No Time: Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life by Heather Menzies



No Time: Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life
Heather Menzies
(Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver: 2005)

READ: December 2005 (incomplete)

I'm going to save us all some time and excerpt from my Thursday, December 29, 2005 blog entry titled "Books I Have Known and Hated" (with an obligatory shoutout to Pierre Berton):

That advice ["Why read a book you don't enjoy?"] was exactly what I heeded about two hours ago when I decided, about 112 pages in (with another 170 or so to go), that I was not going to continue reading No Time: Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life by Heather Menzies. Please note - and rejoice in! - its removal from my "Currently Reading" list. I have decided that I, in fact, have no time to read No Time. You know there's a problem with a book about the need to destress and uncomplicate life when every second sentence is roundabout, confusing and just plain perplexing. The introduction to the book caused me to have a minor panic attack. The sentence that caused me to quit? "The nanosecond speed with which symbols can move, morph and be recombined into new patterns of daunting complexity leaves no pause in which these largely anonymous abstractions can be checked out for their relevance to us personally, or as professional teams or institutions." 'Nuff said.

The book was stressing me out. I found it poorly written, as if the author had run out of time and couldn't edit it properly. And I decided, if there really wasn't enough time to do what I need to do in "modern life", I wasn't going to waste any more of it on this book.

Wabi Sabi: The Japanese art of impermanence by Andrew Juniper



Wabi Sabi: The Japanese art of impermanence
Andrew Juniper
(Tuttle Pub., Boston: 2003)

READ: December 2005

For most people, what jumps to mind when they think of the Japanese aesthetic is "all things Zen". Well, Andrew Juniper has gone beyond Zen and provided an introduction to wabi sabi. From the back of the book:

Wabi sabi describes a traditional Japanese aesthetic sensibility based on an appreciation of the transient beauty of the physical world. It embodies the melancholic appeal of the impermanence of all things - especially the modest, the rustic, the imperfect, and even the decayed. With its focus on the delicate subtleties, objects, effects, and environments of the natural world, wabi sabi promotes an alternative approach to the appreciation of both beauty and life itself.

I'm a librarian so probably not even supposed to admit to thoughts like this, but if there was ever a book I didn't want to return to the library and wanted to keep for myself, this book is it. (But I'll be good and bring it back!) I will just have to find my own copy to have and to hold. There are beautiful images, philosophies and ideas that combine to make this a great book. I don't think I can review it any better than that.

Art, Life, and Nature in Japan by Masaharu Anesaki

   cover image not available  

Art, Life, and Nature in Japan
Masaharu Anesaki
(Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn.: 1971)

Originally published by Marshall Jones Company, Boston: 1933

READ: December 2005

This is a slightly weird book, only put into its proper context once you remember it was originally written in 1933. When I started reading it, I found it had a strange "the War never happened at all" tone (and I know, as a general comment, that the Japanese can be all too quick to forget history sometimes), then I remembered its original publication date!

The book is based on a series of lectures given at Harvard University (even earlier than 1933, as a matter of fact) by Masaharu Anesaki, a professor at Tokyo Imperial University. It is a wonderful description of Japanese art of all kinds, though largely focused on architectural forms in Japan. This, of course, tied in closely with my Art History essay topic on the importance of nature in Japanese religious architecture; Anesaki focusing on exactly that for the bulk of the book. It is well-written and easy-to-read, and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in traditional Japanese culture and/or architecture.

How to Look at Japanese Art by Stephen Addiss



How to Look at Japanese Art
Stephen Addiss
(Harry N. Abrams: New York, 1996)

With a chapter on gardens by Audrey Yoshiko Seo

READ: December 2005

I wrote a paper on the importance of nature in Japanese religious architecture last semester for my Art History class, and this was one of the books I consulted. It was fascinating, and while it didn't offer much towards my essay topic, it provided invaluable context for the larger issue of Japanese art, of which I must admit to being a fan. Stephen Addiss writes in his introduction: What is it about the artistic culture of Japan that can so transform a life? Words alone cannot answer this question; only looking, seeing, and understanding can. But how shall we look at Japanese art in order to truly see it?

