Japanese Literature Challenge 11: Welcome!

I can’t help but think of Japanese literature especially in the month of June, for that is when summer begins, and that is when I have always hosted the Japanese Literature Challenge. Mel U and I have been chatting on Twitter this morning, deciding that our stack of Japanese books calls our attention. I am looking forward to seeing what he has planned. (Here is a list of suggested titles from the Japanese Literature Challenge 9. Here is a post from Mel’s blog, The Reading Life, on getting started.)

I have received some lovely books as gifts, and for review, which are as follows:


Are You An Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko narrated and translated by a David Jacobson, Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi


The Gate by Natsume Soseki


Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami


Absolutely on Music by Haruki Murakami


The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon


The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide


The Amulet Series by Kazu Kibuishi (because my classes have loved them and I bought an autographed set when the author came to visit)

And, Europa Editions has just published The Nakano Gift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami this June:


So, I hope you will join us again this year, or perhaps for the first time. The challenge runs from June through January, “requiring” only one work (or more, if you choose) which has been originally written in Japanese. I have placed a challenge button on the bottom of my blog under which I will list the participants, as well as the titles and links to reviews you have read. I will also post updates every month highlighting the books we read. Please be sure to let me know in a comment below if you would like to participate, and/or when you have a book reviewed.

I’m looking forward to this time together!

Missing The Old Days of Blogging, Yet Embracing a New Term Defined by Old Friends

I’m feeling a bit nostalgic today, especially after reading Arti‘s post on her ten year anniversary of blogging. The eleventh year of starting my blog came and went in May; I’m not even sure what day it was, exactly, as I’ve deleted my first posts in embarrassment of their poor quality.

I’ve gone from Blogger to WordPress, twice,  and I don’t care what anyone may say about the platform one uses, I feel strongly that one associates the most with those bloggers who are using the same platform.

I used to write more personal posts.

I used to read more popular fiction.

Now I have landed squarely in a world of translated literature which I adore, which enriches my life immeasurably, but…this morning I miss the old days. I miss silly old memes, posting about food, giving a few updates on my life.

Yet Linda, in all her wisdom, suggests that she and Arti (and I’m going to throw myself in with them) have landed in a place of “slow blogging”. There’s a lovely peace here. It means, in my interpretation, a lack of pressure to write posts according to a schedule. A lack of pressure to review what one feels one ought to review, be it film or text or thought. And, perhaps it means a lack of pressure to leave comments on every post you read. Sometimes just visiting, just landing for a moment at an old friend’s blog is enough.

Still, there will always be a special place for you in my heart, my old friends from 2006 and beyond. I’ll be around to visit you, and I’ll leave a few sentences so you know I’ve been there.


Ought we to be ashamed as readers? Or, at all?

I have been having the most interesting conversation with Tom, albeit through truncated comments rather than around a table,  on his post about France’s bookstores. His point, I believe, is that they shame American bookstores. That is a point well taken.

But, I took it farther. I pressed on to say that French fragrance and fashion and food shames American products of the same sort. Tom wishes to keep the critique to art (i.e. literature).

Okay, let’s talk about literature for a minute here. Can we start with what I read my eight and nine year olds in my third grade class?


This year I was surprised by a group of 8 fifth graders, who knocked on my door and presented me with a large purple cellophane box. Inside, was an item they had made for each read-aloud book I had shared with them when they were in third grade. There was an origami box turned into a covered wagon for The Little House on The Prairie. There was a tissue box covered in spiders for Charlotte’s Web. (“Because you always cry at the end.”) There was a recipe for ladyfingers from one of my childhood favorites, The Pink Motel. I won’t bore you with a description of each item, the point is what I read to them mattered. What I read to them was mostly from many, many years ago.

What matters now? What kinds of books are written, published, or read that matter? Books are available because they titillate, or entertain, or are expected to make a profit for the publisher. But I wonder about the quality of the writing, the worth and lasting value of the books we read today.

Perhaps this is why, in part, I have turned so eagerly to translated literature. It seems that books from other countries are better at addressing pertinent issues, or at least the large dilemmas in life. I think of the lists for the Man Booker International Prize I have read over the years, each one seared into my memory. (Even The Iraqi Christ, which I loathed.) They are more than a “trite” murder, fantasy, or romance driven novel. They are the bread and meat of which life is made.

And so we come full circle. Ought we to be ashamed of what we read? Are books with little inherent value being published at the fault of the reader or the publisher? Or, perhaps you feel that the books published today, in America, bear no blame at all. But I contend that we are not living with the quality I once knew, nor the quality enjoyed by those abroad. And I think it speaks to a larger issue of loss, a decline in culture, or morality, unlike any time I have seen before.

Do Any of These Titles Fit With Your Personal Canon?

If, as the Oxford dictionary presents, one of the definitions of a canon is “the list of works considered to be permanently established as being of the highest quality,” then preparing such a list is a heady task for any bibliophile. And reading those lists of fellow bibliophiles is at least as interesting, if not more, than revealing one’s own.

