Month: January 2021

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Posted January 13, 2021 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Earthlings by Sayaka MurataTitle: Earthlings (Goodreads)
Author: Sayaka Murata
Translator: Ginny Tapley Takemori
Published: Granta, 2020
Pages: 247
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

What I really loved about Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman is the way she writes about social norms. She looks at social situations and asks the question, “What do we consider normal, and why it is so important?” Keiko was happy with her situation as a convenience store attendant, but the world and even her family wanted to push her to want more from her career and life. Murata seems to take this idea one step further in Earthlings.

The novel follows Natsuki, who even from a very young age felt like she did not belong here on earth. Both Natsuki and her cousin Yuu considered themselves to be aliens from another planet left on earth. Even when she got older, Natsuki had this viewpoint, and considered earth to be just a baby making factory. To keep her family off her back she married and hoped to just have a quiet life with her husband. However, her family kept demanding she have children and the pressure continuously grew to unhealthy levels.

Earthlings is a weird book; it explores the social pressures of reproducing but it does take a disturbing turn. I like the way Sayaka Murata looks at social issues and pushes the boundaries to show just how damaging they can be but I am also not a fan of the way this book ended. I do not think it is worth discussing the ending and if you have read the book, you know what I mean. I feel that the focus should be on how alienating social norms can be, and the way it made Natsuki feel. I have been married for eleven years and I know how frustrating it is when people ask me and my wife why we do not have children. This question is none of their business and tend to lead to awkward moments if you do decide to share the reasons. This novel plays with the social expectations of reproduction by constantly referring to the world as a baby making factory, like life has no value except creating children.

Sayaka Murata loves to push the boundaries with her characters and I am not going to try and diagnose these people in her books. I have seen far too many people claim Keiko was autistic in Convenience Store Woman, but does that really matter? You could probably label both Natsuki and her husband as asexuals in Earthlings, but it feels weird to label a fictional character. I am not a psychologist, so I do not want to diagnose Keiko with autistic and while I understand it is useful to show representation or to use psychoanalysis to analyse a book, I often find myself questioning the motives. If the author has not mentioned it, are we just projecting ideas onto a character? Granted this can be useful for understanding but it can also mean we are pushing these characters into a label and not letting them show us the problems with the world around us.

The writing of Sayaka Murata might not be for everyone, but I am looking forward to seeing what Ginny Tapley Takemori translates next. I want to read more books like this, where the author challenges social ideas and does it in interesting ways. This is a dark but very entertaining novel, and I am glad that Murata has done so well for herself in the English speaking world.

2021 Reading and Creative Goals

Posted January 11, 2021 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 6 Comments

I am passionate about world literature, and I find myself wanting to share my passion in every way possible. I have this blog, I have a podcast, and sometimes I make YouTube videos and TIkToks. The problem seems to be that I want to share my passion everywhere, including social media, but I wonder if I am giving everything enough attention. I know my blogging has suffered and I think that should be my primary focus, I want to improve as a writer or an essayist. Although, the Lost in Translations podcast is covering a niche that I don’t think is getting enough attention. Having said this, I think my biggest hindrance is my own self-doubt. I am not going to improve in anyway until I give up that feeling of inadequacy and just make content, so 2021 is the year for that.

Like most book nerds, most of my goals for the year are book related, like reading bigger books more often, or re-reading some of my favourite works of literature. However, I do have the Invisible Cities project to focus more on world literature, not that I needed the help in reading translated literature. My main goals for 2021, is to make money doing something I love, and create more content. If I can work out a way to combine those two goals, that would be perfect, and I am about to release perks on the podcast patreon page to help with that, including essays, personal book recommendations, and much more. I do think I need to work at perfecting my craft and I believe if I can take away some of my own negativity, I will be able to write more, and make other content.

I attempt so many mediums because I do not see enough people sharing the joys of world literature, and it often feels like the cries for more diversity in literature often focuses on American literary scene. I love that people are putting more focus on reading diversely, and I want to help promote books that don’t get talked about. I have found my reading passion and it is world literature, but rarely see it being talked about until after I start making content. There are so many great book bloggers that review literature from all around the world, but it feels like it wasn’t till I started that I found them. It’s like the internet waits to show you all the people that are doing a better job at making content than you. The BookTube community is growing and there are many great content creators, but I feel like world literature is still a small niche in that community, so I should make the effort to promote it, even if I have never gotten comfortable in that medium. As for TikTok, I’m very new to this short video format, and the book community feels very focused on young adult literature, so my brain is telling me to make content to help it grow, but also, I just hope to find more lovers of world literature.

Basically, I am saying that I want to make more content and promote my love of world literature but also, I want should make the essay writing side of it my primary focus. I still need to write book reviews because I find that having written thoughts on a book has been very useful for my own memory. One day, I hope to develop a similar style as Alejandro Zambra, and be able to write essays that function as a book review as well, but that will take a lot of practice. I find my essays to be a great way to dump all my thoughts onto a page and process my own feelings, but I hope they are enjoyable to read as well. I will probably focus on personal essays revolving around literature to begin with, but I would love to branch out and try different topics as well, maybe film would be a safe starting place.

