Category Archives: Challenges

January Shakespeare Update

…painting by James Christensen

The 2019 A Year of Shakespeare, hosted by Rachel (@ Hibernator’s Library) is underway. I am participating by reading three of Shakespeare’s plays this year. The one I have started with is The Winter’s Tale, which is completely new to me. My plan is to read numerous “retellings” of the story so I am familiar with it. Then I will read the play and listen to an audiobook version. Also, if I can find an available copy, I’d like to watch a film version. And, of course, I would love to see a live performance of it, too, but I don’t know what my chances are of that!

So far in January, I have read five different retellings of the story, and enjoyed each one.

I loved Edith Nesbitt’s retelling, and highly recommend her book, The Best of Shakespeare. I also loved the Charles and Mary Lamb version. Bruce Coville’s retelling was in picture book form and had lovely illustrations.

After reading those retellings, I started listening to the audiobook performance but found it was hard to tell which characters were speaking. I hadn’t picked up a print version of the play yet, so I stopped listening until I get the book and  can do both at once.

I made a lot of progress with this part of the Challenge in January, and I’m enjoying getting to know Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale!

…painting by James Christensen. Antigonus abandoning the royal baby, Perdita, on the Bohemian coast!

 

 

Ikiru

“Ikiru,” in Japanese, means a number of different things:

  1. to live; to exist
  2. to make a living; to subsist
  3. to be in effect; to be in use; to function
  4. to come to life; to be enlivened
  5. to be safe (in baseball, go, etc.)

The film IKIRU, directed by Akira Kurosawa and released in 1952, is a classic of Japanese film. It is a heartwarming and heart wrenching story of a bureaucrat in Tokyo, a man whose days are always the same, full of endless piles of paper essentially “signifying nothing.”  He finds out one day that he has terminal cancer and less than a year to live. His world is instantly upended, and over the next few months, he goes through all the stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — and finally finds a way to do something meaningful with the time he has remaining in his life.

It’s a very moving story, and expresses all the different meanings of the word “Ikiru,” especially the fourth definition, to learn to live!  I’ve watched it numerous times over the years, and it is one of my favorite movies. I highly recommend it.


I watched this film as part of the Japanese Literature 12 Challenge, hosted by Meredith at Dolce Bellezza.

The Red Pony

The Red Pony, by John Steinbeck, is a novella in four stories about a young boy growing up on a ranch near Salinas, California. The boy, ten-year-old Jody Tiflin, lives with his father, a strict and harsh disciplinarian, and his mother, who is strong and understanding, and one ranch hand, Billy Buck.  All of them work hard to make a living from the ranch.  It is good, honest work, and they are good people, but life is harsh.

Although just a young adolescent, Jody has to grow up quickly. He has to carry his own weight in terms of chores and help on the ranch, and he is constantly learning. In the first story, he is given a beautiful red pony and it is his responsibility to care for her and keep her well and safe. He relies on Billy Buck to guide him and teach him everything he needs to know about his pony. One day, when Jody has to be in school all day, Billy Buck tells him that he can let the horse stay out in the field for the day. Jody questions him about the weather because the pony shouldn’t be outside in the rain. Billy reassures him that it won’t rain. Unfortunately, it does rain and after spending most of the day outside in the elements, the horse gets sick.

Jody must face life’s challenges head on, but he is resilient, imaginative, and still very much a young boy (collecting frogs on his way home from school and putting them in his lunchbox, to the dismay of his mother). When his grandfather comes to visit, his imagination is captured by the stories he tells Jody of leading a wagon train westward.

Jody lay in his bed and thought of the impossible world of Indians and buffaloes, a world that had ceased to be forever. He wished he could have been living in the heroic time, but he knew he was not of heroic timber. No one living now, save possibly Billy Buck, was worthy to do the things that had been done. A race of giants had lived then, fearless men, men of a staunchness unknown in this day. Jody thought of the wide plains and of the wagons moving across like centipedes. He thought of Grandfather on a huge white horse, marshaling the people. Across his mind marched the great phantoms, and they marched off the earth and they were gone.

Although I read this book a long time ago, this re-read was like reading it for the first time. I remembered that it was sad, and that it wasn’t a children’s story. But I hadn’t remembered how beautifully written it was, and that John Steinbeck was an extraordinary storyteller. I must revisit more of his books!

 

I read this book as part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old. The movie version of this book was released in 1949, my birth year.

 

 

I also read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

Sweet Bean Paste

People’s lives never stay the same colour forever. There are times when the colour of life changes completely.

Sweet Bean Paste, by Durian Sukegawa, is a story of friendship and renewal.  It is set in modern-day Japan, and focuses on some cultural changes that are just happening within the last twenty-five years or so.

from the publisher, Oneworld:

Sentaro has failed. He has a criminal record, drinks too much, and his dream of becoming a writer is just a distant memory. With only the blossoming of the cherry trees to mark the passing of time, he spends his days in a tiny confectionery shop selling dorayaki, a type of pancake filled with sweet bean paste.

