Friday, February 29, 2008

Book Review - February 2008

Sheesh, after last month's prodigious readfest, we're really ashamed to present this month's review list. We'll publish the updated booklist separately.
  1. A Place Where The Sea Remembers - Sandra Benitez

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Yes. This is a collection of short pieces about various characters whose lives are intertwined for different reasons. I really enjoyed this because the author did a fine job of drawing the different characters.

    Reread? Probably not.

  2. Anthology of Japanese Literature - Donald Keene

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Only for those aspiring to learn about Japan. Excellent footnotes, appendices, and references, but I think you would need to have either an interest in Japanese literature, or some knowledge of Asian literature to enjoy this book. Donald Keene is well-respected as a Japan scholar, and this is an excellent selection of Japanese literature from the Heian through the Tokugawa periods. I don't believe there is any modern or even Meiji-era literature here, but otherwise there is a very broad spectrum, including representative poetry, bunraku puppet theatre excerpts, and selections from such classics as The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu's Tale of Genji.

    Reread? No.

  3. Art & Fear - David Bayles & Ted Orland

    Borrowed? Gift.

    Recommended? Yes. For all aspiring artists, writers, and creative people. If you've ever defeated yourself into not creating art or at least expressing whatever creativity flows in your veins, these two will grab you by the ears and slap you senseless. When you recover, you'll crawl back to your worktable and do just what they suggest: Work!

    Reread? Hell, yeah.

  4. Beatitudes - Lyn LeJeune

    Borrowed? Gift. We're not naming any names, but certain people have figured out that we meant it when we said "Stop lending us books!" They're getting around this restriction by giving us books. How can we argue with that? Schmeck, my dear, schmeck.

    Recommended? Not really. This is a murder mystery set in New Orleans, and the writer is apparently published and popular with some. We're of the opinion that while the idea is excellent, the execution is a bit above the writer's powers. As a result, the book suffers some flaws. On the plus side, all proceeds from the book are donated to the New Orleans public libraries, and what kind of creep would you have to be to refuse such an offer? Buy it already, geez. Either that or send a check to the NOLA libraries, they sure as hell could use it.

    Reread? Nope.

  5. Captives of Shanghai - David H. & Gretchen G. Grover

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Only to scholars of, or those passionately interested in, U.S. Naval history. It really is an interesting but very specific book and deals with the fate of a ship that was, for a time, a vessel of the U.S. Naval Reserve and was seized during WWII by the Japanese.

    Reread? I'm not that interested in naval history.

  6. Shantung Compound - Langdon Gilkey

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Highly. Gilkey had the misfortune — or perhaps the fortune, it's hard to say — of being captured by the Japanese during WWII and spending the war interned in a civilian camp in Shandong. His keen eye for human character and his own sterling character saw him through what must have been a difficult time. This book is the record of his observations of the internment. A more fascinating book you are not highly likely to come across.

    Reread? When I have copious spare time, I'm sure.

  7. Sisters and Strangers (Women in the Shanghai Cotton Mills) - Emily Honig

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Highly. This is an excellent book, well-researched, well-written, scholarly without being, as academic contributions often are, unbearably dry. In an engaging analysis, Honig describes life as it was for women workers in industrial China between the fall of the Manchu Dynasty and the aftermath of the Great Revolution of 1949.

    Reread? Oh, deity, WHEN?

  8. The Bafut Beagles - Gerald Durrell

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Naturalists and historians only. Although I've always liked Durrell's work (and in fact discovered him as a wee sprog — that is, I was a wee sprog — never mind), I realise upon re-reading this work, how sadly dated it is, and how, as good as he was, it was difficult for Durrell to step outside the colonial mindset that bought into the myth of the engaging, if childlike, native. Fortunately, Durrell was always more interested in animals than in people, which made this book somewhat more readable. Regrettably, the picture of the Fon of Bafut that he left with me is of a man wise beyond his contemporaries and his culture who saw only too clearly what the future was bringing to his people.

    Reread? Sadly — no.

  9. The Book of Tea - Okakura Kazuko

    Borrowed? Gift.

    Recommended? Only for collectors of Japanese trivia. This is a very interesting book, but it belongs to a period in history that is long past. Still, it affords an interesting glimpse into that world. You could treat it as a capsule of Japanese manner and custom.

    Reread? No.

  10. The Life of an Amorous Woman - Ihara Saikaku

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Yes. Ihara is a fascinating character, who pretty much invented a genre of Japanese literature (ukiyo-zoshi, which has its counterpart in the art of ukiyo-e), and dashed off thousands of poems. He was a member of the merchant class and wrote like one. This particular book is interesting because so quintessentially Japanese in its moral view of amoral doings. I enjoyed it. Before you bunch your undies and run off to buy or borrow a copy, it is not erotica. In fact, it's aim is to be (broadly speaking) anti-erotic, in that it chronicles the life of a woman who is betrayed by her sexual persona. But read it for yourself and see.

    Reread? Probly not.

  11. The World of the Shining Prince - Ivan Morris

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Only to those interested in Japanese history. Dr. Morris needs no introduction to such, for his many translations of some of the great works of Japanese literature. However, this book is about history, not literature as such. Personally, I found it fascinating.

    Reread? Maybe.

  12. Women of China - Bobby Siu

    Borrowed? No.

    Recommended? Only to those interested in feminist history, women's studies, Chinese history, or the history of the labour movement in China. This is a serious scholarly work, and Professor Siu does a fine job of examining the role of women in China, especially as it pertains to the organization of labour in the countryside and the city and the differing attitudes of the Guomindang and the CCP in terms of women's organizations and women's rights.

    Reread? Not likely.

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