Kokoro

Kokoro book coverKokoro by Natsume Soseki was first written in 1914 but it reads as a timeless story albeit tied to a defining era. Published two years before Soseki’s death, this book is threaded with seemingly autobiographical content if you were to explore Soseki’s own life. However, despite the connections that can be easily made, I often think it best to keep the author separate and let the text stand on its own.

That being said, I believe Kokoro is a good book for multiple reasons. The first and foremost being that the story is relatively short but overall is contemplative of life itself. The title roughly translates to, or is meant to mean, “the heart of things” and the story arguably centers around interpersonal interaction, the meaning of life in relation to those around us and those of different generations, the meaning of friendship, of love, and many other aspects of humanity as both singular and as a whole. Thus the title seems very fitting. How can all this be present in one novel, you may ask? Well, a book is simply an independent link between a writer and a reader. The reader brings their own experiences and history to a book. Once the book is out in the world, it no longer changes and the writer’s initial intentions may or may not remain as the text survives them. In other words, the writer is both of the utmost importance to the book but is also immaterial once it takes on a life of its own.

Which brings me to the second thing I enjoyed about this book. Since it was written over one hundred years ago, the book acts as a time-capsule into the past. Not the same as a history book. This story is fiction. Though I said earlier that it reads mostly as a modern novel, partly in thanks to the translation by Edwin McClellan, it is set in Japan in or around 1914 and therefore reflects the era in which it was written. Reading a story that had no concept of our modern day technology can help put our own era into perspective. For example, there are no telephones present in this story because they were not commonly available at that time. Letters were the main form of communication and therefore meant news would take days to reach someone. Something we can readily forget when we are connected or available at a moment’s notice every second of the day. Reading a story where there is no immediate connection or ability to access information at the touch of a screen can be relaxing. If I’m honest, it is a good reminder that we don’t have to be connected at all times and that we should take time away from the screen. Either to contemplate why they exist or to forget them entirely. Another reason to enjoy physical books.

Seeing the world through another lens is often a good thing. It lends perspective and can help a reader learn more about the world we live in or more about themselves and their place in the world. This book I think does both. Which is why I am recommending it. It definitely is a book that you can take a lot away from, but at the same time only if you open yourself to the story. Each person may experience the story quite differently and take away different perspectives. You may read the book and find it boring or insightful. You may not finish it or it may be the best book you read this year. My only hope is that you are at least intrigued enough to consider reading it, especially if you had never heard of the book or this author before now.

Happy Reading.

Mythos

MythosI am a big fan of all kinds of mythology. I finally got around to reading Mythos which is Stephen Fry’s retelling of the Greek myths. Yes, Stephen Fry the comedian and actor. He even read/performs the audiobook, roughly 15 hours in length, which is how I made my way through this book. Though the overall story tells of a history of the world, it is a collection of smaller stories which makes it is easy to find stopping points or pick up without getting lost even when many stories build upon or reference earlier ones. I really enjoyed listening to Fry tell these stories and recommend the audiobook version though any version will prove entertaining and enlightening.

One thing I really enjoyed about Fry’s retellings was his method of showing how each story influenced the world we live in. He does so primarily by telling how certain words derived from or retain connections to the myths. You can certainly tell that he, perhaps with some assistance, conducted thorough research into these myths and enjoyed not only telling the stories but showing how they continue on.

It is commonly known that many of the Greek myths, or rather the problems at their center, stem from Zeus’s inability to keep it in his pants. This is of course true, but there is a lot more to the myths and there was much from this volume that was new to me. There were several stories I had not heard before and many characters I had known about but did not fully know their backgrounds or origins. For example, I knew the standard interpretation or general reference to Sisyphus, but I knew practically nothing else about him. Now I do and I feel much better about it for some reason. The same goes for many others including those who came before the more common Greek gods. I knew of Chronos and his relation to Zeus but I did not know his origin or those who existed before him. I did not recall how humans came to be via Greek myth but now I know that too. Thank you Prometheus.

There is so much depth and richness (both fascinating and horrifying) to the Greek myths and they greatly influenced, and continue to influence, much of the world. They are arguably the most well-known of the world mythologies and many stories today are influenced or reference them. There are of course those that directly relate to or incorporate the Greek gods such as the Percy Jackson series (that I have yet to look into), but there are many that are more subtly influenced by these myths. Fry has published additional myth-related books and I may eventually read, or listen, to them.

If you are a fan of mythology, history, or just interesting stories, then this is a book for you.

Happy Reading.

The Other Side of the Whale Road

The Other Side of the Whale Road Promotion BannerI’m happy to be part of the blog tour featuring The Other Side of the Whale Road by K.A. Hayton. Below is the official blurb for the book, and below that are my thoughts which are kept at a minimum to avoid spoilers but hopefully give you enough information about the book to help you decide if you would like to read it yourself.

