Category Archives: Challenges

Four Seasons in Kyoto and The Makanai



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!


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

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!


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:

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


Snow Country

My first book read in 2023 was Snow Country, by Kawabata Yasunari. The writing in this book is elegant in its simplicity and imagery. The story is an existential love story. I was completely drawn in by the storytelling, the images the author painted in my mind, and the sadness of what the author called “wasted effort.”  This sad story was considered his masterpiece.  Kawabata received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968 for all of his works.

At an isolated mountain hot spring, with snow blanketing every surface, Shimamura, a wealthy dilettante meets Komako, a lowly geisha. She gives herself to him fully and without remorse, despite knowing that their passion cannot last and that the affair can have only one outcome. In chronicling the course of this doomed romance, Kawabata has created a story for the ages, a stunning novel dense in implication and exalting in its sadness.

While looking online for information about Kawabata, I discovered that the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation, NHK- Japan, was making a new film adaptation of the novel available free until October 2023. It is presented in two parts, each about 50 minutes long. I watched it last night after finishing the book, and it was absolutely beautiful. Along with the film, there was a lot of very interesting information about the author and the writing of this book. CLICK HERE TO LINK TO THE FILM.

This book is included on my list for the Japanese Literature Challenge, and for my second Classics Club challenge.

2023 With George Eliot

It’s been many years since I read any of George Eliot’s books, but I remember how much I liked  them. Especially The Mill on the Floss, which I particularly loved when I read it in high school! So when I learned that Nick Senger was going to do his “2023 Chapter-a-Day Read-Along” with a year of reading six of George Eliot’s novels, I couldn’t resist. I can read a chapter a day for a year! So that’s my plan! Click here to read about how this fun challenge works. Maybe you would like to join us?

The Six Books We Will Be Reading:

  1. Adam Bede: January 1 to February 24 – KindleGutenbergLibrivox
  2. The Mill on the Floss: February 25 to April 23 – KindleGutenbergLibrivox
  3. Silas Marner: April 24 to May 14 – KindleGutenbergLibrivox
  4. Romola: May 15 to July 26 – KindleGutenbergLibrivox
  5. Middlemarch: July 27 to October 22 – KindleGutenbergLibrivox
  6. Daniel Deronda: October 23 to December 31 – KindleGutenbergLibrivox

2023 Japanese Literature Challenge

Japanese Literature Challenge

Meredith, at Dolce Bellezza, is once again hosting her Japanese Literature challenge. I have participated in this challenge many times and it’s always enjoyable. I have a special interest in Japan and it’s history and culture because my husband’s mother was Japanese. His grandmother was a picture bride from Japan to Hawaii in the early 1900s. It’s a fascinating family history, so over the years, we have collected a lot of books and DVDs about that culture. I lost my husband, Byron, to cancer in September, so this time my participation in this immersion into Japanese literature and culture is a part of my grieving process.

For the challenge this year, I decided to list only the books that I already own and would like to read. There are quite a few books already sitting on my shelves that fit this challenge, so I’ve put together a list of some of them to choose from. I also have quite a few DVDs of Japanese films because that was an interest my husband and I shared. So, while I will be enjoying the reading for this challenge, I’m also going to have my own Japanese Film Festival and re-visit some of those movies. That’s the plan!

Thank you, Meredith, for hosting this lovely challenge once again!

My Want-to-Read List:

  1. How Do You Live?, by Genzaburo Yoshino
  2. Snow Country, by Kawabata, Yasunari
  3. The Guest Cat, by Takashi Hirade
  4. A Bowl Full of Peace, by Caren Stelson
  5. Novelist as a Vocation, by Haruki Murakami
  6. The Strange Library, by Haruki Murakami
  7. The Book of Tea, by Kazuko Okakura
  8. Kokoro, by Natsume Soseki
  9. SumoKitty, by David Biedrzycki
  10. The Lady and The Monk, by Pico Iyer

My List of Japanese Films to Watch:

  1. Woman in the Dunes
  2. Picture Bride
  3. Ikiru
  4. My Neighbor Totoro
  5. The Seven Samurai
  6. The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House (Netflix)

My husband’s grandmother and aunt…

2023 TBR Pile Challenge

The TBR Pile Challenge

It is Roof Beam Reader, Adam’s, tenth year of hosting this reading challenge, and I am very happy to participate again. I set a lofty goal each year of reading 12 books for this challenge, and even though I haven’t succeeded in reading all twelve each year, I’m happy about the books I am able to finish and move off of my mountain of books-to-read! My list this time will include some titles leftover from last year’s list, and some books that are new to this list but that have been patiently waiting on my shelves for their turn to be read. Some have been there waiting for years and years…and years! Thank you to Adam for creating this fun challenge!

The List:

  1. Hamlet, by William Shakespeare (my late husband’s favorite Shakespeare)
  2. Adam Bede, by George Eliot
  3. Sons, by Pearl S. Buck
  4. One Day on Beetle Rock, by Sally Carrighar
  5. The Guest Cat, by Takashi Hirode
  6. What Happened to the Corbetts?, by Nevil Shute
  7. New Zealand Stories, by Katharine Mansfield
  8. Home, by Toni Morrison
  9. The Joys of Motherhood, by Buchi Emecheta
  10. The General in his Labyrinth, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  11. The Northern Farm, by Henry Beston
  12. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera


  1. Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot
  2. The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

2023 Reading Journeys


My Decembers are always filled with enjoyable planning for my next year’s reading journeys. This December is no exception. I’m always so tempted by the many creative reading challenges that are presented to us in November and December, and I get excited and motivated to do much more reading than is humanly possible in one year. But that’s okay. I enjoy the planning and the dreaming and the camraderie of all those readers involved in these challenges. So I plan away.

