Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #32: Breaktime

When I crave a break on hot days, I brew some iced coffee. Last summer I rediscovered coffee, mostly in the form of iced coffee, after a long break from it. If you like the flavor of coffee, iced coffee is a delicious summer treat. I add unsweetened soymilk or coconut milk and lots of ice to strong coffee for an energizing drink.

About a year ago, we bought a Keurig machine (which has an iced coffee setting) and I really love it (although I recently acquired a small French press which I also enjoy using). Sara from One Cup Connection contacted me recently about some great deals on K-Cups, brewers, and accessories, because she had read a past post in which I mentioned my wonderful Keurig machine. They even have a deal on my favorite K-Cups, Newman's Own Special Blend, a bold, organic coffee.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Did you know?
  • Hawaii is the only U.S. state that grows coffee.
  • Coffee is the second most traded commodity on earth.


I won't be posting (or visiting other blogs) again until next month. I'm taking a short blogging break to spend time with family, but I'll be back to announce the winner of The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto in early August, and will post a new review and giveaway for The Gap Year by Sarah Bird, so please stay tuned.


Appearing on random Tuesdays, Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of. If you're inspired by this idea, feel free to copy the button and use it on your own blog. Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post.

For another Really Random Tuesday post, please visit Veens' blog, Giving Reading a Chance, and Vivienne's blog, Serendipity Reviews. Veens is the talented designer of my new, snazzy button, which I adore.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Really Random Tuesday #31: Congrats to. . .

Veens from Giving Reading a Chance is the winner of my button contest. This is the gorgeous button she designed for me. Isn't it spiffy? Congratulations and thank you, Veens! I think it's perfect for this meme (although I'm not quite ready to retire my "vintage" logo, but will include both in these posts for a while). Veens has won a $25 Amazon gift card. (I still love Amazon, even though I am no longer an Amazon Associate. Amazon terminated its contracts with CA residents, because Gov. Jerry Brown and his peeps decided that online retailers need to collect CA sales taxes--as if we don't all pay enough taxes already. Anyway, I read in the newspaper today that Amazon is seeking a referendum to get CA voters to decide on whether to overturn this new law, which sounds more fair to me.)


Appearing on random Tuesdays, Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of. I use this meme frequently to announce giveaway winners. If you're inspired by this idea, feel free to copy the button and use it on your own blog. Please leave a link in the comments if you’re participating and I'll add it to this post.

I have quite a few Really Random posts to mention here. Most are from last Tuesday, but a few are from today. I know you'll enjoy each of them, listed here in random (naturally) order. Please visit Avis' blog, she reads and reads, Leslie's blog, Under My Apple Tree, Sam's blog, Booked On a Feeling, Naida's blog, the bookworm, Vivienne's blog, Serendipity Reviews, Veens' blog, Giving Reading a Chance, and Raimy-rawr's blog, Readaraptor, for other recent Really Random Tuesday posts. As always, thanks for reading!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Lake: Review and Giveaway

Having recently lost my mother, this book struck a chord in my heart immediately. As I began reading I had an uncanny sense that this was exactly the book I was supposed to be reading, to help me with my own grieving, and to help me sort out my feelings about my mother's death--and her life. My blog is dedicated to the memory of my mother (I may add a formal dedication at a later date); I've connected my mother to my blog since its inception (she was a great supporter and even left a few comments, incognito), and she was, up until her illness, cancer, overwhelmed her entire being, always positive and encouraging about this endeavor.

"Now that I was back in the real world, the dream didn't seem so sad. The sense of my mom, of her presence, kept radiating warmly through my chest, though I still didn't feel any affection for the town where I'd grown up."

~The Lake, Banana Yoshimoto

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto was originally published in Japanese in 2005, and was translated into English by Michael Emmerich in 2011. The book is the story of a young woman, Chihiro, who moves to Tokyo after the death of her mother. She is deeply saddened by the loss, but also feels at the age of twenty-nine a sense of freedom in a new city where she's unknown and works as a muralist. At the beginning of the book, Chihiro, the protagonist, states that she has just had a dream in which her deceased mother spoke to her, enveloped in a beautiful haze. (I dreamed my own mother was in a small, white car the other night, and I hope to see her in another dream soon.) After the mention of the dream the narrator reminisces about her mother's hospital stay and romance with her father, and other events central to her mother's life. This novel made me miss my own mother, but also brought to mind her lasting presence and influence in my heart and mind.

