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[Review] Breaking Into Japanese Literature

[Review] Breaking Into Japanese Literature

[Review] Breaking Into Japanese LiteratureBreaking Into Japanese Literature: Seven Modern Classics in Parallel Text by Giles Murray, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Natsume Sōseki
Published by Kodansha on June 1st 2012
Genres: Japanese literature, Horror, Classic
Pages: 239
ISBN: 9781568364155
Goodreads
three-stars

Reading great books in the original should be the culmination of language study, but reading Japanese literature unassisted is a daunting task that can defeat even the most able of students. Breaking into Japanese Literature is designed to help you bypass all the frustration and actually enjoy classics of Japanese literature.
Breaking into Japanese Literature features seven graded stories by Natsume Soseki and Akutagawa Ryunosuke, covering a variety of genres.

This book was… not that great. But let me start off on a positive note: I enjoyed the stories. The book contains seven short stories in total, by Natsume Sōseki and Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. The selection of stories, content wise, is good. The stories are quite dark, which I love, and I especially like Akutagawa, so reading these stories wasn’t boring.

Now for the negative…

The aim of this book is to read Japanese literature in the original language. The book is set up to accommodate this: each page contains the original Japanese story on the left page, an English translation on the right page, and vocabulary on the bottom half of both pages. Sounds convenient, but it doesn’t quite get it right. There are no grammar explanations, and the English translations are not 100% literal translations either. The same vocab is repeated every page when necessary, which is convenient but also makes you lazy. On the plus side, there are free audio downloads available for each of the stories, if you like to listen to them while reading (I haven’t downloaded them, so I don’t know if the quality is any good).

The stories themselves are, honestly, too difficult for a book like this. They are separated into three different levels: the first stories are the easiest (and of a pretty good level), and then they gradually become more difficult. They are classic stories, and many use words and kanji that are no longer in use. The same goes for some of the grammar. And the grammar and vocabulary was simply too difficult on the whole. It doesn’t help that there are no grammar explanations in sight and the translations don’t always help with that either (you will get the meaning of the sentence, but you still won’t understand the actual grammar). For me the stories were readable, but I’d judge them as high N2 going up to N1 level.

This book simply doesn’t help anyone ‘break into’ Japanese literature. If you don’t have any prior experience reading Japanese literature in Japanese, this is way too hard. And if you are advanced enough to read stories of this level, there are better choices out there. All of the stories in this book have already been published in English (parts of Soseki’s Ten Nights Dreaming, Akutagawa’s Rashomon, In the Grove, The Nose..), so if you want to read something new and previously untranslated, this is not a great selection of stories.

All in all, a nice book for reading practice at N2+ level. But before buying this book I’d recommend Read Real Japanese Fiction, which is set up better, more accessible level-wise, and has a wider selection of stories (and all of them previously untranslated). If you are looking for more difficult reading material, you might want to check Aozora Bunko instead.

Catching up on LGBT+ reviews: Classics

Catching up on LGBT+ reviews: Classics

Catching up on LGBT+ reviews: ClassicsThe Color Purple by Alice Walker
Published by Custom Publishing on December 1st 2010 (first published 1982)
Genres: LGBT+, Classic
Pages: 262
ISBN: 9781407230924
Goodreads
five-stars

Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of women of color in the southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture.

Continuing with short reviews for LGBT+ books I read in 2016 for Pretty Deadly ReviewsLGBTQIA 2016 Reading Challenge, it’s now time for the classics!

I’ve repeated it multiple times now, but this is one of my highlights for 2016. The Color Purple had been on my want-to-read list for a while now, and I finally found the book in London last December. When Our Shared Shelf picked it as the book club read for February it was clearly time to read it!

Heart-breaking, breath-taking, beautiful, sad, funny, perfect. Every aspect of this book was amazing, from the style to the characters to every little detail in the storyline. An absolute must-read for everyone.

After the book I also took time to watch the movie. Mehhh. The first half was alright, and then it just went down the drain. Everything I loved about the book disappeared from the movie. So whatever you do, do not watch the movie instead of reading the book..! (as if you would do that..!)

