Here’s a quick look at some books I’ve read in the last week or two.

Just-Read

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei – Graphic novels are not my usual fare, but I had to read this account by Takei (Sulu, Star Trek TOS) about his experiences as a Japanese American during WWII. I knew that the internment, ordered by FDR, was bad, but I didn’t realize how bad. Families were torn from their homes and held in horse stables, later relocated to heavily guarded camps and treated like prisoners. Even worse, many were coerced into giving up their citizenship and leaving the US for Japan, to be “legitimized” as the enemy. I was moved, angered, and heartbroken by Takei’s story. The illustrations were helpful, showing the scenes from an innocent child’s perspective, which is how he remembers it. I didn’t care for the contemporary politics at the end of the book, but that aside, I feel this is a great and important memoir.

Bilbo’s Last Song by J.R.R. Tolkien – There is not much to say about this one. It’s a very short poem with some beautiful illustrations by Pauline Baynes (of Narnia fame). Not worth buying; I read it from the library ebook collection.

My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs by Kazuo Ishiguro – Ishiguro is my favorite writer, if we’re talking about the art of writing, so I was thrilled to read his Nobel Prize address. There were some great thoughts in this little book. The main idea that stood out was his striving for three-dimensional character relationships. So not simply having a great character arc, but also multiple facets of how one character relates to others. The second fascinating idea was this quote:

What exactly are the memories of a nation? … Are there times when forgetting is the only way to stop cycles of violence, or to stop a society disintegrating into chaos and war? On the other hand, can stable, free nations really be built on foundations of wilful amnesia and frustrated justice?

Takei’s book re-solidified my conviction that we must avoid this “amnesia” which only remembers, say, the good things FDR did. But we must have both justice and forgiveness; neither one can stand alone.

The one thing I disliked about this speech was that, towards the end, Ishiguro made it sound like he doesn’t consider himself as a relevant author anymore. I don’t know why he would say that. I find his 20th-century Japan novels to be his best work so far and absolutely relevant to modern-day issues. I’m also looking forward to his upcoming book, Klara and the Sun.

The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai – This was my first impression of Dazai, and I’m afraid it wasn’t good. This book has strong Southern Gothic vibes, although the setting is Japan after WWII (yes, I’m in a reading phase 🙂 ). The plot and characters are heavily nihilistic, and the female narrator left me unconvinced. I liked his writing style well enough to try more of his novels, but this one didn’t do anything for me.

The Father by August Strindberg – I read this last night and I’m still trying to figure out what the message is. It was a very bleak family drama about parental rights and identity. Very interesting historically but so depressing.

Currently Reading

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – I’m sort of struggling through this little book, simply because it’s about destiny, and destiny is a topic I’ve been grappling with. I don’t know if I believe in it anymore—call it an existential crisis. Honestly the only way for me to be grounded here is to go back to Scripture, which is my next step. I plan to finish The Alchemist, but I am not sure if I’m in a good headspace to review it. 😉

Is That Kafka? 99 Finds by Reiner Stach – I was overjoyed to see my library had the ebook of Is That Kafka? Stach wrote a massive three-part biography of the man, and he presents 99 of the interesting tidbits in this book (with pictures!). So far, I’m enjoying this. It really humanizes Kafka and helps to contextualize his personality in the era he lived and his everyday life.

Well, that’s what my late October reading looked like. How about yours?

21 thoughts on “October Reviews – Lightning Round

  1. I understand your struggle with the idea of Destiny. It always smacked of Determinism to me. I’m much more in favour of the idea of Free Will, no matter how ‘problematic’ that idea is seen these days.