But everything is about to change.

Into his life comes Tokue, an elderly woman with disfigured hands and a troubled past. Tokue makes the best sweet bean paste Sentaro has ever tasted. She begins to teach him her craft, but as their friendship flourishes, social pressures become impossible to escape and Tokue’s dark secret is revealed.

Sentaro begins to learn from Tokue how to make the wonderful sweet bean paste, and he learns so much more than that from her! She has a wonderful outlook on life, but is mysterious about her past.

It turns out that Tokue had leprosy as a child. She had been cured more than 40 years ago, but because of the cultural stigma and harsh laws against lepers, she lived all her life in a sanitarium, isolated from the rest of society. In 1996, Japan changed the laws about lepers, and she was given her “freedom” from the confines of the leper community. Sadly, there was no family left and no place for her out in the world, so she and many of the other residents simply stayed at the sanitarium.

In a culture that defines a person’s success as what one can contribute to society, she and the other former lepers were denied that personal identity and meaning. But Tokue was able to find an elemental freedom in her imposed isolation from society, and found deep personal meaning in the language of nature. She taught Sentaro that life is so much more than what society dictates, and that every single thing that lives on earth contributes in their own way.

One thing I can do in Tenshoen is sniff the wind and listen to the murmur of the trees. I pay attention to the language of things in this world that don’t use words. That’s what I call Listening, and I’ve been doing it for sixty years now.

It’s my belief that everything in this world has its own language. We have the ability to open up our ears and minds to anything and everything. That could be someone walking down the street, or it could be the sunshine or the wind.

Anyone is capable of making a positive contribution to the world through simple observation, irrespective of circumstance. This is the idea that Tokue expresses when she writes in her letter, ‘We were born in order to see and listen to the world.’ It’s a powerful notion, with the potential to subtly reshape our view of everything.

from Booklist:

‘Although Tokue’s past is a reflection of a dark chapter of Japanese history, her wisdom, patience, and kindness shape this touching and occasionally wistful novel. Through Tokue’s story, Sukegawa eloquently explores the seeds of biases and challenges us to truly listen to the natural world and the messages it artfully hides.’

This was really a lovely, positive book to read. There is also a movie that was made of the book, and it stayed very true to the story. It is available on DVD as “Sweet Bean,” and was beautifully filmed.


This book was on my list of choices for the Japanese Literature Challenge.

Japanese Literature Challenge 12

Another reading challenge for 2019 has caught my eye. Meredith (@Dolce Bellezza) is hosting her 12th  Japanese LIterature Challenge this year. I’ve participated in her challenges numerous times before and enjoyed each of them. I already have some Japanese literature on my Classics Club list, and two new books on my Kindle that would qualify for this challenge, so I decided to join…again.

This time, I am also going to add a few films to watch. Long ago, when my kids were little, I took a continuing education class at the University. It was called the “Art of Japanese Film” and I absolutely loved the class! And then, a few years ago, my husband and I bought a boxed set of DVDs of movies by the brilliant Japanese filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa, so Hubby and I are going to have our own Japanese Film Festival during this Challenge.

Books to Read:

  1. The Book of Tea, Kazuko Okakura
  2. Kokoro, Natsume Soseki
  3. Absolutely on Music, Haruki Murakami
  4. Sweet Bean Paste, Durian Sukegawa

Films of Akira Kurosawa to Watch:

  1. Stray Dog
  2. Ikiru
  3. Seven Samurai
  4. The Hidden Fortress
  5. Yojimbo

Other Japanese Films to Watch:

  1. Miss Hokusai  (we watched it on January 2, 2019)  This is a film based on the life of the daughter of the great painter, Hokusai. It was adapted from a Manga series written and illustrated by Hinako Sugiura.  It was directed by Keiichi Hara, and won numerous awards.
  2. Ugetsu (based on the book, Tales of Moonlight and Rain, by Akinari Udea)
  3. Spirited Away
  4. Our Little Sister
  5. My Neighbor Totoro

Click on the titles below to read my reviews of books I read for Dolce Bellezza’s previous Japanese LIterature Challenges.

One more thing

My husband’s grandmother was a “picture bride” brought from Japan to Hawaii in the early 1900s as a bride for one of the Japanese plantation workers. If you are interested in that fascinating part of history, you can read my review of the book, Picture Bride, by Yoshiko Ushida.  If you can find it, there is a beautiful little film called “Picture Bride,” that is well worth seeing.  There are many stories of the 20,000 or so women who were the picture brides. They didn’t know their husbands-to-be before they were brought to Hawaii, and some to California. Each was chosen as a bride by their photo.

My husband’s grandmother and aunt are in this photo of plantation workers in Hawaii.

A Year of Shakespeare 2019

Rachel (@hibernatorslibrary) is putting together a challenge called “2019 Year of Shakespeare.” I love Shakespeare and would like to read more of his plays so I have signed up to participate. The challenge will run from January 1st – December 31st. There will be theme-based trimesters and you can choose which play you want to read during each trimester.

