Sunday, June 04, 2006

Reading is FUNdamental

Of late, I have been oft availing myself of the privileges granted me by my Yokohama City Library card, to wit: borrowing of books.

The Central Library's English fiction collection takes up a whole two shelves, and much of the books on these shelves are what Lyani called "airport books". "You know," she said, "there is 'elevator music' and there are 'airport books': the sort of crap novels that you buy only out of sheer desparation in the airport." Surprisingly to me, over half of the books seem to also be by Canadian authors. Not that I have anything against Canadian authors, I just do not know many of them.

In any case, allow me to share with you three books that really impressed me, in ascending order of excellence:

Shoeless Joe"Shoeless Joe", by W.P. Kinsella. If you like baseball, you will love this book. The movie "Field of Dreams" is based on it, but the book is better by far (and I actually like the movie quite a bit--say what you will about Kevin Costner, he is pretty decent in baseball movies). There is something magical about baseball, and Kinsella weaves this magic effortlessly into a story that is somehow greater than the sum of its parts: namely Iowa, love, corn farming, the infamous Chicago "Black Sox", and reclusive American author J.D. Salinger. Oh yeah, and if you have never heard of Tinkers to Evers to Chance, this book will rectify that sad state of affairs.

Speaking of baseball, I am watching an interleague game between the Chunichi Dragons and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. It is 5-1 Chunichi going into the top of the fifth, after a fiesty two-out rally in the bottom of the forth by Rakuten. Jose Fernandez stroked a solo homer, then the next batter executed a perfect bunt down the third baseline and ran it out for a single. This was followed by a two-out seeing-eye single to put men on the corners, setting the stage for the catcher. Tragically, he hits like a catcher, and managed to got down swinging on four pitches. Well, that's baseball, as they say.

A Sunday at the Pool in KigaliGetting back to the printed word, be sure to read Gil Courtemanche's "A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali" (speaking of Canadian authors). I am pretty sure that it was an inspiration for "Hotel Rwanda", though it tells the story from a different perspective than the movie. It is a strangely uplifting tale, given its setting (AIDS-ravaged Rwanda) and plot (genocide most foul). Which is not to say that it is not incredibly sad--it certainly is--but it shows how the human spirit can somehow survive even in the worst conditions. In case you were wondering, this book is a fictionalised account of a real historical tragedy. Just be warned that this book is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach: the subject matter is quite explicit, and the author presents it realistically.

The Time Traveler's WifeAnd finally, my favourite out of all the books I have recently read, Audrey Niffenegger's "The Time Traveler's Wife". I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is the story of a man who is "chronologically challenged"--he literally cannot remain in the present when he experiences strong emotions--and the woman who loves him. The premise seems rather unbelievable, and perhaps lifted from Vonnegut's caustic "Slaughterhouse-Five", but it turns out to be neither, and extremely imaginative to boot. If someone were to ask me to explain what "literary fiction" is, I would refer them directly to this novel. It is not a quasi-story wrapped in pretentious prose; it is a wonderful story told by a master of the English language, each perfectly-chosen word building towards a flawless sentence. It is a joy to read as much for the language as for the story itself, and that is saying a lot, for the bittersweet tale of love in the face of great difficulty alone makes the book almost impossible to close, even for the five minutes it takes to walk from the Keihin Tohoku Line platform to the Keiyo Line platform.


SFB said...

SG read this book awhile back and she really dug it too.

Have you read any H.P. Lovecraft? I figured if nothing else you might dig him as he was a professed anglophile who choose to spell things using british english spellings.

Josh Glover said...

Strangely enough, I have not read any lovecraft, even though he is a geek staple and I generally like "creeping evil"-style horror. I certainly will read any books of his I encounter here. But I am not holding my breath.

Remind SG to read "Zodiac"; I think she'd dig it with a shovel. She can obtain it from the library, fo' sho'.

matthew said...

Lovecraft is great. You should be able to find something of his used at one of the English used book shops in Jinbo-cho. If not, you do work for Amazon, right?