Happy New Year! Books are the Best!
In 2018 I went to Japan, filled some bookshelves, and read more than the usual amount of literary biographies. In Japan, we navigated the bookstore in which Haruki Murakimi apparently bought his first fountain pen. While there, I bought copies of two of my favourite Japanese books: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, and Book 1 (of 6) of 1Q84.
Japanese books are very beautiful, and all very uniform. There were hundreds of book protectors on sale in every bookshop and stationery shop (we went to a lot of those – the Iroshizuku ink was soooo cheap!), I had to remind myself that books in the UK don’t fit into them to stop myself from bringing them all home. Now that I have at least one Banana Yoshimoto book in Japanese, there’s more incentive than ever to try and learn the language. I’ve been thinking a lot this year about how much is lost or gained in translation and what that does to a book depending on the language you read. This Little Art by Kate Briggs is a novel-length essay on exactly this topic, and I read it not long after The Idiot in which the protagonist has a crisis about language and how words can lose their meaning. They fit together very well in my head – both asked and tried to provide answers to questions about translation, like why even do it at all if meaning is going to be lost? Having read Murakami’s most recent book, Killing Commendatore, I’m still not sure if the absence of Jay Rubin as translator is responsible for my disappointment with it, or if it was just a bad book, or if Haruki Murakami has never been that great and it was all Jay Rubin all along.
This Little Art, The Idiot, Shirley and Romantic Outlaws are probably my favourites from this year. Also Daphne du Maurier’s short story The Breakthrough, from Don’t Look Now. Sinister, terrifying, haunting, all words that fall short of describing the atmosphere of that one short story.
I read Shirley after reading Outsiders by Lyndall Gordon. I had tried to read it before and had never been able to get past the first chapter, but something about Outsiders made me want to try again. Reading Outsiders made me realise in a way that I hadn’t before that books written in the last couple of centuries aren’t as far removed from us as I had thought. Previously, when reading books from different time periods, I had become as detached as if I was reading fantasy; I forgot that the stories being told were often very firmly set in social, political and cultural climates that had once existed. It helped me to find ways to empathise with the narrators and the characters, and make them much more human and relatable. While reading Shirley, instead of feeling like the characters and situations were a million miles away, I forced myself to remember that Charlotte Brontë was writing about events that were important to the people in the time she was writing about. Her father witnessed Luddite uprisings. The setting of Shirley with its discussions of workers’ rights and its attacks on mills was as real for Charlotte and her father as Brexit and Trump are for us now.
- Turtles All The Way Down – John Green
- My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs – Kazuo Ishiguro
- Manderley Forever: Daphne du Maurier, A Life – Tatiana de Rosnay
- Don’t Look Now & other short stories – Daphne du Maurier
- Outsiders: Five Women Writers who Changed the World – Lyndall Gordon
- Shirley – Charlotte Brontë
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The first time I tried to read Shirley, I struggled to get past the first three chapters. "This is not as good as Jane Eyre or Villette," I thought. And, of course, I was wrong. How did I come to change my mind and try again? It was because I read Outsiders by Lyndall Gordon. It was sometimes difficult to read; lots of what felt like fact-listing, and the events of the five lives studied are not always in chronological order, which would not be a problem if it was made clearer. This made it difficult to get through but did not affect my ability to be grateful for all the new information and the future reading list (I have a charity shop copy of Middlemarch now sitting on top of a book pile, and am searching for some Olive Schreiner). It also provided me with new reasons to persevere with Shirley. Though the Brontë sister included in this book is Emily, not Charlotte, it is impossible to talk about one without mentioning the other. Especially when Charlotte included a characters based on Emily in a novel: Shirley Keeldar and Caroline Helstone. To read someone's fictionalised perception of her sisters' characters, I thought, would be a very strange experience. And it is, it sometimes feels weirdly voyeuristic. In the future we are all in on the secret. A huge theme throughout Outsiders is the rights of women and how their role has changed over time; Shirley is referred to as an incredibly feminist book. And it is. Jane Eyre has nothing on it. Still feminist, but this is in-your-face "what are we supposed to do all day, cook and sew??" "…yes. I hate womenites." So I decided to read it again but placing it as contemporary, rather than viewing it as a relic of the past which I should accept that I can't always understand or relate to. Putting these new perspectives on it has really helped me to get into the book. This is a huge post. Shirley is great. (Also the first time Shirley was used as a female name!) #bookstagram #Shirley #charlottebrontë #outsiders #lyndallgordon #brontë #nowreading
- In Search of Anne Brontë – Nick Holland
- Moshi Moshi – Banana Yoshimoto
- Asleep – Banana Yoshimoto
- Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susan
- Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell
- Winter – Ali Smith
- Banshee, Volumes 2 & 5
- My Uncle Oswald – Roald Dahl
- Young Hearts Crying – Richard Yates
- The White Book – Han Kang
- Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
- The Idiot – Elif Batuman
- Emily Brontë Reappraised: A View from the 21st Century – Claire O’Callaghan
- A Cup Of Sake Beneath The Cherry Trees – Yoshida Kenko
- This Little Art – Kate Briggs
- The Lonely City – Olivia Laing
- The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell
- Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami
- A Cat, A Man and Two Women – Junichiro Tanazaki
- N. P. – Banana Yoshimoto
- Romantic Outlaws – Charlotte Gordon
- The Pilgrims – Mary Shelley
- Bartleby The Scrivener – Herman Melville
- Behind A Wardrobe In Atlantis – Emma J. Lannie
- The Hatred of Poetry – Ben Lerner
- Convenience Store Woman – Sayuka Murata
- Demian – Herman Hesse
- Revolutionary Girl Utena 20th Anniversary companion book
- The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories – Edited by Jay Rubin, Introduction by Haruki Murakami
- The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night – Jen Campbell
- The Tales of Beedle the Bard – J.K. Rowling, Illustrated by Chris Riddell
We went to a talk given by Chris Riddell at Nottingham Trent University. He was answering questions about his work on the newly illustrated Beedle the Bard while drawing for us live. He signed my copy of The Edge Chronicles Maps, and was generally very lovely.
