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.

Films We Saw This Week

And the last, and probably the week before that, too, because life gets messy periodically.

We've only called out dates and directors' names when there's a possibility of confusion, when the movies were made more than a decade ago, and to highlight film-watching trends here at La Casa de Los Gatos.

Yes, we do have a Spike Lee fest scheduled. Also a Japanese fest. We already did Kurosawa a couple of years ago, although, unlike Ozu we have to say you can watch a Kurosawa movie every night for a couple of weeks without feeling like you're watching the same damn thing.

Spike Lee's When The Levees Broke, Part I

Spike Lee is one of America's best directors. Beautifully shot, beautifully assembled, this documentary is a must-see. Yes, it hurts. He does it all in such a calm manner that the violence of the indignities inflicted upon the hapless residents of New Orleans is felt even more keenly than one had thought possible. Take your meds, keep a glass of sippin' stuff close by, and a box of tissues or a handkercher, and watch it anyways. Don't try to watch all three DVDs at one sitting. Unless, of course, you're a terminally ill person who plans on committing suicide.

Kon Ichikawa, Biruma no Tategoto (The Burmese Harp, 1956)

This film is based on a true story about a Japanese soldier who became a monk and remained in Burma after his compatriots were repatriated to Japan in the aftermath of the Japanese surrender in World War II. It really ought to be required watching for warmongers, but it's not the type of film they would watch. It's pretty painful. War is ugly, is the theme of the movie. And the pain and sorrow and suffering it brings leads the protagonist to abandon his uniform, his friends, his country, his home, and his family, and give himself over to the message of the Buddha. Painful but cleansing watching.

Divorzio all'Italiana (Divorce Italian Style, 1961)

We sandwiched this movie between the previous two, because we can only watch so much realism without going completely fucking insane. Thus, we are proud to report that, not only are we not insane, but we actually enjoyed this misogynistic little film although we'd like to slap the writer-director senseless. It was funny, in a sick sort of way.

Imagine Me and You

This film is not going to win the award for Greatest Movie Ever Made, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's about a woman who falls in love on her wedding day — with the flower girl. Unforgettable lines: "My husband's as useless as a fart in a jam-jar" and "You're a wanker Number 9!" Given that it's a movie about lesbians, it managed to avoid both sticky sentimentality (OK, I'll give you the Dino & The Turtles song, but being a hardcore Zappa fan, all I heard was Frank's take on it) or leering letchivorousity (I made it up, so what?). A nice little film about love.

Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise, 1945)

We've only seen this film, oh, three times, and it's well worth it. Arletty plays the woman with whom everyone is in love, and we're ready to believe it; and the directorial eye is in love with light throughout, and it shows. The amazing — most amazing — thing about this film is that it was shot in 1945, almost literally under the noses of the Gestapo and in the midst of the fiercest war France has probably ever known. Timeless, ageless, and beautiful. It is to watch.

Ma Vie en Rose (My Life in Pink)

This is a very sweet, touching film about a little boy who's different. Just different. It's not clear if he is transgender or gay or what, he's just different. He likes pink, and he likes to dance, and he talks to cartoon characters. And because of that, his family is ostracised and goes through some very painful readjustments. Ultimately, this film is about what happens when you have a quirky, eccentric, odd, or just plain — different — person in your family. Society would like us all to be die-stamped clones. And sure, we all brag about our individuality and difference, which we prove by running out to buy exactly the same "cool-this-week" item that everyone else has. So what happens when we have to deal with real difference? Do we squash it and hope it'll stay in place? Or do we accept it and live with the pain and isolation that are its commonest gifts?

In addition to these masterpieces, we also watched a bunch of old Daily Show DVDs (we don't have TV or cable at La Casa de Los Gatos) and two Ozu Yasujiro movies, both of which developed serious problems midway through viewing causing us to take it as a hint from powers beyond that we should fucking quit with the Ozu movies already.

Friday, February 15, 2008

PolCat and Meself

(c) 2006 K. Smokey Cormier

A conversation between PolCat and meself picked from, as Salman Rushdie said in Midnight's Children, "the exotic flowers of the imagination blossom":

Ms. Manitoba: They have a name for people like me.
PolCat: They have many names for people like you.
Ms. Manitoba: Okay, they have a new name for people like me.
PolCat: I'll bite. What is it?
Ms. Manitoba: "quirkyalones"

Susan Abrams writes:
Call them quirky, but don't call them loners. For the self-described "quirkyalone," Valentine's Day is about thinking outside the heart-shaped box of chocolates.

