July 31, 2014

Paris in Juillet: Au Revoir

And so we come to the last day of July, and with it the closing of the event we have been celebrating all month: Paris in July. Of course this does not mean that all things francaise will be put aside for another year. Mais, non! 

I will still be reading what I can find from French authors; in fact, On The Rue Tatin will be recommended to the book club's reading list by one of its most beloved members. My mother.

I will still be writing on postcards picturing Paris' most beautiful scenes from obvious state.

I will drink cafe au laits, eat jambon sandwiches, and finish a meal with creme brûlée when it's available.

And, there will never be a day I step out of the house without wearing a French perfume.

Which beings us to the announcement of who will win the fragrance give-away I hosted several days ago. The winner of the little beach scene, the Chanel No. 5 soap, and the Dior samples is Guiltless Reader. May you enjoy each item and long remember the month that was.

Paris in July.

July 29, 2014

The Parrots by Filippo Bologna

"He leafed through it without interest, as if it were the phone book of a foreign city in which he did not know anybody. He looked at the pages, and they seemed to him like hieroglyphics, Sumerian tablets, Sanskrit inscriptions. However hard he tried, he really couldn't grasp the meaning of those typographical characters lined up in neat rows. Not that this was particularly surprising, given that The Master did not have the slightest intention of actually reading the book. Heaven forbid! The only thing that intrigued him was the inscription: "with affection", "with irritation", "wrong direction"--he couldn't even read what the hell was written on the inscription...With a modicum of imagination you could even read "big erection" in that rickety handwriting. Could that be the outrageous tribute The Beginner had dared pay The Master?" 

How ironic to me that the Independent says of this book, "Shrewd and precise, often comic." First of all, it isn't often comic. It's comic on every damn page. Secondly, what would the Independent know about the precision of a literary prize? They're the ones who awarded The Iraqi Christ with the IFFP this May.

You know how much I loved Edward St. Aubyn's Lost For Words, a delightful satire on the Man Booker. Filippo Bologna's The Parrots is another parody of a literature award. Bologna's characters, simply called The Beginner, The Master, and The Writer, are each hopeful of winning The Prize. (Could Bologna be referring to the Strega (Premio Strega) which is the most prestigious Italian literary award, awarded annually since 1947?)

The Beginner has a book so good no one needs to read it to know it's a best seller. The Master is so old he feels he should win on the merit of his experience. The Writer will pull a ruse so over the top that he is certain The Prize will be given to him in his honor. And each of these absurd characters has others who sometimes hover, sometimes interfere, in the background. There is The Second Wife, The Girlfriend and The Publisher, each vying for his or her own agenda rather than the writer whom they allegedly support. There is also The Parrot, quite possibly the most eloquent voice of all.

While seemingly far-fetched, a parody beyond belief, one can't help but wonder how much of this story is true at its core. With the announcement of the Man Booker this week, and my own bitter feelings about the IFFP earlier this Spring, I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed the satires written by St. Aubyn and Bologna.

They each deserve to win something.

Filippo Bologna was born in Tuscany in 1978. He lives in Rome where he works as a writer and score writer. His novel How I Lost the War is also published by Pushkin Press. 

July 27, 2014

Deal Me In Challenge. Better Late a Than Never, Right Jay?

Well, here's an interesting place to be: combining my Japanese Literature Challenge 8 with Jay's Deal Me In Short Story challenge. You know how I love reading with others, how you broaden my perspective and understanding infinitely more than if I was reading alone (as I did in my pre-blogging days circa 2006). My interest in short stories was already piqued when Jacqui posted a fascinating review of Edith Pearlman's Binocular Vision, which I immediately bought upon finishing her post.

