The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura (Japanese Literature Challenge 9)


I wanted to experience every aspect of the gun thoroughly, and to abandon the firing of it that now loomed before me would mean there would be nothing left to do but to relinquish the fun. That was an impossible option, one that I couldn’t even fathom. Losing the gun would turn me into an empty shell of myself, and the prospect of carrying around that lifeless husk for the remaining years of my life seemed like an endless torture. I had often heard it said that humans lived to achieve what they chose to do, and I believed that.

The Gun tells what it is like to find a gun and become obsessed with it. When Nishikawa is wandering around late at night, he comes across the body of a fallen man beside whom is a gun. The young man picks up the gun and, as suddenly as that, is entranced. Through the subsequent pages of the novel, the gun becomes more than an acquired object for him; it is as though it has taken the place of a loved one.

Nishikawa buys special white cloth onto which he can lay the gun to show off its beautiful lustre; he polishes it and carresses it almost as if he would a woman.

It is fascinating to see the passion with which the gun takes hold of his life. As he fondles it, and daydreams about it, even in the company of his friends and lovers, the inevitable step for him to take next is to use it.

The reversible jacket, the leather gloves, the small flashlight, the gun – these four items constantly reminded me of the fact that I was a criminal. Sometimes I liked the way this made me feel, sometimes I didn’t. Yet these shifts in mood, this ambivalent consciousness that could be swayed by whatever vague reasons did not matter much to me. This was a simple process that I needed to follow, and what was important was whether I would succeed.

It is almost as though the gun has control of him rather than the other way around. Can it be that a gun holds the shooter “hostage”? At what point does the gunman lose his conscience: when he first picks up the gun, or before?

For a person who considers herself quite a pacifist, I was mesmerized by this novel. It created a plot which pushed relentlessly forward, while at the same time depicting psychological dilemmas for the central character which have no simple resolution. Just the kind of thing that makes me love Japanese literature so much.

Emma Read-along This December: A Few Guidelines


The idea of reading Jane Austen’s Emma this December has grown from a few friends I have blogged with, to many I’ve just been introduced to for the first time. What a wonderful gathering we have for the reading of Emma‘s 200th anniversary!

I feel that I ought to set up a teensy bit of structure for us, but please know that these few guidelines are optional. You may follow along with how I envision to proceed, or you may read the book on December 30 and not write a single post.  I am merely writing a few suggestions to satiate the teacher within me, as well as for any participants who would like a few guidelines.

Emma is divided into three volumes. I will be posting my thoughts on each volume the first three Saturdays of the month in order to give a little breathing room for Christmas. Like this:

December 5: Volume 1

December 12: Volume 2

December 19: Volume 3

I’d rather post thoughts and reflections than address specific discussion questions, so please feel free to do the same. Again, you may follow this timeline or any timeframe which works for you. The important thing is to enjoy the novel.

The 200th Annotated Anniversary Edition published by Penguin has an introduction by Juliette Wells which includes Tips for Reading Emma. She suggests that the reader:

  • paces himself/herself
  • reads passages aloud
  • tries an audiobook
  • remembers that Emma contains little plot (admitted by Austen’s own contemporaries)
  • and rereads parts of Emma that interested, or frustrated, you the first time around


Finally, if you wish to tweet about our read-along you can use #Emma200th on Twitter.

And please, if you think of something you’d like to add, or ask, write about it in the comments. I am so looking forward to reading this book with all of you and having the opportunity to share in your thoughts and insights. All are welcome!

Heidi by Johanna Spyri for German Literature Month (A Guest Post by my Mother)

front cover

Today I picked up a worn old book that I read 73 years ago. Yes, I was seven. My namesake aunt had gifted it to me for Christmas. Because it held a great fascination to me I have dragged it through many moves, college days and then our homes and more college days. I didn’t read it again, until today. Instantly I was put in touch with a lodestar that has truly affected my life. Once again I was meeting the invincible, courageous girl I meant to become. “She understands what she sees, her eyes are in the right place,” remarked the grandfather to himself.

dedication from Aunt Maddie

From the moment Heidi’s life with grandfather begins she bustles around happily. She makes her bed out of hay, drinks the goat milk, time passes, as she learns to appreciate and listen. “…then the wind began to roar louder than ever through the fir trees; Heidi listened with delight to the sound, and it filled her heart so full of gladness that she skipped and danced around the old trees, as if some unheard of joy had come to her.” Maybe this is why I hear the wind and love it so.

