Kaze to Ki no Uta: Keiko Takemiya (Book Two)

Considering that there are ten books in the version of this series that my brain is attacking, I doubt that I will write about each and every book. Because you know, I am mostly going to be saying the same things. Which is to say, I’ll mostly be raving about the amazing artistry involved in the creation of this story. The more I read, the more obvious it becomes that Takemiya very much deserves her place in history as a manga pioneer. Kaze is so rich in detail, it almost overwhelms.

Gilbert continues his love-hate dance with Serge, at times, drawing him in close, and at other times, pushing him away ferociously. And he can be ferocious. Gilbert is almost psychopathic in his lack of empathy. He lashes out with fingernails, tabletops, whatever he can get his hands on. At one point, after what he feels is a serious betrayal by the mysterious Auguste, Gilbert smashes a glass against the table and threatens Serge with the broken edges. He fights against his own opposing desires of wanting Serge gone from his life, and wanting him to be closer, but he is unable to completely alienate the newcomer to the school, who takes it up as a mission of sorts to help Gilbert fight whatever demons are chasing him. (more…)

The Hidden Reality: Brian Greene

Put on your science pants! My brain’s taking a trip down science-nerd lane! A trip it often takes!

Here’s the thing. I am a science nerd. I very nearly went into theoretical physics at university, but instead opted for pure maths. But it was always a close race. I dabbled in physics throughout my university career, and I could never quite satisfy my curiosity, which led to me reading popular science book after popular science book in my quest to bridge the gap between my math and my physics, but in a way that didn’t require me to go back to school and suffer through academia again. (I am just not built for that world, despite my true love of learning all things.) Someday, my brain will put to pixel its adoration of physics classics like Black Holes and Time Warps by Kip Thorne, or In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat by John Gribbin, but until then, you’ll just have to take my word that my brain loves physics. String theory, M-theory, quantum field theory: bring it! is the general attitude around these parts. (more…)

Kaze to Ki no Uta: Keiko Takemiya (Book One)

Yup, we’re wading into Murakami territory here. A book with more than one book which I feel the need to comment on book by book. And like 1Q84, I will probably post less and less about this series of books as I realize that most of my comments are the same from book to book. What is different here is that I love Kaze to Ki no Uta, unlike my overall hostility towards 1Q84.

Kaze is a bit of a history lesson for me. It’s one of those series (originally published in 1976) you come across constantly if you do any reading about BL or the history of manga. You will slam up against this series eventually. Way back in the days of flouncy shirts, 14-year-old Serge, the son of a French nobleman and a Roma prostitute, comes to a boarding school in the French countryside, the same school his father attended, with all its attendant expectations. There he shares a room with preternaturally beautiful Gilbert, the school’s vaurien, and various adolescent hijinx ensue. Except the adolescent hijinx are more along the lines of pornographic, vaguely illegal town. Book One starts with Gilbert having some sexy times with Breau. Naked sexy times. I actually can’t believe that this was published more than thirty years ago. Because damn! You get underage gay sex and racism in the first five pages. And it just goes on from there. (more…)

Kino Nani Tabeta?: Fumi Yoshinaga

I’ve always had this love-hate thing with Yoshinaga. I mean, it’s mostly love, but there is this thing about her drawing style where everyone looks like they are smirking almost all the time that really gets to me. I had the hardest time pushing through Ichigenme wa Yaruki no Minpo because of all the smarmy looks. (I notice it in Ooku  too, but so far, it’s not making me put the books down or anything.) (And yes, I am still reading Ooku. My to-read pile is insanely high.) It didn’t help that the majority of the characters were rich, soon-to-be-lawyers who you could easily see smirking their way through the majority of their lives. So first off, the thing I maybe liked the most about Kino Nani Tabeta? was the serious lack of smarminess. Facial expressions are a lot more relaxed and there is not the distinct downturn in the mouth lines of characters at rest.

