Books I read this week: February week 2

Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury by Alison Light is utterly fascinating. It’s a biography of the women (and a few of the men, but the focus is on the women) who worked (and in most cases, lived) in Virginia Woolf’s home as her servants.  The details are specific to these women, but their stories shine a light on the larger practice of having servants and the questions and problems that raised. It gives such a clear vision of that time period, and I really learned a lot. The focus on Virginia Woolf’s servants is especially interesting, given her feminism – it’s telling how ingrained some of her cultural beliefs were and how they competed with her intellectual beliefs.  The book covers all of Woolf’s life, so it shows the change in perception of service from the 1880s when service was really the only choice for lower class girls through the World wars when women moved out of service and into other professions.  It talks about various positive and negative social implications of service- orphans taught skills and the ability to earn a living, mistrust of people from a lower class, abuse by employers. It is jam packed with so much information, and I really really enjoyed it.

Those who lived in Bloomsbury felt hampered and irritated by servants, but they could not imagine a life without that division of labor which made housekeeping a female activity, and housework performed, where possible, by women in the lower classes.

Everyone, including Virginia, saw her madness as a sign of her specialness; her friends openly referred to it as a mark of her genius. … Servants’ illnesses were the product of unreason, self-induced or just plain malingering.

The Murder at the Vicarage  by Agatha Christie contains the first appearance of Miss Marple, and somehow I’d never read it before. It’s a typical set up, an aggravating man frustrates a bunch of different people who all threaten to kill him, and then he’s murdered. There are the standard appearances of anonymous notes, snoopy old ladies, clocks broken at the time of death, but they’re all excellently deployed. It’s a great mystery with some nice twists and red herrings.

I just read I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum today, and I had a similar experience to my experience with All My Puny Sorrows. I’d read that it was about an English artist who has an affair and then tries to win his wife back, and I figured it would be a witty little rom-com type story. However, it’s a gutting look at infidelity and its effect on a marriage. Richard is married to Anne-Laure, a gorgeous French lawyer. They have a beautiful little daughter and a lovely life, but Richard finds himself bored and drawn to the excitement of an affair with an American named Lisa. They have a seven month affair and then she announces that she’s breaking up with him to get married to someone else. His ensuing depression tips Anne-Laure off to the affair. At the same time, Richard has sold a painting that he originally painted for Anne-Laure, and it comes to symbolize what has been lost between them. As he travels from Paris to England (to deliver the painting) and back and forth again a few times, he realizes that he still deeply loves Anne-Laure and that he wants to reignite the love between them. At this point in the rom-com, there would be a montage of them going on dates and him sending her silly notes and winning her back over a matter of weeks that take the time of a 2 minute pop song in the movie. But in the book he comes to realize the deep damage he has caused, and it’s messy and painful. There are multiple points where you want to just slap him upside the head, but Maum really captures the sense of “oh crap, I’ve screwed everything up so badly and how do I fix my life” that is so easily skimmed over in movies. I’m not going to say more, but it’s a thought provoking look at marriage and love and not taking people for granted. There are a few fairly graphic sex scenes, just fyi, but they didn’t feel necessarily gratuitous because you’re in Richard’s head and it’s what he’s remembering.

Anne and I have been married over seven years now and I’ve cheated on her once. Depending how you look at it, this is either a very impressive or a highly repellent ratio.

Over dinner, I watched their gentle ministrations in a state of disbelief. I’d always seen their kindness toward each other as proof that they hadn’t traveled far enough or often enough, that they had uncomplicated brains. But now, as I watched my mother trim off a choice piece of fat from a lamb hunk for my father, when he transferred some of his potatoes to her plate when she ran out, when he got up, unasked, to fill our glasses with more water, all I saw was love.

What are you reading?

Chinatown in Motomachi Chukagai

Let me begin with a story. We take the Tokyo Toyoko train line to get to the area we live in. At the very end of the line, the train has the possibility of switching to another line and going further. If that’s the case, that final end point is announced on the train. Motomachi Chukagai is one of the possible end points for our train line, and so we hear it quite often. It’s a lot of fun to say, and when we very first got here the girls would repeat it all the time, but they wouldn’t remember how to say it properly, so they’d call it Madonch Dukanai. That phrase has become a bit of a family joke, and is sometimes a place, sometimes a person.

