Sunday, August 29, 2010

Japanland - Book Review

Japanland by Karin Muller was going to be one of my Japanese Literature Challenge reads, however, I feel I need to disqualify it as it's written by an American author about travelling in Japan.

The cover sleeve says 'From years of judo practice she knew the Japanese had a word for the seemingly effortless state of harmony she longed for: wa. Yes, wa is what she wanted. So beginning's Karins yearlong quest to deepened her appreciation for such eastern ideals as unquestioning commitment and single minded devotion to detail. With only her western perspective to guide her, though, she discovers in sometimes awkward, often awesomely funny interactions just how maddeningly complicated it is being Japanese.'

I enjoyed this book because it was so easy to read, she is quite funny at times (as she gets herself into positions that you can only laugh about), and her adventures are eye opening into the Japanese culture. As a travel book, it would rate pretty high on my account. I have travelled in Japan, and I loved Japan geographically and culturally. So I knew some of the places and experiences she refers to. But as a lifestyle book, for those who might want to search for wa too - I think she lost the plot.

Karin's search for wa started with being invited to live with a Japanese host family. She knew that her search for wa would involve a high level of discipline, yet it's just not in her make up to play by the rules. She seems to push the boundaries, at the expense of her inner search. Eventually the relationship with her host family breaks down because she is unable to live by the 'code' for the women in the household. So after 6 months with the family, she then goes out alone- but ends up sharing an apartment with another American.

During her final 6 months in Japan, she takes herself off to temples to live with monks, she spends time studying the life of Geisha's, goes to bathhouses, visits the Sumo stables, and undertakes a pilgrimage to visit 88 temples on foot. When her attempt at the pilgrimage landed her in hospital half way though, and saw her finishing the Pilgrimage by bus, I finally understood my discontent with her search for 'inner harmony'. She was prepared to complete the challenge by bus in order to say she saw the 88 temples.

At the end of the book I was a little disappointed she didn't stick to one of her many plans to become more disciplined. I was equally disappointed that it seemed to me (and I've only read this book and haven't seen any of her documentaries) her real mission was to have many different stories to tell and to make at least one documentary out of her trip. Still, a fun read with many little views into life in Japan.

For another review of Japanland see WaterBridgeReviews. To learn more about the disciplined life respected in Japan, I'd suggest reading 'Eat Sleep Sit: my year at Japan's most Rigorous Zen Temple' by Kaoru Nonomura.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Fill-ins #191

Girls at the school in Tamil Nadu where I volunteer as an English teacher.
In 2009 my friends and I raised the funds to buy 100 girls these new dresses.
In 2010 we really need to help these girls stay at school longer.

1. You do your thing; I do mine and sometimes we'll be much more effective at changing the world together.
2. The children of Pakistan are what's been on my mind on and off all day.
3. Remember when you did something really special for someone special? What about doing donating to a charity in Pakistan right now?
4. Teapots, my garden and my girls at school in India are three of my favorite obsessions :-)
5. During the last year I've helped the school in India to set up their sponsorship program.
6. Seeing the emails from my girls in India always puts a smile on my face.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to hanging out at home, tomorrow my plans include my hair appointment and being treated like a princess by my hairdresser, and Sunday, I want to go for a bike ride with my man.

for more friday fill-ins.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Friday Fil-ins #190

I'm currently in a Japan thing....
1. Laughter can be an amazing medicine - best when shared.
2. You are invited.....are the three words that started off the last email I sent.
3. What I'm most looking forward to today is gardening and cooking.
4. Listening to my nephews play piano over the phone always...puts a smile on my face.
5. Where in the world are my two best friends from high school - Sharon and Judith??
6. the past 2 days in bed reading was just what I needed!
7. And as for the weekend, Friday I was looking forward to my massage and dinner with my man, today my plans include voting, and Sunday, I want to be active again - walk on the beach perhaps?
For more Friday Fill-ins.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Murakami - A Wild Sheep Chase

I think this officially my second novel in this years Japanese Literature Challenge hosted by Dolce Bellezza. Haruki Murakami has been a contstant author in my readings for the JLC for the past 3 years, and he still hasn't let me down. A Wild Sheep Chase was, yet again, another captivating and engaging story that made it difficult for me to put it down.

The storyline is pretty simple - there's this guy who gets divorced pretty early in the novel, his business partner, his girlfriend with sexy ears and a mystery guy who gives the guy a quest to hunt down the missing sheep. I think that's about where the simplicity ends.... as is Murakami's way, the story is also quite surreal and is never predictable. However, I didn't find this book as bizarre as others. So if you've been put off Murakami's in the past, try this one.

