Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Skim (Goodreads)

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Suicide, depression, love, sexuality, crushes, cliques of popular, manipulative peers – the whole gamut of teen life is explored in this literary graphic masterpiece.

Above is the blurb for young adult graphic novel Skim. A bold claim, to be sure. But is it accurate?

I agree with the blurb – to an extent. Skim never delved deeply into any of the promised themes. They are all within the pages, but don’t expect a thorough examination.

My evaluation may not sound enthusiastic, but I think it was the right approach for the story. Whenever suicide, depression, or falling in love touches our lives – whether directly or through others, whether as teenagers or as adults who should know better, we are left with far more questions than answers. Worse, our sense of self and established beliefs are often shaken.

The year is 1993. “Skim” is the nickname of Kimberly Keiko Cameron, a Canadian high school student with estranged parents. She lives with her mother, but the relationship is distant. She is into tarot cards, Wicca, and astrology. She’s starting to have differences with her best friend Lisa. She’s a misfit at school. And she’s falling in love for the first time.

Yet her story is essentially a subplot. Katie Matthews is one of the popular girls, whose outgoing and athletic ex-boyfriend committed suicide. The overarching narrative of Skim centers on the aftermath of this boy’s suicide.

The students at Skim’s high school don’t know Katie’s ex-boyfriend (they go to different schools), but everyone has a response. From insensitivity to ignorance (teenagers, eh?) to eye rolling at the random hysteria, everyone has a response.

What Skim captured well is the voice and reactions of teenagers. A lot of stupid ideas are executed with (likely) good intentions.

Skim is wonderfully realized. She is the way teen misfits usually are. Smarter, sharper, and wiser than the expectations of those around her, but not as wise and smart as she wishes she is.

I so love the page where the concerned but bungling school counselor pulled Skim into her office. Girls like Skim, with their gothic ways and “depressing stimuli”, were “very fragile.” In other words, girls like Skim were more prone to suicide.

To which Skim snarkily thought: “Truthfully I am always a little depressed but that is just because I am sixteen and everyone is stupid […] I doubt it has anything to do with being a goth.” Oh, and “John Reddear was on the volleyball team and he was the one who committed suicide.” I chuckled. Then cringed. Skim’s inner thoughts were close to those of my teenage self, though I was never a goth and always a humanities nerd.

So ends my adventures into Groundwood Books’ graphic novels. I’ve read four so far (I’ve also read A Year without Mom, Harvey, and Jane, the Fox, and Me). All the graphic novels are quiet, slice-of-life stories of innocence’s transition into mature realization after one central event, and Skim is definitely my favorite. It’s the grittiest one I’ve read, which makes sense as the other three are targeted at much younger audiences.

Despite my reluctance to read young adult fiction as I often find the characters’ interests too shallow and juvenile, Skim is a winner. Sensitive topics are treated unflinchingly (though never deeply) yet with restraint and understanding. The characters and their reactions ring genuine, especially those of Skim and Katie.

I know there’s very little chance anyone from Groundwood Books would read this, but it is thanks to them that I could read these graphic novels. During the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair, their representatives very kindly let me take the books I was interested in off their stand free of charge as they didn’t want to take them back to Canada. It sounds like a win-win situation, but the reps were generous. Other publishers got rid of their books by selling them at a discount. Yet one of the Groundwood reps said she is more than happy if someone took the books to a welcoming home.

The publishing world is a business like any other. But stories like the one I experienced reminded me that book lovers are united in something wonderful. Loving books is often a personal matter, but the community created is tangible and passionate.

Jane, the Fox and Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault

Jane, the Fox and Me

Translated from French by Cristelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou

At this point, I’ve read three of Groundwood Books’ graphic novels for children. Organized by reading order and incidentally, from least to most adored: A Year without Mom by Dasha Tolstikova, Harvey by Herve Bouchard and Janice Nadeau, and now, Jane, the Fox and Me. I’m sensing a pattern here: the artwork is always superlative, the stories quiet, gentle, and tender. So quiet, gentle, and tender are they – that all of them are a tad forgettable.