All that to say, we finally went to Madonch Dukanai Motomachi Chukagai today. There’s a decent sized Chinatown there, and that was our destination. It was fantastic.

I love these balconies so much.

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And this police station.

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Dragons.

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Food.

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Cool buildings.

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Teensy little guard lions. I wanted to steal them, I really did.

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I love this dragon so much.

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No idea what this panda is saying, but I hope it’s a good cause. (There’s tons of panda stuff, and Tiny was in heaven.)

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Panda shirt.

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Flying Panda!

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So colorful and pretty.

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A Hawaiian store in the middle of it all.

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Again, no idea what this panda is yelling.

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A whole bunch of dead ducks.

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Santa!

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Little recycling dog says, “NO!”

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The girls found panda Kitty.

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And a panda store with a very dramatic entrance and a very disappointing interior.

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A Chinese temple.

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This is possibly my favorite picture I’ve ever taken.

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These tiles were set into the sidewalk, and I love them so much. I want them in my house.

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Crazy awesome train station.

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Books I read this week: February week 1

I went on a bit of an Agatha Christie binge this week, and that set me on a roll for the rest of the week.

Cards on the Table: Hercule Poirot Investigates  begins with a dinner party that consists of the host, four people he believes have gotten away with murder at some time in their past, and four detectives. By the end of the party the host is dead, and the detectives are left to figure out who committed the crime. As Dame Agatha herself explains in the introduction, it’s all about psychology, and it’s a good one.

Endless Night  is not a typical Agatha Christie. It’s set up as far more of a thriller than a mystery- you know that something horrible is going to happen and are just waiting for it to explode. That being said, because of a stylistic choice, I figured out who ultimately did it based on reading the very first page. I didn’t think I was right, but ended up being highly amused, because in Cards on the Table, Poirot points out to one of the characters who is a mystery writer (and a thinly veiled caricature of Christie herself) that two of her books have the same plot, and she is delighted that he noticed, because “no one does”. Well, this one shares a major stylistic element with another Christie, and the plot of yet another.  However, it’s still quite excellent; atmospheric and anxiety making.

The Man in the Brown Suit is another non-typical Christie. A young woman stumbles into a mystery and becomes determined to solve it. As she is conveniently unencumbered by family (her father has just died), she takes the last of her money and follows a lead onto a ship headed for South Africa. There are spies and diamonds and drama, and it’s  lovely.

I put off reading Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente because my brother read it and hated it. But I love Valente, so it was only a matter of time. I can completely see why he disliked it so much, but I think it’s a lovely part of her canon. The base of the story is that there is a world separate from ours that can only be reached by having sex with someone who has already been there. Once that happens, you visit the city of Palimpsest in your dream. When you wake up, you come back to the real world with a tattoo of a map of part of the city somewhere on your body. To return, you have to have sex with someone else who has been there, and when you dream you will arrive in the part of the city that appears in their tattoo. The city is magical and addicting, which leads to those who want to return making sometimes morally questionable choices in order to get back. The book follows four visitors in particular, who all arrived in Palimpsest at the same time, and are therefore connected. Each has their reasons for wanting to return, and Palimpsest itself has its reasons for wanting them to return.

The sex in the book will definitely be a deterrent for some, which I totally understand. However, having read more of Valente’s work, I think I see what she was doing. She wasn’t just writing a smutty story. (The sex in it isn’t actually very smutty at all, most of it’s just pretty matter of fact.) This is an adult fairy story, and as she establishes in her other books, getting to fairy land takes a sacrifice and costs something. The visitors to Palimpsest are changed, not just because of what they experience there, but because of what they have to do to get there. Some visitors choose to never go back. Some are mortified by what they have to do for their addiction. Some embrace it. And I think that’s also what Valente is doing- looking at addiction and what it does to people.  As one of the residents of Palimpsest states, life in Palimpsest is just life for the people who live there, yet visitors there come to hold it as more precious as their real lives.  Their waking lives are less colorful, harder to live having visited Palimpsest, and they neglect responsibilities and people in their real life for their experience in a dreaming world. I think it could be argued that there is a metaphor here for literature- for the books that we dive into to live a life not our own, but I need to think about that some more.

