Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

I’d like to say that this is probably the last Banana Yoshimoto’s that I would read. I read Lizard a while back and didn’t quite like it. I don’t understand how she got to be so famous outside of Japan (or in), because I think her stories are nothing but ordinary. Ordinary. Ordinary. And the way she explain things is just plain weird. Take this for example:

She had been gentle and smiling with me, and then, as soon as she was alone again, she… if I had to describe it, I’d say the expression on her face was like that of a demon turned into a human who suddenly caught herself feeling emotions and was warning herself that she wasn’t permitted to.

I mean, what the hell was that? A demon? Turned into a human? Caught herself feeling emotions and was warning herself that she wasn’t permitted to? (Okay I’m repeating myself. That’s how weird I think the description is.) And in the story, she’s just a plain girl. Nothing demonic nor strange. Yoshimoto also describes a lot of the environment and the weather, and the melancholy effects that they have toward the characters. I can’t help feeling that all of her stories are directed to adolescents or early youths. She tells stories about loneliness and deaths in much too obvious ways. Threw in a transsexual too to heat things up a bit. (It doesn’t)

The Kanji characters on the front cover is 台所, read: dai dokoro, literally means kitchen. In Kitchen, there are 2 stories, one Kitchen, and one short story titled Moonlight Shadow. Both about people facing deaths of closed ones. About loneliness and love. I’d like to see the movie based on Kitchen. Sometimes if the book is bad, the movie turns out better.

In conclusion, I think Banana Yoshimoto’s works are just blah. There are so many other good authors and good books out there, so I would not try her books again. Two chances are good enough. I actually picked up Kitchen because it’s so small I thought I wouldn’t spend much time on it anyway if it turned out bad and I can cross off a book for my Japanese Literature Challenge.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Pages: 150

First line
The place I like best in this world is the kitchen.

Last line (Kitchen)
I launched into what time I’d be in and what platform I’d be on.

Also reviewed by

A Striped Armchair

Bone Volume 1: Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith

Back to graphic novel. It’s a pretty new genre for me that I’m quite impressed with. I’ve been long closed with mangas and comics, but apparently never graphic novels. The difference between comic and graphic novel was still vague for me until an hour ago, in which time I just browsed wiki to find out.

Straight from Wiki:

A graphic novel is a type of comic book, usually with a lengthy and complex storyline similar to those of novels, and often aimed at mature audiences. The evolving term graphic novel is not strictly defined, and is sometimes used, controversially, to imply subjective distinctions in artistic quality between graphic novels and other kinds of comics. It suggests a story that has a beginning, middle and end, as opposed to an ongoing series with continuing characters; one that is outside the genres commonly associated with comic books, and that deals with more mature themes.

I’d say the line is very thin. Dilbert has mature theme (work jokes and all), but it doesn’t have continuing story. Bone’s theme is quite kiddish, but the story is lengthy and perhaps complex, though fantasy. This idea about targeting mature audience is always arguable. What’s mature theme? If it doesn’t contain sex and violence, is it considered non-mature?

Anyway, I digress, and continue to Bone the graphic novel. I knew Bone from the game made by Telltale Games. Telltale Games is a company I’ve been keeping my eye on. They also work on the remake of Sam & Max (the old LucasArts adventure game). Granted, I haven’t played all of their games, but I’ve played the trial versions :). A couple of the games I saw still look pretty plain, but their vision and goals sound promising. I kinda like the whole episodic concept if it’s worth the money. And story as the main drive? That’s the kind of games I love most! By the way, if you’re someone from Telltale looking here, could you tell your HR to have a look at my resume? I’ve been applying for a game programmer position about 2-3 times but got no reply. Thanks heaps. (I’m guessing you don’t hire anybody outside of US though. Is that why you’ve been ignoring me? Boohoo.)

For other readers, sorry I got sidetracked. Every once in a blue moon, some people from the game companies I linked to did come by and even drop a comment or a few. So I can’t let this chance pass by. Somebody important might be reading this! At least they should know I’m sending their company some love <3.

Let’s back to Bone. In volume 1, we got to know the 3 Bone brothers: Phoney Bone (who’s so phoney), Smiley Bone (who always smiles), and Fone Bone (here’s our main character). They’re white cute things who are bald, have big noses, and wear little clothings. We don’t know where they come from (does the whole village look like them?). We do know they’re running away from an angry mob, because Phoney made them mad. They later go into desert and jungle, meeting other fantasy creatures, like giant furry rat thing and dragon. They also meet normal human beings.