That’s not to say that Groundwood Books choose stinkers. Far from it. These are good graphic novels with some excellent qualities. To me personally, they just don’t have that special something that would push me to rate them higher. And in fact, I respect Groundwood Books for choosing subdued atmosphere over dramatic bombast. One of the elements I appreciate from these graphic novels is how precisely they capture a child’s innocence/self-centeredness. Political havoc in A Year without Mom matters not to little Dasha. She’s more concerned about her first crush and how her school friends treat her. A parent’s death is unreal to the titular protagonist of Harvey – he spends the night thinking of an old movie he once saw.

Jane, the Fox and Me similarly tells of a young child’s tribulations. Helene is not living in a war-torn country. She is not dealing with abusive parents. But she is struggling all the same. Girls who were once her friends are bullying her at school. Her mother, although loving, is too tired raising three children alone to notice. Helene finds solace in reading Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. She identifies with Jane, from her plainness to her mettle. But when Helene’s class leaves for a two-week nature camp, will Jane Eyre alone save her from the cruelty of other kids?

I’m not the first reviewer who has noticed that Helene’s world is drawn in black-and-white yet moments when she is recounting Jane Eyre are fully colored. A clever and beautiful touch, I think. Not to mention, long-term bibliophiles would relate – As a child, school is too mundane and gray to be real, fictional worlds were brighter and felt more corporeal to me.

So to conclude, I was mildly disappointed because I had heard such lovely things about Jane, the Fox and Me on booktube. Perhaps the hype ruined it for me even though there was nothing particularly wrong with Jane, the Fox and Me. Britt and Arsenault really captured Helene’s isolation and loneliness exceptionally well. You can really feel Helene and her perspective of the world.

Of course, the artwork is simply beautiful – I expect no less from anything Groundwood Books publish at this point. Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki is the final unread Groundwood graphic novel I own and I’m looking forward to it.

Harvey by Herve Bouchard and Janice Nadeau


My edition of Harvey was translated from French by Helen Mixter

Someone ought to stop me from compulsively checking on Groundwood Books’ catalogue. The Canadian children’s publisher has released many beautiful picture books and graphic novels. Harvey is the second graphic novel of theirs I’ve read and the art doesn’t disappoint. The illustration style is lovely and whimsical, with a muted color scheme that echoes the story’s mood and setting. I can’t remember any bright shades anywhere in Harvey.



Harvey feels like a picture book/graphic novel hybrid. There are no speech bubbles, although dialogue exists. All the text is presented in a picture book format. And the text’s font relays a subtle sweet touch. Handwritten and stiff, it perfectly mimics a schoolboy’s best classroom writing.

The plot follows Harvey, our eponymous narrator of young grade school age. Harvey and his younger brother had only finished racing and playing in the slush of Canada’s early spring when they find out their father has died of a heart attack. Harvey deals with the boy’s life immediately prior to this sudden death and his reactions and coping approach immediately after.

Having read Groundwood’s Harvey and A Year Without Mom (reviewed here), I have a hunch that their editors love gentle, tender stories. Because A Year Without Mom is set in early 1990s Moscow, I had thought the graphic novel would impart some historical and political lessons. With Harvey, I had thought the father’s sudden death would feed a lot of drama into the story. But it is not so in both cases. Both Harvey and A Year Without Mom are about kids quietly struggling with life. Their struggles aren’t overwhelmingly bombastic. Rather, they are relatable day to day hurts and aches: problems at school, problems with friends, feeling alone and out of place and uprooted.

What I loved and related to most about Harvey is how accurately it captures a young child’s reaction to death. Little Harvey wasn’t sobbing, wasn’t distraught. In fact, his emotional reaction can feel too subdued to a reader. Little Harvey fended off the idea of death by searching for his father at home, despite seeing an ambulance take the body away. He spent the night fantasizing about a film. But gradually he grows to understand things are different now. Permanently so.

Overall, I appreciated Harvey’s art more than the story. But then, there’s not much of a story to begin with. I admired that the book feels emotionally true –especially taking into account that the story is told from a young child’s perspective. I like Harvey more than A Year Without Mom and I absolutely would love to read more of Groundwood Books’ publications.

Book Tag: My Life in Books

The lovely Marwhal once again tagged me in a fun book tag that I am very happy to participate in.