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Tonight we went to see Chris Riddell speaking with Dr Sarah McConnell at Nottingham Trent University. There were live illustrations, and Shauna Shim did dramatic readings from The Tales of Beedle The Bard. I've been reading The Edge Chronicles since I picked up a copy of Beyond The Deepwoods AT THE LIBRARY (libraries, man!), aged 11, and thought it had the best front cover I had ever seen. Now that I'm older, if Chris Riddell has illustrated something I assume it's good and read it. Thank-you @chris_riddell for staying super late after your talk to speak to everyone and sign everything! @ntucreated #nottinghamtrent #illustration #theedgechronicles #beyondthedeepwoods
- Ariel – Sylvia Plath
- Charlotte Brontë Revisited: A View from the 21st Century – Sophie Franklin
- Killing Commendatore – Haruki Murakami
- By The Light of My Father’s Smile – Alice Walker
- Agnes Grey – Anne Brontë
- Rough Magic – Paul Alexander
- How To Be Invisible – Kate Bush
- Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom – Sylvia Plath
This year I would like to write more about the books I am reading – this blog has been very neglected for the past couple of years! I’ve been occasionally taking part in the Are You Book Enough bookbinding challenge on instagram again. This time last year I was working on the January 2018 theme Darkness. I wrote and illustrated a story called The Black Ribbon. It was inspired by the Tatiana de Rosnay biography of Daphne du Maurier, in which de Rosnay refers to Daphne du Maurier’s depressive episodes as her “black ribbon.” It’s also a tribute to Edward Gorey. I thought his style of illustration would be best suited to the story I was telling, so I had a go at reproducing his style.
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Part 2 of my #AreYouBookEnough January book. Here are all the illustrations and the story I wrote inspired by Edward Gorey, Daphne du Maurier and Tatiana de Rosnay. Please see my previous post for the explanation! #bookart #bookstagram #handmadebooks #illustration #edwardgorey
Another of the books I made this year was a book in a box for the theme Listen. I chose to bind a book of Kate Bush’s Fifty Words For Snow from her song and album of the same name.
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This is my contribution to the August #AreYouBookEnough bookbinding challenge, #listen . I love to listen to music, and Kate Bush is one of my favourites. Why choose Fifty Words For Snow when I could choose any of her songs? Why does it fit the theme best? The song is a list. It's Stephen Fry reciting fifty words for snow – some made up by Kate Bush, some real. She wanted him to be the narrator because people believe the words he says, he is intelligent and speaks with a quiet authority. Hearing him speak her fictional words for snow makes them sound real. Snow itself deadens sound but has sounds of its own; one of the words is "creaky-creaky." I hope whoever looks at my book can hear the snow behind the words. This is the first time I've made this kind of box, and my measurements are a bit off (the lid is loose!) but overall I'm pleased and know what to do better next time! The paper is very fibrous, I wanted something that looked and felt like snow. Both the front cover of the book and the lid of the box are padded. The ink I used to write the fifty words is a mixture of two different inks – white calligraphy ink and a Grey Plum Kwiz ink. I'm going to have to find a way to photograph it properly because it is almost pearlescent! If you hold the paper a certain way it disappears. Hold it to the light and it looks like it is glowing. I'll try and get some video footage of it. #AreYouBookEnough #bookart #handmade #katebush #fiftywordsforsnow #50wordsforsnow #listen #books #snow #music
I will leave you with a picture of the new bookcase. I hope you have an excellent 2019!