This book is both a brief history of Japanese art and a critical exploration of Japanese art styles. Each of the six chapters takes an art-form - ceramics, sculpture and traditional Buddhist art, secular and Zen painting, calligraphy, woodblock prints, and gardens - and looks at the development of this art along with the concepts (mythology, technique, etc.) key to a better appreciation of the art. At under 150 pages, it is a short read and a necessary read for anyone who wants to better understand Japanese art and culture.

The Art of Twentieth-Century Zen by Audrey Yoshiko Seo



The Art of Twentieth-Century Zen
Audrey Yoshiko Seo
with Stephen Addiss
(Shambhala Publications, Boston: 1998)

Paintings and calligraphy by Japanese masters; with a chapter by Matthew Welch

READ: September-December 2005 (incomplete)

I love Japanese art, and Zen art and calligraphy is no exception. But I know very little about it. This is a great book that profiles the key Zen artists, with gorgeous large illustrations. The detail on each artist can be a little preponderous to work your way through, and I never made it through the whole book but have read here and there on the various artists at random, learning more about Zen Buddhism and its fairly unique, recognizable style of artistic expression along the way. If you're interested in this area of art at all, I highly recommend this book.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell



Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Malcolm Gladwell
(Little, Brown & Co., New York: 2005)

READ: November-December 2005

I haven't read The Tipping Point, Gladwell's earlier book that was a huge bestseller, but this book, Blink, is quite a quick and interesting read. It basically is about the gut reaction, the instinct - how people often think without actually thinking, and make choices that are much more complicated than they seemed. Of course, the real story is why this works for some people, in some cases, and not for others. Some very bad outcomes have occurred as a result of quick decisions. But likewise, so too does not every well-thought-out plan turn out to be a good idea. This book aims to explore the why of this - the background to how our brains really work and why, in some cases, those patterns mesh well with other attributes or circumstances: "Blink reveals that great decision makers aren't those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of 'thin-slicing' - filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables." A little basic for someone with an undergraduate degree in psychology (at least, that was Randal's initial reaction when I told him the premise of Gladwell's argument), but for those of us who haven't, it's a fascinating read. And short. That's a good point in a book's favour, at least sometimes!

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman



Good Omens
Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
(Ballantine Books, New York: 1991)

READ: November 2005

I have read this book twice now and both times it has proven laugh-out-loud FUNNY. It involves a demon and an angel who have gotten all too comfortable with their lives on Earth, a witch named Anathema, the coming Apocalypse, an 11-year-old boy who is supposed to be the Anti-Christ but turns out not to be, and another 11-year-old boy who turns out to be said Anti-Christ despite no one realizing he was (is). Confused? Read the book!

Fodor's Exploring Japan (3rd ed.)



Fodor's Exploring Japan (3rd ed.)
(Fodor's Travel Publications, New York: 2000)

READ: October-November 2005

I must admit it: I really like travel guides. I don't buy them indiscriminately, of course; rather, when I am planning to go somewhere, I will pick one up. Usually my guide of choice is Lonely Planet (I know: how unoriginal). This Fodor's, however, I picked up secondhand (I almost always buy guides secondhand) early into planning my 2004 trip to Southeast Asia and was tossing around the idea of swinging through Japan on my way to Thailand. And I have to say that in terms of planning, it certainly did help. I would have to compare it to a Lonely Planet guide for Japan, however, which I have not yet had the chance to do. I also remember trying to follow one of Fodor's suggested walks in Tokyo, with something fairly short of success, but that's more a problem with the street signs in that area of Tokyo being mostly in Japanese (which I could not while my map was in English!

But what really got my motor running about this book was when I returned to it this fall to read almost cover-to-cover while in the early stages of planning my eventual escape back to Japan (shhh, I haven't told anyone yet). In addition to the usual places-to-go-and-things-to-do information, there is oodles of information on Japanese culture, events and traditions. Obviously any of this can only be introduced in the most superficial way in such a guide, but I think that can be invaluable in then guiding you to areas of interest upon which you can do more research. There are also great photos, a point not to be overlooked in travel guide preparation.

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll



Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
Lewis Carroll
Ill. John Tenniel
(Wordsworth Editions Ltd., London: 1993)

READ: October 2005

N.B.: The Wordsworth cover is blue and shows Alice with the Cheshire Cat, but I couldn't find it online.


