Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

images-41Banana Yoshimoto came recommended to me by a friend who said she was one of her favorite authors. I must admit, I too, am quickly becoming a fan.

Kitchen actually includes two novellas, “Kitchen” and “Moonlight Shadow”. Both tales have to do with love, loss and the tragic beauty of life. Yoshimoto’s writing is lyrical, magical and hauntingly dream-like.  “Kitchen” was my favorite of the two, so that is the one I will discuss.

“Kitchen” is the story of Mikage, a young woman left all alone in the world, with no living relatives. She is soon taken in by Yuichi Tanabe and his mother (who used to be his father, yes I said that right), Eriko. With the help of Yuichi and Eriko, Mikage comes to realize that “as I grow older, much older, I will experience many things, and I will hit rock bottom again and again. Again and again I will suffer; again and again I will get back on my feet. I will not be defeated. I won’t let my spirit be destroyed.” Mikage, Yuichi, and Eriko form a family who together understand that “we’re all brothers and sisters when we’re in trouble”. However, when Eriko is murdered, it looks as though Yuichi may be lost forever. When Yuichi leaves Toyko, Mikage feels that Yuichi is in “some other world. And that place was darker than the place (she) was. It was like the bottom of the sea.” What she comes to realize is that whether or not she can reel Yuichi back in, it will be okay. Life will continue, there will be sorrow, there will be joy, there will be suffering and yes, there will be happiness.

This story had such a dreamlike quality to it. Time passes in a blur, after all, life isn’t about measuring time, but more about experiencing all the emotions that come, whether they be sorrow, heartache, grief of joy. The language was simple, but resonated with a sad beauty that makes me long to read more of Yoshimoto. I would warn readers though, this isn’t a book you read for the “story”. It is more about the truth behind the writing.


Someone Likes Me!

zombie_chicken_awardI won an award!  The Girl With the Braids kindly awarded me the Zombie Chicken Award:

The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken – excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their words.

I know pass this award onto the following:

Rants and Reads at The Novel World

Emily and Elizabeth at Underage Reading

Try Something New Challenge: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I have never been much of a science-fiction fan, so when I saw the Try Something New Mini-Challenge, I decided that I should tackle a science fiction book. What was cool about this challenge was that you paired up with another fellow book blogger and when you finish you complete a joint post. My partner was Melissa from Melissa’s Book Reviews. Cruise on over to her blog to check our her recap of our discussion.

I think Melissa sensed my trepidation with this genre because she agreed to my suggestion of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, a book that during our chat Melissa revealed that she wouldn’t really qualify the novel as science-fiction, but more of a “space comedy” as she so aptly put it.

As far as the book went, here are my initial reactions:

me: Hmm… well, I definitely found it funny and caught myself chuckling and laughing on several occasions, but I never felt the burning desire to just keep reading
I actually abandoned it for two weeks
Melissa: You know, me either. I’ve read it before; back when I was in high school, and parts of it have made it into family lore. But, I think it’s much funnier talking about it, than actually reading it.
You know it was originally radio scripts, right?
me: Yes, I did see that and I can see how it probably was really successful in that way. I would listen to it no problem.

As it turned out, Melissa’s husband is apparently a really big Hitchhiker’s fan and has a copy of the original radio script. In the script, Adams offers an explanation of where he came up with one of the best names ever: Slartibartfast:

I thought this character should be a dignified, elderly man, weighed down with the burden of a secret sorrow. I wondered what this sorrow should be, and thought perhaps he might be sad about his name. So I decided to give him a name that anybody would be sad to have. I wanted it to sound as gross as it possibly could, while still being broadcastable. So I started with something that was clearly completely unbroadcastable, which was PHARTIPHUKBORLZ, and simply played around with the syllables until I arrived at something which sounded rude, but was almost, but not quite, entirely inoffensive.

Ha! I love this.

Before our discussion, I was feeling a little indifferent about the novel. However, Melissa did remind me of some of the really funny aspects of the book:

me: I liked the really depressed robot… I can’t think of his name right now

Melissa: Marvin!
He’s the best part of the movie… Alan Rickman’s his voice, and he does a superb job.

me: yes, I loved poor Marvin

Melissa: I think my favorite scene was in the end when Marvin hooked himself up to the cop’s ship, and it committed suicide. That made me laugh. I liked the idea that even though Marvin was so supremely depressed, he still managed to help them. Even though he didn’t care. I also harbor a soft spot for Zaphod Beeblebrox. If only because his name is so fun to say.

me: The names were a hoot. I also really liked the history of figuring out the meaning of life

Melissa: Yeah. That’s actually one of the things that has made it into family lore. You say to my dad, “I have a question” and he says “42”. Every time.

me: That’s great. I need to use that one with my students.

