Tomorrow is the start of Nanowrimo, so I’m going to get one procrastination venue out of the way by posting this today. These are the books I read this month. I’m kind of surprised there are so many, because the Van Gogh book felt like it took years to read. (Not because it’s not well written, it’s just insanely long.) Anyway, on to the books!
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino : This is a beautifully descriptive book in which Marco Polo tells Kublai Khan about his travels around the world. In the beginning they do not speak the same language, and Polo tells his stories with pantomime and objects. Later, he is able to use language, but the cities he describes keep an aura of ephemeralness. The cities are diverse, poetic, thought provoking. Favorite quote:
Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.
The Affinity Bridge by George Mann: This is the first in a series (yay!) set in am alternate Victorian London, complete with dirigibles, automatons, walking sticks with weapons secreted inside, and all the things I love. One of the Queen’s agents and his secretary are sent to investigate a crashed airship, and in the process they discover mechanical men, a zombie plague, and more. Y’all know I’m not a zombie fan, and they actually worked really well in this. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series- great pulpy fun. Representative quote:
Genius is, in many ways, akin to madness. Both states of mind demand a disconnection from reality, from the real, physical world, an ability to lose oneself in thought.
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Cathrynne Valente: I wrote about this book in this post ,and I still agree with everything I said. It’s such an incredibly beautiful book.
Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family by Melissa Dalton-Bradford: This is the story of Melissa and her family, who have lived in Norway, France, Germany, Singapore, Switzerland, and the US. (That’s not 8, I know.) Melissa is unflinchingly honest in her descriptions of the reality of expat living, the joys and the difficulties. Her children all speak multiple languages, as does she, and their experiences are a fascinating window into life in different parts of the world. The whole book is strong, but the most powerful parts comes in the second half, when Melissa and her family “move” unexpectedly into the “country of grief” when her oldest son dies in a water accident. Faith filled, yet honest about the pain of grief and her family member’s different reactions to grief, Melissa’s account is so touching. She tells of church members in their new home (they moved to Germany shortly after Parker’s death) who don’t talk to her because they don’t know what to say, and contrasts it with her new hairdresser who bursts into tears and pulls her into an embrace upon hearing the news. It’s a thought provoking reminder to mourn with those who mourn, whether or not you think you know how. We read this book as a book club, and had a fantastic discussion. Favorite quote:
What I am saying here is the truth, that no one can know the fluffiness of stuff and the weight of treasures, at least there is no way one can fully discern the difference between those two hefts, unless one joins the haunted ranks of those who have lost the heaviest things.
Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide and Yokai Attack! by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt: These books are chock full of well researched, fun information about ghosts and monsters from Japanese folklore. The design of the books is fantastic, and the illustrations are fabulous; though the pictures in the ghost (yurei) book are a bit gory (ghosts in Japan are pretty vengeful) and I have to make sure it’s put up high enough that the girls don’t pick it up.
Kwaidan: Ghost Stories and Strange Tales of Old Japan by Lafcadio Hearn: Lafcadio Hearn is one of my new heroes. A newspaper reporter in the late 1800s, he specialized in reporting on the macabre in New Orleans. Then he moved to Japan as a foreign correspondent, intending to only stay a short while, but soon after he got there ties to the newspaper were dissolved and he started collecting folklore from around the country. He married, got a job teaching English at Tokyo Imperial University, and kept writing until he died in 1904. He wrote 15 books about Japan in 11 years. ANYWAY. This book is not about him, it’s a collection of stories from Japan. They are creepy and strange and beautiful.
The Translator by Nina Schuyler: This book is so insanely good. A woman speaks seven (I think) languages and works as a translator. She is intelligent, driven, and a loving mother and grandmother, though we discover that her daughter has refused to speak to her for six years. The most recent book she has translated is a Japanese novel, the success of which will launch her to a new level in her career, and she has poured her heart into the translation, becoming somewhat infatuated with the main character in the process. Then she falls down some stairs, and suffers a head injury- one severe enough to cause damage to her brain. She wakes to discover that while she can still think in many languages, she can only speak in Japanese; a slight problem as she lives in San Francisco. She accepts an offer to go to Japan for a conference, and while there she is accosted by the author of the book she has translated, who berates her for ruining his book. This encounter, and others, lead her to an examination of her approach to life and other people, and she comes to realize some of the errors in “translation” that have occurred as she has interacted with people (including her daughter) who deal with the world differently than she does. It is a look at language, at the act of translation, at how we make sense of the world and other people, how sometimes the things we do out of love are ultimately hurtful, how everyone grieves differently, how we all find the thing we were meant to do. I just can’t describe it all- it would be a great book club book, there’s tons to discuss. Favorite quotes:
She told Hanne that with each new language, Hanne became, quite magically, larger and grander than before.
One never knows what one is capable of, thinks Hanne. You can only speak from the circumstances you currently find yourself in; change the circumstances and you have an entirely different view of things.
“You’re sending her the wrong message,” said Hanne. “You’re teaching her to wallow when something difficult happens.” “I’m not sending her any messages. I’m just being with her.”
That’s nine books this month, which puts the total for the year so far at 99. I’m currently reading The Melancholy of Mechagirl by Catherynne Valente. It’s a collection of her writing that has connections to Japan- could I ask for anything better? No. I could not.
What are you reading?