"For me, being a quirkyalone doesn't always mean you are single," said Sasha Cagen, who coined the phrase nearly 10 years ago in an essay that spawned a book called "Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics."

"It just means you have another perception of life. It means being single is not a life sentence. It means you disapprove of settling."
Since writing her essay and starting the Web site, a movement has sprouted, with thousands embracing the concept, even transforming Valentine's Day into International Quirkyalone Day.

From Los Angeles to New York, from Brazil to Scotland, in cafes and karaoke bars, a celebration of singledom will occur around the world among like-minded people. The quirkyalones are not anti-love, just against contrived notions of coupledom, according to their creed.

"It definitely has struck a deep chord with people," said Cagen, who is surprised her word - which she created one "kissless New Year's Eve" - has blossomed.

"It's something people relate to in a deep way. It's a movement in that it challenges the prevailing notion that you have to be in a relationship to be happy."

In fact, quirkyalones are defined as fierce romantics. But they don't date for the sake of dating, Cagen said. They believe in the magic of love, but only if all the right pieces fall into place. Until that happens, a quirkyalone's best mate can be his or her own soul, as well as a good group of friends.

Quirkyalone traits include displaying a talent for self-reflection, believing that life can be prosperous and great with or without a mate, creating and maintaining chosen families of friends, and treating life as one big choose-your-own adventure, according to the Web site, which also includes a quiz and a list of famous quirkyalones.
The preceding excerpt was from an article by Susan Abrams. If you want to read the entire article about quirkyalones, click here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day: A poem by Sharon Olds

Photo by David Bartolomi

Ms. Manitoba thinks that Sharon Olds is a wonderful poet. And Topography is one of the sexiest poems I've read. Enjoy ... and Happy Valentine's Day.


Sharon Olds

After we flew across the country we
got in bed, laid our bodies
delicately together, like maps laid
face to face, East to West, my
San Francisco against your New York, your
Fire Island against my Sonoma, my
New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho
bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas
burning against your Kansas your Kansas
burning against my Kansas, your Eastern
Standard Time pressing into my
Pacific Time, my Mountain Time
beating against your Central Time, your
sun rising swiftly from the right my
sun rising swiftly from the left your
moon rising slowly from the left my
moon rising slowly from the right until
all four bodies of the sky
burn above us, sealing us together,
all our cities twin cities,
all our states united, one
nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Music: Qawwali

While tootling around Kyle's place this morning, we took note of his comment that some in the media apparently had difficulty pronouncing Barack Obama's first name (we won't even go into the shenanigans they've perpetrated with his last name), and were reminded of how infuriated we become when we hear one of our very favourite musicians distorted thus:

Noose Rat Fatty Early Cohen

on stations which really ought to emply people who know better. Peoples, this is not some unknown dude bellowing his heart out in a cornfield (wheatfield?) somewhere. He is a master of Qawwali music (well, was. We were utterly heartbroken when he died) who has performed at the Royal Albert, fer cryin' out, we ourselves saw him at the Masonic Auditorium and at the Greek Theater (and there was barely room to fart, not to mention the shamelessness of various men, boys, girls, and women dancing in the aisles and swarming the stage. It's a good thing the South Asian community tends to dress formally in cumbersome clothing for affairs such as this, or underwear would've been flying in all directions (no doubt pissing off the Mighty Khan something terrible - he wasn't even happy about the customary showering with money).

At any rate, here he is an early clip (not very good, but hey).

His incomparable stylings, his talent in blending jazz and classical Hindustani music with the traditional qawwali form, and (largely, though not always) managing to avoid the vulgarity of typical filmi music &mdash where to find another like him? Rightly labeled "Ustadji." Although I just want to say that the young guy's voice makes me want to strangle him. Here, for your listening pleasure, Yeh Jo Halka Halka.

We're off to find his entire treasure of a collection on the iPod (best fucking investment we ever made, being able to listen to The Mighty Khan all damn day while still running around).

Aside: Microsoft Word kept trying to tell us the word we wanted was "muskrat." It's one of those things that leaves you awfully tempted to take the next bus to Redmond just for the pleasure of strangling those blithering idiots.

Monday, February 11, 2008

B.A.D. Stroll Through Blogtopia

Well, fuck me blind, as we say back in the old country. (No, really, we do, although not around ThePoliticalCat's parental units who, being of a different generation and a rather prudish persuasion, would have a fit.)

Rotus over at Clarkspicks blogrolled us, so we wandered over to see what we could, and who's his featured artist today but Ali Farka Toure. Eeeyah!

Ali Farka Toure is, like, one of our fave musicians, and when you listen to the rockin' clip Rotus posted, you'll see why. Toure tips a hat to John Lee Hooker (another musician that we fuckin' love) as one of his influences.

