Decline of a family

Tanizaki, Makioka SistersThe Makioka Sisters · Junichirō Tanizaki · 1946-‘48
Edward Seidensticker translation · Everyman’s Library, 1993 · 498 pages, hardcover

The year is measured by the Kyoto cherry blossoms, the uptick in cases of beri-beri, the annual visit of the Kabuki actor Kikugorō and the failed miai coloring Yukiko’s pursuit of marriage.

The Makioka Sisters has a steady cadence.

It’s good then that Junichirō Tanizaki was meticulous with his pen because his Makioka Sisters also has a steady repetition. Its mark is subtlety. Its direction is stagnant. Its view is inward. Its tone is one of depressive anxiety. Emphasized is the passage of time for a family that cannot wrench itself from the past and which, far from moving forward, only eddies its descent.

And finally, one year, it is too late even for the blossoms in Ormura. Continue reading

The makings of a man

This Side of Paradise forces the tremendous personality, Amory Blaine, into extreme dissipation and, finally, a man.Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise 2

This Side of Paradise · F. Scott Fitzgerald · 1924
Penguin Classics, 1996 · 267 pages, hardcover

It has swagger to it. It has the necessary snark for dividing Princeton’s student body into try-hard intellectuals (Slickers aka hipsters) and moneyed followers (Big Men on Campus aka basic bitches). Continue reading

Stephen King, the Stand

Nasty, brutish and short…Stephen King’s The Stand is 20th century Leviathan in its treatment of mankind after an engineered super flu kills most of the world’s population.

King, The StandThe Stand (Uncut) · Stephen King · 1975/1988
Anchor Books, 2012 · 1153 pages, paperback

Society is forming anew and, as Glen Batemen muses with the cynic’s air, all of man’s old toys lie discarded and just waiting to be picked up – the cars, yes, but the guns, too.

And there also lies the playground of the Nevada desert and its toys – baking in the heat, winking in the sun – are stamped with three downward triangles and positively radiate ill will. We’re given the chance to start anew and where we take that chance determines our direction: East…or West. Continue reading

Interlude: end of Q2 (year 2!) at the Masthead!

Sunday marked the halfway point for the Masthead’s second year of reviews! As always, here’s a quick look at the past three months:

Books reviewed: 5
Translated fiction: 2 (from 2 languages, Japanese and French)
New-to-me authors: 5 (all were new!)
Oldest book: Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (1844)
Newest book: Smith’s White Teeth (1999)
Longest book: Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (704 pages)
Shortest book: Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (224 pages)

A pithy recap of each book read and reviewed here since April 15:
Continue reading

New feature!

You know those recommendation sites where you plug in the books that captured your heart and they spew out a list of supposed good reads for your reading pleasure? Like, let’s say I type in The Brothers Karamazov and A Farewell to Arms. I eagerly wait the .233306 seconds for the list of books and what do mine eyes espy? A recommendation list that proudly looks back at me with Crime and Punishment, Notes from Underground, The Sun Also Rises and maybe Anna Karenina or another token.

Well….no shit. (Though I don’t know what I was expecting, really.)

Anyway, I categorized the books I’ve reviewed here and maybe that will be a little more helpful (see that shiny new “Recommendations” tab up there?). Here’s the caveat: I listed every book I’ve reviewed, even the ones I loathed. Did I like Orhan Pamuk’s Snow? Pretty sure I hated it, but hey, you might think it’s just the ticket.

Down with Big Brother!

Orwell, 19841984 · George Orwell · 1949
Berkley, 2003 · 323 pages, paperback

George Orwell’s 1984 is such a well-rubbed thing that there isn’t much left to say about it. It’s also a much-abused thing, the Bible of oath for fear mongers everywhere and university slicks goading their hordes of vacant-eyed activists.

So let’s step back a little, take a swig of that Victory Gin and let the juniper swallow the swill. Continue reading

“Ever the same three…ever the same d’Artagnan!”

Dumas was sometimes an ass to his heroes. They became better men for it.

Three Musketeers 3The Three Musketeers · Alexandre Dumas · 1844
Richard Pevear translation · Penguin, 2007 · 704 pages, paperback

Judge it by its cover, so long as it’s this edition: Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers contains within its pages a gallantry offset by buffoonery, and each quality falls to perfect measurement. Continue reading

Myth of Mercer

Do Androids Dream of Electric SheepDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? · Philip K. Dick · 1968
Del Rey, 2017 · 224 pages, paperback

Most of mankind has emigrated for the colonies (i.e. Mars and other off-planet bodies). Those remaining on Earth are charged with maintaining it. Rick Deckard works as a bounty hunter for San Francisco and “retires” rogue androids with the hope that the reward money could buy him a real live animal to replace that electric sheep. He’s afraid the neighbors are getting suspicious.

Other men, like J.R. Isidore, are “specials, “chickenheads,” “antheads,” whose exposure to the radiation left by World War Terminus has made them ineligible for emigration to Mars. They’re tasked with more menial jobs – repairing artificial pets, say, or collecting trash, a lucrative business as everyone is fighting against a relentless deluge of virtually self-reproducing detritus and trash aka “kipple.” Continue reading

Junshi and a tainted love: Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro

In all the world, I know only one woman. No woman but my wife moves me as a woman. And my wife regards me as the only man for her. From this point of view, we should be the happiest of couples.

KokoroKokoro · Natsume Soseki · 1914
Edwin McClellan translation · Gateway Editions, 2000 · 248 pages, paperback

It was Tolstoy who told us that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, but it’s an axiom that also runs through Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro.

Kokoro is nuanced in its treatment of relationships and the changing values of the older and younger generations as the Meiji period, on its leave, ushered in the new Japan. In light prose, Soseki gives an account of what enduring friendship requires and what fulfillment in marriage looks like under the worst of circumstances. Continue reading