Monthly Archives: January 2012

still reading Nicholas Nickleby

Nicholas Nickleby was supposed to be finished by the end of January, but it’s going to take an extra day or two because my ambitious reading and writing plans for the weekend were derailed by procrastination (Saturday) and illness (Sunday and Monday). And, once again, I have failed to learn a lesson about procrastination.

I stayed home yesterday because I was too exhausted and dizzy to walk to work in the snow. Today, even though I feel much stronger, I still managed to slip on the ice and arrived at work with my legs bleeding. I wish I was the kind of person who could handle such situations gracefully, but I’m not, so I sniffled with pain during the morning meeting, and then limped off to be bandaged.

How would a Dickens heroine have handled such a morning? Unless she was very cute, probably without tears. Kate Nickleby only cries when she has a really good reason, like when her uncle tries to pimp her out. Otherwise, she handles all of the drama at her job and all of her mother’s crazytalk* with fortitude. Fortitude, even the word sounds properly Victorian.

I want to write more about Kate Nickleby, but I don’t have my paperback of Nicholas Nickleby with me and looking at my kindle notes, I realize that I haven’t marked very many lines about her. Although Jonathan Franzen is a dick, he is a little bit, only a little bit, right when he laments the advent of the ebook. It’s easier to read long books on the kindle, and I’m much more likely to mark things, but it is not good when you’re in the mood for random inspiration. If I had to drag the paperbacks around town with me, I wouldn’t be reading Dickens this year, I’d be reading a pithier author, maybe Muriel Spark. Page numbers are another weakness of the kindle. Free books, like the ones from Project Gutenberg, don’t have page numbers like the ones from publishers do. It seems weird to say I’ve read 80% of Nicholas Nickleby, how many pages is that? It’s Dickens – I could have hundreds of pages left!

*"accustomed to give ready utterance to whatever came uppermost in her mind"

cold coffee in winter

"The scourge of pour over coffee" was a hit of nostalgia – I’ve had coffee made like that so many times, and although it is sometimes nice (Intelligentsia in Los Angeles, Ritual Roasters in San Francisco) the place where I’ve had the most pour-over coffee is here in Japan and it is usually terrible. If I wanted dark roasted blends, I would stick with Starbucks. Drinking coffee black seems to be rarer in Japan than in the US, so what is the point of the extra prep time when it’s just going to be diluted with milk and sugar? High quality milk and sugar are the real keys to success. People who fetishize Japanese pour-over coffee should all be sent cases of canned coffee so they can taste the competition.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time today reading about how to make cold-brewed iced coffee. Why ridiculous? Because all you do to make cold-brewed coffee is pour water over coffee and let it sit for a minimum of 12 hours. But, there’s always the hope that there is some magical method of making coffee that will deliver both caffeine and a magical rainbow of taste at the same time. But, no, even America’s Test Kitchen fails to come up with a fancy method of making cold-brewed iced coffee. They try, saying to start by roasting the beans, but their basic directions are the same: cold water over coffee.

It’s snowing outside, really snowing for once, so why am I thinking about drinking cold coffee? My kitchen is so cold in the morning that it turns the simple act of turning on the coffee maker into a frightening prospect. However, if I knew that coffee was already waiting for me and all I would have to do is pour, that makes weekend coffee so much easier. "Weekend" coffee because during the week I drink the coffee at school. Some days, like today, when I really need caffeine to get me out of bed, I’ll use my electric kettle to make tea.

The Hunting of the Snark

Lewis Carroll* was born on January 27th, and I celebrated by ordering The Hunting of the Snark. It’s available on Project Gutenberg, but this edition looks fantastic.

*Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born, presumably, "Lewis Carroll" was born much later.

cooking for one

Confessions of a Restaurant Addict

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to cook dinner at home at least 3 times a week. So far, I’ve used my kitchen, I want to say once, but I think the number is closer to zero – I have not used my kitchen at all in 2012. I find cooking for one dreary and would rather eat out or eat peanut butter and crackers. Eating crackers for dinner feels less lonely than going to the trouble of chopping vegetables, sautéing them, and then doing all the washing up. It’s like more than 45 minutes of work for less than 15 minutes of pleasure, and since I don’t usually like the taste of my own cooking, it’s not even that. The taste issue could probably be solved by adding more salt and sprinkling on some MSG, but that would defeat the supposed health benefits of eating at home.

