issenllo: strawberry thief print from William Morris (Default)
[personal profile] issenllo
So this is a thing. Every year I promise myself to read more books, and also, bookblog. It doesn't quite happen that way, so this is probably the first and only bookblog for the year until next year when new year resolutions re-strike.

Between You and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I only know about this book from the internet, but my library let me read a couple of pages before reserving, and it seemed interesting. It's the author's letter to his son, a treatise on race in USA and the attempts to look at all the ways racism is hurting the country, as clearly and frankly as the author sees it. It's that simplicity and directness, not to mention the breadth of approach, that makes it a really good read, even though it paints a bleak picture in the process. Entertaining read though, especially to someone like me whose knowledge of America's race issues is all mediated through, well, media. Then again, to interact with American culture is (mostly) to have a picture of what a bunch of clever, violent, creative, patriotic capitalists think of black people, and often it is not much of a nice picture. Oh, well.

Just came acrossthis Salon article which is an interesting complement to the book.

The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. I've tried reading this book many times but the hype had always put me off. Then I was reading a book of essays by Atwood, came across her discussion of this book, and coincidentally discovered that the Donate shelf at the library had a copy. So. I don't know why I was surprised, but I am surprised at how engrossing it is, and how much of a page-turner it became after the first dozen pages. I wanted to know more about Gilead, about Offred and (again) surprisingly I didn't get annoyed at Offred's meandering thought processes, because that's one of things that I tend to dislike about literary fiction, the way a character's narrative would jump here and there, not as a way of conveying plot or character, but as the writer's sneaky way of including Serious Thoughts which were ultimately meaningless. I can see why and how the book was considered controversial at the time it was first published, and there is something insane about how the setup could be thought plausible.

The Vorrh, by B. Catling. Actually read two-thirds of it last year, put it down, and only finished last week. The Vorrh is supposed to be a huge, perhaps endless, forest that has existed since the dawn of time. Or some such. I adore the extreme creepiness of primordial forests (to read about, I mean) and bits of mythology that goes with such forests - the Garden of Eden is rumoured to be within the Vorrh - and there are monsters and mysterious inhuman tribes that travel in it. Parts of it are very Heart of Darkness, but with less dicking about. Travellers who venture into the Vorrh lose their memories, identities, if not their lives. Godless agencies are at work: some predatory, some merely defensive, but most are deadly to humans. It has a bunch of storylines, though I like the one about the cyclops most of all, because there's some character development there. My quibble is that for all that it's supposed to be about the Vorrh, it still doesn't show as much about the interior of the Vorrh. Maybe my expectations are more along a naturalist's diary rather than what the characters know and fear of the Vorrh. But overall it's pretty good.

The Dark Forest, by Liu Cixin, trans Joel Martinsen. Second of the Trisolarian trilogy, though frankly I'm more than happy to stop here. Unusually for trilogies, this second book is way more entertaining than the first, which was readable for the first ten chapters and was a slog thereafter (the last few chapters about folding an object in multi-dimensional space was fun, though). Probably because this trilogy is basically emotionally non-existent. It was hard to be invested in the characters and the hard science parts therefore carried the heavier burden of engaging the reader. Luo Ji, one of the main characters and arguably the main protagonist of this second book, is something of an anti-hero who is being shoehorned into the position of a hero, aka a "Wallfacer" who is supposed to think of a way to avert or defeat the invading Trisolarian forces. By the by, the author should definitely not write any sort of romance or romantic subplot ever in his lifetime, as the supposed romance set out for Luo Ji is by turns creepy, bewildering, unintentionally funny and bemusing. It is, in a word, awful. At the end we see a sort of family togetherness setting which restores one's sense of normalcy, but the road there is... never ever want to read that romance* again. Nonetheless, the parts where Luo Ji ends up playing a cosmic game of chicken with the Trisolarians are pretty cool.

*Maybe it was not meant to be romantic in the first place? There's a part of me that wonders if it's just Liu or it's the effect of translating Chinese romances to English. I've read pulpy Chinese romantic novels that were at least entertaining even if they were creepy, and ditto for English ones. But never this awkward combination.

***

As I'd gone back to teaching English while applying to full-time jobs, I was commiserating with a fellow teacher on students. The school I teach at is for Japanese expats, btw.

ME: So, in the first lesson, I often ask things like what's your job, where's your hometown... What I find most wtf about them is that they'd look at you with their big, earnest eyes, and say something like, "My hometown is Kyoto. Have you heard of Kyoto?" *rants* Why wouldn't I have heard of Kyoto? It's only the second most well-known city in Japan. It's a major tourist attraction. It's the atypical Japanese cultural billboard. It's got temples and geishas, just to give a couple of the most stereotypical things that people know of Japan.

FRIEND: I know, right?

ME: *continues ranting* If it's a really obscure place, yeah, I freely admit my ignorance. But you're telling me you come from Hokkaido or Nagano, or Nagasaki and you ask me whether I've heard of these places?

FRIEND: I've never heard of Nagasaki.

ME: *extremely non-plussed* What? But... but it got atomic bombed!

FRIEND: I thought it was only Hiroshima.

ME: No, they got (atomic) bombed in two places, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

FRIEND: Never heard of that.

So this became a story where I complain about my students' insularity and end up finding something even weirder. This is supposed to be common knowledge, right? I mean, even if you knew nothing about Japan, you'd know that USA dropped two atomic bombs on Japan during WW2, right? Sure, it happened like 70 years ago, but still...

(When the students that do come from Hiroshima do this same song and dance: "Have you ever heard of Hiroshima?" I'm forever tempted to say, "Nope, never." And wait for them to explain. Though I must say not many people would outright admit they are from Hiroshima or Nagasaki; they just deflect the question by saying that they went to college in Tokyo and now live there. Not sure if it's because they are worried about prejudice or find the story of their hometowns being atomic bombed tl;dr, especially if I expect them to say everything in English.)
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issenllo: strawberry thief print from William Morris (Default)
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