The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon, a read along for February

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I am finding this book utterly charming in its slow and quiet simplicity. The author was a gentlewoman in the court of Empress Teishi, in what is now Kyoto, Japan. She writes of daily life within the Imperial Palace, describing in great detail the clothing, the visitors, and the little games that are played with one another.

I have just finished a portion where a tremendous amount of snow has fallen which is formed into a snow mountain, and then guesses are made as to when it will melt. Sei feels deeply about her guess which at first seemed too far into the future, so much so that she asks the gardener to keep children from playing on the mountain to keep it preserved as long as possible. Much to her dismay, when she is ready to send a small jar of the remaining snow to Her Majesty, accompanied by a little poem, it is gone. But, it did not melt as Sei supposed; instead, Her Majesty had it removed in order to disprove Sei’s guess. This is the kind of delightful thing that once could have inhabited our daily lives; perhaps in the lives of us as children, when a mound of snow seemed so important, or perhaps in the lives we lived before technology consumed us.

It is wonderful to read poems that are written in response to requests, poems written as letters. The beauty of a piece of white paper is exquisite, even if it only encloses a piece of seaweed sent in response to a note.

The seaweed’s meaning, not understood by the man to whom she sent it, was revealed in a poem she later wrote on the edge of a piece of paper:

“The silent seaweed

said that you must never tell

the secret dwelling place

of the diving fisher girl

concealed in these hidden depths.”

As a journal keeper myself, I find no detail in Sei’s writing too small. I am immersed in Sei’s world, in her thoughts, in the simple life she lives within the gardens and walls of the palace in which she works. She is content, and her contentment brings me much the same feeling.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (“History is a merciless judge.”)

What a dreadfully boring book. If it had not been for the choice of my Book Club, and the responsibility I felt toward contributing to the discussion, I would not have finished it. As it was, each page was nearly tortuous to read, the writing as stilted as if I had been reading an encylopedia. Where was the passion? Where was the life within these characters? Absent, except for within my own imagination.

Certainly I am one of the few who feels this way, as Killers of The Flower Moon has been both a bestseller and a National Book Award Finalist. It’s possible I was disgruntled in part because of my intense passion for translated literature. But, I found the story slow to evolve and the characters largely devoid of life. However, it is does fit in perfectly with today’s recurring theme of the terrible white man, and all he has done to abuse others not of his race.

Grann tells the story of the Reign of Terror, in which Ernest Burkhart (following the orders of his uncle, William K. Hale) took away everything from his Osage wife’s family: her mother, sisters, brother-in-law, and trust were all sacrificed in his desire for the headrights (which the Osage had) to the oil fields in Oklahoma on which they lived.

In conjunction with the tale of the Osage murders, Grann relates tales of the judicial system in the 1920s and the subsequent birth of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. As my mother said, “It is hard to believe that the FBI is relatively new,” or that finger printing was not a common practice before the 1930s.

This book tells a heartbreaking tale of the horrible mistreatment of the Osage in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. But, in my opinion, their story was inelegantly told.

Japanese Literature Challenge 12: The State of the Challenge #5

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I have read The Traveling Cat Chronicles, by Hiro Arikawa, a must-read for any cat lover, I think.

Nadia has read Goodbye, Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto.

Mel outlined his plans for month 2 of the Japanese Literature Challenge here.

Now I must start in earnest The Pillow Book for our read-along. Reading Killers of The Flower Moon by David Grann has been a tedious and torturous endeavor which I am only completing for book club obligations. (Have you ever noticed that after truly great literature, everything else pales in comparison? Even a true story involving my country’s history about the Osage Indians and the FBI.)

However, The Pillow Book is proving to be a delightful book. It is a change from the fast pace of the 21st century, it is journal writing of the finest detail, and it makes me think. Consider these lines:

Infuriating things: A guest who arrives when you have something urgent to do, and stays talking for ages…A hair has got stuck on to your inkstone and you find yourself grinding it in with your inkstick…Someone suddenly falls ill, and an exorcist is sent for. They don’t find him in the usual place, and a tedious amount of time is spent waiting while they go around in search of him…A baby who cries when you’re trying to hear something…A dog that discovers a clandestine lover as he comes creeping in, and barks…

(Feel free to join us, this February, in the read-along of this Japanese classic novel.)