Other's who have reviewed this novel have included Bellezza, Tony, Another Cookie Crumbles, Tanabata, and Mel U. It's interesting what people have taken from this story. For me, I guess it about mediocrity, the search for meaning and purpose -in the daily grind, in relationships and hope for the future. Murakami does leave the characters unnamed for some reason, but for me that doesn't mean their without character - they are quite strong of character I think. Some of the characters I liked were the man in the suit with manicured nails, the girlfriend with the sexy ears, the sheep professor, the sheep man, and the caretaker. I think I liked these because they were all pretty confident about their lot in life, they knew where they were and why. Their purpose was clear and they seemed to have few questions.

Some quotes:
On mediocrity:
Nothing changed from day to day, not one thing. I woke up at seven, made toast and coffee, headed out to work, ate dinner out, had one or two drinks, went home, read i bed for an hour, turned off the lights, and slept. Saturdays and Sundays, instead of work, I was out killing time from morning on, making the rounds of movie theatres. Then I had dinner and a couple of drinks, red, went to sleep, alone. So it went: I passed through the month the way people X out days on a calendar, one after the other.
The Ears:
She'd become so beautiful, it defied understanding. Never had I feasted my eyes on such beauty. Beauty of a variety I'd never imagined existed. As expansive as the entire universe, yet as dense as a glacier. Unabashedly excessive, yet at the same time pared down to an essence. It transcended all concepts within the boundaries of my awareness. She was at one with her ears, gliding down the oblique face of time like a protean bean of light.
An explanation?
"More precisely, our organisation can be divided into two elements. The part that moves ahead and the part that drives it ahead. Naturally, there are other parts managing other functions. Still, roughly divided, our organisation is made up of these two parts. The other parts hardly amount to anything. The part at the forefront is the Will, and the part that backs up the forefront is the Gains. When people talk about the Boss, they make an issue only out of his Gains. And after the Boss dies, it will be only his Gains that people will clamour for a share of. Nobody wants the Will, because no one understands it. Herein we see the true meaning of what can and can not be shared. The Will cannot be shared. It is either passed on in toto, or lost in toto." "what is this Will" I asked. "A concept that governs time, governs space, and governs possibility".
Loosing mediocrity:
Darkness crept through my ear like oil. Someone was trying to break up the frozen globe of the earth with a massive hammer. The hammer struck the earth precisely eight times. But the earth failed to break up. It only cracked a little.

I've read that Dance, Dance, Dance is like a sequel - so that's on my list soon. But next its another Banana Yoshimoto - Goodbye Tsugumi.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


I'm currently reading Haruki Murakami's "A Wild Sheep Chase", which I will probably review next weekend. So instead I'm posting on mygarden pondering . Istarted this morning with a read of a few of my bookish blog friends, and a few of the posts I read started me thinking. So here's my train of thought.

Dolce Bellezza posted about some deformed tomatoes and her experience of summer heat and her huge reading stack. I was left with the thought that there's nothing more special than home grown vegetables, and while Bellezza is busy preparing for the new school year, my priorities for this weekend is to get the winter veggie patch under control and planted for a spring collection. I went outside in search of current crops and collected
  • Carrots
  • Bok Choy
  • Spinach
  • Radishes
  • Rhubarb
  • Celery
  • Parsley
Bookgirl's Nightstand provided a link to a website for free ebooks. I downloaded a pdf version of a George Sand Novel in French. While I was out in the garden I wondered when I would actually try to read this book. I was left thinking about the actual homework I need to do for my french class this week, and realised that it will be a long time before I get to reading this free download. There always plenty to read.

Ruth at Synch-ro-ni-zing introduced a discussion about change and the wabi-sabi way. I left a message on her site saying I was taking her thoughts out to my ever changing garden space to think about. Generally I'm a change oriented person - changing me, changing things for the better, problem solving which involves change. So Ruths post about transitions and change prompted me to think about what sort of change I dont like... I recommend Ruth's post to start your own thinking about change and transitions.

The Marmelade Gypsy was recently recognised for her blog. While I found her post really informative and interesting, it prompted me to think about the nature of my blog. These thoughts are still being processed, but were prompted further by the recent post at Wordy Evidence of the Fact who was farewelling a fish. She introduced the thought that blogging is like placing oneself in a fish bowl. In the blogging world, we are placing ourselves in a fish bowl for observation. Why is it that we do this? what is our motivation for blogging? what does it bring us? These thoughts will take a while for me to process, so in the meantime, I'm reverting to gardening.

This weekend I've removed 3 banana palms that finished producing in the past season, I've planted some more carrots, radishes and climbing beans, and I've been feeding my citrus plants which live in 1/2 wine barrels and are nearly finished producing this year.

See you next week.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Madam Bovary - Group read

Frances at NONSUCH Books is hosting a read-a-long in October of this new and acclaimed translated work of Gustave Flaubert. The rave reviews for Lydia Davis' translations tempted me enough - how about you?

Who is Lydia Davis? Check out this article and interview.

