september-december.

It’s been a dark and long autumn and I haven’t done half of the things I was supposed to. Like writing here. My reading has been mostly good, I finished my 50th book two hours before the new year. I haven’t been good at writing about the books I have read in the past few months.

The first book, read all the way back in September, was All the Rage by Courtney Summers (2015). It is about a teenager being raped at a party and no one believes her because he is the popular girl. And they bully her. The book gave me a lot of feelings, and especially the raging kind. This is a book that should be taught in schools worldwide. If you’re curious about what rape culture is all about, this book will give you an idea.

The 7th Vera Stanhope novel, the Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves (2015) was also read in September. I wasn’t entirely won over by the last Vera novel, so I’m happy to report that she’s back on track with this one. Ann Cleeves is my go to crime writer and I regularly check when she has a new book coming out.

From June to November I have been chasing Moby Dick (Herman Melville, 1851). My chase has been as hard as Captain Ahab’s. It should have been a great read for me, but all the detours made it boring. And that’s a shame because I was totally into it until the ship left the harbour. Oh well, at least now I can understand all the references to Moby Dick. I’m hoping Ahab’s Wife will be better.

I finally got around to reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (1945). I should have read it before visiting Monterrey back in 2012 (possibly the most touristy place I have ever visited – we ended up with a quick stroll and an expensive Mexican restaurant before continuing to Big Sur). Anyway, it is about a group of young men in Monterrey trying to work as little as possible and party as much as they can. It is a short, entertaining read and I wanted more. I’m glad I still have a lot of Steinbeck’s work unread on my shelves.

Book #49 was Career of Evil by J.K. Rowling (as Robert Gailbraith (2015)). I haven’t been too happy about the previous Comoran Strike books but this was bloody near perfect. It is surprisingly and delightfully dark, nearly grotesque and I was unable to put it down. I hope Rowling will never stop writing!

The final book of last year was Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata (1952). I chose it because of its length, 147 pages. It is about a young man attending a tea ceremony with 3 sexually frustrated women (okay, that was maybe taking it too far, but you can definitely feel the sexual tension between him and the women). It is a beautiful book and I fear I didn’t give it the attention it deserved as the clock was ticking towards midnight. Kawabata is an author I will definitely read more of, having won the Nobel prize and all.

Noon at the darkest day of the year in Jarfjord, Norway.

Happy New Year!

twelve.

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura (2002)
 Taro Azuma is a billionaire who grew up as a poor boy with his aunt’s family where he was treated poorly. Taro is the gossip of the Japanese community in New York as he as always been stand-offish and mysterious. Minae meets him first when she is a young girl and he is the private chauffeur to one of the big men in her father’s company. Later, when Taro is rich and Minae is a writer, she is sought out by a Japanese, Yusuke, who wants to tell her Taro’s story.

Yusuke got to know the story when he by accident or pure luck crashed into a gate of a cottage in Karuizawa, where an old maid lives. She lets him sleep in the shed and from there he swears he sees the ghost of a young girl. The maid, Fumiko, has served the same family since the war, and has known Taro from he was a kid living in the neighbouring house and until now, when she is his employee. She decides to tell him about her life, and the story of Taro and Yoko, probably because she wants it off her chest.

The prologue to this story is so long that it’s a story in itself. And then when the real story begins and takes you back over time, it’s like reading a completely different book. At first I struggled with the real story because I was so caught up in the prologue, but as the story progressed it mesmerised me. I have been spending months reading this, just a couple of pages in bed at night, because I didn’t want it to end.

The author says that this is a Japanese twist of Wuthering Heights. It’s been 10 years since I read Wuthering Heights and I don’t remember much except moors and Heathcliff (but this might also been influenced by Kate Bush). I’m going to reread Wuthering Heights as soon as possible, and then I might (but probably not) write a note on the two books.

This is also a tough competitor to the prettiest book in my collection. Just look at the cover(s). And it was the thing which caught my eye and made me buy it (yes, I always judge the book by its cover). The paper is glossy and the book is full of black and white pictures of the places in the story. And dividing it in two makes it a lot easier to carry it around because it’s nearly 900 pages long.

Did I mention that this book is great?

twenty-two.

the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (1994)
 “Between the end of that strange summer and the approach of winter, my life went on without change. Each day would dawn without incident and end as it had begun. It rained a lot in September. October had several warm, sweaty days. Aside from the weather, there was hardly anything to distinguish one day from the next. I worked at concentrating my attention on the real and useful. I would go to the pool almost every day for a long swim, take walks, make myself three meals.

But even so, every now and then I would feel a violent stab of loneliness. The very water I drank, the very air I breathed, would feel like long, sharp needles. The pages of a book in my hands would take on the threatening metallic gleam of razor blades. I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o’clock in the morning.”