Dis da kine music that makes ThePoliticalCat wish we were NOT gimps, cause dammit, we want to DANCE to this. Check out the audience. They're feelin' the call too.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

J.M. Synge too

Just read an interview of the playwright and now director, Martin McDonagh, in today's San Francisco Chronicle Pink Pages. He reminds me that I also want to read J.M. Synge.

I have a cousin named Martin McDonagh. Although, I think he spells his last name differently than the creative lad mentioned above. Many people in my family spell their last names differently than each other ... there's at least 4 variations ... due to ... British invasions ... Ellis Island misspellings ... personal quirkiness.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

So Many Books

So little time!

Ms. Manitoba reminds us that we both have shamefully neglected the brilliant Brendan Behan in our vasty readings, although we say "Phthbbptht!" and point out that this snippet, at least, lingers in our ancient and tired brain to remind us that we must have read Behan sometime.
"Never throw stones at your mother,
You'll be sorry for it when she's dead,
Never throw stones at your mother,
Throw bricks at your father instead."
As soon as we're done with this year's book list, we swear - Behan's next.

Poem of the Day

Ms. Manitoba is off having a life (that kinda happens when you have hooman kids - ours are furrybrats, so we just kick their overfed butts outdoors when the weather is good, and we never have to worry about them calling CPS [Cat Protection Services] or future therapists' bills).

So today, we have to hold down La Casa de Los Buitres (did we say that right? We have little Spanish and less Japanese, to paraphrase some famous dead person).

At any rate, Ms. M sent us this poem which is still causing small explosions and ripples through our midsection. Great poetry does that.

Poem: "Vasectomy" by Philip Appleman, from New and Selected Poems, 1956-1996. © University of Arkansas Press, 1996.


After the steaming bodies swept
through the hungry streets of swollen cities;
after the vast pink spawning of family
poisoned the rivers and ravaged the prairies;
after the gamble of latex and
diaphragms and pills;
I invoked the white robes, gleaming blades
ready for blood, and, feeling the scourge
of Increase and Multiply, made
affirmation: Yes, deliver us from
And after the precision of scalpels,
I woke to a landscape of sunshine where
the catbird mates for life and
maps trace out no alibis &mdash stepped
into a morning of naked truth,
where acts mean what they really are:
the purity of loving
for the sake of love.

This poem especially affects us today, as we were planning to post about that little girl who was murdered by her mother and stepfather &mdash Nixzmary Brown. But that's a rant about overpopulation and child abuse for another time.

For today, let us contemplate the power and beauty of poetry instead, that with a few well-chosen words someone we don't even know can bring to mind all these different thoughts and images and feelings that swirl through us and leave us wrung out, shattered, rearranged, changed.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Films We Saw This Week

Despite watering eyes, a runny nose, a sick kitty and a kitty with several holes all over his body (Madu, MUST you get into catfights, you little beast?), a huge reading list and an occasionally balky writing project, La Casa de Los Gatos managed an impressive number of films watched this past week.

However, because we have a terrible weakness for truly bad films (the World o'Crap level of truly bad films), we're only going to review those we don't mind admitting to total strangers that we viewed.

Studio Ghibli's Whisper of the Heart, an utterly charming, heartwarming story about a little girl who wants to be a writer, and her parents, who support her ambition though they might not always understand. If you have a daughter or daughters, or even a secret ambition to write, you have to watch this movie. Apart from the fact that it's the usual range of fare from Studio Ghibli (in other words, bloody fantastic), the people behind this film really understand girls and women. They know how difficult it is for this little girl to feel empowered enough to chase her dream, instead of taking pride in her boyfriend's dreams.

Come to think of it, watch it even if you have a son/sons. It's worth every second.

Ozu Yasujiro's Tokyo Monogatari (Tokyo Story) is typical Ozu, atypical Japanese. The director seems to delight in films about highly personal, intimate, family relationships - marriage, siblings, parent-child relationships. A fondness for long, slow shots and a tendency to build up detail lead us to warn incautious viewers: these films are for people who are used to the three-hour buttbreakers that third world films usually manage to be. If you're not the type of person to enjoy Pather Panchali, you'll probly fall asleep halfway through Ozu.

We have to admit a great fondness for Ozu. However, we failed to take into account that fact that todos los gatos de mi Casa want to see things getting killed. Preferably quickly. Also, note to self: Do not schedule a whole goddamned Ozu retrospective. One can only watch so many lingering shots of white cotton blouses, or rolling sea waves, in one week.

Still, we liked this film.

