Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Diverse Reader and Her Pilgrimage to Literary Wabi-Sabi

My friend April at The Steadfast Reader always knows how to get me riled up. (It's okay, I love how she gets my mind spinning). But this time, she went straight for the heart by sharing a recent article in The AtlanticThe Mystery of Murakami. I've been mulling over it ever since. I feel that reading translations ties in closely with reading diversely, and this article missed the mark.

My college roommate was an international student from Hiroshima. She once told me that one aspect that makes reading Murakami (in Japanese) such a wonderful experience is his beautiful and unique choice of kanji, the adopted Chinese characters of the Japanese writing system.

Much of the review I read in The Atlantic seems to focus on Murakami's "bad sentences." With examples English. Murakami, obviously, writes in Japanese. For the record, I think Alfred Birnbaum, Jay Rubin, Philip Gabriel all do a phenomenal job translating Murakami's works. I'm far, far more often swept away by the words than I am distracted by the slightly odd or possibly cliché sentences that sneak in here and there.

Can we go ahead and accept that some languages have unique nuances (whether grammatical or cultural) which may result in a teeny bit of awkward every once and a while? I don't see the logic in using translated sentences as the basis for judging Murakami's writing style.

Kim Allen has a great website called Japanese for the Western Brain, which addresses some challenges of Japanese for those who didn't grow up learning it. And there's a fantastic piece about the difficulties of translation, from the perspective of Japanese translation, on the NSA's website. The author of this paper points out how understanding Japanese culture is especially important when translating, particularly: "The structure of the Japanese language, along with the belief of the Japanese in suggesting things indirectly rather than stating them explicitly, lends itself to expressions which are difficult to translate."

Wabi-sabi Tea Bowl by,
Santa Fe, Turtle Island. CC BY-SA 2.0
Thinking about that Japanese tendency to suggest things indirectly, leaving things unsaid, reminded me of wabi-sabi: A Japanese view of life which accepts and finds beauty in the imperfect, the incomplete, and the temporary.

Murakami's writing does tend to leave some loose ends. When I set aside my own desires (maybe my American lens?) to have everything addressed and wrapped up in a tidy manner, and think about this cultural aesthetic... well, I think a number of Murakami's works are stunning examples of "literary wabi-sabi," if there is such a thing. Japanese readers and those who connect with that culture may see Murakami's loose ends as an important part of a greater, beautiful work.

Thoughts? Does "reading diversely" include temporarily setting aside our own lens in order to experience/understand another culture, race, gender, etc.?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

Title: The Story Hour
Author: Thrity Umrigar
Publisher: Harper

August 19, 2014

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to be considered for an honest review.

Find it on:
An unlikely and precarious friendship forms between Maggie, a well-respected psychologist, and her patient, Lakshmi, a depressed Indian woman in an unhappy marriage, cut off from the rest of her family.

Lakshmi's voice is the reader's first impression, and wow, did she impress me. Her words were vivid and insightful. I immediately empathized with how trapped and unhappy she felt. Her broken English continues even through her own internal dialogue, which makes it far too easy to assume (but not for long!) that Lakshmi isn't as educated or as intelligent as she actually is. Interesting, because that's exactly how the people in Maggie's circle of friends and colleagues view Lakshmi.

Although she came to Lakshmi's defense on more than one occasion, for the most part Maggie came across much too guarded, too worried about what other people thought of their "friendship." To be honest, their relationship felt very one-sided, not much like a friendship at all. I would have liked Maggie's character to be a little more developed. I found her difficult to connect with or to care much about.

I loved the novel's cultural aspects; specifically, the role of women in Indian society and how that has been changing. Education, the caste system, arranged marriages versus marrying for love, dowries, the importance of birth order, family honor...Lakshmi's thoughts and perceptions carried this novel for me, her stories offering a rich and unique look at Indian culture as well as the immigrant experience.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Salon: Orchestra Pit Reads

If you already follow my blog, you know I've been playing in the orchestra for the local community theatre. This production of The Sound of Music had 13 performances; today is the final show. The musicians are located in a lowered area in front of the stage, called the "orchestra pit." The pit is mostly hidden from the audience's view (the balcony seats can see some of the orchestra).