I would recommend this book on a case by case basis- those looking for another The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland will not find it here, though that particular book does make a thrilling appearance in this one. It does, however, fit beautifully into Valente’s library; her foundation in myth and fairy stories is as solid as ever, and the language is as gorgeous as I have come to expect. She truly is one of my very favorite authors.

‘My mother told me once,’ said Sei softly, to Yumiko’s back, ‘when I was little, she told me that dreams are small tigers that live behind your ears, and they wait until you’re sleeping to leap out and tear at your soul, to eat it up at very civilized suppers to which no other cats are invited.’  Yumiko quirked an eyebrow. ‘Was your mother, if it’s not impolite, totally crazy? I mean, that’s not really a working theory of the subconscious.’

If one has the power, he thought, to make ghosts bleed, one must be careful with it, so careful.

Do you know what a thirteen-year-old girl can do when she is alone and frightened and believes she is right?

 

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews is devastating. I’ll just state that straight out. I read the synopsis, that it’s about a young woman and her brilliant sister who is suicidal, and thought I knew what I was getting myself into, but no, I didn’t. Not at all. I think I thought it would be a smart, witty story where they take some kind of road trip or something and the sister comes around to the joy of living. Yeah, no. This is the based firmly in reality story of a woman whose beloved sister is acutely depressed and set on ending her life. There are suicide attempts, psych wards, medications, questions. There are family members whose lives are uprooted and hearts that are broken. There are nurses who care and doctors who seem not to. There is history and genetics that have contributed to the present, and a future that no one wants to imagine with a big gaping hole in it.

This book is so so so good, and so so so sad. It raises a lot of really important questions, and it’s made even sadder by the knowledge that Toews wrote this book based on her own experience with her own sister. I think most people have opinions about suicide, and I think this book will make anyone rethink those opinions.  I cannot recommend it highly enough, but go in knowing that it’s going to tear your guts out.

It was the first time that we had sort of articulated our major problem. She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other.

When my sister was born my father planted a Russian olive shrub in the backyard. When I was born he planted a mountain ash. When we were kids Elf explained to me that the Russian olive was a tough shrub with four-inch thorns that managed to thrive in places where everything else died. She told me that the mountain ash was called a rowan in Europe and that it was used to ward off witches. So, she said. We’re protected from everything. Well, I said, you mean witches. We’re only protected from witches.

Did Elf have a terminal illness? Was she cursed genetically from day one to want to die? Was every seemingly happy moment from her past, every smile, every song, every heartfelt hug and laugh and exuberant fist-pump and triumph, just a temporary detour from her innate longing for release and oblivion?

The accordion is the best instrument for mournful occasions because it is melancholy and beautiful and cumbersome and ridiculous at the same time.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill was on every single Best of 2014 book list I saw. I was so set to be blown away by this book. I really think I just had my expectations set too high, because while it was good, it wasn’t amazing. Maybe it suffered from coming right after All My Puny Sorrows.

It’s the story of a marriage and a family- an unnamed husband and wife and child, who live in New York. It’s told in snippets that skip forward through time, which is an approach that works well a lot of the time and other times left me feeling like I’d somehow missed a page.  (I spent literally five minutes going back and forth through about 10 pages, trying to make something make sense.) Their lives move forward until there’s a breaking point, and life continues past it. It’s a straight forward story, and all of the raving reviews I read pointed to the deep insights provided by casting a light on the minutiae of daily life, which I just didn’t experience the same way.  There also was a lot of attention paid to the first quote I put below, about being an art monster, but I didn’t feel like that idea was explored enough.

My plan was never to get married. I was going to be an art monster instead. Women almost never become art monsters because art monsters only concern themselves with art, never mundane things. Nabokov didn’t even fold his own umbrella. Vera licked his stamps for him.

‘You are not allowed to compare your imagined accomplishments to our actual ones,’ someone says after the boy who is pure in heart leaves.

