Here comes 2020! (well, almost…)


I can hardly believe it’s 2020, but there you go – it is, so Happy New Year to all readers of the Ramblings! Traditionally, I should be announcing all sorts of shiny reading plans and challenges for the new year (and new decade) but I haven’t got my head around that yet, to be frank. I have my eyes on a couple of low-stress projects involving translated literature, and of course there will be our Club week reads. So I shall ponder on plans for the next few days and a post will follow…

Meantime, just for fun, here’s an image of the books I read in December. I’ve got into the habit of taking a snap of each month’s reading, inspired by Andy Miller’s pictures on Twitter; however, December’s reading was a bit thin, thanks to me being screamingly busy at work and home. Never mind – a new month, a new year, a new decade and so hopefully more impetus for reading! 😀 As you can tell, I’m a bit behind on my reviewing and several of these will be covered in January. The Lem is for Shiny New Books, and was a great joy!

As for what my first read of 2020 will be? Well, it’s this:

That birthday book token is coming in very useful, because this *didn’t* arrive from Santa and I wanted it so much, so it was purchased straight after Christmas (ahem…) I love James’ writing and I love Larkin, so I’m hoping it will be the perfect read for me. What books are you starting 2020 with???

“Words possess the power to change reality” @TeamRedCircle


Earlier on in the year, I spent some happy reading time discovering a new publisher with a very novel method of bringing translated Japanese literature to Anglophone readers. The venture is Red Circle Authors, and I wrote about their ethos and their first three books for Shiny New Books, as well as for the Ramblings.

The works they issue are called the Red Circle Minis; bite-size pieces of new writing by a variety of esteemed Japanese authors, these stories are being published for the first time in English, which is really innovative. I found the first three Minis fascinating; and now RCA have issue two more titles, both of which provide much food for thought, as well as being entertaining reading.

At first glance, the two books seem very dissimilar; one is the tale of a warlord from the past, based on a real historical figure; the other looks to future society and the ravages inflicted on our poor planet and much of its population by those in control. The differing subject matter of these two books really does show the range and variety of Japanese literature, and the admirable willingness of Red Circle Authors to embrace that.

First up, “The Refugees’ Daughter” by Takuji Ichikawa, translated by Emily Balistrieiri (Mini 4). The author is a high-flier in the world of Japanese literature, although his work doesn’t seem readily available in English. “The Refugees’ Daughter” is set in a future time, where society has collapsed, climate change has wrecked the ecosystems, and groups of refugees try to avoid the warring factions and find some place of sanctuary. The daughter of the title, Aimi, is gifted with a way to communicate with those who might help them escape their dystopian landscape; and when she receives a communication which may guide them to a mythical gate, Aimi and her family plus another group must try to escape the soldiers and make their way to safety.

We took such a beautiful planet of water and, in a matter of a hundred years, we turned it into a grimy mud ball.

My somewhat simplistic description belies the depth and compexity of “Refugee…”; tense as it is, this is not just an adventure story. As the group travel, it becomes clear that humanity is almost split into two types: there are the aggressors, those in charge who just want to destroy and control; and those who resist, almost hippie-like and pacifist in tendency, who want a peaceful and fair world. The group discuss their fears, beliefs and ideals as they travel, and it’s hard not to see parallels with our own world; it did seem that the time portrayed in the book is a look forward at what may be the inevitable result of our current state. I sensed threads of criticism of the patriarchal system and celebration of a matriarchal alternative, which was fascinating. There are elements of magic realism in the book, which sit naturally in the story, and it’s actually a very uplifting read.

Hateful words are just like bullets. The media has been at the beck and call of The Complex for ages now. The more hate speech spreads, the more hate grows in people’s hearts. It’s like a zombie virus.

In complete contrast, “The Chronicles of Lord Asunaro” by Kanji Hanawa, translated by Meredith McKinney (Mini 5) looks back to a time when Japan was ruled by powerful warlords. However, the story captures the country in a time of change; although the titular lord inherits a kingdom, he’s as unlike his powerful father as it’s possible to be. He prefers a life of luxury amongst concubines to a samurai-style life; and instead of fighting battles and extending his kingdom, his main achievement seems to be the production of a prodigious amount of children! The story gently critiques not only the heroic tales of warlords of old; it also questions how many of us, if placed in a situation of power like Lord Asunaro, would simply enjoy excess and the luxuries riches and power bring. It’s very entertaining on the surface, yet thought-provoking underneath.

…. this had been a moment when the earth chose to assert itself a little and remind everyone that it is a living being.

I found the two new minis an excellent and contrasting pairing; both authors obviously deserve their high status in the world of Japanese literature, and the stories made excellent, enjoyable and intriguing reading; I kept thinking about both books long after finishing them. I’ve read a reasonable amount of Japanese authors over the years, though fewer modern ones, and it’s a country which has produced some of my favourites; and it’s reassuring to see, from the Red Circle Minis, that Japan is still producing most wonderful writing!