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    1. the Kafka sounds more than appealing; i’ll have to get it… as i recently said somewhere, i’ve been thinking about herd instincts and humans… if you take away or ignore lingual communication, including word of mouth, newspapers, everything except books, the activities of people, looked at from afar, might seem to resemble vast herds of sheep wandering around apparently aimlessly, or maybe buffalos grazing peacefully until something sets them off and they all run over a cliff… am i being too negative? probably… it might have to do with too much politics and being house bound for too long a period…
      eclectic list, reflective of vast pondering on the evils and woes of mankind: goodonya…

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      1. Mudpuddle, if you can believe it, I thought Dazai was going to be “gentle” reading! 😆 This is a gloomy list, now that you mention it. I must try to lighten it up a bit next month!

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      1. I ‘found’ Marian’s Blog via Stephen & I’ve been ‘lurking’ for a bit….. [grin] Interesting stuff so I thought I’d make my presence known…

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    2. Cyberkitten – yes. The more I see and experience, the more I’m convinced free will is only thing that makes sense. I think there may still be an element of destiny (coming from a Christian perspective), but to what extent or to whom it applies to, I don’t feel as certain as I did when growing up.

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      1. I think we definitely live in a Deterministic/Mechanistic Universe – with a dose of Randomness/Uncertainty thrown in for good measure – not forgetting good old Quantum Mechanics – but, although we too are part of that Universe, because of the complexity of our brains we are self aware and, therefore, are able to choose (if we decide to) between courses of action. We can end causal chains or start them because (as self aware beings) we are *inside* ‘the Causal Nexus’. The idea of ‘Destiny’ IMO is what we see afterwards as a narrative to explain events in a story-like coherent manner not unlike History itself.

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          1. Indeed, Mudpuddle. *Everything* is subject to query – including consciousness and existence itself. It’s entirely possible that we are simply bits of software running in a computer simulation…… [grin] That might explain the ’empty’ Universe….

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  2. All of these look to be interesting. I also have read almost no graphic novels. However Takai’s work also has me interested. I had heard good things about it. The interment of Japanese Americans was horrible on every level.

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  3. I’ve been getting into Asian writers as well. I am currently reading a Japanese classic, written in 1909 by Natsume Soseki called The Gate. It is pretty interesting, even though nothing seems to be happening. There’s undercurrents. Also it is so interesting to read about Asian people (sorry to group them all under one category) written by their own hands. It’s very different from the cringe worthy stereotypes of the same time period in the West.

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    1. Sharon, I’m glad to hear it’s interesting! I have The Gate on my TBR. Japanese literature does seem to be very character driven which I love. It’s also probably the most prominent or translated Asian literature for us. I am going to try to read some Chinese and Vietnamese books as well and see if there are any contrasts to be drawn there. 🙂

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  4. Lots of books that I’ll probably never read so I’m thrilled that I get a taste of them from your reviews. I so agree with Mudpuddle’s comments about sheep and buffalo and herd stampedes. It’s rather unsettling as one expects people to use the minds they have been gifted with more. In any case, I’m still reading The Mysteries of Udolpho, Night and Day by Virginia Woolf, and The Mystery of the Seven Dials by Agatha Christie. I’m enjoying them all!

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  5. Maybe it makes me a bad southerner, but I’ve never gotten into southern gothic as a genre – -the closest I’ve come, I suppose, its Greg Iles’ thrillers, but they’re written self-consciously.

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      1. One of my English professors insisted we try the genre, so we read Faulkner (“A Rose for Emily” or somesuch) and O’Connor both. O’Connor’s characters have a way of sticking in the mind DECADES after being introduced to them.

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  6. As Mudpuddle said – an eclectic list. I’ve read a lot more this year than usual but it’s mostly been lightish books – Agatha Christie, Nevil Shute, other authors I’m familiar with but I have started an Aussie classic – 950 pgs as Brona at Brona’s Books is having her AusReading month & I’ve been wanting to read it for awhile. Fortunately, it’s quite compulsive reading!

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    1. Nevil Shute! I’m always on the brink of reading him; I’ll probably start with A Town Like Alice. Lightish books sounds like the best thing for this year, honestly. 🙂 Also, I’m looking out for an Australian classic to read (trying to read different countries of the world). Are there any you’d recommend? I’ll check out that event, too, to get some ideas!

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