2020 Reading in Review

Posted January 8, 2021 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 6 Comments

Thankfully 2020 is over and, like most people, it was not a great year for me. Apart from the pandemic and job seeking, I did have an ear infection that decided it wanted to go into my brain, leading to ventriculitis, but without going into the details of my health, let’s just say it was not the best year for my reading. I only managed to finish 54 books, which isn’t too bad but for me it was felt really low.

I did read some amazing books through the year, I started off with Older Brother by Mahir Guven (translated by Tina Kover) which was an amazing novel. The way this book talked about a Franco-Syrian family really stuck with me, I love the way Guven explored political divide between the father and the sons. Let’s face it, if Tina Kover translated the book, I am already interested in reading it, no need to tell me what it is about. In February I read The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa (translated by Stephen Snyder) which seemed to get plenty of attention this year. For me, I didn’t enjoy the book, Ogawa is an amazing writer, and I will continue to follow her writing, I just don’t understand the hype behind this book and not some of her other works, maybe this is the first book people have read.

I tend to focus on translated literature, but I am in a book club, so I have read some popular fiction; some of the highlights for the year included Bruny by Heather Rose, The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue and Betty by Tiffany McDaniel, but the true highlight was The Yield by Tara June Winch. However, the book club was also responsible for the worst book I read this year, which was The Motion of the Body Through Space by Lionel Shriver. That book was awful, I know Shriver is meant to be satirising life, but her horrible political beliefs were really reflected in this novel.

Every year when the International Booker Prize longlist is announced, I try my best to read it in its entirety. This year I was not successful, but I managed to complete the shortlist. Highlights from the books I read included The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar (translated by anonymous), The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezon Camara (translated by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh) and Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann (translated by Ross Benjamin) which I didn’t love as much as most people, and I think it had something to do with the fantastical elements found within the book, or my health. The book I would have picked as the winner was Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (translated by Sophie Hughes), so obviously I knew it wasn’t going to win. The winner was The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (translated by Michele Hutchison) which I need to give a reread before deciding my opinion, but I was pleased to see they were the first non-binary winner of the Booker prize (are they the first non-binary winner of any major literary prize?).

While recovering from my health issues, I turned to crime novels as a way to get back into my reading habits, and because they were easier to manage. I love crime novels as palette cleansers and reading so many this year reminded me how much I enjoy the thrill of reading purely for entertainment. This is not why I read but I do appreciate the relaxation that came from reading just for pleasure and maybe I should do it more often. Favourites included Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand, Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner and Nada by Jean-Patrick Manchette (translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith). I am very picky when it comes to crime novels and one day, I need to work out what my criteria is for selecting a good book. I was disappointed by the latest Renee Ballard book, The Night Fire, I normally like Michael Connelly’s writing style, but something was missing in this one. Although the worst crime novel I read had to be Memory Man by David Baldacci, I liked the concept of a detective suffering from synesthesia and hyperthymesia but there was some very horrible language used to describe an intersex character that really ruined the whole experience.

Some other reading highlights included, Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, The Dishwasher by Stéphane Larue (translated by Pablo Strauss), Zama by Antonio Di Benedetto (translated by Esther Allen), Four by Four by Sara Mesa (translated by Katie Whittemore) and Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami (translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd), but my favourite book of the year has to be Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo (translated by Jamie Chang). Honourable mentions have to go to The Wind that Lays Waste by Selva Almada (translated by Chris Andrews), And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier (translated by Rhonda Mullins) and The Beauty of the Death Cap by Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze (translated by Tina Kover). I only read one piece of non-fiction, a memoir from Annie Ernaux called A Man’s Place (translated by Tanya Leslie), and one re-read which was Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, this time I read the amazing translation by Oliver Ready, which I highly recommend. Let me know of your reading highlights of 2020.

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The Invisible Cities Project Begins

Posted January 1, 2021 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 6 Comments

Now that it’s 2021, like all bookish nerds, I have a list of reading goals for the year. This includes reading more tomes, and doing some rereading. However, my main reading project is the Invisible Cities project which I’m hosting with some book bloggers and booktubers. This is a reading project to encourage reading around the world. Each month we have three different counties to focus on and participants are encouraged to engage with one or all the countries culture by reading a book, watching a film, eating their food or any other way. Our hosts are divided into the three counties to help provide content. For example, in January we are looking at Argentina, Japan and Morocco and I’ll be one of the hosts for Argentina.

We hope to give people plenty of time to plan their reading, and I need to announce the countries for March, which are Iraq, Mexico and Libya. For those who don’t know, February’s countries were China, Colombia and Egypt (the country I’ll be hosting). I am looking forward to March, because I will be a host for Libya and I’m not sure if I’ve read anything from this country.

As always I’m going into the reading project with no books planned, I read on a whim but it does make it difficult to promote the reading project. For example, in January I’m focusing on Argentina and I have so many options I want to read. I think I plan to read Dark Constellations by Pola Oloixarac (translated by Megan McDowell) & Dead Girls by Selva Almada (translated by Annie McDermott). I’m very excited about this project and would love to see more people involved, there is a Discord for this project, so people can connect and talk about the project.