It’s a new year and my resolution hasn’t changed for the past three years. To read at least 100 books! But before you drop your jaws in awe, I must inform you this includes photography books, children’s books, graphic novels, and literary magazines as well. I was putting off writing this month’s reviews of books I read figuring that I would get around to it on one of my weekends before the month was over. However, the next thing I know, it’s already February, the second month of the new year and I haven’t written a single review. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did write one, but it was mainly for the “Asia by the Book” blog which I also contribute to (but haven’t quite completed yet). In fact, most of the books I read are candidates for the “Asia by the Book” blog as well. By the way, it’s now the first of April and I still haven’t posted any book reviews yet for this year. Shame on me. I know I’m disappointing some of my followers. But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped reading. It might take me a little while to play catch up but I hope you will enjoy my choices.
うんこ[Unco] by サトシン (Satoshin:words)（文）・西村敏雄 (Toshio Nishimura:pictures)（絵）- I thought I was going to start off the new year by reading something fresh. Instead I found this cute little picture book titled “Unco” while Mikako and I were doing our after Christmas shopping for my family in the States. If I were to translate this into English, it would either be “Poo!” or “Poop!”, certainly not the S word as this is a children’s book. The story starts off with a boy walking his dog. Along the way, the dog has a little business to attend to and leaves a calling card along the road. All the critters that meet the poo on the road take one whiff and say, “Ooh, you stink!” and they all run away. So the poo took his own initiative and grew a couple of arms and legs and went in search of someone who would accept him what he is. His travels took him all over but he was met with the same response, “ooh, stinky!” until he came to a farmer who was glad to see him and asked if he would fertilize his field. And so the poo finds a home at last and someone who appreciates him! Beautiful story, don’t you think?
PAINTING PRETTY PICTURES by Rankin – A very beautiful visual book by the photographer Rankin, one of the founders of the fashion magazine “Dazed and Confused”. This book is a collection of photos of digital paintings of some beautiful women. The process was created by Rankin taking pictures of models in the nude and uses his magic in retouching the photos so the pictures appear to be oil paintings. If you are not familiar with Rankin, this book may be a good introduction and it will show that you are a connoisseur of fine art, even if it does seem a little sexist.
THE GHASTLY ONES & OTHER FIENDISH FROLICS : A GALLERY OF GRUESOME CREEPS by Richard Sala – If you enjoy Edward Gorey’s “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” or are a fan of Tim Burton, then this is a book for you! The customer review on the Amazon site says it best as he describes the four stories that comprise this book – ["The Ghastly Ones" is about a bragging master detective detailing the modus operandi of a rogues gallery of fiends he has locked to the lascivious delight of a boy obsessed with crime. "The Morbid Musings of Malcolm de Mulch" is about a young man obsessively contemplating the many ways he might unfortunately meet an untimely demise. "The Skulkers" is a series of portraits of various fiends not unlike the first story, but the mini-poems are each told from the fiends' own points of view. Lastly "Beware, Beware" is about an old woman warning her young grandson that they best keep themselves locked indoors because of all the dangers that face them in the city at night. All but "The Skulkers" (which isn't really a story) has a twisted twist ending.] (Jonathan Schaper, London, Ontario, Canada) I think I may have to go in search of more of Richard Sala’s books.
SHIBUYA by Nguen – Another beautiful visual book. This book by Singaporean photographer Nguen features the people who pass through Shibuya Station on Tokyo’s Yamanote Line. As this area is also my place of employ, the scenes depicted in this book is what I see every day when I head off to work. What makes the pictures interesting though is how Nguen focuses on one individual whether it be a high school student, a mother with child or a homeless man roaming around the plaza around the station. As the photos are randomly taken, this gives you a view of what Shibuya looks like at all hours of the day.
MEDIUM RAW : A BLOODY VALENTINE TO THE WORLD OF FOOD AND THE PEOPLE WHO COOK by Anthony Bourdain – The latest release by the Bad Boy of the Kitchen, Anthony Bourdain (even though he hasn’t been a chef for quite a few years now). It’s been ten years since the release of Bourdain’s first book “Kitchen Confidential” which brought him unexpected fame. And even though my sister sent me the first volume of his show “No Reservations” I find that I much prefer his prose to his program. This book of course is another collection of essays relating to Bourdain’s life as a celebrity and features his take on the Food Network, other celebrity chefs, and a food critic that he refers to as a “douche bag”. The final chapter gives you an update on a lot of the people that featured in “Kitchen Confidential”. Any foodie worth his beans won’t want to miss out on this book.
