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.
It’s been an interesting month. From below-freezing temperatures and snow storms to summer weather in three weeks. We took a long weekend to play countless hours of Civilization and eat a lot of very rich food, but I honestly can’t remember much of the rest of the month. Brain fog, apologies. I didn’t get much reading done either, for which I also accuse brain fog.
Way back when I was working for my student newspaper as the arts and books editor, I reviewed a short-story collection called Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson. It wasn’t her first book, but it was still early in her career. I loved it and vowed to pick up the novels she had previously written. But then more than 16 years passed and my only further Atkinson consumption was the TV series Case Histories starring Jason Isaacs as her character Jackson Brodie. Which was excellent.
In 2013 and 2014 everyone was talking about Life After Life. It won the Costa Novel Award and the admiration of all my favourite book bloggers. And I still didn’t read it until the brief period of snow that we had a few weeks back, which made a wintry book feel appropriate. And maybe that’s for the best. I really enjoyed this book, but I suspect it wouldn’t have stood up to the hype, for me at least.
I like the concept: Ursula is born to Sylvie Todd during a snowstorm on 11 February 1910 and dies a few seconds later. She is born again and lives a few years before dying. The cycle keeps repeating: 11 February 1910, snowstorm, Ursula’s birth. However many years she lives, it all starts again at that same moment, same place.
“Ursula opened her milky eyes and seemed to fix her gaze on the weary snowdrop. Rock-a-bye baby, Sylvie crooned. How calm the house was. How deceptive that could be. One could lose everything in the blink of an eye, the slip of a foot. ‘One must avoid dark thoughts at all costs,’ she said to Ursula.”
I enjoyed this K-drama far more than I expected to. Pinocchio (SBS 2014–2015), as the title suggests, is a loose interpretation of the classic fairy tale, but grounded in reality. And it’s also an examination of TV news reporting, asking tough questions about truth and other values in journalism.
All the essential ingredients of the fairy tale are there: a person who displays a physical manifestation of lying (in this case hiccups); a person close to them who acts as a conscience; dead and absent parents; there’s even (in my interpretation) a fairy godparent role.
And yet for all that, the TV show this most resembles is Doctors – right down to its lead actor Park Shin-hye. Here she plays Choi In-ha, a woman who has Pinocchio syndrome – she hiccups when she lies (or, importantly, believes herself to be lying or supporting someone else’s lie). Just like in Doctors, the first two episodes are flashbacks setting up the dramatic and romantic storylines.
This Japanese TV show exists in many versions – largely with the same actors – but I am here referring to the Netflix series Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories (which is arguably season 4 of the show originally aired on MBS). Tim and I love this show so much.
It’s a simple concept: at a late-night diner (open from midnight until 7 a.m.) in Shinjuku, the chef-owner cooks whatever dish his guests request. The camera lingers on the cooking, but this is a drama about people. Each episode takes as its subject one of the regular customers. In this way, the episodes are largely separate stories.
Midnight Diner has a wonderful atmosphere – warm, cosy, but within the confines of reality. The acoustic background music adds to the sensation of being in a friendly backstreet bar where there is always gentle hubbub and subdued lighting.
When Tim and I visited Pompeii last year our one disappointment was the lack of information at the excavations site. Even armed with the official guide book, we were confused about what some buildings were and which bits had been reconstructed. Though don’t get me wrong: we still loved it so much that we spent a second day there rather than climbing Vesuvius as originally planned.
So when we got home I searched for a book not about Pompeii pre-AD 79, but about the rediscovery of the town since 1748. Harris tracks the uncovering of Herculaneum and Pompeii up to the present day – a story that encompasses much of the political history of Europe over the same years and the development of modern archaeology.
This book is really good and definitely helped me to understand more of what we had seen in Pompeii, though I must admit it didn’t answer every question. It is packed with fascinating tidbits that I kept storing up to tell Tim.
I have come full circle from a year ago – from Japanese TV dramas to Korean shows and now back to Japanese ones. Aside from confusing myself language-wise (I had just started to pick up some words in Korean), I found it really interesting to watch a similar teen drama to many of the K-dramas I binged last year, but set in a city I have actually visited.
Good Morning Call originally aired in 2016 on Fuji TV and a second season Good Morning Call: Our Campus Days was made a year later by Netflix. It’s a light-hearted romance set in Tokyo, where teenagers Yoshikawa Nao (played by Fukuhara Haruka) and Uehara Hisashi (Shiraishi Shunya) are both looking for an apartment to live alone for their last two years of high school. They are scammed into leasing the same apartment and, realising that they could not possibly afford such a nice place individually, agree to secretly live together.
Nao is a sweet, scatty, popular girl who feels things deeply and is incapable of hiding her volcanic emotions. Hisashi is a distant, clever loner who is good-looking enough to be fawned over by all the girls at school but has no patience with most people. They are not an obvious pairing and initially they fight a lot. But of course they learn each other’s virtues as well as flaws, not to mention their secrets. Enmity becomes friendship becomes…romance?
I feel like a lot has happened already this year, especially considering two weeks were written off by having a bad cold (it’s still lingering but on the way out now). I had a birthday, we’ve spent time with friends, had a weekend away. Which handily included long train rides for reading.
Because one of my birthday presents was a box set of Penguin Mini Classics, I’ve decided that this year in-between each full-sized book I will read either a comic or a mini book. In addition to giving me a sample of lots of authors I’ve been meaning to read, it also makes my numbers on Goodreads look really good!
Like last year, February looks set to be much colder than January so I foresee some cosy reading days ahead.
This book has a style that initially put me off and ended with me completely in love with it and the story. It was a random purchase in response to a social-media appeal from Salt Publishing. I love a good random find.
The language echoes that of folk tale, with most characters named for their role in the story rather than having a given name. It seems a little stilted at first, but as I got used to it I was able to admire the ways in which Hamill uses style to great effect. Words and phrases are repeated, drawing powerful parallels between characters and events.
“The confidence didn’t come at first. At first they were like spiders, scurrying from house to house…But when they could walk from house to charred house, only looking over their shoulders once to see if they were being followed, they began to feel better. When the schools started back and the hospital opened and UN tanks were seen only once in a while, then they trusted that they might be okay. The war is over, thank God…We are free. We will live. We will marry. We will move on.”
This is an epic family saga spanning two countries and most of the twentieth century. It took some time to lure me in, but once in I really loved it.
Pachinko starts in Korea in 1910 – the year when Japan invaded and occupied the country. Lee briefly sketches the family background of the woman who is to become the heart of the book: Sunja. She is the only surviving child of a couple who run a small boardinghouse in a fishing village near Busan. Their tenants are mostly fishermen and their income is small, but their reputation is strong enough that even as times get tough in Korea, they manage to get by.
Sunja is poor, uneducated and plain-looking, and as such she doesn’t expect to marry, but circumstances conspire to match her with an educated man who wants to take her with him to Japan to build a new life, so in 1933 they emigrate. But in Osaka she discovers that there is a form of poverty that is far worse than the way she was raised – because it is based on and maintained by racism. No Japanese company will hire Koreans except for the lowest of menial tasks.