Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson
(Avon Press, New York: 1999)

READ: July 2007

Well, the third time's a charm. I first started to try to read this a number of years ago, while still a grad student, and quickly put it aside. Too big, too much. Then I tried again this past Christmas, while on vacation in Bali, but having just finished Simon Winchester's lengthy, though fascinating, book on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, it was again quickly put aside, again, too big, too much.

But as my time in Japan was winding down, I tried once more. And this time, I couldn't stop reading. In the classic "just one more chapter" routine, I stayed up quite late, night after night, reading on and on, wanting to know and see and hear and experience more and more.

In a nutshell, it's a fascinating (but GIANT) novel, covering over 50 years in cryptography (code-breaking, essentially), from WWII to modern-day. There are three major story lines, but once I got used to who was who (which took a few chapters), I never got lost again. It's an excellent, compelling, fascinating read, and I highly recommend it.

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Banana Yoshimoto
trans. Megan Backus
(Grove Press, New York: 1994)

READ: July 2007

The first of the two novellas included in this book yanked out my heart strings and then carefully replaced them one by one. The second one didn't have quite that impact, but it was nevertheless worth every word.

This being the second book of Yoshimoto's that I have read, I am starting to get a feel for her style. Her prose is simple, yet even the most straightforward of sentences often uncovers a tumultous layer of emotion. While I don't think it's entirely necessary, I feel that having gone to Japan for a year allowed me to better understand the Japanese psyche that runs through her work, the almost clinical detachment that some of the characters display. These are both beautiful stories of loss and love.