These random anniversaries have a way of slapping me in the face with the extremely twisty road that is my life, and this anniversary is perhaps slappier than most. Over the course of this particular journal–a smart spring-green affair that was a gift from one of my favourite people–I went from running through the streets of London to buying extremely mislabelled “vegan” food in the night markets of Taipei to a narrow escape from a burgeoning plague in Tokyo to an actual pandemic in Toronto, where I have now been locked up in my apartment for the last three months using my sewing skills to craft masks for all my friends and family, only scurrying out for groceries and beer. It is honestly overwhelming to step back and take a real look at how life used to be and how it is now, especially because my science brain is only too well aware that the normalcy of the Before Times is probably never coming back.
And that’s a good thing in a lot of ways! The plague is certainly laying bare all the ways capitalism has failed us, and so many people suddenly have nothing to do but reassess the way we live in this world and discover the need to burn it all to the ground and rebuild a society that supports all of us, especially the most vulnerable among us, instead of a bunch of venture capitalists and tech bros and the general class of rich white people. Plus, we’re all expert handwashers now! And we have a new fashion possibility in the face mask. Continue reading “Random Anniversary 6: My Brain”
After reading Ju Sai Made ni Yonda Hon, I’ve been thinking a lot about reading histories, the books that take us to the places where we are now. My dad is a huge reader, so books were front and centre in my life for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, generally laying around the house were computer books, books on chess, Louis L’Amour, science fiction/fantasy, and Stephen King. There were no doubt a whole bunch of others, but these are the ones that stick out in my mind. I tried reading them all, of course, because I wanted to read what he read. The chess books taught me some moves, the computer books were mostly incomprehensible except for the programming books bought especially for us kids, Louis L’Amour never quite made sense to me, and Stephen King instilled a young love of horror in me, despite the nightmares.
But the science fiction and fantasy, that was something that clicked for me in a way that none of the other books did. And so I have spent a life reading all kinds of speculative fiction, even during those years when I was at my most insufferably pretentious and thought I should be reading Literature instead of genre fiction. But hot on the heels of those pretentious years of Penguin classics was a move to Japan and a deep dive into a whole other world of reading, not to mention a near total lack of books in English. In those pre-Internet shopping times, my diet of manga and re-reading the few books I brought with me to Japan was supplemented by whatever books were being passed around to every English reader in my prefecture. (We also shared VHS tapes recorded and sent to our northern hamlets by friends and family in faraway countries, which is how I saw certain episodes of Sex and the City about five thousand times.) Continue reading “Hosekidori: Tokizawa Akiko”
Given how I’ve raved about Kumota’s many other books before, it’s strange to me that I’ve never taken a look at what has become a BL classic in the years since it was released. Or maybe it only feels like a BL classic to me because I love Kumota so much? At any rate, it’s classic enough that I have a Shinjuku Lucky Hole mug. (Yes, it is great. No, you can’t see it.) (Because it is with my Japan house and I am in my Canada house, not because I’m a selfish meanie. Of course I want you to behold its muggy glory!) And this is the book that taught me the word for “glory hole” in Japanese. (And looking that up now taught me that there is a doughnut place in Toronto called Glory Hole and I… I just can’t.)
So why did it take the release of a second volume six years after the first to get me on here talking about this hole of luck in Shinjuku? It’s not like with Itoshi no Nekokke, where I love it with such pure unadulterated love that I felt like all I could do is gush. Because I do have some issues with this one. I think it’s more that this is one of those books that slipped through the cracks. I read a lot of books, my friends, and I want to write about the majority of them here. But I also have a job that requires me to read a lot of books, and between all these books getting jammed into my head, there are just not enough hours in the day to write about and/or translate all of them. And so books that I totally planned to write about get shoved around my desks for months while I am stuck for the mental bandwidth to give them the textual glory they deserve, and by the time their moment in the sun rolls around, I realize I’ve forgotten too many of the details to write anything coherent and back onto the shelf the book goes. Continue reading “Shinjuku Lucky Hole: Kumota Haruko”
It’s Pride Month, pals! And while the parades and the bass-heavy dance hits in the streets have been cancelled, we can still be prideful—with books! (Yes, the answer to nearly everything in my world is books.) I have to admit, living in the heart of the gay village, I’m not exactly broken up by the fact that there is a not a stage set up in every parking lot within a five-kilometre radius blasting the gay anthems (I do miss the parade and the festive events, though). In fact, I generally escape to Japan during this month of proud stylings because my apartment in Toronto becomes unbearably loud. I know I only reveal myself to be more of an Old with every word here, but couldn’t we just turn down the volume on all the outside music just a smidge? Some of us are trying to work in the village. Not everyone can take a whole month off to be prideful and dance.