We aren't playing constantly for the duration of the show. During stretches of dialogue, or songs that call for only part of the orchestra, we're just sitting around. So you know the bookworms in the group are going to take full advantage of that extra time!

Today I'm featuring books read in the pit by five Pensacola Little Theatre orchestra members, including yours truly, in order of instruments. Click a title to be taken to the book's Goodreads page (or in some cases, to my review).

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(Last night, Kim's 6th grade daughter Abby sat in the back of the pit during the show.
She was reading The Sorta Sisters by Adrian Fogelin. Kids with books, love!!!)

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Thanks to Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half, Kristen laughed so hard (silently, you guys! because, professionalism) that at one point, she lost her grip and dropped her bow while playing. Lesson learned. ;) Also, I'm trying to talk her into joining the book blogging community because she loves to talk books and she's a fellow eclectic reader. From graphic novels to the brainy The Universe in the Rearview Mirror?! Join our ranks, Kristen!

The five of us read a grand total of 26 books. I love the variety of genres.
Did you see something you might like to read?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review: Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn

Title: Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food & Love from an American Midwest Family
Author: Kathleen Flinn
Publisher: Viking Adult

August 14, 2014

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to be considered for an honest review.

Find it on:
You wouldn't think a memoir consisting of someone else's family stories would be all that interesting, but Kathleen Flinn had me hanging on each and every account in her memoir Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good. I connected with her immediately, and while reading I often thought of my own parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.

Humorous, lighthearted anecdotes are seamlessly interspersed with touching, more serious accounts. Reading about the real, personal experiences of life during the Great Depression and the Korean War was fascinating, and I won't forget those stories.

Flinn's parents are just amazing. They are such hard workers, tirelessly doing what needed to be done to take care of the family. They had a very egalitarian marriage and made an incredible team. "If you say you believe that life should be full of adventures, then you have to be willing to let your kids have them, too." Whether it was a naive stint raising 250 chicks or their enthusiastic involvement in the local German-American club (despite having no German background whatsoever), adventure always seemed to know where to find the Flinns.

I alternately laughed and cried throughout the book. And the ending? The ending was just perfect. She could not have wrapped up the memoir any better. I was deeply moved by how, as a child, Flinn found strength through reading a beloved novel during an impossibly difficult time.

This is a multigenerational comfort read for anyone who enjoys memoirs. Foodies will appreciate how each chapter ends with related recipes, such as the one below (which I really want to try). Loved this book!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Title: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Author: Haruki Murakami
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group

August 12, 2014

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to be considered for an honest review. (Translation: I'm a Murakami fangirl who begged Knopf for a copy.)

Find it on:

In high school, Tsukuru Tazaki belonged to a close-knit group of five friends. When he goes off to college, the other four suddenly and absolutely reject him, refusing to give any explanation. Years later, Tsukuru's new girlfriend Sara realizes that the devastating loss of his best friends has kept Tsukuru from moving on with his life. She persuades him to track down his friends and find out why they abandoned him.

The depth of our relationships with each other is a major theme throughout the story and worth further reflection. Sara points out, "We live in a pretty apathetic age, yet we're surrounded by an enormous amount of information about other people. If you feel like it, you can easily gather that information about them. Having said that, we still hardly know anything about people."

Overall, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage has a subtle tone and a very realistic feel, with only hints of magical and surreal elements. There were many moments of quiet, breathless awe where I simply enjoyed Murakami's words (praise goes to translator Philip Gabriel for this as well).

The title of the book is rich. We learn why Tsukuru is "Colorless" right from the start: the other four friends have colors as part of their names, but Tsukuru does not. About seventy pages in, the source of the "Years of Pilgrimage" is revealed. By the time we reach the end of the novel, thinking about the book's title brings forth a multitude of profound meanings. It's pretty amazing.

