Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ern's Monthly Page Turners (May 2008)

It's the beginning of the month which means it's time for my monthly review of the books I've read. I suppose most of you are used to my eclectic choice of tomes. Lots of visuals for you non-readers. A book by my favorite author. Another title in Lonely Planet's World Food series, non-fiction concerning fashion and nuclear trafficking. I imagine there's a bit of something for everyone. I hope you all enjoy it. And feel free to recommend to me some of your favorite titles!


1. IN THE KNOW: THE CLASSIC GUIDE TO BEING CULTURED AND COOL by Nancy MacDonnell - Ugh, what a total waste of time. I was hoping for some fun light reading before starting in on a novel and this was pretty short and seemed like the kind of thing I was looking for. I was wrong. This should be retitled, "In the Know: The Classic Guide to Being Snobby and Pretentious". MacDonnell spends way too much time on fashion and how to be a fashionista. Most of my friends could care less about not knowing the difference between a Ferragamo and an Adidas. Do I really want my friends to know that I can tell the difference between a Pucci and an Alaia? I think not! Oh, and the choice of cool books and movies? Pleeze, don't even let me get started on that. If you're not into fashion, skip this book by all means. You'll be more entertained reading the back of a cereal box.

2. REQUIEM FOR AN ASSASSIN by Barry Eisler - Currently my favorite author. I had to wait almost a year before this book was finally published in paperback. So why didn't I buy it when it was first released? Because I bought all the previous titles in mass paperback and I like to keep my collection consistent. Okay, I didn't really buy the last book yet because I had a galley (read promo copy) of it. I intend to buy it though to keep my collection complete. Anyway, this is the sixth book in the John Rain series featuring the half-Japanese, half-American hitman who really wants to get out of the business but others won't let him. This time around, the baddies have kidnapped Rain's bud Dox in order to get in touch with him. They want him to do three jobs before they will release his friend. Rain reluctantly accepts the jobs, but what the baddies haven't told him, the third person on the list is Rain himself! And even more good news for me. The first book, "Rain Fall", is being adapted for the silver screen and will be released sometime next year. Fortunately it will be a Japanese production so the main character won't be some American trying to pass himself off as a Japanese national. And Gary Oldman has just signed on the film too. I'm excited. I think this series might give Bond and Jason Bourne a run for their money. The film will star Kippei Shiina and Akiho Hasegawa.

3. THE ATOMIC BAZAAR: DISPATCHES FROM THE UNDERGROUND WORLD OF NUCLEAR TRAFFICKING by William Langewiesche - Now here's an exciting title that should spook the conservatives amongst us. Actually it should spook us all really. We're talking about nuclear proliferation! Come on, we all know the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is biased towards the countries that already possess them (The U.S., Russia, China, and Great Britain), and these countries just happen to have a permanent seat on the United Nation's Security Council. A council that the U.S. defied and started a war nobody wanted. So, how can you blame Iran for saying, "Fuck you, Great Satan!" Here's are country bullying other countries, trying to stop the building of nuclear arsenals and saying the nuclear powers will eventually destroy their own stocks, yeah right! And if you believe that, I have more than one Brooklyn Bridge to sell ya. But even with U.S. bullying, Pakistan and India managed to become nuclear powers as well and they are not signatories to the NPT. What's most scary about this book is the part concerning Abdul Qadeer Khan. Name rings a bell you say. He was the mastermind in selling nuclear secrets to countries such as North Korea, Iran, and Libya. The author says that if poorer countries want to have their atomic bombs, they will get it - maybe not so soon but the NPT or U.S. policy isn't going to stop them. It seems no one has learned anything from Japan (still the only country to suffer the effects of having an atomic bomb dropped on them). Now, if that isn't a crime against humanity, I don't know what is. Let's just hope that there aren't more Khans out in the world. I certainly don't like the idea of being threatened by fanatics like Al-Qaeda but I also don't believe in a pre-emptive strike. Look at Afghanistan and Iraq, both countries are still a mess and they pretty much have the U.S. to thank for that. World Peace? Not as long as there is greed and corruption. It's a fantasy everyone wants to believe in.

