The Age of Miracles: Karen Thompson Walker

AgeOfMiraclesTo be honest, I wasn’t going to write about The Age of Miracles at first. I mean, I enjoyed reading it, but I didn’t feel particularly blown away by it, and it’s already gotten a ton of press. It was on the New York Times bestseller list. It does not need my brain to give it any extra attention. And books with the first ten pages of the paperback full of delirious blurbs tend to just annoy me. All that exuberance makes me want to put the book right back on the shelf. 

It also makes me wonder if it sells enough books to make it worth the cost of throwing in the extra pages. Has anyone studied this? Has anyone been brought off the book-buying fence by “[t]he next big female novelist”? (Taken straight from the praise pages of this particular book, the only thing that blurb makes me want to do is stab the person who wrote it. Hats off to you, Rolling Stone, for making sure we know that women will always be “female novelists” and men will be regular novelists. Thanks for that.)

Fortunately, this purchase was the result of a birthday gift card to an online retailer, so these “stunning” and “transcendent” comments could not affect my decision to read this, a decision that was made, like pretty much every book-reading decision I make, somewhere in the depths of my mind after hearing rumours of the book in various online fora. Continue reading

The Giro Playboy: Michael Smith

Giro Playboy

(Because I am slammed up against deadlines (so many deadlines!), here is a thing I wrote ages ago, but never posted, mostly because I wasn’t sure if I cared enough about this book to spend time discussing it. But I wrote it and it’s a nice change from the manga parade of late and I promise I will have something new for you next week after deadline panic has passed.)

First things first: This book is really British. Really British. I don’t think I realized what I was getting into when I asked the bookstore clerk to recommend something that probably wouldn’t get published in Canada, when I was in the Norwich last year. I had to look up what the title even meant. (Turns out a giro is “a cheque given by the British government to someone who is unemployed”, which I guess means that when you’re on the dole, you get giros? It all still sounds weird in my mouth.) So you know, if you’re not British, be warned. There’s a lot of UK-specific action in here. 

Even so, The Giro Playboy  has a lot in common with another first-person narrative I read recently, Grrrl by Canadian Jennifer Whitehead. I didn’t particularly care for either one of them (read my reasons for not liking Grrl here) (you’ll have to scroll down a bit because I am a technodullard and can’t figure out how to get it to link to just that review), although I liked Giro a lot more at the start and grew to dislike it for different reasons. Continue reading

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreWe’re all well aware of my dislike of subtitles on non-fiction books, but maybe this is a fun new fact about me and my brain: I hate them on fiction books too! Yes, a subtitle is always going to get a scowly face and a dramatic Line sticker from me. (Line stickers! They are basically the best! I want to use them for everything.) The thing about fiction subtitles is that they are almost always: “A Novel”. Yes, what with the book being shelved in the fiction section, I figured something like that might be the case. Why do people keep slapping it on there like we are too stupid to understand what “fiction” means, even though we are there in a bookstore browsing? Why would you try to market your novel to someone who doesn’t understand the very concept of a novel? It just doesn’t make any sense. I realize that the fiction section also contains short stories, but honestly, a quick peek at the back of the book will tell you if you’re up against one long story and several tiny ones. You don’t need the distracting “A Novel” slapped on the cover.

And now with that out of my system, I can get to the insides of the “Novel”. I always try to bring something disposable with me on the plane, something entertaining to while away the long ours inside the flying metal tube of recycled farts, but something that I ultimately don’t feel the need to keep on my shelves forever and occasionally coo over lovingly. Continue reading

Monkey Business Vol. 3: Ted Goossen, Motoyuki Shibata (eds.)

Monkey Business 3Another issue of Monkey Business! Thicker than the last two issues! Read by me in an uncharacteristically timely fashion! I only picked this baby up a couple weeks ago and I have already read it. This will most likely never happen again, so enjoy my sudden timeliness. And I even went to one of the Toronto launch events! This too will most likely never happen again. Not because the event was terrible (it was amazing), but because I haven’t managed to make it to the launch events for the last two issues, and I don’t anticipate the stars aligning so neatly as to allow me to go again. Even though I live in this city.

The event was actually really great, featuring various combinations of editors Ted Goossen and Motoyuki Shibata, authors Masatsugu Ono and Yoko Hayasuke, author/interpreter Rui Umezawa (interpreting for both authors and blowing my mind) and moderator Roland Kelts. Both authors did readings in a style that I thought was quite clever: As they read their work in Japanese, an English translation was thrown up on the screen behind them so the authors didn’t have to read in a language they don’t speak, but the non-Japanese speakers in the audience could still know what was going on. Continue reading

Modern Japanese Literature: Donald Keene (ed.)

Modern JLit

I think I am the only Japanese literary translator I know who does not have a degree in something related to Japanese or literary translation. Admittedly, I am still on the outskirts of the world of literary translation as my focus tends to be on manga and pop culture stuff (you would not believe how much I know about Hatsune Miku after translating these art books!), but I am doing more and more lit stuff (even working on a novel right now), and I hope to keep doing more since I love books (in case you had not already put that piece of the puzzle in place).