Neko no Ongaeshi (The Cat Returns)

Directed by Morita Hiroyuki. This is a very sweet and amusing little film, preferably for young people, but despite our general old fartishness, we have no problem with this type of film. We thoroughly enjoyed the story of a little girl who rescues a cat who turns out to be The Prince of Cats, and whose father is grateful &mdash a little too grateful &mdash for the saving of his son.

Seppuku (Harakiri)

The astute visitor has no doubt noticed, by now, that Casa de Los Gatos has a weakness for Japanese films, in addition to MST3K offerings and kids' anime. We apologize to no one. This was a particularly grim movie about the wane of the samurai class in Japanese history (after the Tokugawa and throughout the Meiji Restoration). The usual samurai swordfighting movies, which show a lone fighter overcoming hundreds of well-armed opponents has here been replaced by a stark and painful realism. Beautiful, if painful film. Two severed thumbs up.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Blogroll Amnesty Day at CultureVultures


Ms. Manitoba is busy entertaining visiting fambly, so we're posting the official notice of Blogroll Amnesty Day celebrations over here at CultureVultures.

If you drop by and want to be on our blogroll, drop us a line and we'll add you!

Of course, we'll have to create a blogroll first, so excuse our dust.

Thanks to Skippy and Jon Swift for organizing Teh March of Teh Peasants and handing out pitchforks and torches.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Books: Updated List for 2008

Because of the plethora of books on this year's book list, we're doing monthly reviews instead of annual reviews. This will continue until we are, once again, painfully employed.

Having succeeded at taking some 30 books off the list so far, we've added a few more to make sure we don't slack off.

This is the updated list. If we win our bet, that we can read, review, and incorporate these books into the ongoing Book Project, we hope some decent soul offers us a fine meal of sushi and sake to celebrate.