But even when I have deadlines pressing me up against a painful wall of late nights and anxiety, I always have time for books. And while I’m still waiting on that box of books from Japan (although it has at last made it across the ocean, it is now stuck in Vancouver for the rest of time, apparently), I’ve been taking advantage of curbside pickup at my fave SFF bookstore, Bakka Phoenix and maybe buying too many new books when I still have shelves of previously purchased unread books. (What is this sickness that pushes me to constantly acquire new books??) I will always prefer an actual visit to a bookstore and noodling around in their stacks, but I do like how the indie online bookshops I love have curated lists and recommendations. I recently picked up Girl Town by Carolyn Nowak based on a staff rec list at The Beguiling, and it was exactly the thing I wanted to read. (Another prideful read with its cast of queer characters!) And poking around on one list or another at Bakka Phoenix led me to the debut novel from Rivers Solomon.
And what a happy encounter it turned out to be. For one thing, in these semi-apocalyptic times we live in, it was extremely cathartic to read about a class war in which brown, queer, gender nonconforming, neurodiverse, and poor people have had enough already. Seriously. If you are looking for an outlet for all that inexpressible rage you are constantly living with because *gestures at the world at large*, stop reading this and go buy An Unkindness of Ghosts already. You’ll feel better when you finish it and even more motivated to agitate for a more just world for all the people who are not white billionaires. (An aside: Having come up in the world of punk, it is very gratifying to see the world suddenly embracing the idea of ACAB and abolishing the police, like a strange affirmation of my teenaged self.) And it’s written by a queer Black author! So prideful! Continue reading “An Unkindness of Ghosts: Rivers Solomon”
Something I have realized about myself over the last few years is that I really like reading about people reading. Not reviews or anything like that—although those are interesting too—but just people sharing their thoughts on the act of reading itself or on the books they are reading or the books they want to read or the books that have shaped the person they are. As a lifelong book nerd, it feels like I am sharing something weirdly special with the author. And it makes me rethink my own relationship with books and reading. Because I spend all day every day reading books, writing books, and writing about books, and sometimes, I wonder about that. You know how you get into the habit of doing things just because you’ve always done them? Like you always buy the same chips at the supermarket because you liked them once and now you just don’t even consider whether or not you might like some other chips because you like these ones just fine. Or you wash your hair every day because you have always washed your hair every day, and it’s never occurred to you that there could be another way of dealing with the dead cells on your head.
That’s me and books. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a book tucked away in my bag or my desk or somewhere immediately accessible so that I could dig into it any time I had an extra minute or two. At parent-teacher interviews in elementary school, my teachers would complain to my parents that I was always reading. Which seems like something they should have been happy about? My grade five teacher was indignant that I was reading novels in class—the horror! the pearl-clutching!—so my parents shrugged and told her to give me something she wanted me to read and I would read that instead. And that’s still true now. I will read pretty much anything. I won’t like everything, but I’ll read it. And when you have such a strongly ingrained habit/way of life, sometimes you have to wonder: do I actually like this? Or am I just so used to doing this that I never think of doing anything else? Continue reading “Ju Sai Made ni Yonda Hon: A whole bunch of people”
Naively, I didn’t expect a pandemic to stop the post. Of course, things would shut down and we would all stay home as much as possible in order to stop the spread of the terrible virus that is wrecking everything. But the post falls into that essential category of things in my mind, and the post office is still open, which to me says that the post is still up and running. But I never thought about the airplanes that carry all the packages the post is busy trying to deliver. The post, it turns out, doesn’t have its own fleet of airplanes. They contract with planes that are already flying back and forth across the ocean to take some mail with them. But now that no one is travelling/allowed to travel, the planes are grounded. There are no Air Canada flights to Tokyo until at least June! So there are no planes to bring the post from Tokyo to me. I have been waiting for a package of books sent via EMS for over a month now, and I fear I may never see its sweet contents. If only I had chosen SAL and put that package on a boat! Those books would be getting to me right now and I would have paid half the shipping price.