Tonight, I will go home and make red beans and rice. It won’t be very good, all of the ingredients have been living in the freezer for quite a while now, but it will be edible. I can always go out for curry tomorrow, or the day after that, or the day after that.

How did I waste my online time today? N+1 on Pitchfork (metafilter post w/ links to disappeared reviews)

Angela Carter

Review your favourite Angela Carter novel is something I would be doing right now if I had my copies of her books with me here in Japan, or if I could buy electronic copies. There’s also Angela Carter: a portrait in postcards, which is apparently an excerpt from an upcoming book. I still haven’t read The Passion of New Eve or The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman – I’ve heard they are both filled with crazy, apocalyptic feminism, which sounds like it is what I should have read last during the brief time I was interested in reading science fiction. Instead, I found a copy of Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis at Goodwill, which killed my science fiction mood. It was well-written, with a strong political subtext, but years of anime/manga has made me unable to take tentacle things seriously.

Every time I read Angela Carter, I want to write like her, but since I lack her skill, all that comes out is purple prose and melodrama. Her novels and stories work because of the conviction she brings to her material and her precise language. "Purple prose" is generally used to describe writing that is excessive and lacks control, or a style where adjectives and adverbs pile up in mangled bunches.

It is midwinter and the robin, friend of man, sits on the handle of the gardener’s spade and sings. It is the worst time in all the year for wolves, but this strong-minded child insists she will go off through the wood. She is quite sure that wild beast cannot harm her although, well warned, she lays a carving knife in the basket her mother has packed with cheeses. There is a bottle of harsh liquor distilled from brambles; a batch of flat oak cakes baked on the hearthstone; a pot or two of jam. The flaxen-haired girl will take these delicious gifts to a reclusive grandmother so old the burden of her years is crushing her to death. Granny lives two hours’ trudge through the winter woods; the child wraps herself up in her thick shawl, draws it over her head. She steps into her stout wooden shoes; she is dressed and ready and it is Christmas Eve. The malign door of the solstice still swings upon its hinges, but she has been too much loved to ever feel scared.

Children do not stay young for long in this savage country. There are no toys for them to play with, so they work hard and grow wise, but this one, so pretty and the youngest of her family, a little latecomer, had been indulged by her mother and the grandmother who’d knitted the red shawl that, today has the ominous if brilliant look of blood on snow. Her breasts have just begun to swell, her hair is like lint, so fair it hardly makes a shadow on her pale forehead; her cheeks are an emblematic scarlet and white and she has just started her woman’s bleeding, the clock inside her that will strike, henceforth, once a month.

from "The Company of Wolves" in The Bloody Chamber

The "excessive" feeling in Carter’s prose comes from her choice of words rather than from using too many and from the way she chooses images that appeal to the senses. The red and white of the bird leads to the red and white of the girl; the meal in the girl’s basket leads to the girl herself.

New Prince of Tennis – 新テニスの王子様 – episode 1

New Prince of Tennis is available on crunchyroll, but I won’t be watching it because I try not to watch shows unless I think I’m going to like them.

Two media vows that have served me well:
1) Give up on a show when it gets bad instead of complaining about it on the internet
2) If it’s bad from the beginning, stop watching instead of hoping it changes and lives up to its potential

For me, the Prince of Tennis manga never lived up to the potential of its early chapters. Ryoma is a great character. He’s not the usual Shonen Jump protagonist, he’s an arrogant brat, and in any other series he’d be the rival, not the main character. The Shonen Jump protagonist is usually dumb, good-natured, talented, but lacking the training and experience to use that talent, and ultimately kind at heart and devoted to his friends. The target audience (10 – 15 year old boys) is supposed to be able to relate to such characters. Ryoma is smart, snarky, and far more interested in winning than in protecting his nakama. Because it’s Shonen Jump, other characters are constantly trying to teach him lessons about teamwork and friendship, but they don’t stick, and in the end he takes off back to New York where attitude is appreciated.

How was episode 1? Terrible! What I mean is that it is the sort of thing that people who like that sort of thing will like, but I found myself yelling “That’s a volley, not a serve! Is that Hakugei? Not a Serve!” at the screen. I know the names of Fuji’s triple counters, but not his later moves because I read those chapters in Japanese, so as far as I’m concerned it’s kanji kanji Return.