Pretty cheeky, huh?
  1. A Cloistered War - Maisie Duncan
  2. A History of Malaysia - Barbara Watson Andaya & Leonard Andaya
  3. A History of Modern Indonesia - M.C. Ricklefs
  4. A History of Selangor - J. M. Gullick
  5. A Map of the World - Jane Hamilton
  6. A Place Where The Sea Remembers - Sandra Benitez
  7. A Point of Light - Zhou Mei
  8. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
  9. A Will For Freedom - Romen Bose
  10. Abraham's Promise - Philip Jeyaretnam
  11. Agnes Smedley - J.R. & S.R. MacKinnon
  12. Anthology of Japanese Literature - Donald Keene
  13. Art & Fear - David Bayles & Ted Orland
  14. Asian Labour In The Japanese Wartime Empire - Paul H. Kratoska, Ed.
  15. Baba Nonnie Goes To War - Ron Mitchell
  16. Between Two Oceans - Murfett, Miskic, Farrell, & Chiang
  17. Bird by Bird - Anne Lamott
  18. Captives of Shanghai - David H. & Gretchen G. Grover
  19. Chandranath - Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay
  20. Chinese Customs - Henri Dore
  21. Clay Walls - Kim Ronyoung
  22. Daniel Deronda - George Eliot
  23. Finnegan's Wake - James Joyce
  24. From Pacific War to Merdeka - James Wong Wing On
  25. Golden Gate - Vikram Seth
  26. How I Adore You - Mark Pritchard
  27. In Pursuit of Mountain Rats - Anthony Short
  28. In The Grip of a Crisis - Rudy Mosbergen
  29. Kempeitai, Japan's Dreaded Military Police - Raymond Lamont-Brown
  30. Kempei Tai: The Japanese Secret Service Then And Now - Richard Deacon
  31. Kim - Rudyard Kipling
  32. Krait: The Fishing Boat That Went To War - Lynette Ramsay Silver
  33. Kranji - Romen Bose
  34. Labour Unrest in Malaya - Tai Yuen
  35. Lest We Forget - Alice M. Coleman & Joyce E. Williams
  36. Life As The River Flows - Agnes Khoo
  37. Living Hell - Goh Chor Boon
  38. Malay Folk Beliefs - Mohd Taib Osman
  39. Malaya and Singapore During the Japanese Occupation - Paul H. Kratoska, Ed.
  40. Malaysia - R. Emerson
  41. Modern Japan, A Historical Survey - Hane Mikiso
  42. Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
  43. Night Butterfly - Tan Guan Heng
  44. No Cowardly Past - James Puthucheary
  45. Operation Matador - Ong Chit Chung
  46. Orlando - Virginia Woolf
  47. Outwitting the Gestapo - Aubrac
  48. Palli Samaj (The Homecoming) - Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay
  49. Power Politics - Arundhati Roy
  50. Prehistory of the Indo-Malayan Archipelago - Peter Bellwood
  51. Red Star Over Malaya - Cheah Boon Kheng
  52. Revolt in Paradise - K'tut Tantri
  53. Rosie - Anne Lamott
  54. Rouge of the North - Chang Ai Ling
  55. Shanghai Refuge, A Memoir of the WWII Jewish Ghetto - Ernest G. Heppner
  56. Shantung Compound - Langdon Gilkey
  57. Singapore & The Many-Headed Monster - Joe Conceicao
  58. Sisters and Strangers (Women in the Shanghai Cotton Mills) - Honig
  59. Sisters in the Resistance - Margaret Collins Weitz
  60. Soldiers Alive - Ishikawa Tatsuzo
  61. Strangers Always A Jewish Family in Wartime Shanghai - Rena Krasno
  62. Taming the Wind of Desire - Carol Laderman
  63. The Age of Diminished Expectations - Paul Krugman
  64. The Art of the Novel - Milan Kundera
  65. The Bafut Beagles - Gerald Durrell
  66. The Book of Tea - Okakura Kazuko
  67. The Crippled Tree - Han Suyin
  68. The Double Tenth Trial - C. Sleeman, S.C. Sillein, Eds.
  69. The End of the War - Romen Bose
  70. The Gift - Lewis Hyde
  71. The Life of an Amorous Woman - Saikaku Ihara
  72. The Makioka Sisters - Junichiro Tanizaki
  73. The Malay Archipelago - Alfred Russell Wallace
  74. The Malayan Union Controversy, 1942-1948 - Albert Lau
  75. The Marquis - A Tale of Syonan-To - S.J.H. Conner
  76. The Nanking Massacre - Katsuichi Honda
  77. The Origins of The Second World War in Asia and the Pacific - Akira Iriye
  78. The Pacific War - Ienaga Saburo
  79. The Plague - Albert Camus
  80. The Price of Peace - Foong Choon Hon, Ed.
  81. The Rape of Nanking - Iris Chang
  82. The Tin Drum - Gunther Grass
  83. The War in Malaya - A.E. Percival
  84. The Way of All Flesh - Samuel Butler
  85. The World of the Shining Prince - Ivan Morris
  86. Three Came Home - Agnes Newton Keith
  87. To The Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
  88. Tokyo Rose - Masayo Duus
  89. War & Memory in Malaysia & Singapore - P. Lim Pui Huen, Diana Wong, Eds.
  90. Women in the Holocaust - Dalia Ofer, Lenore J. Weitzman, Eds.
  91. Women of China - Bobby Siu
  92. Women, Outcastes, Peasants & Rebels - Kalpana Bardhan
  93. Writers' Workshop in a Book - Cheuse and Alvarez
  94. You'll Die in Singapore - Charles McCormac
  95. A Choice of Evils - Meira Chand
  96. Force 136:Story of A Resistance Fighter in WWII - Tan Chong Tee
  97. King Rat - James Clavell
  98. Murder on the Verandah - Eric Lawlor
  99. No Dram of Mercy - Sybil Kathigasu
  100. Rehearsal for War - Ban Kah Choon, Yap Hong Kuan
  101. Singa, Lion of Malaya - Gurchan Singh
  102. Singapore The Pregnable Fortress - Peter Elphick
  103. Sinister Twilight - Noel Barber
  104. Sold For Silver - Janet Lim
  105. Syonan - My Story (The Japanese Occupation of Singapore) - Mamoru Shinozaki
  106. The Fall of Shanghai - Noel Barber
  107. The Jungle is Neutral - F. Spencer Chapman
  108. The War Of The Running Dogs - Noel Barber
  109. You'll Never Get Off The Island - Keith Wilson

Book Review - January 2008

Well, being unemployed and all, and getting lots of nibbles but no big bites in the job market, we had plenty of time to read, and read we did, with a vengeance. The astute follower of our chequered book-reading efforts will notice that we had a list of 145 books to read, at last count. We are thrilled beyond belief to say that that list is now down by some X books.

Reviews here. Updated list to follow.
  1. Bang Bang in Ampang - Norman Cleaveland

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? No.
    Reread? No.