RECORD STORE DAYS : FROM VINYL TO DIGITAL AND BACK AGAIN by Gary Calamar and Phil Gallo – How can I not read a book that features my former place of employ – Tower Records (M.T.S., Incorporated if you want to get technical) and its former owner Russ Solomon as well. Ah, record stores! How nostalgic. I mean if you ask kids these days, “What was the first record you bought?” Chances are they would respond with, “Records? You mean the first CD I bought?”. But before I go off on my own tangent, let me just say that this book “chronicles the past, present, and future of the shops that have enthralled generations of music lovers.” It also talks about the advent of CDs and the long box controversy, famous store events and some not so famous. Musicians who got their start at a record store, etc. Aside from Tower Records, we are given a short history of Sam Goody’s, Ernest Tubb Record Shop, Ear X-Tacy, Rhino Records, Dusty Groove, Amoeba, just to name a few. Now, can I go off my tangent? My first trip to a record store was at a place called Track Records at the Villa Plaza in Tacoma, Washington. It was here that I bought my first record. Black Sabbath – “Paranoid” and which I paid for with my allowance. I was still in the fifth grade! I would go once a month to buy other Sabbath records and the older guy who worked there would let me know when there was a new Sabbath album out. Another favorite haunt was Eucalyptus Records on South Tacoma Way where I bought my first Judas Priest albums. Of course there was Penny Lane on Bridgeport Way. But of course when I was in high school, the place to go for your music needs was none other than Tower Records on 38th Street. My friends and I have spent countless hours there. I used to frequent the import record corners and bought stuff like Venom and Demon. Loudness. And a lot of lesser known bands from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Of course I replaced a lot of my LPs when the CD format came out but I can proudly say that I still have a collection of about 200 or so vinyl LPs that I just cannot part with (even if I don’t currently own a turntable in Tokyo). But heck, I left all my albums at home in the States anyway.
ぼくのいい本こういう本[Boku no Ii Hon Kou Iu Hon] by 松浦弥太郎 (Yataro Matsuura) – I have a standard New Year’s Resolution that hasn’t changed in the past few years. My goal is to read at least one hundred books. This year, I have also added to my resolution to read more books in Japanese. But before you drop your jaws in awe, I must admit, this includes photography books, children’s books, graphic novels, and literary magazines. But do you ever find yourself between books and can’t decide what to read next? It’s at times like this when books full of essays about books come in handy. For English publications, there’s always the New York Times Bestseller list but I much prefer Nick Hornby’s column in “Believer Magazine” (which he titles Stuff I've Read) because it has more eclectic offerings. His book essays have also been collected into three series of books. However, not being too familiar with the kinds of title that I might find interesting in Japanese, I discovered this title, Boku no ii hon, kou iu hon, which translates to My Favorite Books are Books Like These. The essays are arranged into eight sections with chapter titles such as “Books for women are not yet an adult but not a child”, “Books that lit the fire of my wanderlust”, “Literature as a friend”, “Books for people who want to live romantically” and of course a chapter is featured with the main title of the book – “My favorite books are books like these.” This book is the first volume of a collection of his book essays that he has written for magazines. As I read it, I discovered that Matsuura’s taste in books is similar to my own. He features a vast array of visual books including photography, art, design and interior decoration, children’s books, cookbooks (which are more than just books with recipes) and a lot of books and zines published by small independent presses. For a more details, check out the “Asia by the Book” blog at http://asiabythebook.thingsasian.com/
JOHN WOO’S A BETTER TOMORROW by Karen Fang – As I was walking to work the other day, I couldn’t help but notice the poster for a forthcoming film that would be shown at my local theater. A Korean remake of a John Woo classic – “A Better Tomorrow”. Sometime in the mid to late ‘80s, I had a friend who introduced me to the world of Hong Kong Cinema. This was long before John Woo or Chow Yun Fat became popular in the U.S. and when the only opportunity to see Hong Kong films were at small independent theaters that would have their Hong Kong Film Festivals from time to time. This particular film is probably my first exposure to Hong Kong action and after one viewing I was hooked. But this book isn’t just a film review, it is a critical analysis of the new Hong Kong cinema and its impact on the film industry at home and abroad. It gives us an explanation of the rise of the New Hong Kong Cinema and the globalization of film which occurred over the same period between the mid 80s and late 90s. Before this movie was released, John Woo was known as director of romantic comedies while Chow Yun Fat had the lead role in some movies but was known mostly for the soap operas he played on in television. However, with the release of this film, it became one of the highest grossing films and made John Woo and Chow Yun Fat household names. This film also sparked a new genre – the action/crime film, or yingxiong pian which translates to a “hero” movie. However, I can only recommend this to hardcore fans of John Woo and anybody who loves Hong Kong cinema.
