Archive for July, 2012

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto – review

July 30, 2012

For whatever reasons, I have long been reluctant to pick up and read anything by Banana Yoshimoto. This didn’t stop me from buying one of her books, of course. I continually buy books of authors I know I should be reading when I see them at a price I feel comfortable paying for an author I know I won’t be reading any time soon.  I think I have four of Bret Easton Ellis’s books on my shelf, despite reading just American Psycho and getting a quarter of the way through Glamorama before deciding he wasn’t my cup of tea. I’ll likely never get to the other two at all. the same with John Updike and Don Delillo. I know they are authors I should read, and I have came across their books in various bargain bins and clearances, so I’ve been sure to pick them up on occasion, but I also know that I don’t really give a damn about either of them right now – though I did thoroughly enjoy Delillo’s Underworld, which only set me up for disappointment when I followed it up with White Noise, The Body Artist, Cosmopolis, and Falling Man. Knowing how my general trepidation usually leads to, at best, antipathy for these writers clogging my shelves, I was hesitant to begin on Yoshimoto.

But I got pleasantly surprised. She embraces a general oddity in of the world that I also find (and enjoy) in Murakami.  H er two stories in Kitchen are populated with believably bizarre people that doesn’t turn you off to read about. Eriko doesn’t turn out to be a smoking hot transsexual just for shock purpose, to throw a wrench into the story to grab you, that’s just who that person happens to be. And Yoshimoto allows that person to play a pivotal role in the story, without becoming the story.  She’s a side act without being a sideshow.

Which is a delicate balance Yoshimoto maintains through Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow (the second story in this book). The side characters are always more than just “there,” but they never become dominant forces, giving rise to a power struggle between them and the characters we are meant to focus on.  What makes this balance all the more impressive is how complete Yoshimoto makes their story arcs. She does it simply and easily, giving a sense of closure and purpose to the side narratives while leaving a bit of an opening in the main story. It seems it is a way that Yoshimoto hints at future growth for the main characters of each of these stories. While we know what becomes or Eriko, we are given a glimpse of the effect the entire experience has on Mikage but not where this character eventually ends up. These are clearly moments  that are part of the larger string of moments that make up the lives of the main characters, and this knowledge imparts a strange sort of importance in hindsight to everything that happens.

So, is Kitchen worth checking out? Most definitely.  For being published in the 1980s, it still has a very contemporary feel to it, and it doesn’t have any urge to be Americanized. In a way, Yoshimoto reminds me much of Murakami in this respect, also. The stories are distinctly foreign for an American audience, they are not shy about this at all. However, Yoshimoto also finds areas of interest that are universal.  I think this goes hand in hand with her ability to have a transgendered bar owner be a solid side character without allowing that side character to steal the entire story. Instead, Yoshimoto creates a credible human instead of a credible character.
There is something more to be said about food in both stories. InKitchen,” it’s just blatant.  Food is, literally, at the center of the majority of interactions and even acts as a central plot device in giving Mikage an obstacle to overcome to bring a decent meal to her friend who is still mourning the death of his father/mother. the idea of nourishment, physically, psychologically and spiritually is just there. You couldn’t throw a dead cat without it smacking into a bowl of noodles or a sizzling hot pan of stir fry.  With “Moonlight Shadow” is it a bit more subdued. Again, though, nourishment (or the lack of it) plays a central part of the story. The central character keeps getting thinner and thinner as she wastes away, longing for the person she loved who has died.

Okay, kid calls so I’ve got to cut this short. He’s eating pretzels and I simply MUST be told about every twist and turn in his pretzel consumption journey.  As always, here’s the B&N link to Yoshimoto’s Kitchen.  I think it’s worth the buy, an enjoyable read that can hold up to being plucked off the shelf now and then to re-read. And when you do, keep an eye on food and nourishment, and how all of the characters revolve around this idea. I think there’s even something to be said about Eriko having to become a woman and having breasts that could be bent to this theme.

Book Links 7/24/2012

July 24, 2012

After  having a day of book links few and far between yesterday, it seems today is trying to make up for it. I’ve been slowly working my way through my browser of many open tabs, and here’s what I’ve liked so far.