Currently I’m in the middle of Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life, which is FASCINATING. A biography of Virginia Woolf’s servants set firmly in the context of the time period, with analysis of her perception of them and how they influenced her life and ability to write (since she then didn’t have to worry about things like cooking, etc.). It’s SO good. I will write in more detail once I’ve finished it, and then I will send myself off on a trip down a rabbit hole about Vanessa Bell, Virginia’s sister, who, fitting with my previous reading, had to figure out how to live with a sister who wanted to die.

What are you reading?

Books I read this week: January

These are the books I read in January. It always takes me longer to read non-fiction than fiction, so I spent a long time on not so many books this month.

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott is a collection of remembrances of moments of grace. It’s a quieter book than I was expecting, but good. There’s a lot in here about recognizing grace even when answers to prayers aren’t what we want, which connects to an ongoing conversation I have with a dear friend, so that was nice. There are a plethora of aha! passages in this one.

Sometimes we let them resist finding any meaning or solace in anything involving their daughter’s diagnosis, and this was one of the hardest things to do- to stop trying to make things come out better than they were.

People like to say, “Forgiveness begins with forgiving yourself.” Well, that’s nice. Thank you for sharing.

I don’t think much surprises Him [God]. This is how we make important changes- barely, poorly, slowly. And still, He raises His fist in triumph.

Foxglove Summer: A Rivers of London Novel  by Ben Aaronovitch is the lone fiction book this month, and the one I read in a day versus a week and a half or more. It’s the fifth in the Rivers of London series, which is set in a London where magic exists but only a certain section of the population is aware of it. In this one, two young girls have gone missing and D.C. Grant is helping in the investigation. He’s out in the country, away from London, so most of the supporting characters from the previous books are absent in this one, which is a shame because I like them. But the mystery at the core of the book is interesting, and well written as I’ve come to expect. There are more modern day references in this one, which isn’t bad or good, I just noticed. Aaronovitch is doing a great job of widening the world he’s created, and I’m enjoying watching him do it. I just hope the next book moves some of the overriding story points along a little faster.

The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura is an incredible book. There’s no way I can do it justice here. In it, Mizumura (whose novel, A True Novel, was one of my favorite reads last year) takes an in depth look at the effect that the globalization of the English language is having on literatures around the world. Along the way she looks at the history of the Japanese language (written and spoken), the process of any spoken language becoming a written language, the history of the English language becoming a universal language,  the privilege that comes with a universal language, and the history of Japanese literature.  It’s heavy and thought provoking and utterly fascinating. I think anything that opens our eyes to privilege is useful, and I find this book especially interesting because it was originally written for a Japanese audience- so not for the recipients of privilege in this case.

One of her points is that because English has become a universal language (meaning that many non-native speakers have learned it and speak it as a second language), there is an uneven relationship because non-native speakers can read literature written in English, but books in other languages have to be translated into English to become books that can be read outside their own country.

Another thing she points out is specific to Japan- as the written language has changed over time, classic books have become unreadable because people literally do not know the kanji that make them up. It’s similar to the difficulty people have reading old English (think The Canterbury Tales), except that with Old English you can sound it out. If you don’t know a particular kanji, you have to look it up, or you’re just out of luck.

Anyway, there’s way too much in here to sum up here, but it’s an incredible book and I really highly recommend it.

Reality is constructed by languages, and the existence of a variety of languages means the existence of a variety of realities, a variety of truths. Understanding the multifaceted nature of truth does not necessarily make people happy, but it makes them humble, and mature, and wise.

They are not condemned to know, for instance, that the works that are usually translated into English are those that are both thematically and linguistically the easiest to translate, that often only reinforce the worldview constructed by the English language, and preferably that entertain readers with just the right kind of exoticism.

She cautions that the act of acquiring knowledge is wholly dependent on the language one knows. The less English one knows, the less access one has to global knowledge.

