Books I read this month: August

It’s not quite the end of the month yet, but I’m doubtful that I’ll finish Farewell To Arms tomorrow (I have sewing projects getting in its way), so I’ll post what I’ve already read this month.

The Equivoque Principle , The Eleventh Plague , The Lazarus Curse, The Romulus Equation  by Darren Craske: This series was great fun. It’s pulpy Victorian adventure, and it’s got evil organizations and dynamite and Egyptian curses and anything else you could ask for. No dirigibles, sadly. Cornelius Quaint is the main character, who gets embroiled in adventure in the first book when the strongman in the circus he owns and runs is framed for murder. An old enemy comes back, evil is revealed, craziness happens, and the books roll on in fine fashion. The writing gets stronger as the books go on, and while I thought the fourth book was going to be the last, I was pleased when I got to the end and found out that the story would continue. There are story threads that flow through all the books, and overall it was quite an enjoyable series.

One of my favorite passages:

“As contagious as your bravado is, my friend, perhaps you should have second thoughts about such rashness? advised Faroud.

“Heavens, no, man!” Quaint said, slapping Faroud on the back. ” I had second thoughts ages ago; I must be on at least double figures by now. Here’s what I think we should do…”

A Tale for the Time Being by  Ruth Ozeki: Oh, this book. I’ve already mentioned it a few times here. It is just so good. A Japanese-American woman who lives on a remote Canadian island with her husband finds a wrapped plastic bag that has washed up on shore. Inside are a diary written in English, a notebook written in French, and letters written in Japanese. The diary is written by a Japanese teenage girl who spent most of her life living in California until her family  moved to Tokyo. Once there, she is relentlessly bullied at school, her mother has a nervous breakdown, and her father develops a penchant for attempting suicide. She decides to commit suicide herself, but before she does, wants to write down the story of her Buddhist nun great- grandmother. As the book progresses, we read along as the woman reads the diary, so we get her life and reactions and the girl’s, and find out more about the letters and notebook which belonged to her great uncle, a kamikaze pilot in WW2… there’s just so much in here, and it’s so good. The end is a little odd, but I think it works. There are disturbing depictions of teenage and adult bullying, and some sex, so know that before you pick it up. But I found it completely mesmerizing and thought provoking.

An interesting idea:

“This is why I think shame must be different from conscience. They say we Japanese are a culture of shame, so maybe we are not so good at conscience? Shame comes from outside, but conscience must be a natural feeling that comes from a deep place inside an individual person. They say we Japanese people have lived so long under the feudal system that maybe we do not have an individual self in the same way Westerners do. Maybe we cannot have a conscience without an individual self.I do not know. This is what I am worrying about. “

and another:

Zuibun nagaku ikasarete itadaite orimasu ne– “I have been alive for a very long time, haven’t I?” Totally impossible to translate, but the nuance is something like: I have been caused to live by the deep conditions of the universe to which I am humbly and deeply grateful. P. Arai calls it the “gratitude tense” and says the beauty of this grammatical construction is that “there is no finger pointing to a source.” She also says, “It is impossible to feel angry when using this tense.”

Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting: This book is a collection of short stories about young women in strange situations. Each story is at least a little off kilter, and the result is fabulous and unsettling. It’s not a book I’d recommend indiscriminately, there’s some sex and some strangeness that would put some readers off. But I know a number of my friends who would really enjoy it.

Two representative passages:

My best friend Garla is a model from somewhere Swedishy; if you try to pin down where, like what town, or if actually Sweden, she just yells, “Vodka”, or if she’s in a better mood, “Vodka, you know?” which seems like she’s maybe saying she’s Russian, but really she just wants to drink.

and

When you’re a ghost, not haunting is like trying not to laugh. It tickles and pushes until it hurts.

The Bagman by Rachael Rippon: This is a middle grade to young adult book, but once I read the first sentence of the plot description I was in.