Here’s a problem: around which perimeters can such a list be created? Those books from childhood which firmly established my love of reading? Then I would have to say B is For Betsy by Caroline Haywood, or my well worn copy of Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. And even before that, my mother was reading Beatrix Potter books to me, and The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.

Or, there are the books which ushered me into adulthood, such as Madame Bovary read at the tender age of 17 after a particularly heart rending break up, or Madeleine L’Engle’s The Love Letters.

There are books which shaped my whole political outlook, such as Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, or opened doors to me of fantastic other worlds such as Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84.

So, a list considered to be of the highest quality? All I can give you is a list of my most well-loved books, the books which I have carted from apartment to condo to townhouse to home, the books that I pick up and reread again and again. From the top of my head, here is my personal canon:

  • The Bible
  • Possession by A. S. Byatt
  • The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • The Love Letters by Madeleine L’Engle
  • The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis
  • The Lord of The Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fydor Dostoevsky
  • Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  • Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • The Day of The Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams
  • The Sorrow of Angels by Jon Kalman Stefansson
  • Swimming to Elba by Sylvia Avallone
  • Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Surely there are more, should I take the time to ponder more deeply, or scout my shelves more thoroughly. But thanks to Frances of Nonsuch Book, and Anthony of Times Flow Stemmed before her, I have compiled a list of my most beloved books. My canon, so to speak.

Do any of them resonate with you?

Man Booker International Prize 2017; the Shadow Jury Announces Its Shortlist

img_3846With great excitement, and after some deliberation (but, it really wasn’t that hard for us), the Shadow Jury has produced its short list for the Man Booker International Prize this year.

From the time that the longlist was announced on March 15, we managed to read most of the 13 titles before April 30. Each of the longlisted books was read by at least six of the eight judges; six titles were read by all of us.

In my opinion, the best books of the longlist easily stood out. (Determining the best from the shortlist will be the tricky part!) The jury’s decision for the short list is as follows:

Fish Have No Feet by Jón Kalman Stefánsson (Iceland)
Translated by Philip Roughton
(MacLehose Press)

Compass by Mathias Énard (France)
Translated by Charlotte Mandell
(Fitzcarraldo Editions)

The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (Norway)
Translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw
(MacLehose Press)

Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer (Germany)
Translated by Katy Derbyshire
(Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Judas by Amos Oz (Israel)
Translated by Nicholas de Lange
(Chatto & Windus)

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina)
Translated by Megan McDowell
(Oneworld Publications)

My personal favorites from this list are Fish Have No Feet, The Unseen, and Judas. But, there is a strong feeling for Compass and Fever Dream by several of the jury members. So, we await the official announcement of the winner, as we deliberate among ourselves which title we will choose as our winner for the Man Booker International Prize 2017 this June.

The Man Booker International Prize 2017 Short List is Announced

BookPile MBIP 2017

With the exception of Mirror, Shoulders, Signal and A Horse Walks Into a Bar, I am in complete agreement with the expert judges for the Man Booker International Prize. While I’m confused about the inclusion of Dorthe Nors’ book, at least they had the sense to leave off the tedious, boring and overwrought Explosion Chronicles.

I’ve heard good things about A Horse Walks Into A Bar, but I am still awaiting my library copy; it is one of the few books I have not yet read. But the others? Wonderful stuff!

I love Fever Dream for its enigmatic, mysterious message.

I love Judas for addressing the age old conflict between the Arabs and the Jews in a fascinating, well written plot.

I love The Unseen for putting us on an island about a century ago, and letting us live there within a closely knit family.

I love Compass for ethereal, brilliant writing like a stream of consciousness but better.

But, surely I would not have omitted Fish Have No Feet from the short list. It remains in my top three.

As for what the Shadow Jury panel chooses for our top short list? We will make that decision public on Thursday, May 4.

Complete Guide to Bible Journaling by Joanne Fink and Regina Yoder

I have been interested in Bible Journaling as long as I have been interested in the Bullet Journal. Both ideas came to my awareness last summer, and while I was intrigued, I became a little bogged down in the implementation. (See my first Bible journal page above with Psalm 61:2 which says, “From the ends of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” It lacks polish, in my opinion.)

The good part about journaling in one’s Bible is the quiet reflection time spent doing it, as well as the way it is easy to commit a verse to memory once you have illustrated it. Or, even spent time to hand-letter it.