The main character Fone Bone reminds me of Mickey Mouse. He’s the nice neutral Joe, who can still be angry and is a bit shy. I think a lot of his expressions even look like Mickey Mouse. Phoney Bone is like Donald Duck, just a lot more evil and less funny or cute. A grumpy little thing. And guess what, Smiley Bone is like Goofy. He just talks a bit more.

In general, I like the art style, and the humor is nice too without being rude. Everyone seems to be cute. Even Phoney Bone and the rat creatures.

Bone has received numerous awards. Noted from the book: 1995 Best Comic Book from the National Cartoonist Society and 2002 YALSA/American Library Association Book Choice. From Wiki: Eisner Awards, Harvey Awards, and Time magazine’s Top Ten Graphic Novels of All Time (among the books in the list, I’ve only heard of Bone, Watchmen, and the Dark Knight Returns).

Jeff Smith on the right. I will make a habit now to put a picture of an author whose book I just read the first time. Can your name be more generic? Jeff. Smith.

Rating: 4 out of 5

No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty

No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days is a book by Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo.

Here Chris emphasizes how novel can be a great creativity outlet and to just have fun with writing it. Just as much as nobody expects your first drawing to be a masterpiece, your first novel won’t be either. So it is okay to just keep writing and first reach quantity, not quality. Quality comes at later part, when you knead and cut and throw the bad bits away, aka the editing.

The whole book is funny and fresh. It totally didn’t feel like a workout reading it. Made me feel that writing a novel shouldn’t be such a workout either. It should be fun! Fun! Seriously, if you allow and accept yourself to be imperfect, you could probably write a lot more (and do a lot more in life in general too). Hence, Chris says that it would be a lot easier if you just come out with a plot about a week before you start writing. That way, you’re not yet attached so much with the story that you’re scared to beat the hell living out of it. Don’t we all have a story in our heart/head, the one that we think might become a masterpiece one day when it’s time, but never get written because we’re just too scared to not be able to do the story justice? (or is it just me?) Well this kind is the one you need to avoid. It doesn’t get written now, it may never get written, ever.

I’m still a bit bummed out that I didn’t have a chance to join NaNoWriMo this year. I left the parts in the book with week to week guide when you actually have started writing. It’s recommended not to read ahead of the week you are in. Since I haven’t started writing, I didn’t read ahead. Surely I can have my own writing month if I want to, but it’s so much harder to do it when you’re alone. I find that it’s always quite easy to start about anything, but it’s hard to finish. So the push to the finish line is the thing I need.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Sunday Salon: Moving Books

The Sunday Salon.comIs it still Sunday in the other part of the world? It’s Monday morning here. I’m writing my Sunday Salon post nevertheless.

I’m moving back to Australia from Singapore. Immediately the problem everybody foresaw was my pile of books. So I slipped and I squeezed the books here and there. Inside boxes, suitcases, bags, plastic bags. I asked my mom and my fiance (ooo fiance.. that sounds different! :) to take some of my stuffs (aka books). Books! Books! Books everywhere!

I already sent 40 kilos of two boxes straight to Australia. Also counting the baggage that I, my parents, and my hubby-to-be will help to bring, my stuffs may go around 100 kilos. Not horrible for 2.5 years of living and acquiring new things, right? When I came to Singapore, I brought around 30 kilos of luggage.

There are some books that I definitely need to let go. I know once I’m apart with them I won’t miss them, but it doesn’t make the separation any easier…

Sunday Salon: Nanoremo, Challenge, etc

The Sunday Salon.comI intended to join the 2008 Nanowrimo, I have even read the book by the founder: No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty. Alas, I have to cancel my plan. There’s just no way I can fit everything in the month of November, what with the wedding plan, the Japanese exam, and all. So a great literature by me won’t be born this month. Perhaps next year.

Sad for the postponing of novelist transformation, I turned my love to 2008 Nanoremo. Read here for why Matt started the National Novel Reading Month. Fortunately this year Lolita was chosen.

I started Lolita about a year or 2 ago. Then I gave up after about 100 pages or so because I felt the language was just too high and I missed out a lot of the jokes. But I still wanted to finish it, someday. 2008 Nanoremo was a perfect chance for me to start again.