We did have some differing views on the purpose/theme of the novel:

me: (I had just compared the author to Vonnegut stating the following similarity) he sort of mocks the absurdities of life.
The randomness of it all

Melissa: I can see that. Though I’m not sure Adams was going for any social commentary. I think he was just being silly.,
I could be wrong./
Either that, or he’s poking fun at the superiority people seem to have.

Well, whether it be mocking the absurdities of life or poking fun at the superiority people, one thing is for sure, the book will make you laugh.  Its campy and goofy and hey, the answer to the meaning of life can be found within its pages.  Actually, if you read closely enough, you will find the answer in this post.  Did you find it?

Monday’s Musing

musingmondaysbigoday’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about bookstores…

How many bookstores do you frequent? Do you have a favourite? If so, which one and what makes it so?
Well, for those of you who know me, you know I work part-time at a bookstore (when I’m not teaching) and so it goes without saying. Devaney, Doak and Garrett is my favorite bookstore. Actually, even if I didn’t work there I would say that. I met the owner because I order all my classroom books through DDG. He offers teachers a considerable discount and works closely with schools in the community, encouraging young readers.  The store is small and cluttered (think stacks and stacks of books EVERYWHERE), but it is cozy and the friendly staff will order you any book you can’t find in the store.
I also can’t not mention Powell’s. I think what I miss the most about living in Portland is spending a day at Powell’s. An entire city block full of books. Really, who can ask for more? Oh, how I miss Powell’s.

Balancing and Why I read “Chick Lit”

Okay, so I have been on a “chick lit” kick lately. I feel the need to explain this. I read literature, I read the classics, in fact, I study the classics. Right now my students are reading Hamlet and The Great Gatsby. I re-read these every year and analyze every sentence, looking for something I may have missed, tracking themes, analyzing style, etc. So, if at night, when I get into bed and pick up a book to read and escape, I choose Confessions of a Shopaholic, I feel that it is okay. They’re fun and damnit, I like them. So with that said- I will now review two books I read this week of said genre.

images-52Confessions of A Shopaholic by Sophia Kinsella

Summary: Becky Bloomwood loves to shop. So much in fact, that she has wracked up a huge amount of debt and is being hounded by both her bank and her credit cards. She comes up with a plan- Cut Back. When plan CB doesn’t work out so well, she tries a new plan- MMM or Make More Money. However, she hasn’t quite figured out how to do this, all the while still spending money. The irony of whole situation is that Becky writes for a financial magazine, advising others on how to spend and save their money wisely. When Becky catches wind of shady banking deal, she has the chance to finally make more money and also expose Luke Brandon, they guy she can’t stop thinking about who bruised her ego when she thought they were on a dream date (shopping, of course) and it turned out they were buying gifts for his girlfriend. Will Becky ruin her chances with Luke in hopes of ending the nagging credit card collectors?

Review: Okay, I will admit, this book is absolutely mindless. And yet, I am already looking for the sequel on Bookmooch. Becky is an absolute idiot when it comes to financial matters, but there is something in her that I find likable (yes, I too have been known to spend money stupidly). She is rationalizes every purchase she makes in such a humorous way that I couldn’t help but saying, “Why yes, you did deserve that gray cashmere sweater.” Becky ignores the letters she receives from her collectors, stuffing them in drawers of throwing them into dumpsters when nobody is looking. In fact, we don’t read her reactions to these letters, instead in between chapters we get the response letters, which are quite humorous. Example:

Dear Ms Bloomwood:

Thank you for your letter of 2 March. I can assure you that our computers are reularly checked, and the the possibility of a “glitch,” as you put it, is remote. Nor have we been affected by the millenium bug. All accounts are interiely accurate. You may write to Anne Robinson at Watchdog if you wish, but I am sure she will agree that you have no grounds for complaint. Our records inform us that payment on your VISA account is now overdue.”

I look forward to more mindless adventures with my new friend, shopaholic.


