Friday 30 August 2013

Crossing the Same River

Day One
Incheon Airport – Starbucks refusing to either give or sell us hot water for the baby’s milk because, “Environmental,” despite my observation that it’s just an Americano coffee without the coffee, and thus less work for them. This does nothing to improve my general mood. Shortly after this Son #1 pisses on the play area floor, to similar effect.

Day Two
Heathrow Airport Arrivals Hall – standing in the queue to buy the necessary sugar and caffeine loaded beverage, observe magazine promising “Exclusive: Kate’s Post-Baby Weight Loss Regime” This adds a piquant dash of novelty to the standard post-flight loathing for all humanity. (That’s right, Fucknuts, close as you can. The nearer you stand to the conveyer, the quicker your bags will arrive. It’s magic like that).

Wednesday 28 August 2013

The Melancholy of Mechagirl

Catherynne M. Valente, 2013
(August 2013)

Following my last encounter with Ms Valente, which I found luscious but a touch indigestible, I was advised that her short stories might be more to my taste. I’m happy to report that my advisers were correct. This is yet another wonderful collection of short stories and the odd poem, all linked to a greater or lesser extent to Japan. Some of those links are fairly slight, as with my favourite Fade to White, and the apparently very popular Silently, and Very Fast. There’s also a very strong autobiographical thread running through much of this, which is evident even without the author’s explanatory afterword and gives many stories an added emotional hold.

Start from here and see how it goes, I would.

The Idea of English in Japan

Ideology and the Evolution of a Global Language
Philip Seargeant, 2009
(August 2013)

[B]y absorbing English into the Japanese language, by managing shifts in semantics and co-opting it for purely ornamental purposes, the language is, in effect, made foreign to the global community, and could thus be said to act as a further boundary between Japan and the outside world.

Yeah. ‘S well fucked up.


Julya Rabinowich, 2008 [Tess Lewis, 2011]
(August 2013)

Odd little book, this. It’s a roman a clef, as far as I can tell, about Russian émigrés in Vienna towards the end of the cold war. As is now traditional for books by writers of Russian origin the prose is beautifully fluid, but the plotting is very clearly secondary. Narrative points of view and timescales jump all over the place and each new section demands considerable patience before you realize who is being referred to, and when. This is, possibly, a fairly accurate representation of the dislocation felt by an immigrant child and teenager, but it’s not all that engaging for the reader. Not a bad book, for sure, but if it were much longer I’m not sure I would have found the effort justified by the reward.


Project Itoh, 2008 [Alexander O. Smith, 2010]
(July 2013)

Satire. And, it must be said, not particularly sharp satire, either. No scalpel here, it’s not even sledge-hammer blunt – this is a massive wrecking ball sent crashing through Japanese notions of conformity and, unsurprisingly, harmony. As it’s being aimed at a target I wholly approve of I found it all rather thrilling, in it’s own way. Nothing like an angry diatribe every once in a while to shake things up and knock them down.

The author apparently wrote this whilst receiving palliative treatment for cancer and as ways to leave this world go, it’s a pretty impressive effort.

From the Ruins of Empire

The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia
Pankaj Mishra, 2012
(July 2013)

Very persuasive argument against anyone who may still be clinging to outmoded notions of the benefits of empire and the supposedly more benign repercussions of the White Man’s Burden. A fair few little points to quibble with, but should still be required reading for every white, English-speaking adult.

It’s also very readable, which is a minor thing in comparison but worth noting. I’m increasingly reading my non-fiction in parallel with other stuff, just to give my head a break, but that was completely unnecessary this time. Good stuff.

Monday 26 August 2013


Having kids makes it worse, I think. It's a cliché to say that "they grow up so fast," but it's true, and that can't help but emphasise the passage of time and the long absences it entails. These are the choices we make though.

I'll get over it. Back to the schedule and everyday mini-challenges. The trick is to watch the saplings grow and also keep half an eye on the forest stretching out all around you. Anyway, here's a slightly too trite song that still manages to make my throat catch a little every time.