Saturday, June 19, 2010

Off to Europe

We're off to Europe tomorrow and I'm being very good because I'm only taking three books. Actually only two count because the third is a guide book to eating out in Paris. We're going to the Netherlands with a side trip to Paris in between. I'm so looking forward to Paris as its been years since I've been. This time we're staying at a flat that's walking distance from Shakespeare and Company . I'll have no excuses now not to finally visit the legendary book shop. I hope I take enough pictures to be able to blog about my trip. By the way, Book Bath  and  Thyme for Tea  are both hosting Paris in July, a month devoted to reading French literature or books set in the city of lights. Do check out their blogs for more information.

Here's the list of books that I'll be taking with me:

Looking for Alaska by John Green - I've been hearing a lot about this young adult author lately so I think this one will be perfect for the thirteen hour flight to Amsterdam. 

Real World by Natsuo Kirino - I'm reading this as part of  Dolce Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge. The last time I read a Kirino novel (Out),  I abandoned it when I got to the gruesome parts. I hope this isn't as grisly.

Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris by Clotilde Dusoulier -  I love Clotilde's blog, Chocolate and Zucchini and her book of the same name. This one covers wonderful little eateries and markets all over Paris and the book is divided by arrondissements so it's the perfect food guide. Looking forward to having my own edible adventures....

Do you have any Parisian recommendations for me? I'd love to hear of restaurants, cafes, bookshops, cute shops and other things. Just leave a comment below.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Man in the Dark

I so enjoyed The Brooklyn Follies that I followed it up with another Paul Auster novel, Man in the Dark. This one is a short book at just 148 pages. While not one of his best, it's still a worthy piece of work filled with all the things I love about Auster.

August Brill, a seventy-two-year-old writer is recovering from a car accident at his daughter's home in Vermont. Confined to a bed, he makes up a story in his head. What if the 2000 election results had led to a secession so different states pulled away from the Union and a bloody civil war erupted? One man, Owen Brick, must do one dreadful thing to end this war. He must kill the man who made it up, the man named August Brill. Are you confused yet? Somehow Auster makes this work. It's a fantastic and thought-provoking little piece on the power of fiction.

Right now I'm reading Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami and maybe it's because I followed it up so closely after an Auster novel that I realize these two authors actually have a lot in common. Both have such a fluid and easy style. I can imagine both these writers sitting at their desks and composing their work continuously, never stopping to look up a better word in the thesaurus. Their prose feels like music, it's pitch perfect. Somehow their writing reads so easy, like it just flowed from their brain to their fingertips. That's one of the reasons why I love the way they write. They're naturals. Another thing they have in common is that they're both interested in many different things in life: literature, music, film, art, history, politics and culture. Their novels are peppered with various little references to all these things. Interesting anecdotes and factoids for example about foreign films, historical and literary figures. Whenever I read either an Auster or Murakami novel, I always have to note down certain books, films or musical pieces they mention. It's wonderful and that's another reason why their novels are so, so rich.They always lead to more things.

In Man in the Dark one of the characters is a film student. She mentions how a talented director can reveal a character's personality without dialogue. In the classic Italian film, The Bicycle Thief, the protagonist is on his way home when he suddenly walks by his wife who's carrying two buckets of water. From that scene alone, a viewer can conclude the nature of their relationship. Also, all their poverty and struggles are contained in those two heavy buckets. Auster goes on to mention other films in detail: Tokyo Story, The World of Apu and Grand Illusion. He mentions certain scenes and how these films are so beautiful in their simplicity that hardly any conversation is necessary. Directors can use inanimate objects and settings to convey different messages. They're all going on my 'To Watch List', that is if I'm lucky enough to find them.

So have you read both Haruki Murakami and Paul Auster? Do you agree with my comparison? If you like either one then I recommend you definitely give the other a try. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Other Hand (Little Bee)

"This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice. Two years later, they meet again. The story starts there. Once you have read it you'll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how it unfolds." 