The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes by Janet Malcom is also very thought provoking. Rather than a biography of Sylvia Plath, this is a biography (of sorts) of the biographies that have already been written about Sylvia Plath. It’s a look at the difficulties of writing someone else’s story, and the specific pitfalls of trying to write about someone who committed suicide, while family members who played a part in it are still alive and have control over the person’s legacy.  Plath’s sister-in-law Olywn Hughes is in control of her literary estate, and all requests for permission to use excerpts of Plath’s work go through her. As Malcom discovers, she is quick to rescind permission if she doesn’t approve of the tenor of the biography being written- if it doesn’t line up with the story that she wants told. At the same time it raises questions of how we perceive authority- do we want an “impartial” biographer (which is nearly impossible, as Malcom points out, because if the biographer doesn’t have an investment in what happened, why are they writing the book?) or do we want an account from someone who was intimately involved- an account which will then be discounted because the narrator is “unreliable”?

I remember when one of the movies about Sylvia Plath came out- it seems like maybe Gwyneth Paltrow was in it? I’m not going to look it up. Anyway, one of Plath’s children was asked if they were going to see it, and she said something to the effect of “Why would I want to watch the very worst thing that ever happened to me?”  This is a reoccurring theme in Ted Hughes’ correspondence with biographers- reminding them that while Plath is gone, her children are still alive and able to read the things written and speculated about her. This begs the question of what responsibility biographers have to their subjects and their subjects’ families. I don’t have any answers, but it’s interesting to think about.

In a work on nonfiction we almost never know the truth of what happened. The ideal of unmediated reporting is regularly achieved only in fiction, where the writer faithfully reports on what is going on in his imagination.

How can you call it a tribute to her- to make a public spectacle of the one thing she ought to be allowed to keep to herself if nothing else-her infinitely humiliating private killing of herself… – Ted Hughes

 

Random thoughts

I’m trying really hard to eat healthier, but it is difficult to convince oneself to partake in a green smoothie with frozen ingredients when it is raining (borderline snowing) outside and the house is cold. It’s so much easier to listen to the very loud voice that is saying that hashbrowns are exactly what is needed. Dear reader, I listened to that voice.

I’m not going to go into how that thought process led to reminding me of this routine (it involves the heart wanting what it wants, and Selena Gomez, and then I lost track and don’t feel the need to explain my art to you, Warren-)  but I was reminded of this routine so I share it. It’s SO good. This was the routine where Janine showed up to play. Before this she was good, but she made herself known in this one. Brandon was always brilliant, and together they kill it. The big move at 1:16 is just breathtaking. I remember calling my sister the first time this was on and telling her that she had to watch it, and then she had to watch it again and watch whichever one she didn’t watch the first time. Because you can’t watch both of them the same time, they each bring something so different to it.

I haven’t posted about what I’ve been reading this month because I’ve mainly been reading one book- it always takes me longer to read non-fiction than fiction. This one is about how the development of English as a global language is influencing national literatures. It is FASCINATING. I wish I’d read it in college. But it didn’t exist back then, and I wouldn’t have appreciated it as much. I’ll write about it more once I’m finished.

We’re looking at possibilities of housing for when we move back to the states, and can I just say that the variety of quality of pictures on people’s listings is drastic? Upside down pictures, blurry, all the way to super high definition resolution madness that looks illustrated. Those pictures look artsy, but make me question the integrity of the house.  But I am getting to the point when I am almost literally offended when there aren’t any pictures, just one of the outside of the house. That’s just ridiculous. Why would I pick that house?

We’re learning about Canada this week, and the girls now want to go there. There’s a great series called Globe Trekkers where the host explores a different country each episode, and it’s excellent for getting an overview of different parts of a country.  So we watched a part about gold mining in the Yukon, and making maple sugar in Quebec, and the forests and lakes of Prince Edward Island and the polar bears in the arctic areas. And of course the Edmonton Mall- largest mall in North America. And of course, that’s where the girls want to go. :)

The girls are watching Fantasia right now for the first time. It’s rainy and cold, perfect time to hole up in the living room with the heater on and kick back. Z is putting together her lego kit as she watches.

I’m sleepy. I had one of those nights where the whole night you’re dreaming that you’re awake and doing things that you normally do and talking about things that you’re thinking about in awake life, so when you wake up it feels like you didn’t get any sleep, you were just awake for 12 hours but didn’t actually accomplish anything. Maybe I was in an alternate dimension.