Table of Contents

After the first day on the mountain Heidi tells her grandfather, “It was so beautiful. The fire and the roses on the rocks, and the blue and yellow flowers, and look what I have brought you,” as she empties her apron of the wild flowers she had picked. “Oh, Grandfather, what has happened?” His reply was classic grandfather. “They like to stand out there in the sun, and not to be shut up in an apron.” The life lessons never end though my little self never knew I was reading life lessons. Be gentle and kind to animals, respect your elders, be obedient. Help those in need like the grandmother in the tumbling down house. Make real friends like Peter and give him half of your lunch if this pleases him. When her happiness on the mountain with Grandfather is cut short, she never gives up knowing she must get back to him. And, when after great hardship she returns to the mountain, its beauty fills her heart so that she impulsively puts her hands together when she reads to the grandmother,

“Joy shall be ours, In that garden blest, Where after storm, We find our rest – I wait in peace – God’s time is best.”

Very simple words that did not diminish the joyful emotion that filled Heidi as her life on the mountain was put back into order. Happiness for her was found in the small and simple ways that Grandfather had taught. The story continues with working out the details of Heidi, her grandmother and the Grandfather and Peter all finding new stability. Even the Frankfurt family that brought grief and separation to Heidi is smoothed out, renewed and rediscovering the simple life. Clara, Heidi’s playmate is taken from luxury to simplicity. She marvels that, “As long as I remember I have only eaten because I was obliged to…now I am longing for Grandfather to bring the milk.”

Chapter 1

Heidi rejoices clinging to her grandmother saying, “Hasn’t it all come about, grandmother, just like the hymn I read to you last time? Grandmother responds, “Yes, Heidi, and many other good things too which God has sent me.” And the book actually concludes with this theme. “Heidi, read me one of the hymns! I feel I can do nothing for the remainder of my life but thank the Father in Heaven for the mercies He has shown us.”


I closed the book pondering its meaning for me. I turned back to the frontispiece and note the publisher was the GOLDSMITH Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. A long way away from this little girl receiving this book in the small city that was called Fort William, now Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.

This is the message of my life, taught to me by parents and grandparents. To live thanking God for small and great mercies. To realize I live in a glorious world my Heavenly Father meant me to enjoy. When suffering, darkness, despair and evil frighten me, I must lift my eyes up to the proverbial hills and find refuge. Find the wonder in the wind, marvel at a tiny seed’s germination, listen to the jenny wren sing, cherish my family, hold them as dear as life. Always remembering each wind call, every seed and birdsong, all of the family is a great mercy – given to me as a gift. Thank you, thank you, thank you, forever, my great and holy God.


(This book was read in conjunction with German Literature Month hosted by Caroline and Lizzy. Thank you for sponsoring the event, and thank you, mother, for sharing this book with me since I was a little girl.)

Slade House by David Mitchell


Dad puts his arm around Joy’s waist. “Try the coffee first. It’ll make a man of you.” I lift the mug and peer down. Inside’s black as oil, as holes in space, as Bibles.

“Violet ground the beans just now,” says Joy.

“God’s own coffee,” says Dad. “Drink up now, matey.”

Some stupid part of me says, No, don’t, you mustn’t.

“Your mother’ll never know,” says Dad. “Our little secret.”

The mug’s so wide it covers my nose like a gas mask.

The mug’s so wide it covers my eyes, my whole head.

Then whatever’s in there starts gulping me down. (p. 31)


There’s a labyrinthine path inside this novel, a mesmerizing collection of words. While writers, such as Anthony Doerr and Adam Johnson, who tout its worth say they read it in one night, I must take my time. I want to dwell in Slade House,  absorb every bit of its atmosphere, every nuance and shadow held in wait for me at each corner.