So, here's a rather strange list of short stories, combining my penchant for Japanese literature with Jacqui's mention of a wonderful writer, and a few titles by Annie Proulx to boot. Hey, don't laugh. They're from the collections I have laying around as yet unread. And, Haruki Murakami has mentioned
that one of his favorite authors is Raymond Carver, who starts off the list:

A.  Feathers by Raymond Carver
2.  Chef's House by Raymond Carver
3.  Preservation by Raymond Carver
4.  The Compartment by Raymond Carver
5.  A Small Good Thing by Raymond Carver
6.  Vitamins by Raymond Carver
7.  Careful by Raymond Carver
8.  Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver
9.  The Train by Raymond Carver
10.  Fever by Raymond Carver
J. The Bridle by Raymond Carver
Q.  Cathedral by Raymond Carver
K. The Hellhole by Annie Proulx

A. The Indian Wars Refought by Annie Proulx
2. The Trickle Down Effect by Annie Proulx
3. What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick? by Annie Proulx
4. The Old Badger Game by Annie Proulx
5. The Dragon by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
6. Kesa and Morito by Ryunosuke Akutagawa 
7. The Martyr by Ryunosuke Akutagawa 
8. Yam Gruel by Ryunosuke Akutagawa 
9. Rashomon by Ryunosuke Akutagawa 
10. In A Grove by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
J. Inbound by Edith Pearlman
Q. Day of Awe by Edith Pearlman
K. Settlers of Edith Pearlman

A. The Noncombatant by Edith Pearlman
2. Vaquita by Edith Pearlman
3. Allog by Edith Pearlman
4. Chance by Edith Pearlman
5. ToyFolk by Edith Pearlman
6. Tess by Edith Pearlman
7. Fidelity by Edith Pearlman
8. If Love Were All by Edith Pearlman
9. The Coat by Edith Pearlman
10. Mates by Edith Pearlman
J. How to Fall by Edith Pearlman
Q. The Story by Edith Pearlman
K. Home Schooling by Edith Pearlman

A. The Third Night by Natsume Soseki
2. Yesterday by Haruki Murakami
3. The Izu Dancer by Kawabata Yasunari
4. Merry Christmas by Dazai Osamu
5. Unzen by Endo Shusaku
6. The Bet by Kobo Abe
7. Omnagata by Mishima Yukio
8. The Duel by Kaiko Takeshi
9. Prize Stock by Oe Kenzaburo
10. The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami
J. Dreaming of Kimchee by Banana Yoshimoto
Q. Aguri by Junichiro Tanizaki
K. Carp by Masuji Ibuse

Don't you want to read short stories with us now?

Sunday Salon for July 27, 2014

As July winds down, I feel that the days when I took the picture above are father and farther away. Now is the time when the responsibilities of my life begin their encroachment; yesterday I saw my first Back-To-School ad. The days of sitting in my bed with a big mug of LaVazza coffee, and a kitty next to me as I read, are drastically dwindling.

But, what a fun summer it's been! When I get discouraged about blogging, and I do sometimes wonder why I feel so compelled to write about what I read, I realize that the reading I do with you more than makes up for it. I can't believe I've read six books for Spanish Lit Month. Thank you for hosting, Richard and Stu!

1. The Nautical Chart by Arturo Perez Reverte 
2. The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz-Zafon
3. The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
4. Barcelona Shadows by Marc Pastor
5. The Summer of a Dead Toys by Antonio Hill
6. The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato

And I've read several books for Paris in July, thanks to my cohosts Tamara and Karen:

1. Paris Was Ours by Penelope Rowlands
2. My Friend Maigret by Georges Simenon
3. The Secret of Chanel No. 5 by Tilar Mazzeo

I haven't forgotten about my own Japanese Literature Challenge 8, in which Carola of Brilliant Years won Darkness of Summer by Takeshi Kaiko. If you feel so inclined, please join in the shared read of Haruki Murakami's latest book, Colorless Tzukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, from August 12 to September 12. (Note the list in my sidebar.)

As for non-bookish things, my beloved son is in California for two weeks of training with the Marines. He will come back looking tan and fit after carrying an eighty pound backpack through the mountains and eating 2,500 calorie MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). It makes me happy that he is strong and independent, living on his own now, even though I miss him sleeping in the room across the hall.

My husband is working in the garden. Maybe it's a good thing he doesn't read much; he gives me a beautiful environment wherein I can sit. ;)

There are two weeks left in which to have coffee with my parents on their patio, or impromptu lunches with friends at the Arboretum. There are still a few books, okay more than a few, I want to read before school begins. 

But for now it's important to sit and relish today, remembering the boat above rather than the ads which will appear on television tonight.