I picked this series up because of the weird research I’ve been doing into BL as a genre. I’m sort of fascinated with the feminist undertones and implications of a genre of manga that takes as its subject male sexuality, but which is almost exclusively written by women and for women. In the course of exploring the genre, I have read a *laht* of BL. And full disclosure, I translate this stuff too, so I have spent far more time than is probably normal with comics focusing on man-on-man action. (And coming up with the sound effects for a BL manga is often awkward; I spend waaaaaay too much time thinking about what skin rubbing against skin sounds like in English.) All this to say, the gentler, more introspective approach Yoshinaga takes with Kino is more than welcome. (more…)

Bright-Sided: Barbara Ehrenreich

The subtitle for Bright-Sided is “How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America” and Ehrenreich builds a solid case to support this idea. Like her previous books, Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch, her writing is compelling and effortless, carefully and confidently guiding the reader to all the important points in her argument.

The book starts off on a personal note as Ehrenreich tells us about her breast cancer and how it brought her face-to-face in a rather alarming way with the cult of positive thinking. The first encounter comes before “the mother of all mammograms” in a changing room filled with pink ribbons, poems and a list of the “Top Ten Things Only Women Understand”. She tells us, “I didn’t mind dying, but the idea that I should do so while clutching a teddy and with a sweet little smile on my face—well, no amount of philosophy had prepared me for that.” She then gives an overview of current and past cancer treatment and the growth of positive thinking in the world of cancer. In her search for information and options, she grows more and more isolated, noticing that no one is asking hard questions, like why breast cancer is so common in industrialized societies or why the death rate had changed so little over the past eighty years or so, and instead, that the women were instead going so far as to embrace their cancer as a gift. When she dares to express anger at the frustrations of treatment and battles with insurance companies, the others in the forum are quick to call her out for her “bad attitude”. (more…)

The Dream of Perpetual Motion: Dexter Palmer

First off, I should say that I feel like I would’ve gotten more out of this book if I could remember more about The Tempest than the names of the characters. But the last time I read that play was at least twenty years ago and I have only the vaguest memory of how the whole thing went down. A quick look at Wikipedia has reminded me of the basic plot, which does illuminate my reading of The Dream of Perpetual Motion somewhat, but probably doesn’t get down to the heart of things.

Fortunately, it doesn’t really matter if all those references fly over my head. The story in this stands strong, even if you’ve never heard of the work it plays off of.

The cover is quick to tell me this this book is “steampunk”, a term I am very much tired of hearing since it seems that anything with a machine in it qualifies these days. But there are some actual steampunk-y bits to this story of greeting-card writer Harold Winslow: the tin men invented by Prospero Taligent (which Wikipedia [yes, I spend too much time reading Wikipedia] tells me was the name of an operating system back in the days when Mac computers were still Apples, a portmanteau of “talent” and “intelligent”, and I am wondering now if that was deliberate because if it was, it adds a whole new layer of interesting things to think about); the zeppelin on which Harold is doomed to live out the rest of his days flying high above the city with only the disembodied voice of Prospero’s adopted daughter Miranda to keep him company; the mechanical playroom enjoyed by Miranda and Harold as children, which is reset every night to be some other fantastic, hyperreal location. (more…)

1Q84 (Book 3): Haruki Murakami

Can I get some virtual high fives? I have finished this monster! And it is a monster in more ways than one. I almost gave up on it, disgust and frustration building up over the course of these more than 1600 pages, and there was a part where I really did not care how it ended. But you already know how irritated I have been with this book in so many ways (and if you have not been following along these last couple of months, find my previous rants here), so let’s take a blissful minute to talk about the good things. And yes, there be spoilers ahead.

The story. Yes, the story that I nearly gave up on, but so glad I didn’t. It continued to twist and shift throughout the book(s), so that I couldn’t get a firm grasp on it until about halfway through Book 3. I had already read somewhere that it was a love story of the strangest sort before I even started reading it, so the ending was somewhat of a foregone conclusion, but that did not change the pleasure I felt when grown-up Aomame was finally holding grown-up Tengo’s hand. And the moment when she finds him on top of the slide is just perfect and beautiful. “Open your eyes,” she whispers. “You can see the moon.” Which sounds sort of cheesy out of context, but is one of my favourite moments of the whole book. The pacing, the wording, the silence between the words, it all works here. (more…)