December 2017 reading round-up

(I’m cheating a bit and backdating this post to 31 December 2017 so that I can find it in future when I look for it.)

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We were mid-dream holiday at the end of December, so I didn’t summarise my end-of-year reading at the time. But I read some great books in December so I’m going to dredge my memory for my thoughts on each of them below.

Also, I’ve already picked my top books of the year, but I love to dissect my annual reading stats, so here goes: I read 78 books in 2017, starting with The Girl With All the Gifts by M R Carey and finishing with The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon – which were both pretty good. Of those books, 35 were by men, 42 by women, and one by multiple authors of both genders. 12 were works in translation, which just about hit my target of one per month, though I’d still like to do better. Similarly, I read 8 books from my Classics Club list, which isn’t quite on target so I’m going to have to pick up the rate for the next two years.

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Christmas in Tokyo

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Merry Christmas!

There are already so many things I could tell you about our holiday, but as it’s Boxing Day, for now I’ll tell you all about our Christmas. We were expecting a fairly low-key Christmas, and in most of Japan, indeed much of Tokyo, that would indeed be possible. But there are some neighbourhoods that go all out. At Tokyo Midtown (a giant complex of shops, restaurants, museums, hotels and park) we saw the best Christmas light display I have ever seen – and apparently it’s not the most impressive one in Tokyo. But it is one of the few that is definitely Christmas-themed – others are more for New Year.

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The sound of the freezing of snow over the land

Snow Country
by Yasunari Kawabata
translated from Japanese by Edward G Seidensticker

This is a classic novel about a man who travels from Tokyo to a small hot spring town in the mountains in December. It’s a short book filled with beautiful descriptions of people, scenery and everyday life.

Shimamura’s thoughts and intentions are revealed slowly. The novel opens with him on the train, staring at the reflection in the window of an attractive woman sat near him. Kawabata goes into great detail of the way the reflected image changes in response to the changing light and scenery outside. It’s a mark of the story to follow, this attention to the specifics of small moments.

“It was a stern night landscape. The sound of the freezing of snow over the land seemed to roar deep into the earth. There was no moon. The stars, almost too many of them to be true, came forward so brightly that it was as if they were falling with the swiftness of the void. As the stars came nearer, the sky retreated deeper and deeper into the night colour. The layers of the Border Range, indistinguishable one from another, cast their heaviness at the skirt of the starry sky in a blackness grave and sombre enough to communicate their mass.”

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Time interacts with attention in funny ways

a tale for the time beingA Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki

I bought this book because it had good reviews and is set in Tokyo – and what better way to prepare for a holiday? It’s a strange story, with unusual narrators and perspectives, and I really do feel that it gave me some insights into life in Tokyo.

The story opens with Naoko, a 16-year-old girl, who is sat in a Tokyo cafe directly addressing her reader. She says that she is a time being and that she plans to write for her reader the story of her 104-year-old great grandmother Jiko before she dies.

Nao is confrontational, sarcastic and has a very dark sense of humour. She texts stories to Jiko about dead prostitutes, which is especially odd because Jiko is a Buddhist nun, formerly a feminist anarchist novelist, now living in a temple in the mountains north of Tokyo.

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The Extraordinary Visual History of the Iconic Space Programme

ApolloJust a quick post to say that my review of Apollo by Zack Scott has been published over at Physics World. It’s a beautiful book about the Apollo space programme, largely made up of illustrations and infographics. To see what else I thought, pop on over to Physics World.

While you’re at it, check out Physics World‘s top 10 books of 2017, revealed today. They’re the top popular-science books that the editors felt would appeal to physicists. I’m keen to read several of them (and I’m not a physicist, even if I do work with a bunch of them!).

November 2017 reading round-up

book. daily illustration

Compiling this blog post I realise I’ve read a lot of comics this month. I have to some extent been saving my brain space for learning Japanese before the big trip to Tokyo, which is now three weeks away (eek!).

I am enjoying winter so far – perhaps because it’s been mostly dry. I love a cold, dry day. It’s lovely to be outside in it, but it’s even better to be indoors looking at it! And of course, the long dark nights are a great excuse for curling up on the sofa with a book or TV show.

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Recent reads in brief

Giant Days: Volume 4
written by John Allison, illustrated by Max Sarin

I love this series. Room-mates Susan, Daisy and Esther are still battling through their first year of university. This volume opens during the Easter holidays. Esther has decided to drop out, so Susan and Daisy travel to her hometown of Tackleford (the main setting of Allison’s ongoing web series Scary Go Round) to talk her out of it. Hijinks and bonding ensue.

This volume is preoccupied by romance: break-ups, the aftermath of break-ups, the hint of something new. There is a corresponding lack of the surreal weirdness that usually characterises Allison’s work, but the story and in particular the girls’ friendship are so sweet and wonderful that I love it just the same. It’s adorable and it makes me happy.

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