I suppose you thought with the beginning of the new year that perhaps I had forgotten to write about the books I read in December. Fear not. However, this month is overwhelmingly filled with children's books. You see, for the past three years my New Year's Resolution has not changed. It is to read at least one hundred books. Before any of you drop your mouths in awe, I must confess that my list includes children's books, graphic novels, and literary magazines as well (and at times, a variety of magazine titles which I have read in there entirety). As I was reviewing my list of books read for 2010, I became aware that I was about two or three books short of my goal. Knowing that, I chose a variety of kid's book to end my year of reading. However, I decided to modify my resolution by trying to read more books in Japanese and at a higher reading level, even though I will probably check out some more titles from a kid's series I discovered at my local library. Now, grab yourself a drink, relax, and check out my choices for this month.
SUSHI & BEYOND : WHAT THE JAPANESE REALLY KNOW ABOUT COOKING by Michael Booth – What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when asked about Japanese cuisine? Seeing how the most obvious answer is in the title, I imagine most people would say “sushi”. But this isn’t a guide book about sushi and where the best place is to eat it. One must recognize the following words, “& Beyond” to know that there is going to more than sushi involved. His plan was to try a bit of everything from Hokkaido to Okinawa. Taking along his wife, Lissen and two kids, Asger (age 6) and Emil (age 4) for a three-month extended vacation. Their first stop of course was Tokyo where they rented a small apartment in Aoyama. Their first venture into the culinary heart of Japan was Shinjuku’s famous “Shonben Yokocho” which translates to “Piss Alley” and is full of small yakitori shops where he finds that there is more than just chicken breast on the skewers. There is nankotsu (cartilage), bonjiri (chicken butt), hatsu (chicken hearts) among other parts. They went to Ryogoku, Tokyo’s home to Sumo wrestlers and also home to an array of chanko nabe (one pot stews) shops run and own by former Sumo wrestlers. But you can’t also mention Sushi without taking a tour of Japan’s busiest fish market – Tsukiji. And there is so much more that Booth covers, that to summarize it one review seems almost criminal. He fills us in on the seafood of Hokkaido, the fugu (puffer fish) of Shimonoseki, Kobe beef and wagyu, the making of miso, takes a tour of one of Kikkoman’s factories that makes soy sauce, discusses the controversy surrounding MSG, checks out the food stall culture of Fukuoka in Kyushu, dines on a kaiseki meal in Kyoto and even manages to dine at the extra exclusive, members only restaurant called Mibu, “the place that made Joel Robuchon weep and humbled Ferran Adria.” Anyone who claims to be a “foodie” or a gourmand and sees those same two names in one sentence is definitely going to want to read about it…and enjoy it. I know I did!
CLASSIC ROCK PRESENTS AOR – Yes yes, I know, this is a magazine. But as it was part of the list of my books read this year, I feel that I shouldn’t neglect it. As you can tell from the title, this will have a limited audience. First, before you think what’s come over Ern – why is he reading about AOR (adult oriented rock or album oriented rock for those of you not familiar with the term) which I imagine conjures up images of Air Supply or America. Fear not. This is Classic Rock that’s presenting AOR. Oh, “Classic Rock” being a UK based magazine featuring classic hard rock music, which is mostly music from the 70’s and 80’s. So when Classic Rock talks about AOR, they are referring to those classic bands from the 80’s such as Foreigner, Night Ranger, Styx, Journey, REO Speedwagon, etc. This debut issue features an extended article on the making of Journey’s classic album, “Escape” and also includes an exclusive interview with former vocalist Steve Perry. Also includes the top 40 AOR vocalists of all time. An excerpt from Pat Benatar’s autobiography. Interviews with Reckless Love (the Finnish band I saw at Loud Park 2010), a Q & A with Europe frontman Joey Tempest and more. The magazine also includes a free CD featuring new tracks by Journey, Enuff Z’Nuff, Bangalore Choir and Triumph to name a few bands. I have yet to play the CD though!