July 25, 2014

Spanish Lit Month: The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato

"And yet she knew that in that very same moment she was enjoying so calmly, I was suffering the tortures of the damned in my personal hell of analyzing and imagining."

In The Tunnel, Juan Pablo Castel recounts in an extremely lucid and rational way, his love for a woman named Maria Iribarne. He first sees her looking at one of his paintings with admiration and understanding; he then goes about the city of Buenes Aires looking for her. He waits endless hours until he does, in fact, catch up with her.

They begin a relationship, a love affair of great strength, which is slowly torn apart by his paranoia. We see him become increasingly irrational, but he tells his story so clearly it's almost impossible to decipher his madness until his final actions. Like many important novels told from the point of view of a crazy person, here I'm thinking of The Catcher in the Rye, I wonder if the world around the narrator isn't at least as crazy as he.

Quotes I highlighted from the text:

"The phrase 'the good old days' does not mean that bad things happened less frequently in the past, only - fortunately - that people simply forget what happened."

"...for me memory is a glaring light illuminating a sordid museum of shame."

"I am animated by the faint hope that someone will understand me - even if it is only one person."

"...we all know that we have greater reason to detest the things we know well. But I have still another reason: THE CRITICS. They are a plague I have never understood. If I were a great surgeon, and some fellow who had never held a scalpel in his hand, who was not a doctor, and who had never so much as put a splint on a cat's paw, tried to point out where I had gone wrong in my operation, what would people think?"

"Was our life nothing more than a sequence of anonymous screams in a desert of indifferent stars?"

"Dear God, how can you have faith in human nature when you think that a sewer and certain moment of Schumann or Brahms are connected by secret, shadowy, subterranean passageways."

Ernesto Sabato (June 24, 1911 – April 30, 2011) was an Argentine writer, painter and physicist. According to the BBC he "won some of the most prestigious prizes in Hispanic literature" and "became very influential in the literary world throughout Latin America". Upon his death El País dubbed him the "last classic writer in Argentine literature". 

July 23, 2014

Paris in July: The Secret of Chanel No. 5...et un petit cadeau

The Secret of Chanel No. 5 by Tilar Mazzeo is a fascinating book which explores the famous fragrance from the woman behind it, to its creation, to the effect that it's had in the world since its birth in 1921. We begin with the idea of what Coco wanted her perfume to portray:

"She (Coco) wanted something oddly contradictory. Her perfume had to be lush and opulent and sexy, but it also had to smell clean, like Aubazine (the Catholic orphanage in which she grew up) and Emilienne (the chanteuse from the cabaret demi-monde). It would be the scent of scoured warm flesh and soap in a provincial convent, yet it would be unabashedly luxurious and sensual. In the world of fine fragrance today, a perfume begins with an idea, a "brief", and if Coco Chanel had put into words what she was looking for in her signature scent it would have been this tension."

We continue with why the fragrance has such a sexual connotation:

"Generally speaking, there are three kinds of materials that are used to make perfume-scents inspired by flowers; scents inspired by other parts of plants, such as their roots, barks, and resins; and scents inspired by the smells of animals. Chanel No. 5-one of history's most famously sexy perfumes-uses them all in generous doses. But Chanel No. 5 is especially about the florals-the ingredients of traditional perfumery that might seem to have the least common with the smell of the body. Yet, reconsider. Flowers are after all the essential machinery of a plant's reproductive organs, and perfumes are often made from their sexual secretions. The difference between plant estrogens and animal estrogens is a slight one."

And we carry on with how Chanel No. 5 experienced its international fame most especially after World War II:

"It remained a luxury even as all other comforts of living vanished, and this status of luxury--as something untouched by this era of losses--was part of the magic and desire. It was this idea of making the perfume available through the United States Army, though, that catapulted the fragrance to new levels of cultural celebrity. Like the perfume itself--a balance of sexy florals and fresh-scrubbed aldehydes--it was the embodiment of an essential contradiction: something at once completely familiar and exclusively luxurious."

