Author Archives: Robin

About Robin

I’m a wife, mother, grandma, retired teacher, gardener, knitter, and avid reader. I live near Portland, Oregon, USA.

Four Seasons in Kyoto and The Makanai

 

…Kyoto

Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge is well under way, and I am really enjoying my reading and film watching for this challenge! I’m always fascinated by the connections that happen when you start reading about a particular topic or theme. The more I immerse myself in the literature and culture of Japan, the more interconnections I run into. But that’s what “immersion” is all about, so I am enjoying this year’s dive back into all things Japanese. Here is a part of my winding path of connections so far:

I started the month by reading Snow Country, by Yasunari Kawabata, and watched a beautiful film made of the book. In that book and film, I learned about the day to day life of a geisha living in a small rural village. The geishas, however, were trained in the city. This week, I found a new Japanese nine-part series on Netflix, The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House. It is a lovely story of two teenage girls, best friends all their lives, who move to Kyoto to become apprentice geishas. They move into the school, the “maiko house,” and start their training. One of the girls excels in all the classes with obvious talent in the art. The other girl is slow and somewhat clumsy in her attempts to learn the art form, but reveals a passion for cooking, so she instead becomes the cook for the school. It was so interesting to see the traditional training of these young women, and to see what life is like in Kyoto with the combination of tradition and modern life.

At the same time, I had started reading another book by Pico Iyer. This one was about Japanese culture, and in particular about a year he spent in Kyoto with the intention of learning about Zen Buddhism. It was called The Lady and The Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto, and was a very interesting deep dive into the Japanese culture. So as I continued reading that book, and watching this new series, it created a visual experience that connected the stories of Pico Iyer’s year in Kyoto with the beautifully filmed story of two young apprentice geishas. The connection enriched both stories!

 

Paintings I Love: Woman in White

Woman in White, by Pablo Picasso…

A painting I have loved since I first saw it when I was in high school, is a painting by Pablo Picasso. Woman in White still speaks to me in her pensive and somewhat melancholy silence. My Dad bought me a poster of the painting and had it framed for me. It has traveled with me everywhere I have moved since those young days.

Birthday Blog

…by Charles Schultz

It was a quiet January 27th morning in 2007 when I shyly started this blog. It began as another way to share books with my mother who lived 900 miles away. So much has changed in my life since 2007, but my blog has seen me through all those changes, and my love of reading and talking about books is even greater and more important to me now. And the friends I have made along the way, who share their own love of reading with me, have enriched my life exponentially.

So here’s to another year filled with books and kindred spirits! May we celebrate our love of reading and share many stories this year. 

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

In writing The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte was way ahead of her time. It is a book about domestic violence and the struggle of a woman to escape abuse, to become independent, to even possibly support herself and her young son financially. It was written 175 years ago, in a time and culture in which women had no legal rights. And it was an honest attempt by Anne Bronte, sister to Charlotte and Emily, to illuminate the struggle that so many women faced because they were essentially the property of the men they married.

From the publisher:

Gilbert Markham is deeply intrigued by Helen Graham, a beautiful and secretive young woman who has moved into nearby Wildfell Hall with her young son. He is quick to offer Helen his friendship, but when her reclusive behaviour becomes the subject of local gossip and speculation, Gilbert begins to wonder whether his trust in her has been misplaced. It is only when she allows Gilbert to read her diary that the truth is revealed and the shocking details of the disastrous marriage she has left behind emerge. Told with great immediacy, combined with wit and irony, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a powerful depiction of a woman’s fight for domestic independence and creative freedom.

I found this story to be riveting at times and slow in spots. Helen’s husband was completely despicable and his manipulations and verbal abuse of Helen were bad enough, but it was his abuse toward his young son (encouraging the small boy to drink wine, use bad language, and verbally abuse his mother) that finally motivated Helen to take drastic steps to leave him and take her son to safety. There were no means available for women to do that in those days, so it entirely depended on the kindness of others, in this case, her brother.

The character of Helen Graham was very believable, but I didn’t have the same feeling about the character of Gilbert Markham, who was the co-narrator of the story. He seemed shallow and undeveloped as a real character, and especially in the ending of the story. Anne gave her full effort to developing the character of Helen, and I liked what she did with her. There is a very lengthy conversation between Helen and Gilbert about raising a son versus raising a daughter, and, although it’s too long to include here, it is the essence of this story. Click here to read the quote on Goodreads.

This was the first book by Anne Bronte that I’ve read, although I’ve read books by both her sisters. I was very impressed with her, and with the book, although it wasn’t an easy read.

This was the book chosen for my Classics Club spin #32.

…by Valentina Catto

The Art of Stillness

The word I chose to guide me through this year is “Mindfulness.” Although I didn’t know much about him, Pico Iyer is someone to read if you are interested in becoming more mindful in your daily life. He is an essayist and novelist, and is most widely known for his books on travel. But he is so much more than a travel writer. His travels are extensive and he has a global view of the world. He says of himself: “I am a multinational soul on a multinational globe…”  and he shares his views in essays, novels, through TED Talks, and university lectures. But I would also call him a philosopher and a guide.