Also, for each play, I’d like to watch a film version and read a fictional retelling and/or a children’s version.  I will link up all my Shakespeare reading to this post, so please check back here occasionally during the year to see the progress I am making on this challenge. I will add a bulleted list of the different versions of each play that I read or listen to throughout this Challenge.

Jan – Apr:  Comedies  (I’m going to read The Winter’s Tale.)

May – Aug:   Histories  (I’m going to read Henry V.)

Sep – Dec:   Tragedies  (I’m going to read King Lear.)

TBR Pile Challenge 2019

Adam (@roofbeamreader.com) is hosting the TBR Pile Challenge for 2019,  and it’s his eighth year of hosting this challenge! I’m excited to be participating again in 2019. This year I managed to read 4 out the 12 books I had on my TBR list. For me, that’s success because those are four books finished that have been sitting on my shelf for years and years.

Here is how the challenge is structured. Be sure to go to the link to read the complete information about the challenge because I’m only including some of it here.

The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).

Specifics:
1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2018 or later (any book published in the year 2017 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile). Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.

2. To be eligible, you must sign-up with the Mr. Linky below. Link to your list (so create it ahead of time!) and add updated links to each book’s review. Books must be read and must be reviewed (doesn’t have to be too fancy) in order to count as completed.

Thank you, Adam, for hosting this challenge and encouraging me to just go ahead and read those books!

Here’s my 2019 list of twelve TBR books that have been sitting on my bookshelf for an awfully long time:

    1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
    2. The Princess Bride, by WIlliam Goldman
    3. Some Tame Gazelle, Barbara Pym
    4. A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf
    5. The Joys of Motherhood, by Buchi Emecheta
    6. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
    7. Clandestine in Chile, by Gabriel García Márquez
    8. Lonely Road, by Nevil Shute
    9. Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee
    10. Sons, by Pearl S. Buck
    11. The Book of Dragons, Edith Nesbit
    12. Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther

Alternates:

  1. Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry
  2. The Lost Garden, Helen Humphreys

November Reflections 2018

With the darker, colder days arriving, I found it much harder to keep my spirits up during November. That’s not unusual for me, or for many people at this time of year, especially in the Pacific Northwest.  Seasonal Affective Disorder is real. The change of light, the shorter days, and staying indoors more on colder days can lead to melancholy or depression. My reading is my personal antidote to that SAD feeling. It broadens my perspectives and gives me new ways of looking at the world. That cheers me up and also gives me a new appreciation for friends and family.

So with that said, November turned out to be a pretty good reading month for me. I enjoyed getting lost in a variety of books — a mystery, some classics, a Christmas book. I read a number of graphic novels this month, and I’m liking that genre more and more. I especially loved Debbie Tung’s Quiet Girl in a Noisy World, and look forward to her new book, Book Love, to be released in the U.S. on January 1st. My favorite book this month was Michelle Obama’s, Becoming, because it was full of courage and dignity, and hope.

For those of you living in the northern hemisphere, I hope your reading in November was enjoyable and an antidote to the darker, colder days. And for the rest of you, I also hope your November was spent immersed in wonderful books!

My November reads:

 

Currently Reading: My Spin Book

I’m up early this morning (thanks to the sounds of a squirrel in the attic) and so decided to start my book for the Classics Club Spin #19. The Spin number was just announced this morning and that number was #1. I made a large cup of tea and am starting Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, which was the first book on my Spin list.

Americanah is the perfect book for me to read at this point in time because this book, (along with her book, We Should All Be Feminists) was chosen by the Multnomah County Library for the Everybody Reads 2019 in Portland, Oregon!  Discussions start in the various libraries in January, and she will be speaking in Portland in March. Unfortunately for me, that event is already sold out. But how serendipitous that this was my book chosen to read at exactly the right time!

Don’t know what we’ll do about the squirrel in the attic, though…

October Reflections 2018

 

As Anne says in L. M. Montgomery’s timeless classic, Anne of Green Gables,  “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”  This October was a particularly beautiful one here in Oregon! It was also a wonderful reading month for me. I thoroughly enjoyed my reading for the Readers Imbibing Peril-XIII challenge, and Dewey’s 24-hour Read-a-thon.  Here are the covers of books read during this very successful reading month for me:

My husband and I also did a little bit of traveling this month. We spent a couple of days in the Seattle area where I met with my former teaching teammates and had a wonderful reunion lunch while Byron went on a bike ride. Also while in the area, he and I visited our favorite garden center, and the Yakima Fruit Market, and went out to eat at three of our old favorite restaurants. It was a great get-away!

We also spent a couple of days hiking in Silver Falls State Park. We enjoyed our first hike there so much we returned a week later and brought our daughter with us. We all loved hiking amongst  gorgeous the autumn colors.

So all in all, it was a just a great October!