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broodings from the burrow

February 18, 2019


into the stacks 2019: february, part 1
posted by soe 1:51 am

I only finished one book in the first half of the month, so this will be short. (I’d expect a bunch for the end of February.)

The Emissary, by Yōko Tawada (Translated by Margaret Mitsutani)

Set in Tokyo at some point in the middle-distance future, the rather loose story focuses on Yoshiro, a spry centenarian and former novelist, and the delicate great-grandson, Mumei, he is raising on his own. A great catastrophe — a radioactive one we are meant to understand — occurred a generation ago or so, causing Japan to close up its physical and metaphoric borders and create a dystopian, isolationist society in which foreign words — and concepts — are forbidden and the elderly do not seem to die (they now have three categories for senior citizens that include “young elderly,” which starts when you reach your 80s) or really even especially weaken (Yoshiro jogs daily, for instance, and his daughter works in an orchard picking oranges). Children, on the other hand, are so weak and constantly ill that they have difficulty eating, that doctors secret away their official medical reports and that parents are told to stop taking their children’s temperatures because they are always running fevers and it just depresses everyone. Mumei, despite all the suffering he seems to undergo simply by existing, is a rather philosophical child, with deep thoughts and a placid demeanor.

Most of the story is told from Yoshiro’s perspective, focusing on how life has changed and how much he worries about his great-grandson. A few chapters are told from his estranged wife’s perspective, when she comes for a rare visit from her school for children whose parents have moved elsewhere in Japan to work. A couple more are told from Mumei’s teacher’s point of view, as he considers language, the globe, and how the fragile children in his class interact with each other. And most of the final chapters in the book are from a teenaged Mumei’s perspective, as he navigates life from his wheelchair and prepares for an adventure. Each of these four characters will consider the importance of an emissary in one way or another.

You may remember that I partially picked up this slim novella because it had won the National Book Award for Translated Literature and also because its blurb suggested it was going to be a lot of fun. It’s possible I missed something, but I did not find the book “delightful, irrepressibly funny,” or “playfully joyous,” and it was really hard to separate the reality from that overbilling. I will say that the author and her translator clearly love and respect language greatly, as it’s a recurring theme in the work and that she has a reasonable concern for what the globe will look like in a few decades, regardless of whether there’s a nuclear meltdown, given the disaster-level scenario climate change is likely to wreak. So, a fair assessment of The Emissary is that it gives you a lot to think about, particularly given its length, but none of it is playful or fun.

Pages: 138. Library copy.

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February 14, 2019


pre-birthday unraveling
posted by soe 1:57 am

Pre-Birthday Unraveling

Technically, it’s already my birthday, but no one else is up to know, so I’ve marked it with a midnight snack, some Netflix (the new She-Ra and the first Galentine’s Day episode from Parks & Recreation), and some knitting while listening to my audiobook of the moment, The Woman Who Smashed Codes, about Elizabeth Smith Friedman, who was the chief codebreaker in America in the U.S. leading up to and during World War II and who was then forgotten for more than half a century while her husband’s success (also as a renowned codebreaker) was lauded.

The shawl continues. It is optimistic, but not overly so, to think it could be done by next week, but six years of languishing on the needles certainly would not inspire anyone to place money on its completion. Certainly these three books will likely be done by then. Akata Witch is set in Nigeria and its young albino protagonist has recently discovered that she has magical powers. Insomnia is a series of musings about being awake overnight and touching on how while the condition is equated with a lack of sleep, it can also be full of creativity and thought and should perhaps be more celebrated than it is (but, also, she’s really tired). And Gmorning, Gnight! is a selection of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pithy Twitter salutations illustrated by Johnny Sun. Much like short stories, I don’t have a lot of patience for either of these slender books when read at length, but enjoy them greatly when read for 10 pages or so at a time.

I have a bunch of other books I’d like to get to soon, including Angie Thomas’ sophomore novel, On the Come Up, and am looking forward to procuring Jasper Fforde’s new novel, Early Riser, at his booksigning on Monday. But in the meantime, these three books and my audiobook will do just fine.

Head over to As Kat Knits to see what other people are reading and crafting.

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February 7, 2019


early february unraveling
posted by soe 1:41 am

Early February Unraveling

I took my books and knitting up to the park today to get an outdoor shot and some fresh air. My sock is into the heel flap, but I may end up hating how it disrupts the striping once I start the gusset, so I’m trying not to get too attached to the progress.

