“The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, 1997)

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
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Sometimes books can be exactly like beautiful, perfect pieces of art; created with skill and finesse and care and brilliant ability to the point where the reader might feel they are holding the equivalent of the Mona Lisa in their hands.  The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami is one of those magical novels that many readers consider to be a perfect work of art; it in fact represents the best this bestselling Japanese author has to offer.  His other works employ elements of his mastery, whether its compelling fully-rounded characters that are just fascinating to read about; or a great storyline that sucks you in from the very beginning and keeps you going until the very end; or strong themes that force the reader to think more on the story they are reading, and what meaning and resonance it might have on their own life.  But The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is the pristine of example employing all these attributes in a perfect work of fiction.

Our unusual and flawed hero is one Toru Okada, who begins the story with a simple quest: to find his lost cat.  Okada is unemployed while his wife, Kumiko, spends her days busy at work at a publishing house and he sees her but briefly in the early mornings and late at night before they go to sleep; it is clear that their marriage and relationship is on shaky grounds.  Okada challenges himself to find this cat that has gone missing, spending his time searching up and down the streets of this ordinary Tokyo neighborhood.  While there is no cat in sight, he soon befriends a most enigmatic teenage girl named May Kasahara who is a classic Murakami character with quirks and unusual characteristics that just make her fascinating to read.

As time passes, no cat is found, and then Kumiko suddenly disappears and Okada finds himself now searching for his wife as well as his cat, as he burns through his savings.  Before he knows it, he finds himself unavoidably inveigled in circumstances and experiences that grow weirder by the chapter, as he finds himself sitting at the bottom of a dark well looking up at that small circle of light and sky.  Along the way he meets more unusual characters, such as Malta Kano, named after the island of Malta, who has been asked by Kumiko to help find the cat.  Then there is her even stranger sister, Creta Kano, named after the island of Crete, who is essentially a psychic prostitute.

Eventually Okada discovers the reason for Kumiko’s disappearance, and has to deal with her weasely and despicable brother, Noboru Wataya (whom they named the cat after), who is a political celebrity well revered in public circles.  Okada also meets and begins working with Nutmeg and Cinnamon Akasaka in a most unusual business, as he hopes to find an answer to the strange blue-black spot on his cheek that won’t go away.  And finally there is Lieutenant Mamiya who befriends Okada after the passing of a friend in common, and begins to tell him stories of his experiences during the Japanese military efforts in Manchukuo, sharing his own similar experience of spending a long time at the bottom of the well.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is the type of lengthy book that can be interpreted in so many different ways, with readers getting different ideas and thoughts and concepts from it; the same reader may even reads it multiple times over a long period and see different aspects and stories in a different light.  No matter what preconceptions the reader has as they begin reading this very special book, they will be transported to somewhere they never imagined existed by the very skilled hands and mind of one Haruki Murakami.

Originally written on May 17, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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Book Report: Library Cats, The Dickishness of Jonathan Frazen, James Franco Gets Covered & More!

James Patterson has announced he will be donating $1 million over 2014 to independent bookstores.
We’ve got legs!
The first review for Stephen King’s The Shining sequel is in, with Doctor Sleep laying down September 24th.

Running on Creativity

About a month ago I started jogging, first daily and then switching to every other day, since I have a newborn and he takes up most of my time. My previous job was pretty physical, providing me a regular weekly exercise, but since I’ve been done with that job working on raising my newborn, I don’t get a lot of physical exercise anymore.  I also don’t get a lot of time to do said physical exercise, so it was a case of making the time and knowing I didn’t have that much time to spare, so I limited it to an hour and settled on jogging.

There’s a nice creek close to where I live with a paved path beside it that is just perfect for running. And about four weeks ago I started jogging. At first it was pretty pathetic, with my needing frequent breaks to catch my breath and not making it that far, and needing plenty of water to keep me hydrated. 28 or so days later, I find my breathing and heart rate a lot more under my control, I rarely stop jogging now except for traffic lights and crossing the street, and have charted out a jogging course that keeps me along multiple creeks, making it a lot of fun to run. I use a running app called Runtastic Pedometer that tells that for my current jogging course I run between 4.5 and 5 miles each time and work up a really good sweat.

I’ve also felt my creativity explode with this exercise. I believe it was Justin Cronin who said he regular goes running and walking and often comes up with creative ideas while doing it. With the pregnancy, birth and now raising a newborn, I haven’t really had time or thoughts to spare for story ideas and creativity, let alone writing, and it seems this every other day jogging is helping to release this creativity that has been stagnant for some time.

Some time during my first week of running, I came up with a book concept that has since grown and grown and is now a novel I hope to begin writing sometime later this year or next year. It just started as a small idea and then started pouring through me, like the exercise had forced open a channel and let my thoughts come running out. It also might have something to do with my mind being so occupied with the newborn and during my jogging, I’m able to dedicate my time and thoughts to something completely different.

