Tag Archives: China Miéville

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage

I came across Murakami’s writing through 1Q84, his iconic alternative universe exploration of Tengo and Aomame. In all honesty, I “discovered” it through Audible.com for one reason: it was many hours in length and, for one credit, really good value!

And then I got swept up in this strange unsettling and unsettled narrative. It was like stepping into someone else’s dream! Familiar yet alien; recognisable yet surreal.

And, thanks to Aomame’s description of her name and the differences between Aomame and Edamame, I seem to remember getting a University Challenge question right.

So any way, after picking up Norweigan Wood , The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka On The Shore, Murakami has become one of those writers for whom a new novel is an event. There are a few novelists that have this effect: China Miéville, Hilary Mantel, Neil Gaiman….

So my picking up the wonderfully entitled Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage was always going to be exciting.

IMG_5225.JPG So, imagine my delight and pleasure that, as well as the book itself, there were stickers inside the front cover.

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IMG_5227.JPG Stickers!

Yes, stickers.

It’s perhaps 30 years since I had stickers inside the front cover of a book!

This must rank alongside such classics as Dress-Up Barbie and Design A Dinosaur World!

The blurb to this book reads as follows:

Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends at school. By chance, all their names contained a color. The two boys were called Akamatsu, meaning ‘red pine’, and Oumi, ‘blue sea’, while the girls’ names were Shirane, ‘white root’, and Kurono, ‘black field’ Tazaki was the only last name with no color in it.

One day Tsukuru Tazaki’s friends announced that they didn’t want to see him, or talk to him, ever again.

Since that day Tsukuru has been floating through life, unable to form intimate connections with anyone. But then he meets Sara, who tells him that the time has come to find out what happened all those years ago.

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There’s an obvious geographical connection with Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale For The Time Being but there also seems to be a thematic parallel: the drifting, loneliness, a drift towards suicide.

Anyway, I’m going to stop gabbling now, bring that delicious sensual moment of teasing before I begin the book to an end.

Seven Types of Reader

Apparently there are only seven plots in the entire world… and also seven types of readers! A certain sense of symmetry there!

Click here to read the original article – from quite a while ago – but these are my thoughts.

1. The Book Thief

Okay. Hands up. It’s a fair cop. This is me. I have on my book shelf a number of books that originated elsewhere. My old school library. Friends. Work book swap shelves.

I am in fair company. Apparently there is a description of a hobbit in The Lord Of The Rings who

was a great borrower of books and worse than usual at returning them.

The name of this kleptomaniac hobbit would have escaped me without the search function of my ebook: he is Huge Bracegirdle. Google was no help as it is bloated with filmic rather than literary hobbits. But – returning to the point – this book-pilfering hobbit who occupies about three lines in the book is apparently intended to be a self-portrait of J. R. R. Tolkien himself.

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And it’s not my fault! The books, the stories sing to me! They want to stay!

My favourite stolen book isWuthering Heights which I stole from school when I was 17, as I was reading it for A-level. I’d like to say it’s full of surprisingly insightful annotation… Alas it’s more chock full of cringe inducingly juvenile annotation, doodles, notes to whoever may have been sitting next to me. And I do believe one or two phalluses (phalli?). Teenage humour hasn’t changed much in the intervening twenty years! And Wuthering Heights is still my favourite book!

2. The Dog Earer

Yes. Me again.

There are few books I have without broken spines, scuffed edges and turned-down corners. I’m not overly worried about the book. The fabric of the book. See the state of my Wuthering Heights mentioned above. Some of my books even have shopping lists in them. When I’m famous these will become jolly sought after.

I have considered this before, why I don’t mind my books being dog-eared whilst, simultaneously I love my books.

I think, firstly, that I don’t love books at all: I love the stories, the narratives, the characters, not the books. This is, in part, why I have no objection to my ebook: I don’t mind if that narrative and those characters come digitally or on paper, so long as I have them.

Secondly, and this is a gripe I have with the ebook, the tattier the book, the better read, better loved the narrative. That pristine book on the bookshelf may as well be in a cellophane wrapping. A toy in played with. A marriage unconsummated. A child unloved.

3. The Serendipity Screamer

Odd phrase that reeks of the writer shoehorning in an alliteration.

The Sharer would be a far more acceptable Anglo-Saxon alternative.

Now, this is only partially me: I like to share my experience of reading and discuss with others my books and blog about them.

But I don’t share the book! It’s my book. What if I want to read it again?! What if I want to check something? What if I get in an argument and need to prove my point (which would, obviously, be compellingly right!)?

I like the idea of people who leave their used books on the bus for someone else to pick up … but I couldn’t do that. And I’m not sure I’d pick one up: I’d worry about depriving the owner of their book; and of the owner coming back having just popped to the toilet rather than leaving it to be picked up; and of unknown germs… I worry that there are piles of books being burnt at the bus terminus having been left philanthropically and not picked up!

Maybe the only people who get these books are the bus drivers. Maybe bus drivers are the intellectual future of the human race without ever buying a book!

4. The Self-Conscious Reader

These people are ashamed of either the fact of reading or their choice of material.

Me?

Hell no!

I teach and do a duty at lunchtime which I take as my reading time. I amble about, reading as I go, talking to kids about the books – and occasionally barking at them to get out, get in, put food in the bin, pick up litter, put down that child. But I am a public reader.

