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text 2017-04-18 16:39
Um. Yes Please

September 26, 2017.


In this spectacular father/son collaboration, Stephen King and Owen King tell the highest of high-stakes stories: what might happen if women disappeared from the world of men?

In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If they are awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent; and while they sleep they go to another place... The men of our world are abandoned, left to their increasingly primal devices. One woman, however, the mysterious Evie, is immune to the blessing or curse of the sleeping disease. Is Evie a medical anomaly to be studied? Or is she a demon who must be slain? Set in a small Appalachian town whose primary employer is a women’s prison, Sleeping Beauties is a wildly provocative, gloriously absorbing father/son collaboration between Stephen King and Owen King.


Sleeping Beauties: A Novel by [King, Stephen, King, Owen]

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text 2015-11-06 00:26
Dabbling in some Japanese Literature
Botchan (Master Darling) - Sōseki Natsume,Yasotaro Morri
Japanese Gothic Tales - Kyōka Izumi,Charles Shiro Inouye
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion - Yukio Mishima,Ivan Morris
House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories - Yasunari Kawabata,Edward G. Seidensticker,Yukio Mishima
Coin Locker Babies - Ryū Murakami,Stephen Snyder
Kitchen - Banana Yoshimoto,Megan Backus
Mushishi, Volume 1 - Yuki Urushibara
I'll Give It My All...Tomorrow, Vol. 1 - Shunju Aono

In preparing for my trip to Japan, from which I returned more than a month ago, I began to read a few of the Japanese works of literature that I had been gathering at library book sales over the years. Of course, this type of "theme" reading is something that I'm all about. Basically, I'll put together a theme reading list for just about any activity or event in my life, so absorbing some of the works of prominent Japanese authors throughout the 20th and 21st century was a given! 


Reading these works before taking off, during my stay in Japan, and after my return was quite interesting, as my experiences influenced both my response to the culture and changed how I saw the books I was reading as well. Here, I've arranged them in order of publication. 

I opened up my reading this summer with Botchan by Natsume Soseki. Often called the Japanese equivalent of Huck Finn, as in a classic work of literature that most people encounter in high school, Botchan was still a pretty funny read, even across the cultural and time divide. 


Written in 1906, during the Meiji Period, a time of great change in Japanese society as the nation works to modernize and industrialize itself, Botchan exemplifies this uncertain but exciting time. Following an self-confident, some would say arrogant, young college graduate from Tokyo as he reluctantly starts his first job as a teacher in an out of the way, rural town, I actually found a lot to sympathize with in his situation. In a way, I could see some parallels between this "untrustworthy narrator" and the complaints about Millennials today. 


As the headstrong kid butts heads with his fellow teachers and their set ways of doing things, he feels he is being set up to fail. Not sure exactly what he wants, homesick for his cosmopolitan hometown, he does not adapt well to this new environment and soon begins plotting to get back at these insincere phonies to hilarious result. I particularly enjoyed the nicknames he gave all of his coworkers on the first day. 


I first read this collection of eerie Japanese stories by Kyoka Izumi some years ago, when I was looking for weird tales from different cultural backgrounds. I found it even more interesting as a companion on the trip as I learned more of the locations and history written about by Izumi. 


Japanese Gothic Tales contains four novellas, written during the Meiji and Taisho periods of Japanese history. Eschewing the modernism aimed for by other authors at the time, Izumi's work is nonetheless influenced by this period of great change in Japanese culture. The stories themselves are surreal and eerie, particularly my favorite, "The Holy Man of Mount Koya," which deals with spooky creatures and magic in the mountains.


One of the major themes of all four of the stories is the relationships between men and women, and tragedy that results, along with strong supernatural elements- also, a theme of the story being told second hand via a secondary narrator relating some experience to a nameless viewpoint character gave the tales a folkloric air; there is also much to ponder regarding Buddhist and Shinto beliefs, Japanese philosophies, and the transforming history of the period. 


First published in 1956, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion was a gripping and taut psychological novel featuring a fictionalized telling of the infamous 1950 arson of Kinkaku-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto by a mentally unstable young monk. 


Yukio Mishima, one of Japan's foremost modern writers and himself a psychologically complex figure, delved into the dark resentments and philosophies of the neurotic Mizoguchi. A Zen acolyte groomed to join the clergy who developed a pathological love and hatred for the beauty of the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, bound in with his misogyny and self-hatred. Self described as ugly, and afflicted by stuttering, he finds his family's dream of him taking over the Temple taken from him, and responds by burning the temple to the ground, justifying it through his Zen beliefs. Not exactly a happy tale, it is nonetheless a riveting account of an unhealthy mind. It does contain much to think about regarding Zen Buddhist teachings as well. 