The hard part is getting the design to look as well executed as you would like. That is why The Complete Guide to Bible Journaling is so helpful. Within its pages are chapters including:

Getting Started

  • What is Bible Journaling?
  • How to Begin
  • Choosing a Bible

Tools and Techniques

  • Tracing, Drawing and Patterning
  • Painting Backgrounds with Stamp Pads
  • Stencils
  • Colored Pencils
  • Watercolors
  • Page Prep
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Washi Tape
  • Stickers and Die Cuts
  • Rubber Stamps
  • Lettering
  • Layout Techniques

Artist Profiles

  • Shanna Noel
  • Karla Dornacher
  • Valerie Sjodin
  • Sephra Travers
  • Valerie Wieners-Massie
  • Rebecca Rios
  • Tai Bender
  • Krista Hamrick
  • Jennifer Rydin
  • Rebekah R Jones
  • Christina Lowery


  • Outside the Bible
  • Trust in the Lord
  • Graphic
  • Patterning
  • Watercolor Effects
  • Colored Pencils
  • Floral
  • Linework
  • Brights

Bonus Section

  • Journaling designs
  • Stickers and Tabs
  • Vellum Designs

This guide is so very helpful with its text and illustrations. The topics it covers gives beginners a way to begin, and can take those already familiar with the skill to new levels. I am renewed in my hope that what I produce will be more aesthetically pleasing, while certainly worth my time in quietness and in rest. I highly recommend this book.

In Which I Revisit Acetamine Codeine


At our house, the Easter Bunny has been delivering things that are not traditional. Or, crunchy. I have four ice packs on rotation, and a lovely bottle of pain killers, for a rear molar which was yanked on Friday.

“Not yanked,” said my oral surgeon who once was a Marine. “Gently extracted.”

Be that as it may, my neck is swollen, my eyes are swollen, and my jaw throbs. My son teases me about my favorite lipstick shade. “Are you wearing ‘Cherries in the Hole?’ ” he asked, (rather than Cherries in the Snow in case you’re not familiar with the famous Revlon lippie.)

So I decided it was time for a personal whining post instead of a Man Booker long list review, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it.


But, my beautiful niece has come up from Florida to visit the family, and that is a welcome event. We had lunch together as a family yesterday, such as I could swallow, and hugs are ever welcome.

And I messed around with my blog layout, trying this Spun theme, which has advantages and disadvantages like everything. Perhaps I’ll keep it, perhaps I’ll return to the reclining woman of whom I am so fond.

The books surrounding me are a great comfort.  I am completely absorbed by each Man Booker, and last night I reached for an old favorite, Anna Karenina, on my new nook. So, I’ll spend one more day in a codeine haze, and then off to teach the children tomorrow.

I miss dear Siddarth, who every time I call on him when he raises his hand says, “I got two stuff.” And the class groans because he does indeed always have two things to say.

The Confessions of a Young Nero by Margaret George


“Let them call me cruel. Better that than dead.”

I have had a strong desire to know more about Rome’s emperors and history ever since I read Captivity in January, for not only am I entranced by all things Italian, I like to have a reference point for the New Testament. (Which I read regularly.)

Margaret George is a new author to me. I have not read any of her previous novels: Elizabeth 1; Helen of Troy; Mary, Called Magdalene; The Memoirs of Cleopatra; Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles; The Autobiography of Henry VIII. But, in reading The Confessions of a Young Nero, I find her research to be as exhaustive as I could imagine it to be.

She paints a portrait of Nero which is compassionate and sympathetic to what must have been a truly anxious life. From the very first chapter, his uncle (Caligula) attempts to murder him by throwing him overboard at the age of three. His mother, Agrippina, is no better. She is a manipulative, conceited woman whose allegiance lies with whomever can give her the most power. It is a wonder Nero grew up to be emperor at all, with such attempts on his life and enemies within his own family.

We catch a glimpse of his sorrows and disappointments, his life and achievements, his hunger for music and affection through Margaret George’s eyes. The novel is easy to read, filled with historical research, and fascinating in its portrayal of Nero’s life.

Have I Shown You My Midori Traveler’s Notebook? Have I Told You How Much I Love It?


I have long been a record keeper, from trips to France as a child, to the horrible years before my first husband died, and beyond. I have a large selection of Italian leather bound journals, Moleskines, and various notebooks from places such as the Art Institute of Chicago. But none of them seem quite right because once filled their purpose seems largely done.

However, the Midori Traveler’s Notebook from Japan is more ideal than any I have ever used before. If only you could feel the patina of the cowhide leather, turning to velvet beneath the repeated touch of my hands. I have my name stamped in gold on the bottom cover, and a charm hanging off the bookmark such as Japanese girls like to hang on their phones.


Inside are various inserts, such as the 2017 Weekly Diary which I use as a calendar and memory keeper,

as well as lined inserts which I use as a type of commonplace book: one for scripture verses I love, and one for a book journal.

But, the possibilities are endless! Once an insert is finished, it can easily be removed and replaced with another. There are all kinds of inserts to choose from: lightweight paper, grid, lined, sketch, or kraft. They are only about $6.00 each, and they all hold up to fountain pen ink without bleeding through.

My favorite shop is Baum-kuchen in Los Angeles, where Wakako weaves magic in the merchandise she sells. Today, this package arrived containing the items I had ordered all wrapped so beautifully.

There is a new lightweight paper insert (#013), a roll of 4 Season washi tape, a box of brass paper clips, and an Essential wallet to carry valuables such as credit cards and money.




For I, too, believe that, “logic will take you from A to B. imagination will take you everywhere.”