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I’ve wanted to read a Junji Ito book for a while. So finally decided to read ‘Tomie‘ which was his first book.

High school students go on a hike up the mountain, as part of a class trip. One of them goes missing. Her name is Tomie. It is later discovered that she is dead, brutally murdered. No one knows who killed her. After her funeral, the students go back to class. Their teacher tells them that they have to be careful as the murderer hasn’t been caught yet. At that point, there is a knock on the door. Everyone looks at the class entrance, and who do they find? It is Tomie! She’s alive and kicking and acts as if nothing has happened! Some classmates feel that the dead person must be a different person and it was a case of mistaken identity. But other classmates seem to know something that we, the readers, don’t. They are sure that the real Tomie is dead. So according to them, there can be only two explanations. One is that the new Tomie is an impostor. The second is that Tomie has come back from the dead. The first explanation is simple and logical. It will probably lead to an old-fashioned revenge thriller. The second explanation is scary and offers delightful possibilities in the telling of the story. Junji Ito being the smart guy, chooses the second one. And we have this beautiful, scary, delightful 750+ page horror manga book.

There are 20 stories in the book. Some of them continue from where the previous story left off. Some of them tell new stories with the characters which appeared before. There are other stories which are independent, and which can be read as standalones. I loved stories from each of these categories, but I loved the standalones more. In some stories, Tomie does bad things or makes people around her do bad things. In other stories, Tomie is the victim and she suffers at the hand of others, and later she comes back to haunt her oppressors and take revenge. I liked the second kind of stories more. There were a few stories which were neither, which was very unusual in a horror book. Some of the third type of stories were very beautiful. Many of the stories were predictable in terms of plot, and relied on the horror aspect to create dramatic effect. Some of them were unusual and surprising though. Some stories seemed to be a nod to other famous horror stories and fairytales.

I enjoyed reading most of the stories in the book, but I loved some more than others. One of my favourites was ‘Little Finger‘. In this story, a few brothers do bad things (won’t tell you more) and call their youngest brother to clean things up. This youngest brother is very ugly. While he is cleaning up his brothers’ nasty deeds, the law comes after him, and he ends up living in a cave. Strange things happen in the cave, and five ghostly women rise from there. Four of them are pretty and one of them is ugly. The pretty ones taunt and torture the ugly one. When this youngest brother sees that, he fights for the ugly one and defends her. This woman falls in love with him. She is a strange being though, and she is not human. What happens after that is told in the rest of the story. It is a very unusual love story. It makes us think of ‘Beauty and the Beast‘.

In another of my favourite stories, ‘Boy‘, a boy is wandering in the beach, when he finds a cave. Inside the cave is a young woman who is in bad shape. The boy brings food and clothes for her and the woman recovers. She treats the boy like her own son and the boy treats her like his mom. But the boy has his own real mother. And this new mother is unusual and may not even be human…

I’ll write about one more favourite story. It is called ‘Waterfall Basin‘. In this story, a travelling salesman comes to a village. He sells a strange package and says that it will bring people happiness. People refuse to buy anything from him. Then, one villager relents, and buys a small package from him. And, of course, only one thing can happen after that. All hell breaks loose. This story made me think of Stephen King’sNeedful Things‘, which has a very similar overall plot, though both these stories are very different in details.

The artwork in the book is very interesting – it changes in style depending on the way the mood of the story changes. When the plot moves, the artwork is simple and straightforward. But when the situation gets intense, and scary things start happening, the artwork is intricate and detailed and is beautiful and also gives us nightmares at the same time. Have shared some of the pages from the book, below. Have avoided the more scarier ones.

From the story ‘Moromi‘ – Part 1
From the story ‘Moromi‘ – Part 2

I enjoyed reading ‘Tomie’. I loved the stories in which Tomie is the good person and suffers at the hand of bad guys and later comes back to haunt them. Of course, these stories are not as simple as I’ve described them, but I loved them. I don’t think I’d have loved this book as much, if I had read it when I was younger. I remember reading Charles Burns’Black Hole‘ many years back. It was too dark for me and gave me nightmares and I never went near his books again. ‘Tomie’ is ten times more darker and more scarier. Being older and wiser now (or maybe the mind has become numb, after watching series like ‘Game of Thrones’), I could resist the impact of the violent scenes, and appreciate the beautiful scenes. Luckily, the last few days, while I was reading the book, I didn’t get any nightmares. It would have been scary to hear Tomie’s whisper in my dreams and then feel someone prodding me, and then get up in the middle of the night to see Tomie sitting next to me laughing in a nasty way. Doesn’t mean that it won’t happen tonight and Tomie won’t step out from the pages of the book into the real world. But I hope and pray it doesn’t happen. Please pray for me.

I read in Junji Ito’s afterword to the book that he used to work in a dentist’s office during the day, and work on ‘Tomie’ during the night. It is interesting to contemplate on – that he was a regular guy with a regular job, but when the sun set and he came home in the evening, he dreamt of terrifying fantasies and put them in this book to scare us. Life is always surprising!

Junji Ito is one of the legends of horror manga. There are two more famous books of his – ‘Uzumaki‘ and ‘Gyo‘. I’ve heard Junji Ito fans saying that ‘Uzumaki’ is their favourite. I’m hoping to read that, the next time I feel brave enough.

This book is not for everyone. If you are not a horror fan and you find these things scary and they give you nightmares, please stay away from this book. But if you are a horror fan, this is 750 pages of pure pleasure. Go read it now.

Have you read ‘Tomie’? What do you think about it? Which is your favourite Junji Ito book?

