Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto


Grove Press, 1993. ISBN: 0-8021-1516-0

Summary, from inside flap:
When Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen was first published in Japan in 1988, “Banana-mania” seized the country. Kitchen won two of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes, climbed its way to the top of the best-seller list, then remained there for over a year and sold a million copies. With the appearance of the critically acclaimed Tugumi (1989) and NP (1991), the Japanese literary world realized that in Banana Yoshimoto it was confronted with not a passing fluke but with a full-fledged phenomenon: a young writer of great talent and great passion whose work has quickly earned a place among the best twentieth-century Japanese literature.

Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen is an enchantingly original and deeply affecting book that juxtaposes two tales about mothers, transsexuality, kitchens, love, tragedy, and the terms they all come to in a pair of free-spirited young women in contemporary Japan. Told in a whimsical style that recalls the early Marguerite Duras, “Kitchen” and its companion story, “Moonlight Shadow,” are elegant tales whose seemingly simplicity is the ruse of a masterful storyteller. They are the work of a very special new writer whose voice echoes in the mind and soul.

My thoughts:
Once again, the description directly from the book doesn’t truly discuss the book at all. There are two short-stories in Kitchen, but I firmly believe that their overall tone and meaning vastly varies. I can see how Yoshimoto’s work was briefly popular on Instagram, as they are simple and short, but I think they do have deeper meanings than what once reads at first. I was interested in this book because I am a fervent fan of all things Haruki Murakami, and I wanted to experience more contemporary Japanese literature. In the end, I wasn’t impressed, but I did enjoy the stories.

First, “Kitchen” and “Moonlight Shadow” have some things in common, but I do not think they are overtly incredibly similar. Both stories are about healing after death, and what it means for love and family for the characters. However, “Kitchen” more has do to with the protagonist finding her place in the world, and in “Moonlight Shadow” the protagonist comes to terms with the death of her boyfriend. Casting these stories into one big genre of recovering after loss isn’t exactly the best place. “Moonlight Shadow” is definitely about emotional recovery after a loss, but “Kitchen” is, by far, a coming-of-age story. While the events that lead the protagonists to this place are similar, “Kitchen” has a slightly darker air than “Moonlight Shadow.” The protagonist of “Kitchen” is not as free-spirited as the summary implies- rather, she is very dutiful and bound to the other characters in the story, which leads to her realizing her place in the world and what she needs to do. “Moonlight Shadow” is much lighter, and more full of mystery and hope than “Kitchen.”

Knowing this, I liked the language and style of Yoshimoto’s work. Since I am not reading this in the original Japanese, this is more a commentary on the translation. Over the years, I have become very particular about translators, and I am known to find a new translation of a book if the first was poor. The translation of this book is airy and similar to early Marguerite Duras. However, the style of the work is very close to what I associate “Japanese literature” to be. The protagonists appear to be detached from the world, with astute observations and rambling thoughts. Action is abrupt, but feels natural to the world the characters live in. I often associate this type of literature to being like an out-of-body experience. You can see, hear, and feel everything going on around you, but there is this personal narration that you wouldn’t have, if you were operating completely within your world. Reading Japanese literature is like being at the helm of an out-of-body experience for the protagonist.

Out of the few Japanese authors I have read (primarily Haruki Murakami and Kobo Abe) I feel invigorated in my bookish scramble thanks to Banana Yoshimoto. There’s something so different about Japanese authors. I think it has a lot to do with how different Japanese and American cultures are, and how curious I am about the culture and values held by Japanese people. While not every aspect of a culture can be represented by a single book, reading many different books will help me understand what Japan is like. I really struggle with this as I do not want to be perceived as a weeb, especially after my high school years of being a manga fanatic!

In the end, this book featured two simply written short stories about two women in eerily similar circumstances, and how they grow and change after death in their lives. While the plots may be close, the endings are very different and signify how individuals move on from death in different ways. This book is an interesting peer into Japanese culture, and how citizens deal with death after the fact. The translation is good, and the style of writing simple, succinct, and packing a punch when it needs to. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto is a good introduction to Japanese literature, and for once, the accolades are correct.


Busy, Busy… Booksale!

Now that I am officially graduated, I can take a breath. A very transcendent, relieving, fulfilling breath. I am celebrating with the books I have bought at the big AAUW book sale, plenty of iced tea, and returning to work. Life, for the meantime, is relatively simple… the way I like it. I think I have enough books to finish out the year without having to buy any more. While that is at once saddening, it is also a grand challenge. I feel that I have found many excellent and tantalizing reads.

