Monday, February 26, 2007

C for Concubine

The Concubine's Tattoo by Laura Joh Rowland is a 1998 novel set during the Tokugawa Shogunate period (a.k.a Edo Period) of Japan. The hero is Sano Ichiro, a detective in the employ of the shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (who ruled from 1680-1709). Sano must quickly solve the murder of one of the shogun's concubines, who suddently (and violently) dies in her chamber, interrupting Sano's wedding ceremony.

The book is pulp fiction, set in historical Japan. I typically enjoy reading pulp fiction which centres on a subject that I'm fascinated with (which is why I like reading Michael Crichton.) I'm fascinated by Japan so I thought I'd really enjoy the book. However, I was left less than satisfied with the writing style. (The story would make a great movie though.)

I discovered something new about Japanese culture from this book - the burakumin. This is a minority group in Japan that has historically (and perhaps still presently) been discriminated against. I'll let you read the above Wikipedia entry if you're interested. Interestingly, in another book I'm currently reading (Adult Manga: Culture and Power in Contemporary Japan by Sharon Kinsella,) the burakumin are thought to perhaps be some of the original creators or purveyors of manga in the early 20th century. Also, in the 60s and 70s, there was a prevalent theme in manga associated with the rights of the lower classes, including a number of stories featuring Burakumin protagonists.

Another Sano Ichiro detective book sits on my shelf, S for Samurai... I mean, The Samurai's Wife. Both books were gifts, so I'm bound to read them. I hope Rowland's writing improved for her next detective novel.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

To: Lisa Simpson

Ever since December 1992, I've wondered about the novel Ethan Frome. During that month, an episode of The Simpsons aired, in which Lisa is presented with a gift of this Edith Wharton novel. "Finally a copy of Ethan Frome to call my own!" she says. I had no idea what the joke was, although I'm pretty sure that I still laughed. (I learned recently that the enormous tome Lisa received is actually only about 100 pages long. So, if that was indeed the joke, then possibly only American Literature majors caught it.)

I decided to read the book as my trial of the DailyLit web service. The creators describe it thusly:
We got the idea for DailyLit after the New York Times serialized a few classic works in special supplements a few summers ago. We wound up reading books that we had always meant to simply by virtue of making them part of our daily routine of reading the newspaper. The only thing we do more consistenly than read the paper is read email. Bingo!
I received sections of the novel daily through email. It was an interesting experience. At first, it felt odd reading a book via Google Mail, but I quickly got used to it. I discovered that the novel is in fact a romance, and although I don't go out of my way to pick up romance novels, I got caught up in the writing and in the setting. An odd twist at the end of the book was a bit anticlimactic for me, but I enjoyed the experience overall.

I'd recommend the book (as well as DailyLit) to any power web users out there who may feel like they're letting their literariness slip. I'm currently reading Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom using the service and am quite enjoying it. (You typically cannot read such recent works using DailyLit, but Doctorow ensured this novel was published under a Creative Commons license.)

There's a weak Simpsons thread in this post, so I'll take the opportunity to include here a trailer to the upcoming movie:

Monday, February 19, 2007

Wrong about Japan

I recently finished this book by Peter Carey. I had picked it up in the hardcover bargain section of one of the big bookstores because of its manga theme. The book was mildly interesting, although perhaps someone who hasn't spent some time in Japan would find it more so.

The mindset that Carey exhibits throughout the book is one which many foreigners share (including myself) when they travel there. We see and feel the history and vastly different culture and we imagine our Japanese hosts as experts in linguistics, literature, classical music, tea ceremonies, construction, anime, World War II, kabuki, Noh, Asian geopolitics, food, kimono, geta, sushi, koto, geisha, kanji and any number of other Japanese topics. We become disappointed when their expert knowledge is not forthcoming. But these are unrealistic expectations. How many of us could answer questions about our country, province, or hometown? I couldn't say much more than "hockey" and "poutine" if a Japanese person asked me about Canadian culture. Perhaps others could be more verbose.

The first time I met my wife-to-be, I found myself asking her about her feelings towards Americans because of Hiroshima. That's similar to her asking me how I felt about Newfoundlanders, due to their late entry into Confederation. It's just completely irrelevant. (Although, it does rub me the wrong way that it took them so long to join, damn them! ... kidding of course.)

The book tells the journey of father (Carey) and son, as they try to each discover their own personal "real Japans". Carey's publishing connections allow him to set up some impressive interviews in Japan (for example, with Miyazaki Hayao, creator of My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away) which he is later disappointed with, because his supposed clever insights into Japanese animation (and other cultural aspects) are not met with the enthusiasm and understanding he expects.

There are a few minor factual errors (I've become a manga expert while reading Adult Manga) and a number of interesting manga illustrations.

Recommended for fathers with young teen aged sons, either of whom are interested in Japan.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

An uneven match

I'll let the graphics speak for themselves. Visit this site ( for more interesting graphics and cartoons.

Pinball Funk

One of the first mp3s I ever downloaded way back when Napster was cool, was a Sesame Street song (perhaps) called "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12". I believe this song is the reason I love jazz (and related genres), pinball (although I can't remember the last time I played), and numbers (especially, seven!). Check it out:

I am now trying to convince myself not to buy the DVD "Sesame Street: Old School (1969-1974)".

"Don't do it."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I baked with yeast!

Today I got the urge to make some bread. My wife and I have been on a "submarine sandwich" binge for the last little while so I made long buns. I've made a few breads in the past, but this was my first (non-breadmaker) yeast bread. Here's what they looked like before going in the oven

and here's after.

The odd-shaped one is supposed to resemble a heart for Valentine's Day. I forgot to snap a pic, but I drew a jam heart on it.

I'll have to try again, because although these were pretty tasty, they were a bit small and had the consistency of dinner rolls. In fact, if I added a bit of flavour, they would taste exactly like the delicious rolls one is served at Red Lobster.