I finally got to watch God Help the Girl last week, a lovely little movie about a girl with issues who wants to make music. She meets a boy and another girl and they decide to try being a band. It’s a musical, in that people stop and sing, but everyone notices that they’re singing. The songs are sweet and the people and clothes are pretty, and the whole movie is just an enjoyable watch.

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We also watched Under the Skin, which was atmospheric and odd and thought provoking. A woman lures lonely men into her van and home and “consumes” them. The first line of dialogue doesn’t happen until like 15 minutes into the movie. It’s definitely odd, but effective sci-fi, I think. I’d recommend it, but only to certain people.

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I also watched Advanced Style, which is a documentary about older women (from 62-95 years old) who live in New York and are fashionistas. It’s so inspiring to see people embracing creativity and living their lives to the fullest.

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We just hit the point in Fantasia with the unicorns. The girls are about to die.  Z is arguing that since centaurs have 6 appendages they could be insects.

And I’ve just been asked to help with Legos, so I shall go help construct a mall.

What’s going on with you?

 

Random thoughts

It’s Jan. 2 and we’re all lounging about, doing not much at all. I got to sleep in until 9:45. It’s a nice  way to start the year.

Bruce and I watched Ascension (the Scyfy mini-series) last night. It was so thought provoking, and I just can’t stop thinking about it. I hope that they bring it back for a full season, because I have questions and theories. Did you watch it?

I just read this article about the problem with reading challenges (like to read a certain number of books in a year) and I agree with it, even though I have reading goals for myself. (Go read it, so you know what I’m agreeing with.)  I want to make clear that I don’t post about the books I’m reading here to boast, but because I love books and I love hearing about books I don’t know about, and figure that you might too. Besides, writing about them helps me sort out my thoughts. I have thought about having a year where I just read really long books. I’d only finish like 20 in the year, but they’d all be massive.

I do have two reading goals this year. The first is that I want to read more books by women. Last year, almost exactly half of the books I read were written by women, but I’ve been thinking about the #readwomen2014 movement, which encouraged people to read more women authors (you can read more about it here ) and about some of the people who chose to read only women authors in 2014. I’m not going to make that complete of a commitment, as I have already pre-ordered at least a couple of books written by men that I’m dying to read, but I am going to aim for 80% of the books I read to be by women. I think that’s completely doable. I even went through all of the books on the Haunted Kindle of Doom (I got a new Kindle Voyage for Christmas!) and put all of the books by women into their own collection, so I can just go in and pick what to read next. There are a lot of books in there. I’ll be covered for quite some time.

This is good, because my second goal is to only buy one book a month. Last year my goal was to buy no new books, and I failed so laughably. I have come to the realization that I function with a scarcity mentality when it comes to books- I’m always looking for the next perfect book, and if I don’t buy books right now then I’ll never have the chance again. This is obviously disproved by the backlog on the H.K.o.D. So my goal is to focus on the collection of books I already have, and to allow for one purchase a month, of a book that I really really want. It doesn’t take into account a couple of books that I have pre-ordered that are all coming out in January, but I won’t buy an additional book in January.  We’ll see how it goes.

Speaking of goals, this is an awesome list of goals that have to do with writing, although they’re pretty awesome goals for anyone. My writing goals for the year involve editing, revising, and hopefully publishing at least one novel (maybe 2).

I’m also trying to step away from sugar. (I’m phrasing it that way so my brain doesn’t freak out.) I went all yesterday with no sugar, and frankly, I’m pretty amazed.

I also have the goal of doing something creative every day. Writing, sewing, painting, doodling, taking a picture, something. Doesn’t have to be good, just has to be something.

make 4I read a post about being embarrassed to still love the musical Rent, (which I think is ridiculous- you can think the bohos are kind of full of it for not wanting to be responsible adults while acknowledging the emotion and struggle as real and valid) and have had songs from it stuck in my head all week.