    Norman Cleaveland was born and raised in Oakland, California, and graduated Stanford. He toured Manchuria (Manchukuo at the time, I believe) as part of a U.S. team assessing war reparations efforts around World War II. He subsequently worked in his family's firm mining tin in Malaysia, in fact in Ampang, near Kuala Lumpur. Although his account of life during the Malayan Emergency is interesting because he's a funny guy, his short-sighted attitude towards the MPAJA and his Cold-War infused opinions really aren't worth reading. I read the book anyway because I needed to know what life was like during those days. Regrettably, the book mostly discusses what the life of the orang putih Tuans was like. It speaks of the concentration camps that foreshadowed similar attempts to separate the guerilla "fish" from the sea of "the people" in Vietnam with a cheer that I thought completely inappropriate. Not worth reading unless you're in the mood to be amused by unrealistic yet nonfictional accounts of a different time.

  2. Believer Book of Writers Talking To Writers - Vendela Vida

    Borrowed? Does "thrust upon" count?
    Recommended? No. This is the kind of book you read if you're bored, have plenty of time, and the book features one or more favorite writers. Not for writers looking for tips on the craft, and not for your average reader looking for something stimulating, either.
    Reread? No.

  3. Chinese Blue & White - Ann Frank

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? An excellent little book for those interested in the topic. This is a beginner's guide to the art of collecting Chinese blue and white porcelain. The author's expertise shows clearly, and she is careful to include Chinese characters for the names of various aspects of Chinese porcelain.
    Reread? No.

  4. Encyclopedia of China - Dorothy Perkins

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Dorothy Perkins is a China scholar of some renown. I didn't actually read this book (the days when I would spend lots of time reading an encyclopedia for the sheer joy of encyclopedic reading are far behind me, I'm afraid). However, I did look through it and was very impressed with the wide scope and the deep detail.
    Reread? I'm sure this book will find a lot of use when I begin reading the enormous stack of books on China (there must be at least five bloody hundred, for crying out). But that's not this year's project, so snippets in the future at best, hungry masses.

  5. Fantasies of the Six Dynasties - Tsai Chih Chung

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? This little graphic novel is of interest to those who want to know more about China. I can't really say I'm impressed with the artwork, but graphic novels have an interesting history in East Asia, and I enjoyed these familiar tales.
    Reread? No.

  6. Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman

    Borrowed? I'm not naming anyone named Brian, or anything. Especially if he brings pizza.
    Recommended? I have a lot of respect and admiration for Neil Gaiman as a creative writer, but this book wasn't really memorable, although individual pieces were gemlike in their beauty and polish. Still, Gaiman is always an enjoyable writer, so read what you like and skip the rest.
    Reread? No.

  7. Fu Lu Shou - Jeffrey Seow

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Fu Lu Shou refers to the gods and immortals of Chinese myth and legend. This is another enjoyable little graphic novel presentation, simplified, of course, for the typical graphic novel reader. Of interest if you're interested in things Chinese or graphic novels as such.
    Reread? No.

  8. Glory - Vladimir Nabokov

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? I blame Mr. Nabokov for making his beautiful works inaccessible to me for several decades. Young readers should not read Lolita without an adult guide, which is what I did, and as a teenager with issues, I was utterly revolted by the book and conceived a strong dislike for Nabokov. A stance that I greatly regret now, finding his work unbelievably good. This is an artist, a writer of genius.
    Reread? Yes, as soon as I've gone through a couple of bookshelves of dust-collectors.

  9. Golden Boy and Other Stories From Burma - Saw Wai Lwin Moe

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? This charming little book showed up thanks to someone's fascination with books published in Southeast Asia. It was an educational and entertaining read, as my knowledge of Burma is rather sketchy.
    Reread? No. It's really for children and people interested in myths and legends.

  10. How To Write A Damn Good Novel - James N. Frey

    Borrowed? I'm not blaming anyone who might have as a nom de plume the name of a Canadian province.
    Recommended? No. It's hard for me to enjoy a book that purports to tell writers how to write but contains typos and basic spelling and grammatical errors. Not that the advice isn't practical, but it's really more for people who want to get published. Dan Brown territory, not William Faulkner.
    Reread? No.

  11. Robert van Gulik - JanWillem van de Wetering

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? This tiny volume is a fascinating look at Robert van Gulik, and he was a fascinating man.
    Reread? No. This book was acquired because I have always been a tremendous fan of Robert van Gulik, detective fiction writer extraordinaire and one of the great Sinologists. van Gulik also wrote some very interesting nonfiction works, including a study of the sexual mores of ancient China. He was born in Java (then Batavia), and spent most of his life in East and Southeast Asia as a diplomat. He was serving in Japan when WWII broke out.

  12. Strange Tales of Liao Zhai - Tsai Chih Chung

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? No. Clearly, this is not Pu Songling's version. It's a cutesy little graphic novel of the wonderful and powerful works of Pu Songling. As such, it's a very light read. And frankly the artist ain't that great either. Oh, well.
    Reread? No.