For the Japanese Literature Challenge 12: The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

 

There are so many things in life that are beyond our control.

I didn’t always love cats. But since my son’s girlfriend gave him a tabby that was no bigger than my fist when she came into our home, I have come to understand the attraction obsession.

Told largely from the point of view of the cat, Nana, we see the imagined perspective of the mostly white cat (“with the number-eight markings and the crooked tail like a seven”) who was found on the hood of a silver van and taken into the home of Saturo.

Because of unavoidable circumstances which make it impossible for him to keep the cat, he drives Nano to several possible homes in the hopes of finding a new owner. But, we know that neither one wants to leave the other. And, as Saturo’s character becomes revealed through the interactions between him and his friends, a mounting sorrow grows in my heart.

It is the longest time I have ever taken to read a book which is less than 300 pages. I set it down to let my feelings subside a bit until I can pick it up again…

My students gave me a tissue box decorated to look like the book Charlotte’s Web one year. “Because you always cry when you read it,” they said.

Perhaps the best books about people and animals are like that.

(Thanks to Penguin Random House for my copy of The Traveling Cat Chronicles.)

Mailbox Monday: Four I Am Eager to Read

Children of The Cave is published by Peirene Press. It is the winner of the 2017 Finnish Savonia Literature Prize and the Kuvastaja prize for the best Finnish Fantasy Novel. It is described as, “A Gothic Victorian tale about forest children, which address the limits of science and faith…written as a diary this postmodern, ethical narrative asks questions about how we encounter the ‘other’.”

The Nocilla Trilogy includes Nocilla Dream, Nocilla Exprience, and Nocilla Lab published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on February 19, 2019. It I has been translated from Spanish, and is described as “a shot to the heart of the traditional novel.” ~J. Ernesto Ayala-Dip, Babelia

The End of Loneliness has been translated from the German by Charlotte Collins, and was published on January 29, 2019 by Penguin Books. It spent over eighty weeks on Germany’s bestseller list, won the European Union Prize for Literature, and was selected as German independent bookstores’ favorite book of 2016. It has been translated into 27 languages, and is described as “a profoundly moving portrait of what can be lost and what can never be let go.”

Seventeen is a Japanese novel by Hideo Yokoyama, bestselling author of Six Four. It is described as “an investigative thriller set amid the after math of disaster.” It is, of course, something I will read for the Japanese Literature Challenge 12 which ends April 1, 2019.

More Mailbox Monday books can be found here.

Japanese Literature Challenge 12 (State of the Challenge #4)

Ally of Snow Feathers has read and reviewed Confessions by Kanae Minato.

Mel has read and reviewed The Tale of The House of Physics by Yoko Ogawa.

Nadia has read and reviewed The Lady Killer by Masako Togawa.

Somali Bookaholic has read and reviewed The End of The Moment We Had by Toshiki Okada

Tony has read three more Japanese works which can be found here:

Beyond the Sleepless Tossing of the Planets by Makoto Ōoka

Ōe and Beyond: Fiction in Contemporary Japan
– edited by Stephen Snyder and Philip Gabriel

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yū Miri

As for me, I am simply glad to have caught the flight from Ft. Meyers to O’Hare during the polar vortex. The flight before ours was cancelled, as was the flight after, but we were delivered safely to our destination.

I am halfway through The Traveling Cat Chronicles, a book I was certain would make me cry and then Terri confirmed it. As soon as I finish that (tomorrow), I will pick up The Pillow Book with Frances, Caroline, Deb, and Juliana. Do join us if you choose, as we take the month of February to read this Japanese classic.