"That connection had been confirmed in the minds of millions of Chanel No. 5 enthusiasts in 1952, when rising starlet Marilyn Monroe revealed that when she wanted to feel sexy, she turned to No. 5. Memorably, an impertinent reporter once asked what Monroe wore to bed, and the coy response came: "Nothing but a few drops of Chanel No. 5." Today, it is still one of her best-remembered quips."

A decade later, however, Chanel lost much of its prestige. "By the early 1960s, it was suffering from a potentially disastrous overexposure and was widely available throughout the United States in discount drugstores and at chain outlets like Woolworth's. It was becoming associated with the kind of scent that was worn by an older generation of women who were out of step with fashion." The brilliant idea to counteract this image was to hire Catherine Deneauve as the fragrance's spokes-model. Her films, her voice, her beauty brought back the sexual allure that Chanel No. 5 had always carried.

One of the more recent faces of Chanel No. 5 is "the girlishly sexy Audrey Tatou, who first came to international fame as the title character in Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain (2001; released in English as Amelie)...

"It has been a coordinated and evolving campaign that has made Chanel No. 5 more famous than ever, but it has worked for the same reason the Second World War made it an icon: these films and fragrances are an invitation to mystery and fantasy."

As for the answer to the question the title of Tilar's book provokes, what is the secret behind Chanel No. 5? "It's the wonderful and curious fact of our collective fascination with this singular perfume for nearly a century and the story of how the scent has been--and remains--capable of producing in so many of us the wish to possess it. Think of that number: a bottle sold every thirty seconds. It is an astounding economy of desire."

And to fulfill in part any desire you may have toward experiencing this fragrance for yourself, I have:

...a brand new box of Chanel No. 5 soap. It may be the perfect introduction to this fragrance, for if you don't know that you want to wear it, you can scent your whole room just by leaving the soap in a dish. You can scent a drawer, as well, or your entire bathroom. (If you are a man still reading this, you can give it to your woman.) I hope this choice is a good way for you to enjoy the now and forever fragrance.

...two sample fragrances from Dior: J'adore and Miss Dior. Underneath is a sample of Guerlain's famous oriental fragrance, Shalimar. They have nothing to do with Chanel, of course, I simply include them as French fragrances.

...a nifty little gift from Chanel's Esprit Croisiere at Nordstrom. This is authentic blue sand on a classic little beach scape which resembles Monte Carlo. The little umbrellas and boardwalk have holes to allow the sand to flow through, so that you can control how much sand appears on the beach by shaking the box. 

To enter the give-away containing the soap, the samples, and the little box, simply leave your name and email address. I will select a winner and announce who it is on July 31, 2014, when Paris in July comes to a close. Bonne chance!

July 19, 2014

An Invitation to Read Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage Together

If you are like me, you have been waiting for Haruki Murakami's latest book, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, to be released in English for months. I've had my copy on pre-order since Christmas, and it is destined to arrive on August 12. Perhaps you are waiting as well? 

I propose a shared read of this book, which is 400 pages, from August 12 to September 12. Now, when 1Q84 came out, I read it in three days. But, it was a little too fast and a little too lonely; I wanted to share what I was thinking and no one had finished it yet. So, taking a month might be just the thing. If you decide to join me you could read it in three days, or you could take the entire month. But by September 12 we could discuss any (or all) of the questions I have copied from Random House further down in this post.  

I hope that you will consider the invitation and "sign up" in the comments. I would love to read with you!

About the author:

Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949 and now lives near Tokyo. His work has been translated into more than fifty languages. The most recent of his many international honors is the Jerusalem Prize, whose previous recipients include J. M. Coetzee, Milan Kundera, and V. S. Naipaul. 

About the book:

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the long-awaited new novel—a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan—from the award-winning, internationally best-selling author Haruki Murakami. 

Here he gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages. 

Discussion questions:

1.   What is the significance of the name of the novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage? Why is Tsukuru branded “colorless”? Would you say that this an accurate description of him? Is this how Tsukuru sees himself or is it how he is seen by others? What kind of pilgrimage does Tsukuru embark upon and how does he change as a result of this pilgrimage? What causes these changes?

2.   Why does Tsukuru wait so many years before attempting to find out why he was banished from the group? How does he handle the deep depression he feels as a result of this rejection and how is he changed by this period of suffering? Is Tsukuru the only character who suffers in this way? If not, who else suffers at what is the cause? Do you believe that their distress could have been avoided? If so, how?

