These are the books I read this week. After finishing The Golem and the Jinni, I had to go with non-fiction to get my head back to reality before I jumped into another fictional world.
Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland was perfect for that. It’s about the process of creating and how fear can impede that process. They wrote the book in response to the question of why so many people stop making art, and it deals with everything from questioning your own vision to how getting a job teaching a creative process can prevent creating yourself. Some of it was specific to visual art, while most of it could be applied to any creative pursuit. I found it really encouraging and inspiring.
I’ve been wanting to read Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto for a while now, and I picked up a copy the other day. It’s the story of Mikage, an orphan raised by her grandmother. When her grandmother dies, she goes into a deep depression. She is approached by Yoichi, a guy she kind of knows from school, who invites her to come live with him and his mother while she gets back on her feet. He and his mother have gone through losses of their own and know grief, so the invitation isn’t as odd as it seems. She goes to live with them, and takes refuge in this new makeshift family, and in their kitchen. Cooking and food bring her great comfort, and become even more important when more loss comes to them. There’s a second story in the book that also deals with grief and loss that has a more unworldly element. Both stories have a feel to them that is specific to the Japanese literature I’ve read; they feel slightly unreal and distanced by a haze of melancholy. The characters are similarly separated by the world around them (and the reader) by distinct and acute emotions that can be identified by outsiders but that don’t draw you in to feel the same- you are simply an observer. Some of that may have to do with translation, I’m not sure, but Haruki Murakami’s books have the same feel to them. It’s very interesting. Anyway, the book is really good, and I enjoyed it quite a lot.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa, on the other hand, has nothing to do with that “Japanese feel”, despite the melancholy in its title. In a facebook post, I described it as Hitchhikers Guide + a serving of The Matrix + a swig of Kill La Kill+ some Cabin in the Woods , and I stand by that. Kyon is a typical high school student, who decides to befriend Haruhi, the new girl at school. Haruhi is bored with everything, and wants excitement- preferably in the form of the aliens, time travelers or espers (psychics) she reads about in comics. So she hijacks Kyon and they form the SOS club, with the express goal of finding said excitement. But what Haruhi doesn’t know, and Kyon discovers, is that Haruhi is at the center of all of the excitement and strangeness in the world- as she has the power to change the world, Matrix style. And since she’s bored, there’s the very real risk that she’ll unwrite the entire universe and rebuild it into something she likes better- without even knowing it. It’s insane and fun and absurd and meta- it turns manga (Japanese comics) conventions upside down and inside out and pokes fun at them and has a blast doing it. They also made a manga version of the series, which would be fun too, but I think I’ll stick with the novels. If you’ve read manga then you know the conventions they’re working with anyway, and the writing is fun and engaging. I don’t know how enjoyable it would be to someone who doesn’t know or like manga- some of the things it mocks are admittedly a little weird and have to be taken in context (like the sweet, big eyed girl being forced to wear a bunny costume because Haruhi wants something to happen, and in manga, things happen around bunny girls). I found it to be great fun.
One of my cousins mentioned The Child Whisperer: The Ultimate Handbook for Raising Happy, Successful, Cooperative Children by Carol Tuttle on facebook the other day, and it sounded intriguing so I picked it up. The idea behind the book is that there are 4 energy types that everyone falls into. They’re similar to personality types, but also include movement style and overall energy. There’s no test to take to figure out which you or your children are, you just read the descriptions and it becomes pretty clear. Each type has their own motivations and goals, and the idea is that the more you understand those motivations and goals, the better you will be able to help them through their childhood and honor who they are as a person. For example, if you know that your kid is a Type 1, you’re going to know that they have a lot of trouble sitting still, and that their getting out of their chair in school isn’t being rebellious or disobedient, they just have to move. So you figure out ways to work with that. It was pretty easy to peg both Z and Tiny, and there were some interesting things to think about in what she suggests. There is a whole element of her process which I’m skeptical of, which involves facial features being indicative of energy type. I do have to admit, everyone in our family matches the facial types she lays out for our respective types, but I wonder how it plays out on the whole. Like I said, I’m skeptical. But overall, the book has some great insights, and I appreciate her approach of working with a child’s nature rather than trying (and failing) to bash it into the nature you’d prefer.
Right now I’m reading The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia, which was a birthday present. I was in from the first page- people mysteriously turning into birds- and it’s only gotten better from there. The protagonists have just gone through a secret magic passage in a subway to an underground world- yes, thank you very much. I’m also reading Jesus the Christ by James Talmage, a chapter a day for the 40 days leading up to Easter. I think it will be a great way to get in the right frame of mind for Easter.
What are you reading?