Windows are important in this book--perhaps they represent the barrier or pathway between inner and outer life, or something of that nature--and Chihiro gazes out her window at a young man she has grown to like, who is also gazing back at her just as often. From their respective windows, they very slowly begin a sweet romance. Chihiro finds Nakajima quite beautiful (in an offbeat way). His mother is also deceased, and Chihiro knows he misses her love.

"And I could see that no one else in the world would ever be able to love him the way his mother must have loved him."
~The Lake, Banana Yoshimoto

Gradually, Chihiro and Nakajima fall in love and begin to spend more and more time together. When Nakajima wants to take Chihiro to the lake to meet two of his friends, Mino and Chii, who live in a tiny, tidy house, Chihiro senses that this is a very emotional event for Nakajima, which may help her to understand him better. At the shimmering lake, Chihiro is captivated by Nakajima's unusual friends; she understands how special they are, and greatly appreciates the wonderful tea Mino brews for her, a simple yet great pleasure.

Unpretentiously written in plain language, this reflective book is about our relationships with the important people in our lives--parents, significant others, friends, ourselves. The author's characters are quirky and reflective and likable. Banana Yoshimoto once again demonstrates a beautiful simplicity of expression, even of the most profound subjects: death, love, and friendship.

Good news! Melville House Publishing generously gave me an extra copy of The Lake to offer as a giveaway. Because I have readers around the world, this giveaway is international.

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.
  • For an extra chance, name a simple pleasure you enjoy.

Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, August 1. One winner will be randomly selected and announced on Tuesday, August 2.

This is my first review for the Japanese Literature Challenge 5, created and hosted by Dolce Bellezza. Special thanks to Nathan from Melville House Publishing for sending me these books.

Monday, July 4, 2011

An Interview with Bogdan Tiganov

"You're telling us how everything's rosy and how we're the best but I don't see that on the table. My table's empty and I'm hungry. The electricity's gone off. We light some candles. The walls start shaking and so does the floor."
~A Personal History of a City Called Brăila, The Wooden Tongue Speaks, Bogdan Tiganov

Having very recently read The Wooden Tongue Speaks ~ Romanians: Contradictions & Realities by writer and publisher Bogdan Tiganov, I'm honored to have had the opportunity to interview the outspoken author of this original, often arresting work. I must admit that I worried that my questions for Bogdan would not be edgy enough--and they probably weren't--but he kindly completed the interview for me. I should also admit that my knowledge of Romania before reading The Wooden Tongue Speaks was scant; now I feel as if I at least have a sense of the people of Romania, garnered through this author's lucid and evocative work.

1) Welcome, Bogdan. Your book, The Wooden Tongue Speaks - Romanians: Contradictions & Realities is a collection of short stories as well as poetry, set in post-Ceaușescu and post-Cold War Romania. Often startlingly honest, your words depict life in Romania in a realistic way, rather than giving readers a sugar-coated, watered-down version of it. Please tell us something about your background, and the inspiration for this unique collection of prose and poetry, published in 2010.

BT: I was born in a totalitarian state and then spent eleven years as a refugee. Life wasn't easy and hard work and dedication were the only way to get through the hardships my family and I endured. I experienced communism first hand and also went through the exile experience.

As a writer, I'm not interested in sugar-coating anything. There's enough sugar and spice to be had by telling it like it is. I don't want to patronise people through my writing, I just want the writing to affect them. I don't want a neutral reaction to my work. I don't do beach reads.

2) The first story in the book, A Personal History of a City Called Brăila seems at least partially autobiographical and captures the character of a Romanian city most of us know little about. The very next story, An Interview, is about a young woman, Darina, who wants to apply for a job as an au pair in America, and subsequent stories are about a variety of characters with different perspectives (a 43-year-old man who wants to get married to alleviate his loneliness, an old woman trying to apply for disability). Was your goal or intent to bring many everyday Romanian people to life, men and women of all ages?

BT: My goal was to go beyond clichés. Most people know very little about Romania, apart from what a right wing media might focus on (gypsies, orphans, thieves etc). Most of the stories in this book are written from experience, or based on stories I heard from others, showing the character of Romanians, the problems they face, their spirit and humour.

And if it's grim, or upsetting, well that's just the way it is. For millions have left and are leaving Romania in order to earn a living. The old are left behind to deal with their loneliness, middle-aged people are lost in wild democracy, the young dream of instant riches and Western goods.

Another goal was to deliver the literature equivalent of the Romanian New Wave cinema, which has gained positive reviews around the world. The story of the old woman applying for disability allowance, for example, shows the absurdity of a system grounded in deceit, mini dictators in every establishment just waiting to abuse their power.

3) The Poet of A Thousand Love Poems, features a supporting character named Bogdan in it. Are you making a cameo appearance in your own story?