Oh, Alice! Always a lovely book to come back to. It's easy to forget the little fantastical things in both of these stories. And, of course, Through the Looking Glass is based (loosely) around a kitten - always a good inspiration. If you've never actually read either of these stories, well, it's never too late to do so. And John Tenniel's illustrations are definitely classic - these are the Alice-drawings that you think of when you think of Alice before Disney (and since, really - Disney Alice was never that clever).

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien



The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien
Illustrated by Alan Lee
(Houghton Mifflin, Boston: 1991)

First published in 1954 (Fellowship of the Ring).

READ: June-October 2005

I don't actually need to review this one, do I? You all know the story. If you don't - or if you've only ever seen the recent movie version - go read it. God forbid you've only seen the version by Ralph Bakshi, which I for one am trying to purge from memory (not easy to do when I see the DVD of it that I own every day). The BBC's audio dramatization, on the other hand, is good. But I don't think the musical counts.

Not for the faint-hearted, of course - my copy of the illustrated version weighs in at over 1,000 pages, plus another 200 or so pages of appendices (all necessary reading, of course). But if you've got the patience, it's a wonderful tale. And imagine the hours you can then while away debating movie-vs-book! You will wonder why Tom Bombadil was left out, and debate whether it was necessary that Glorfindel's role in the Flight to the Ford be melded into Arwen. Was Boromir as bad an anti-king, pro-ring guy as the movie tried to make him out to be, and what was the exact nature of the prophetic dream that caused him to seek Elrond"'s counsel?

Or, um, maybe that's just the kind of things I would enjoy ...

Learned Friends by Jack Batten



Learned Friends: A Tribute to Fifty Remarkable Ontario Advocates, 1950-2000
Jack Batten
(Irwin Law, Toronto: 2005; co-published by The Advocates' Society)

READ: October 2005

At work, once or twice a week, I receive a photocopy of the front cover page of all new acquisitions received by the library, and I browse through these to see what's new and noteworthy. This was one of them, and it instantly piqued my interest. When I was an articling student a few years ago, I was recruited by a member of The Advocates' Society's editorial board to do research on 50 Ontario advocates. Sound familiar? Yup, this research was part of the initial work done on Mr. Batten's book (except he wasn't the writer I was working with at that point). I note I don't get an acknowledgement anywhere in the book, but to be fair, as an articling student I had unfortunately very little time to spend on this project and didn't get very far (though I did interview one of the lawyers profiled).

Anyway, I was pleased to see this book in the list, and searched it out at the library (we have two copies). Each of the 50 lawyers has a two-page spread detailing their life, career accomplishments, etc., with photos (young and old whenever possible). The writing is light-hearted and engaging. Some very interesting people are profiled in this book, and there are even a few women amongst the group.

And now, a professional anecdote: About a week after I finished reading Learned Friends, one of the staff at the library asked me about a reference question she'd received. A student was doing a history project about some murder trial from the 1950s and wanted to know where she could find more material. The description of the case triggered something for me, and I flipped through Learned Friends on a hunch until I realized that one of the lawyers profiled had acted for the defendant in that matter, and thus I was able to give the student some help in that respect as to where she might find more information! Neat that books actually help you out sometimes ...

Buddhism by Kulananda



Thorson's First Directions: Buddhism
Kulananda
(Thorsons (HarperCollinsPublishers, London: 2001)

READ: September 2005

This is a very small book (under 90 pages) which seeks to introduce readers to the concepts of Buddhist religion and thought. The Buddha, the Dharma (Four Truths, etc.), the Sangha (goals), the ethics - all are explained in the most simple of terms. Beautiful pictures are included as well. A small, enjoyable read.

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells



The War of the Worlds
H.G. Wells
(Tor Books, New York: 1993)

First published in 1898.