MULTITUDE : UNDER THE CYCLE MADNESS by the PedalMafia – Another visual book featuring bicycles and the people that own them featuring 108 individuals from all walks of life and from around the world. A borderless compilation of bike enthusiasts. For those of you in the know, this book features Ripzinger, Greg Ugalde, Hikaru (Bounty Hunter), Hiromi from Fabiane Roux, Oliver (Shop Gentei), etc. And if you are wondering who or what is the PedalMafia, they are “a syndicate of bike heads in Japan”. They also state that their “website is like a free-magazine that lets you know what’s going on in the scene.” You can check them out at http://www.pedalmafia.com/ This is also a book I promised to send to a friend (which I obviously haven’t gotten around to doing yet.)
東京Ｂ面ぶらぶら散歩 [Tokyo B-men Bura Bura Sanpo] by まのとのま (Mano and Noma) – If you’re a first time visitor to Tokyo, chances are high that you own either a Lonely Planet, Time Out or some other popular travel series guide book. If you’re an expat and have lived in Tokyo for a number of years, then you have probably been to all the major sites that would be listed in the regular guides. But what I have here is something totally different. The Japanese title is “Tokyo B-men Bura Bura Sanpo” which translates to something along the lines of “Tokyo B-Side Walking Guide”. What also makes this different from regular guides is that its written as a graphic novel and blending real photos with the pictures. Some of the areas that are featured are the parts of Shin Okubo that isn’t part of Korea town. The other Asakusa where the old Yoshiwara district was located. An area where you can go for a drink in the morning. Little Okinawa and other lesser known places.
COLOR OF THE SEA by John Hamamura – This book had such a promising start. The story starts off in 1930 with nine year old Isamu Hamada leaving the village of Honura Japan to live and work with his father on a sugar plantation in Hawaii. We share Isamu’s (or Sam now that he is living on American soil) growing pains as he discovers his father is not a big shot and is treated like a second class citizen, he learns what prejudice is, finds his first love. After graduating from high school, Sam moves from Hawaii to California to seek his fame and fortune. In Cali he meets and falls in love with Keiko and suffers because he made a promise to come back and marry his girlfriend in Hawaii. And then Japan attacks Pearl Harbor! From here, the story goes into high gear and the next thing you know Sam is part of 442nd in the army (one of the most decorated divisions) and fighting in the European theater and saves the “Lost Battalion”, Keiko and her family are sent to the internment camps, then the U.S. drops the atomic bomb on Hiroshima (what makes this relevant to the story?). Well Honura is a tiny suburb that happens to be part of Hiroshima. Japan surrenders and Sam finds himself back in his hometown. It’s as if Hamamura wanted to blend John Hersey’s “Hiroshima”, Jean Wakatsuki Houston’s “Farewell to Manzanar”, and an account of a member of the 442nd all rolled into one book. It doesn’t quite work and seems to make the latter half of the book a rushed job.
KIMCHI AND CALAMARI by Rose Kent – I love this little book. It’s a young adult title. Our protagonist is a young Joseph Calderaro, and he has a serious problem. His junior high school social studies teacher has given an assignment to the class that he feels he cannot write. An essay about ancestors. “Ancestors, as in dead people you’re related to”. You see, Joseph has grown up in an Italian family, his favorite food is calamari, but Joseph is adopted and the only thing he knows about his birth parents is “that they shipped his diapered butt on a plane from Korea and he landed in New Jersey.” How is he going to write an essay about a family he’s never known and still deal with the perils of life in middle school? But Joseph has a plan which he thinks is brilliant but turns out to cause him an even bigger problem. What will he do? And will he survive?