But at least all my years of hoarding books are paying off! Yes, although I am waiting impatiently for a box of fresh manga and novels hot off the J-presses, I do not lack for things to read thanks to a habit of always buying far more books than I could possibly read at any given time. I have several shelves and stacks of books that I haven’t read in both English and Japanese, plus a few in French and even a couple German books (purchased at a time when I was more optimistic about my German abilities). All these unread books mean that things get buried and lost in the library of the unknown until one day when I go searching for something very particular to read. Usually that search is less “I want to read a book about monkey wizards attempting a jewel heist” or some specific topic and more about me rejecting one title after another as not the book I want to read right now, for reasons unknown even to me. This leads me to dig ever deeper in the shelves in search of the right book, and this time, that hunt led me to classic shojo manga artist Yukari Ichijo. Continue reading “Onna Tomodachi: Yukari Ichijo”
Back in a time unfathomably long ago, so long ago that it seems impossible that I was alive during that mythical age and yet am still alive today to tell this tale, I travelled across the globe in a shining metal beast to a land I had never visited before, Taiwan. I travelled there with a breezy carelessness that I may never again possess. The Golden Comic Awards, a government-sponsored celebration of all things comics, invited representatives of TCAF to be a part of those festivities, to come and talk about comics and festivals in Taipei, so a certain comics impresario asked if I would join him to speak about what makes TCAF great. And I said sure because I had never been to Taiwan before, and there was nothing that would make me think twice about spending fourteen hours nestled up against total strangers in the economy section of a plane. Imagine!
Much of Taipei confused my brain with its Japanese-ness—Family Marts and chu-hais and Mitsukoshis—so I found myself trying to speak Japanese far too often. All I got in return, naturally, was extra perplexed stares. Except for one day of meetings in the days before the big awards ceremony when we struggled to communicate in English with some Taiwanese comics people, and it turned out that one of those comics people spoke Japanese, and from there it was smooth sailing, and I felt oddly grounded in this land that was both familiar and weirdly foreign.
As a delegation, we two TCAFers were wowed and depressed by the level of government support for comics as an art form that we saw in Taipei. They have a whole building! With artists’ residencies! The awards ceremony had not one but two legit pop stars performing songs specially commissioned for the comics awards! The volunteer seated next to me who was whisper-interpreting what was happening (since the ceremony was entirely in Chinese except for when the host made a point of switching to English to greet the “foreign delegation” and the TV cameras panned over us as we waved because yes, the ceremony was broadcast on the Taiwanese equivalent of CBC or NHK) clutched my arm and squealed when the flesh-and-blood pop star took the stage. (The other one was a vtuber, which was the first time I ever heard that term because I am an Old.) Continue reading “Elle qui se laissait dévorer/Sometimes in the City: 61Chi”
Ms Ice Sandwich: Meiko Kawakami (trans. Louise Heal Kawai)
Spring Garden: Tomoka Shibasaki (trans. Polly Barton)
I feel like novellas are enjoying a resurgence of sorts in the last few years. Too long to be a short story, too short to stand alone as a novel, these tales have so often been relegated to short story collections, that big-ass story that rounds out the collection, the meal after several tiny appetizers. And while I’m not necessarily opposed to that approach—after all, it’s the publishing of the book that costs the most; adding more pages is pretty cheap comparatively—novellas have never really sat too nicely in that setting for me. They’re standalone works that deserve the pages and binding to sit and breathe alone, without being crowded by shorter pieces with a fundamentally different feel and structure. Plus a novella is the perfect length for whiling away an afternoon reading. You start it and you finish it in a couple hours, and end up feeling accomplished and refreshed. If there are more pages in the book because the publisher wanted to round the volume out with some short stories, it takes a bit away from both of those things.
