Sunday Salon: Some unexpected delights

I think I’ve mentioned before that when I take a trip abroad, I like to read a book set in the country I am visiting or at least written by an author from that part of the world.

JapanWhen I bought Yukio Mishima‘s After the Banquet, last month I had no idea I would shortly be on my way to Japan. I had bought it while meandering through the shelves of Blackwell’s in Oxford, purely on the basis that I had read little by Japanese authors beyond Kazuo Ishiguro. But it proved the perfect companion for my unexpected trip; not only was it a well-written thoughtful novel about a relationship between two people who want different things in life, but it introduced me to facets of life in the city I was visiting. Tokyo has changed considerably of course in the fifty or so years since the book’s setting but many of the cultural references are still valid. So as I read the minute details about clothing  and food that Mishima provides, I was able to ask some work colleagues for explanations and to see some of the items of clothing on sale in local shops. It seems After the Banquet is atypical of Mishima’s work but on the basis of this one book, I will be back for more.

If Mishima’s novel was an unexpected delight so also were two other books I’ve read in December: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by the Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid and John Steinbeck‘s 1945 novel Cannery Row. I loved the direct style of the narrator in Hamid’s book and the somewhat mysterious nature of his meeting with an American visitor at a cafe in Lahore.

Steinbeck was someone I did not expect to enjoy but this story about a motley collection of individuals who live on a street lined with sardine canneries in Monteray, California, was something remarkable. I read it after listening to the author Bill Patterson talk on a book podcast about this being his favourite novel and one he re-reads almost yearly. I had expected it to be somewhat doom and gloom post depression stuff so was completely unprepared for its warmth and humour. I can see why Patterson loves it so much.

So what’s next in the final few weeks of the year?

I’ll be reading Graham Greene’s The Power and The Glory for the Classics Club spin a long and also dipping into Alice Munro’s Dear Life collection of short stories which is January’s book club selection.

What will you all be reading in the next few weeks?

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on December 15, 2013, in Asia, Sunday Salon and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. My book club recently read Alice Munro’s Dear Life, too; it produced quite a good discussion among the group. It’s filled with unsettling stories for sure. What do you think of it? I’d like to read The Reluctant Fundamentalist which I’ve had a copy of for a long while. Glad to hear you liked it. Cheers. http://www.thecuecard.com/

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  2. Oh, I am so envious. Japan is a country I have always wanted to visit. I’ve even taken classes to learn to speak Japanese, although I’m too self-conscious to speak it out loud to the Japanese visitors in our office.

    And, Steinbeck is one of my favorite American authors. I love his books and I loved them even more when I visited Monterey and Salinas after reading his books. There’s just something magical about getting to visit places that your favorite books are closely associated with.

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  3. I’m reading some Christmassy themed things, alongside a couple of things I’ve had tbr for a while. Just finished a lovely Mary Hocking novel now reading Mrs Bridge by Evan S Connell.

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  4. So glad you liked the Mishima! I’ve not read that novel but I have read a collection of his short stories and really liked them. I like Steinbeck too though haven’t yet read Cannery Row. I’ve heard good things about Hamid’s book and now you too are speaking its praises. Perhaps I will get around to reading it sometime.

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  5. Wonderful that you travel so much. I spent 3 weeks in Japan about 10 years ago on a “study tour.” I loved it. Read a lot of Haruki Muakami at that time. I liked them, but found them somewhat difficult. I also loved the anime movies of Hayao Miyazaki, particularly Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away which I watched with young people. I loved the mythology of both of these movies. Next up for me is The Goldfinch. I am in need of falling in love with a book again. Hope this does that.

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  6. Some excellent reading! Feels like fate that you were reading a Japanese author just in time for an unexpected trip.

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  7. I still have to start’The great Fire’ having been backwards and forwards to the doctor all week and not able to put my mind to anything other than re-reads. I’m hoping this coming week will be better.

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  8. I haven’t read After the Banquet, but it sounds like the perfect choice for your trip. I have visited Japan a few times and I love it there. The culture and the literature really appeal to me. I think I’ll have to add After the Banquet to my wishlist!

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  9. I’ve been reading Christmas themed romance novels the last week or so – a guilty “quicky” during a busy period where I may not have to think too much. I’m about a third of the way through “The Antiquarian” – which is the exact opposite in being a translation from a Spanish text where paragraphs go on for more than a page and the narrative chops and changes, Might get one or two more in before end of the year, to hit my 100 book challenge

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