ぞくぞく村のミイラのラムさん [Zoku Zoku Mura no Miira no Ramu-san] by 末吉暁子 (Akiko Sueyoshi)（作）・垂石眞子 (Mako Taruishi) （絵）– Being an avid reader and lover of books and also living in Tokyo, I am at a disadvantage in one vital aspect. As most of you know, the rooms of an apartment in Tokyo is about the same as an oversized linen closet with no room for storage. So I finally decided to visit my local library to see if they have a selection of English books which I can borrow, read, and return (thus saving me the headache of wondering where to store them). Of course I would prefer to buy more books and show them off and would one day like my own library in a room of my own. Unfortunately, the particular branch in my neighborhood is one of the smaller libraries and carries absolutely no books in English. I would have to make a further train trip to check out the largest library in Setagaya Ward. So I decided to browse through the children’s section to see if I might find something that would appeal to me. That’s when I came across this “Zoku Zoku Mura” series which could be translated into English as “The Spine Tingling Village” series. A Japanese version of “Goosebumps”. The first book in the series translates to “The Spine-Tingling Villages Mummy, Mr. Ram”. The first thing you need to know is about the village. Zoku Zoku Mura cannot be found during the day but if you passed by where it’s located, you would suddenly feel a chill up your spine. It’s that kind of place. When night comes, the inhabitants of Zoku Zoku Mura come out to shop, dance, play, eat out and watch movies. The village is populated with such characters as Mr. Ram the Mummy, Dracula and his son, a goblin and his wife and their seven children, a mermaid, an elderly witch, and a werewolf who at times turns into a creature with the face of a pig! In this first story, Mrs. Ram needs new bandages because her old ones doesn’t cover her entire body. Mr. Ram ventures out to buy some at the local boutique but there is so many sizes to choose from, in takes him a while to decide. After he makes his purchase, he runs into his friend the werewolf who keeps hiding his face with a hat. When Mr. Ram sees why, he suggests they go get a drink and to discuss how to take care of that problem. After leaving and nearing home, Mr. Ram discovers he does not have his wife’s new bandages and for the rest of the book he goes in search of them. Cute story with cute pictures and originally published in 1989. And since it was a quick read, I borrowed two other titles in this series.
ぞくぞく村の魔女のオバタン [Zoku Zoku Mura no Majo no Obatan] by末吉暁子（作）・垂石眞子（絵）– As I mentioned above, I went to my local library and actually borrowed three books. All from the “Zoku Zoku Mura” series. This second offering is about the elderly witch who lives on the outskirts of town in a heavily wooded area where she continues to practice trying to ride a broom. You see, she may be a witch, but she just doesn’t seem to be able to get a handle on how to fly on a broom. Her pets (or rather helpers) are afraid to ride with her because they all seem to get injured at the witch’s failed attempts to fly. And even though this series is all written in Japanese (in its simplest form), I was able to read each title in about a half-hour. All the villagers tend to run away when they see the witch because most of them are afraid she will land on their heads!
BIG IN JAPAN : A GHOST STORY by M. Thomas Gammarino – You know that old cliché of “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Of course you do, so sometimes you take a chance on picking up a book with terrible title and a not so memorable cover like I did with a book called “Q & A” which turned out to be one of my favorite books of all time and had even wrote in my blog that someone should make a film of this title before I was even finished reading it. Well, someone in Hollywood must have had the same thought, because that particular title went on to win the Academy Award for best film and the book was re-titled as well to “Slumdog Millionaire” by Vikas Swarup. I decided to do the opposite with this book. It had such a great cover art and also had the key word of Japan in the title which peaked my interest. Unfortunately, the cover art and title didn’t live up to my expectations. In fact, I would add this to my pile of unworthy trash that so far comprises DBC Pierre’s 2nd and 3rd books and anything written by Wendy Holden. Another debut title that’s so bad it’s surprising it even got published. The story is beyond absurd and you just want the protagonist to succeed in what he started out doing in Chapter 1, to kill himself! I nearly killed myself by reading this entire book. You see, I have a personal rule that if the book doesn’t interest me after reading 100 pages, I will toss it aside. By the time, this particular book got on my nerves, I had already passed the 100 page mark. I suppose I should have made an exception but that’s what I get for being as hard-headed as my father. And yes, I know I haven’t even mentioned the plot of the story. That’s because I’m saving you all the trouble of reading it by not recommending it or telling you about it.