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Time for the next Natsume Sōseki book 😊 This time it is ‘Botchan‘.

Our narrator Botchan has just graduated in mathematics. He gets a job as a maths teacher in a school in a remote town. He is a person who makes casual, spontaneous decisions, and so accepts it. Though he has always been a city boy and has lived in Tokyo all his life, he doesn’t think too much about the challenges he’ll be facing. When he lands in the new town and the new school, interesting things start happening. People gossip about him behind his back. There is the internecine politics, of course, which is always there in every school, and teachers try to plot and stab behind each other’s backs. There are good people too, of course, and they help our Botchan. What happens in this small town and how Botchan navigates this forms the rest of the story.

‘Botchan’ is very different from the other Sōseki novels I’ve read till now. It seems to be based on Sōseki’s own experience as a teacher in a small town. There is a focus on the events and the plot throughout the book. Our narrator Botchan has a sharp sense of humour and he makes us laugh many times. There is a woman called Kiyo who works as a maid and a governess in Botchan’s house till he leaves to go to work. She treats him as her own son, and their relationship is depicted beautifully in the book. There is a landlady who comes in the second part of the book and she’s also a fascinating character. Botchan’s fellow teacher and friend, whom he calls ‘The Porcupine’ is also one of my favourite characters from the book.

I enjoyed reading ‘Botchan’. It is a great place to start for readers who are new to Sōseki, and for readers who are intimidated by his contemplative works like ‘The Three-Cornered World’.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“…when somebody treats you to something and you make no effort to decline it, whether it’s a dish of shaved ice, a cup of sweet tea, or whatever, well, it shows the kind of respect and goodwill you have for that person. The sense of gratitude that you feel in your heart when you accept a favor from someone, which you could easily have avoided by paying your own way, is a form of giving back that goes beyond anything that money could buy. I may not have the kind of title or position that will impress people, but I’m still a free, full-grown human being. And when such a person finds you worthy of respect, you should consider it something more precious than a fortune in gold.”

“Of course, I’d been involved in my share of pranks myself when I was in middle school, but when they asked me whether I was the one who did it, I would never, ever try to weasel out of it. If I did it, I did it, and if I didn’t, I didn’t; that’s all there was to it. No matter how much mischief I was involved in, I still had my honor. If you’re just going to lie your way out of the punishment afterward, well, you shouldn’t have done anything to begin with. Mischief and punishment go hand in hand – it’s knowing that the punishment comes with it that makes it fun to dare to do the mischief. Did they really think that there was some low-down country out there where people could play tricks and then claim immunity from the consequences?”

“I had already come to the conclusion that I wasn’t the kind of person that anybody could like and it didn’t bother me at all if people treated me as if I was just a block of wood, which only made me wonder all the more why Kiyo fussed over me the way she did. Sometimes when she was in the kitchen and nobody else was around, she would praise me for having what she called ‘a fine, upstanding character.’ I had no idea what she meant, though. I figured that if I really had such a fine character, other people should be treating me a little better. Whenever Kiyo said something like that, I’d tell her that I couldn’t stand being flattered. Then she’d say that it just showed how fine my character really was, and gaze at me adoringly. She seemed to be taking pride in some version of me that she’d created all by herself. There was something almost creepy about it.”

Have you read ‘Botchan’? What do you think about it?

After reading my first Natsume Sōseki novel and loving it, I decided to read another. I decided to pick up ‘Kokoro‘.

In ‘Kokoro’, a young man meets an older man at the beach. Before long they have a conversation. The young man feels a kind of magnetic pull towards the older man. He calls him Sensei. And soon Sensei becomes like a mentor to him. But Sensei seems to be a mysterious person. Something tragic seems to have happened in his past. Which he refuses to reveal to his new protégé. The story starts like this. What happens after this and the events which unfurl and the past secrets which are revealed form the rest of the story.

‘Kokoro’ means ‘heart’ in Japanese. This story is about the complexities, the contradictions, and the unfathomable depths of the human heart. It is a tragic, heartbreaking story of love, of friendship, of betrayal.

I enjoyed reading ‘Kokoro’. It was very different from ‘The Three-Cornered World’ (‘Kusamakura’). Reading ‘Kokoro’ made me realize that my first impression was correct, that Natsume Sōseki is my guy, that he’s my favourite Japanese author of that time.

I’ll leave you with two of my favourite passages from the book.

“I may be simply repeating what has always been known, but I do believe that for love to grow there must first be the impact of novelty. Between two people who have always known each other, that necessary stimulus can never be felt. Like the first whiff of burning incense, or like the taste of one’s first cup of saké, there is in love that moment when all its power is felt. There may be fondness, but not love, between two people who have come to know each other well without ever having grasped that moment.”

“You said just now that there was no one amongst your relatives that you would consider particularly bad. You seem to be under the impression that there is a special breed of bad humans. There is no such thing as a stereotype bad man in this world. Under normal conditions, everybody is more or less good, or, at least, ordinary. But tempt them, and they may suddenly change. That is what is so frightening about men. One must always be on one’s guard.”

Have you read ‘Kokoro’? What do you think about it? Which is your favourite Natsume Sōseki novel?

I’ve wanted to read ‘The Three-Cornered World‘ by Natsume Sōseki for a long time. I finally got around to reading it.

An artist is walking on a road through the mountains. He is there, because he wants to paint peacefully in solitude. It starts raining and he takes shelter in a small roadside shop. An old woman there offers him a cup of hot tea. While it rains, the two have a conversation. The artist asks about any place nearby where he can stay. The old woman tells him about a nearby inn. Later when the rain stops, the artist departs and sometime later reaches the inn. The inn is run by an old gentleman, and his beautiful, mysterious daughter. What happens after this forms the rest of the story.