The Guy Not Taken by Jennifer Weiner

Summary: This is a collection of short stories, the first three of which all follow the same family of characters at different points in their life. Fans of Weiner, might recognize Bruce from Good in Bed in the story Good Men. While not all of the stories in this collection involve the same characters, they do all share the same theme of love and relationships. From the inside cover, “From a teenager coming to terms with her father’s disappearance to a widow accepting two young women into her home, Weiner’s eleven stories explore those transformative moments in our every day.”

Review: I am a fan of Jennifer Weiner and I think this may be favorite of hers. These stories were funny, they were sad and they were REAL.  My two favorites were “The Mother’s Hour” and “Dora on the Beach”.

In “The Mother’s Hour” we meet a Alice, a suburban stay-at-home mother whose life is not at all what she expected.  Sure she has the adorable two year old, the big house and the husband who makes a lot of money, but her two year old is a bratty, whiny terror and the big house just reinforces the fact that her husband is never home and her and her daughter are pretty much alone in this.  She joins a play group and meets Victoria, a nineteen year old mother who lives in the wrong neighborhood and has different colored streaks in her hair, depending on the day.  Through Victoria, Alice eventually learns what is important in the world and reexamines her own life.  In Weiner’s commentary in the back, she mentions that the story was turned down by a women’s magazine because they wanted her to change the ending.  She says, “I decide not to.  I think, given the circumstances, and the choices the characters made, it ends about the way it should.”  I second that!

“Dora on the Beach” is about a widow who is held hostage in her own apartment by two teenage girls.  I fell in love with Dora in this story,  a lonely woman who has more excitement in the three days she is held hostage than she ever has in her life.  This is a story about humans longing for contact with one another and the “redemptive possibilities of love.”

If you are considering reading anything by Jennifer Weiner, I suggest “The Guy Not Taken” as the one to read first.

Don’t Panic!

Must finish The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by tomorrow morning.  I am currently on page 79 of 153…. no problem.

I chose this book for the Try Something New Challenge hosted by Things Mean A Lot.   I told my partner I would have it done by Friday and I am a little bit behind.  I promise to have it done by tomorrow though and then you can look forward to a joint post.


Bookin’ Through Thursday: Worst Book You’ve Ever Read


Suggested by Janet:

How about, “What’s the worst ‘best’ book you’ve ever read — the one everyone says is so great, but you can’t figure out why?”

I have two answers for this one and both were read in college.  One is Moby Dick.  While I appreciate the themes of this book, I did not appreciate reading this one in any way, shape or form.  The other one is Clarissa by Samuel Richardson.  Holy Cow!  This book was as big as a Norton Anthology, with those tissue thin pages and it was written all in letters.  If I remember correctly, the first 500 or so pages lead up to the rape of Clarissa and then the following 500 pages show the aftermath of a woman whose virtue is forever tainted.  That book was painful to both carry to class every day and to read.

Six Word Memoirs

This is a video I found on You Tube of Six Word Memoirs, written and produced by students in Mr. Wright’s creative writing class at the Academic Magnet High School in North Charleston, South Carolina. I have started working on this same assignment with my own students. Our own video to come soon.

Monday’s Musing: Talking to Strangers


Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about talking to strangers…
We were all warned as children to ‘never talk to strangers’, but how do you feel about book-talk with random people? When you see people reading, do you ask what it is? Do you talk to people in the book store or the library? Why or why not? What do you do if people talk to you? (question courtesy of Dena)

Well, seeing as I work in a high school and a bookstore, yes, I talk to people/strangers about books.  In fact, I am paid to do just that.  I try and gauge a person’s interest by asking them just a few questions about the last book they really enjoyed.  I also watch what people buy. If they purchase a stack of books and some are ones I have read enjoyed, I look at the other titles they are buying and make a mental note.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE talking to people about books and am always open to a suggestion and feel quite satisfied with myself when I know I have made the right recommendation for a person.

If I see someone reading, I usually don’t start a conversation.  I don’t really like when someone interrupts my reading, why should I do that to someone else?  Plus, I don’t like to put someone on the spot in that manner.  I hate when someone does that to me and either asks me my opinion on something I haven’t quite formulated yet or worse, they ruin something major for me.  Usually, I just check out what book they are reading and form my own silent opinions about them based on their choice.