3.   Do you consider Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki a realistic work of fiction? Why or why not? What fantastical or surreal elements does Murakami employ in the novel and what purpose do they serve? What do these elements reveal that strictly realistic elements might not? Kuro says, “I do think that sometimes a certain kind of dream can be even stronger than reality” (310). In considering genre, do you believe that this is true?

4.   Tsukuru reveals that his father chose his name, which means “to make things.” Is this an apt name for Tsukuru? Why or why not? How does Tsukuru’s understanding of his own name affect the way that he sees himself? Where else in the story does the author address making things? Are they portrayed as positive or useful activities?

5.   Why is Tsukuru’s friendship with Haida so important? What is the outcome of this relationship? How does the relationship ultimately affect Tsukuru’s perception of himself? Does it alter Tsukuru’s response to the rejection he was subjected to years earlier in any way?

6.   Why does Haida share with Tsukuru the story about his father and the strange piano player who speaks of death? What might this teach us about the purpose of storytelling? How does Tsukuru react to this story? Is he persuaded by Haida’s tale? What does the story teach us about belief and the power of persuasion?

7.   Sara says that we live in an age where “we’re surrounded by an enormous amount of information about other people. If you feel like it, you can easily gather than information about them. Having said that, we still hardly know anything about people” (148). Do the characters in the story know each other very well? Do you believe that technology in today’s world has helped or hindered us in knowing each other better?

8.   When Tsukuru finally sees three of his friends again, how have each of them changed? How do they react to seeing one another after all this time? Are their reactions strange and unexpected or predictable? What unexpected changes have taken place over the years, and why are they surprising to Tsukuru? Has anything remained consistent?

9.   When Tsukuru visits the pizzeria in Finland, how does he react after realizing he is the only one there who is alone? How is this different from his usual response to isolation throughout the story? Discuss what this might indicate about the role that setting plays in determining Tsukuru’s emotional state.

10.   Does Tsukuru’s self-image and understanding of his role within the group align with how they saw Tsukuru and perceived his role in their group? If not, what causes differences in their perceptions? Do Tsukuru’s thoughts about his rejection from the group align with his friends’ understanding of why he was banished? How did Tsukuru’s banishment affect the other members of the group?

11.   Why do Tsukuru and Kuro say that they may be partly responsible for Shiro’s murder? Do you believe that the group did the right thing by protecting Shiro? Why or why not?

12.   The Franz Liszt song “Le mal du pays” is a recurring motif in the novel. Shiro plays the song on the piano; Haida leaves a recording of it behind; Tsukuru listens to it again and again; Kuro also has a recording. Why might the author have chosen to include this song in particular in the story? What effect does its repetition have on the reader—and the characters in the novel?

13.   Sara tells Tsukuru: “You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them” (44). What does she mean by this? Do you agree with her statement?

14. Kuro says that she believes an evil spirit had inhabited Shiro, and as Tsukuru is leaving her home, Kuro tells him not to let the bad elves get him. Elsewhere in the story, the piano player asks Haida’s father whether he believes in a devil. Does the novel seem to indicate whether there is such a thing as evil—existing apart from mankind, or is darkness characterized as an innate part of man’s psyche?

15.   While visiting Kuro, Tsukuru comes to the realization “One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds” (322). This, he says, “is what lies at the root of true harmony.” What does he mean by this? Do you agree with his statement?

16.   Why does Tsukuru seem to be so interested in railroad stations? How does his interest in these stations affect his relationship with his high school friends? Later in his life, how does this interest affect his understanding of friendship and relationships? The author revisits Tsukuru’s interest in railroad stations at the end of the book and refers to the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subways in 1995 great disaster of 3/11 in Japan. Why do you think that Murakami makes mention of this incident? Does this reference change your interpretation of the story?

17.   Is Tsukuru’s decision with respect to Sara at the end of the story indicative of some kind of personal progress? What is significant about his gesture? How has Tsukuru changed by the story’s end? Do you believe that the final scene provides sufficient resolution of the issues raised at the start of the story? Does it matter that readers are not ultimately privy to Sara’s response to Tsukuru’s gesture?