  1. Find a book for each of your initials

I have quite a long name, so for brevity’s sake I will only use my first, middle, and last name. All together, they add up to R-C-S. Here are my choices:


R is for Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. I read this novel in August and while it is not my favorite book of the year, it is technically faultless. I still think about this novel from time to time; I especially cannot let go of Yates’ masterful characterization. There is a reason why I found Revolutionary Road quite funny, despite its crushing tragedy and that reason is Frank Wheeler. Oh Frank, you silly, silly man. So unlikable! And yet, so shockingly true to flesh-and-blood people. So charming, so charismatic! Yet so false and desperate. So many found you onerous. Yet I found you a delightful scream!


C is for Cotillion by Georgette Heyer, a recent acquisition of mine. I’m very excited to read this, as it has been described as “a literary bubble bath” and “like pink champagne.” Who doesn’t want to read something light and frothy and romantic and uplifting? We can’t all survive on literature alone. Yes, yes, I have clearly misnamed this blog.


S is for Saman by Ayu Utami. Very thought-provoking, especially for a city girl like me. I was –and still am- quite ignorant on how corrupt central government and big business can affect negligible villages. But Saman gives a piercing, distressing portrait on just one small example in novel form. It’s a shame that most of the press this book gets is for its depiction of female sexuality. I would think corruption and human rights abuses should generate more uproar but hey, sex is so distracting, innit?

  1. Count your age along your book shelf: What book is it?


A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. Gosh, I’m so ashamed to say that I’ve only read book 1 and 2 of this series when I love the story so much. When you can juggle multiple characters and POVs and plot points and characterizations, yet make things comprehensible to the reader, you are a talented author. GRRM is certainly a talented author. I just have too many books. Will try to dive back into the series next year. Hopefully. Fingers crossed.

  1. Pick a book set in your city/state/country


Senja di Jakarta (Twilight in Jakarta) by Mochtar Lubis. An Indonesian classic I have yet to read. I hear Lubis is very harsh on Jakarta in this novel since this book is all about Indonesian corruption and the unsavory characters that populate the city. This novel was published in the 60s and everyone who has read it has said the corrupt practices evoked this book is still applicable fifty years later. Since I plan to write an author spotlight on Lubis, I hope to read Senja di Jakarta very soon.

  1. Pick a book that represents a destination you would like to travel to


Out by Natsuo Kirino. This is an odd choice, since Kirino’s depiction of life in Tokyo is scathing. The characters here work numbing, menial jobs. A lot of horrible things are done to people. Yet boring jobs and crime happen in every city. It’s probably not healthy to build an idealized version of any place in your mind. Kirino’s prose, despite her subject matter, is pristine and effortless and I look forward to reading more of her work.

  1. Pick a book that is your favorite color


One of my favorite books has my favorite color as its cover scheme. Perfect. Reams has been written about The Handmaid’s Tale but I do have an unpopular opinion about it. Beneath the din of whether this book is science fiction vs. speculative fiction, my own belief is that this is domestic fiction. This is a book about the small spaces women make for themselves, the steady ways women try to survive despite the grind and oppressions of life.

  1. Which book do you have the fondest memory of?


The easiest question! The Adventures of Tintin. Thanks to Herge, my first big dream was to travel the world. I was sad that reviewing Tintin on this blog proved to be an unpopular endeavor, it seems that not a lot of people care for this series anymore. Yes, some sentiments are outdated. Yes, there’s racism in Tintin in the Congo. But Tintin is life-affirming too. The most beautiful depiction of friendship! The lesson that changing yourself for the better is hard and will slap you with setbacks, but you can do it. And Captain Haddock! Who doesn’t love Captain Haddock?

My favorite of the series (and this was excruciatingly hard to decide) is probably Explorers on the Moon. An engaging plot, the funniest slapstick and dialogue, and a darkness I did not expect to see at something aimed for children are the ingredients for something truly sublime.

  1. Which book did you have the most difficulty reading?


The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. So many sleepless nights were spent during high school trying to figure out whether the nanny was insane or if there really were supernatural forces at work. I still have nothing. I still don’t know anything! Not to mention, James had a lifelong torrid affair with commas. Gosh, he loved endless sentences. It was exhausting trying to make sense of his excessive clauses

  1. Which book in your TBR pile will give you the biggest sense of achievement?


Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Russian epic. Bigger-than-a-brick tome. Nuff said.