There's a nice mix of mystery and intrigue set against Tsukuru's listlessness. Tsukuru's character is incredibly well-developed. We see how the loss of close friendships cripples, how he navigates that grief and tries to move forward without really doing so, and we watch him finally grow out of passively accepting whatever happens to come his way. The novel's loose ending bothered me when I first closed the book, but the more I think about how different Tsukuru is at the end, the more it makes sense for Murakami to have left things as he did.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage has been described as Haruki Murakami's return to the subject matter and tone of Norwegian Wood. I loved the ease which with I could absorb this one, and I think it would be a fantastic starting place for a reader brand new to Murakami's writing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bout of Books 11 Goals

Time Devoted to Reading

I have a lot more time than usual this week (no gigs, not teaching any private music lessons) so I plan to read as much as possible. Which I kind of do anyway, ha!

My Goals

- Read. A lot. Hoping for 100 pages a day.
- Participate in at least one Twitter chat.
- Participate in at least one challenge.
- Help my 5-year-old have some Bout of Books fun!

My Books to Read

I'd love to get through all six of these! Some of them are pretty short, so who knows?

C's Books to Read

My 5-year-old wants in on the Bout of Books fun! I'll help her through the I Can Read! title, and the Roald Dahl will be a read-aloud, but she'll be on her own with the two BOB Books.


I'll be posting my daily updates on Twitter, with a general wrap-up post here on the blog when the event has concluded.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review & Giveaway: The Virtues of Oxygen by Susan Schoenberger

I'm happy to be a part of the blog tour for Susan Schoenberger's The Virtues of Oxygen. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for supplying me with a review copy. This tour began July 21 and finishes up September 3; be sure to check out the complete tour schedule and read the reviews posted on other stops for other perspectives.

Title: The Virtues of Oxygen
Author: Susan Schoenberger
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

July 22, 2014

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Find it on:
Holly is a young widow with two kids. She struggles to make ends meet, but has been staying afloat with help from her family. When her mother suffers a stroke, Holly's world begins to fall apart. Her friend Vivian has lived an incredible life despite being confined to an iron lung since childhood. Because she requires constant monitoring, the entire community has joined together to help keep her alive. As the town feels the strain of the Great Recession, Holly and Vivian forge an unlikely alliance that may just offer each an unexpected salvation.

My Thoughts:
What a respectful, accurate look at Americans who live just above the poverty line, struggling to make it paycheck to paycheck. Readers get a sense of the enormous emotional toll this takes on people, the embarrassment that comes along with attempts to live normally while not having enough money between paychecks, and the stress of not knowing if your job is secure or not. It was such a breath of fresh air to see Holly's situation presented as is, without the author sneaking in any political jabs or commentary of her own. The reader is trusted and given the space to connect directly with the characters.

I like that Vivian isn't overly optimistic and heroic, but she's not cynical and bitter, either. She has her dark moments, realizations, and struggles. She also has an especially quirky sense of humor! She feels realistic, despite how difficult it is to imagine decades of life in an iron lung. Speaking of which, I had no idea there were people who were confined to an iron lung for life! It turns out Vivian was inspired by the very real Martha Mason, author of the memoir Breath: A Lifetime in the Rhythm of an Iron Lung.

Whether the focus was on Holly or Vivian, I found myself looking forward to each shift with the same amount of anticipation. One character wasn't carrying the more of the story than the other; both perspectives were equally engaging.

The ending wrapped up a little too conveniently for me. It felt a bit rushed compared to its weight. Some readers might be bothered by the ending; my own feelings are mixed. It didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the book, but I can't deny that I would have liked a bit more time with the conclusion.

The publisher has offered a copy of The Virtues of Oxygen to one lucky reader! This giveaway is open to readers in the U.S. and Canada only, and will run until 11:59 p.m. (CST) on Friday, August 15.

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