4. WORLD FOOD: THAILAND by Joe Cummings - I finished reading this before the annual Thai Festival in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo. Green and red curries, Isaan style sausages, sticky rice, naam plaa (stinky fish sauce), pak chi (coriander leaves), sauteed kushinsai (Chinese spinach or morning glory leaves). And you must be aware of the spice meater. I love the food in Bangkok's night market. The outdoor stalls is the place to eat. Reading this book and going to the Thai Festival makes me want to visit the Kingdom of Thailand again (I've been there three times now). Oh, to be able to try the fruits you've only read about, jackfruit, dragonfruit, mangosteen, and the ever popular and stinky durian. And nothing beats coconut ice cream for dessert or fried bananas for snacks. At least I won't have to wait another year to indulge in some serious Thai food as one of my favorite Thai restaurants is within walking distance from my apartment.

5. PHOTO LETTER by 田中美保 (Miho Tanaka) - This is a small photography book of Japanese talent (that's really what they call television personalities - even though many of them have no talent at all), Miho Tanaka. With a few scribblings of her own. Talent and Idol Photography books are big business in Japan. Hundreds of them our published every year. I bought a few for a while but once the talents popularity wanes, it can be embarrassing to own them. Oh, these photography books are taken by professional photographers usually in some exotic location - Bali, Guam, Hawaii, Saipan, Europe. Wouldn't you buy a photography book of Meg Ryan or Kate Hudson? But I don't think Hollywood stars or starlets are ready for this business yet. Oh, I didn't buy this book by the way. It was lying around and I gave looked through and read it in less than thirty minutes. But then again, who know what some otaku would use these for.

6. 愛しあおう。旅にでよう。by 高橋 歩 「AI SHI AOU. TABI NI DEYOU.」 (Ayumu Takahashi) - Which translates to something like "Let's Love, Let's Travel". This also is a photo essay book but does not feature a talent or idol. Ayumu Takahashi has become my favorite Japanese author/photographer. I love his books as he takes pictures of his travels around the world. When he married his wife Sayaka, they left Japan and went on an around the world trip which lasted two years. How can you not love people who are able to do such things? However, for this book, Ayumu travels alone. He leaves his wife and kids at home as he drives from Okinawa (where they live) to Hokkaido. What's even more fascinating is that this year (2008), Ayumu has decided to buy an RV and is once again planning to travel around the world with his wife and kids. Lucky kids!! Oh, his kids are seven and four if memory serves me right. He also owns or runs a cafe in Shimokitazawa, not too far from our apartment. I think Mikako and I will have to check out the place some time.

7. GOD EXPLAINED IN A TAXI RIDE by Paul Arden - More light reading. This was actually pretty amusing. I love his little spiel about how it would be great to build a giant Mosque on the site of Ground Zero to appeal to the Muslims around the world that we are an understanding nation. He also writes short blurbs that I've always believed in such as, "You don't have to go to church to believe in God" or how most wars are started by a difference in religion. Oh, and if the author's name rang a bell, he was the Executive Creative Director at Saatchi and Saatchi (this I didn't know). This is a cute little book and even if you gave it to an atheist, they would not be offended. A little something for everyone.

8. I KNOW YOU'RE OUT THERE: PRIVATE LONGINGS, PUBLIC HUMILIATIONS, AND OTHER TALES FROM THE PERSONALS by Michael Baumier - Okay, you're probably thinking that this book is about the people who have met through the personals and want to share their agony and ecstaties of dating hell. That's what I thought at first too. But no, Baumier is an openly gay man who decided to write about working at the Personals Department for an alternative newspaper in Chicago (if this was Seattle we all know it would be written by a guy at the Stranger). Anyway, Baumier says working for the Personals department is to be near the bottom of the newspaper hierarchy and he likes it that way. One, people tend to leave his department alone. Two, because they leave him alone, he gets away with doing nothing a lot of the times. But I must say, quite an interersting job. We all know people place ads looking for love all the time, but did you know there are people like Michael who help them write it? And just like your bars and restaurants, the Personals have their share of regulars too. You can also learn what all those little abbreviations stand for too like SWF and ND/NS (Single White Female, and Non-Drinker, Non-Smoker) for your erudition. Fun read. Almost makes me want to watch that movie "Must Love Dogs" again.