I know I’m supposed to tag others in turn but I’m not sure who would want to be tagged. I love being tagged but I don’t think this sentiment applies to everyone. So anyone who wants to do this tag, please go right ahead!

Strange Light Afar: Tales of the Supernatural from Old Japan by Rui Umezawa


Strange Light Afar is a collection of eight retold Japanese supernatural folktales. If you have even a middling interest in mythology and folktales, it’s very likely you’ll know most of these stories. Umezawa didn’t stray off the well-worn path; he chose familiar folklore to retell. The story “Paradise” is based on the very famous Japanese folktale of Urashima Taro, who came to realize that several days spent in an underwater splendor means several decades above seawater.

In fact, you’ll probably find that some of these tales mimic your own national folklore. Quite a few mirror Indonesian myths and legends. “Snow” in Strange Light Afar is similar to the creation myth of Lake Toba in Sumatra. “Captive” and the story of Jaka Tarub from East Java share close relations.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Strange Light Afar is published by Groundwood Books, the children’s books imprint of Canadian publisher House of Anansi Press. It is packaged as a middle grade book with large font and illustrations. Strange Light Afar is a short book, as each of the eight stories never exceed twenty pages. The prose is spare and simple, as befits a book meant for younger readers. But the themes within can be a little too lurid for the young. There’s addiction, murder, horror, alcoholism, and sexuality within these pages. Not always explicit, sometimes just hinted. But still, it made me wonder about the exact age range the book is marketed towards.

I enjoyed Strange Light Afar, but I didn’t love it. What held it up were the glimmers of gently beautiful prose. The writing may be simple, but interspersed with descriptions of nature and metaphors that were exquisite. I wanted more of that beautiful writing as it wasn’t continuously pronounced. Since Strange Light Afar is marketed as a children’s book, I understand why Umezawa had to hold back. I don’t think little kiddies appreciate mellifluous prose the way older readers do.

Sadly, Strange Light Afar simply wasn’t memorable. I had to think hard to remember all the stories only two days after finishing the book. The retellings didn’t offer anything new. At first, I had chalked up the macabre themes in these tales to the source material rather than authorial intent, as original folktales and fairy tales tend to be grim and sinister. And since I thought Umezawa’s retellings were straightforward, I assumed the dark themes were simply part of the package. So imagine my surprise when I read the author’s afterword. Umezawa’s intention with Strange Light Afar is to imbue flat folktale characters with motives and depth of characterization.

Despite Umezawa’s best efforts, the results aren’t stellar. Umezawa does a better job when writing in the first person POV. He is particularly good at writing characters who delude themselves into thinking they are paragons of virtue when they are really villains. More despicable (and hilarious) for their delusions, even. But when he writes in the third person POV, the characters still feel two-dimensional. I tried to search, but I couldn’t find the depth of characterization he talked about. Mostly, I blame such failings on the medium of short stories he worked with. It’s hard to flesh out and develop a well-rounded character within the span of twenty pages, especially when you have to get on with an established plot as well. I think the collection would have worked better if he picked maybe three folktales to work with and developed the characters for those three stories.


Or perhaps his stress on characterization will manifest itself better given the canvas of a novel, where you have the necessary space to flesh out your protagonists. Umezawa has indeed written a novel titled The Truth About Death and Dying. I may not have loved Strange Light Afar, but I enjoyed the flickers of lovely prose. I might give The Truth About Death and Dying a chance if I were to cross paths with it.

Frankfurt Book Fair Haulage

Forgive the month-long blog silence. Life happened in the form of work, illness, work, illness, flying to Germany and working at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair, and jet lag. All in that order, in fact.

There are posts that have to be postponed for now. In particular, the author spotlight on Leila S. Chudori needs more time. As an apology and a way for me to get back in the swing of things, here’s a post on the freebies I snagged from the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair.

Featured image

The Frankfurt Book Fair happens during the course of five days; the first three of which is open exclusively to trade visitors and exhibitors for business deals and rights negotiation. The general public is then allowed to attend during the weekend or the last two days.

Each publisher or exhibitor would bring many of their key titles for display. Ultimately, however, carrying the books home is a cumbersome and expensive affair so most publishers and exhibitors will either sell these books or give them away during the weekend.