READ: August 2005

When The War of the Worlds was first published in 1898, it was heralded as a horrifying vision of the future. Earth is under attack by Martians! This story later became famous because of Orson Wells' 1938 radio version with the Mercury Theatre - people panicked across America, thinking they were listening to an actual broadcast and that Martians had in fact landed. The original War of the Worlds takes place in England, just outside London, and while we know that something must happen to the Martians in the end - the narrator obviously must have survived in order to later pen this account of the events - the story is no less gripping and enthralling.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl



Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
(Puffin Books, New York: 1998)

First published in 1964.

READ: July 2005

A children's classic, of course. If you have not read this book, you must do so. The recent movie with Johnny Depp is not, in any way, a substitute. While the storytelling is not always the most subtle in tone, kids love this story and adults get a kick out of it too, as bad children end up where we only wish we could send them in real life, and the good kid comes out, for once, ahead of the others.

From the back of the book:
Willy Wonka's famous chocolate factory is opening at last! But only five lucky children will be allowed inside. And the winners are: Augustus Gloop, an enormously fat boy whose hobby is eating; Veruca Salt, a spoiled-rotten brat whose parents are wrapped around her little finger; Violet Beauregarde, a dim-witted gum-chewer with the fastest jaws around; Mike Teavee, a toy pistol-toting gangster-in-training who is obsessed with television; and Charlie Buket, Our Hero, a boy who is honest and kind, brave and true, and good and ready for the wildest time of his life!

A History of Western Science by Anthony Alioto



A History of Western Science
Anthony Alioto
(Pearson Education Canada, Toronto: 1992)

READ: July 2005 (incomplete)

I didn't finish this one either, but don't blame it on the book - blame it on the reader. This is actually a text used in introductory science courses at university ("science for arts students", if you know what I mean). It can be a little dry at times, but mostly it is actually quite interesting. I didn't make it very far - up to the end of the Greeks, if I remember correctly - so all I can do is repeat over and over that "it is actually quite interesting." It is well-written and explains much of the history and workings of science in fairly plain language. I've shelved it for now, but I do plan on returning to it someday. I only know the very basic outlines of science's history, and with some of the other books I've been reading, I'd certainly like to learn more. But sometimes, you're just not ready to tackle a book, and Western Science, today was not your day. (To be fair, part of the problem is that this was the book I accidentally dropped behind my bookcase, and it took a few weeks to fish it out again, by which point I had completely and utterly lost any desire to continue reading it.)

Puppies for Dummies by Sarah Hodgson and Dog Training for Dummies by Jack & Wendy Volhard

                

Puppies for Dummies
Sarah Hodgson
(Wiley Publishing Inc., Hoboken (NJ): 2000)

Dog Training for Dummies
Jack and Wendy Volhard
(Wiley Publishing Inc., New York: 2001)

READ: May-June 2005 (incomplete)

I am reviewing these two books together for, I assume, what are obvious reasons. I also must come clean at this point: I didn't finish reading either one. But these are reference books and so I feel OK with that decision. I have them to consult when I need them, and I like having them around.

The books in the Dummies series tend to be fairly well-written, at least in my experience (not extensive, but a number of different titles - Art, Scuba Diving and Snorkeling, Sailing, Homebrewing, Canadian History, etc. - can be found on my bookshelves), and they provide a good overview to the subject. The Puppies and Dog Training books are no exception.

The Puppies book started off at a very basic level and in fact made me wish we had purchased the book before getting a dog.* It surveys the various breeds and would be very helpful for someone unsure what kind of dog would be most appropriate. Of course, it also discusses mixed breeds as well. There were further useful chapters on topics such as housebreaking and puppyproofing - another chapter that would have been useful about 8 months sooner. (He's now 100% housebroken** but there were some unnecessary tears shed along that route.)

As for the Dog Training book, while Rion was decently trained by the time I started reading this book (well, OK - "sit" and "lie down" was virtually impeccable, "stay" was sometimes optional, and "come" was contingent on the bribery being proferred), there have been multiple tips and tricks in the book that have helped us improve his training regimen. Consistency, as any dog owner will tell you, is key. Consistency is also the hardest thing to achieve at times (I'd like to see if you are able to tell Fido that he must give up the sock at once even though he is the cutest little thing in the world, sitting with it all pretty in his mouth).