18.   Tsukuru wishes that he had told Kuro, “Not everything was lost in the flow of time” (385). What does he believe was preserved although time has gone by? What did the members of the group ultimately gain through their friendship despite their split?

19. How does Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki compare to Haruki Murakami’s earlier novels? What themes do the works share? What elements of Murakami’s latest novel are different or unexpected?

(About the author, about the book, and the discussion questions all come from Random House. Don't forget to leave a comment if you're thinking about joining in!)

July 18, 2014

Spanish Lit Month: The Nautical Chart by Arturo Perez-Reverte

The story opens in Barcelona, with our hero Manuel Coy attending an auction. It isn't that he has money to spend, or a particular item he yearns to possess. It's that he's bored, and restless, and a little lost ever since being suspended for grounding the forty-thousand-ton-container-ship, Isla Negra, on his watch.

Right away, I was entranced by Coy. How it is that a sailor can resemble a cowboy, and here I'm comparing Coy to Owen Wister's The Virginian, I'm not quite sure. But they both have an integrity defined by what they judge to be right. They're both independent, and brave, and loathe to follow rules for rules' sake. 

Coy's attention is caught between two bidders, who each seem to be fighting for an Atlas Maritimo de las Costas de Espana, the work of Urrutia Salcedo. One bidder is a beautiful blonde, covered with freckles; the other is a man in a ponytail who ultimately succumbs after her bid at five times the opening price.

What is it about this map, this woman, this gray pony-tailed man who have grabbed Coy's attention? He is determined to find out, as he travels from Barcelona in search for the woman, Tanger Soto, who works for the Museo Naval in Madrid.

Apparently a Jesuit ship, the Dei Gloria, was attacked by a xebec corsair on February 4, 1767. The pirate ship did not expect the Dei Gloria to fight back, which it did, and ultimately both sank. But the Urrutia map seems to hold the location where the Dei Gloria lays, and it is this ship that Tanger wants desperately to find. 

Why? And why is the gray ponytailed man in pursuit of her and the ship himself? This is the core of the mystery, a mystery which becomes more and more intriguing as one continues through the novel. But, more fascinating to me is the character of Coy. He is a mystery in and of himself, a man of the sea and a reader as well.

The books that he reads are all relevant to ships. Sailing. Sea. He tells us he has gone through a Conrad period, a Stevenson period, and a Melville period. But soon after that passage, I began recording the titles and authors that Perez-Reverez includes in this spectacular novel. Because if they're important enough to mention in his work of fiction, they're important to me to know more about.

The titles Perez-Reverte has included in The Nautical Chart are:

Thunderball by Ian Fleming
The Alexandria Quartet by Durrell
Mutiny on The Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
Men Against the Sea by Charles Nordhoff and James Normal Hall
Pitcairn's Island by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
The Death Ship by B. Traven
The Inheritors by William Golding
The Mirror of The Sea by Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad 
Green Fire by Peter William Rainer
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett
The Adventures of Tintin by (Belgian cartoonist) Herge
The Secret of the Unicorn by Herge
Red Rackam's Treasure by Herge
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Internationally acclaimed author Arturo Perez-Reverte was born on November 25, 1951 in Spain, where he lives. He has been a member of the Spanish Royal Academy since 2003. His best selling books have been translated into nineteen languages in thirty countries and have sold millions of copies.

July 17, 2014

Very inspiring blogger award

It is quite an honor to be mentioned twice for this award, first by Jacqui then yesterday by Victoria. At first, I thought I wouldn't play because I follow approximately 200 blogs on bloglovin',and how is it possible to mention a mere fifteen? Then I reconsidered when I realized that as a part of the book blogging world, I should not refuse the opportunity to highlight a few fellow bloggers.

Might I also point out, that since I 'met' Jacqui as a fellow IFFP Shadow Jury member we have shared many great books and a similar point of view? She is blessing from 2014! And, Victoria's posts are always witty and erudite. Thank you, you two, for thinking of me.

