1, 2, 3, Off to School! by Marianne Dubuc

Five stars, read in February 2022. This is fantastically cute and I like it a lot, but I also have weird issues with it. The text is tiny, and all the little side dialogue makes the experience of reading it almost like one of those search and find books rather than a traditional story. It…

Notes of a Crocodile, by Qiu Miaojin

Two stars, read in December 2017 Bewildering, to be honest. Interpersonal relationships are difficult to package in words, especially when nothing much happens, it’s all just conversations and body language and internal struggles. But this seemed deliberately opaque and kept me on the outside, unable to get a connection with any of the characters. Words…

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

Two stars. Read in February 2019. I don’t like Ove very much—the character or the book. Rather, I don’t understand the near-universal insistence that this type of character is loveable. Because Ove is definitely a type, and while there’s no such thing as an unloveable person, that is an entirely separate issue from our indefatigable…

Wrapping Up Summer Reading (Mini Reviews)

The Door, by Magda Szabó Three and a half stars, read in August 2018. The story of a strange, dysfunctional relationship between two strange women who are both uniquely intimate with and completely closed off to each other. I found it difficult at times, how deeply (and pretty frequently) they hurt each other, but the exploration…

The White Castle, by Orhan Pamuk

Two stars, read in September 2018. I planned on two stars throughout the book and then was tempted to do more based on the last few pages—two and a half stars if not three—but for now, I can’t bring myself to rate it any higher. It’s only 145 pages but took forever to read, because…

Nine Rabbits, by Virginia Zaharieva

Four stars, read in August/September 2018. Practically incomprehensible at times, but at others, perfectly describes situations and emotions I’ve never seen articulated elsewhere. My perception of the protagonist kept changing in surprising ways, and I ended up making a lot of unexpected connections with her. I dream that I’m traveling to a seminar in Varna…

A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism, by Slavenka Drakulić

Three and a half stars, read in August 2018. Though I don’t know what the author’s intent was for her readers, I wish I’d had more background knowledge of how communism and socialism were implemented throughout Central Europe before reading this book. The format—eight fables, each told by an animal from a different country—makes for…

Beware of Pity, by Stefan Zweig

Three and a half stars, read in July and August 2018. This is one of those books in which perfect strangers sit down to tell each other their—or other people’s—life stories. Like Mr. Lockwood in Wuthering Heights, the narrator we first meet turns out to be nothing more than the impetus for one such story, that…

Mendelssohn is on the Roof, by Jiří Weil

Four and a half stars, read in July 2018. I’m tired of World War II stories, because their popularity in our culture seems saccharine, nationalistic, almost fetishistic—an excuse to pat ourselves on the back and fawn over the “glory days” of the “Greatest Generation”—while generally managing to sideline the sickeningly-relevant lessons we should be learning from…

Accident: A Day’s News, by Christa Wolf

Four stars, read in July 2018. Second stop on my literary backpacking trip through Europe: East Germany in the 1980s, the day after the Chernobyl accident. I’ve been wanting to read Christa Wolf for a while now, more especially Cassandra and Medea, but—once again—my choice was made for me by the limited collection of my local libraries. (For…

The Storm, by Margriet de Moor

Four stars, read in July 2018. I picked up this book for my first stop on the Reader’s Room Backpacking Across Europe Summer Reading Challenge, as I flew into the Amsterdam airport. I don’t tend to read disaster stories, so I probably wouldn’t have chosen this book if Utah public libraries had a better selection…

We shall have to be philosophers, Mary

Most adults accept the world as a matter of course. This is precisely where philosophers are a notable exception. A philosopher never gets quite used to the world. To him or her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable—bewildering, even enigmatic. Philosophers and small children thus have an important faculty in common. You might…

ME, by Tomoyuki Hoshino

Five stars, read in January 2018. I’ve had this post in my drafts for a few months now, because there was so much for me to work through. I did not expect the direction this book ended up taking, on more than one level. It was brilliant, disturbing, astonishingly incisive commentary on human nature and identity—and…

Snow Country, by Yasunari Kawabata

Three stars, read in January 2018. Widely considered to be his masterpiece, the Goodreads description says, but . . . Hmm. I was decidedly underwhelmed by this book. There is absolutely beautiful imagery in his descriptions of snow country (I gave it an extra star for that reason). It was a stern night landscape. The…