This is just the story told in the book. But this is not what the book is about. When I finished reading the first page of the book, I was amazed. After reading the next few pages, I knew. That this was no ordinary book. And this was no ordinary writer. While reading those first pages, I got the same feeling of awe that I got when I had read some of my favourite writers and books – like Hermann Hesse’s ‘Siddhartha’ and ‘Narcissus and Goldmund’, the finest pages in Thomas Mann’s ‘The Magic Mountain’ and ‘Joseph and his Brothers’, Marlen Haushofer’s ‘The Wall’, Somerset Maugham’s ‘Of Human Bondage’, and ‘The Moon and Six Pence’, Nicole Brossard’s ‘Yesterday, at the Hotel Clarendon’. I nearly highlighted every passage and every sentence in the first few pages. John Updike once said – “My reviewing habit, hard to break, was to quote extensively; just as the impossibly ideal map would be the same size as the territory mapped, the ideal review would quote the book in its entirety, without comment.” I found this true about my favourite books, about the most beautiful books I’ve read. I wanted to highlight every line, I wanted to quote every passage. That is what happened when I read ‘The Three-Cornered World’. I thought the beauty will stop flowing at some point and there will be a break somewhere – no one can sustain this kind of magic forever. But Natsume Sōseki defies all expectations and delivers a whole book filled with exquisite literary and artistic beauty.

Out of all the classic Japanese writers of the 20th century, writers who wrote before 1970, my favourite till now was Yukio Mishima. Mishima-San’s prose is beautiful, and though his stories are mostly dark, I read his books for his prose. But now after reading this book, I realize that Natsume Sōseki, has waltzed past Mishima-San to the No.1 position. I’ll always have a soft corner for Mishima-San, and will always love and admire his work, but I think Sōseki-San has gone to the top spot in my favourites list now. I think that if we consider 1970 or thereabouts as the end of a particular era in Japanese literature, Natsume Sōseki was the greatest Japanese writer of that era. Of course, this is always debatable, as this era had some of the greatest literary stars in Japanese literature – Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima, Junichiro Tanizaki, Fumiko Enchi, Kobo Abe, Osamu Dazai, Kenzaburō Ōe. But I’ll stick my neck out and say that Natsume Sōseki was the finest of them all.

Don’t take my word for it though. If you haven’t read ‘The Three-Cornered World’ yet, please go and read it. And tell me what you think.

Natsume Sōseki published his first book ‘I am a Cat‘ when he was 38. In the next 11 years, he published many books which went on to become classics, and he was regarded as the greatest Japanese writer of his generation. He died when he was 49, leaving an unfinished manuscript, which was later published as ‘Light and Darkness’. In such a short literary career which lasted just 11 years, he shone brightly like a star. He didn’t live to see the horrors of the 20th century (good for him), but it is heartbreaking that he died so young, with many more years still left in him.

‘The Three-Cornered World’ is a beautiful meditation on art and beauty. I loved it. It is one of my favourite books of all-time.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite excerpts from the book. It was so hard for me to choose one, and so I’m sharing the first page here. Hope you like it.

“Going up a mountain track, I fell to thinking.

Approach everything rationally, and you become harsh. Pole along in the stream of emotions, and you will be swept away by the current. Give free rein to your desires, and you become uncomfortably confined. It is not a very agreeable place to live, this world of ours.

When the unpleasantness increases, you want to draw yourself up to some place where life is easier. It is just at the point when you first realise that life will be no more agreeable no matter what heights you may attain, that a poem may be given birth, or a picture created.


The creation of this world is the work of neither god nor devil, but of the ordinary people around us; those who live opposite, and those next door, drifting here and there about their daily business. You may think this world created by ordinary people a horrible place in which to live, but where else is there? Even if there is somewhere else to go, it can only be a ‘non-human’ realm, and who knows but that such a world may not be even more hateful than this?

There is no escape from this world. If, therefore, you find life hard, there is nothing to be done but settle yourself as comfortably as you can during the unpleasant times, although you may only succeed in this for short periods, and thus make life’s brief span bearable. It is here that the vocation of the artist comes into being, and here that the painter receives his divine commission. Thank heaven for all those who in devious ways by their art, bring tranquillity to the world, and enrich men’s hearts.”

Have you read Natsume Sōseki’s ‘The Three-Cornered World’? What do you think about it?

I discovered ‘Temple Alley Summer‘ by Sachiko Kashiwaba by accident. The cover was enchanting, and I thought it was a manga book. After getting it and looking inside, I discovered that it was a regular book. I was mildly disappointed at the beginning, because of this, but as I continued reading, my disappointment melted away, because the book turned out to be what I had thought at the beginning – enchanting.

Kazu gets awake in the middle of the night and he sees a girl wearing a white dress coming out of one of the rooms in his house which has the family altar. She then opens the door and leaves his house. He has never seen her before. He thinks she is a ghost. The next day at school, he sees the same girl in his class. Everyone seems to know her except him. Kazu is puzzled with this mystery. Then when Kazu and his classmates are doing a project on their town, they discover that an old map shows a mysterious temple in his street. When Kazu tries to find out more, Kazu unwittingly ruffles a few feathers and some elders turn up at his house, trying to find out why he is doing this project. It looks like they are hiding a secret. Soon, a mysterious story from an old magazine turns up and before long, real events and fantasy and the mysterious story all start to merge together, while a mysterious lady with a black cat tries to stymie Kazu at every turn…

I loved ‘Temple Alley Summer‘. I read it in one breath. I know it is just the second book of the year, but I think it will end up as one of my favourites at the end of the year. The whole story is gripping and enchanting, the characters are charming, and the ending of the story is perfect. Sachiko Kashiwaba is one of the great writers of children’s literature from Japan, and after reading this book, we know why. This is the first Sachiko Kashiwaba book to be translated into English, I think. The next one, ‘The House of the Lost on the Cape’, is coming out in September. I can’t wait!