When his mum burns down their house on the Whitehorse estate, sixteen-year-old Joss is sent to live in a sleepy Suffolk village. The place is steeped in history, as Joss learns when a bike accident pitches him back more than 1,000 years to an Anglo-Saxon village. That history also tells him his new friends are in mortal peril from bloodthirsty invaders. Can he warn their ruler, King Edmund, in time? And will he ever get home?

I think there are many good things happening in this book. A juxtaposition of different ways of life (present and across time), a troubled teen struggling to find his place in the world after being through the ringer of social services and a debilitated mother, and expectations fostered both internally and externally that are influenced by society. Overall, it is an adventure that touches on a lot of interesting points, a few I feel could have been explored further or in greater detail.

There were many things I liked about this book, but unfortunately several things I did not like about it, which was a bummer because I had high hopes for this story. Perhaps my expectations got the better of me this time around. The overall plot is good and it is easy to read. The time travel element is cool and interesting. I just had trouble personally connecting with the main character. This simply means that I didn’t enjoy the book as much as others will, and have, and that is okay. It could simply have been the fact that I was unable to connect with the sixteen-year-old Joss since I am now a crotchety old man at 30 years old (this is a joke…I think), or it could have been my perception that Joss never seemed at risk despite being placed in dangerous situations, or perhaps I don’t read enough young adult fiction to properly appreciate this story.

To put it bluntly, I think the real reason was simply how Joss treated the women he supposedly cares for within the story and the, albeit somewhat justified, chip on his shoulder. You might find Joss more interesting though and possibly enjoy this story much more than I did. I hope so.

The Other Side of the Whale Road releases on September 2nd.

Happy Reading.

The Man Who Was Thursday

The Man Who Was ThursdayThe Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton was first published in 1908. I put G.K. Chesterton on my list of authors to read after several authors whose work I enjoy had mentioned him as an influence on their own work and desire to be an author. The book Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is actually dedicated to G.K. Chesterton.

This book is actually a short, quick read and is a strange but fun mystery that involves an undercover policeman infiltrating a group of anarchists. The story is surprisingly accessible despite being written so long ago and there were only a few instances of behaviors, word use, or societal impressions being somewhat dated.

The story keeps you turning the page to find out what happens next but the ending is surprisingly open to interpretation, which has me remaining uncertain how I feel about the whole venture. Regardless, I think it was a good read and it is always interesting to read stories written long ago even if it is to catch a glimpse of a past world.

I’m sure there are several other Chesterton stories that I may enjoy better than this one, and I am going to try a few more of his novels to better understand his influence of modern authors (and of course to enjoy more good books). If, like me, you were completely unaware of G.K. Chesterton prior to him being mentioned in a book (or perhaps even this blog), then you may now be interested in sampling his work or finding out more about him. This one is a good start I think because of its brevity.

Happy Reading.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian book coverThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie was first published in 2007 and won the National Book Award for Young Peoples Literature the same year. This story is a semi-autobiographical account about a young, aspiring cartoonist who makes the difficult decision to attend high school outside of the Spokane Indian Reservation. This decision draws much criticism from those on the reservation, and turns his best friend into his worst enemy.

I hate to say that Native American communities gain very little recognition today, but I may just be saying this simply because there are no reservations near my geographical region and there are very few, if any, members of this population in my area. I must admit my own ignorance when I first thought this book was published a few decades earlier than it was, but technically the story is based on events from many years ago so perhaps that is why I had this impression. Regardless, I am surprised at how recent this book has been published (yes is was over a decade ago, but I am getting old now so what is time really?).

One reason I enjoyed this book as much as I did was because of my lack of exposure. I have had little opportunity to learn from this extremely underrepresented community. This book is a surprising insight into this community with all of the economical hardships and difficult cultural dynamics.

Though this book does take place during our protagonist’s initial high school years, I would not recommend this book to anyone under the age of fifteen (or anyone whose maturity is around that age). I say this because there are some topics that, though part of life, can be difficult to read. The substance abuse, primarily alcohol, and how it impacts this community is alarming. I know this has become somewhat of a stereotype, but this book explores a few of the reasons why many turn to drinking. It is also alarming how common it is for young Native Americans to attend funerals. I hope this may be more fictionalized than it is in reality, but it feels as though it is just a hope.

This book is a great insight into a community many of us likely have little or no knowledge outside of a brief mention in history books. This story gives us a glimpse into their current livelihood, a group of people seemingly caught between holding onto their heritage and complete assimilation. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a quick, funny, heartbreaking, and hopeful read that I believe you should give a chance.

Happy Reading.