Books I’m reading February 2010

Here’s some of what I’m reading this month, in no particular order.

Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai

By Yamamoto Tsunetomo

This is a classic treatise on Samurai etiquette and thought, containing lots of pithy maxims and instructional moral tales, devised to ensure young Samurai-class men did not stray from ‘the way’.  My chief interest in it arose from its basis for the 1999 Jim Jarmusch film Ghost Dog, starring Forest Whitaker, which is a work of exceptional beauty and highly poetic. (Go see it!!)

Having failed to get a copy in the intervening time, my girlfriend very thoughtfully got me a copy as part of my Christmas gifts, and I can now feel like Ghost Dog and take a little on board every day.  It is stern stuff, and it is obvious that Jim Jarmusch cherry picked the passages that made the film, as some of it can be a little bitchy, or contain passages that are really lists of instructional material about what is expected of a young Samurai.

It is interesting to note however, the completeness of the Japanese system of etiquette during the Edo Period. The autobiographical information we can infer about Tsunetomo himself from Hagakure would be that he is essentially nostalgically  looking over his shoulder, at a idealised Samurai class, which he deems to be in decline.

Last Night in Twisted River

John Irving

Again, this is a Christmas gift, (cheers Walt!) and a most engaging read.  If you’ve read as much Irving as I have, you’ll know that certain Irvingesque themes emerge in all his books, and this book is no exception.  We have Bears, unusual Love Triangles, Wrestling, and so on.

It is more interesting to note that Irving has not lost any of his magic as a storyteller.  He has a unique ability to lure the reader into a world, wherein we wonder how much the lines between fiction and reality can be blurred, and in this tale we are left guessing at how much of the material is autobiographical.

It is also a frank exposé on Irving’s writing process, and adheres to his very deliberate views about pace.  By this I mean that the first 100 pages might leave some readers behind, and, as always, Irving doesn’t care.  (He seems to believe we have to put in a bit of drudge work in order to enjoy a decent story).

It really picks up from there, and is clearly his best book in at least a decade.  One of the finest American living Authors.

Brilliant Marketing

Richard Hall

This book is a bit off the mark, in my opinion (pun-tastic!).  Following the success of my find with Brilliant Pitch, reviewed in January, this is something of a disappointment.

I may have to return to this review, as I am barely 1/3 the way in, however, it reads as though Hall is a little out of touch with what marketing has become since web 2.0.  He is very much housed in the old skool, which in itself is deserving of some respect, however it is indeed a new world (as this blog likes to note) and Hall seems to be of the opinion that this is just a fad, and he’d rather be living back in the heady days when Marketing Men had big cars, big cigars, and trophy girls they liked to cheat on, while selling us more soap flakes.

Surely I’m not alone in being sick to my teeth of tales of excess from the Advertising World of yore, so that is an immediate turn off.  Having noted that he’s already got my back up, I’m sure that there’s some intransigent principals in there that are worth applying, so I’m going to continue to wade through this slightly long tome (at 331 pages, it is a lot of commitment for someone who is in business –  and not retired – to read). If anything comes from it I may revisit this review.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

Bill Bryson

This book is fun on wheels.  Bryson takes a nostalgia-seeped look over his shoulder at the America he grew up in during the 1950’s, the age when the country itself was becoming a sweet teenager.  By the end of the first page I was shuddering trying to hide my laughter, in an introductory anecdote about how embarrassing his father was when he was a child.

It is bittersweet all the way, and Bryson has a unique gift for interjecting social commentary with humour, so that nobody gets left behind, and it is full of all the naivety and possibility we felt as kids.  The final chapters see Bryson revisit his childhood home in Des Moines, and his shock at realising that not only are all the familiar landmarks and people long gone, but all records of them from the local Newspaper archive have disappeared also.  Wonderful stuff.

Fragile Things

Neil Gaiman

This is a compendium of award winning short stories by Gaiman, (again a Christmas gift – thanks Walt!) and I have come to love anything he pens.  I am only beginning it, and, in a ‘value-add’ borrowed from DVDs,  there are ‘bonus features’ such as a detailed introduction to each story, and an ‘Insights / Interviews…’ etc section at the end.

I just started it last night, but just from the introductory notes it is immediately apparent how many voices Gaiman has as an author, and exactly how many writing styles he can emulate comfortably, whilst still keeping our attention rapt.  There’s lots of macabre delights to look forward to, I’m sure, and also some simply beautiful prose.  Here’s a quote about his choice of title (Fragile Things):

It seemed like a fine title for a book of short stories.  There are so many fragile things, after all.  People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts…

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