I always love discovering new Japanese food through Japanese stories. These were the two things I discovered through this book.

Manjū – “Manjū is a traditional Japanese confection. Of the many varieties of manjū, most have an outside made from flour, rice powder, kudzu, and buckwheat, and a filling of anko (red bean paste), usually made from boiled adzuki beans and sugar. Manjū is sometimes made with other fillings such as chestnut jam. In Hawaii, one can find Okinawan manjū that are made with a filling of purple sweet potato, butter, milk, sugar, and salt, but the most common filling is bean paste, of which the several varieties include koshian, tsubuan, and tsubushian.”

Takoyaki – “Takoyaki is a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special molded pan. It is typically filled with minced or diced octopus (tako), tempura scraps (tenkasu), pickled ginger (beni shoga), and green onion (negi). The balls are brushed with takoyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce) and mayonnaise, and then sprinkled with green laver (aonori) and shavings of dried bonito (katsuobushi)”.

They both sound delicious 😊 I want to try them one day.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“Listen, Kazu. Everyone says that humans are equal, but we don’t all get the same chances in life. You know that, don’t you? You’re a big boy in fifth grade. Some people are born healthy, and others are born with illnesses and disabilities. There are beautiful people who get adored by everyone, and people of fine character who never get any credit due to their looks. Some children get good grades without studying, while others study like crazy for nothing. Plenty of things in this world are not fair and equal, Kazu. But one thing is the same for everyone, Kazu. Not only on the surface, but through and through. It affects the smart people, the rich people—no matter what they do, they cannot get more of it than their due. Do you know what I’m referring to? Time, Kazu. Time is the same for everyone. Men, women, young people, old people—everyone. A day is a day. An hour is an hour. Time is the one thing applied impartially to all humans, and to every living creature.”

Have you read ‘Temple Alley Summer‘? What do you think about it?

I like starting the new year sometimes with a fun read 😊 Last year, I started with the sapphic (lesbian) romance, ‘The Helion’s Waltz’ by Olivia Waite. This year I decided to start with ‘The Valiant Cricketer : The Biography of Trevor Bailey‘ by Alan Hill.

I love cricket biographies. But not those of modern cricketers. The biographies I love are of cricketers who had retired before I was born. I feel that this distance in time gives perspective, and it also gives a beautiful glow to their life and their career. Also, I feel that biographers write more eloquently about old times than about today. I’ve heard of Trevor Bailey as a highly-regarded commentator, and I have vaguely heard of him as a player. I thought of him as a defensive batsman who probably bowled offspin. I didn’t know much about him otherwise. So I was looking forward to finding out more about him, and reading about old anecdotes about him and fellow players of that time.

The first part of the book focuses on Trevor Bailey’s childhood and growing up and it is very informative and well-written. One of my favourite passages in that part goes like this –

“From his mother Trevor was bequeathed a lifelong love of literature. He was transported into other imaginative worlds. Muriel read to him from a very early age, not the usual childhood fare, but extracts from classic fiction, with Dickens as a favourite and colourful chronicler. Trevor was an enthralled listener and he developed an insatiable appetite for good books.”

How can we not fall in love with a sportsperson who loves books?  Trevor Bailey’s mom looks like my own mom. My mom used to tell me stories from Dickens and Shakespeare when I was a kid. P.G.Wodehouse and Lewis Carroll make guest appearances in this part of the book, and I loved that too.

I was right about Trevor Bailey on one thing, and wrong about him on another. He was a defensive batsman, one of the great stonewallers of his generation. But he was not an offspinner. He was a fastbowler. I was very surprised by that. He started off as a really sharp fastbowler, but as he was a genuine all-rounder and found handling both parts of his game together quite hard and physically demanding, he reduced his pace and focused on accuracy and variation and skills like swinging and seaming and bowling legcutters and offcutters. Sometimes he opened both the bowling and the batting, which is a very rare thing. I’ve known only Frank Worrell to do that.

Trevor Bailey batting
Trevor Bailey bowling

The second part of the book focuses on his career, including his international career. Many times, that part of the book digresses away from Trevor Bailey and talks more about the cricket history of those times. There is a chapter about Essex grounds and cricketers which was beautiful, but there is one person missing from that chapter, and that is Trevor Bailey 😊 There is another chapter which has quite a detailed account of Ian Botham’s exploits on the cricket field, and there is another about the BBC’s Test Match Special programme and the commentators who were a part of it. Trevor Bailey only makes a guest appearance in these chapters. I am not complaining and I loved those chapters and the digressions, but I thought potential readers should know about this. There is a chapter at the end of the book which talks about Trevor Bailey’s family, and it is one of the most charming chapters in the book. The book has a beautiful introduction by Trevor Bailey’s best friend and his captain at Essex, Doug Insole. The book also has beautiful photographs, which are a pleasure to look at.