NPR is asking for people to vote for the Best Teen Novel Ever. You can vote for up to ten novels, so go over and vote away.

The story of the week posted by The Library of America is Fritz Leiber’s Try and Change the Past.

With production costs falling, Amazon now has space to drop the price of their Kindle Fire.  Considering their take no prisoner’s approach to competition, can’t say I’d be surprised to see it knocked down to $150. I still say spend a few extra bucks and support someone else, like Barnes and Noble.

An article from NYT about rare books and the people who love them. Fifty shades of grey has nothing on old Venicians.

In more Amazon related news, the DoJ’s response to bookseller groups is less than encouraging. Is anyone surprised? I’m not…

In  England, locals cheer artists plastering over billboards with damn near anything as long as they aren’t advertisements. Really, though, it’s usually  poetic verses. Go graffiti artists/vandals/keepers of the public good. Really, I like the term brandalism that they’re using.


Alright, that’s what I’ve liked the most for today. Hope you like them.


Book Links 7/20/2012

July 20, 2012

I get these things over twitter, I read them, I sometimes re-tweet them, but then they are gone forever. After yesterdays book links post, I’m putting another up today and am considering making it a regular thing. If nothing else, it’ll save the links for me later.

Joss Whedon has ten tips for writing. This isn’t exactly new, it’s dated 2009, but it just came across my twitter feed today. I’m usually lukewarm towards his stuff, but what I like I really like.
It’s more from a screenplay bent, but I think the majority of it can be applicable to writing in general.

Also getting into the writing tips act is Tana French.

I am a Paul Auster fan, and here is a brief clip of him reading from his upcoming memoir.  It’s roughly three and a half minutes, and has me hooked. Maybe it’s because I know I’m getting older (half of Auster’s age, apparently) and so his reflections have a particular significance to me. I don’t know. But I think this is something I’m going to be in line to read when it comes out.

Lists are always fun conversational fodder. Amazon has released their 2012 list for most literate cities. My city didn’t make the list, but maybe we’re just too poor to buy from Amazon. Our libraries are well visited, though.

Zola wants to become the place to be for independent book sellers, replacing Google’s ebook service and eventually take on Amazon. It’s ballsy and ambitious, I like it.

Finally, The Atlantic has a nice write up about the protection of bookstores and how they may be more durable against the onslaught of Amazon than we feared (as well as making some suggestions for how we could work to protect these places).

Alright, that’s what I got for the day.

Some Books Links for the Day

July 19, 2012

Here’s a story at The Daily Book Beast about bookselling in the UK. Long story short, Amazon’s ruthless price gouging is bad for book stores and weakens publishers. But once the wolf is in the hen house…

Wondering how some Borders employees have fared since Borders closed shop? well, here are some answers to that question.

If you can’t beat them, apparently Penguin is deciding to join them. And by join them I mean Penguin is spending $116 million to buy the self-publishing company Author Solutions.  I’m leery of the whole self-publishing thing. Granted, every time I go to Amazon they seem to be pimping a new “success” story on their front page, but the numbers of Author Solutions should be a bit more sobering. They have over 150,000 authors publishing through them. How many have made it big?

Alright, that’s what I’ve seen so far today that I found interesting.

A Box of Matches by Nicholson Baker – a review

July 19, 2012

Alright, trying to get back on the horse and start cranking out some more book reviews, starting with this little read by Nicholson Baker. A little while back I reviewed Baker’s unapologetically raunchy House of Holes and found it fitting in with pretty much everything I have ever read of Baker’s. This was by no means a bad thing. I thoroughly enjoy Baker. Regardless of how deeply he dives into the sexual, I’m not sure I’d ever call him pornographic in the sense that he’s just doing it to do it and to titillate through it. I may just see too much in it, but I believe there has always been something more to Baker’s writing, that there has to be something more, because amidst all of the boobs, asses, penises and whatever else he works onto his pages, there’s also a breathtaking humanity. A Box of Matches is that humanity in focus.  Nowhere in these pages will anyone shoot through a drier at the laundromat to a sexual oasis. Instead, it will be page after page of a middle aged (or slightly passed middle age, depending on how pessimistic you want to be) man getting up every morning, making his way to the living room, starting a fire, and then ruminating for a moment on life.