So while the books are basic, they are useful as reference texts. And I've learned some interesting snippets: For instance, have you ever wondered why, while scolding your dog for something he should not be doing, his tail starts wagging? He looks shameful but the tail says otherwise. Well, apparently a wagging tail is not necessarily an indication of a happy, carefree dog but can also often indicate that the dog is trying to calm you down (diffusion of a tense situation). Also, a leash-free Jack Russell is almost never a good thing in cities (good to know).

*A comment not to be construed in any way to imply that I would trade my little Rion in for a million other dogs - no way!
**Statement may only be 97% accurate.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien



The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again
J.R.R. Tolkien
(HarperCollinsPublishers, London: 1999)
Originally published in 1937 by George Allen & Unwin

READ: May 2005

This is a wonderful book. I don't think I really need to say any more, do I?

But really, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again is a marvelous tale and everyone should read it at least once, even if they're not a Lord of the Rings fan. The Hobbit was of course written about 17 years earlier, in 1937. The book tells the fantastical tale of Mr. Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit of the Shire in Middle-Earth, and how he was "persuaded" to join a troupe of dwarves out to reclaim long-lost treasures and land from Smaug, a terrible dragon. He was hired to be a thief, but he wasn't much of a thief, I'm afraid; in fact, he knew very little indeed about the profession before he set out. At just under 300 pages, The Hobbit exacts much less of a time commitment than its companion LOTR, and if you have the same edition as me, it includes the first chapter from LOTR which of course is intended to entice you to continue on to the further challenge of Tolkien's larger masterpiece.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank



The Diary of A Young Girl
Anne Frank
(Penguin Books, New York: 1997)
Edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler
Translated by Susan Massotty
Originally published (in abbreviated form) in 1947


READ: April-May 2005

I think everyone has heard of this book, even if they have not read it. Like The Netherlands (Lonely Planet Guide), I read this in anticipation of our trip to Amsterdam in May. I knew that once we were there, we would be visiting the Anne Frank Museum. I knew the broad strokes of Anne Frank's story, but had never read her diary.

This version is called "The Definitive Edition". Basically, other previous editions had been published with much editing - this includes pretty much everything Anne wrote about. It is a charming and sad portrait of a young girl whose life was so drastically changed by the war. And the whole time that you read it, you are sad too, since you know how this ends, and you wish it were a "Make Your Own Adventure" book so that you could change the ending and make Anne's diary continue on beyond August 1, 1944. (On August 4, an SS sergeant and at least three Dutch members of the Security Police made their way in to the Secret Annex, likely tipped off by someone, and arrested all the occupants. Of the 8 persons who lived for about three years in the confines of the Secret Annex, only Otto Frank, Anne's father, survived the concentration camps which followed.)

I don't think I can add much more to this review. Everyone should read it. It's definitely a necessary read if you are going to visit Amsterdam and especially if you are going to see the Museum (which, in turn, is a necessary part of visiting Amsterdam). It really personalizes a dark part of recent world history, and Anne's last entry, poignantly personal, ends on a very faint note of hope, which feels even more chilling when you next read the words "Anne's diary ends here" and know what that, in fact, means. And if you can, go to the Museum, or at least visit the website.

Wanderlust, edited by Don George



Wanderlust: Real-Life Tales of Adventure and Romance
Don George, ed., at Salon.com
(Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto: 2000)

READ: December 2004-April 2005

Randal gave me this for my birthday last year. I started reading it over Christmas and then promptly forgot to bring it home from Winnipeg, where we were over the holidays. Thankfully, Randal's dad was nice enough to carefully wrap it up and pop it in the mail - I believe I got it back sometime in February.

And I was glad - it's a nice read. It's a series of stories of things that have happened to various travel writers, most (if not all) of whom have previously written for Salon.com's online literary travel journal. I took my time reading it once I got back, usually limiting myself to one story a night, since it was quite enjoyable for the most part.

Some of the stories are lovely and magical - like the woman who finds peace sleeping beach-side on a small Greek island. Others are funny, some are meant to provoke. The only one that I remember leaving a distinctly bad taste in my mouth was based on a southern Thailand beach - a promising start! - but focussed on the author's obsession with catching up with Leonardo diCaprio who was also in the south of Thailand filming, apparently, The Beach. It was really long, really shallow, and really dull. But by and large, the stories here captivated me or at least interested me enough to keep going. It's a nice way to "travel" when you can afford neither time nor money to actually do so.