***

Catching up on LGBT+ reviews: ClassicsOranges are not the only fruit by Jeanette Winterson
Published by Vintage on 1991 (first published 1985)
Genres: LGBT+, Young Adult, Classic
Pages: 171
ISBN: 9780099935704
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Jeanette, the protagonist of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and the author's namesake, has issues--"unnatural" ones: her adopted mam thinks she's the Chosen one from God; she's beginning to fancy girls; and an orange demon keeps popping into her psyche. Already Jeanette Winterson's semi-autobiographical first novel is not your typical coming-of-age tale.

Technically I could’ve reviewed this book as a young adult book, but then the numbers would be too uneven 😉

I love Jeanette Winterson’s style, even though it is not always the easiest to read. I read Oranges after The Passion so I was expecting something very lyrical and quirky. However, Oranges is very accessible while still retaining the quirk. Not everything was easy to follow if you didn’t grow up in the UK though. Still, a very interesting coming-of-age novel not just for young adults. I think this is considered a classic by right!

***

Catching up on LGBT+ reviews: ClassicsMr Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood
Published by Arrow on January 8th, 1987 (first published 1935)
Genres: LGBT+, Classic
Pages: 236
ISBN: 9780413422507
Goodreads
five-stars

On a train to Berlin in late 1930, William Bradshaw locks eyes with Arthur Norris, an irresistibly comical fellow Englishman wearing a rather obvious wig and nervous about producing his passport at the frontier. So begins a friendship conducted in the seedier quarters of the city.

I read this book as a culturally appropriate preparation for my trip to Berlin. Isherwood had been on my TBR for such a long time, so why not read him now? I really regret not doing so sooner! I’m not sure what I was expecting, but Mr Norris Changes Trains was wonderful. I read it in as little time as possible.

The characters, based on people Isherwood actually met during his time in Berlin, were fantastic. I had absolutely no problem imagining them, based on the descriptions. They are so vibrant and really make the characters come to life! Definitely one of Isherwood’s strengths. The characters are loveable and awkward, and by the end of the book you don’t really want to leave them.

So it’s no surprise that directly after finishing, I continued with…

***

Catching up on LGBT+ reviews: ClassicsGoodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood
Published by Panther on 1977 (first published 1939)
Genres: LGBT+, Classic
Pages: 208
ISBN: 9780586047958
Goodreads
four-half-stars

First published in 1939, Goodbye to Berlin is a brilliant evocation of the decadence and repression, glamour and sleaze of Berlin society in the 1930's - the time when Hitler slowly starts his move to power. It is inhabited by a wealth of characters: the unforgettable and “divinely decadent” Sally Bowles; plump Fräulein Schroeder, Peter and Otto, a gay couple struggling to come to terms with their relationship; and the distinguished and doomed Jewish family, the Landauers.

…more Isherwood! Goodbye to Berlin was more of a memoir (although quite strictly not) than Mr Norris Changes Trains. Isherwood’s style is very straightforward and he’s great at descriptions without it ever getting tiresome. I really felt myself transported to Berlin in the 1930s, eager to learn more about the city at that time. (And so I did – I went on Brendan Nash’s Isherwood tour around Nollendorfplatz!)

Goodbye to Berlin is much more fragmented than Mr Norris, with many characters being introduced, floating in and out of “Issyvoo”‘s life. But that is precisely what makes this novel such a slice-of-life kind of ‘memoir’. I loved it, and will definitely be seeking out more Isherwood (especially his post-WWII work, as I’m now quite curious how he has developed!).

Goodbye to Berlin was actually the basis for Cabaret (the 1972 movie), which I really should rewatch..!

On another note, if you’re not a fan of these rather uhm ‘classic’ covers, Penguin’s Vintage Classics has released a beautiful set of new covers.

LGBTQIA 2016 Reading Challenge

[Review] Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

[Review] Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

[Review] Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildHarry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling
Published by Little Brown on July 31st 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 330
ISBN: 9780751565355
Goodreads
three-stars

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Let me start by saying, I’m not outright dismissing The Cursed Child with my less-than-enthusiastic rating. I still really want to see the play.

Prologue: Of course I had already preordered the book at a local book store but when the publication date was there, I contemplated waiting a few days and picking it up after work. The weather on the release day was nice however, so I set out and picked up the book on July 31st.

I got home, put the book aside and continued reading Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling’s A Career of Evil. After all, I am hoping to get my hands on theatre tickets for the play and why would I read the script for the play if I could see it on stage? Reading plays is such a hit or miss anyway.