Unfortunately for me, I was on full work mode on the final day, the day most physical books at the fair gets sold or given away. Penguin Random House, for example, would only put their books on sale starting 11am on the last day. I looked on in envy as I watched the Sunday crowds cradle their considerable hauls. But it was probably for the best that I couldn’t buy more books during the final day. Even without the Sunday scramble I had already found myself with nine books.

I’ll talk about the books I got from top to bottom.Featured image

The first book I got was directly from the author herself: an Indonesian named Lily Yulianti Farid. As I have mentioned constantly on this blog, Indonesia is the Guest of Honor at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair so plenty of Indonesian authors were invited to the fair for many speaking events. I met Lily and I complained about wanting to read her books but finding them difficult to find. Without a word, she held out her bag and took out Maiasaura out of it. “Here you go. This is yours,” she said. After a brief skip of speechlessness, I said, “Well, now you have to sign it for me.” And she did, which was very lovely of her.

I did most of my exploring on the Thursday. Two wonderful small presses deserve a lot of love on this blog post. Mainly because I ransacked their booths. The first publisher is Graywolf Press. This Minnesota-based small press literally arrested me on my tracks, so well-made and well-designed were their books. I just had to tell the lady managing the stand how lovely I found her products and ask if the books would be available for sale later during the fair. She very kindly told me that she would be leaving Friday night so I would be free to take Graywolf books from then on. Ah, how fortunate am I!


I took two books from the Graywolf stand, both of them short story collections. Not only did the lady very kindly let me have her books, she also gave me recommendations. When I told her that I am a short story devotee, she pointed me to this book: Per Petterson’s debut. I have never read any Norwegian literature and I have never read Out Stealing Horses, Petterson’s most famous work but I am willing to give it a shot. I was told that this is a series of vignettes gently illustrating a boy’s coming-of-age. And this is a very small book, so if anything else, I’ll wolf through it.


The other book I took from Graywolf was Half an Inch of Water by Percival Everett. This was the book that stopped me dead on my tracks when I walked by the Graywolf Press stand. I’m not usually fond of loud color schemes like this, but it does attract attention, and I was immediately intrigued. This is a book that I would normally have misgivings for, as the short stories within are about the American West. I have little to no knowledge of the American West and I am usually not partial to the pastoral imagery (city girl here!) but it was the first book recommended to me and a little risk once in a while is good, right? I might end up loving this book.

Lather, rinse, and repeat with House of Anansi Press of Canada. I had to do a double take when I passed by their booth. Was compelled to compliment their books and ask if they would be for sale. Was incredibly lucky to be told that everyone’s leaving Friday night and I was welcome to help myself to their books Saturday morning. Took what I liked first thing Saturday morning and was shameless, since I took six.

House of Anansi has an imprint for children’s books called Groundwood Books and I was surprised to find that I took five Groundwood Books. It has been a while since I indulged in anything middle-grade or young adult.


If you have been following this blog for a while, you’d know that I do love my Japanese-themed books so of course, I had to have this. I’m currently reading this so expect a review soon. The way the book is packaged, it is probably aimed for middle grade or younger YA, but there are some darker themes in these tales. There’s murder, envy, betrayal, horror, and sexuality. But considering that original fairy tales and folktales are usually dark, I would attribute the lurid themes to the source of these stories rather than authorial intent.


Wanted this book because a) short stories and b) the arresting cover. But I was told by the lady handling House of Anansi and Groundwood’s booth that Lisa Moore is a very famous Canadian author in her own right. Well, since the only Canadian authors I know are Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, I am very much open to expanding my horizons. By the way, why are all the famous Canadian writers ladies? Not that I’m complaining, of course.


This is a super new release. Goodreads marked its release date as October 6th 2015 and Groundwood is apparently trying to hype it as their next big thing. It is also a graphic novel. You’re going to notice a trend now, as the rest of these books are graphic novels. It has been a long, long while since I collected graphic novels. I loved Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi in high school and was a big reader of Japanese manga during junior and high school but my enthusiasm for the genre petered out.

Groundwood produces amazing graphic novels. I picked up four. I haven’t read the text but the illustrations are divine. A Year Without Mom is set in early 1990s Moscow. Our young protagonist is navigating life without her mother, who has taken off to America. It’ll probably the first one I read, as something about its vibe echoes Persepolis.