“In the midst of the Second World War, Abigail is deposited at St Winifred’s Orphanage for Willful, Wayward and Wicked Children. As soon as she arrives, Abigail is warned of the Bagman and what will happen if she misbehaves. But Abigail is too busy trying to escape to listen. Her estranged twin, Tabitha, is close by and Abigail has to find her before their 16th birthdays. Besides, she doesn’t believe in the Bagman.
He believes in her though. Appearing when she least expects it; he asks her to play his Game. He will give her seven wishes to be used in seven days. But the Game is not as easy as Abigail supposes, and the wishes not as nice…  Soon, Abigail is getting exactly what she wished for. And the effects are catastrophic.”

There’s a nice little mythology set up here with twins and good and evil and all sorts of things. I’ll read the next one when it comes out, because I want to know more about it, though I was a bit frustrated when I found out it was part of a trilogy. Sometimes I just want story that ends, you know?

And speaking of:

Graveminderby Melissa Marr  could totally be a set up for quite an interesting series, but as far as I know it’s just a one off. I appreciate that. This was another book I snagged as soon as I saw the description: “Rebekkah Barrow never forgot the tender attention her grandmother, Maylene, bestowed upon the dead of Claysville, the town where Bek spent her adolescence. There wasn’t a funeral that Maylene didn’t attend, and at each Rebekkah watched as Maylene performed the same unusual ritual: three sips from a small silver flask followed by the words ‘Sleep well, and stay where I put you.’ ”

Doesn’t that just intrigue you? The further I got into the book, the more I kept having the nagging suspicion that I was reading a zombie book (that’s not a spoiler) and while I didn’t necessarily want to be reading a zombie book, I was so intrigued by what was unfolding that I had to keep reading. I kept telling B that I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep reading, but he pointed out that I DID keep reading, so I must want to. (Note, the only reason I possibly didn’t want to keep on was because I’m not a fan of the whole zombie thing, not because of the writing. The writing was good.) I ended up reading it in a day, and I still find my thoughts drifting back to it weeks later. While the mythology in The Bagman was nice, this mythology is excellent. It’s a new idea, beautifully executed.

Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly: This book was so much fun. It’s a pulpy adventurey mystery set in Hollywood during the silent film era, wherein a mystical amulet gets used in a movie, and an ancient demon is called forth. I highly enjoyed it. (I should note that I know Barbara (we once spent a lovely week in New Orleans together with my friend (her niece) and my friend’s mom. So much fun.) but that doesn’t impact whether or not I like her books.)

Lost Japan by Alex Kerr: This book was utterly fascinating. Written originally as a series of articles, it covers different aspects of Japanese Culture  with a capital C (art collecting, kabuki and Noh theater, architecture) as well as culture (behaviors, beliefs, etc.). Alex Kerr has a long and diverse history with Japan, and brings both and outsider and an insider perspective to his subjects. The only drawback is that it was written ten years ago, I would LOVE to see his insights connected to the present.

Two passages- I could post about ten. I highly recommend this book.

Noh stages, Shinto shrines, Zen temples, and the houses of Iya all date from a pre-tatami age. The psychological difference between the wooden floors and tatami is great. The wooden floors can be traced back to the houses of Southeast Asia , which stood on stilts in forests from the ‘Age of the Gods’.  Tatami, with their neat black borders, came into vogue in a later era of precise etiquette, tea ceremony and samurai ritual. With tatami, the floor plan becomes quite evident, and the room looks smaller, more manageable, With a floor of black wooden planks, which has no visual interruptions, one feels a sense of limitless space.

The muffled scream of the individual being strangled by society is psychologically what the tragic Kabuki loyalty plays are all about.

That’s 10 books this month, 81 so far this year. I’m still reading Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. I love his writing so much.  I’m reading The Secret Garden to the girls (which is a story in an of itself), and we finished The Lost Princess of Oz and The Road to Oz earlier in the month.

What are you reading?

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