Since I have never taken a Japanese literature course, or any other Japanese course for that matter, everything I know about J-lit has come from reading J-lit for fun. So naturally, I am reading weird modern stuff because I encounter weird modern stuff. I mean, no one is tweeting about Osamu Dazai or putting up big bookstore displays of Junichiro Tanizaki. Fortunately, the universe is conspiring to get my brain a little J-lit history, leaving Modern Japanese Literature on the shelves of a used bookstore in Hamilton for me to discover. (Also, that is a pretty good bookstore. If you are for some sad reason stuck in Hamilton/Mordor, you should check it out.) Continue reading

Inumukoiri: Yoko Tawada

inumukoOh, shelf of unread books! What treasures do you hold? Seriously. Stuff gets buried in there for so long that I forget all about it. Then years go by and I’m digging around for something to read one day and far below the latest treats from Japan, underneath that academic book on subcultures that I swear I am totally going to read one day is a novel that I completely forgot I even had. That I bought from the author herself. Which she signed for me. At a workshop. Where I spent a week with her and eight other translators trying to come to a consensus on how to render her work in English. (Conclusion: Be glad translations are generally not done by consensus. It takes a lot longer.)

And this was a book I was really looking forward to reading three years ago when I got it. The power of the shelf of unread books to hide things is seriously impressive. But it is a nice surprise to find something so deserving of my eyeballs hidden in the dusty edges of that shelf. And unlike much of the stuff I read here, this was also published in English as The Bridegroom Was a Dog, translated by Margaret Mitsutani so you know it is going to be a great translation. She was the leader of our unruly band of literary translators, and she handled problems we encountered so deftly, like she had some kind of language magic. This book definitely requires a translator of her caliber. Shit gets weird.  Continue reading

Vers l’est: Mathieu Handfield

Vers l'est

Here is a thing you may know about Canada: It is officially bilingual. That is a horn we do like to toot. We welcome everyone! Look, we are bilingual! Here is a thing you may not know about Canada if you do not live here (or maybe even if you do live here): Most people are essentially monolingual. Sure, nearly every Anglo can say “bonjour” and every Franco “hello”, but when it comes to an actual conversation, things pretty much shut down right around “nice weather we’re having”.

So you end up with this weird situation of being one country with two deeply separate cultures, because no one is talking to anyone on the other side of the language fence. One of the classics of Canadian literature tried to bring this fence down, and handily gave us a phrase to describe it at the same time: Two Solitudes. The book doesn’t seem to have really done that much to change our linguistic isolation, given that bilingualism is actually dropping, and the only time anyone really talks about the two solitudes anymore is when some Anglo notices something weird Quebec is doing and chastises the rest of us for not noticing. Continue reading

The Nao of Brown: Glyn Dillon

NaoofBrown-620x853Are you sick of hearing me talk about TCAF yet? No? Oh good. I still have stories to tell.  This story is about how I never get to enjoy all the amazing comics on display there because I am too busy following Japanese people around. I love following the Japanese people around; they are always nice people, we have a good time. But you know, I work for a comics festival because, well, I love comics. And I don’t really get to check out many comics during a comics festival that is basically one giant party of all the things I like. The best I can usually manage is a quick dash to tables belonging to friends to pick up their latest works, and then dash back to my role as OFFICIAL INTERPRETER. (I think it looks better in caps. More officious.)

And this year, in my capacity as OFFICIAL INTERPRETER (it’s growing on you, isn’t it?), I got to join a bus full of artists on a trip to Niagara Falls. Basically, terrorists could have crippled the European art comics scene by taking out our bus. And perhaps they tried, but they missed the target of the engine and instead inflicted a mortal blow on the air-conditioning system. We sweated all the way there and back! The there was not so bad, being morning and overcast, but the back gave everyone dark pit circles. One of the more hilariously vocal grumblers about this situation was Glyn Dillon, who I got the chance to chat with at one point while the Japanese entourage were focussed on a particularly attention-hungry squirrel. We chatted about his book and I remembered reviews I had read of it and the nagging sensation that it was something I meant to read.  Continue reading

The Shining Girls: Lauren Beukes

Beukes_TheShiningGirls-bordered When you love authors who are no longer in the land of the living, you are faced with the terrible, sad fact that no matter how much you love them, they will never, ever write another book for you to read. Those books already on your shelf, they’re all you’ll get. (The same applies to beloved film directors, music makers, and other artists whose artistic endeavours smash your face in with the awesome.) So it is always a small happiness to love authors who are still alive, because even if they write nothing for decades, you can still cling to the tiny hope that they are just working up to the very best thing they have ever done ever.

And now I have no doubt caused you all to worry that Lauren Beukes is dead. Rest easy, friends. Not only is she not dead, she went and wrote another book for us! Because she is an author who is alive and that is what authors do for readers. The system is nice like that. But when you have a beloved author who is still alive and still writing, you have to face a similarly disappointing truth: you might not like what they write next. And I find myself in that weird place now.   Continue reading

The Left Hand of Darkness: Ursula K. Le Guin

After months of reading nothing but Japanese books, watching Japanese movies, listening to Japanese podcasts, dreaming in Japanese, Japanese, Japanese, Japanese to prepare for working with the incredible Taiyo Matsumoto for TCAF, you cannot even begin to imagine what a sinful luxury it was to dig into something in English. A novel! Written in my native tongue! I was seriously wallowing in the words. I had been keeping this particular book on my shelf for just such a wallowing occasion because I knew it would be the engaging thought-provoking read I want on such occasions.

Having finally established that Ursula K. Le Guin is not, in fact, Jean M. Auel, and discovering that she is, in fact, an insanely talented and interesting writer taking up issues and themes that are of great interest to me, I was eager to read more of her work. And The Left Hand of Darkness is that book of hers that is at the top of everyone’s list. Normally, I am not a reader of things that top lists (because I can be quite contrary), but a novel about a race of people with no permanent sex sounded way too fascinating to pass up.  Continue reading