Harvey follows a little boy’s life following his father’s death from a heart attack. Beyond that I don’t know much about this graphic novel. I do love the artwork though and within the book, there was a beautiful three-page spread that convinced me that I had to bring this one home as well.2418888The final two graphic novels are probably the best-known books I have on my set. These would be Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki and Jane, the Fox, and Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault. I have seen reviews for both books floating on booktube and they have gotten good reviews from what I can gather. Is it bad that I picked these up purely because of booktube? Please don’t ask me for a synopsis, I don’t know. I’ll tell you after I’ve read them and have written a review.17214302

And that’s it for this long, picture-laden post. I might write more about the Indonesian presence at the Frankfurt Book Fair but I’m sure the newspapers and other news outlets have already covered the happenings. You’re perfectly welcome to ask me questions about the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair, of course.

Runaway by Alice Munro


I took extensive notes whilst reading Runaway as I knew I would find it a difficult collection to describe and review. These short stories are incredibly well-written and I was often left in awe of Munro’s prowess as an author. Yet simultaneously, I was often left cold and detached. I was never emotionally involved in the characters’ travails even though I have wanted to cry and rage and whoop with joy at fiction that weren’t as magnificently-crafted as Runaway. Munro’s prose is clear-eyed and uncomplicated and she writes with a precise, surgical touch. So clear is her prose, that sometimes her writing felt dry and prosaic. Also, perfection is intimidating. Perhaps that’s why the stories felt cold.

To give a better understanding of Runaway, these are short stories that critics, lit crit professors, and writing professors would hold up as exemplary models of the genre. But for those who have never liked literary fiction, Alice Munro would not be a good gateway drug. My guess is that Runaway would be perceived as pretentious and confusing.

This is actually my second attempt at tackling Runaway (Successful this time – Hooray!). Only two weeks after Alice Munro’s Nobel win in 2013, bookstores were inundated by her back catalogue. Munro was always on my radar even if she was never on the top priority list. Those who know me would know that I am a short story acolyte so I bought Runaway knowing it was regarded as one of Munro’s best collections.

There are eight stories in Runaway and I gave up the first time around because I thought these stories were just a bit aimless, a bit pointless, and then they just ended. There were no climaxes, only an emotional flatline. The first story, which gave the collection its name, didn’t sit well with my feminist sensibilities. A woman lying about domestic abuse to get out trouble? Umm…

I’m not sure why I felt a sudden blazing desire to read Runaway again last week. But I’m glad the inspiration struck. What the heck was I smoking when I read the opener that first time? “Runaway” is a perfectly-constructed short story. For those unfamiliar with Munro’s writing, nearly all of her stories end with a twist, you never really know where the story is going. You think the story is building up to a climax, but then Munro changes directions entirely. I suppose I had thought these stories pointless because they weren’t neat. They were perfectly-constructed, yes, but the stories went in odd directions. The after-scenes don’t match the set-up.

Rather than confusing you with my explaining, I’ll give an example with “Runaway.”

  • Set-up: a husband eggs his unwilling wife to report their late neighbor’s (exaggerated) harassment in exchange for money.
  • What I thought the next scenes would be: their plot would be detailed further, and cracks would start to show in their relationship.
  • What actually happened: the wife crying about marital abuse to their late neighbor’s widow – the extortion plot is never mentioned again.
  • What I thought would happen next: flashbacks of the husband’s abusive nature
  • What actually happened: The wife breaks down and begs to return to her husband within hours.

There are more unexpected turns in this story up until the end. These “twists” aren’t meant to be shockers and smacks. Sometimes the plot turns feels mundane and subtle, but organic and woven to the story.

The ending to “Runaway” was mundane, but it dropped a rock in my gut this time. What I felt was an affront to feminism with the wife exaggerating both her neighbor and her husband’s actions is symbolic of the collection’s theme. Nothing is simple, nothing is clear-cut, nothing is black and white. The wife Carla isn’t a liar, exactly – there are signs that her spouse is a bad husband. And in the end, Carla actions didn’t get a pass. To appease her husband, to get him sweet again, Carla’s white lies has to progressively build and build. Their reconciliation at the end is hinted to be a temporary band-aid. Everything high must come down – everything becomes mundane all over again.