BT: No, I'm not. Bogdan is a popular name in Romania. The story is actually about my childhood best friend, whose name is also Bogdan.

4) Tremendous frustration with life is a recurring theme in your stories. Men anger quickly, curse freely, and resort to alcohol abuse, and violence, domestic and otherwise, often ensues. What social, economic, and/or historical factors created or contributed to this sense of frustration, which you depict so vividly, in your stories?

BT: Romania was an extremely closed off country, more so than other communist states of the Soviet era. Nevertheless, the infrastructure was such that certain individuals had built up their future investments before the Iron Curtain dropped (see Kapitalism Our Improved Formula: http://www.alexandrusolomon.ro/kapitalism-our-improved-formula-2/#more-152). So when the Revolution of 1989 happened and Ceaușescu conveniently wiped out, a certain imbalance grew to an unimaginable scale. This is a country in which important people never stand trial. Never. No matter what they do. Here you buy your jobs. When you go for an interview you'd better have lots of money ready. And there is a certain amount of sentimental yearning for the old days, while, at the same time, cheap television programs blast confusion and fantasies into the minds of desperate individuals.

Romanian society is very patriarchal. Alcohol abuse is very common. And when you mix the two you get domestic abuse. The mental health system is extremely poor. Care of the elderly is practically non-existent. These are the themes I dissect in The Wooden Tongue Speaks.

5) Do you think conditions for both men and women have improved in Romania since you wrote this book? Is life less harsh today for Romanian people?

BT: If anything, life is worse. The financial crisis has hit Romania hard. Now the struggle to find jobs has reached a new level of mania. Words like "hope" are brandished far too easily around in the UK. It means nothing to your average Romanian. It's just another word, a linguistic exercise. People there are used to working for nothing. Work in itself is better that sitting around being bashed over the head with expectations from family.

(How sad! That's what I was afraid of. Thanks for your continued frankness, Bogdan.)

6) Poetry also plays a part in The Wooden Tongue Speaks. Some of the stories are formatted in an unusual, poetic manner, and the last section of this book consists solely of poems. Below is the first stanza of HOME, which I can imagine being set to music (in other words, it has rhythm):

Home's like, home's like this
Walking down streets gypsies on
Street corners chasing me
Wanting a lock of hair for good luck.

Here are a few lines from another poem in the book:


Been sticking my neck out
For truth,
Only to be lying
All day long.

Why did you decide to include poetry in this collection?

BT: Originally, this book was two separate collections and the poetry was a full length collection in itself. I first published this book in 2008 and the publishers at the time suggested that combining the two might work best. Being a fan of Bukowski's sprawling works, I agreed and felt that the poetry added something to the stories. A few more angles to the subjects I dealt with. Also, I've written poetry for many years and feel it's one of my strong points as a writer.

(Yes, the poems are excellent, and add another dimension or layer to your work.)

7) Tell us about your company, Honest Publishing, a British independent book publisher, and your philosophy of publishing "uncompromising raw voices".

BT: Having been around publishing since the age of fourteen, I worked out soon enough that publishing, like any other business, is market driven. I realised that rejection wasn't necessarily about not being good enough but about not fitting into a certain program. Not ticking the big sales box. The edgy, independent stuff wasn't edgy enough or agenda free enough for my liking. So I got together with a couple of friends and decided to do something about it.

Honest Publishing is a very small company and we rely on help from volunteers and word of mouth. But we believe in what we stand for. Writing with an edge, distinctive voices that you won't read anywhere else. Stuff the big boys shy away from. We're currently working on our fifth book, Homegirl! by Ryder Collins, and we're looking to sign up a few more writers this year.

8) Bogdan, is there a new book or project in the works, and what are you willing to tell us about it?

BT: There are several projects that I've started in the last couple of years. At present, though, I'm spending time on the publishing rather than on my writing (except for the occasional blog post on the Honest Publishing site). One day I hope to mix the two in a more even fashion.

I'll give you an idea of the stuff I've been working on:

Colour poems - I have about thirty colour poems done in which I explore the relationship between colour and words
Memoirs - mainly of my time spent as a refugee - I want to write a refugee book that's far more rounded than others I've read
Novel - got a few ideas for a novel, the issue is which one will prove to be strongest

Thank you for doing this interview, Bogdan. I enjoyed working with you. Your answers are truly thoughtful and informative, and your ideas for future projects sound exciting, worth the diligence they'll require. And, of course, best of luck with Honest Publishing!


Comments are welcomed and appreciated.

Some of the books featured here were given to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


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