NB I always try to credit the translator in my posts, as I certainly wouldn’t have the breadth of reading I enjoy without them. D’oh – I forget this time, so post amended and thanks to Simon for nudging me by asking who was responsible! 😀

Exploring modern Japanese literature with the Red Circle Minis @shinynewbooks @TeamRedCircle


You might recall that amongst the images of piles of books I shared recently on the Ramblings, there was one featuring three attractive and slim volumes of Japanese literature. These are the Red Circle Minis, and they’re the result of a fascinating new initiative from Red Circle Authors. The latter is a venture which refuses to be categorised – website, publisher, agent, promoter, general cheerleader for Japanese writing; all of these could be used to describe Red Circle!

The Red Circle Minis

Co-founded by Richard Nathan and Koji Chikatan, Red Circle Authors has an impressive website with all manner of resources for anyone wanting to explore Japanese literature. The Minis are the first three editions in a planned series – bite-sized, beautifully produced pieces of fiction ideal for a quick literary fix. The range of subject matter covered is already wide, taking in AI issues, the psychology of searching for missing children and the curse of TV celebrity.

I’ve written more extensively about the Red Circle venture for Shiny New Books here; and I cover the first three Minis in more detail here. The Red Circle Minis were a joy and delight to read, so do have a look at my Shiny New Books pieces and check out Red Circle – I’m very much looking forward to seeing what titles appear next! 😀

Books in and out – plus summer plans?? @richarddawkins #johnberger @i_am_mill_i_am


There has been much coming and going of books recently at the Ramblings HQ; and I’ve been trying to get the remaining stacks a little more organised so that I can be a teeny bit more focused with what I’m reading and writing about. Books have continued to come in but many have gone out, and I’m trying to treat bookish movement in a way that will keep things at least carbon neutral! So if one comes in, at least one must go out… And here’s a little stack I’d like to share some thoughts and possible plans about today!

Large and interesting piles of books always make my heart sing!

The incoming books have included some really fascinating titles – these pretty little editions, for example:

The Red Circle Minis

These are the first three Red Circle Minis in a new publishing venture to bring short works by contemporary Japanese authors into English. They look lovely and the contents are wonderful – more will follow about them!

I have been fairly restrainted with the online buying, but a couple of titles have made it past the barricades!

I can’t for the life of me remember where I read about “Eleven Prague Corpses” but it will no doubt be on some friendly blog or other. It’s been sitting on a wishlist for ages and I finally caved in. The Vita is as a result of Simon’s post here – he really is a bad influence, but it’s a lovely old edition and comes so highly recommended I couldn’t resist.

More books have been going *to* the charity shops than coming from them, but I spotted this yesterday in the Oxfam and had to have it:

I’ve read and loved some of Kapuscinski’s work; and in a strange case of serendipity and synchronicity, I was reading an excellent review of this book recently by the travel author Rosemary Bailey (who sadly passed away this year). The fact that it fell into my path today was obviously significant.

And on Midsummer’s Day, a book came my way in the form of a gift from Mr. Kaggsy, as it was our anniversary. Yet again, he managed to find a book I haven’t read and haven’t got and really *should* read – “One Hundred Years of Solitude” in the new bluey green Penguin Modern Classics livery!

He did apologise for the fact that it has half of a naked woman on the cover – no, I don’t know if she’s significant yet. No doubt all will be revealed….

Going forward, I’ve started to tentatively think about summer reading plans (although I generally tend not to make plans…) I work in the education sector, so there is the long summer break when I can hopefully tackle larger books or books of more substance (as well as continuing to make a dent in the pile of review books). And my mind is going in a few directions at the moment, though I don’t know where it will actually settle – although these are some of the options.

I have in recent weeks amassed a *lot* of Richard Dawkins books – all but one from the charity shops. I’ve read the beginning of each and love the writing as well as his bracing and opinionated take on things. I might consider a Summer of Dawkins – could be very mind expanding. However there are also these:

I’ve been gathering John Berger books when I come across them; and also there is the lovely review book from Notting Hill Editions. So a Summer of Berger could be another option! 😀

And then there’s poetry and Newcastle…

You may wonder what I’m wittering about, but basically this stems from Andy Miller mentioning Basil Bunting on Twitter and sending me off down a wormhole reading about Morden Tower in Newcastle and the poets associated with it. This could become very involving…

In case  you’re a tad worried about these heaps of books, here’s an image of the charity boxes before they were collected last week:

There were three boxes of books, to which I added a dozen more before the men with a van arrived. And I took another into the shop yesterday which had been missed; it did feel rather weird seeing my books all over their shelves instead of mine, but I did feel a bit virtuous.

Other summer reading plans will no doubt involve some Persephones or Viragos during August, and also some translated women for WIT month. Apart from that, what am I reading at the moment, you might wonder? Well, I’ve been attempting a little bit of polyreading, and it was going fairly well until I got so absorbed in the fiction (the new Mishima) that I put the others aside for a bit. These are they:

The Tim Parks is a lovely essay collection from Alma which is fascinating so far and great for dipping if you need a quick reading fix. “At the Existentialist Cafe” is also turning out to be rather wonderful, and I’m grasping a lot of concepts I hadn’t before. It *does* need a little more concentration than I usually have last thing at night, so may end up being a holiday read.

So there you have it. The state of books chez Ramblings and some tentative ideas going forward. How are your TBRs at the moment? And do you have any summer reading plans??


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