“Chance,” “Soon,” and “Silence” are based around a single main character named Juliet. A short story trilogy, I suppose. Juliet isn’t a likable character. She can be hard and cold. Yet she is strangely relatable – who hasn’t wanted to get out of a chat with a “friendly” (read: intrusive) stranger? In “Silence,” tragedy befalls Juliet late in life. I felt no sadness for Juliet’s sake as, like I said, I am not emotionally invested in these stories. But Munro really gets what life is like following a heartbreaking event. Life goes on, life always goes on – and you have to follow the current of life or else you won’t survive. Pain will dull, will be less fresh but it will always be as if there was

a murderous needle somewhere in [your] lungs, and by breathing carefully, [you] could avoid feeling it. But every once in a while [you] had to take a deep breath, and it was still there.

The fifth and sixth stories “Passion” and “Trespasses” were the ones I disliked most. They dragged on. It astounded me that a story titled “Passion” could feel so cold. I was so detached that by the time the revelation of “Trespasses” was revealed, I thought ‘Oh, so what?’ I get some of the things Munro was trying to do. I get that the title “Passion” is meant to be ironic. I get that Mr. and Mrs. Travers are meant to parallel their son Maury and his new girlfriend, our protagonist, Grace. I get that in “Trespasses,” the likable Harry is actually hypocritical. I can appreciate the themes of memory and looking back in both “Passion” and “Trespasses.” But those two stories felt pointless and here I began to wonder if my weariness was caused by a Munro deluge. Perhaps I should have spaced out the stories more. But don’t just take my word for it. Alan Hollinghurst thinks “Passion” rates “among the finest things [Munro] has done.”

The final two stories “Tricks” and “Powers” were the most readable stories in Runaway, in my opinion. “Tricks” felt hopeful and romantic. A welcome change. Even if things did not end happily, it still had a sweet note to it. “Powers” is a fabulous closer. Clocking in at 65 pages, the story utilizes Munro’s considerable powers (hahaha, I’m so funny!). The story played around with different structures, from a diary format, to third-person narration, to epistolary form, then back and forth again. Munro really nailed the voice of a young rural girl complete with a country hick and the twists felt so natural.

Ultimately, I think the main theme in Runaway is that there are no easy answers in life. A lot of the turning points in life are just chances. I don’t think we’re meant to figure out everything as our protagonists themselves are trying to figure things out themselves. People try to make sense of their lives and rarely succeed.

My favorite quote from Runaway is this:

What most people suspect is true. Such performances are full of tricks. Full of fakery, full of deception. Sometimes that’s all it is. But what people –most people- hope for is occasionally also true. They hope that it’s not all fake.

There are many references to spirituality and chances in Runaway; things rational people scoff at. Yet their impact on our lives are so much more complex than that. Sometimes Munro crushes such hopes, sometimes she writes that our hopes are true. In “Powers” she does both. Munro does an honorable job of portraying life in all of its grey complexities, in its lack of clarity. While I can’t help but wish these stories had more pep and life, I admire Munro. I get the feeling that, as a person, she is empathetic and understanding of others, since she is so well-versed in the ambiguity of life.

London Book Haul

This is a light-hearted blog post where I drool over the books I bought over the Christmas holidays. Beware of rampant consumerism!

I was lucky enough to spend a week in London for the holidays. I love London. To me, it’s the literary capital of the world. My spiritual habitat. Of course, there’s a multitude of reasons to visit London, be they historical, cultural, sartorial, or culinary.

Screw it, man! Just take me to the bookshops!

I’ve been to London before, even lived there for a few months. This particular trip was a comforting little getaway. It was the opposite of adventurous. All the places I went to, I’ve been before.

I went slightly mad at Persephone Books. Has it truly been four years since I last stepped inside their shop? I first discovered Persephone Books when I was living in London. My heart leapt when I read about their mission. They sounded like just the publisher for me! For those who aren’t acquainted with them, Persephone Books republish neglected and out-of-print mid-century fiction and non-fiction by (mostly) women writers. And for those who hasn’t seen their books, they are gorgeous! Persephone publishes their books in uniform dove-grey covers but with individual patterned endpaper.