Thank you, Sylvie, for this recommendation.

Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell

imageYou know that the narrator, Fredrik Welin, lives alone on an icy, remote island in Sweden where the only person he sees with any regularity is Jansson, the postman. You know he was once a surgeon, but some catastrophic mistake has ended that period of his life. You know that he once loved Harriet, but left her quite suddenly one day, completely unexpectedly.

This isn’t a mystery as one would expect from the Scandinavian crime authors. But it carries an atmosphere of underlying suspense which is relentless, while closely observing the loneliness of an isolated life.

Fredrik breaks the hole in the ice every morning so that he can submerge his body in the freezing water, just to remind himself he’s still alive. And one day, when he looks up, he sees Harriet with a walker watching him. It has been decades since he last saw her, and she tells him he must fulfill his promise to take her to a lake in the northern region where he had once gone with his father.

Their journey involves looking back at the life they’d had together which had been so abruptly interrupted. It also involves a visit to an Italian shoe maker, so skilled in his craft that he only makes one or two custom pairs of shoes a year.

“I’ve been to Rome,” said Harriet. “My whole life has revolved around shoes. What I thought was just a coincidence when I was young, working in a shoe shop because my father had once worked as a foreman at Oscaria in Orebro, turned out to be something that would effect the whole of my life. All I’ve ever done, really, is wake up morning after morning and think about shoes. I once went to Rome and stayed there for a month as an apprentice to an old master craftsman who made shoes for the richest feet in the world. He devoted as much care to each pair as Stradivari did to his violins. He used to believe feet had personalities of their own. An opera singer – I can no longer remember her name – had spiteful feet that never took their shoes seriously or showed them any respect. On the other hand, a Hungarian businessman had feet that displayed tenderness toward their shoes. I learned something from that old man about shoes and art. Selling shoes was never the same after that.” p. 46

I’m not quite sure how, even after finishing this novel several weeks ago and thinking about it often since, Italian shoes fit into the story. Except for this quote:

I remembered her once saying that life was like your shoes. You couldn’t simply expect or imagine that your shoes would fit perfectly. Shoes that pinched your feet were a fact of life. p. 57

Italian Shoes is a tender sort of novel, not necessarily a thriller, that shows a tender side of Henning Mankell. If you only know him from his Kurt Wallander series, you might well enjoy this poignant novel told from the point of view of a 65 year old man revisiting his past. Thus able to face his future.

Three Truths And a Lie by Lisa Gardner


I have never read anything  by Lisa Gardner before. But when my life feels hectic and overwrought, my favorite genre for escape is a thriller. And when time is short, there is little better than a short story.

Three Truths and A Lie is a story to be released in early January, and it is mesmerizing and stultifying and appropriately gory all at once. I came in from a long, twelve hour conference day, and read it that night.

“All right. Let’s begin.”

“So you know the game, three truths and a lie? Most of the details of what I’m going to tell you will be the truth. One will be a lie.”

And it is that line, of course, that compelled me to read this short story. Not that I wasn’t intrigued by the premise: a wealthy man is found dead in a seedy hotel room, with his amputated leg in a bathtub filled with dry ice. How come? Who did it?

It’s a detective story perfectly told, which makes me think I’ll read another novel by Lisa Gardner soon. Oh, that we were all as clever as her heroine addressing an audience of writers with this particular plot.

Why I Do Not Like Your Red Cups, Starbucks


Dear Starbucks,

I love red. I wear red lipstick every day. I have driven a red Beetle for the past five years. My house is filled with accents of red, from my iPad mini’s cover to linen pillows and cashmere throws.

But, I do not love your red cups.

Particularly when their arrival is announced November 1. Are we supposed to go from Halloween’s Pumpkin Spice lattes to Christmas’ Peppermint Mochas with no nod whatsoever to Thanksgiving?