ぞくぞく村の小鬼のゴブリン [Zoku Zoku Mura no Ko Oni no Goblin] by末吉暁子（作）・垂石眞子（絵）– The big news in Zoku Zoku Mura is the birth of septuplets by the Goblin family. Mr. and Mrs. Goblin are so busy looking after their little goblins that they put in an ad in the local paper for a babysitter so they could at least have a little time to themselves. A young woman who claims to be the cousin of the mermaid answers the ad and says she will gladly take the job. So they hire her and for the first time in a long time, Mr. and Mrs. Goblin go out on a date. However, what they didn’t know is that the woman who answered the ad was none other than Dracula in disguise who thought the little goblins would make a tasty treat for himself. But can he handle seven little goblins? And will Mr. and Mrs. Goblin make it home to find their little ones all safe and sound?
ぞくぞく村のおおかみ男 [Zoku Zoku Mura no Ookami Otoko] by末吉暁子（作）・垂石眞子（絵）– I returned the first three books from the Zoku Zoku Mura series but had such a great time reading them, I borrowed two more. The latest news in Zoku Zoku Mura is that the werewolf tends to avoid everyone when the full moon comes out. Mr. Ram knows why. It’s for the simple fact that when the full moon does come out, Mr. Werewolf doesn’t turn into a werewolf at all, but does change into what really looks like a cute pig-man! Mr. Ram suggests he seeks out the witch to find out why he turns into a pig or at least have the witch make a potion that will keep him from turning into one. Will he find the answers he’s looking for or will he have to accept the fact that he will turn into a pig?
ぞくぞく村のドラキュラのむすこ [Zoku Zoku Mura no Dracula no Musuko] by末吉暁子（作）・垂石眞子（絵）– There was one other reason why I was borrowing a lot of children’s books as well. I make the same New Year’s Resolution every year – that is to read at least 100 books (including children’s books, graphic novels, and photography books). It seems I was a few titles away from my goal and the year was winding down in about a week or so. This time around, the protagonist of Zoku Zoku Mura is Dracula’s son. Dracula is going away for the weekend and told his son to hold the fort. No parties and such. Having the house to himself, Dracula’s son of course writes three invitations to the three ghost sisters and was riding into town when one of the invitations floated out of his pocket and landed in front of Mr. and Mrs. Goblin’s house. So on the day of the party, it isn’t only the three ghost sisters who come, but the seven little goblins as well and a few other people. Will Dracula’s son be able to clean the house before Dracula comes back home?
MUD PIES AND OTHER RECIPES : A COOKBOOK FOR DOLLS by Marjorie Winslow – To reach my goal of reading 100 books, I picked out two more children’s books which could be read at one sitting. The first as you can see is a cookbook, but no ordinary cookbook. It’s a cookbook for dolls. Which means there are recipes which uses all natural ingredients such as mud, grass, weeds, flowers, and pretty much anything you find outside. You will find the recipes for such items such as “Wood Chip Dip”, “Seesaw Salad”, and of course “Mud Pies”. A fun little book, not that I’ve had any experience making foods for dolls! Of course I was born in the age where dolls were considered girls toys (with the exception of G.I. Joe and J.J. Arms) and boys played baseball (not that I was any good at that either).
READING CAN BE FUN by Munro Leaf – I discovered that this book was first published in 1954! However, it’s still relevant today as it was when it first came out. Any book that promotes reading cannot be a bad thing. And although I don’t have any children, I still think it’s worthwhile reading even as an adult. I love how Munro Leaf explains that there is only 26 letters to know and knowing those letters and putting them in different combinations can open a whole new world to you. The world of books and reading! This would be a great title to add to your collection of books that promote reading such as Lane Smith’s “It’s a Book” and Louise Yates’ “Dog Loves Books”. So when my sister has a child (eventually I’m sure), her kid is going to have one of the best book collections ever, because I will make it so!