Thursday, March 31, 2011

bookish birthday

I know I have been doing very poorly at keeping up my goal of blogging more frequently this year, and am only now putting up pictures from my birthday earlier this month, while it is still the same month. Hope you enjoy them anyway!

This year I turned 25, and for my birthday Andrew made me a spectacular chocolate mud cake type cake. It was very secretive and time-consuming, but I think he did an amazing job.

The view from above.

It looks so cozy, I would like to sit in that armchair by that fire and read those books.

As it is, I nibbled on the armchair and ate those books (they are made of white chocolate + food dye + flavouring).

There's me, turning 25 with cake, candles, bookshelf and friends (not pictured, but I swear they were there). After this we headed to the Berkelouw Books wine bar for some food and wine and book-browsing.

For my birthday I got a lot of book vouchers (appropriately enough) among other things, so I spent Sunday book shopping and came back with a bunch of new books. All read now :( But there's some new books coming out in April I'm pretty excited about.

Now March is ending, I hope I get to blog about some more books soon.

Anjali Joseph, Saraswati Park; Pablo Neruda, The Captain's Verses; Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

the pillow book

The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon is a collection of thoughts, like a diary, written by a court gentlewoman in Japan in the tenth century. This absolutely blew me away when I started, because it was impossible not to make comparisons to Old English literature, and there is just nothing like this in Old English (sidenote: though many works I studied in Old English are dated pre-10th C., technically the period ends in 1066, so this book is roughly contemporaneous with the late Anglo-Saxon period). This book seems so personal, in a way that Anglo-Saxon literature is not, and it's so concerned with the affairs of women (it's written by a woman) and everyday life, and aesthetics, it's like an entirely different world. There is something really incredible about reading something that seems so personal and yet was written 1,000 years ago. Besides, this book is a great introduction to the world of the Japanese court in the 10th century, with its descriptiveness and anecdotes.

There are things that are frustrating about reading a book from 1,000 years ago in translation. For instance, I just don't know much about the literary context. While this book is presented as the personal musings of Sei Shonagon, not intended for anyone else to see, this feels like a rhetorical device, but I don't know how likely it is or how many other such books were written. The politics and some of the expressions can be opaque, the constant expressions of devotion to the Emperor's consort struck me as stylised and possibly politically motivated, but then, at the time the book was written the consort was dead and out of favour in court, so maybe it is best to take them as genuine? I would love to read more about it.

The most annoying thing is reading it in translation, my edition points out all the puns/double-meanings scattered throughout, particularly in the poems I feel like reading the original would really add to the experience. But some of the lost meaning is down to time rather than language, with footnotes expressing merely the lost meaning of a place, or word.

Overall this is such a charming book, Sei Shonagon is very personable, I enjoyed the vignettes, the anecdotes and lists, they come together to create a sense of aesthetic enjoyment of life. Sometimes it grated, when poor people are dismissed because they are not dressed nicely, but on the whole it was a lovely experience, full of a sense of humour and life as well as a strong sense of taste and aesthetic appreciation.