But the book was staring at me, people around me had started reading it, and would I really be able to wait nearly a year (if lucky!) before knowing what it was all about?

In the evening I caved. I opened the book, flipped to the first page, and started reading “just to check to see how script-y/readable it was”.

Conclusion after I finished 100 pages (aka act one): it was highly readable, and holy shit I was loving it! Had I not been a responsible adult who had to start work at 8am the next morning and really needed her sleep, I definitely would have finished it there and then.

Clearly this ‘book’ is a script. Scenes are short, there isn’t much depth (except perhaps for one recurring theme, View Spoiler »), because it’s a play. As a book it was a nice read nonetheless, much better than what I was expecting from a script. It wasn’t hard to imagine the scenes at all, as the dialogues were quite straightforward. Quite funny at times (I didn’t feel the serious parts as much though) but all in all I think it will be much better to see in action.

As for the actual story… After finishing, and without even reading any other reviews, my first thought was ‘well, this felt like fanfiction’. Turns out I’m not alone in this.

The thing is, I absolutely adored act one. Adored! And from there it went downhill.

Warning: minor spoilers ahead! (Large spoilers have been hidden)

Read More Read More

Catching up on LGBT+ reviews: Young Adult novels

Catching up on LGBT+ reviews: Young Adult novels

Catching up on LGBT+ reviews: Young Adult novelsTell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Published by Pan Publishing on February 14th 2013 (first published 2012)
Genres: LGBT+, Young Adult
Pages: 355
ISBN: 9781447202141
Goodreads
four-half-stars

1987. There's only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that's her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn's company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June's world is turned upside down. But Finn's death brings a surprise acquaintance into June's life--someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

I enthusiastically participated in Pretty Deadly ReviewsLGBTQIA 2016 Reading Challenge, but haven’t written all the reviews I’ve been meaning to write. So to catch up, here’s a collection of short reviews for the YA bunch!

Firstly there was Tell The Wolves I’m Home. Let me start with the positives: This was a beautiful and moving book and I really thoroughly enjoyed it. The author did a great job at describing emotions – loss, doubt, jealousy – and life as a teenager. The characters were interesting and for the most part likeable, even if they did unlikeable things. Also, like a proper YA novel, the pacing of the book was excellent.

At the same time I also have strong mixed feelings about the book. It’s told from June’s perspective, and in the grander scheme of things I get why. But she did not feel like the most important person in the book, the person deserving the attention. That, in my opinion, was Toby. I wish we had gotten more from him, about him, from his point of view. I wanted to get to know Toby, to feel his pain. June has lost the most important person in her life, but so did Toby.

All in all, I do recommend this book. Gorgeous, oh and do grab the tissues!

***

Catching up on LGBT+ reviews: Young Adult novelsFalling From The Sky (Bear Creek #1) by Nikki Godwin
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on February 21st 2014
Genres: LGBT+, Young Adult, Romance
Pages: 288
Goodreads
two-stars

All stability in sixteen-year-old Ridge McCoy’s life crashed and burned in the plane crash that killed his dad. This summer-long basketball camp is his chance to improve his skills and escape his problems back home. But his summer plans take a turn in an unexpected direction when he meets Micah Youngblood, the guy who runs the carousel at the local mall and has a reputation for devouring straight boys’ heterosexuality for breakfast, alongside his chocolate chip pancakes.

Confession time: I only read this book because I was on the other side of the world, in the middle of nowhere, with a Kindle that had just broken down, and this was one of the few e-books on my phone that was semi readable.

I actually won this book back in 2014, but never got around to it before. To be frank, this book made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. Slightly too romantic, almost voyeuristic. And I was going to say: with a target audience that is probably not me, but that wouldn’t be fair. I have liked books like this before, it can be done well. And the book wasn’t all bad. It just definitely, definitely wasn’t for me.

***

Catching up on LGBT+ reviews: Young Adult novelsYou Know Me Well by Nina LaCour, David Levithan
Published by Macmillan Children's Books on June 2nd, 2016
Genres: LGBT+, Young Adult
Pages: 256
ISBN: 9781509823932
four-stars

Who knows you well? Your best friend? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? A stranger you meet on a crazy night? No one, really?

Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

This was a spur-of-the-moment, I-want-to-read-something-recently-published buy. And I have no regrets! Although the synopsis sounds a bit ‘whatever’, the book itself is pretty cool. The book takes place during Pride celebrations in San Francisco, and while it started out just alright – the focus is very heavily on friendship and (potential) relationships – it soon turned into this fun YA/Pride explosion. And that’s mostly the appeal of this book, I think. I feel like I was missing out as a teenager!

Recommended!

***

Catching up on LGBT+ reviews: Young Adult novelsThe Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on May 12th, 2011
Genres: LGBT+, Young Adult
Pages: 264
ISBN: 9781461179931
Goodreads
one-star

Three thousand years ago, a god told a lie. Now, only a goddess can tell the truth. Persephone has everything a daughter of Zeus could want--except for freedom. She lives on the green earth with her mother, Demeter, growing up beneath the ever-watchful eyes of the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus. But when Persephone meets the enigmatic Hades, she experiences something new: choice. Zeus calls Hades "lord" of the dead as a joke. In truth, Hades is the goddess of the underworld, and no friend of Zeus. She offers Persephone sanctuary in her land of the dead, so the young goddess may escape her Olympian destiny. But Persephone finds more than freedom in the underworld. She finds love, and herself.

I practically want to throw a tantrum over this book. I really, really wanted to like it. Lesbian retelling of Greek mythology? Yes please!

But nope, I ended up hating it. It started out alright, and I had high hopes for it. But frankly, it just went downhill and became a steady two-star read. And that’s when I just should’ve stopped reading, about three quarters in. But I was stubborn, and so many people had liked it, so I decided to finish it.

BAM, 1 star. I hate it when that happens.

LGBTQIA 2016 Reading Challenge

[Review] Men Without Women, by Haruki Murakami

[Review] Men Without Women, by Haruki Murakami

[Review] Men Without Women, by Haruki Murakami

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Mannen Zonder Vrouw (Men Without Women) by Haruki Murakami
Published by Atlas Contact on March 1st 2016 (first published 2014)
Genres: Japanese literature
Pages: 288
ISBN: 9789025446604
Goodreads
four-stars

Like everyone else I was extremely curious about Murakami’s new short story collection, Men Without Women. I prefer my Murakami in English, although the Dutch translations are in a way superior because they are more true to the original, but as of yet there is no news on the publication date for the English edition of this book.

So when I got the chance to receive the Dutch one from the publisher back in January, I grabbed the chance. The following review is a translation of my Dutch review of the book, but I hope it’ll be interesting for those who are looking forward to the new book. No spoilers!

The new Murakami is a collection of short stories and quite thematic this time: like the title suggests, all stories are about men without a woman. The first story, Drive My Car, made me doubt if I was going to like these stories though. Because to be quite honest, I was never a big fan of The Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage. Give me the unexplainable, the fantastic, the talking cats, any day.

Thankfully, Yesterday gave this book a typical Murakami-twist. For the enthusiastic Murakami reader it is quite clear that the men – and the woman too, for that matter – are clearly Murakami’s creations. Their characters vary from vaguely normal to completely eccentric. Throw in some jazz music, cats and cafés, passive men with vague life stories and unreachable girls, open endings, and you’ve got another steady Murakami. But then shorter.

The men are the main characters in these stories, but the (often absent) women are just as important. Although of course we always get to see them through a filter, whether the point of view of the men in these stories, or Murakami’s filter.

My favourite story in this collection is without a doubt Kino, purely because I am fascinated (or rather, obsessed) with the way Murakami manages to put the same character in so many different books and short stories, settings, situations, but then each time in a slightly different way. A déjà vu without it feeling like a déjà vu. Another fresh new interpretation.

Then there is Sheherazade, perhaps the only story where the woman is the active factor. Samsa in Love jumps out as well, but for a different reason. Funnily enough that’s the least Murakami-ish story in the collection.

Quite a few of these short stories have already appeared in the New Yorker. If you have already read these, and you are planning to read the book in English, I must be fair and say I am not sure if it will be worth it to buy this short story collection (if it is ever published).
If you are planning to read this in Dutch, then yes, it’s definitely worth buying the book. The translations by Jacques Westerhoven are impeccable as usual, and his translations seem to fit short stories even better.