Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fiction Sushi

Our Japanese friend Naho is leaving Malaysia. She's been a member of our book club for several months, and we're going to miss her. But by way of a send-off, we decided that for last night's meeting we should go Japanese.

That meant that supper had to be Japanese too! Muntaz put together black pepper udon, garlic rice, miso soup, tempura vegetables and a big platter of sushi. Everyone who came brought more and more sushi. I cooked salmon with vegetables baked with sake and shoyu (from a recipe book Mercy gave me a few birthdays back). Naho made a rice dish which she said was another type of sushi. We ate and ate until we weren't sure if this was a group for discussing books or a group simply for eating!!

But then it was down to business. Since we'd found it hard to get multiple copies of any one Japanese novel without a few weeks wait, we had decided to do things differently. We could each choose any novel by a Japanese author to discuss. Our discussion gave us an idea of the range and diversity of Japanese fiction from traditional classics to contemporary popular fare.

Muntaj, Shashi and Naho had all gone for Snakes and Earrings, Hitomi Kanahera's award winning debut novel. The nineteen year old protagonist is into body-piercing, sado-masochistic sex, and appears to have no purpose in life. "Aren't the parents worried?" as Muntaj. Apart from parental concerns, all three readers felt the book was well-written and well-translated.

Alison had read Yukio Mishima's Forbidden Colours, which she described as a thought-provoking, semi-autobiographical novel about how we all become fools in the face of beauty. Sham had read Mishima's After the Banquet which she described as "more political".

Of course, no discussion of Mishima could be complete without getting on to his gruesome, politically motivated suicide, which Naho said had made her unwilling to read his books. And then of course conversation wandered onto the subject of Japanese suicides in general (30,000 last year).

Out by Natsuo Kirino met with Kaykay's approval, being sufficiently "dark and macabre" for his taste. But, he added, there isn't a single male with a redeeming feature in sight! Out won Japan's grand prix for crime fiction and was a finalist for the Edgar Award in 1997.

Uma also went for popular fiction and chose Strangers by Taichi Yamada, a ghost story with "a great plot" but which read rather like a screenplay.

Renata had Kuniko Mukoda's The Name of the Flower, a collection of short stories a which she said was "short, concise, but told you a lot about Japanese women's lives" while Joanne had enjoyed Banana Yoshimoto's Goodbye Tsugumi.

Animah, a long-time fan of Japanese fiction, said that is she had to pick a favourite it would be The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanazaki, a book about four sisters in which, she said "nothing happens, but I couldn't but it down because the characters were so real".

And my choice? Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata, chosen simply because it has been sitting on my TBR shelf for years and might never be read! I found the novella intriguing - centered on the tea ceremony, it is a passionate story about a young man who finds himself caught between his late father's ex-mistresses. One is scheming and evil, the other (20 years older) becomes his own lover. I enjoyed the way that there is a polite surface to all the interactions, with so much smouldering beneath and a great deal more implied. Naho has read it in Japanese and reckons that it must have been a difficult book to translate. Nevertheless, the prose is elegant and restrained, and some of the descriptions reminded me of haiku. (Sham read The Master of Go by the same author, but did not find it as accessible as her other choice.)

So all of us went away with a list of other Japanese novels we now know we'd love to read and a wider knowledge of just what's out there. And this very different way of conducting our monthly meeting turned out very well for us, and I think will have another themed evening sometime.

Incidentally, I've had a few emails from people asking if they can join our group. We actually have an optimum number of members and the group dynamics are just right. (It's taken us quite a while to get to this point.) But I would say to you, go ahead and form a group of your own because it is a great way of making friends and motivates you to read books you normally wouldn't have touched. Perhaps I should write a bit more about the hows of forming such a group in another post?


Obiter Dictum said...

I envy you the book club... specially since it has mouth watering food.

I tried forming one here in the backwaters, but just could get it to take off.

Any on Sharon, for the Bloomsday that is coming up?

bibliobibuli said...

where is your backwaters??

the take off point is the hardest part, we also struggled in the beginning. more than anything you need a tiny core of committed people who will meet whatever happens.

bloomsday ... 23rd june isn't it? i have no plans but am open to suggestions

Obiter Dictum said...

It is the 16th of June.

My backwater is Kluang, Johor. A smallish studio on the third floor, mornings busy usually with teaching pottery. Afternoons are for glass work.

Reading is for anytime I can sneak away from work.

bibliobibuli said...

ohhh. one of those ahah moments! dead slow of me not to have put clues together!! anyway, it must be very hard finding a group of readers in a small town ... wonder how it could be done?

Obiter Dictum said...

Perhaps telling us of your experiences might help?

One thing I have been wanting to ask someone: Has Off The Edge stopped featuring short fiction these days?

Is that due to policy or dearth?

Radical Scope said...