  13. That Fellow Kanda - AUPE

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? The Amalgamated Union of Public Employees of Singapore commissioned this work of love as a token of their appreciation for all that Mr. Kandasamy, their first, and longtime, leader had done for the workers and unionists he led for so long. It's a terrific read if you're interested in trade unions, labour issues, workers' rights, Southeast Asian history and politics, or in Mr. Kandasamy himself.
    Reread? No.

  14. Tao Te Ching - Ursula K. LeGuin

    Borrowed? We don't point fingers at those who bribe us with pizza as well as books.
    Recommended? No.
    Reread? No. Having read China scholar John Blofeld's translation from wee sprogdom, I have to confess to being prejudiced against Ursula LeGuin's. She's a fine writer of fiction, but without an understanding of the underlying culture, history, language, et cetera, how can you hope to write a definitive interpretation of something as inaccessible as the Tao Te Ching? On the other hand, the fact is, translations of poetry are best performed by poets. It was difficult reading this mostly because I kept arguing with myself, and I'm still not sure who was winning.

  15. The Areas of My Expertise - John Hodgman

    Borrowed? Pizza papers over a multitude of mortal sins.
    Recommended? John Hodgman is a very funny person indeed, as you probably already know if you've ever watched The Daily Show. His deadpan sense of humour makes you wonder just which leg he's pulling at times. Wry, ironic, and just enough off-the-wall to make you wonder if he's crazy or just very smart and twisted.
    Reread? No.

  16. The Art of Fiction - John Gardner

    Borrowed? We cannot blame anyone whose name might or might not start with the letter M who introduces us to greatness in the written form.
    Recommended? This beautiful, well-written book contains the finest advice a great writer could give an aspiriting great writer. If you fancy yourself venturing into the world of writing, then you really need to buy and read this book. And I mean buy it. It's a keeper.
    Reread? Yes, yes, and yes again.

  17. The Audacity of Hope - Barack Obama

    Borrowed? It's amazing what a small bribe of food and books will do for your reputation among the Reading Masses.
    Recommended? I didn't want to read this book till after the elections were over, but I'm running out of stopgaps before working on The Great Book Project. So. I succumbed. Whatever else Senator Obama may or may not be, he is a very fine writer. I loved his first book, and this one's even better. If he's not a genuine and caring soul, then he's a damn fine actor.
    Reread? Please, Senator Obama, if you win the Presidency don't force me to reread this book out of disappointment.

  18. The Brooklyn Follies - Paul Auster

    Borrowed? Timeo Danae et dona ferentis (I fear the Greeks when they come bearing gifts?), but we've never said no to a book yet.
    Recommended? This is a little gem of a novel. The author has a fine ear for dialogue and human relationships, even if, sometimes, he did seem to get out on a limb with some of the things he was saying.
    Reread? Love to - perhaps in my next life when I have some spare time.

  19. The Castle of Otranto - Horace Walpole

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? This novel is supposedly the first example of the gothic romance. My acquaintance with such being slight, despite a great fondness for the works of Pu Songling, with which I've been acquainted since early sproghood, I thought, as part of an exercise in writing gothic fiction, I ought to read it. Oh, my. Recommended only for educational purposes. Overwrought is a mild description of this work.
    Reread? No.

  20. The Death of Woman Wang - Jonathan D. Spence

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Jonathan Spence is an academic and I wonder if this is his first foray into literary expression. Despite the dryness of some of the details, it is beautiful. However, it would probably only be of interest to a Sinophile.
    Reread? No.

  21. The Family: They Fuck You Up - Granta

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Oy. Like, I really needed to read about how a family can fuck you up. Like mine was somehow found wanting in the task. Let me just say that you can choose psychoactive meds, illegal happy substances, or alcohol as an accompaniment to this fine piece of literature. You'll need it.
    Reread? No. It's patchy. Some excellent and some agonizing, as is typical, I suppose, of literary magazines.

  22. The Other Side of War - Zainab Salbi

    Borrowed? We're not going to say one word against those who might bring us a Zachary's deep-dish good health chicken breast and spinach pizza.
    Recommended? This is a beautiful and very very special book created by several women who work to help women and their children and men deal with the horrendous effects of war. In dealing with an extremely painful subject, the writers and photographers have shown the utmost respect to both their subjects and their readers. It touched me deeply, and I highly recommend it. Preferably as a gift to those assholes who are largely responsible for the poverty and exploitation throughout the world that creates war and victimizes the most helpless elements of society. On the positive side, it does tell you what you can do to make a difference.
    Reread? Someday, I'm sure.

