Sunday, November 30, 2014

What Happened in November, 2014


This month, I have been reading and listening to some long books.  In fact, as the end of November approached, and I realized that I hadn't even done one review, I put down . . .And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer (not for the first time!), and picked up 1Q84 by Haruki Murikami, so that I could read it on paper when I wasn't listening to the audio version, and have at least one book to write about. 

IQ84 is set in Japan in 1984.  Apparently, in Japanese, 1Q84 is pronounced the same as 1984.  There are two main characters, Aomame and Tengo.  Aomame steps out of a taxi in a traffic jam, goes down a stairway, and finds herself in a parallel universe.   At first Aomame can't tell that she is in the wrong dimension, but then she begins to notice subtle clues, like news stories that everyone knows about but that she can't remember, and the appearance of a strange second moon in the sky. 

Tengo was a bit of a child prodigy, who as an adult is making ends meet by working in a "cram school" (tutoring center?), while he struggles with writing a novel.  A colleague who is judging a writing contest brings Tengo a strange offer.  If Tengo will re-write a promising piece that a teenage girl submitted, the colleague is certain that it would win a prize, and possibly become a best seller.  Tengo has already read the entry, and was oddly interested in it.  Despite his ethical reservations, he can't resist.

Aomame and Tengo were friends when they were 10 years old.  "Friends" may be overstating it, but they attended the same school, and sympathized with each other because of their unusual family situations.  Every Sunday, Tengo's father who worked for a broadcast network, would go from house to house collecting fees.  Sort of like if the cable guy came to your house every month instead of Comcast sending a bill.  Aomame's parents were members of a strict religious group, and they took Aomame around with them every Sunday when they proselytized.  The two children would see each other being dragged along by their parents, and feel a kinship.  One day they held hands.  Apparently that was enough for them each to live the rest of their lives thinking about each other.

All of the usual Murakami topics are here - cats, menstruation, classical music, etc.  While thinking about this, I stumbled upon this great page, which graphs how often Murikami mentions 10 different motifs in each of his novels.  I would add a few more to her diagram.  In fact, if you took all of the sentences out of this book where Tengo was contemplating his erection or Aomame was complaining about the size of her breasts or the texture of her pubic hair, I think the book would be 50 pages shorter.

One thing that surprised me and that I haven't noticed in Murikami's other books was that the translation was really horrible.  Murikami has lived in the US from time to time, and was even an associate professor at Princeton, so, I would expect his English to be excellent, and that he would be concerned about the translation.  There were some times when I would have used a different word, like when Aomame asked if she was annoying Tomaro, and she really meant to ask if she was disturbing him.  No big deal.  But it bugged me when they kept saying that Tengo's dad was in a sanatorium when he was clearly in a nursing  home and when Tengo couldn't stop talking about his "older girlfriend".  There must be one word in Japanese that means "older girlfriend" and another that means "girlfriend".  In the translation it was just awkward as Tengo was always thinking about his "older girlfriend" or going to visit his "older girlfriend", especially when the fact that she was older than him was basically irrelevant to the story.

At first, the story seemed overly simple.  At one point, Aomame basically said "Oh, I think I am in an alternate universe now"  which was strange.  But the story wound around like a cinnamon bun, getting tighter as it went, until everything came together well in the end.  In terms of Murikami books, it is still not my favorite, as that position belongs to Kafka on the Shore.  It may come in third for me, behind Kafka and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

1Q84 was a NYT Notable Book for 2011.  It was the longest audio book that I have ever listened to, with 38 discs.  In paper form, it is 925 pages, and definitely a Big Fat Book.

Tags:  Big Fat Books, Sci-Fi-ish, NYT Notable

Challenges:  Rewind, Audiobook, I Love Library Books

Book Group Reports

The Neighborhood Book Group took November off, but The Typical Book Group got together this month to discuss Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.  I was glad that we picked this book to read, because it is one that I read a couple of years ago, and still think back to from time to time.   In short, MPLS is about an old retired army officer living in the English countryside, with no intention of challenging the status quo.  Then the Major meets Mrs. Ali, who is a local shopkeeper, and everything changes.  The things that were once important to him seem stodgy and trivial, and he recognizes the unspoken prejudices among his friends and relatives.  Mrs. Ali is of Pakistani descent, but has always lived in England.  Still, to the Major's acquaintances, she will always be foreign.

The Typical Book Groupers all loved the Major.  He reminded us of Harold Fry from The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.  Both the Major and Harold opened their minds when they were old enough to be set in their ways.  We also talked about what event was the Major's "last stand".  There were so many possible choices, and we each seemed to come in thinking that the last stand was something different from what the others thought.

Next month we'll discuss The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

Tags:  Book Group Reports

In Other News


My expectations were low.  There was nothing that I wanted.  I didn't even go on the premier members only night.  And still, I found some great books at my library's semi-annual used book sale.  The only book that was even on my radar as something that I sort of wanted was Middlemarch, since I got My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead at the last sale, and knew that I wanted to read the original first.  That one was easy to find. 

Then, I stumbled upon Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, which The Neighborhood Book Group is thinking about reading as part of our "foodie" genre.  Next, I found The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.  Two of my friends, Kim and Ann, have read this one recently, and they both loved it.  Usually, I like what Kim likes, but Ann and I can be polar opposites in what we think makes a good book. Still, I'm looking forward to reading this one, and I got a great hard cover copy.

My coolest find was an obviously never before read copy of  Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, in French.  One of my neighbors who went with me to meet JSF a few years ago was in college working on her French minor at the time.  I think she'll be happy to get this one.
I also picked up Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All by Allan Gurganus which I have had in my hot little hands at earlier sales and put back down.  However, this book, like . . . And Ladies of the Club covers the Civil War and a long period thereafter.  Also like . . . And Ladies, Oldest Living  was published in the 1980s.  This book is also almost as long as . . . And Ladies too, weighing in at 718 pages.  I may not rush into this one.
My nightstand now includes Mary Called Magdalene by Margaret George, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka, Bossypants by Tina Fey, and Secret Ingredients:  The New Yorker Book  of Food and Drink. 
All of these, plus 2 for my husband for a total of $17.00.  Not bad at all!

December Preview

NYT Notables - It is November 30 today and the NYT Notable Books list for 2014 is no where that I can find!  It will surely be included in my December newsletter.
I plan to read these books in paper form:
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett, if I can get it, or Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen, if I can't.
Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King
(Sounds a lot like last month's preview - doesn't it!)
I plan to listen to these books in audio form:
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett, if it's easier to get on audio

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