Published in 1961, this collection of stories by Yusanari Kawabata explore some dark and surreal territory. I think that one of the literary terms appropriate here may be "decadence." The title story, "House of the Sleeping Beauties," for instance, is a fairly disturbing tale of an aging man paying to sleep next to drugged, unconscious, naked women, and much of the story is the narrator describing the physical appearance of each of the women and how they remind him of people and places from his past. He also considers strangling them. 


"One Arm" also involved a surreal episode of a man paying for a woman's body, in this case her physical arm, which is painlessly detached and he takes away with him, later to swap with his own arm. The last tale, "Of Birds and Beasts," discusses the authors love of animals and how this love translates more into cruelty than kindness towards his favorite pets. Not really sure quite what to make of these ornate, complex stories.                      


Wow, what to say about this one, this tour de force of pitch black humor and deadpan surrealism, this fevered tour of Japan's deepest id. 

Kiku and Hashi, their lives haunted by their newborn hours spent stifling in adjacent train-station coin lockers, abandoned to die by their pitiless mothers attempted to navigate their way through a bizarre and labyrinthine world. Growing up as adopted brothers, most comfortable in the abandoned ruins of Japan’s former industry, they begin to plot revenge against the society that created their mothers. While stoic, pole-vaulting Kiku finds a soulmate in Anemone, a cynical, crocodile loving model who shares his hatred of Japanese society and a desire to destroy it all, the sensitive, neurotic Hashi becomes a male prostitute, a pop-star, and loses his mind. Both share a penchant for murder and rice omelets.


From Tokyo to up to the northern town of Hakodate, all the way down to the Ryukyuan Islands, the trio encounter a host of bizarre characters while struggling with their own inability to get over their maternal abandonment. There is much analysis that can be attempted about what aspects of Japanese culture Murakami was parodying and exploring in this bleak book. Of course, Coin Locker Babies finishes up with no real resolution, or even any real ending, though there is plenty of tension.


The two novellas by Banana Yoshimoto collected in this book, the titular "Kitchen" and "Moonlight Shadow," were both effecting, melancholy, hopeful, and beautiful descriptions of personal loss and everyday pleasures. Evoking both the mundane pleasures and the grief of lost loved ones, Yoshimoto's stories illustrate the complex feelings of life.


Also, particularly in "Moonlight Shadow," there is a magic realist theme that I really found interesting as well. Focusing on young people not sure where they are going and trying to cope with the loss of loved ones, I think a lot of people can really identify with them. It is also really interesting to see these common human feelings through the eyes of a different culture as well. Of course, owing to Yoshimoto's lush descriptions of food, I am definitely looking forward to going to some more restaurants in Tokyo.


Along with the more "serious" works I've looked at so far, I also thought it would be relevant to read a couple of manga titles before the trip, as well. The first volume of Yuki Urushibara's Mushishi was an eerie, understated fantasy read I quite enjoyed- it had a supernatural theme that echoed Japanese folklore and belief combined with an interesting naturalistic scientific background as well. 


Following the Western costumed "Mushi master" (mushishi) Gingko, as he travels a feudal Japanese countryside helping people deal with mushi- strange, and inexplicable phenomena that may or may not be life as we know it, but which predates plant and animal life by eons. Urushibara's lush, atmospheric art does a lot to cultivate the mysterious feelings explored in her writing. I'm looking forward to seeing where the rest of the series goes.

Shunju Aono's dramedy series "I'll Give It My All... Tomorrow" has been very interesting to me. With it's unusual art style and mundane, slice of life storytelling, it is a realistic, heart felt, and funny glimpse into everyday life in modern Japan. A contrast to the escapist, larger than life style of most manga, Aono's work is low key, touching, and funny.


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Following the "exploits" of Shizuo Oguro, a bit of a sad sack who, in the throws of a midlife crisis, quits his soul-sucking job as a salary-man to follow his dream of becoming a manga artist. A man who often changes his identity, Oguro finds himself whiling away his days working on his cliched manga ideas, taking advantage of his father and daughter's generosity before being forced to take a job in fast food to make ends meet. As the series continues, we watch Oguro's pathos evolve, particularly through the lens of his friends and family.


