Current Reads: New Weird Sci-Fi, WWII Memoirs, & Classical Japanese Poetry

Good morning, biblio-kitties, and otaku-fairies! Today, I decided to keep things simple and share with you the books that I’ve currently got my nose in.

May has been a kick-ass month for me in terms of reading, and it seems that my currently reading stack is ever-evolving, which feels fantastic, but is also a bit surreal when you haven’t had a month like this in a long time. The only down side about reading so much is the exhaustion that shall be my monthly wrap-up post. 😅

Okay, enough of my prattling. I’ve listed all the books below by most-completed to least-completed!

The History of Nations: Japan edited by Clay Farris Naff

This book is a collection of essays written by scholars of Japanese studies that focus on Japanese history, with each section written by a different author. For example, the first chapter is about Ancient Japan with two essays. The first is the founding of the nation, which is pulled from the original Japanese text, Kojiki, and the second essay is “Prehistory and the Jōmon Era” written by Kenneth Henshell.

I’m about halfway through this book and I really like the multiple essay format. I have never read a textbook-like history which was constructed entirely of essays before, and The History of Nations: Japan is just that: a textbook for young students (I would gather around junior high aged). My only issue with the book so far is that is only has two essays written by Japanese persons. I wholeheartedly believe that it would be much better with more authentically Japanese accounts of history, particularly the chapters that go into the making of modern Japanese society.

Last Witnesses: Reflections on the Wartime Internment of Japanese Americans edited by Erica Harth

This book is a collection of stories that revolve around the individual authors’ experiences during the Japanese Internment Camps of United States history during the Second World War. The vast majority of the non-fiction narratives are from Japanese-Americans who underwent the devastating experience of being forced into the Camps. Others include second-generations narratives, as well as stories by Americans who were affected by having to witness their country essentially erasing the presence of Japanese people from their lives.

I’m almost half-way through this book and it is quite powerful. The voices of the indescribable experiences the Japanese underwent are horrific. In some ways, it’s very akin to the A-Bomb dropping in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in terms of the horror and disbelief that they felt of what was happening to them. While I am looking forward to finishing this book later this week, it is still a heart-breaking experience. Nonetheless, I have found that by educating myself about this specific part of the Second World War, I am learning plenty, not only about Japanese people, but the innate nature of humans and our malevolent desire for the dark and fucked-up things that lead to unspeakable acts such as this.

One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each: A Translation of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu by Peter McMillan

Originally written in the Heian Era (approximately 794 A.D.) and then compiled in the 13th century, the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu is considered to be the premiere establishment of Japanese literature. Many anime-watchers may have heard of the One Hundred Poems via various anime including Chihayafuru and Chōyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi. This is one of the English translated versions, with the translation done by Peter McMillan. The translation is considered to be one of the very best, as the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu is one of the most-difficult works of Japanese literature to translate, and McMillan is credited with having done it superbly and most-accessibly.

I’m about one-third of the way through this book. So far, I do like some of his translations. I do not feel that all of them are spectacular, mostly due to the format of which he has translated those specific poems. However, this is the first translated collection of this work that I have read, so I do not have anything to compare it to, yet! I have two other translations in my position, and when I have read them all, I plan on writing a comparison and recommendation post! One of the more pleasurable aspects of the collection is that he includes the original Japanese (in Chinese characters, not romaji) versions of the poems right next to his English translations.

Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff Vandermeer

Part of the new-weird subgenre of science-fiction that has been sprouting up within the past few years, Annihilation is something I picked up because Sir Betrothed shoved it into my hands and told me to read it, so we could watch the film. He knows that when it comes to film adaptations of books, I prefer to read the book prior to seeing the film. He also believes with my inclination for the strange and fucked-up, I would enjoy it immensely.

The book takes place in Area X, which has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has overtaken large vestiges of human civilisation. Then people began to send in expeditions to check this area out. The first one reported pristine landscapes; the second ended with mass suicide; and with the third one all of the members turned on each another in a hail of gunfire. There was an eleventh and all of the members died within a week, from cancer. Now a twentieth expedition is being sent it, comprised entirely of women. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one another, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X.

I’m only a handful of pages into it. The prose requires a bit of adjusting as it’s slow due to the detail work. I will say that the book so far has excellent ambiance and atmosphere building. I can really envision myself in the places being described by as almost all the senses are being triggered, which is pretty neat.

Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1) by Kerri Maniscalco

This is a young adult Victorian era mystery novel that revolves around a young girl who has recently experienced a terrible loss. Her family wants her to go to finishing school essentially and learn to become a proper English lady. However, completely obsessed with death and the very nature of death as a means of processing her grief, she denies them. Instead, she secretly takes up an apprenticeship with the local coroner. Then one evening a mutilated bodies comes into the morgue and rumours of a “Ripper” begin to spread through the city. The young woman finds herself caught up in the midst of the crime and she is determined to solve these dreadful killings.

I’m only a couple of chapters into this book and it is a fast-read. It is very easy to blow through one page after another, which is what I love about young adult books, especially well-written ones. You can experience a fantastic story without too much effort or time. I find the premise to be quite intriguing, more so as an avid Jack the Ripper obsessee. I get a dark and twisted vibe from the book, but I’m not nearly far enough into it to gauge the overall quality properly.

Oishinbo, A La Carte Volume 4: Fish, Sushi, & Sashimi by Tetsu Kariya & Akira Hanasaki (Artist)

This is a seinen manga series that I have been indulging in for the past week or so, and it revolves around Japanese food. The fourth volume focuses entirely on fish, sushi, and sashimi and how it contributes to Japanese identity and culture.

One of my favourite parts about these books are the history and load of information that you get about the particular dish or ingredient of focus. For example, in the last book, Ramen and Gyōza, I learned about the history of these two dishes and how they were imported from China but took off in Japan and ended up creating its own sort of culture that is uniquely Japanese. We also learned a bit about Japan’s history with China and how Chinese were viewed in Japan during their conquering of the country.

Those are the six books that I am currently reading. If I maintain my pace as I’ve been going for the past few weeks, I’m sure that I will have more than half of these completed by the weekend’s arrival. My goal is to finish as much as I can before May ends on Thursday!

Have you read any of these books? If not, do any of them interest you? If so, did you like them or hate them?

Thank you for stopping by today! I appreciate your time very much. Until next time, keep reading and keep otakuing. 🌼