These are the rules for the award:
  • Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
  • List the rules and display the award.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
  • Optional: display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.
And so fifteen blogs I would like to highlight as being very inspiring to me are:

Linda writes of the essence of life; sharing wisdom through story. She is also the best commenter I know. Reading her comments are like reading a post itself because she puts so much thought into them.

2.  seraillon~

Scott writes of books I immediately want to read. He is enormously well read, and he will often leave a comment which is relevant and hilarious at the same time.

Richard has displayed no end of patience with me as I learn to appreciate Spanish literature. Although we sometimes differ on the books we like, I am always enriched by his reviews and opinions. Also, I am very inspired to read for Spanish Lit Month co-hosted with Stu. (Bet you didn't know I'm enjoying Three Trapped Tigers, eh?)

Tom and I have had two shared reads that I can think of: Little Women and Great Expectations. He points out the merest detail of a book and somehow connects it to the overall meaning. He is able to unwrap what an author says like no one I know.

The posts on this site connect emotional well-being with literature. I have never looked at our psychological make up, any possible anxiety or depression, as being addressed by books in such a tangible way. And yet, of course! Isn't part of why we read, to understand ourselves better?

The content Reader is a relatively new friend who lives in Belgium. She brings a wealth of information to her blog posts. They are not simply reviews, but connections to art and food as well.

Nadia is a faithful friend of many years. It is amazing to me how many books we simultaneously love, and abhor. If she recommends a book, I am sure to pick it up, confident that her point of view will mirror mine. It's nice to have someone who understands how you feel.

One of the many features of Diane's beautiful blog is Tuesday intros. I am constantly introduced to up and coming literature through her blog and enticed by what I read. 

I think Stu can be credited for my push toward reading translated literature. I always loved Japanese Literature, of course, but it was Stu who broadened that horizon into other countries. It was a special honor for me to be included in his IFFP Shadow Jury event, co-hosted with Tony, this year. I have never read such exciting literature in translation as that event provided.

Athira writes a magnificent blog, relating stories from her life as well as literature she is reading. She leaves personal comments which make me feel so connected to her. Maybe someday I will be as faithful a commenter as she!

Ally is a friend who not only reads Japanese literature with me, she has embellished my reading in Italian literature, too. It was her idea to host Venice in February, a lovely challenge which caused us (me) to discover so many books set in Venice. She also introduces me to film and music. Ally understands my working life as she is a teacher herself.

Tony shares a love for translated literature as well, and is especially instrumental in spreading the love for Japanese literature. He hosts January in Japan which highlights fabulous Japanese books and detailed information about their authors. He also kindly welcomed me to the Shadow Jury for the IFFP this year.

Harvee has a special interest in mystery and thriller, always showcasing a new book in this genre which looks like something I want to read straight away.

Dear Lesley is my oldest book blogging friend. We connected in 2006 and have shared countless titles not only through our blogs, but through the mail. She is a true friend with whom I share many personal and deep connections.

Tamara has also been a long time blogging friend, but I want to highlight the fabulous job she is doing in hosting Paris in July with Karen, Adria, Nichole and I. Every day has a special treat in store, and it is all organized beautifully on her blog. Thanks for taking us to Paris every July, Tamara!

As for listing seven facts about me? It reminds me of a Brian Andreas Story People poster: "We don't have much time," he said. "Let me just tell you about me."  Probably you know everything that's important to know by now.

I hope you have a chance to visit the blogs above, and know that there are so many who continually inspire me. 

July 13, 2014

Paris in July: French Perfume, Those I Own and Love

From Chanel:

No. 5 Eau Premiere
Allure Sensuelle Parfum
No. 5 Eau de Parfum

From Guerlain:

Parure, my favorite fragrance ever which has been discontinued
Mitsouko, another favorite chypre
Chant d'Aromes
L'Heure Bleu
Aqua Allegoria in Rose

From Jean Patou:

Joy Eau de Toilette
Joy parfum

From Dior: 

Forever and ever

(And a random shot of Roger Piguet's Fracas, as well as Hermes' 24 Faubourg, a scent my mother wears beautifully; it is her bottle given to me.)

Well, this could be embarrassing, to show such a collection of fragrances and this only in part. But I'll just forge ahead with telling about this particular passion of mine, and you can reveal any passions of yours in the comments if you so choose.