  23. The Singapore Grip - J.G. Farrell

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? No. I'm trying to figure out why this book won the Booker. Because what it's about is the supposedly exciting and exotic deployment of vaginal muscle by certain ladies of distant shores. Sheesh. Well, actually, it's more about WWII and what life was like in T3h Colonies. The writer certainly did his research, but a lot of the book could've used an editor like Faulkner's.
    Reread? No.

  24. The Situation & The Story - Vivian Gornick

    Borrowed? I'm not saying. I sense an opportunity to score further pizzas. Maybe even sushi, sashimi, or chirashi.
    Recommended? Vivian Gornick is a fine, fine writer, but that's not what this book is about. This book is about how to write a memoir, and I think she does a good job. Of course, if you're not interested in writing a memoir, then you're not going to want to read it. But you really ought to read her fiction.
    Reread? Probably not.

  25. The Unabomber Manifesto - Ted Kaczynski

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Good gravy. Why did I decide to read this book? Well, I heard a lot about this guy in the mass media, and wanted to examine the subject deeply. The book is Mr. Kaczynski's enunciation of his own politics, attitudes, mindset. Let me tell ya, after reading this, I'm glad he's locked up. He doesn't need anyone to make him out to be a loon, he does that just fine by himself. I couldn't find a single person or group of people or ideas that this guy doesn't just rag on. He doesn't like anybody. Plus, he's got, how you say, issh-shoos. He needs lots of help, and I sure hope he gets it, because without it, he should never be allowed out to where he could be a threat to society again.
    Reread? No.

  26. Tripmaster Monkey His Fake Book - Maxine Hong Kingston

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? No. I have the utmost respect for Professor Maxine Hong Kingston, but a novelist she ain't. I couldn't finish the book. Really. It was that ... unreadable.
    Reread? No.

  27. Writing Past Dark - Bonnie Friedman

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? No. Bonnie Friedman is a writer whose work I have not previously read. This book is a good little self-help type "feel empowered as a writer" book if you need such a thing. I've always wondered why people would attend writing workshops and get MFAs and stuff, and this book will reveal why. So you can teach writing workshops and MFAs, that's why.
    Reread? No.

  28. Totto-chan - Kuroyanagi Tetsuko

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Only if you're into children's stories, or Japanese culture. The author is so cute it makes me ill, but in a good way. The book is about her experiences, or perhaps her hopes, for the education of children in Japan.
    Reread? No.

  29. Travels in Siam - Henri Mouhot

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? This is a very fine book about Laos, Kampuchea, and Thailand in 1858-1860. This not being the area of my expertise, I soon tired of the patiently detailed descriptions of the culture and history. It's really quite a narrowly-focused book, although it's my understanding that it contributed a great deal to the knowledge of the colonizers about the colonies they planned to exploit.
    Reread? No.

  30. The Sabahan: The Life and Death of Tun Fuad Stephens - P.J. Granville-Edge, Rajen Devadason

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? Dato Donald, later Fuad, Stephens, played a major role in the formation of the nation of Sabah, its move towards self-rule, and finally, its incorporation into Malaysia. This fine book, written by Dato Stephens' niece, describes the life of this charismatic and fascinating man whose love for his KadazanDusun people led him to make great sacrifices on their behalf. Of interest to students of Southeast Asian politics, history, and culture.
    Reread? Unfortunately, I don't really see how I will find the time to reread this excellent book.

  31. Early Views of Indonesia/Pemandangan Indonesia di Masa Lampau - Annabel Teh Gallop

    Borrowed? No.
    Recommended? I'm always flabbergasted by the sheer cheek of the British, who scoured the entire world for beautiful arts and crafts which they then brazenly stole (to wit, the Elgin marbles, have they returned those to Greece yet?). This, of course, is only eclipsed by their incredible gall in "presenting" to the robbed beautiful catalogues of the stuff they took. This book represents drawings, paintings, natural history studies, et cetera, taken from Indonesia in the 1800s. Apparently the British government recently decided to exhibit these treasures, which they then followed up by creating this beautiful catalogue of the exhibit, which they presented to the Indonesian government as a mark of their, I dunno, esteem? Gratitude? Scorn?
    Reread? I'd like to see the actual exhibits, and it was fun trying to read the catalogue in Bahasa Indonesia, but I really don't need my blood pressure raised.

The astute reader will notice that I have been hopelessly inconsistent in using the Wade-Giles or Hanyu Pinyin systems of transliteration of Chinese names and words. I throw myself upon such readers' tender mercies and confess to being hopelessly slack-arsed when it comes to making the determination and following through with that steely rigour that is required of the non-slack-arsed.