A Little Taste of ... Japan by Jane Lawson and Charlotte Anderson



A Little Taste of... Japan
Jane Lawson and Charlotte Anderson
(Bay Books: 2004)

READ: March-April 2005

OK, I admit it up front: this is a cookbook. But it's quite lovely. In-between the many and varied traditional Japanese recipes are pages of information on Japanese culture, history, religion, geography, etc. I must admit to being a bit of a Japan-o-phile, and there is certainly much in here to keep me going for a while. It's been too hot to do any adventurous cooking this summer, but I plan on testing many exotic recipes from my many cookbooks as soon as the weather cools down, including a number from here (for example, rice soup, simmered pumpkin, and asparagus with egg yolk sauce - and sushi, of course). The recipes are by Jane Lawson and Charlotte Anderson has provided the complementary texts. Also (and this is very important in a cookbook, and all too often overlooked), it has beautiful accompanying photographs (both of the food and of Japan).

The Netherlands (Lonely Planet Guide)



The Netherlands (Lonely Planet Guide), 2nd ed.
Jeremy Gray and Reuben Acciano
(Lonely Planet Publications, Oakland (CA): 2004)

READ: March-April 2005

Yes, everyone and their brother uses Lonely Planet guides. But there's a good reason. I am a big fan. For the most part, they are well laid-out, have easy-to-use maps, and give you good starting points for restaurants, accommodations, etc. I think the problem arises when people fail to look outside their Lonely Planet. Or when - and it happens - a restaurant or hotel gets complacent about its appearance in the Lonely Planet and lets its quality slip. But I see guidebooks as a great way to start. They are a great way to get you started in a new country, a way to figure out the key first things to see and do. But you must also let serendipity guide you, at least some of the time.

The Netherlands Lonely Planet guide provides a very good introduction to the Netherlands and Dutch culture. I read this, of course, in anticipation of our trip to Amsterdam in May. At the time, this meant I read all of the introductory material, including cycling trips around the Netherlands, as well as the lengthy entry on Amsterdam itself and the shorter (but still quite detailed) entries on Den Haag (The Hague), Rotterdam and Maastricht, all of which we planned to go to but never made it, since there is so much to do in Amsterdam itself.

The trip was, of course, more enjoyable than the book, but that certainly isn't a reflection on the quality of this book - I wouldn't leave home without it.

Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto



Asleep
Banana Yoshimoto
(Grove Press, New York: 2000)
Japanese version originally published 1989
Translated by Michael Emmerich


READ: March-April 2005

OK, I admit it. I initially bought this book because I kept seeing it in the deeply-discounted Bargain Books section every time I went to Chapters (which is probably more often than I should go). And I think "Banana Yoshimoto" is one of the coolest names an author could ever wish to have. So I bought it.

I have since learned that Yoshimoto is in fact one of Japan's better-known contemporary writers. And Asleep is in fact a lovely book. It's a bit strange. As a translation, and from Japanese no less, where the pace of story-telling can be different from what readers are used to (at least readers like me, who perhaps overdose on Canadian literature now and again (though reviewing my book list of books read-to-date, I seem to be expanding those horizons this year)), the book feels slightly magical and other-worldly (though again, if you've ever been to Japan, that assessment isn't too far off the mark). In a way, speaking of Can-lit, Yoshimoto reminds me of Alice Munro (at least in the earlier days before I realized I was confusing Munro's books because they all dealt with women in unusual or awkward situations).

Asleep actually is three novellas about three very different women who have strange spiritual connections to sleep and all that it entails. And here I unashamedly steal from the jacket dust-cover: "One, mourning for a lost lover, finds herself sleepwalking at night. Another, who has embarked on a relationship with a man whose wife is in a coma, finds herself suddenly unable to stay awake. A third finds her sleep haunted by another woman whom she was once pitted against in a love triangle." There is a dreamy quality to the book itself - you could almost be reading some form of long poem. I took my time with this book, not wanting to spoil its sometimes near-perfect balance, but often was compelled to read "just a few more pages" to see what would happen next.