But some publishers, mostly science fiction/fantasy and small presses, are taking up the novella as a work in and of itself again. Tor’s been consistently putting out some incredible novellas like JY Yang’s Tensorate series and Martha Wells’ Murderbot books, and Pushkin Press put out this lovely sextet of Japanese novellas. Other publishers should really jump on board with this sort of thematic novella publishing, if only because book nerds like me will squeal with delight at the matching book design and feel compelled to get them all so they look beautiful on their bookshelves. The designs are honestly lovely—simple, colourful, evocative. My only complaint, of course, is that they put the name of their own press on the cover instead of that of the translator. This is especially vexing because the publisher’s name is pretty much never on the cover of a book. A quick check of my own shelves reveals only one volume with the publisher’s name on the cover—This Little Art by Kate Briggs. Which leads me to wonder if it’s an indie UK publisher thing? Either way, the translator’s name should be on the cover alongside the original author’s. Continue reading “Novellas! Three!”
What a special treat it is, to stumble upon a new Nakada book in this world! My love of her work is no secret, but the manga industry apparently does not share the same devotion to this talented artist, and the shelves are not yet filled with her work. But! At finer comic stores, you may just run across a book you did not know existed and it may just make your whole day. If you are me, that day was a sunny day in early February, just when the wind is really starting to smell like spring and the thought of staying in your apartment and working all day is unbearable. So I decided on this particularly spring-like February day to take a trip to one of my favourite far-flung bookstores in the wilds of Ikebukuro, Popotame. Because it is a very pleasant walk from the station, and there is even a nice little neighbourhood park nearby where you can sit and perhaps read some of your newly acquired treasures.
I have raved about Popotame in one form or another for some time. Every issue of their irregularly issued anthology doujinshi is a delight, their gallery space always has something beautiful to behold and heal your soul, and most importantly, their shelves are always stocked with the best comics from around the world. They even came to TCAF last year and published a special doujinshi with English translations of some of the best stories from their Japanese anthologies! (And yes, I did translate this volume of amazing artists, and yes, you can buy it online either from Popotame themselves or from our pals at The Beguiling, in case you are considering putting in an order to support our small business pals during this time of quarantine.) Continue reading “Tsukumogami Ponpon: Ikumi Nakada”
Rakugo is one of those things that’s almost impossible to understand until you actually see it. Descriptions don’t do it justice—a form of traditional Japanese storytelling? That just sounds like someone sitting at the kitchen table and telling you about the time they saw a cat standing on a goat’s back in the yard. Rakugo is someone sitting on stage and acting out the cat and the goat and the person watching the whole scene unfold, while adding humorous comments along the way until you hit the big finish of the goat jumping onto the cat’s back. I’ve said before that it’s like watching someone with voices in their head speak to and in all those voices.
I always want to go see more rakugo because the more I learn about it and the stable of standard stories, the more fascinating it becomes to me. It’s like jazz in this strange way. The stories are the same, but each artist tells it to you in a different way. You might have heard Ella Fitzgerald do “All of Me”, but it’s a whole other beast when it slips out of Billie Holiday’s mouth. So the more storytellers you see, the more depth and variety you find in the stories themselves. And I’m lucky enough to have an old-man friend who has been doing rakugo since his university days, so he can show me the ropes, recommend books on the subject, tell me what’s what. I also translated a book of rakugo stories and fell deeply in love with Haruko Kumota’s amazing series about the world of rakugo, so I am perhaps closer to it than most people.
And yet I know almost nothing about it, in the end. Because the only rakugo I know is Tokyo’s, the world of old Edo. And this rakugo, it turns out, is not the same as its sister down south. Kamigata rakugo is the style of storytelling out of Osaka and Kyoto areas, and storytellers in this style sit in front of a little table onto which they clap their closed fan and a little block of wood for rhythm and emphasis, unlike the Edo style in which the fan is used to simulate various everyday objects and there is no table. And apparently, they riff with the shamisen player? I don’t know. I have never seen Kamigata rakugo, but thanks to a seemingly ridiculous yuri manga, now I really want to. Continue reading “Uchi no Shisho wa Shippo ga Nai: TNSK”