It was very interesting seeing how these accounts of Japanese life were reflected in my own experiences in the country, and how my own responses and mental pictures of them also changed. Now, I have a frame of reference to look at them, and likewise, reading these works also prepared me for what to look for during my journeys. Of course, they we'rent perfect, either. I could only read English translations, which leaves a lot of the original feel of the language out, I feel. In Botchan, for instance, Soseki was fond of using witty puns, puns which would make no sense in English and, for the most part, were left out. Still, even through this imprecise method, reading these books allowed me, in a way, to continue my trip even after I returned home.


Sensoji Temple, Asakusa District, Tokyo


Now that my trip to Japan is already quickly fading into the fuzzy pleasantness of nostalgia, these books will allow me to keep my experiences close, at least until my next trip!


*Theme music for entry: "My Magic Glasses," Shonen Knife, Genki Shock, 2005

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review 2013-08-01 00:00
House of the Sleeping Beauties: And Other Stories - Yasunari Kawabata,Edward G. Seidensticker “The aged have death and the young have love, and death comes once, and love comes over and over again”.

To love is a game of a brave heart. To die; a desire of a sullen heart; a definite verb for the inevitable. Akin to the broken heart sitting by the sea, pleading the waves to carry it like a child; the loneliness of old age seeks the black sleet of death. The “ugliness of old age” that whispered in ‘The Sound of the Mountain’, roars in this book like the stormy waves Eguchi hears as he nestles in supple breasts of youth. A virginal body of a maiden in the pristine state as the day she was born, slept peacefully as it teased Eguchi’s aged physicality. Day after day, the smell of the untainted youth in all its unfazed beauty, the warmth and the tenderness of an unpolluted woman brought a surge of sorrow in Eguchi’s empty existence. The symbolic virginal magnificence encompasses both the freedom of an unadulterated youth and the possibility of its violation.

Had he not come to this house seeking the ultimate in the ugliness of old age.....”

Why did it seem like Eguchi’s existence was somehow vacant? He had lived a full life, as living would be defined. Like Shingo (Sound of the Mountain), he was a father, husband and a grandfather and had his share of affairs, yet when he slept besides the naked ‘sleeping beauties’ hearing the ocean, a beauty whom he could not violate , Eguchi was claustrophobic by the chaos of his own emotions. What makes a man to lose the very being of his existence for a woman? Is a penile erection the only viable proof for a man’s existence? In the fight between the old and the young, at which point does a man find himself standing on the edge of humanity and inhumanity? Does the impotency of old age find an illusionary sanctuary in the potency of the youth?

True to his beliefs in Zen Philosophy, Kawabata puts the idea of ‘Shunyata’ (Zero); the emptiness that becomes necessary for a man to achieve freedom from emotional corruptibility. But, the author being known for his brilliance in the sinister caricatures of the deepest human sentimentalities uses his protagonists’ (Eguchi, Kikuji, Gimpei. etc...) minds as the prime internal sensitive organ by showing the desperation of achieving the ‘purity of life’ through haunting ideas of eroticisms and death. The menacing sorrow of loneliness suffered by all the actors in this novel comes from the emptiness of being unable to achieve the ‘unattainable’. To sleep like a child, serene, devoid of monstrous dreams is a novelty to a restless mind. To sleep with no dreams, no guilt, no trepidation; to sleep like the dead. The man who never knew the feeling of a tender, sweet sleep until, the warm, clean blood from a round and plump womanly arm flowed through his veins. However, in that blissful moment, the idea of his filth soiling the wholesomeness of another life form repulsed his existence at that very moment.

“The clean blood of the girl was now, this very moment, flowing through me, but would there not be unpleasantness when the arm was returned to the girl, this dirty male blood flowing through it?”(One Arm)

Through morbidness of death festers the thought of contemplative possession of death. In ‘Of Birds and the Beasts’, the misanthropic living of the protagonists, again reflect and urge to achieve the unattainable – purity of life in its true form. It seems that the birth of animals brought elation to the protagonists as it was an “untainted life”, with no mistakes and then when by putting the young ones with the old ones, the stark differences of life stages, brought certain viciousness to the permutation of events that made seem like a salvation from a foreseeable ugliness of life.

“Husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, the bonds were not easily cut even with the most unsatisfactory people”..... “On the other hand a certain sad purity in making playthings of lives and the habits of animals”...."

The commotion that arises from the man’s desperate need to breed and kill animals once again delineates the lingering theme of passivity of a vacant existence of human conscious that sometimes shatter the fine line between humane and inhumane environments.