I have often thought how lovely it would be to have a signature scent, a fragrance that upon smelling one would straight away recognize the wearer. Alas, that is not my fate. There are far too many beautiful perfumes to limit myself to one. Even though I do have a few favorites.

I began wearing Cristalle by Chanel when I was seventeen, and everyone else in high school was wearing Charlie. But, fitting in has never been my strong suit so I blithely carried on with Chanel rather than Revlon. I had long wanted to wear No. 5, but it smelled too serious to me. I had to work up to that "now and forever" fragrance which has become my son's favorite.

There have been many, many others along the way. After Cristalle I wore Anais Anais by Cacherel, Magie Noire by Lancome, and when I went to teach in Europe after college, Poison by Dior was all the rage. From Europe to now, I have had a steady accumulation of fragrances and still find it impossible to choose one. The fragrance I spray on in the morning depends on the day, the event, or my mood.

How does one go about choosing a fragrance? Quite simply, the best way is to spray it on and wear it before buying. What smells good on some people, can smell rancid on me. What starts out lovely and fresh can turn sickeningly sweet by the end of the day. But, there are also books which can also help tremendously.

Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez is invaluable in learning about perfume. This particular edition is older, and missing some of the reviews found in updated editions. But, it has a five star rating scale, and description, of hundreds of perfumes. Even if you didn't buy a single one, the descriptions alone are interesting reading. For example, here is what Luca says about Poison (although the photo is from a different book; I can't show you my bottle because I have given it away):

"Reviewing Poison is a bit like road-testing an Abrams M1 tank in the evening rush hour. People seem to get out of your way, and if they don't, you just swivel that turret to remind them you're not kidding. This is the fragrance everybody loves to hate, the beast that defined the eighties, the perfume that cost me a couple of friendships and one good working relationship. It is also unquestionably the best dressed-up, syrupy tuberose in history, and in my opinion it buries Amarige and the first Oscar de la Renta in the "make it a night he'll never forget" category. Every perfume collector has to have this but please never, ever wear it to dinner." ~Luca Turin

I am planning a post specifically on Chanel No. 5 for July 26. You may wish to come back for it, as I will also have a simple give-away in accompaniment.

July 11, 2014

Paris in July: My Friend Maigret by Georges Simenon

I already love him, this famous Inspector Maigret about whom I've been hearing so much. By page 20, I see that we have similar feelings, he and I. For example, here's a passage about work:

"Don't you like the Mediterranean?"

"In general, I dislike places where I lose the desire to work."

"That's because you like working, is it?"

"I don't know."

It was true. On the one hand he railed every time a case came along to interrupt his daily routine. On the other hand as soon as he was left in peace for several days he would become restless, as though anxious."

Or, how about this simple phrase?

"Not yet sure if he was in a good temper or a bad one Maigret grumbled as he fumbled in his suitcase for his razor."

I don't fumble for a razor in the morning. But I do often wonder if I'm in a good mood or a bad one; it isn't always readily clear on any given morning.

Even if the mystery would prove to be disappointing, I can tell that Maigret himself will not be. No wonder Georges Simenon is as beloved an author as the Inspector he created...

When a man named Marcellin is killed (on the Mediterranean island of Porquerolles) for proclaiming his admiration for Chief Inspector Maigret, the Inspector leaves Paris to investigate. He is shadowed by a British policeman, from London, who has been invited by Maigret to see how it is that the French solve cases. (Like a brother in law and his wife, who are perfectly respectful but annoying after five days, Maigret wonders how long he can abide this policeman's company. Even though Maigret himself invited him.)

While the setting is not in Paris, it sounds like the most appealing French island, where people must take a boat to and from the mainland. It is a perfect description for a summer escape: the air is tropical and balmy; the trees are tamarisk, olive and pine; and white wine is drunk every evening by the citizens who gather at the Arche for conversation and games. 

It makes me long for an era gone by (this novel was first published in 1949), for the south of France, and for people who lead simple lives, albeit with secrets of their own. It makes me long for more novels involving Maigret, a character for whom I feel more affinity than Inspector Clouseau, Hercule Poirot, or even Chief Inspector Armand Gamache himself.