Nor do I care what I am seen reading: genre fiction, classics, children’s books, comics, poetry, popular, cult or esoteric. Even Fifty Shades (which I gave up on after 100 pages: so incredibly dull and tedious and just bad!)

5. The Did-Not-Finisher

I see no shame in failing to finish a book.

There is – in my humble view – no such thing as a bad book, just books that aren’t right for you.

Have I not finished a book? Of course I have! Fifty Shades of Gray for one! There are so many fabulous books out there waiting to meet me, why would I spend any more time with Christian Gray than I had to?! Other unfinished books? Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon, House of Leaves by Danielewski – although that was more to do with wanting to find it in paper rather than electronically, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – I mean the title said it all!

6. The Underliner

Yup!

Me again!

I scrawl, highlight, underline. I annotate.

I bought a touchscreen Sony e-reader the PRS-650 which Mrs P upgraded for me to the PRS-T1 (which still sounds like an intellectual, reading terminator to me!) specifically so I could underline in it!

I can’t help it!

I was trained to do it at Cambridge University – they called it Practical Criticism there; the library tends to call it graffiti!

I teach my students to do it.

I find a pithy phrase; a muscular image; an evocative line and I’m reaching for the pen!

I’m an Underliner and I’m proud!

7. The Reader-Of-Things-You’ve-Never-Heard-Of

I don’t thing this applies to me! Mrs P’s insistent it does!

My reading tends to be driven by what is in Smiths or Waterstones. The Richard and Judy Book Club tends to put me off books! But all very popular and top ten.

The most abstruse and esoteric of my favourite reads probably comes from my University career: I do like a bit of post-Colonial literature, having done a dissertation on Wole Soyinka as part of my finals. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is sublime.

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun was lovely.
And Athol Fugard’s Tsotsi!

Oh and Arundhati Roy’s God Of Small Things.

And I do read Chaucer for entertainment: it is joyful! And Gawain and The Grene Knight. But they’re not esoteric. They’re really not.

I do remember the first time I tried to discuss someone’s apparent interest in steampunk – which i adore! oh China Miéville! Oh Railsea! Perdido Street Station! and they looked as if I’d tried to proposition them in some way!

And Mikhail Bulgarkov and Andrey Kurkov. My Russian phase.

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Maurice Sendak RIP

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It is with genuine sadness that I learn of Maurice Sendak’s death today. This man will have the status of icon, myth, legend and inspiration for all time.

I feel it wouldn’t be right, as a reader, not to mark his life in some way. He was the one man whose story, Where The Wild Things Are has stayed with me throughout my life. I remember my mother reading it to me; it was the first book I ever read alone; I remember having to draw the Wild Things in an art lesson at school when I was 10; it was the first book I bought to read to my adopted son and daughter; it was subsequently eaten by my son but quickly replaced; I have taught it in A level English classes and at GCSE.

I do not know enough about Sendak to write an obituary and there will be countless. The first (perhaps) is here

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/09/books/maurice-sendak-childrens-author-dies-at-83.html

What I can do is explore what Sendak means to me and what he woke in me.

He taught me that language is alive and resonant and beautiful and playful and true. His line that Max “sailed off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year” is still one of my favourite lines in all writing! The way the sentence moves from the literal to to symbolic; the interplay of movement through time and space – “in and out of weeks” – is controlled, simple, elegant and just sublime. It is language at its best and reminds us that beauty, depth, poignancy and truth are not limited to long, pretentious, showy language.

Another thing he was the first to teach me was that the creatures and shapes that peopled the inside of my head – and I assume others’ – were valid and real and true in a way that transcended the mundane truths of our banal world. They were parts of me. Contradictory, antagonistic, childish, irritating, unruly, scary and – in it’s richest sense – wild but all parts of me.

He taught me that no one can limit or control human and my own imagination. The limitlessness of the Max sent to his room in which

That very night … a forest grew and grew- and grew until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around and an ocean tumbled by

. Yes I know it’s “just” a kids’ book but Max in his room is Mandela on Robbins Island, is every wage slave, is every oppressed individual or group or race. Mandela in fact said, of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart that it was the book that caused the “prison walls fall down”. Sound familiar? And the vastness of our human imagination: unbounded even by the ocean.

Yet despite his unbounded oceanic imagination, Max returns home to “be where someone loved him best of all” and through this I learnt that we cannot exist in our imagination alone. And as a parent, trying to discipline an unruly (book eating) wild thing of my own, I learnt that discipline does not stop the child loving and feeling loved “best of all” however much he may be screaming that he hates me!

Through Sendak, I learnt that love can be so possessive it becomes destructive. When he leaves, the Wild Things howl “Oh please don’t go- we’ll eat you up- we love you so!”. Watching Jeremy Kyle or recalling the disputes I got involved in as a barrister, other people would have benefitted from learning that too.

I learnt through Sendak that the label of “children’s” or “young adult” books is patronising. I recall Patrick Ness’ sublime A Monster Calls and I wonder about the debt Ness owes Sendak; I read Neil Gaiman and China Miéville and Sendak seems to echo through them. I have no idea whether these people have read or valued Sendak but I hear Max’s spirit in them.

So, Maurice Sendak, dead today at the age of 83, I thank you! You have in a very real sense made me who I am today. And I like who I am!

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