When You Have Obviously Lost Some Brain Cells

I keep fiddling with books. Picking them up, opening them then putting them down. Anything but reading them, it seems. I’m finding it difficult to focus lately, finding it arduous to concentrate. I must have lost some brain cells throughout February. Reading for both Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata and Pulang (Home in English translation) by Leila S. Chudori skidded to a halt.

I’m not enjoying Snow Country. Research had deluded me into believing that it was meant for me since plenty of readers lauded the lyrical prose. When I take a step back and think about the novel overall, I can see its appeal. The prose is crystalline, with glimmers of poetry but never ostentatious. Yet I’m not moved by the writing. The plot, an entanglement between a Tokyo dilettante and a hot spring geisha, feels pointless and draggy to me. I keep on reading hoping everything will eventually gel together. Reading like this is a bit draining but I stubbornly persist because Snow Country is only 175 pages (but feels neverending).

On the other hand, I cannot blame books that are not to my taste for the February slump. Pulang by Leila S. Chudori is so far an excellent book. I’d rate it five stars on goodreads where I am now. It is about exiled Indonesians following the bloody events of 1965. Told from multiple perspectives, multigenerational, and multicultural, the scope of Pulang is epic. It’s very compelling but I just can’t focus on it at the moment. It’s just as well that Pulang has been set aside for now. It deserves to be put down until I am in the proper mood to appreciate it.

I’m not a TV/movie person. I enjoy them, of course, but invariably choose books over other forms of media. It speaks of my state of mind that I have turned to film and telly throughout February.

Macbeth is my very favorite Shakespeare out of the plays of his I have read so far. I have watched many adaptations of the Scottish play and was very excited to have the 2015 version starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard grace Jakarta cinema screens last month.

I’ve been waiting for this version of Macbeth to screen ever since the casting news broke out. I think Fassbender and Cotillard are both very fine actors and I am happy to report that both were indeed well-cast. While Macbeth (2015) has not displaced the 2010 version starring Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood as my Macbeth gold standard, it came pretty darn close. In fact, I debated whether the 2015 version is now my favorite.

Rupert Goold’s 2010 version is appropriately bombastic and over the top, mimicking the text’s mood perfectly. I will never forget the image of Stewart and Fleetwood joining bloody hands, walking stiffly, and looking like deranged wedding cake figurines. Macbeth (2015) is more subtle, still ruddy and vigorous, but in the new film you really get just how much Macbeth and Lady Macbeth loved one another. Of course I melted. The Macbeths’ relationship is my favorite aspect of the play, its grand tragedy being how the Macbeths destroyed a perfectly loving relationship on the altar of their ambition. I watched Macbeth (2015) twice and recommend it highly despite the mixed official reviews.

I also went to the cinema for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, following a dear friend’s request. I haven’t read the quirky book retelling but I have a soft spot for Jane Austen’s original source material. Pride and Prejudice is a book I turn to again and again whenever I need my spirit lifted. Unfortunately, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies the film will appeal more to those who haven’t read Pride and Prejudice. Characters behaved differently from their established personalities. It was terribly jarring to see Elizabeth Bennet be gratuitously antagonistic and rude. Yes, she is prejudiced and cutting in the source material, but not to this extent. Mr. Collins came across as inexplicably charming, another strange phenomenon. I also got the distinct impression that the director, scriptwriter, and crew completely forgot about the moral conventions and values of the time period. I can’t give examples for fear of spoiling scenes, but it’s easy to say I don’t recommend this movie.

My much-loved friends have pestered me to watch the hot new anime One Punch Man. I finally relented mid-February and I am now obsessed. I was deeply skeptical at first. The conceit is unconvincing. A hero who defeats all opponents with a single punch? That sounded like the worst story idea. How are you going to develop a story? Apparently, you can indeed develop a story. An excellent one, in fact. Surprisingly, despite being a fight shonen anime, One Punch Man is a slow burn, it is character-and-relationship-driven with the action and fight scenes feeling more like a smokescreen. I also appreciate that the story skims on some darker topics like corruption and (what might or might not be) depression. Ultimately, I think One Punch Man is about how heroism is measured by your character rather than your strength and flashy moves.

One Punch Man also serves as a parody of its genre. So of course I love it. Shonen mangas like Dragonball and Naruto were a chunk of my happy childhood and school memories so it is lovely to watch a slice of nostalgia.

Unfortunately, One Punch Man does suffer from a woman problem. There are very few female characters and the ones that exist so far serve to be taught a lesson or as fanservice. Because One Punch Man is an ongoing series, I am fervently hoping this will change in the future.