At the time, everyone in London was in a rush to do their last-minute Christmas shopping. The Persephone shop is small, and people kept coming in and out to do their shopping. Additionally, when I was in the shop, their website was down so their two phones kept ringing back and forth. Sometimes simultaneously.

Kudos to the amazing Persephone staff! Even though they had a lot on their hands, they were gracious enough to spend time recommending books to me, grabbing the books I was interested in and sitting me down and telling me to read the first few pages of all the books I wanted so I could see which ones grabbed me the most. I was told to take as much time as I needed, which was very sweet.

The first book I got was The Persephone Book of Short Stories. I love short stories so how could I resist? There are thirty stories and around four-hundred-and-fifty pages in the volume. This book is also a sampler of many existing Persephone writers: Helen Hull, Dorothy Whipple, Mollie Panter-Downes, etc. I neither had the money nor space in my suitcase to hoard all of Persephone’s catalogue so this is a good way of experiencing as many Persephone writers as possible. But there are also familiar names on the list, such as Dorothy Parker and Shirley Jackson – authors I already adore. I have high hopes for this anthology.

Then, I have Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins. This is the favorite Persephone book of one of the staff who was kind enough to recommend books to me. Though harrowing, she told me, this book is gripping and beautifully written. The story of a disabled girl who is taken advantage of by her relatives for her inheritance is clearly not a happy one. But I read the first few pages at the shop and couldn’t put it down.

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple was the one book I knew for sure I was going to get even before I entered the shop. This glowing review from bookssnob convinced me that I should get it. Someone at a Distance sounds like the realist novel of quiet dramas I love.

The Closed Door and Other Stories is another Dorothy Whipple book I bought. I just can’t keep away from short stories! In the store, I read a short story from this book titled “The Rose” and really enjoyed it. It made me think of a quieter Dorothy Parker. The wit isn’t as pointed or harsh, but the humor of human foibles is reminiscent of Parker’s work.

Prior to entering the shop, I wanted to get Miss Buncle’s Book. But when one of the staff saw that I was interested in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, she remarked that they were tonally very similar. If she were me, she would pick Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. She described it as an adult fairytale. I read the first few pages and like Harriet, I couldn’t put it down. This time for a completely different reason. Miss Pettigrew is sparkling, charming, and funny. I was immediately reminded of Dodie Smith.

I went to Foyles twice during my trip. I quite like their new incarnation. The new shop looks clean and modern and minimalist. It’s a shame they had to relocate slightly further afield from their iconic address but I can’t complain about their new interior.

I got two Margaret Atwoods, Alias Grace and The Robber Bride. Virago has published Margaret Atwood’s back catalogue except The Handmaid’s Tale in gorgeous editions: all block colors and a mixture of drawing and photography on the cover.

I am particularly fond of The Robber Bride’s cover. It’s a perfect combination: the color red and a femme fatale.

Speaking of lovely covers, I don’t know the plot of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. But good Lord, the Virago Modern Classic cover is a thing of beauty! So it went home with me. Me? Shallow? Guilty as charged!

I was looking for a copy of East of Eden but the edition sold in Kinokuniya Jakarta was outrageously expensive. I ransacked my grandfather’s bookshelves too, to no avail. And so it was serendipitous that I found new Penguin Classics editions of Steinbeck’s best-known novels at Foyles. I love the new cover; I love the tones of the reds, whites, and blues. Obviously, Penguin was trying to highlight how Steinbeck was a quintessential American writer – maybe even a bit heavy-handedly but the cover worked for me.

Although I didn’t love The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith, I enjoyed how charming and comforting it was, which was why I purchased The New Moon with the Old. Knowing Smith, it will be delightful and eccentric and positive and I look forward to picking this up when I need a good comfort read.

Finally, I purchased both Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. I’ve heard too many good things about Ishiguro’s writing. A friend of mine whose taste I completely trust considers Never Let Me Go to be a modern masterwork so I picked it up at The Notting Hill Bookshop.

I found The Remains of the Day at an Oxfam a few days later for 99 pence; how could I resist?

In total, I bought twelve books. Madness! I don’t even count the number of unread books languishing on my bookshelves anymore. Oh well, at least I’m excited about all the books I got. Cheers and happy reading in 2015!