Trevor with his wife Greta on their wedding day
The happy couple in retirement

Trevor Bailey, like many amateur cricketers of his time, was highly educated and he studied at Cambridge, and so his intelligence and knowledge can be seen in his analysis of the game during his playing days, when he helped his captains with tactics and strategy, and later when he led the team himself, and later during his time as a commentator. He was also one of the great all-rounders of the game in test cricket during his time, excelled probably only by the great Keith Miller from Australia and Vinoo Mankad from India. Since his retirement from test cricket more than 60 years back, his record as an international all-rounder has been matched or excelled only by three other English cricketers – Ian Botham, Andrew Flintoff and Ben Stokes. His first class record as an all-rounder is up there with the best, and as a pure fast bowler, his first class record puts him up there with the all-time greats. It is sad that he is less known today, though he seems to have been feted during his playing days.

Trevor Bailey passed away in 2011 in a fire accident in his house. He was hale and hearty and healthy and had had lunch with his best friend Doug Insole just the previous day. It was heartbreaking. He was 87 at that time. If this tragic accident hadn’t happened, he would have been 99 today, on his way to a century in real life. Sadly, it was not to be.

I enjoyed reading Alan Hill’s biography of Trevor Bailey. It is a cricket biography written for the cricket fan, and so most of it focuses on cricket. But that last chapter about his family is very beautifully written. Trevor Bailey was famous for his commentary and the way he summed up the state of play in a particular match in a few words. I wish I had been able to listen to his commentary.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book. It is about Trevor Bailey as seen through the eyes of his family and friends.

“Trevor was much happier with the old and familiar trappings of communication. He tended to be disorientated by modern technology. Muddled by the intricacies, he had to call upon the assistance of his grandson Luke to manipulate the television to bring up the sports channel. “He had three controls – we wrote them out for him – but he just couldn’t master them,” remembers Luke.”

“Justyn Bailey, the youngest son, subscribes to the expressed family view of his father as a duffer at household tasks. But he also believes that it was partly a generational attitude which meant that most of these duties devolved on his mother. There was, however, no mistaking the fallibility in even the most mundane of offices, as, for example, the repair of fuses. Doug Insole, in one choicely worded gibe, wrote that Trevor, after a futile attempt, was told to pour himself a gin and tonic and wait for the then eight-year-old Justyn to deal with it when he came home from school. Doug added: “Trevor seldom offers to assist because, being of a humble nature, he is very conscious of his ineptitude in such matters.”

“For such an intrepid cricketer, a fear of cut fingers might have deterred Trevor from undertaking domestic duties. Sharon recalls her father’s extreme squeamishness. “He hated the sight of blood, particularly his own. He once cut his hand opening a bottle of alcohol and was overcome by the flow of blood and immediately fainted at the sight.” The distress, very real for him, seems at odds with the batsman who suffered broken bones and faced the might of the world’s fastest bowlers.”

Have you read this biography by Trevor Bailey? Do you like reading biographies of cricketers or other sportspersons?

2022 – My Year of Reading

I always love looking back on my reading year because it is always pleasurable to think about books. So this is what happened to me with respect to reading in 2022.

I started the year reading ‘The Hellion’s Waltz’ by Olivia Waite, and ended the year reading ‘Out of Time : The Collected Stories of Samira Azzam‘. I read 80 books this year. (I wanted to read 60, so not bad 😊) I read 41 books by women writers and 37 books by male writers, and 2 short story collections which featured both. I read 60 fiction and 20 nonfiction. So clearly, I seem to favour fantasy over reality – not hard to believe considering the state our world is in. Out of the nonfiction books, 10 of the books I read were biographies / memoirs and 6 were books on science. I like all kinds of nonfiction, but these two seem to be the ones I favoured last year.

I read 29 books in English, 3 books in other languages (all in Tamil), and 48 books written in other languages and translated into English. I did two of the translations myself, with the help of Google Translate, with Google Translate doing 99% of the work, while I just dotted the ‘i’s and crossed the ‘t’s. Both these books were written by Jelena Lengold – ‘Odustajanje‘ (‘Giving Up‘) and ‘Lakonogi Dan‘ (‘Lightfooted Day‘) – and were originally published in Serbian. I loved them both. Hope they get translated into English.

I read 26 books by BIPOC writers, including the first novel I ever read by a native American writer, ‘Winter in the Blood’ by James Welch, which I loved. I read atleast 7 books which can be called as LGBT books, and 6 of them featured a lesbian love story. Looks like the lesbian love story might be my favourite kind of love story. I read one novel in verse, Jason Reynolds‘ ‘Long Way Down‘, which was brilliant.

I read 6 comics, 4 of them originally written in French, and 2 of them originally written in Japanese. I am a huge comics lover and buy a lot of comics every year. Most of them are waiting to be read. I clearly need to read more comics this year.

I read 8 short story collections, 3 in Tamil, 1 by an Arabic writer, 1 by Croatian writers, 1 by an Irish writer, and 2 by Caribbean writers. That is as diverse as it can get. I read one collection of plays, Yukio Mishima’sFive Modern Nō Plays‘. It was very different from Mishima-San’s regular stuff, but it was brilliant.

I didn’t read a single poetry collection, which was sad, but I read many poems shared by friends online, and poems written by friends who are poets, and loved them all. That seems to be the trend lately, read individual poems and contemplate on their beauty, rather than immerse oneself into a poetry collection.

Atleast 40 of the books I read, that is half of the books I read, were recommended by blogging friends, reading friends and writer friends. It looks like I’m clearly influenced by the recommendations of friends and the reading community. I also seem to have read books which seem to be virtually unknown today, like the German classic ‘The Nibelungenlied‘, the biography of the German poet Nelly Sachs, and the Hungarian novel ‘Captivity‘ by György Spiró.