I am now caught up with the manga, since I wanted more more more of One Punch Man after I ended the final episode of the current season. So I suppose I have done some reading this month: manga volumes. Ten of them.

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This blog will revert back to a proper book blog on its next post. Up next is a review of Harvey, a graphic novel by Herve Bouchard and Janice Nadeau. Yes, a graphic novel. Brain not functional enough to handle much text yet. Sorry.

 

January Book and Magazine Haul

Come, all ye weary and in need of good cheer! Look upon this post of mine, filled to the brim with shiny new things! No food for the brain, no insights for the soul. Nonesuch. Just shameless (yet essential) frivolity.

This book haul ties in serendipitously with Opat’s Japanese Literature Reading Challenge. Why? Look! Just look!

Because I like to drivel about mememe, let us look upon my January consumerist choices!

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

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Let’s get the lone wolf out of the way! I have wanted My Cousin Rachel for more than a year now. The plot synopsis screamed “I’m perfect for you!” (Although to be honest, 80% of du Maurier’s works promises to be my soulmate). Then bookssnob’s review was the final carrot that had the horse charging. I started to actively search for it.

For a long time, I insisted upon having My Cousin Rachel in the Virago Designer Collection above because I can be shallow and I want my books to be pretty. But I’m out of luck it seems. I don’t think the edition I want is still available, so I bit the bullet and got this not-nearly-as-pretty version.

Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

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Cinema philistine that I am, I have never watched Akira Kurosawa’s iconic Rashomon. But now ladies and gentlemen, now I have an excuse. I want to read the original source first, she says as she hipster-flips her hair.

(But wait, was Kurosawa’s Rashomon adapted from Akutagawa’s “Rashomon” or “In a Grove”? Someone enlighten me please, demands the inept hipster)

Japanese Fairy Tales compiled by Yei Theodora Ozaki

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I just love folktales and fairy tales. No other excuse needed.

After the Banquet by Yukio Mishima

Although The Sound of Waves, reviewed here, wasn’t memorable, I can’t seem to stop buying more Mishima. The plot blurbs of his novels really appeal to me. After the Banquet is heavily inspired by real-life events, to the point Mishima was sued with violation of privacy. Thematically, After the Banquet is all about gender warfare, a topic I am weak for (Dorothy Parker is one of my favorites!).

The Book of Tokyo edited by Michael Emmerich, Jim Hinks & Masashi Matsuie

The Book of Tokyo

I first learned about this anthology via this post. I thought its premise fascinating: curated contemporary short stories that, together, paints diverse impressions of modern Tokyo.

Bonus! I bought another book after taking the group photo above.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Ishiguro was the king of my heart in 2015! The Remains of the Day and An Artist of the Floating World were #1 and #2 on my best books of the year, respectively. I’m aware that The Buried Giant wasn’t as warmly-received as The Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go, but I decided to take a chance because (a) I’m still not over my honeymoon phase with Ishiguro (b) I have a lot of childhood nostalgia for Arthurian legends and (c) a friend whose taste I trust entirely told me The Buried Giant offers a luminous depiction of mature married love, something fiction sorely lacks, I believe.

Oh wait, there’s even more!

I have the February editions of Biteki and Maquia, two of the Big Three Japanese beauty magazines. Maquia was much harder to locate. I had thought this was odd because to my knowledge, Biteki was numero uno.

But then you crack open the Feb edition of Biteki and you figure out why it didn’t sell as well as Maquia. February’s Biteki was mostly countdowns of all the best products (read: adverts). Japanese beauty mags are great because of the detailed diagrams and step-by-step instructions for different makeup looks, so it was disappointing to find it missing from Biteki. My favorite looks are these two from Maquia:

It’s rather telling that my favorite look is the one most similar to how I do my eye makeup most days. This look is basically a subtle cat eye, with more of an Egyptian horizontal line than a diagonal flick. Actually, forget similar. This is exactly how I do my eye makeup most days.

I love the model’s eyes here! I do suspect the look owes its success to the model’s own beautiful almond eyes rather than makeup enhancement, but I want to try and replicate this look. It requires no more than a basic eyeshadow quad and a brown pencil liner.

I know this is a book blog, not a beauty blog (HAHAHA, I almost wrote ‘this is a beauty blog, not a book blog.’ Freudian slip?), but hey, I did say this was going to be a light-hearted post.

Now, how do you end a post that lacks intellectual nutrition? Provide cake, of course! Here is a matcha castella baked by yours truly!