I never could get into the spirit of the anime version, and I guess I still can’t.

(nakama means “friend,” but it’s not really “friend” in the sense of liking a person, it’s more like “these people are my people”)

a day spent reading Patti Smith and various other poets

The Mother Courage of Rock

Until ten minutes ago, I thought the line after "Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine" was "midnight party thieves," but it isn’t. "Melting in a pot of thieves" is far more New York than "midnight party thieves," which suggests frat boys raiding a kegger.

So much love for these Guardian comments with people showing off lines from their favorite poems, prompted by this: 50 Most Quoted Lines of Poetry. I love how some of the lines quoted are slightly wrong, which means they were typed out from memory and not from google. Since I was at work today, with its reliable, although filtered, internet, I spent much of the day googling my favorite poems. Poets.org has "Leda and the Swan" listed under Poems About Animals and Pets, which makes one question how they’re defining pet.

This morning, I got an unwelcome phone call: Hello. Did you forget to come to work?

Forget? I was never told! You would think that yesterday when I said "see you next week," it was an opportunity for the coworker I attended the conference with to say something, something like, "Next week? Tomorrow." I probably was told about it in Japanese, but that hardly counts. I should probably stop doing the Serious Listening Face during the morning meeting and do Confused Yet Hopeful instead, like a cat who really hopes that all of the talking is going to end with a refill of the food bowl.

An Evening of Long Goodbyes – Paul Murray

An Evening of Long Goodbyes starts out as a Wodehouse parody, but then Charles Hythloday wakes up with a hangover
My main problem with An Evening of Long Goodbyes is with the ending. Murray ruthlessly parodies intellectuals who romanticize working class lives, but the book ends with a romanticized and sentimental approach towards working class life that is more than reminiscent of the ending of the movie Office Space. Yes, he ends with a moral: a life of honest manual labour is more fulfilling than a life of alcoholic languor. Is this true? Maybe for some people, but I find it condescending, especially considering the audience for this novel.

the saddest books in the world

according to flavorwire:
A Widow’s Story – Joyce Carol Oates
Room – Emma Donoghue (a friend of mine hated this book so much that I had to take her to Borders to return it)
Islands in the Stream – Ernest Hemingway
The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion (she probably really wanted to call it The Year of “Magical” Thinking, but the publisher wouldn’t go for it)
The Road – Cormac McCarthy (ok)
Is There No Place On Earth For Me? – Susan Sheehan
She’s Come Undone – Wally Lamb
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? – Lorrie Moore
Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro (not Remains of the Day?)

Mixing fiction and non-fiction in a list like this one doesn’t make much sense to me, maybe because it seems to give the troubles of real people and made up people equal weight. The Jezebel comments were LOL as usual – tell them no YA and no dead animals, and what books do they suggest? Where the Red Fern Grows and Harry Potter. I also cried at when Sirius died, but his death falls into both the YA and dead pet categories.

my additions to the list: Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, Norwegian Wood, Lolita, The Great Gatsby hmm… what counts as a sad book? A Tale of Two Cities has a tearjerker ending (especially if you find sad drunks strangely attractive), but is not a sad book overall. Mary Renault’s The Charioteer is full of melancholy, but has a happy ending. And then there is Jean “so unhappy” Rhys. What makes a sad book?

Downton Abbey reading list

If You’re Mad for "Downton," Publishers Have a Reading List

As someone who grew up on Upstairs Downstairs and Brideshead Revisited, it seems like Downton Abbey would be the first show in my queue, but when I watched the first two episodes of season one earlier this year, the pretty dresses reminded me that I’d checked Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier out of the library and it would be due back soon.

For some reason, the comments won’t load in this browser, so I can’t see what readers are suggesting to remedy the lack of a real reading list in the article. From my Edwardian & Great War reading list:

L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between (and the movie)
Isabel Cogate’s The Shooting Party (and the movie)
and, of course, P.G. Wodehouse for a non-angsty treatment of country house life, wikipedia has a pretty good list of links to online Wodehouse resources, have I mentioned before how much I love obsessive fans who do all the hard work of annotation for me?
for post-WW1 country house hijinks, Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate and Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust

Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory
Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy (and the movie)

Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves and Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

The Good Soldier is an excellent book, but when the narrator says "This is the saddest story I have ever heard," he’s not lying (also, not telling the truth).
Julian Barnes on The Good Soldier

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