Yoshimoto has written a few other books which have been translated from the Japanese; of these, I think Kitchen will be the next one I search out (even if it isn't available on discount.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond



Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Jared Diamond
(W.W. Norton, New York: 1997)
includes Afterword dated 2003

READ: March 2005

I'd been hearing about this book for quite a while before I finally read it, and it was definitely worth it. Jared Diamond is not a historian but a professor of physiology, and he tackles his historical subject accordingly. Rather than telling us what has happened to get us to where we are, he tries to tackle the deeper root causes; that is, why have modern-day societies ended up where they are?

Obviously this is a complicated question. Rather than basing his answers on ideas of race, culture or other such related notions of ethnicity or linguistics, Diamond points toward the natural and environmental resources that were available in each region of the world, allowing some societies to easily flourish and others to eventually perish. There is a reason apart from the nature of human beings themselves to explain why things have turned out the way they did. Food production played a large role in this: some regions of the world did not lend themselves easily to farming those items deemed necessary for the stabilization of populations - e.g., wild cereals - and there was thus no impetus to consider these alternate forms of food production. The same can be said for the domestication of animals - there just weren't, for a myriad of reasons, as many easily-domesticated wild animals in North America, for example, as there were in Europe. Diamond also points to the axes upon which knowledge about crops and farming expanded - to a large degree, it is
much easier to "transplant" farming techniques practiced in central Asia into central Europe, and vice-versa. The east-west axis of Asia and Europe provided for a huge geographical advantage versus other continents such as Africa and both of the Americas, all of which are predominantly north-south.

While there are certainly many other factors that have led to the modern-day political, economic and social structure of the world, Diamond does raise some interesting points. If you've been avoiding it because it was slightly over-hyped, take my word for it: it is worth the read.

One Earth by Kenneth Brower



One Earth
Kenneth Brower
(Collins Publishers, San Francisco: 1990)

READ: March 2005

This is a coffee-table book, with beautiful photos by more than 80 of the world's leading photojournalists. It is not, however, your average stock photograph collection of beautiful places. Many of the photos portray environmental challenges that are facing the Earth. Many others are of peoples whose way of life is being challenged. The pictures cover much ground: from consumers in a packed Toys R Us store in New Jersey to the rice terraces in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal, from volunteers cleaning up a French river to Los Angeles with and without smog, and from capsule hotels in Japan to the spread of deserts across Africa. Each photo is captioned with a concise explanation of the problem or the solution being undertaken by various groups or persons. What I want to know is how things have changed in the 15 years since this was published.

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland



Microserfs
by Douglas Coupland
(HarpersCollins Publishers Ltd., Toronto: 1995)

READ: February 2005

I first tried to read Microserfs sometime during my undergrad in 1996 or 1997, and just couldn't do it. I am an on-again, off-again Douglas Coupland fan (Generation X and Life After God were great, Girlfriend in a Coma bit the big one), and just couldn't get into Microserfs way back when. And now, I have no idea why. It's a fabulous book. I couldn't read it fast enough. And when I was done, I felt emotionally drained but oh-so-happy to have made it through. So worth it.

Microserfs is the story of Dan, a programmer at, yup you guessed it, Microsoft. It takes place in the mid-1990s (1996 or so?) during the heyday of Internet and computer applications development (the first boom). And his computer nerd friends, of course. They don't do a whole lot...well, if you consider developing new products and trying to find their identities and whole raison d'ĂȘtre, is not "a whole lot". It's a remarkable well-written story that is an early foray into exploring the blurred line between narrative and technology (at the risk of sounding somewhat academic). And the ending had me in tears (but happy ones).

I gave this to my brother, who is also somewhat of a computer geek, two years ago for Christmas and he thought it was fantastic. So there.

Hyperspace by Michio Kaku



Hyperspace : A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension
by Michio Kaku
(Anchor Books, New York: 1995)

READ: January-February 2005

A great book. Definitely a must-read. It's been a while since I last picked up a science book of any kind, but I've become interested more and more in learning about this sort of thing. Over Christmas, a great programme aired on Nova on PBS, called The Elegant Universe, which surveyed the development of multiple dimensions and string theory in the realm of (largely) theoretical physics (also a book, which I intend to read sometime soon as well). I missed it over Christmas (visiting family, etc.), but the programme is available online, and I highly recommend it.