What are memories? They are reflections of our past actions, the passivity of existence that metamorphoses into inexhaustible shame. Kawabata emphasizes on this factor of human mind to accentuate the relationship of an individual with the existential world. The reflections of our past, the mistakes of our life, always come running back at the brink of death. And then, how we desperately yearn for that impossible chance of grabbing our youth, even for a briefest moment, to relive a clean existence. An impossible chance to experience youth shamelessly. What if? The toughest part about life is living it. And, sometimes when I think about the possibilities of being marred by sorrowful loneliness for not having a full existence , I hide amongst the cerulean depths of the pool , avoiding to reach the surface, swimming for hours till I can no longer hear my thoughts. However, I crave to hear Kawabata even after the pages are closed because in his surreal depictions I find warm repose just like Eguchi did in the purity of the beauties.

Coming, all is clear, no
doubt about it. Going, all is
clear, without a doubt.
What, then, is all?

---Hosshin, 13th century.
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review 2013-04-26 00:00
House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories - Yasunari Kawabata,Edward G. Seidensticker,Yukio Mishima I value the books whose plot has managed to stay etched in my mind. Some of the novels I've read are pleasant, but they are soon forgotten. The ones that shape me and teach me are the most valued, of course; but I keep a special place for those that I remember. Kawabata's story is one of those. And incidentally, it talks about memory, among other things. It also speaks about the fear of death and the desire to prolong one's life through the elixir of youth; about regrets and unfulfilled desires wept at the feet of high priestesses; about the wish for peace and reconciliation with one's life.

In a peculiar house, which can't really be called a brothel, beautiful virgins lie in deep slumber, naked, innocent and unconscious. Old men come to lie down beside them, awake, troubled, full of desire. They can't harm the virgins, they are not allowed to wake them. They can only touch their bodies and sleep beside them. Such defenseless bodies and oblivious minds, at the whims and mercy of old men. If you look at the picture this way, the story might make you feel contempt; and yet, it has a beautiful and poetic vein, despite its grain of ugliness.

From ancient times, old men had sought to use the scent given off by girls as an elixir of youth.

Eguchi comes to the house lured by this strange kind of pleasure. On a couple of nights, in the enclosed space of a room, he contemplates the obedient, exposed bodies of the young girls. Deep slumber is reminiscent of death in a way; in their sleep, some of the girls seemed more alive than others. Life was there, most definitely, in her scent, in her touch, in the way she moved. Eguchi experiences an array of feelings and memories awaken by the sounds, the smells and the sights. He remembers his youth, his children, the women he had affairs with. He fights with melancholy, with unhappiness, but also with the urge to do harm.

In their hearts, as they lay against the flesh of naked young girls put to sleep, would be more than fear of approaching death and regret for their lost youth. There might also be remorse, and the turmoil so common in the families of the successful. They would have no Buddha before whom to kneel. The naked girl would know nothing, would not open her eyes, if one of the old men were to hold her tight in his arms, shed cold tears, even sob and wail. The old man need feel no shame, no damage to his pride. The regrets and the sadness could flow quite freely. And might not the 'sleeping beauty' herself be a Buddha of sorts? And she was flesh and blood. Her young skin and scent might be forgiveness for the sad old men.

The story impressed me to such an extent that it entered the realm of my dreams. I have one short but weird story to tell, and I write it here because I want to remember it over the years. One night, after reading the story, I woke up with the feeling that somebody was lying awake behind me, watching me in the dark, keeping a hand on my breast. I felt slightly frightened but then I fell asleep again, or maybe I was never awake in the first place. In the morning I woke up confused, because I wasn't sure if what I remembered had been a dream or reality. When I asked my boyfriend about it, he said he had been sound asleep the whole night. Weird. And yet it felt so vivid, like a lucid dream...
The strange thing about all this is that the scene I experienced is also happening in the novel. It felt like I was projected inside the sleeping girl's mind. Like I was perceiving through her skin, through her senses, even though they seemed to be asleep. Maybe they weren't, maybe she could sense what was happening to her. An unconscious yet alert consciousness.
Well, I couldn't write this review without confessing the connection I had with the story.

My review is only for House of the Sleeping Beauties. If you read this, then you should also consider [b:Memories of My Melancholy Whores|760|Memories of My Melancholy Whores|Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327484658s/760.jpg|2166510] and see how Márquez made use of the idea behind Kawabata's story.
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review 2012-04-16 00:00
House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories - Yasunari Kawabata,Edward G. Seidensticker,Yukio Mishima House of the Sleeping beauties is a novella of astonishing beauty and delicacy. This volume contains two other very short stories which I did not read. But 'House' is as fine and perfect a work as is Snow Country.
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