In 2023, I’m planning on participating in most of my favorites: Adam’s TBR Pile Challenge; Meredith’s Japanese Literature challenge; my yearly Goodreads goal; the Classics Club; and my many personal reading projects. I’m also going to join a challenge that is set up to be a year of reading six of George Eliot’s novels, one chapter at a time! In the next few days, I’ll post about each one of these challenges.

Getting back to my reading is a real comfort right now, and I return to it with new perspective and appreciation.

I hope you are enjoying making plans for your reading for next year. And I hope you enjoy the journey…of both the planning and the actual reading!

Classics Club Spin #32




It’s time for another Classics Club “Spin”  and I’d really like to participate this time around. I don’t always finish my choices in the time slot allotted, but I always enjoy the challenge.

Here’s how it works:

It’s easy. At your blog, before next Sunday 11th Decmber, 2022, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.

This is your Spin List.

You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period.

On Sunday 11th, December, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by the 29th January, 2023.

Here is my list of 20 choices this time:

  1. Adams, Douglas:  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 
  2. Agee, James:  A Death in the Family
  3. Arkell, Reginald:  Old Herbaceous
  4. Austin, Mary Hunter:  The Land of Little Rain
  5. Beston, Henry:  The Northern Farm: A Glorious Year on a Small Maine Farm
  6. Bronte, Anne:  The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
  7. Bronte, Charlotte:  The Green Dwarf
  8. Buck, Pearl S:  Sons
  9. Burnett, Frances Hodgson:  Little Lord Fauntleroy
  10. Camus, Albert:  The Stranger
  11. Conrad, Pam:  My Daniel
  12. Dickens, Charles:  The Chimes
  13. Dinesen, Isak:  Winter Tales
  14. Dostoyevsky, Fyodor:  White Nights
  15. Eliot, George: Adam Bede
  16. Irving, Washington:  Old Christmas
  17. Proust, Marcel:  Days of Reading
  18. Rushdie, Salman:  Luka and the Fire of Life
  19. Shakespeare, William:  Hamlet
  20. Shute, Nevil:  What Happened to the Corbetts?

This should be a very nice reading challenge to take on during the holidays and into the New Year. I’m so happy to be back to my reading, and to my Classics Club reading again!

The Golden Goblet

The Golden Goblet, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, won the Newbery Honor Award in 1962. It would be a fun read for 6th graders who are studying ancient Egypt.  Although I had the book in my 6th grade class library for many years, and my students enjoyed checking it out and reading it, I hadn’t read it until now. I’d call it an historical mystery and the story of a strong and talented young man overcoming adversity. I enjoyed it!

From the publisher:

Ranofer wants only one thing in the world: to be a master goldsmith like his beloved father was. But how can he when he is all but imprisoned by his evil half brother, Gebu? Ranofer knows the only way he can escape Gebu’s abuse is by changing his destiny. But can a poor boy with no skills survive on the cutthroat streets of ancient Thebes? Then Ranofer finds a priceless golden goblet in Gebu’s room and he knows his luck and his destiny are about to change.

This is the third book I’ve read by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, and I liked all three of them. Click on the following titles to read my reviews of the other two books:  The Moorchild and Greensleeves.


This book was one of my choices for The Classics Club, round 2.

Changes at Fairacre

Times are changing in the charming village of Fairacre…

In this time of changes in my life, I find great comfort in reading the books in the Fairacre series, by Miss Read (the pseudonym of British author, Dora Saint). Changes at Fairacre is the 18th book in the series, so I am getting close to the end of my time in Fairacre. I’ve been reading them slowly, savoring them, not wanting them to end. Since I only have two books left in the Fairacre series, I am grateful that Dora Saint wrote another series to follow — that takes place in a neighboring village called Thrush Green. So it will be awhile before I have to say goodbye to these gentle, delightful stories.

I think Changes at Fairacre is one of my favorites in the series so far. It was a tenderhearted story, with all the changes that were happening in the village and in the life of the main character. Time moves on in these books, and this main character, the village school teacher, faces new challenges and some losses that touched my heart. The seasons and each school year come and go. The children grow and change. Life goes on as the village faces all the problems of modernization. Changes.

From the Publisher:

Times are changing in the charming downland village of Fairacre, and Miss Read isn’t certain that it’s all for the best. The new commuter lifestyle has caused a drop in attendance at the local school, and officials are threatening closure. Miss Read worries about the failing health of Dolly Clare. Vegetable gardens have given way to trips to the Caxley markets, and the traditional village fete now includes a prize for best quiche. With her trademark patience and good humor, Miss Read hopes for the best and plans for the worst as the village grows increasingly modern. Despite all the innovations, Fairacre still retains its essential elements: gentle wit, good manners, and the comfort of caring neighbors.

A few of my favorite passages from the book:

“Everything was quiet. I leant out of the bedroom window and smelt the cool fragrance of a summer’s night. Far away, across Hundred Acre field, an owl hooted. Below me, in the flowerbed, a small nocturnal animal rustled leaves in its search for food. A great feeling of peace crept over me. The tranquillity of Dolly’s old abode and my new one enveloped me. I knew then that I had come home at last.”

“My bedtime reading at the moment was Virginia Woolf’s essay about my favourite clergyman, eighteenth century Parson Woodforde. I had come across her remarks on the entry: ‘Found the old gentleman at his last gasp. Totally senseless with rattlings in the Throat. Dinner today boiled beef and Rabbit rosted.’ ‘All is as it should be; life is like that,’ she comments.”

“There may be many changes in Fairacre, I thought, but the seasons come round in their appointed time, steadfast and heartening to us all.”

Painting by Robert John Hammond…