Just today I spent my day off wandering all over with my family. It’s weird to actually have some time with them. It fills me with a lot of joy to be with my family. I know some think I’m strange for liking my family so much. I don’t mean it in a weird, Duggar-esque “We stick to our own” way, but more… Little Women. We went to the Way Cafe for lunch, and then went down to the park for a sweet snack and playtime. Even though my family is on the Ultimate Frisbee team scale, I don’t ever feel overwhelmed or disgusted. Annoyed, yes. I do have an eight-year-old brother, after all.

I am still trucking away on Tess of the D’Urbervilles. It has come to a boring, drama-less part right now, which is terrible. I think if I persevere, I will get to the good stuff again. Today I am typing up the titles list and adding the book names to my TBR Jar. I will, however, leave out Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, as I think I will read it this afternoon. It’s a surprisingly short book, so stay on the lookout for my review. I have been wanting to read it for a long time, and I’m thrilled to find the exact edition I wanted to read at the book sale.

It has been a very busy few days in between graduation, returning to work, and running all over. I am excited for this next chapter in my life to unfold. While it may be a full year before I am able to attend graduate school, I feel finally ready to start perusing it full-force. There’s so much I want to learn between then and now, though- so I have to start being on the lookout for textbooks to read. I am so glad that you have stopped by today, and I will see you again soon!

Beach Bum Bag

bagPattern: Market Bag by Poppy & Bliss
Hooks: Boye H hook and Boye J hook
Yarn: Lily Sugar ‘n Cream in colors Hot PinkLimeHot Blue, and White
My thoughts: I started this bag two years ago as a gift to my friend V. She is a huge fan of everything Lily Pulitzer and beaches, and I wanted to make her a gift instead of buy one. Fast forward two years and two patterns later, I ended up finishing this gift in just two days. Her birthday isn’t until June, so I am glad I actually got my act together and finished it!

The pattern was pretty simple, especially since I hadn’t crocheted anything other than a granny square or baby afghans. I needed a pattern to challenge my skills with crocheting in the round while not being so difficult I would quit. I specifically chose this pattern because of the solid bottom. I wanted the bag to be holey so sand didn’t get captured inside, but not so holey that pencils and pens would slip through (V is a planner addict). I also liked how there is one strap rather than two- less to juggle when your hands are full with a cooler or two! I made a wide 7-stitch strap instead of a 5-stitch strap like the pattern instructs. I think the wider handle grips shoulders better to help it stay on when loaded up with beachy goodies… and spread out the load so stitches don’t slip or fall apart with heavy use.

The stitch pattern in the middle of the bag was nice, but I felt like the bag shrunk in diameter as I was crocheting. Upon further thought, the stitches will stretch nicely when the bag is filled. I had trouble with the white yarn- I ran out near the end of the bag body and had to grab a new ball from the craft store. I didn’t notice that the new ball wasn’t an exact match until I was working on the handle. Honestly, with some wear, I don’t think the slightly different tones will be very noticeable. I am going to give the bag a Eucalan bath to clean it up, define the stitches, and help it smell nice while I store it in my cedar chest.

I had a long break from crafting in my years at university. I really enjoy knitting and crocheting, and I think I let my own snobbish tendencies get in the way of enjoying the process. I used a simple pattern with simple yarns, and ended up with a fantastic bag. This definitely counts as my “crochet a market bag” goal for my Summer 2018 bucket list. I have some other projects to finish before I start something new, and I think I will dig them out soon. I might as well keep the crafty ball rolling!

Enjoying the Moment

crabapplecrochetinglilacsI have been attending a meditation class at my local library for the past few weeks. Meditation… it is surprisingly difficult for me. Often, I feel guilty for sitting quietly for a few minutes. I think it comes from my years as a college student- I have to always be productive, to always accomplish something. To just sit quietly, or to just read, or to just craft… I feel like it always has to be in service of some sort of bigger goal or plan, some sort of “bigger” life, that everything is just a step to something more… why not be happy with the moment? With what I have now? I am trying to answer these questions and quell my anxiety with this practice. It is difficult, but already it is helping me see more into the moment rather than the constant churning of modern life.

