Green Gables and Charlotte's Web

  • Reading some sci-fi short stories. Maybe having a Short Stories Week like I did around Easter.
And that's it. Of course, if I get through half of this I will be more than happy, and I'll probably end up reading things that are not on this list. But anyway, this month will be a pleasant one.

My intensive reading will probably be put on hold next week, actually, because I'm going to a 3 days music festival in Lisbon to see bands like The Arcade Fire, INTERPOL, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Bloc Party, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!, etc. And while I'm over there, I plan on visiting one of those big bookstores we don't have in my little town, and buying some of the books on my Book Awards Challenge list. I especially hope to find The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Kafka on the Short, as they are among the ones I'm looking forward to the most.

On other news, after almost a month of living under a rock and doing almost nothing but studying, I finally ventured out and went to the mall yesterday in the evening. And well, it turns out that one of those big book stores we don't have around here is opening soon there! But more importantly, I found the DVD of the second season of Jim Henson's The Storyteller in a bargain bin! I never thought I'd find it around here, let alone as a bargain. I'm very excited about it and hope to watch it soon.

I also found an old LucasaArts graphic adventure game, Grim Fandango. This game has been recommended to me several times, and one of the reasons why I want to play it is the fact that it is inspired by Aztec mythology, and, more specifically, by the Mexican Day of the Dead traditions.

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Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This story opens with a sentence that is likely to raise more than a few eyebrows: In my ninetieth year, I decided to give myself the gift of a night of love with a young virgin.

The narrator, a writer of chronicles for a local newspaper who has just turned ninety, decides to hire a fourteen-year-old virgin for a night. If there is a writer who can handle a story based on this premise extremely well, that writer is Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The story does not develop like one would expect – without wanting to give too much away, I’ll just say it’s more about old age and loneliness than about sex or love. In some ways, this book reminded me of Love in the Time of Cholera. The narrator is a little reminiscent of Florentino Ariza, and some of the themes this story deals with are the same. Here we have a ninety year old man who struggles to be alive, to do more with his remaining time than just wait for death. The way he chooses to do this may be questionable, but this is part of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magic – he puts us beyond judging his characters morally.

While I cannot say I liked this book as much as the rest of his work, I would still recommend it as an introduction to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s a very small book, only 105 pages long, and even though in some ways the story felt a little underdeveloped, it gives readers a very accurate idea of what his style is like, and of some of the themes his work deals with.

Other Opinions:
Fresh Ink Books
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