reading matter

December 11, 2002

I am, as usual, acquiring reading matter faster than I am reading it. I picked up Donald Keene's Modern Japanese Diaries used at McIntyre and Moore in Davis Square last week for $22.50, which sounds like a lot except that the cover price for a new hardcover is $50 and even the paperback edition is $25 new. So I've been curling up every night with a nice hardcover edition and savoring the impressions of Japanese travelers, diplomats, students, writers, and housewives from the middle of the 19th century to the first couple of decades of the 20th century. There's the obligatory Merrimack Valley connection with the account of Niijima Jo (a.k.a. Joseph Neeshima Hardy) who stowed away aboard an American ship and ended up studying at Phillips Academy in Andover and later (after Amherst College) at Andover Theological School. (I'm not sure if this was before or after the Andover heresy.)

I haven't found any Rhode Island connection (other than the obvious mention of Perry and the black ships) nor any reference to Moby Dick, but there's lots of other overlap with other stuff I've been reading. This includes Japanese accounts of Hokkaido that are contemporaneous with Isabella Bird's account. The Ainu were as foreign to the Japanese then as to the British woman traveler. The Japanese settlement of Hokkaido was just beginning in the late 19th century. Hard to believe, I know, even though when I visited there I noticed all the red brick buildings and American agricultural influences and was told that was because the Japanese had settled there in the late 19th century.

Another overlap with stuff I've been reading of late is that this book includes diaries of Mori Ogai (and of his mother), the novelist who wrote Wild Geese, which I read earlier this year.

And judging by the number of Japanese diarists who end up in Boston and barely mention New York, I guess this was still the time period when Boston was a real place that mattered as opposed to a theme park.

But I digress. So here I am in the middle of these great diaries, a nice thick collection, and I find myself pulled into Jabberwocky for just a short browse this evening and wham, I end up with two books. From the Christmas section, yes they have a Christmas section, yet! Like I don't have enough to read piled up on the floor already. Like I haven't already got Christmas spirit to burn after the Grand Illumination on Sunday ... OK so I am such a depressive personality that I need constant infusions of Christmas spirit to keep going even when it's snowing and elves are singing Fa la la la la...

Anyway, the Christmas section. First I spot The Willows at Christmas. What? My favorite fictional vermin in a Christmas story? How have I missed that? It's by the same guy who wrote The Willows in Winter, Toad Triumphant, and The Willows and Beyond. Obviously he's not done with Kenneth Graham's characters yet. The Willows at Christmas is set after the original but before the trilogy. And it looks to be a rip-roaring good story.

Second, I spot Joseph Brodsky's collection, Nativity Poems, in a neat little bilingual edition. It's essentially Brodsky's autobiography in annual poems. OK so my Russian has never gotten beyond the phrase book I used in Vladivostok in '96. Bilingual editions are still cool. Nancy had told me about this little book and once I took a look at it, it had to come home with me too.

So I brew a pot of genmaicha (green tea with roasted brown rice) and immerse myself in the lives of fictional vermin for the rest of the evening.

Today's Reading
Modern Japanese Diaries by Donald Keene, The Willows at Christmas by William Horwood

This Year's Reading
2002 Book List


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Copyright © 2002, Janet I. Egan