I’m also on a quest to resurrect some long-languishing UFOs, so out has come the Lightning Shawl. (Sorry, Mum. I know you hate seeing it not yet finished, a reasonable frustration given it’s now in its sixth year.) I will finish the second half of this sixth strip and assess whether I’m done or if I want to eke a seventh out from the leftovers. (This will definitely involve math and, if the yarn yardage works, may involve blocking what I have to see it needs it or not once it’s really done. I want it wide enough to be a shawl, rather than a scarf, and it definitely looks closer to the latter than the former.)

On the reading front, I am still listening to The Woman Who Smashed Codes and am reveling in the D.C. mentions. Tonight it was a restaurant with gendered dining rooms next to the Mayflower Hotel, which sits less than a mile from where I’m typing. The Emissary is overdue, which means I need to finish this novella tomorrow or Friday in order to return it to the library. I would still not use any of the whimsical adjectives attributed to it, so I’m hoping that feeling appears in the second half of the book. I started Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor last Friday. Its titular character is an American-born albino Nigerian who discovers she has magical powers and I am enjoying it so far.

Head over to As Kat Knits to see what other people are reading and knitting.

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February 3, 2019


into the stacks 2019: january, part 2
posted by soe 1:07 am

During the second half of January, I finished four books (the first half’s are here):

The Lido, by Libby Page

Katie is a 20-something wannnabe journalist who suffers from panic attacks. Rosemary is an 80-something former librarian who swims daily at her neighborhood outdoor pool in South London and has since she was a child. When gentrification portends the closing of the pool, Rosemary mounts a campaign to save it and Katie is assigned to cover the story for her local paper. Rosemary agrees to be interviewed, but only after Katie has gone for a swim herself. The two commence an unlikely friendship and Rosemary helps Katie begin to view their neighborhood as home and her neighbors as friends. While the book glosses over Katie’s failure as a journalist to remain remotely impartial in reporting an ongoing story, it is otherwise a heartwarming tale of intergenerational friendship, anti-gentrification, the power of the people to effect change, and making your own sense of home as an adult.

Pages: 384. Audiobook borrowed from the library via Overdrive.


The Tea Dragon Society, by Katie O’Neill

Friends, if you are looking to read an utterly charming graphic novel purportedly aimed at kids, but just as appropriate for adults, quickly check this one out. In a world where all the characters are people-ish animals or animalish people, our main character is Greta, an apprentice blacksmith, who discovers a small creature one afternoon in town. Her father is able to identify it as belonging with the owner of a tea shop out of town, and she heads out to reunite them. Turns out that the creature is a tea dragon — a small, petlike dragon on whose head and antlers grow flowers and leaves that can be harvested (like cutting your hair) and brewed to a tea that reminds the drinker of past experiences — and that Greta has a way with them. Hesekiel and Erik each have bonded with a tea dragon, as has a young woman, Minette, who showed up on their doorstep a while back and who suffers from memory problems. Bad things have happened in the past, but nothing bad happens in the year of the book, which is drawn in such a sweet way that you’re going to want to live in it. And acquire a tea dragon, which the back of the book helpfully details the varieties of, so you can find one that best fits your personality. Read the book. Buy prints from the book. Check in later in the month to see if it wins the graphic novel category of the Cybils. Adorable.

Pages: 72. Library copy.


The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui

In this graphic memoir, Thi Bui uses her own experiences as a first-time parent as a catalyst for looking back at her own confusing upbringing, as a child immigrant from post-war Vietnam, and those of her parents, who also came of age during a period of strife. She has two older living sisters, two older sisters who died as infants, and a younger brother who was born while they were in a refugee camp. Her parents had both been teachers prior to the war, but once they moved to the United States and settled in California, despite both of them being able to speak English, they were told their certifications were no good.

A moving refugee story that explores how even people living together can be strangers in some ways and how coming to understand them and their pasts can help you understand your own — and help you appreciate what you have gained from them.

Pages: 329. Library copy.