Above is the blurb from the book Little Bee or The Other Hand by Chris Cleave. Quite irresistible isn't it? I'd heard so much about it in various book blogs and the blurb was a winner. Reader, I bought the book (and I'm sorry I did).

Sometimes it's harder to write a negative review. I have to explain why I didn't like the book. To be honest, it wasn't enjoyable at all. I was curious about this life changing event that occurred to the two main characters and so I kept reading on. The details of this fateful day are only revealed in the middle of the novel. It wasn't very shocking and maybe it's because the author left little clues here and there. We know all along that one character has a missing finger and another character lost her sister.

I was left with this feeling that the entire story was obviously constructed around that ONE single scene. Everything else was so weak.

I don't understand what the hype was all about. I should have been forewarned when the American publisher decided to change the title of the book from The Other Hand to Little Bee. Why do publishers do that and why do authors allow it? I thought they were two different books or part of a series. In the Philippines, they're available in both editions so it was very confusing. I wouldn't be surprised if this book underwent an expensive marketing campaign. After all, the blurb was designed to sell and sell it did.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Japanese Literature Challenge IV

I'm so excited to join the Japanese Literature Challenge IV hosted by Dolce Bellezza. I'm definitely in the mood for Japanese novels right now. I've missed reading Haruki Murakami, so its a good excuse to finally pick up another of his novels. I'm now reading Kafka on the Shore and enjoying it very much. The Challenge runs from June 1, 2010 to January 30, 2011. For more information, check out this site .

Here's my list for the challenge. I do hope I get to read all of this before the new year.

1. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
2. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
3. The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa
4. Real World by Natsuo Kirino
5. Out by Natsuo Kirino
6. Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino
7. The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi
8. Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto

Are you joining the challenge? Which books above have you read? Which ones do you recommend?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Brooklyn Follies

I love this book. It's one of the special ones. If you read my blog then you probably know that I'm a big fan of Paul Auster. He is my favourite American author though interestingly enough, he appeals more to Europeans.

Auster's novels are all told in the first person and most of them seem to have a similar main character. They're all intellectuals who love literature, classical music and classic films.They all struggle with the meaning of life, with past memories and how chance and coincidence play a pivotal role in our lives. It's not surprising that every time I read an Auster novel, I always imagine him as the main character. Maybe it's also because all his books carry his photo either on the back cover or on the 'about the author' page.  So reading one of his books always feels like revisiting an old friend.  I wrote more about Auster in my review of Invisible which you can find here .

It isn't so easy to write a synopsis of The Brooklyn Follies because there's no actual plot in this book. It's a book filled with a myriad of stories or episodes that happen to the main character. Nathan Glass is a dejected and recently divorced sixty-year-old man who moves to Brooklyn after undergoing cancer treatment. He doesn't know if he's going to live six more months or twenty more years so he decides to go back to the place where he was born and write a book about human follies. Very soon, he finds an odd assortment of friends in Brooklyn. Among them his long-lost nephew who is himself drifting and aimless and now working in a second hand bookstore. Together with his new found friends, Nathan embarks on a series of little adventures in Brooklyn and on a short road trip. He soon learns to live again and to take pleasure in the everyday things in life.

"What a pity that life ends, I tell myself, what a pity that we aren't allowed to go on living forever." (page 181)

I thought this was such a wonderful, wonderful book from start to finish. It had some sad parts but its still a happy novel at heart. A life-affirming book filled with beautiful passages and precious moments. Though it will be difficult to choose one favourite among all the Auster novels I've read, this is certainly one of them. It's brilliant and definitely a keeper.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Rereading the Hedgehog

Muriel Barbery

I just finished rereading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery for my book club. The fact that during this reading I already knew the ending made it a different experience altogether. I had much more time to savour some of its beautiful passages. And though many people didn't like it, I do think that one of the things that makes this book truly unique is its ending. It couldn't have ended any other way. I actually think that The Elegance of the Hedgehog has a very life-affirming message and in essence it reminds us that there is beauty everywhere:  in art, movies, books, interior decoration, music, people, sushi, rain, flowers, the tea ritual, etcetera...we just have to open our eyes and look.