Needless to say I’m loving the running and the creativity that’s coming along with it.

Also at the moment it looks like the book is going to be called Olague.

“Tuf Voyaging” by George R. R. Martin (Bantam Books, 2013)

Tuf Voyaging
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From 1979-1986, bestselling author of the Song of Ice and Fire series, George R. R . Martin wrote a series of science fiction short stories about the intrepid adventurer and unique character named Tuf.  The stories were eventually collected into a single volume, called Tuf Voyaging that went out of print some years ago.  The good people at Bantam have now brought these wonderful stories back into print for everyone to enjoy.

Tuf is originally a merchant and trader with his simple ship, Cornucopia of Gods at Excellent Prices, and enjoys his life traveling the galaxy with his cats who he loves, until he ends up with a new ship after an interesting adventure in the first story, “Plague Star.”  Tuf now possess the Ark, a ship that hasn’t been used in over a thousand years, is thirty kilometers long, and is also a “seedship”; meaning it possess many seeds and genes and machinery to clone and generate life at astonishing speeds.

Tuf now dubs himself an ecological engineer and spends his time traveling the galaxy helping people with his incredible ship.  The stories in Tuf Voyaging are refreshing and original and thoroughly entertaining, presenting a facet of Martin that few have seen.

Originally written on March 14, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Tuf Voyaging from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

Book News: Can’t Miss Libraries and Bookshops, Rowling Returns to Potterverse, 11 Most Evil & MoreBook News: Can’t Miss Libraries and Bookshops, Rowling Returns to Potterverse, 11 Most Evil & More

There’s a new movie set in the Potterverse in the works and J. K. Rowling is writing it.
Apple continues to have problems in their ebooks anti-trust case.
Some perfect stops for your worldwide travel itinerary.
And while you’re checking out those bookshops, there’s some libraries you might want to take a gander.

Babybanter: Six Weeks & Counting/Baby Apps/Craigslist/Project Dickens

BabyBanter

1. SIX WEEKS & COUNTING
2. BABY APPS
3. CRAIGSLIST
4. PROJECT DICKENS

1. SIX WEEKS & COUNTING

First off, I can’t believe we’ve had Owen now for six weeks; that he’s been living on this planet for a month and a half; it’s just incredible. And when I think back to how he’s changed from the wriggling, helpless newborn to how he is now, it dumbfounds me. Here’s a photo of Owen at one week and a photo of him at six weeks, just to give you an idea.

One week Owen:

Six Weeks Owen:

Around two or three weeks Owen decided he wasn’t a huge fan of being swaddled and lying flat on his back in his crib for sleeping, and so began his long night of very little sleep for all of us. The day granted us little sleep with Owen also and after doing some research, we discovered what he needed was a baby swing.

We fortunately were able to track a used one down through Craigslist and purchase and pick it up that same day. That night we fed him and then set him down in his swing, set it to swinging and playing music and then he fell asleep and then we too were able to sleep.

The baby swing has been a sort of miracle for us, as we regularly use it every night with Owen and it works well at getting him down and sleeping much quicker than any of our previous methods. This is the Fisher Price model we have:

It has the option to swing three ways, has a cute little mobile, has eight different songs to play (though we know them all very well now), as well as other various sounds, and a number of different swing speeds. It’s also pretty portable, though because it becomes quite awkward to maneuver up and down stairs , so we actually got ourselves a second swing through Craigslist of the same type, though like the first, nowhere near the retail price.

And now we can barely imagine a time without the swing. In two or three months, we expect to gravitate Owen back to the crib by slowly weaning him off the the swing by not swinging him as much, and just keeping him in there, and then transitioning to the solid crib bed once more.

2. BABY APPS

Obviously the world continued on quite normally before the invention of the Smartphone and applications or apps for said phones, but since we are now in possession of smartphones and can acquire these various apps, we’ve discovered a couple that we use that have proven most useful for pregnancy and raising a newborn.

There are a number of contraction counter apps out there, but we found the one we preferred was actually a German one called Wehenschreiber, though the app was in English and allowed us to time each contraction, how long they were and the duration between them. It would then give you a little graph and a time bar that would rise up as time progressed and you’d be able to estimate when the next contraction was due depending on the duration.

It proved very useful on the day my wife went into labor, as I was able to see with the graph and the time bar when the next contraction could be expected, let her know, and we could prepare for it.

Now with our little newborn, an app we use literally all the time is called Feed Baby. You get a one- or two-week trial with the free “lite” version, but it’s worth paying for the pro version. It allows users to time feedings, what breast the feeding is on, to edit feedings, manually add them, or continue them if the little guy decides to take a short break in between. There’s also a diaper section for recording poops and pees, a sleeping section for recording when the little one sleeps and for how long, as well as options for pumping, solid foods, medicines, as well as changing theme colors, and recording weight and height details. If multiple phones have the paid for app, you can also sync between them, as well as backup data. There’s even a journal option if you want to record thoughts and ideas.