Japanese authors... hmm... being a fan of japanese modern visual culture myself, i'm more familiar with the graphic novels rather than the written ones. which author would you suggest for beginners?

bibliobibuli said...

radical scope - i guess it depends on what your tastes are. a look at my previous post on japanese lit might help you ... and follow the links

obiter - i think it was because of no suitable submissions. send your stuff in.

yes, i will write about out book club experiences ...

sympozium said...

If it's difficult in the backwaters to form a bookclub, how about looking into starting an internet book club?

Radical Scope said...

internet book club? like an online forum, right? that would be nice. sympozium, why not you moderate one. i'd be sure to join.

sharon - okay, thanks for the link.

sympozium said...

No time or inclination to moderate lah...as it is I'm spending way too much time online! :-)

enar arshad said...

an internet book club would be nice....since i am somewhere far from the city

Radical Scope said...

well, someone should start. i can, but sharon need to tell me a bit about moderating a book club.

sympozium said...

Well, it's up to you guys to form an internet book club :-) Start a blogsite and list a book to be read and then the members can post their comments before or by a certain date and then open the webfloor to discussions and arguments :-)

The one good thing using the net is that members can copy and paste reviews and comments from other sites to aid their points of view.

Sharon's post-mortem on her bookclub meetings are almost like that already. I'd love it if they had someone taking minutes and then posting the minutes on her blog so we can also read the various comments.

Your members can also follow the reading list of Sharon's book club (with her permission, of course) and then add your comments on your blogsite. In such an instance the members of her bookclub might also be compelled to drop by your site and read what you all thought of the books and add their comments. Thus generating more debate.

Members in far-flung towns would then feel that they are not so culturally cut off, but are in fact linked to what the city-folks are reading.

Just a suggestion!

lil ms d said...


you're one of the judges! promote apostrophe!


bibliobibuli said...

it's a good idea symp.

but ... frankly i feel i'm doing my bit already and it's time for others to get things going. (or else sponsor me generously someone!!!) none of this is rocket science!

plus ... and this is important ... who reads book stuff on the internet? my malaysian readers are 95% klang valley. internet penetration in rural areas and small towns - forgeddit!

plus ... there are already some very good book clubs on the internet ... a look at yahoo groups would lead you to some ... and some of the newspapers have them too. i maybe should look out some links.

bibliobibuli said...

ms d - i keep forgetting what i've said yes to these days! okay lah, will lah.

sympozium said...

Agree with you Sharon. You must now finish your novel! :-)

Anonymous said...

As usual, there's no one to tie that bell :) I'd love to do it, but you'll have to lend me a copy of whatever it is you're covering :) and yeah there are lots of book forums already :)

Radical Scope said...

hmm... how about we just make a blog with multiple authors, and you just review a book of your choice. if any of the visitors have read the book, they can add their comments.

huu.. 12am heading to kl. got a pre-interview test tomorrow at 1pm. hopefully kl didn't turn into one massive public swimming pool upon my arrival. i can't swim!!.

enar arshad said...

well i am from the backwaters and meeting people online is like a life line to books and literary stuff.glad thank god for the creation of virtual world!

bibliobibuli said...

talk is easy, radical. just do it if you want it, it's as easy and as hard as that.

enar - i'm sure you're right. but i don't get many visitors from small town malaysia at all. (i keep an eye on my sitemeter if you're wondering how i know).

jen said...

radical - your blog idea sounds like puisi-poesy for books to me :)

enar - Barnes and Noble (www.barnesandnoble.com) has a couple of book clubs (go to the Book Club tab; it's the last one on the homepage) The books they discuss are super-new though, and I haven't actually joined one in a long time so I do not know what it's like now.

msiagirl said...

Hi Sharon, sure to get lots of discussion of book club tips! I miss my book group. We all used to live on the same street and we would all bring a book and slap it on the table and talk about it. If someone liked it they could go off with it, and return it at the next book club. Had to trust that person to though! Good way to read stuff you don't normally, and didn't have to buy books all the time!

Chet said...

Definitely different set-up from Sharon's book club, msiagirl. Something for the others looking to set up their own to consider.

lena said...

An internet book club sounds great. There's a blog I've stopped by from time to time where they work through the classics - "Reading ..." - they're just done with "The Red & The Black".

It's quite simple to put into practice with all the blogging tools IMO.

bibliobibuli said...

msiagirl - sounds like what the bookcrossing group do here ... there are lots of ways to organise these things. the point is to read with compnay and have fun doing it.

lena - yes, very doable. my hestitation is 1) i personally can't take on anything else 2) i find reading for my own book club each month enough of a commitment and since i have to read stuff to review as well i already feel swamped by the "have-tos" which leave me little time for the "want-tos". but as you say, setting up something like this would be simple enough, but it would work best with sponsorship from one of the bookshops which could subsidise the price of the books.