I love to read travel books, and this little volume on “going nowhere,” really spoke to me right now. The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, caught my eye and turned out to be a real treasure for me because it is about being present in the NOW of our lives. I found that it was packed with wisdom and much needed perspective on what is really important in life.

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Remembering, by Wendell Berry

A number of years ago, Byron read a book I recommended to him. It was Remembering, by Wendell Berry. I have always liked Wendell Berry’s books, and there were things in this book that reminded me of my Dad. So Byron read it, but he didn’t like it as much as I did. However, this many years later, I found this quote copied down in his notebook:

…from Byron’s notebook

The Strange Library

“ The library was even more hushed than usual.”

Early this morning, I listened to the audiobook version of The Strange Library, by Haruki Murakami. I love to read in the early morning, and this novella has been waiting patiently for just such a morning.

It’s a strange story, a fantasy about a young man visiting the library and asking for books about an obscure topic. He was led into the basement of the library, which was an endless labyrinth, and ultimately imprisoned there. His experiences in captivity, and his plan for escape were surreal. The story was infused with both humor and insight, and was fun and interesting to read.

I’m a fan of the great Ray Bradbury, and I thought of him all the way through this book — in the story, the storytelling, and in that it took place entirely in a library. The only problem with listening to the audiobook was that the hard copy version has wonderful illustrations that really augment the story. After listening, I then read my hard copy. Don’t miss those illustrations if you choose to listen to the book!

Some favorite quotes:

My mind was in turmoil. It was too weird—how could our city library have such an enormous labyrinth in its basement? I mean, public libraries like this one were always short of money, so building even the tiniest of labyrinths had to be beyond their means.

The sheep man has his world. I have mine. And you have yours, too. Am I right? “That you are.” So just because I don’t exist in the sheep man’s world, it doesn’t mean that I don’t exist at all. “I get it,” I said. “Our worlds are all jumbled together—your world, my world, the sheep man’s world. Sometimes they overlap and sometimes they don’t. That’s what you mean, right?”

This book was on my list for Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge #16.

Paintings I Love: Between Darkness and Night

Between darkness and night,” 1938–1943, by Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall is one of my favorite painters. He was such a passionate artist, and (it appears to me) a happy person. He loved his wife, Bella, dearly, there is no doubt about that. Many of his paintings show his devotion to her and the joy of their love. The reason I love this particular painting of his is simply because of the two faces. I don’t know what the title of the painting means. I don’t know the symbolism of the background of this painting. But to me, this image simply captures the love between two people… Together they make one face.

Marc and Bella Chagall

A Chapter a Day

Reading a chapter a day is an interesting experience. I usually don’t restrict my reading in any way. Most of the time, I just enjoy getting caught up in my book and keep on reading. This George Eliot Readalong this year is a different kind of challenge for me. I am, so far, only reading one chapter a day of our current book: Adam Bede. What I find so interesting is that I read the chapter first thing in the morning, and then I find myself thinking about it during different times of the day. I’m thinking about what happened in that chapter, about what the author wanted to do with it, about the characters introduced or some new action initiated. I ruminate a lot about one chapter. I like that!

SumoKitty!

I now have two grandkittens. Yes…I’m a grandma to two kittens that are always getting into mischief one way or another. At the library last week, I saw a children’s book with a cat on the cover, and because I have kittens on my mind these days, I had to take a closer look. It was the story of a Japanese kitten, and I realized it was a must-read for me because I am currently participating in Dolce Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge #16, which is a celebration of Japanese literature and culture, and Sumo Wrestling is a major part of that culture.

It turns out that this book, called SumoKitty, by David Biedrzycki, is about a very hungry stray kitten who follows the sumo wrestlers home and mooches free food from them. The matron of the training center (their “heya”) doesn’t like having a stray around, so shoos him out of the house. However, when mice find their way into the home, and one of the sumo wrestlers is terrified of mice, they welcome SumoKitty back into the home where he works hard to become a really good mouser.

It’s just a fun book to read, and it’s also quite educational. I didn’t know anything about Sumo Wrestling, and this little book is packed with information on this very old traditional sport! It’s a great introduction to that part of Japanese culture, and my finding it was serendipitous in numerous ways because this week in Japan is the beginning of the January Grand Sumo Tournament!

So…you can download the ebook version of this little book to become familiar with some of the basics of Sumo (and find out what happens to SumoKitty!), then go to this link to learn everything you need to understand Sumo Wrestling:

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/tv/sumo/?cid=wohk-fb-org_site_gsh03_feed_dps-202301-001&fbclid=IwAR2dYRtV4SqXkFnXesi8_QO2cjkceVxuPssnixlRHr-kejGnyP5ZnMerMf0

And then watch the Grand Tournament this week, starting on January 8th!  It will be a complete immersive cultural experience!