Like I said, we use this app all the time, and it makes it very useful knowing how much Owen has been feeding, sleeping and pooping, and what’s to be expected from him.

Our final app that we use quite often is the Baby Shusher app. One of the ways getting a newborn to calm down, relax and go to sleep is to shush him, and when he’s crying at the top of his lungs, you need to actually shush him at the same volume, which can be tough to do, and at the least can quickly make you feel like your hyperventilating and pretty light headed.

The Baby Shusher app fixes that for you, with the touch of a button your phone will start shushing your baby at the volume of your choosing. You can set it to equalize and increase in volume as your baby cries louder, and you can even record your own shushing voice so that your baby recognizes.

Now we never go anywhere without our handy dandy shushing app.

3. CRAIGSLIST

There’s this great site called Craigslist where you can look for things like jobs, or real estate, or personals, or certain kinds of help, and you can also find stuff people want to sell.

You know, things like . . . baby stuff!

While my wife was pregnant we started our early scouring of Craigslist for cheap baby things we were looking to purchase. Why pay full price when you can get it much cheaper in a slightly used condition? A lot of the items we’ll be getting we won’t necessarily be using for that long, so why not?

I was able to pick up a Baby Björn for $15, and then we hit the jackpot with 80 items of clothing including onesies, shirts, pants, hats, shoes, socks, a lot of them high quality Carter’s items which would’ve cost us an estimated $400-$500 for the lot, and we were able to acquire it all for a mere $50. Many of the items looked like they’d barely been used.

Some of the items we’ve actually started putting Owen in already, because he has my long legs (like me), and apparently sizes aren’t completely standard for babies, so some newborn stuff Owen has already outgrown, while others fit him okay; some three month old stuff is just too big for him, while others fit him nicely.

Craigslist was also where we acquired our baby swings, which retail at $160 and we got for $50 and $40 respectively.

We also plan on getting an electric breast pump through Craigslist eventually, as we were able to get the replaceable tubing and cups through Kaiser Permanente, which we should be able to get at a fraction of the price.

And I’m sure for years to come we’ll be hitting Craigslist for more items, acquiring them at a much cheaper price.

4. PROJECT DICKENS

I’ve started a little routine with Owen that I plan to continue for years to come. Now, obviously he has little to no grasp on language at the moment, but it’s still important to talk to him and to read to him and to help him make those synaptic connections and neurons with regards to language development.

So I thought about what I could read to Owen that we would both enjoy and to help stimulate this and decided on one Charles Dickens. I possess a complete collection of classic hardcovers dated in the 1880’s and while I’ve read a couple of them I’ve been meaning to just go through them and read them all.

And what better time than to do it now, by reading Dickens to my son, just as it was originally done and intended in Dickens’ time. I’ve started with The Pickwick Papers, Dickens’ first published book and plan to progress through his books chronologically, reading to him as much as he wants.

So far we’ve had a couple of sessions of a couple pages and Owen has watched me and paid attention each time until he starts to get distracted or hungry, and then I stop.

I plan on saving the classics like Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and David Copperfield for when Owen is old enough to appreciate Dickens more. And my hope is we’ll get to a time where he enjoys, looks forward to and appreciates these special moments when we reach the great Charles Dickens together.

“Chimes at Midnight” by Seanan McGuire (DAW, 2013)

Chimes at Midnight
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The seventh volume of the October Daye series, Chimes at Midnight, is your typical Toby Daye book, as things seem fine and semi-normal for the first few pages, and then take a lunge to the bizarre and fast-paced, as things heat up. However, this time the stakes seem higher than ever.

Toby and Tybalt, the King of Cats, are now an item and can’t keep their hands and paws off each other, smooching in dark corners and brightly-lit streets, to the point where it starts to grate on the reader, who wants to just get back to the story and adventure at hand. Dead changelings are showing up on the streets, the victims of an overdose of addictive and dangerous goblin fruit. Toby takes this problem to the Queen of Mists, who she’s pretty sure is behind it all and fueling the whole enterprise. But Toby is soon kicked out on her butt and told she must leave the queendom within three days, banished. And before she knows it, Toby finds herself on the receiving end of an attack of goblin fruit that puts her under its dangerous spell. Then there’s the question of the queen’s valid claim to the throne, which seems to be in doubt.

As usual, Toby has a lot to deal with, under the spell of the muddling goblin fruit, it’s a tough one for her and time is running out. Things kick into the predictable high gear readers have come to expect from the series, as Toby jumps from place to place to place at an outlandish rate, leaving the reader’s head spinning, and things get nice and easily solved each time, with little threat to the protagonist or her friends. The climaxes and conflicts of the book feel somewhat contrived and are too easily resolved, making it seem as if the book was written in a hurry. While the ending, although predictable, is worth it, the journey along the way leaves a lot to be desired for the reader who has come to enjoy this series.

Originally written on July 30, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Chimes at Midnight from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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