The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño

Two or three stars, read in August 2017. I was really annoyed about this book. I really wanted to like it, which was probably part of the problem. It took me forever and I pressured myself to finish it, which was certainly part of the problem. I can’t say why exactly, but this book just…

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

Two stars, read in September 2017. Will possibly downgrade to one star after I think more about it. This was not an enjoyable experience and upon finishing, I felt like I should apologize to myself for forcing me through the whole thing. One thousand pages of farming, 19th-century Russian politics, and petty, jealous, self-absorbed characters…

Autofiction, by Hitomi Kanehara

Four stars, read in July 2017. I’ve spent a good twenty minutes now trying to track down the article that made me first want to read Hitomi Kanehara, and I’m frustrated that I can’t find it. All I remember is that the writer was (I think) a Japanese American woman, possibly an author herself? And…

Japanese Haiku from Peter Pauper Press

Four stars, read in July 2017. I couldn’t believe my luck to find these three small, beautiful old volumes at my local used bookstore last night—particularly because under their faded, torn jackets the same lovely pattern has been preserved on the hardcover. Rather than reviews, my posts about haiku are always just a collection of…

Human Acts, by Han Kang

Five stars, read in April 2017. I kept not returning this book to the library because I wanted to go back through and get quotes for this post, but when I tried to do it, I felt like it was too late. This book is much too intense an experience to just dip back in…

Who would we complain to, anyway?

“I gazed at Kobe harbour, sparkling leadenly far below, and listened carefully, hoping to pick up some echoes from the past, but nothing came to me. Just the sounds of silence. That’s all. But what are you going to do? We’re talking about things that happened over thirty years ago. “Over thirty years ago. There is…

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

Five stars, read in October 2016. Gorgeous. Such a fascinating relationship between the protagonist—smart, insightful, but noticeably young—and Lila—who’s more like a force of nature than anything else. I love how not pretty the book is, how it’s about the violence and smallness of life. The dynamics of Elena Greco’s neighborhood act out the tension, the…

In the Miso Soup, by Ryu Murakami

Five stars, read on the last day of September 2016. I should have written about this back then, because now I won’t be able to remember details. But this book was so notable that I still feel I need to post something about it. For several years Ryu has just been the other Murakami, the one who gets in…

Mini Reviews: Comics and Manga

Everything I’ve read so far in January and February 2017, because apparently I haven’t reviewed any of them yet! Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 1, by Fumi Yoshinaga. Four stars. What an absolutely fascinating combination of ideas at play in this book. A sort of dystopian premise with a historical setting, a matriarchal society that still…

Empress, by Shan Sa

Two and a half stars, read in December 2016. Translated from French. This was a little dry; at times it felt like reading a catalog. A thousand horses in the parade, a thousand ministers, a thousand concubines, a thousand drums, and so on, sometimes for two or three pages. It made for easy skimming, though, which…

Manazuru, by Hiromi Kawakami

Four stars, read in January 2017. There is sort of a dreamlike quality to this whole book, even the scenes you know are taking place in real life. It’s a little vague at times, but coalesces in the end into something like relief. Maybe contentment. Kawakami has a beautiful way with words, describing feelings I’ve…

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami

Three and a half stars, read in September 2016. Do you sometimes have books that get stuck to whatever the circumstances were when you read them? Like, if you were in a particular place, then every time you go to that place you think of that book, and you almost feel as though you’re reading…

Kokoro, by Natsume Soseki

Four stars, read in August 2016. I found this just lovely in a very quiet, no-frills way (which is the usual, I suppose, for the Japanese writers I’ve been reading). It’s the story of a young man’s relationship with his mentor, and I particularly appreciated the exploration of Sensei’s inability to trust people, including himself. Somehow…

Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories, by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Four stars, read in July 2016. This was gorgeous. Each story is full of imagery, fascinating characters, and an examination of the time period (early 1900s). I can’t believe how closely I relate with the autobiographical stories. “Spinning Gears,” especially the ending, was amazing—sort of hauntingly visual—it almost felt like a movie. I’m not sure…

Books Set Outside the U.S.

Check out Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish. Also known as the majority of my favorite books! I haven’t done Top Ten Tuesday in a while, but I can’t pass this one up, and as usual my list will probably end up with a random number like seventeen, or ninety (whenever I can…