The shortest Book I read was the Belgian comic (sometimes referred to as a BD or Bande Dessinée) called ‘Tuez en Paix’ (‘Kill in Peace’ / ‘You are at Peace’) by Tome and Bruno Gazzotti (46 pages). The longest Book I read was ‘Captivity‘ by György Spiró (863 pages), probably the first Hungarian novel I’ve ever read.

So, now the fun part of the post – favourite books. This is the hardest part for me to write, because across the years, I’ve become aware of the kinds of books I like, and I’ve leaned towards them more and more. So I love most of the books I read and so it is next to impossible for me to make a random list of 10 favourite books. But what is the fun in writing a long post without a list of books, right? 😊 So what I thought I’ll do is make a list of books which I loved which I want more people to read. So this is that list. All these books are beautiful. Hope you enjoy reading them.

1. ‘Odustajanje‘ (‘Giving Up‘) by Jelena Lengold – I read two Jelena Lengold books this year and I loved them both, but I loved this one a little bit more. The first part of the story is about the love between a sister and a brother and it is very beautiful. Jelena Lengold always writes brilliant first pages, and this book is no exception. This has still not been translated into English yet, but recently a translation has come out in Italian. Hope an English translation comes out soon.

2. Out of Time : The Collected Stories of Samira Azzam – This is the only collection of Palestinian writer Samira Azzam’s stories translated into English. It came out recently and it is beautiful and moving.

3. The End of Eddy by Édouard Louis – Édouard Louis’ memoir about growing up being poor and discovering that he is gay, and trying to hide it everyday from his family, friends and neighbours, who are all mostly poor, but also homophobic and racist. It is beautiful, powerful, moving and heartbreaking.

4. Gerta by Kateřina Tučková – A beautiful, powerful, moving story about a little known episode from the 20th century Czech history. Kateřina Tučková is a beautiful, contemporary voice in Czech literature.

5. Captivity by György Spiró – Discovered this through an article about chunksters. It is about a Jewish guy who lives in first century Rome. It is a sprawling, epic novel, and I learnt a lot about Jewish history and Roman history through this. This novel seems to be famous in Hungary, but I don’t know anyone who has read the English translation. It deserves to be more well-known.

6. Thanimai Thalir (‘The Solitary Sprout’) by R. Chudamani – One of my favourite discoveries this year. I knew that Chudamani was good, but I didn’t know that she was this brilliant. Chudamani was one of my mom’s favourite writers. There are three English translations of her stories. If you get a hand on one of them, do read.

7. Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse – YA literature is dominated by American writers. Joanne C. Hillhouse is from the Caribbean, from Antigua. This novel is a beautiful peek into Caribbean YA literature. It is about being young, being in love, and the beauty of music. It is beautiful. Hoping to read more of Hillhouse’s books this year. The one I am looking forward to reading is ‘Dancing Nude in the Moonlight‘. It looks very beautiful.

8. All Men Want to Know by Nina Bouraoui – It is a novel inspired by Nina Bouraoui’s own life. The narrator is half Algerian Arab, half French, and fully gay. How she straddles between these two worlds with her gay identity is what this powerful story is about.

9. The Street by Ann Petry – Ann Petry’s ‘The Street’ was a famous bestseller which was critically acclaimed when it was first published. Today it has attained the state of a true classic – often recommended, but almost never read. Please do read it. It is beautiful, powerful, moving and heartbreaking. I can’t wait to read more Ann Petry this year.

10. Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash – Ron Rash is a poet who also writes novels. This one is set in an Appalachian town and is like a murder mystery. But that is not what is great about the book. Ron Rash’s prose is pure poetry. I’m not using ‘poetry’ in a metaphorical sense here, to mean that the prose is beautiful, but I’m using it in the literal sense. You’ll know what it is, when you read it. I discovered this through Emma’s (from ‘Book Around the Corner’) recommendation.

11. Math without Numbers by Milo Beckman – There is a popular line which is used very often – “If you read only one book on this subject…” Well, it is my turn to repeat it. If you read only one book on math, read this book. It is a book written on math for the general reader, and it is the best I’ve ever read. It is brilliant. Milo Beckman says at the beginning that there are no numbers in the book, and the only numbers which are there are page numbers. He sticks to his promise.

12. The Dead by James Joyce – What is James Joyce doing on this list? Isn’t he famous enough? Well, James Joyce is famous for his books ‘Ulysses’ and ‘Finnegan’s Wake’. Readers try his book ‘Ulysses’ and half of them give up after a while. The other half who finish reading ‘Ulysses’, don’t even bother with ‘Finnegan’s Wake’, because it is too much even for them. So, James Joyce is not really famous, but he is more infamous for writing stuff like this, which normal people like me can’t understand. But…Yes, there is a but here 😊 So, you should just believe in John Snow, when he says that whatever comes before ‘but’ is horseshit 😄 But, if you want to read just one story by James Joyce and want to understand it and fall in love with it, it is this story. ‘The Dead’. It is a long short story which almost approaches the length of a novella. It is incredibly beautiful.

13. Set in Stone by Stela Brinzeanu – The story is set in Moldova in the middle ages, and it is about two women who fall in love. To add to the complexity, one of them is rich, the other is poor. This is not going to end well, right? Medieval world, two women falling in love – how can this ever work out? The general prediction would be that things will definitely end badly for the poor girl. What happens is, of course, very interesting! You have to read the novel to find out. One of my favourite discoveries of the year. Discovered it through Marina’s (from ‘Finding Time to Write’) recommendation.