what stands out to me now is how the narrator begins with attempting to get up earlier and earlier, attempting to find moments of true solitude while also avoiding waking himself up any more than he has to. He trains himself to work in the dark, but has a bit of a disaster when this or that item isn’t where he was accustomed to leaving and finding it. The only light he wants in the morning, at least until anyone else is up and about is the fire light. This makes me think of Werner Herzog’s recent documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams. In it, Herzog talks of not only the images on the walls, but how firelight must have played across them, and how the flickering of the light may have given them movement, a sense of liveliness.  I have to think that there is something similar to the narrator’s wanting to sit in front of the fire every morning, without any other lights intruding upon the dance of the flames and how the flames resemble the narrator’s memory.

While trying to make sense of life, recounting episodes from the previous day or from years before, his memory seems to ave that same flickering appeal. Really, they are very much like paintings in a dark cave. They are always there, they were put there for a reason, but they need to be illuminated to be noticed, to be significant. Not only do they need light cast upon them, but they need a special light to make them alive.  With each passing chapter, the narrator seems to be attempting to throw new light onto his life, to see it a different way, to divine something from the flickering images on the wall. I can’t say he dissects his life, it never comes across as that distanced and cold. In fact, the use and image of the fire works to dispel this idea. It’s not always the warmest practice, but there is a closeness to the narrator’s continued efforts that makes his journey distinctly human.

Also, sitting in the dark in front of the fire has a primitive aspect to it. The idea of dissection is scientific, modern. Baker’s searching narrator is anything but modern. He doesn’t use a lighter, but matches. He doesn’t have a gas fire with fake logs, but a real honest to God fireplace that has to be loaded with wood, lit with care and then managed. He goes out of his way to not light a lamp or hit a light switch. The only allowance he does seem to make to modernity is using a coffee maker. No matter how desperately you want to get back a simpler life, I guess you always have to have your coffee.

It seems significant that as the novel comes to a close, the narrator comes full circle.  He crumbles up the now empty box of matches and decides he wants to just go back to bed and lay with his wife.  Is he moving away from embracing memory and deciding to embrace the present instead?  I think there is certainly a hint of that here. Baker seems to be saying that memory has its place, but sitting in the solitude of memory involves sacrifices of its own. While the flickering images of the past can be comforting, even mesmerizing, they are still only images being played against the wall of the cave. While these moments are not forgotten, they are most certainly gone and attempting to live within them is foolish. Instead, there is the now, the forging of new memories that matters.  Even when that memory is just going back to bed.

Just not into this right now

July 5, 2012

Ever since the kid has gotten out of school, my routine has been a bit messed up – not that my routine was all that hot to begin with. So this has slipped. I have five or six books piled up on my computer right now, waiting for something to be written about them. I have a handful of links to stories that I wanted to talk about saved away in my bookmarks. I have stuff to throw up here for conversation. But I’m just not doing it.

And now the kid is off to his “dad’s.” So I should have some free time. Except I’m not sleeping worth a lick because the weather has turned awful. I can’t sleep at all when it gets too hot and the meager air conditioner we have fights like all hell to keep the dining room marginally comfortable. Whenever I get too comfortable at my computer, I start drifting off and end up pseudo-sleeping once in awhile.and the wife and I are looking for a house. Last saturday we saw 12 of them. It destroyed me. Felt like crap all evening and the next day. This Saturday, we’re heading out again. It’s funny but all of the houses need work, few have much land, and all of them (imo) are overpriced. I can’t believe the condition of some of the homes we’ve looked at and how people just let them go to rot.

Okay, I think that’s it for the complaining for now. With the kid at away for a week and a half, I’m hoping to get into a bit of a routine that I’ll also be able to keep up once the kid gets back. I hope this blog can be updated more often, and that I can return to being moderately productive. Unless we buy a house, of course. Then I’ll be busy packing, dealing with loans, papers, unpacknig and lord knows what else. Yay. But that’s where I’ve been lately.

Oh, and work just started up again. Teaching just one class this semester.  Looking forward to a paycheck again.