You can just tell from the title that this is going to be a ridiculous show, but it’s also a 2019 offering co-produced by Netflix, so I figured it might have some of the modernity of Hello, My Twenties (still my favourite K-drama). Romance is a Bonus Book is really enjoyable and fairly modern, but it does get cheesy and a little over-earnest at times.
The show is set in a small-ish literary publisher in Seoul, which had obvious appeal for me. There’s some fairly realistic stuff about how books are published – including a heartbreaking scene of lorry-loads of remaindered books getting pulped – and plenty of passionate speeches about the importance of books. I really liked most of the workplace stuff, but it’s still a K-drama so of course at heart this is a romance.
I have spent almost three years feeling pretty low about Britain voting to leave the EU, but I have decided that in this bonus time created by the latest extension, I want to do something to celebrate the EU. So I’m going to try to read a book from every one of the 28 EU countries (yes, that’s including the UK).
Ideally, I’d like every book in the challenge to be written by an author from the designated country and set in that country. But if that’s not possible for every country, then I’ll take one or the other where I need to. I already have several books to get started with, but I’m going to need to do some research/get some recommendations to complete this.
I started by making a pile of books from my TBR that are by EU authors. There are some duplicate countries in here, so I have some decisions to make (again, recommendations will be welcomed). And I’ve only included one book from the UK – the collection of Welsh legends known collectively as The Mabinogion.
Inferior: the True Power of Women and the Science That Shows It by Angela Saini
This is such an important book. It’s not the first on this topic but it’s the one that has managed to take off and get the message out there (partly thanks to the brilliant Jess Wade, who has been campaigning to get this book into school libraries).
Saini interrogates the claims of scientists about the differences between the sexes. She explains what we do and don’t know about whether men and women’s different positions in society are the result of physical biological differences, or hard-wired differences in ability, or if they’re the result of hundreds, if not thousands, of years of society and culture being skewed.
Are men’s and women’s brains really wired differently? It’s a very complicated area of science, and despite some excitable newspaper headlines, we don’t yet know for sure. It appears that there is more variety within each sex than there is between them. And importantly, even if there are physical differences, we have to be extremely careful about extrapolating reasons for those differences.
Can we learn about our ancestors from anthropologists’ studies of 20th-century hunter-gatherers? A limited amount, yes, but the surviving hunter-gatherer communities are all very different from each other. The only real conclusion we can reach is the variety of what human beings – and women particularly – are capable of.
But that hasn’t prevented more than a century of evolutionary research being skewed to ancient hunting habits (because men were presumed to have done most of the hunting) and often ignoring or downplaying other human activities such as gathering food and childcare (which were assumed to be wholly female activities). Which has knock-on effects including that theories about the development of human language are largely based around hunting and it is only recently that scientists have begun to question whether a more likely scenario for language development is the need to pass information from mother to child.
We ended this month visiting Bristol City Museum for the second part of their Japanese prints exhibition. I love ukiyo-e, and this collection on the theme of “life in the city” is definitely worth a trip if you’re anywhere near Bristol before 12 May.
My reading has been up and down – possibly because I have been really trying to get through The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov for six weeks now, but I’m just not enjoying it. I think it might be time to give up. I also read a couple of badly written books, which I wouldn’t usually stick with. Thankfully I also read some gems, including Inferior by Angela Saini, which I genuinely recommend to everybody. I bought my Mum a copy for Mother’s Day. That will not be the only copy I give as a gift.
I also started running again this month after a five-month break. It’s been tough getting back into it but I am starting to feel the benefits. Now I just have to…keep it up.
Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto translated from Japanese by Asa Yoneda
This is an odd book. I loved some things about it, but I didn’t love it. Which is a shame as it sounded so thoroughly up my alley.
Yoshie is in her early 20s when her semi-famous musician father dies in bizarre circumstances. Finding the family home overwhelming in her grief, she moves to the small, hip neighbourhood Shimokitazawa. She loves her quirky, arty new locale and her new job at a cafe there. But just as she is settling in, her mother shows up and insists on moving in with her.
Yoshie is having nightmares about her father, while her mother claims that their family home is haunted by him. The dead father is a constant presence through the book, necessarily so, as the whole arc of the story is the mother and daughter’s shared grief. (The significance of the title is that “Moshi moshi” is how you answer the phone in Japanese, and one of the plot threads is about the father’s mobile phone.)