14. Why We Kneel, How We Rise by Michael Holding – Mikey (Michael Holding) was one of the great cricket players who later became a popular commentator who was famous for calling a spade, a spade. He wrote just two books in his life – the first one, a memoir, and then this one. This is an unusual book by a sportsperson, because it talks about racism. I’ve never read a book like this by a sportsperson. Because Mikey was a cricketer, this book is popular among cricket fans, and it won many awards, including the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Prize. But it is virtually unknown outside the cricket community. Which is a shame, because this is an important book which needs to be read by everyone. If Mikey was an African-American and he had played basketball or American football and had written this book, he would have won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and would have been feted. But because he is Jamaican, he is just ignored. And that is the reason people like me need to push this book. We need to make this book more famous, we need to make Mikey more famous.

15. The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen – Tove Ditlevsen is an international literary star these days, after being ignored for decades. Everyone knows her name now and reads her books. She doesn’t need my help. But her trilogy was one of my favourites of the year, and I’ll feel bad if I don’t include it here. You’d have probably read it already, but if you haven’t, do read it. It is one of the great books of the 20th century.

How was your reading year in 2022? Which were your favourite books?

Every year, a month before Christmas, the book buying fever catches me, and it rages for a while, while I empty my bank account. Then it leaves as suddenly as it had arrived. This year was no different. When the book buying storm died, these were some of the books which smiled at me 😊

1. Siberian Haiku by Jurga Vilė and Lina Itagaki – Discovered this book through a review. The story is set in Lithuania. I’ve never read a Lithuanian book before. It looks like a cross between a regular book and a graphic novel. So excited to get to it.

2. James Joyce’s Ulysses by Nicolas Mahler – Discovered this through Melissa (from ‘The Book Binder’s Daughter) and Joseph’s (from ‘roughghosts’) review. It is a new graphic novel adaptation of James Joyce’s classic. This adaptation was originally written in German. Looks very fascinating.

3. Cereus Blooms at Night by Shani Mootoo – Discovered this book through one of my friend’s recommendations. I got it a while back, but decided to include it in this Christmas collection. The cover is beautiful and the book looks fascinating. Always love discovering new Caribbean literature.

4. Dark Avenues by Ivan Bunin – Discovered this through one of my friend’s recommendation. Ivan Bunin was the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize. But his books were always hard to find. So when I found that this collection of his short stories was still in print, I was excited to get it. Looking forward to reading it.

5. Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women by Jenny Hartley – Discovered this book through Claire Tomalin’s biography of Dickens. It was hard to find and it was expensive. It is published by Methuen. I didn’t know that Methuen was still around – I thought they must have been bought over and absorbed by one of the big publishing behemoths. Nice to see that they are alive and kicking. So excited to read this book.

6. D.H.Lawrence by Catherine Carswell – After reading D.H.Lawrence’s novellas recently, I thought I should read his biography. This one is written by one of his friends and she herself is a fascinating character. Can’t wait to read this one.

7. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren – Watched the 1949 film adaptation of this book a few years back. Have wanted to read the book since then. Emma (from ‘Book Around the Corner’) gushed about the book recently, and so decided to get it. Read the first page and it is fascinating.

8. Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell – I’ve never seen one great novelist write the biography of another great novelist who is her contemporary. Never. So I was very excited when I discovered that Elizabeth Gaskell has written a biography of Charlotte Brontë! Why isn’t this more famous? Why didn’t I know about this before? Very excited to read this!

I got more books. They were all mostly classics. I also got many Kindle books – too many to include here. I’ll mention just one. At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid. It is the first book featured in #WeReadJamaicaKincaid which is a year long event celebrating Kincaid’s work, starting in January 2023. So excited to read this!

Have you read any of these books? What do you think about them? What books did you buy during this holiday season?

I discovered ‘Out of Time : The Collected Stories of Samira Azzam‘ recently. I was very excited because this is the first time Samira Azzam’s stories are getting translated into English. This collection is published by Arablit Books.

Samira Azzam was born in 1927 in Palestine. When the Naqba happened in 1948 and Palestinians were thrown out of their homes and many of them became refugees abroad, she was 21. She worked as a journalist and wrote short stories. She died in 1967, just shy of her fortieth birthday, very young and many more years of life still ahead. It was heartbreaking. It was also the year when the next wave of violence was unleashed on Palestinians and many of them lost their homes.

This collection has 31 stories. Many of the stories are about simple people who are struggling to get through the day, and the joys and sorrows they experience, and how their social and economic situation tries to crush them and how sometimes they resist it with defiance. One of my favourite stories ‘No Harm Intended‘ is about a man who comes to a sweetshop everyday and tries samples but doesn’t buy anything. He can’t afford to buy anything and he knows it and the people working in the shop know it. How things unravel after that is told in the story. Another of my favourite stories ‘Lest the arteries harden‘ is about a old woman who visits the bar everyday at a particular time and the story behind that. ‘The Little Things‘ is about a young woman who doesn’t believe in love but suddenly find herself falling in love. ‘From Afar‘ is about a young man who has been cut off by his dad and who is struggling to pay his college fees, when his friend who has an unconventional job helps him out. It is one of the most beautiful stories in the book. ‘Her Story‘ is a moving letter that a sister writes to her brother. ‘The Ironing Man’s Apprentice‘ is about a boy who works with an ironing man and the small dreams he has. ‘The Bicycle Pump‘ is one of the most moving stories in the book. One of the main characters says in the end – “But isn’t it miserable that I can’t promise you I’ll stop this terrible behavior, unless I choose a life of hunger for myself and for my family?” We feel a deep pain in our heart when we read that. ‘When Wives Fall Ill‘ is structured like a play. ‘Night of Riddance‘ is about an old dog. It is a heartbreaking story and there is more to the story than meets the eye. ‘The Rival’ is about a washerwoman who has to compete against technology which makes her job obsolete. ‘Another Year‘, ‘Zagharid‘, ‘When Hajj Mohammed Sold Out His Hajj‘ are all about people who suffer because they’ve lost their homes or they’ve lost their families who are either dead or on the other side of the border where they can never go. ‘Zagharid‘ is about a mom’s sorrow at not being able to go to her son’s wedding, because she lives in Palestine and he lives outside and she’ll never be able to see him again. It is a story which makes us cry.