Since I graduate at the end of this week, I have been preoccupying myself with… anything. I have studied, finished some school projects, and now I am left with what feels like nothing. For so long I have been pushing off my non-university creative and intellectual pursuits that I don’t know where to begin again. I checked my Ravelry page, and apparently, I haven’t finished a project in four years! I dug out an old project from the depths of my cedar chest, and I started to crochet while watching A Lovely Yarn. I crocheted so much that I ran out of yarn. Now I will have to go to the craft store for more…

Anyways, since I was at home for the majority of the day, I took a walk around the yard to check on the blooms. The crabapples are now blooming heartily, and they have such a light and lovely scent. This is the first year I have really noticed it. I haven’t ever seen any apple blossoms so big and pure white. Then, I rambled up the hill to check on my beloved lilac bushes. Planted long before I was born or my family moved here, these ancient bushes don’t always have many blooms. This year, I feel, may be a bumper year. My family had a tree taken down last year, and so the lilac bush on the other side of the yard is going absolutely bonkers. I’m very excited to see all of the blooms.

The next few days are bound to be very busy. I have an eight o’clock final on Thursday morning and then another at the same time on Friday. I am nervous about attending my graduation rehearsal on Friday afternoon. I don’t know how many other students are graduating, but I do not feel like it will be very much. Only three people are graduating from my department. Time will tell! I ought to not fret and enjoy the moment.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy


Vintage International, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-307-38789-9

Summary, from back of book:
A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food- and each other.

The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, “each the other’s world entire,” are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, The Road is an unflinching meditation on the worse and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

My thoughts:
The Road is an empty, yet heralded novel about the least interesting characters of an otherwise attractive plot situation. The Road is a boring read, as it lacks essential descriptions and exposition. The author expects the reader to “be in the know” with what happened to the world, and how it came to be. While The Road had potential, this book is an example of how an author can get away with poor writing and be thought of as the creator of a “moving story of a journey.”

My biggest problem with The Road is that it is fake deep. It tries to be a great book, but fails. There is no lesson or moral to be learned. The book is pretentious for expecting the reader to understand with the minimal face-value information it holds. The style of writing is an obtuse choice- in a situation where description is the most important ingredient, there is such a lack that the reader feels like they are reaching into a grey and ashy void. I can’t believe this book was selected for a Pulitzer, or even the Oprah Book Club. At first, the book appears as if it will hold a great lesson on love in times of struggle, but it has no lesson. The events do not appear to teach the characters anything- the protagonists continue to make the same mistakes, and the reader continues to wonder why.

I really hated The Road. I kept reading out of spite- I wanted to know why so many people think this book is great, but I was left feeling unsatisfied. I have read books where there is purposeful Spartan style, but here, it feels lazy. The choice of words and events is repetitive, lacking any symbolic or significant meaning. I had so many questions that I resorted to checking Google for answers and was disappointed when I saw so many other readers outraged by the same problems. I hate this book on a level of hating The Catcher in the Rye. It’s loathsome how a book expects me to just know about the state of the world when I very obviously do not. The Road had the chance to open up a vision of post-apocalyptic America, but it shuttered me out with presuming that I had the same level of knowledge as the author.

Aside from this complaining, I have nothing else to say. I was disappointed. This is definitely a book that will not stay on my shelves. I think this is the first book I have hated since reading The Catcher in the Rye as a high-school student! I don’t think I will peruse any more of McCarthy’s works. If this were to be his masterpiece, then I can’t expect anything out of his other books.

The Past Week

cherryblossomsThis past week was my last week as an undergraduate student. It came upon me much more suddenly than I expected. Spending so much time in denial really took its toll- I am now facing three exams and then bang! I graduate. Nuts, really. I have been in college for the past five years of my life. So much has happened, so much has changed and yet, sometimes I feel like I’m the same person. Or, honestly, more myself.

crabappleIn the past week, I noticed the flowers more than ever. I take a daily walk around campus, but at home, I noticed the crabapple trees budding. Today they are in full bloom (alas, rain) but less than a week ago, the trees had these beautiful rhodochrosite pink blossoms. How deep into geology do you have to start describing things in mineral colors? Five years, in fact. Wait until you try to describe how hard something is without a Mohs Hardness Kit handy.

Ravensburg1Ravensburg2In an ongoing mission to visit more Pennsylvania State Parks, I visited Ravensburg State Park with my best friend this past week. I want to know more about PA State Parks- my state has a large collection of free state parks and I want to visit them all. I will make a page and start recording my visits here. So many of them are very small (such as Ravensburg State Park) and tucked out-of-the-way, that they receive few visitors throughout the year. Most of them feature geologically or historically interesting locations, and I think you would appreciate them.