I feel pushed to move as quickly as possible from one holiday to the next, barely allowed to notice the one we should be currently enjoying. It is all I can do to preserve my peace, to observe Thanksgiving in my heart, by trying not to feel thrust headlong into an upcoming holiday while skipping this one.

My suggestion? In November, announce the presentation of brown cups. Let us enjoy the colors of Autumn, the crispness of fallen leaves, the riches presented to us before the arrival of Christmas.


Then I will celebrate good cheer. When it’s time.



Beginning Don Quixote. “…A Manual for Life.”


After a day of distributing treats to the children in my class, it seemed a fitting end to come home and find a few treats for myself.  Particularly this novel which I have been meaning to read for ages:


It is the 400th anniversary edition of Don Quixote with an introduction by Amherst College professor, Ilan Stavans. But the best part to me is that the publisher, Restless Books, has put forth a series of videos and book group discussions  “which serve as a map to this restless classic, which speaks more eloquently than ever to our perennial willingness to sacrifice in order to fully realize our dreams.” Videos 1 and 2 were released on October 6; the first book group discussion (online) begins November 6. It carries on until February 6 when the final group book discussion takes place.

Therefore, you, too, have time to read and discuss Don Quixote with Ilan Stavans, who describes this book as, “…not only a novel but a manual for life. You’ll find in it anything you need, from lessons on how to speak and eat and love to an exhortation of a disciplined, focused life, an argument against censorship, and a call to make lasting friends, which, as Cervantes puts it, ‘is what makes bearable our long journey from birth to death.'”

All the reader has to do is look for this symbol as he reads:


I’ve earmarked each page, eight in all, which indicate a video session is available. I’m so eager to begin and hope that you, too, may feel inspired.

Emma by Jane Austen: An Invitation to Read Along With Us This December


There’s been a conversation on Twitter about reading Emma as a read-along. It began with Audrey, who commented on my post announcing the special edition by saying she’d like to read it this December. That sounded like perfect timing to me, since German Lit Month would just be ending, and so I readily agreed. Soon Nadia said she’d like to join us. Then Frances. And just tonight JoAnn said it seemed silly to keep saving it for later.

So, it’s time to make it official!

If you would like to join us for the Emma read-along this December, please “sign up” in the comments below. Feel free to put the button on your blog, as a reminder and an invitation to others. I am thrilled that a group of us will read-along because there’s nothing quite so enriching as sharing the thoughts of a novel read together. Especially with a novel celebrating its 200th year anniversary. (When was it first published? December, 1815.)

Emma Read Along button

Do join in with:

  1. A Reader of Literature
  2. Amanda
  3. Amanda (nerdybookgirl)
  4. Audrey
  5. BJ
  6. Beatrice
  7. Bellezza
  8. Deepika
  9. Diane
  10. Dorian
  11. Frances
  12. Jane
  13. JoAnn
  14. Judy B.
  15. Kat
  16. Kay
  17. Kristen
  18. Laurie C.
  19. Linda W.
  20. Lisa
  21. Lory
  22. mf4strings
  23. Nadia
  24. Nancy
  25. o
  26. Pam
  27. Rebecca
  28. Ruby
  29. Sharon
  30. Sylvie
  31. The Book Cottage
  32. Thomas
  33. Tom (Amateur Reader)
  34. TJ
  35. Where There’s Ink There’s Paper

An October Day in Geneva, Illinois


You can hardly imagine the spun sugar creations from Alain Roby at All Chocolate Kitchen. There are pumpkins,


and caramel apples,


and bakery treats too delicious to chose. (My friend and I usually opt for gelato; the one I had today was a most luxurious combination of chocolate and cognac. Alas, I neglected to take a photo…)


There is a chocolate tree, where surely fairies must dwell,


and a truffle too rich and enormous for even this sweet-toothed girl.


Light from salt pillars and candles create a moonlit glow to come,


which cannot outshine the artistic touch of my friend’s fingers,


nor the brilliant Sugar Maple trees across the street.

I hope your weekend is sweet, too!