Now you think after 2 years reading many other books, your English could turn a little bit better. But not really. The book still contains a lot of words that might’ve been taken out of this world. I only believe they’re English after I see them in How Nabokov did this with English as his third language, I cannot comprehend. This time though, I thought, screw it, I’m just gonna keep going til the end and see where Lolita will take me. (I’ve watched the movie with Jeremy Irons in it, so at least I know the general plot)

the wind-up book chronicle

Lolita also closes up the Wind-Up Book Chronicle challenge that I started a while ago that’s supposed to end 15 Nov 2008. Embarrassingly I hadn’t been able to finish any of the books in the list. But now with Lolita going, at least I will have one book crossed off the list. (Time goes really fast! What’s with all these uncompleted challenges?!)

Reading-wise, apart from Lolita, I also started Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto and a non-fiction: Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks. Reading several books at a time? That’s not a good sign. Kafka on the Shore made me do that. I love Murakami, but this time I don’t care much for the characters. And he just keeps throwing random weird stuffs. I can just imagine him going, “Mmh, what happens if I throw a Johnnie Walker wannabe? (as in the whisky Johnnie) Oh and fish dropping from sky! And a gay he-female on the side would be nice. Ghost too!” I won’t be surprised if there are aliens in the end. I’m going to continue that book, just because I’m curious a Murakami cease to impress me. Has he stopped being (almost) God?

The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger

A weird story about three sisters (that are not incestuous). The youngest one falls in love with a man, while the oldest is wickedly jealous. The middle one has her own problems in her little world (which I didn’t really get) and she can communicate with the baby in her sister’s womb. It continues further to man with half-baked wings. Weird.

The Three Incestuous Sisters is a coffee book table type, heavy, big, with whole page illustration for every page with a little text on the other side of the page.

Niffenegger called the book visual novel, to separate it with graphic novel, which I fail to see the difference. I found it at the fiction side of the library though, not comics or graphic novels (they are put together). She used Aquatints to create the images, which process I also fail to understand. I just know it’s hard and needs a lot of work (doh).

It’s interesting that a 14 years of work can be savored in under 14 minutes. The fans of the art style may want to keep the book for keepsake, to be enjoyed again occasionally, to decorate your coffee table. For myself, I’m happy enough to just read it in the library.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Offbeat Bride by Ariel Meadow Stallings

Offbeat Bride: Taffeta-free Alternatives for Independent Brides

Can the hint be any clearer than this? Yup, I’m getting married! Of course, I’m not the type of girl who dreams of her perfect wedding since she was 5. If I could, I possibly would opt to skip the entire wedding ordeal and go straight to marriage. But after several thoughts and encouragements, I thought I wanted a party after all. Yay!

First thing first, a handbook for offbeat bride! If I am to have a wedding, there’s no way I’d want it to be traditional. Get off the beaten aisle I say! So this book is perfect. Reading all the chapters, from the super exaggerated diamond ring to wedsite (wedding site), from invitations to decor to honeymoon to ceremony. Basically all traditional aspects that you could possibly think to change or break away from.

The author, Ariel, is working at Microsoft (the geek in me likes this :). Check out the Offbeat Bride website for more stories on offbeat weddings. The photos from Ariel’s wedding here. I had always wanted an outdoor wedding, but know that in tropical country it’s probably not possible, so that’s out of the way pretty soon.

Anyway, reading all the book, I’m relieved that we’re definitely not the only ones who’d like to have an offbeat wedding (although offbeat in every country might mean differently). I should know. There are a lot of weird people in the world.

Pages: 219
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

First line
For me, the scariest part of getting engaged was feeling as if I were suddenly buying into an identity that wasn’t my own.

Last line
Wherever your aisle takes you next, here’s hoping that it kicks ass.


“This is the point in the ceremony when I usually talk about the wedding bands being a perfect circle, having no beginning and no end. But we all know that these rings do have a beginning. Rock is dug up from the earth. Metal is liquefied in a furnace at a thousand degrees. Hot metal is poured into a mold, cooled, and then painstakingly polished. Something beautiful is made from raw elements.

“Love is like that. It’s hot, dirty work. It comes from humble beginnings, made by imperfect beings. It’s the process of making something beautiful where there was once nothing at all.”

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