The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

In this middle-grade fantasy novel, Brangwain Spurge is an academic who volunteers/is voluntold to take a recently unearthed Goblin ornament from the Elven capital city to the capital of the Goblins and deliver it to their leader as a gesture of goodwill between their peoples in the hopes that they will be able to prolong their shaky peace after a thousand years of warring — and to spy on the Goblins while there. So he is loaded into a large orb and shot toward their land via a giant catapult. While in the land of the Goblins, he will stay with one of their archivists, Werfel, who takes his job as host very seriously, in that he must pursue every opportunity to make his guest feel welcome and safe, which conflicts with his orders from the secret police, who order him to spy on Spurge, who is both the most disdainful guest in the history of gusts. He also is sending nightly messages via a spell that allows him to transmit only still, recalled images back home, where we discover that the Elven lord who assigned him his task may have had ulterior motives for the trip.

Unfortunately, Brangwain ends up being an unintentionally biased spy, because the reader is privy to the fact that what his message images depict do not perfectly match the nuanced action in the text and that they are frequently even are in direct conflict with it. Remarkably well executed in this finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and recommended for everyone who loves fantasy and the interplay between words and images in a story. If you like Brian Selznick’s recent tomes, I think you’ll find this right up your alley.

Pages: 525. Library copy.


January stats:

Total number of books read: 7.
Total pages read: 2,084
Intended audience: 3 middle-grade; 4 adults.
Source: 6 from the library, 1 owned.
Format: 5 in paper, 2 in audiobook.
Classification: 6 fiction, 1 nonfiction.
Diversity of authors: 4 Americans, 2 Brits, 1 New Zealander. 1 author of color (Asian American)

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January 31, 2019


2019 tbr pile reading challenge
posted by soe 1:05 am

Last year, 100 books left our apartment, but you would never know that by how many remain. And of those that do, so many are unread. I might love them. I might not. But right now they’re sort of Schrödinger’s Reads, and my apartment is not big enough for that kind of book collection. There are too many new books I want to buy and too many trips to the library!

Thanks to my BFF, Karen, who is working through her own selection of longtime shelf dwellers, and to Judith at Reader in the Wilderness, who pointed me toward the 2019 TBR Pile Challenge at Roof Beam Reader, I’ve decided to tackle a dozen of the books currently residing on our shelves.

The rules of the challenge are that you have to post your 12 books at the start of the year and then get through them, with two substitutions allowed, also pre-mandated. This is not the sort of challenge I do well at, so no one will be shocked at the end of the year if I’ve read every book in my collection except for these 14 titles, but let’s give it a shot anyway, shall we?

TBR Pile Challenge

My 12 official contenders are:

  1. Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli
  2. The Bookshop on the Quay by Patricia Lynch
  3. In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Laurie King and Leslie Klinger
  4. Selected Fables by Jean de La Fontaine
  5. Starglass by Phoebe North
  6. On Writing by Stephen King
  7. Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye
  8. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  9. Woman Rebel by Peter Bagge
  10. How to Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric
  11. A Tyranny of Petticoats, edited by Jessica Spotswood
  12. Eggshells by Caitriona Lally

My two alternates:

  1. Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
  2. The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett

Middle grade, ya, adult, fiction, and nonfiction. Seems like a reasonable mix.

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January 30, 2019


final january unraveling
posted by soe 1:50 am

Final January Unraveling

Don’t you just want to judge these books by their covers?

I finished The Assassination of Brangwain Surge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin earlier tonight. If you like fantasy novels and Brian Selnick’s latest tomes, which alternate prose and illustration, I think you should give this middle grade book a shot.

The others are what I’m on to next: Martina Benjamin’s Insomnia, which has a sparkly purple cover, like the night sky — that my photo does not do justice to, is a collections of musings on not sleeping in the middle of the night. Circe by Madeline Miller takes on the goddess of magic. And A Winter’s Promise about a young woman who travels via ark until she is promised in marriage to a man from a floating sky island.

I’m still listening to The Woman Who Smashed Codes, but it expires very soon, so I need to power through it. We’re currently in the inter-war years in D.C. and Elizebeth Friedman has just quit working for the War Department, but knowing the course of her cryptology work, I suspect not for long.

I’m nearly to the heel of my sock; I gave it a day at this length to decide if I wanted to stop here, but I think I’ll do another repetition of the colors before moving on. Stripes have the two-fold benefit of making it easy to compare length and keeping progress moving forward. I’ll just knit until the next time it turns blue, you think, and an hour later you’re saying the same thing. Just one more color change! Just one more chapter!

Exactly. Keep telling yourself that, self!

Check out other posts about books and crafting at As Kat Knits.

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