9. MARY POPPINS by P. L. Travers - Most of us are probably familiar with the 1964 film version with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke and can probably sing at least part of the Supercalifragilistic song but how many of us have actually read the original novel? I decided to do something about that and proceeded to read "Mary Poppins" the book this month. I really don't recall watching the entire movie and I'm sure it would be drastically different from the book, much as the 1971 film version of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" was so far removed from Roald Dahl's original story. The Johnny Depp version is closer to the original, but I digress. Reading "Mary Poppins" now is like watching old Disney movies. Just comfortable. The original story is full of magic. It's almost a blend of Hugh Lofting's "Doctor Dolittle" and "Harry Potter". Mary Poppins might be one of the first wizards to appear in children's literature. She can speak to animals, fly through the air with her umbrella, travel around the world in one day, enter paintings for afternoon tea, and she still manages to take care of the Banks children. The Banks being the family in dire need of a nanny. Hm, I wonder what other classic children's lit I have yet to read? "Pippi Longstocking" and maybe "Caddy Woodlawn". So much fun to read a variety of books.

10. THE ART TRUCKS OF JAPAN by Tomoyuki Kato - Similar to a book I read a while ago, "Decotora" by Masaru Tatsuki, another photography book featuring "Deco Tora" or Decorated Trucks. But unlike the previous book which was published in Japan, you will be able to purchase this book through your local shop as it is published by Cocoro Books and doesn't contain one character of kanji (unless you want to include the pictures on some of the trucks). You must check it out, so you can shake your head and say, "only in Japan." These monsters are nothing but pachinko parlors on wheels.

11. LOVE HOTELS: THE HIDDEN FANTASY ROOMS OF JAPAN by Misty Keasler - Unlike last month's "Pink Box", this photography book is a collection of it's title - Japan's Love Hotels. What's a Love Hotel? It's a place where couples can go to have some private sex. Where married couples can go to not fear disturbing any of their progeny. A place for a quickie from that guy or girl you just met and can't wait to get into their pants. Unlike the Image Clubs and Health Clubs, Love Hotels only provide a room. They do not provide any services. The rooms are rented by the hour and not by the day, and quite a few of them have a theme such as the room in the shape of an igloo or the doctor's office. There is also a room made to look like you're aboard a UFO. There is one room a friend of mine would probably like to stay at being a big fan of Hello Kitty. But she might be disturbed that this particular Hello Kitty room is an S&M Hello Kitty room featuring Hello Kitty in bondage clothing with some whips and handcuffs hanging down from the ceilings. I kid you not!! I've never been to one of these places (really, I haven't!!). This book also features a section of comment cards written by various customers. Translated into English for your amusement. You will have to use your own imagination on how people spend their time in these rooms. Fascinating bit of Japan that's not on your usual travel guides.

12. FACE FOOD: THE VISUAL CREATIVITY OF JAPANESE BENTO BOXES by Christopher D. Salyers - Recently, my sister and aunt had sent me e-mail featuring pictures of food as art, which was amusing and all (except for the fact that there was a book published in 1997 called "Play with Your Food" by Joost Elfers which featured the same kind of art) and I was amused by that back when the book was published. I didn't have the heart to tell them it was old news to me. It seems the Japanese have taken the form one step further. I stumbled across this cute mini-hardcover photography book featuring bento made into various characters. The mothers of this art form don't make this for art's sake, they also keep their children in mind and make it nutritious as possible. These "character bentos" have come to be known as "charaben". You would be amazed at the intricacy of their bentos, only to have their child eat it for lunch. Most of the mother say it was a way of communicationg with their child. It also made their kids popular during lunch time. My wife has made me some in the past, not anything elaborate mind you, but sometimes it's nice to see a happy face made out of seaweed staring at you from your bento of white rice. Some of the designs these mothers (and one father) makes range from Pikachu to Cinderella to the Power Puff Girls. Excellent. Who knows, you might want to make one yourself. Salyers says the first character bento he made was of Pacman and he gives you a little guide on how to make it.