IMG-0583The thing I did today was to create a TBR Jar. My university hosts an AAUW Booksale, and I picked up more than a few new books to read. Already I had ten/fifteen waiting for me to read, but I am often at the behest of my uncharitable reading muse and never actually reading any of them. My usual habit it so have one long-term book (currently Middlemarch) and one short-term book (Tess of D’Urbervilles) and I wanted a way to shake up my reading without going and buying a new book. Inside the jar is a little slip of paper with a title on it, and when I am finished with my short-term book, I will select a new one at random. I hope it works out, especially since I have another (and much larger) AAUW booksale to attend this coming weekend.

It’s very funny to me how a week can either drag or fly by. I hope to have another post for you next Sunday, and then to continue with daily posting once I am finished with college. One needs a post-graduation hobby, after all.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim


Penguin, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-14-310773-6

Summary, from back of book:
Escaping dreary London for the sunshine of Italy, four very different women take up an offer advertised in the Times for a “small medieval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be let furnished for the month of April.” Among them are disheveled Mrs. Wilkins and sweet-faced Mrs. Arbuthnot, both fleeing unappreciative husbands; ravishing socialite Lady Caroline, sick of lovestruck men; and Mrs. Fisher, a formidable widow who reminisces about the “great men” she knew in her Victorian childhood. As each blossoms in the warmth of the Italian spring, quite unexpected changes occur. An immediate bestseller upon its first publication in 1922, The Enchanted April set off a craze for tourism to the Italian Riviera and inspired the beloved 1992 film of the same name.

My thoughts:
At first, I did not enjoy The Enchanted April, but after making it through halfway, I started to enjoy it. I disliked Lady Caroline throughout the whole book. Yet, Lady Caroline held a lot of power over the narrative. Like Elizabeth and her German Garden, this book was full of stunning imagery. By the end, Mrs. Wilkins was my favorite character, and I am glad that each woman “bloomed” in her own right.

In the beginning, I felt as if von Arnim was warming up to writing rather than actually writing. The first five chapters (up until arrival to San Salvatore) were slow and dreary. Upon further thought, this may have been a writing tactic on von Arnim’s part. The rest of the book, in increasing measures, has an airier and lovelier vocabulary. Sentences changed from being tedious descriptions of preparation to airy, delightful thoughts. I imagine this reflects the difference in character’s lives before and after arrival. Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Arbuthnot led claustrophobic lives in London- and then an open and adoring lives in San Salvatore. Much is true for Lady Caroline and Mrs. Fisher, but it’s most evident for Lotty and Rose.
Lady Caroline annoyed me from beginning to end. I loathed how she held an absolute power over the characters and the narrative. While beautiful, Lady Caroline is also very selfish. She doesn’t respect Mrs. Wilkins or Mrs. Arbuthnot in the slightest. I felt that Lady Caroline was mocking Mrs. Wilkins by laughing at her, treating her as amusement and not a friend. The only blooming moment for Lady Caroline was at the very end. Her “manly manner” in treating Mr. Arbuthnot as a friend revealed how generous Lady Caroline could be... but also how little she respected the others until she needed to.
As the summary suggests, the Italian Riviera became popular after publication. According to Wikipedia, von Arnim used Castello Brown as an inspiration for San Salvatore. I hadn’t looked anything up about the Italian Riviera before this book- and boy, does von Arnim do it justice! From a quick image search, the city of Portofino (the location of Castello Brown) is gorgeous. The Enchanted April is supplemented by luxurious descriptions of the many gardens of San Salvatore. While reading, I felt as if I could smell and feel the flowers underneath my fingertips. The only misfortune is that I couldn’t go out and see these flowers with my own eyes!
Mrs. Wilkins was my favorite character. I felt that she needed San Salvatore the most, even if she opened up straight away. None of the events would have ever happened if she hadn’t acted upon the advertisement. She was the most open-hearted character in the whole book. If San Salvatore was a person, Mrs. Wilkins would be it! She blossomed in San Salvatore, speaking and acting as freely as she could. Mrs. Wilkins definitely wanted the respite and freedom of San Salvatore. Her actions throughout the book came from a place of total joy. Even inviting her husband- and she was even right about him needing San Salvatore! Mrs. Wilkins was full of action, and kept the narrative moving.
Overall, I enjoyed The Enchanted April. While it was not my most favorite book of the year (so far!) it comes as a Top Five. My misgivings with Lady Caroline were eliminated by scenery and Mrs. Wilkins. I am even glad I read this book in the month of April- it gave me hope that eventually, spring will reach Pennsylvania!