The depiction of Shimokitazawa is wonderful – it really came alive for me and made me want to go there. There is an element of middle-class folk from a fancy neighbourhood playing at being poor and romanticising “the simple life”, but there is also something very enticing in Yoshimoto’s descriptions of the local shops and restaurants.
This Japanese drama series, also known as Underwear, is a 2015 Netflix and Fuji TV co-production set in an exclusive lingerie boutique in Tokyo. The trailer looked a little ridiculous, but I was pleasantly surprised once I started watching.
A bit like ER, Atelier opens with a new employee’s first day, but she doesn’t remain the lead character in every episode. The newbie is Takita Mayuko (Mao Daichi), a recent textiles graduate who is excited to be in the very fancy Ginza district for her first day. But she isn’t an obvious fit for the fashion world, being more interested in fabric development than haute couture.
Mayu’s comfortable shoes and ill-fitted suit, not to mention her tendency to speak her mind, particularly stand out against the elegance of Emotion, the boutique that hired her as a general assistant, and its renowned chief designer/owner Nanjo Mayumi (Mirei Kiritani). Nanjo-san initially seems cold and modelled on Anna Wintour (on day one she tells Mayu that she is not beautiful, which considering Daichi is a model is clearly ridiculous) but she and Mayu develop genuine respect for each other.
I’ve put off reviewing this novel for a while now. I love Matt Haig and this is a lovely book, but I feel like maybe the author – who has spoken publicly about his anxiety and depression – was in a bad place when he wrote it. It’s sad and bleak and I think the ending broke me a little bit.
It’s the story of the Hunters – an ordinary family in an ordinary British suburb, but who are on the brink of disintegrating. And it’s narrated by Prince, the family dog, which sounds like a terrible idea but actually works really well.
Adam and Kate are happily married, their children Hal and Charlotte are typical teenagers. On the surface. But the marriage is brittle. Hal is fragile. Charlotte is always angry. One small spark is all it will take to destroy them.
I picked up this crime novel in need of an engrossing, compelling read to get me back into reading. It worked on that level, but it definitely has flaws, primarily that I found the conclusion offensive. So I can’t in honesty recommend this book. If you’re interested in my specific objection, read beyond the spoiler warning below.
For the most part, I liked the characters and the set-up of the crime. The leads are all women and they’re not all broken and/or alcoholics – particularly not the police professionals, which was refreshing. The chapters alternate between three characters: the prime suspect, Evie, a high-school teacher pregnant with her first child; the lead detective, D.D. Warren, who is a recurring character of Gardner’s; and Flora, who is a survivor of a past crime turned police informant and victim-support worker.
The book opens with Evie arriving home to find her husband Conrad dead. She takes the gun from his lap and fires it, and seconds later is found by the police still holding the gun, which makes it hard for them to believe her statement that she didn’t kill Conrad. D.D. recognises Evie from one of her first cases as a police officer, when Evie was a teenager who had accidentally shot and killed her father (or had she?). To make matters even more complicated, when news of the murder is televised, Flora recognises Conrad as an associate of the man who kidnapped and serially raped her.
This was largely a random Netflix find, possibly loosely inspired by a recent conversation at work about how ghosts occupy a different place in East Asian culture to Western culture. Oh My Ghost (2015 tvN) also heavily features chefs and cooking, which I have recently realised I am a big fan of in my TV choices. And the trailer for it looked light and silly, which appealed to me.
Oh My Ghost is a combination of sweet romance, crime drama and supernatural comedy, and it handles all those elements really well. It discusses sex and passion reasonably openly, for a K-drama. And the leads are very beautiful. Which means this comes pretty high in my ranking of K-dramas, despite my low expectations.
This might seem redundant on a book blog, but I really do love books. I love books in all their forms: print or electronic; old and tatty or crisp and new; beautifully designed or so plain it’s practically a printout. All of them. I love books that educate, entertain, shock, horrify, uplift, sadden or amuse me.
I have always tried not to be in any way snobby about books or reading. If some people prefer to only read for information-gathering, or only for total escapism, that’s up to them. I think all reading is beneficial – even the backs of cereal packets. I might have a literature degree and have ticked off a lot of titles on those “must read” lists that do the rounds, but I also read a lot of Mills & Boon as a teenager – and really enjoyed them!
That’s not to say I don’t want to change the balance of what I read to better represent the world I live in (I now read slightly more women than men, but most of these authors are white and, to the best of my knowledge, cis-gender and able-bodied). And if I can encourage others using positive means to read more broadly then that’s brilliant.