Anyway, it's definitely nerdy of me, but it's a field I find interesting (and one in which I have absolutely no training). I haven't taken a physics class since grade 10 (Secondaire IV for all you hard-core Québecers in the crowd). So I resolved to read it in order to better understand the Nova programme. In clear, simple language, Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City College of the City University of New York, outlines the history of the development of the theory of hyperspace. In a nutshell, things are simpler to understand when expressed in higher dimensions. He gives the (commonly-used) example of someone who is flat and lives in a flat, two-dimensional world. To such a Flatlander, a three-dimensional object would not make sense, as it would never remain constant from second to second. For example, if a 3-D apple were to fall onto the Flatlander's world, a Flatlander could only view it in segmented 2-D slices. Brown lines representing the apple stem. Then red or green lines, changing rapidly, first growing larger then smaller, as the apple passes "through" his world. A Flatlander cannot think in 3-D since there is no way to represent this in his world. We have the same problem living in our three-dimensional world, but it is generally accepted that there are at least four dimensions (the three familiar ones of space, and the fourth of time as posited by Einstein), with the possibility of a fifth (a space-time dimension). However, for hyperspace to be feasible, there are, in fact, many more dimensions - likely 10 or 11. (Some superstring theories, which is related to hyperspace, suggest as many as 26!)

Anyway, a good read for anyone who's wondered about physics but was too scared to ask, as it were. Simple language, good explanations, very interesting.

Last Orders by Graham Swift



Last Orders
by Graham Swift
(Random House of Canada, Toronto: 1996 (Vintage Canada edition, 1996))
(first published in England in 1996; current edition 2002)

READ: January 2005

Graham Swift is one of my favourite contemporary British writers. Other good books of his that I have read include Waterland, The Sweet Shop Owner and Shuttlecock. I was first introduced to his books when I was at York University for my undergrad, and I worked as a student writer at excalibur.

Last Orders is the tale of four men, very old friends, who are on a "pilgrimage", as it were, to dispose of the ashes of one of their friends and wartime comrades, Jack. He wanted his ashes to be scattered at sea, so they set off for a few hours' drive across England (from the outskirts of London) to the coast. Sounds simple enough, but Swift has packed a lot of plain human-ness in there. We start out with much of the story being told by Ray, one of Jack's oldest friends, but eventually, as the role of narrator gets shared among the other men (as well as some of the absent wives), we realize that neither Ray, nor any of the rest of them, are ever telling us the whole story. It is a simple premise, yes, but poignant and gripping, and a very satisfying read.

2005 booklist


  1. Last Orders by Graham Swift

  2. Hyperspace : A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension by Michio Kaku

  3. Microserfs by Douglas Coupland

  4. One Earth by Kenneth Brower

  5. Guns, Germs & Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

  6. Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto

  7. Japanese for Busy People by the Japanese Association for Language Teachers

  8. The Netherlands (Lonely Planet Guide), 2nd ed. by Jeremy Gray and Reuben Acciano

  9. A Little Taste of ... Japan by Jane Lawson and Charlotte Anderson

  10. Wanderlust: Real-Life Tales of Adventure and Romance, edited by Don George at Salon.com

  11. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

  12. The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien

  13. Puppies for Dummies by Sarah Hodgson and Dog Training for Dummies by Jack and Wendy Volhard

  14. A History of Western Science by Anthony Alioto

  15. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

  16. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

  17. Buddhism by Kulananda

  18. Art History by Marilyn Stokstad

  19. Learned Friends: A Tribute to Fifty Remarkable Ontario Advocates, 1950-2000 by Jack Batten

  20. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

  21. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

  22. Fodor's Exploring Japan, 3rd ed.

  23. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

  24. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

  25. The Art of Twentieth-Century Zen by Audrey Yoshiko Seo

  26. How to Look at Japanese Art by Stephen Addiss

  27. Art, Life and Nature in Japan by Masaharu Anesaki

  28. Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence by Andrew Juniper

  29. No Time: Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life by Heather Menzies