 Toru Okada has left his job when the cat in the house goes missing. His wife wants him to find the cat, which leads him to meeting some new and weird acquaintances. A woman called Malta Kano calls him and says that she’d help him find the cat. May Kasahara is a 16 year old living in one of the houses next door who has been in a motorcycle accident and therefore doesn’t go to school. And then there is this unknown woman who phones him and asks him about sex. From there things get more complicated. One day his wife, Kumiko, simply disappears. Toru doesn’t believe that she has gone willingly, and blames his nemesis; his brother-in-law.
This is the kind of Murakami I like. Nothing too weird, amazing characters, cats, corridors and sex. I also liked that Manchuria and World War II is one of the settings, and I definitely want to read more about the subject.  Murakami has turned into one of those authors whom I need to have at least one unread book from on my bookshelves. He is also best in small doses, so one or two books a year is enough.

seven.

the Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino (2008)
“My name is Namima – ‘Woman-Amid-the-Waves’. I am a miko. Born on an island far, far to the south, I was barely sixteen when I died. Now I make my home among the dead, here in this realm of darkness. How did this come to pass?”
 Namima and her older sister by a year, Kamikuu, are of one of the noblest families on the island of Umihebi. Their grandmother is the island’s priestess and when Kamikuu is 6, she is taken from the family to follow her grandmother’s role, while Namima is to become the outcast of the island. Because her sister is yin, she has to be yang, and has to take care of the dead and live at the funeral place and not see anyone.

But before that happens, she has to take care of the basket of leftover food from Kamikuu, and although the island is poor and starving, the food is to be thrown off the cliff every night and that’s Namima’s job. One day, she meets another outcast, Mahito, and he begs for the food for his mother who is pregnant, and if she doesn’t give birth to a girl, his family will remain outcasts. She falls in love, breaks a lot of rules, becomes pregnant and decides to run away with him.

This book wasn’t anything like I expected from the woman who has written some of the goriest books I have read (Grotesque, Out and Real World). Because this is just beautiful. I really felt the unfairness of the island’s rules, and then the shock of what came next. I really enjoyed the rest of the tale and especially that part when Namima became a wasp, and the story of Izanami and Izanaki.

I discovered after reading the book, that it is part of a wonderful series called Canongate Myths (least informative webpage ever?), which retell ancient myths and are written by quite a few well-known authors. I have already put a number of them on my wish list, including Jeanette Winterson, Ali Smith, Margaret Atwood and A.S Byatt.  What I miss, and have tried to google, is the background of the story. I found the story of Izanami and Izanaki, but I’m really curious about the island and what time it is set.

seventeen.

Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami (1988)
 “Dance,” said the Sheep Man. “Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays. Yougota dance. Don’teventhinkwhy. Starttothink, yourfeetstop. Yourfeetstop,wegetstuck. Wegetstuck, gottakeepthestep. Yougottalimberup. Yougottaloosenwhatyoubolteddown. Yougottauseallyougot. Weknowyou’retired, tiredandscared. Happensoeveryone, okay? Justdon’tletyourfeetstop….Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays.”
 A man is trying to find out the truth about his ex-lover and he goes back to the hotel in Sapporo where they had stayed previously. Only the hotel isn’t the same. Instead of the run down small hotel, there is an enormous shiny new hotel. And the staff isn’t pleased when he asks about the other hotel.
But one of the receptionists is nice to him, and they become friendly. She also asks him for a favour when he leaves; could he look after a 13 year old girl on the way back to Tokyo? This girl, abandoned by her famous parents, and the man become friends, a friendship that will take them to Hawaii. And as their friendship evolves, the man is still looking for clues about his ex-lover.
Another great book from Murakami! I don’t know why I haven’t read more Murakami, there are three unread ones in my shelf, but I guess it’s good to save some for later. I don’t think I really got the end right, but it doesn’t matter as the journey there was such a delight to read. 
It is definitely the characters that made this book. He described them so well that they came alive in my head. And yes, the Sheep Man scared the hell out of me.

thirteen.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (2002)


Kafka runs away from his father on his fifteenth birthday. He takes the night bus from Tokyo and ends up in a town with an amazing private library. The man working in the reception takes pity on Kafka and when he needs a place to stay after waking up with a bloody shirt outside one day, he asks the owner of the library if Kafka can stay and work there. And then there’s Mr Nakata who can’t read or write but is able to talk with cats. He finds missing cats for his neighbours and on search for one, he stumbles upon Johnnie Walker who collects souls from cats and Nakata ends up killing Johnnie Walker. After confessing to a police man who do not believe Nakata’s strange story, he leaves Tokyo and ends up in the same town as Kafka.

I have had a hard time trying to understand and describe the events in this book. There is a lot of strange things going on and I found it hard to follow at times. What kept me reading was the characters, and especially Mr Nakata and the cats. But I have no idea what really happened in the end.

This book was a bit disappointing after falling in love with Norwegian Wood. But for some strange reason it made me want to reread the Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov again.

seventy-nine.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (1987)

“Once the plane was on the ground, soft music began to flow from the ceiling speakers: a sweet orchestral cover version of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood”. The melody never failed to send a shudder through me, but this time it hit me harder than ever.”

Toru is reminded of a girl he loved a long time ago, Naoko. She was the girlfriend of his best friend who killed himself very suddenly at the age of 17. Naoko and Toru meet again when they are at university and they start taking long walks all over Tokyo. Naoko is not dealing well with the death of her childhood boyfriend and after sleeping with Toru she ends up in a sanctuary.

This book is full of lonely messed-up beautiful people reaching out to other lonely beautiful people. And so much death. But also love. And a fair amount of popular culture and sex. I had Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles stuck on my mind while reading.

“I trudged along through each day in its turn, rarely looking up, eyes locked on the never-ending swamp that lay before me, planting my right foot, raising my left, planting my left food, raising the right, never sure where I was, never sure I was headed in the right direction, knowing only that I had to keep moving, one step at a time.”

Murakami has been on my book-shelf for years and yet all the wonderful things I have heard about his writing, I never picked him up until now. And how much did I like him? I just ordered two more books by him off Amazon.