I loved ‘Out of Time‘. Many of the stories in the collection are poignant and heartbreaking. Some of them have happy endings. Some of them are fun reads. Ranya Abdelrahman’s translation is beautiful. The book has a beautiful essay by Adania Shibli in which she contemplates on the beauty and power of Samira Azzam’s stories.

The book also has a beautiful introduction which quotes what Samira Azzam said about the Arabic short story. It goes like this –

“It seems to me that the Arabic short story is going through difficult times. The reason might not lie in its nature, as much as it does in factors outside of it, including its subjugation to the novel. Writers of the short story have become convinced that writing a novel is the measure of their creativity, especially since short story collections are not heralded by critics the same way novels are : The publication of a story collection goes by without anyone even trying to say a single word about it… And publishing houses hesitate to accept story collections, as if publishing them is a risky venture.”

It is very fascinating, because this is very true today as it was then, and it is true, not just for Arabic short stories, but for short stories in any language. Writers use short stories as a stepping stone before they can publish their novel, publishers regard short stories as an inferior art form when compared to novels, novelists are rewarded with money and fame if they become successful, while short story writers struggle. Alice Munro said after she won the Nobel Prize that the short story is a beautiful art form and it is beautiful for its own sake, but no one is listening and nothing has changed. It is sad.

I felt sad after reading the book, because this is the only Samira Azzam book out there, this is all there is, and there’ll never be another new story by her. But I’m also glad I read it.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book. It is from one of my favourite stories, ‘When Hajj Mohammed Sold Out His Hajj‘.

“People had become addicted to grief, and death seemed a logical, acceptable, and happy ending for everyone, no matter their age. The dead died once, and their deaths were certain and final; they knew why they had died, and they didn’t have to live wondering what they were living for, with their voices smothered by roaring tractors that sliced open the stolen land behind the barbed wire fence. The grief of the living was drenched in sunlight, and they had to grieve with their eyes wide open.”

Have you read Samira Azzam’sOut of Time‘? What do you think about it?

I discovered James Welch through a friend’s recommendation so decided to read his book, ‘Winter in the Blood‘.

Winter in the Blood‘ describes the life of a Native American man in a reservation, his work, his family, his joys and his sorrows, his kindness and cruelty, his family, his community and their history. It sometimes goes back and we discover his family secrets from the past, a past filled with some tragic events, and with a surprising revelation in the end. There is a beautiful horse character called Bird too. One of my favourite parts in the story is when the narrator’s grandmother tells the story of her past when she lived in a totally different era, when Native Americans lived in the traditional way like their ancestors lived across the centuries. Another of my favourite parts of the book is when the narrator goes to meet an old man and they have a fascinating conversation. I loved the parts in which the horse called Bird makes an appearance too.

This book has a beautiful introduction by Louise Erdrich. In her introduction Louise Erdrich says this –

“What astounded me after a while was that something so familiar could be made into literature. Welch had done something nobody else had – written about Indians without once getting pious, uplifting, or making you feel sorry for The Plight. That is why, finally, I love this book so much. Welch took all the chances in the world with it. He told it right out.”

I loved that.

James Welch was one of the first Native American novelists, I think. ‘Winter in the Blood’ is his first novel. I enjoyed reading it. I am ashamed to say that I’ve never read a Native American writer before. And so I’m glad I’ve finally got started now by reading this classic. Hoping to read more.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

Young Man : “You’re a good housekeeper, old man.”

Old Man : “I have many years’ practice. It’s easier to keep it sparse than to feel the sorrows of possessions.”

Young Man : “Possessions can be sorrowful.”

Old Man : “Only when they are not needed.”

Young Man : “Or when they are needed – when they are needed and a man doesn’t have them.”

“I don’t know how they figure it, old horse, but one year to me is worth four or five to you. That makes you over a hundred years, older than that old lady, and you’re not only living, but carrying out your duties just like they trained you…Now, old machine, I absolve you of your burden. You think I haven’t noticed it. You don’t show it. But that is the fault of your face: Your face was molded when you were born and hasn’t changed in a hundred years. Your ears seem smaller now, but that is because your face has grown. You figure you have hidden this burden well. You have. But don’t think I haven’t seen it in your eyes those days when the clouds hide the sun and the cattle turn their asses to the wind. Those days your eyes tell me what you feel. It is the fault of the men who trained you to be a machine, to react to the pressure of a rein on your neck, spurs in your ribs, the sound of a voice. A cow horse. You weren’t born that way; you were born to eat grass and drink slough water, to nip other horses in the flanks the way you do lagging bulls, to mount the mares. So they cut your balls off to make you less temperamental, though I think they failed at that…”

“You must understand how people think in desperate times. When their bellies are full, they can afford to be happy and generous with each other – the meat is shared, the women work and gossip, men gamble – it’s a good time and you do not see things clearly. There is no need. But when the pot is empty and your guts are tight in your belly, you begin to look around. The hunger sharpens your eye.”

Have you read ‘Winter in the Blood‘ or other books by James Welch?