I've ordered my copy. While not yet released (to be release 23 September), this lovely hard cover edition is available for pre-purchase at the Book Depository. I'll look forward to joining many of you for this great experience.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Kitchen - BananaYoshimoto

Kitchen - by Banana Yoshimoto
This is my first book for the Japanese Literature Challenge 4 (JLC) being hosted by Dolce Bellezza. In past JLC's I discovered Murakami as one of my favourite Japanese Authors. This year I have set the challenge to find others - and now Banana Yoshimoto joins the ranks. Besides the fact I think her name is just gorgeous, this little book was a winner for me.

Firstly, it's short. Secondly, she cleverly fits all sorts of stuff into two short stories. The back cover reads:
Kitchen juxtaposes two tales about mothers, transsexuality, bereavement, kitchens, love and tradgegy in contemporary Japan. It is a startlingly original first work by Japan's brightest young literary star and is now a cult film.

For me - I enjoyed the strong and the flimsy threads through the lives of the two main characters. I don't really want to say alot about the book, but that I was engaged with the characters, learnt more about Japanese society, and was reminded that not all things turn out for everyone, and sometimes there is no 'ending'..

For JLC 4 - I'm currently reading Murakami's 'A Wild Sheep Chase', and then I'm reading Yoshimoto's 'Goodbye Tsugumi'.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Fill-ins #188

Click photo to see recipe
1. Life is Amazing!
2. When I start knitting something I really should just keep going.
3. My last text message (or IM) ended in these three words: Two gorgeous girls. (it wasn't my last text, but my third last - and the rest of the message was We're happy to say we have... - yes, my friends had twins.)
4. Almond crusted Baramundi is what I'm thinking about for dinner sometime soon. (and he's cooking it right now).
5. On the 1st day of August I had a lovely lunch with my inspirational friend.
6. I still remember my [late] granny as lively and energetic.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to diner and wine, tomorrow my plans include doing my tax and going to a formal diner presentation, and Sunday, I want to sleep in and have brunch with my friend! (I seem focused on food - perhaps I should go for a run too).
Link to Friday Fillins.

Paris in July - Participant List 2010

Karen and I enjoyed immensely, hosting the inaugural Paris in July Experience. Before I re-arrange my blog, I wanted to archive this information in my challenges page.
Karen and I took turns in posting the weekly wrap ups and choosing the winners.
  1. Tamara did a pre-event challenge, and the winners were Amy at Timeless Romance and Chasing Bawa.
  2. Tamara did week one wrap up and the winner was Sara at Wordy evidence of the fact
  3. Karen did week two wrap up and the winner was Sabrina at Think about loud!
  4. Tamara did week three wrap up and the winner was Anni at Almost Insider
  5. Karen did the final wrap up and the winners were Sara at Wordy evidence of the fact and Frances at nonsuch books.
Now I'm going to list all the participants: A bookish way of life, A few of my favourite books, Almost Insider, Bookgirls nightstand, Books as food, Buried in Print, Chasing Bawa, Chat Noir, Coffee and bookchick, Dolce Bellezza, Enchanted by Josephine, Farmlane Books, The Feminist texan reads, Flowers and Stripes, I love to read, Lakeside Musing, Loving Books, Lynda's bookblog, My porch, My cozy book nook, My spring show, Nonsuch Books, Once, oh marvelous once, Paperback reader, Random Ramblings, Recovery Artist, Synch-ro-ni-zing, The adventures of an intrepid reader, The boston bibliophile, The captive reader, The literary stew, The marmalade gypsy, The reading life, Thinking about loud!, Third storey window, Timeless romance, Truth, beauty, freedom and books, Wishin' I knew how to blog, Wordy evidence of the fact.

In Karen's final wrap up, we've indicated we'll be keen to see you all again for Paris in July 2011! Hope you can join us then.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Paris - A la prochaine!

Je voudrais dire merci pour votre participation a Paris en Julliet. Il ete un evenement tres agreable. J'ai eu beaucoup de plaisir visiter chaque blog enregistre.

J'ai particulierement apprecie les commenaires de livres (ajoutant a ma list de TBR), les souvenirs personnels des visites a Paris, et les critiques de la musique et des films. J'ime beaucoup les commenaires de nouriture et des recettes.

A mon avis, cela a ete amusement, ca serait dommage de ne pas le faire a encore. Souhaitez-vous pas d'acord? Visitera la site de Karen encore, et laisser un commentaire si vous avez des idees sur Paris en julliet en 2011?

A bientot!
English: (for those who cant read french yet, and for those who can and cant understand mine!)
I would like to say thankyou for your participation in 'Paris in July'. It has been a very enjoyable event. I have had great pleasure visiting every blog registered. I particularly appreciated the book reviews (adding to my TBR list), the personal memories of visiting Paris, and the music and movie reviews. I liked alot the food reviews and recipes.

In my opinion, it has been alot of fun, and it would be a pitty to not do it again. Wouldn't you agree? Visit Karen's blog again, and leave a comment if you have any idea's about Paris in July 2011.

Until later!