I love that music so much I can hardly stand it.  I’ve loved it ever since I saw the cast perform on the Tonys in 1996 and the soundtrack wasn’t even out yet, and I waited and waited and waited, and then it finally came out and I listened to it over and over until I’d memorized every word. Look at Idina’s hair!

I have also had The Phantom of the Opera stuck in my head. Apparently my brain wants more musicals. Speaking of which- this looks SO good. I have the soundtrack and it’s amazing.  Her songs go backwards, from the end of their relationship to the beginning, and his songs go from the beginning of their relationship to the end. So you piece the story together as you go. It’s beautiful and so sad. And I’d love to hear Anna Kendrick sing all the songs.

School starts again next week. We’re finishing up units on Monet, John Phillips Sousa, and Twelfth Night.  We start a unit on Duke Ellington in a couple weeks, which I’m really excited about. And we’ll do Hamlet as well, which will include references to both Nightmare Before Christmas and David Tennant, so that will be enjoyable.

If you haven’t watched this version of Hamlet you should, it’s so incredibly good. The portrayal of Ophelia completely changed the way I saw the play. Her genuine madness reveals Hamlet’s for the shadow it is. He’s not crazy, he’s grieving. Ophelia, on the other hand, has lost the plot, as they say.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Got to go start rice for dinner. Why is it always dinnertime?

Christmas Eve at the Tokyo Skytree

We spent Christmas Eve day at the Tokyo Skytree because the girls wanted to show B the Christmas market set up at the base that reminded them of the Amsterdam Christmas market that we learned about in school. So we went for the market and ended up going up to the top of the Skytree!

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Decorations around the Tower.

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We found Santa!

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The view from the top.

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Fuji from the top of the Skytree. It looks like some futuristic movie still.

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There’s a Ghibli store at the Skytree with giant Totoro.

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On the way home we stopped for dinner in Ebisu and saw this huge chandelier that’s out for Christmas.

DSC00218It was a wonderful day!

 

Our trip to Nagano

Earlier in the week we took a trip up to Nagano. Nagano is about 150 miles north east of Tokyo, so we took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to get there. It took about an hour and a half and was a lovely ride. Once in Nagano, we went to our hotel, which was within the Zenkoji temple complex. It was incredible. This is where we stayed.

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Our room.

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The girls especially liked the “royal” tissue holder.

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Around Zenkoji temple

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This is a memorial pagoda for deserted graves- ie. deceased who have no more living descendants to care for their graves. This is intended to console their spirits.

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We are not sure which Maks this is referring to, or whether or not the well wisher actually knows him.

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The girls were delighted with the snow. Zoe just wanted to throw snowballs and make snowmen all day. Tiny wanted to throw snowballs and eat snow.

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It’s so hard to say goodbye to snowmen.

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Little kodoma snowman we found.

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Apparently the Heatmeister makes appearances here, only to be scared off by … houses in hats?

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The street our hotel was on.IMG_7373

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There’s a story that a raccoon dog wanted to worship at the temple and dedicate a stone lantern, so it made itself look human and came with a group of people to worship. Through a course of events it got embarrassed and ran away without dedicating the lantern. The chief priest heard about what happened and had a stone lantern built for the raccoon dog, and the lantern is there to this day, on the west side of the main hall. I love this aspect of Japanese culture. The shinto/ animism elements are so fascinating. IMG_7392

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The next day we got up early and caught a bus up into the mountains. After a 40 minute bus ride we hiked for an hour (it takes most people about 40 minutes- Tiny has little legs and the trail was covered in ice and snow) to get to the hot springs where the snow monkeys hang out.

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I was expecting to see some monkeys up on the hillside, or in the hot springs, but these monkeys were out walking around everywhere. It was obvious that we were in their environment, not the other way around. They’d just walk up to you or past you- to the degree that they almost seemed tame, but you knew that they were wild animals. It was crazy.

This one kept walking up to B like he recognized him- we’re wondering if the coat made the monkey think he worked there and might give him food. It was seriously disconcerting how close he got.

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You can see in this picture how close people could get to the hot springs. When the monkeys wanted to get out, if there were people in the way, they would just push past them, and either you moved or ended up smelling like wet monkey.IMG_7469

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It was so incredibly beautiful.

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