Here's the passage about the tea ritual:

"The tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accesion to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license given to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and of the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony. Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. SIlence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light. And, with each swallow, time is sublimed." (page 91)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I'm having a very Willy Wonka week as I've just read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl to my four-year-old son and he absolutely loved it. And really what's not to love? The fascinating Willy Wonka, a contest to find golden tickets hidden in chocolate bars, the lovable Charlie and Grandpa Joe, oompa-loompas, a super cool factory and chocolate and candy galore! My son is completely enthralled and he's begging for us to read it all over again. In his own words "this is a FANTASTIC book! So how come it doesn't have a Caldecott medal?" I just had to smile when he made that comment and I quickly answered, "well, not all fantastic books win awards you know." I later found out that the book did win several prizes years after it was published.

Dahl's writing is creative and delightfully delicious. He was inspired by his memories of Cadbury chocolates during his school days. The famous chocolate company frequently sent test packages to school children and asked for their opinions. He dreamed of creating a new kind of sweet and he certainly invents some amazing ones in this book. Hot ice cream for cold days, gobstopper candies that never run out of flavour, chewing gum that gives you a three course meal and fizzy lifting drinks!

I've bought some actual Willy Wonka candies such as Gobstoppers and Nerds and shown my son snippets of the film with Gene Wilder. I just loved that magical movie when I was a kid. One of the best things about having children is that we get to live out all our favourite things from our own childhood. I remember I used to be scared of the oompa-loompas but actually they're not frightening at all and there are so many little lessons in their funny songs. Here's a sample of lyrics from musical numbers in the film:

What do you get when you guzzle down sweets?
Eating as much as an elephant eats
What are you at getting terribly fat?
What do you think will come of that?

“What do you get from a glut of TV?
A pain in the neck and an IQ of three
Why don’t you try simply reading a book?
Or can you just not bear to look?”

Oompa, Loompa, doom-pa-dee-da
Given good manners, you will go far
You will live in happiness too
Like the Oompa Loompa doom-pa-dee-do

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Talking It Over

This book has such an appropriate title because Talking It Over by Julian Barnes is a whole book about three friends doing just that... 'talking it over.'

Stuart and Oliver are complete opposites but they've been best friends since school and now Stuart has met and fallen in love with Gillian. But just after their wedding Oliver discovers he's in love with Gillian too. Doesn't that sound like such a mess? But Barnes handles it all very well and so originally as the three people involved all give their different points of view of how everything happened and why. Each of their voices are so unique and you can't help but feel you're at a pub somewhere and listening to three friends talk it out. Even now I'm not quite sure which side I'm on because I liked every character. Ok, this is actually my second reading and I think I enjoyed it more when I read it over a decade ago when I was in my twenties. Still, it's a fun and witty read. Here's a little sample.

Stuart   It's now. It's today. We got married last month. I love Gillian. I'm happy, yes I'm happy. It finally worked out for me. It's now now.

Gillian   I got married. Part of me didn't think I ever would, part of me disapproved, part of me was a little scared, to tell the truth. But I fell in love, and Stuart is a good person, a kind person, and he loves me. I'm married now.

Oliver   Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit shit shit shit SHIT. I'm in love with Gillie, I've only just realised it. I am in love with Gillie. I'm amazed, I'm overawed, I'm poo-scared, I'm mega-fuck-struck. I'm also scared out of my cerebellum. What's going to happen now?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays - The Brooklyn Follies

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading . Quote two sentences from the book you're currently reading.

I'm reading  The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster and loving it!

"... when a person is lucky enough to live inside a story, to live inside an imaginary world, the pains of this world disappear. For as long as the story goes on, reality no longer exists."

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