13. LOOKER by Richard Kern - I shall borrow the blurb from i-Page. "If the model is the exhibitionist, then I am the voyeur" - Richard Kern. Borrowed blurb: 「In "Looker," Kern's models proceed through their daily private lives, seemingly unaware of the camera in this stunningly erotic, silently exuberant portrayal of intimacy and mystery.」 One of those photography book my father would love because it's full of half-naked women!! But Playboy models these are not. Then again, if they were beautiful models, they wouldn't be modeling for Richard Kern. I can only recommend this book to fans of Richard Kern and Helmut Newton and maybe Bettina Rheims. Roy Stuart fans may be a little disappointed.

14. 男子 by 梅 佳代 「DANSHI」(Kayo Ume) - And yet another photography book featuring young boys (with their permission) in a neighborhood in Osaka where Kayo was a student. At the end of the book, Kayo says he returned to the neighborhood after five years and met with some of the boys who are now in high school. Cute little book that will make you think of the cliche, "boys will be boys".

15. EAT PRAY LOVE By Elizabeth Gilbert - Gilbert writes about taking a one year sabbatical...from her life!! Okay, she may not have been as wound up as Elizabeth Wurtzel or Susanna Kaysen (writers of "Prozac Nation" and "Girl, Interrupted", respectively), but she one night she finds herself continuously crying on her bathroom floor and realizes that she no longer wants to be married, has no inclination to be a mother, and is just one messed up individual. So, after finalizing her very messy and nasty divorce, Gilbert decides that she would spend one year of her life away from work, home, and friends. She's going to divide the year into three separate journeys of four months each. First, she's going to try to relax and learn how to speak Italian (just because she loves the way it sounds), and spends most of her time eating, drinking, and just having a merry ole time while living in Italy - she has also decided to put her love life on hold as well. Next on her year long sabbatical is a trip to India where she will live in the Ashram of her Guru (yes, she found a Guru in New York City and became a follower of Yoga and its principles). This is probably the most intense portion of the book as this is where she fights her demons that continue to torment her (she can't let go of the guilt of leaving her husband, ex-husband made divorce difficult and refuses to forgive her, had an on and off affair with another man after her divorce but found herself constantly fighting with him). She gets really annoyed at another devotee who points out that she's just one big control freak who doesn't know how to relax in life. But with her stay in the Ashram, you get a distinct feel of her transformation (from stupid broad you want to slap upside the head, to normalcy, and then to be able to forget her own troubles and has the ability to help others.). Lastly, she spends the next four months living in Bali to learn all she can from a medicine man who said she would definitely come back to this island one day - that she needs to come back to this island and perhaps even live with the medicine man. It's here in Bali, where she finally lets down her guard some more and learns to love again - hey, what do you know - the title fits her story perfectly. Excellent read.

And so concludes this months reviews. As always, I'm in the middle of a few more books which I shall enjoying fill you in on them. Next month shall feature books on burgers, growing up in Iowa in the '50s, searching for Osama, and trying out sex toys for starters. I'm also planning on reading Khaled Hosseini's second book, "A Thousand Splendid Suns".


Y-Maeda said...

Hello nice to meet you.
KO-N-NI-CHI-WA (^_^)v
I am Japanese.
I saw your wonderful site.
Please link to this site !

Tokyo Ern said...

Thank you Mr. Maeda for reading my blog. I have added your link to my site. I will enjoy reading about your food adventures as well.


Janet Brown said...

Dear Ernie--
If you can get a copy of The Outlander by Gil Adamson, do read it! It's a Western that takes place in the mountains of Alberta, with a 19 year old widow being chased by bloodhounds because her widowhood is self-imposed. Truly wonderful-
And thank you for putting both of my blogs up!

Tokyo Ern said...

A western? Hm, I don't think I've ever read a book in the genre. I will see if we have it in stock. Oh, I will definitely plug your forthcoming book too. In fact, I think that will be my next post.