December 2019 | Books & Links

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29.12.2019

Fiction

Art in Nature – Tove Jansson

I haven’t actually read Tove’s ‘Moomins’ books yet, but I have read quite a bit of her fiction for adults. I really enjoyed ‘The Summer Book’ as well as ‘Fair Play’ and ‘The True Deceiver’ when I read them a few years ago, and this month I have been exploring her short stories. Art in Nature is a bit of a mixed bag in my opinion. Some of the stories are brilliant, but others didn’t really do it for me. I loved ‘The Cartoonist’ and ‘The Doll’s House’ as well as the story the collection takes its name from. One thing I don’t understand though is why the characters in ‘The Doll’s House’ are referred to as friends when they’re clearly romantic partners. I know that Tove was secretive of her own sexuality so perhaps it’s that, as surely it can’t be the translation? At any rate, there are some good stories in the collection but I didn’t enjoy it as much as her novels.

The Pine Islands – Marion Poschman

This one was a strange little book. Gilbert, a German professor of beard studies, wakes from a dream in which his wife has cheated on him. He storms out of the house and catches a flight to Tokyo, where he meets a young Japanese student on a train platform and inadvertently prevents him from killing himself by asking him about his beard. Both Gilbert and the student, Yoso, carry a bag and a manual with them. For Gilbert, the bag is a leather satchel and a book by Matsuo Bashō. Yaso’s choices include a gym holdall and an anthology of suicide spots, rated for their ‘grandeur’. As I said, it’s a strange book.

Yoso and Gilbert travel together, visiting a variety of locations as set out in their two books, but find themselves underwhelmed by reality. There are some beautiful moments with the prose, especially when Marion Poschman writes about nature and travel, but on the whole I found The Pine Islands a bit disjointed. There is also too much ambiguity. It never becomes apparent why Gilbert upped and left Germany for Japan, and it is also uncertain how he communicates with Yoso given that he speaks little Japanese and Yoso speaks little English (and no German). The prose is at times very sparse and clinical, and I didn’t feel any empathy for or connection with either of the two main characters.

Granta 127 – Japan – Granta

I stumbled upon Granta while looking at David Mitchell’s back catalogue of work. He’s one of my favourite authors. Though I don’t love everything he’s written, I really enjoyed number9dream, Black Swan Green, The Bone Clocks and Slade House.

Granta 127 is a collection of stories, poems, photographs and essays with a common theme of Japan. David Mitchell lived and worked in Japan for a number of years and contributed a story to the collection. As with all anthologies, I didn’t like everything in this. There were a few stories I gave up on because I didn’t like the writing style or content, but on the whole it contains some brilliant work. Highlights for me include David Mitchell’s ‘Variation on a Theme by Mister Donut’, Hiroma Kawakami’s ‘Blue Moon’, and Yukiko Motoya’s ‘The Dogs’.

Non-fiction

Selfish, Shallow & Self-absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids – edited by Meghan Daum

Sixteen essays written by thirteen women and three men exploring the reasons they have decided not to have children.

It was so, so good to read these essays and see other women voice the same convictions and frustrations that I have long held with regards to motherhood and attitudes to women who decide, for myriad reasons, that it’s not the path for them. I know there are lots of women (and men) out there who choose not to start families for similar reasons to me, but it’s taboo and nobody speaks about it.

Articles & Links

George Monbiot on Labour’s defeat and the path ahead.

This is beautiful: a couple who met at Auschwitz and their reunion 72 years later in New York City.

HBO’s Watchmen. The cinematography and soundtrack – by NIN duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – are brilliant. The show itself is incredibly dark and hard to watch at times, but I loved it. I don’t normally bother with superhero films or comics because I can’t relate to wealthy white men in pants, but the creative team behind Watchmen have flipped everything, to brilliant effect.

Dark Christmas traditions from around the world. I don’t like Christmas, but I do like this. Christmas is a little bit too saccharine and scripted for me. I prefer Halloween.

How the location data you freely give away is used to paint a detailed portrait of your everyday life, and why you should care. Admittedly I care about internet privacy and data security a little more than many people would think is healthy and run a Google free smartphone – Lineage OS without GAPPS – with system wide ad and tracker blocking enabled, and location data disabled at all times. Most apps run just fine without location data, all it means is that you have to manually enter which town or city you’d like to view a weather forecast for, and find your own place on a map.

We do not know each other. Family estrangement and meeting your paternal grandmother for the first time as an adult. I met my father’s mother for the first time at the age of fifteen for similar reasons – estrangement caused by a mutual clash of personalities between my mother and my grandmother. I found in Babcia many of the personality traits that my mother has long despised in me. It was a revelation, like wiping away the fog from a mirror and seeing yourself clearly for the first time.

How a life unfolds, and breaking free from the script. Also, a reminder that occasionally good writing can be found on Medium.

Books