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.

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.)

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)

Books Read in 2018

Books Read in 2018

~January~

  1. Satantango by László Krasznahorkai (translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes)
  2. Theft by Finding by David Sedaris
  3. Paris for One by JoJo Moyes
  4. Origin by Dan Brown
  5. Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna
  6. The Open Window by Saki
  7. The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

~February~

  1. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  2. Mrs. Osmond by John Banville
  3. The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani (translated from the French by Sam Taylor, Goncourt prize)
  4. The Builders by Maeve Binchy

~March~

  1. Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena (translated from the Latvian by Margita Gailitis)
  2. Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto by Gianni Rodari (translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar)
  3. Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck (translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky, Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  4. The White Book by Han Kang (translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith, Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  5. The Stolen Bicycle by Ming-Yi Wu (translated from the Mandarin by Darryl Sterk, Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  6. Frankenstein In Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright, Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  7. Like A Fading Shadow by Antonio Munez Molina (translated from the Spanish by Camilo A. Ramirez, Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  8. Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft, Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  9. As The World Goes On by Laszlo Krasznahorkai (translated from the Hungarian by John Bakti, Ottilie Mulzet and George Szirtes, Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  10. Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz (translated from the Spanish by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff, Man Booker International Prize 2018)

~April~

  1. Old Buildings in North Texas by Jen Waldo
  2. The Flying Mountain by Christoph Ransmayr, translated from the German by Simon Pare (Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  3. The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet, translated from the French by Sam Taylor (Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  4. Vernon Subutex 1by Virginie Despentes, translated from the French by Frank Wynne (Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  5. The Imposter by Javier Cercas, translated from the Spanish by Frank Wynne (Man Booker International Prize 2018)

~May~

  1. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Man Booker Prize 2002)
  2. Middlemarch by George Eliot

~June~

  1. The Rooster Bar by John Grisham
  2. The Eight Mountains by Pablo Cognetti (Premio Strega 2017, Prix Medici etranger)
  3. Heart Earth by Ivan Doig
  4. Clock Dance by Ann Tyler
  5. The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet
  6. Our House by Louise Candlish

~July~

  1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (reread)
  2. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
  3. Something In The Water by Catherine Steadman

~August~

  1. Fever and Spear by Javier Marias (Spanish/Portuguese Lit Month)
  2. A Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan (Man Booker Prize 2018 long list)
  3. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (Man Booker Prize 2018 long list)
  4. Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
  5. Sabrina by Nick Drnaso (Man Booker Prize 2018 long list)
  6. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (Man Booker Prize 2018 long list)

~September~

  1. The Miniaturist by Jessica Burton
  2. The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  3. Needful Things by Stephen King (R.I.P. VIII)

~October~

  1. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
  2. Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

~November~

  1. Chess Story by Stefan
  2. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
  3. Educated by Tara Westover
  4. Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants by Matthias Énard
  5. Three Governesses by Anne Serre

~December~

  1. The Witch Elm by Tana French
  2. A Vintage Christmas (Vintage Minis)
  3. Silent Night by Robert B. Parker

Japanese Literature Challenge 12 (State of The Challenge #1)

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I was so happy to find that several blogging friends wished to participate in the Japanese Literature Challenge yet again. Although we are not numbering in the hundreds, as in the early days of 2006, these are the faithful few endeavoring to read Japanese literature throughout the months of January, February and March.

 

 

 

Participants:

 

Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants by Mathias Énard (It’s just magnificent!)

Here is an indication of the glory within these pages, just in Énard’s ability to write about a notebook alone:

”Michelangelo owns a notebook, a simple notebook he made himself: some leaves of paper folded in half, held together with a string, with a cover made of thick cardboard. It’s not a sketchbook, he doesn’t draw in it; nor does he note down the verses that come to him sometimes, or the drafts of his letters, even less his impressions of the days or the weather outside.

In this stained notebook, he records treasures. Endless accumulations of various objects, accounts, expenses, supplies: clothes, menus, words, simply words.

His notebook is his sea chest.” (p. 14)

Mathias Enard has written exactly how I feel about notebooks, what I have known to be true about them, but unable to articulate, since I was a child.

And then there’s this:

”You conquer people by telling them of battles, kings, elephants and marvelous beings; by speaking to them about the happiness they will find beyond death, the bright light that presided over their birth, the angels wheeling around them, the demons menacing them, and love, love, that promise of oblivion and satiety. Tell them about all of that, and they will love you; they will make you the equal of a god.” (p. 54)

I could keep writing quotes until the novel ends…

How I Love Japan (Part Five)

I had read the book The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima, which helped me appreciate this site all the more. Still, my heart leaps at all things natural more than the man-made.

For example, this bamboo forest, along with the cedar forest in Nikko, takes my breath away.

Or, this shot of the Pacific Ocean as we drove south down the Izu Peninsula. (It’s obvious that the same ocean my friend Lesley sees in Oregon is the one I’m looking at in Japan, but that amazes me.)

I learned that there are two kinds of gardens. One is a strolling garden, usually with a water feature, through which one walks to enjoy the view. The other is a dry garden, in which one must use one’s imagination to interpret the rocks. Ryoan-ji Temple has such a garden which is famous.

This is only one end of it, as it is quite large. The garden has 15 rocks, none of which are able to be seen all at the same time. If you could see every one of the 15 rocks, you would have reached the stage of enlightenment. (I assume that is because you would have to be looking down on them from above.) I, myself, could count only 12 as I studied it from one side.

As we wandered through the Japanese gardens, my husband took many pictures as he hopes to duplicate some of their features in ours. This is a rain chain, a beautiful way to keep the rain falling from one’s roof instead of gutters.

I leave you with a smiling monk because he is so happy with his bird. He reminds me of my beloved friend, Jean, who is a bird whisperer.