Japanese Literature Challenge 12 (State of the Challenge #3)

32 Minutes has a review of Masks by Fumiko Enchi.

Tony has already read five Japanese books, as he likes to begin January with Japanese Literature. (An idea I find most appealing as well.) Find reviews to The End of The Moment We Had by Toshiki Okada, Unbinding The Pillow Book by Gergana Ivanova, Farewell, My Orange by Iwaki Kei, To The Spring Equinox and Beyond by Natsume Soseki, and Toddler-Hunting and Other Stories by Taeko Kōno.

Mel of The Reading Life has reviewed The Elephant and its Keeper by Akiyuki Nasaka, and The Emissary by Yōko Tawada.

Nadia of A Bookish Way of Life has reviewed The Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Makura, and The Tale of The House of Physics by Yoko Ogawa.

Gretchen of Gladsome Lights gives us a picture of tea, Japanese stories, and reading plans here.

Robin has reviewed the classic Japanese film, Ikiru.

I have downloaded Cream, and Nadia has reviewed it here; it is a short story by Haruki Murakami first brought to my attention by Mel of The Reading Life. It is available from The New Yorker here.

Finally, Frances and I have decided to run the read-along of The Pillow Book quite loosely. We will read it as our schedules allow throughout the month of February, perhaps posting interesting bits here and there, perhaps not. At the end of the month, I will write a review, and hopefully Frances will have time to do so as well. Please join us if you like, tweeting, posting, or reading as it works for you.

(Find an updated list of all the participants under the page for the Japanese Literature Challenge 12 in the menu; three of them use Twitter or Instagram as their primary platform. Once again, all are welcome.)

More Treasures, This Time in The Naples Botanical Garden

First, there was Kathryn’s Garden, in which we saw a Cavorting Clown Fountain and Jesters on a Branch. This garden was the first thing I saw upon entering the Botanical Garden, and it remained my favorite throughout. Each glass figure seemed about a foot tall, and they totally charmed me dancing through the foliage.

These figures are part of the lily pond, blithely walking across the top of it as securely as the lilies sit themselves.

The lush tropical plants give me ideas for how the pages in Johanna Basford’s Magical Jungle could be colored…

while the fountain in the Asian garden section only vaguely resembled those we saw in Japan, even though both used real mill stones. It was a beautiful place to spend the afternoon today.

(The artist of the glass is Hans Godo Fräbel, who has a title of “Father of Flamework.” ‘His pieces are in public and private collections worldwide, including Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and private collections belonging to Jimmy Carter and other heads of state.’ Naples Botanical Garden)

Treasures in my Hand This Week

First, there was a piece of seaweed clinging to a rock, looking to me exactly like a bonsai tree when I picked it up from the shore yesterday morning. Its miniature size, and tenacity, delighted me.

Later on I found a sand dollar, entirely whole, which is not common for me to find. Its width is about four inches across. But when I brought them home with assorted whelks and conch shells, they made a terrific stink. I will have to put them back into the sea today, temporal creatures that they are, but I enjoyed them while I held them.

Last night I finished this, an utter masterpiece of a book, which is exactly how I hope to begin each year’s reading. Arcadia Books had sent it to me years ago, yet I foolishly kept it on the shelf until this month.

As with all books which I love deeply, I am unable to write about it as Scott of seraillon has done. (You will not find a review of my most treasured books here, only a mention from time to time, as I am afraid I will ruin them by my shoddy analyses.) I cannot pretend that my thoughts will illuminate the author’s properly, nor that I can convey the power of those incredible books. They reside in my heart silently, but ever present.

All I can say is that for me, They Were Counted is one of those treasures.

Japanese Literature Challenge 12 (State of the Challenge #2)

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Find reading plans from Juliana at the [blank] garden, Nadia at A Bookish Way of Life, and Gnoe at Graasland.

Bee Honey by Banana Yoshimoto, Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami, and The Master Key by Masako Togawa are reviewed by Mel U of The Reading Life.

Birthday Girl by Haruki Murakami is reviewed by me.

Reminder to read The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon in February with Frances and I, if you would like to do so.