Top Ten Tuesday: FREEBIE: Top Ten Forgotten Favorites

Top Ten Tuesday
I decided to do something different for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday. It’s a freebie this week, and instead of writing about books that I love and remember well (or books that I hate and will never, ever read), I thought about the books that I had mostly forgotten, but when I wrack my brain, I vividly remember reading these… Even if I’ve forgotten everything but the title (or, in the case, of Wizard’s Hall, which I had forgotten the title but remembered the cover). None of these come up if you ask me for my top ten favorite anything, and most of them were only borrowed from the library, not bought, so I don’t have copies at home. But once I remembered that they existed, I felt a pang of fuzzy nostalgia for these books. Some of these were exciting new discoveries (the mystery and intrigue of Dead Girls), while some fed my appetite for ghost stories (Here There be Ghosts), and others held me over while I was starving for the next Harry Potter (Wizards Hall). I don’t give these books enough credit.

So, from left to right, top to bottom:

  • The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf, Gerald Morris
  • Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters, Gail Giles
  • Little Butterfly, Hinako Takanaga
  • Chobits, CLAMP
  • Heir Apparent, Viviane Vande Velde
  • Here There Be Ghosts, Jane Yolen
  • Wizards Hall, Jane Yolen
  • Demon Diary, Kara
  • The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm, Erin Datlow and Terri Windling, editors
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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who _____________

Top Ten Tuesday This week at The Broke & The Bookish, the Top Ten Tuesday theme is “Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who _______,” fill in the blank. I decided to go with “Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who I’d Like to Befriend.”

Isn’t that why we read, right? I love to spend time with these characters. Here are some that I would love to be their friend.

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneHarry Potter, J.K. Rowling I don’t know if I want to be Hermione’s best friend, or if I just want to be Hermione. I’m not even sure we would have gotten along in school, because we would have been too similar and always competing to be the best in our class. I’m sure as adults, we could look back fondly on our respective know-it-all, insecure school days and laugh about how much we had in common, even though she was learning spells and defeating Dark Lords while I was stuck studying algebra and defeating school administrators, which is not quite as exciting. But Hermione is clever and caring, which are two traits I value highly in my friends.
  2. Weetzie Bat, Francesca Lia Block Weetzie Bat would either be a wonderful friend, or her quirky weirdness would get old fast if it felt too forced. I think Weetzie is a genuinely oddball individual with a big heart. I would have loved to be her friend in high school. I needed a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and that’s Weetzie’s M.O. It would have been so fun to hang out with her, because she’s so daring and adventurous and I’m so… not. Plus, Weetzie needs a friend to gently check her casual hipster racism so she stops wearing feathered headdresses.
  3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman Many of the characters in my list are kids or teenagers, either people I would have liked to be friends with when I was their age, or who I would like to mentor now as an adult. But I would want Mary Malone to be mymentor. She’s everything I wish I could be: compassionate, courageous, clever. She’s a scientist, a researcher like I want to be. (I want to study children’s literature, not Dust.) I would love to hear all about her adventures in other worlds, and emulate her as a teacher who is honest and open with her students, a good guide and role model, even if she is the “serpent.” I want to talk to her about Dust and science and falling in love and China.
  4. SaiyukiLet’s Eat Ramen, Nagumo + Aji-ichi I love ramen and, unlike Saeki, I have no shame about walking into a ramen shop full of businessmen slurping their noodles. I bet Saeki knows more about it than me (and she can read Japanese, which I can’t, really), but I’m not worried about going to a ramen shop with no other girls in sight. We could be ramen buddies! I hope she likes miso. (It would be a little weird, hanging out with a high school girl.)
  5. The School for Good and Evil, Soman Chainani Although she’s grim looking, with tangled hair and tattered clothes, Agatha genuinely has a heart of gold. She spends the whole book looking out for Sophie, her best and only friend, even though Sophie is shallow, vain, and very unkind to her. Agatha is a good person with a good heart, the kind of person anyone would want to be their friend, and she deserves someone who won’t put her down all of the time like Sophie.
  6. Saiyuki, Kazuya Minekura The boys of Kazuya Minekura’s Saiyukiare a tough talking, rude bunch, who act like they don’t have time for anyone’s BS, but really, they’re all good people. want to go on a road trip with them across ancient China! They have this great camaraderie, even when they’re at each other’s throats, and I really like that. They can fight with each other and still care about each other, too. It was the “breaking of the fellowship” vibe from the last Tokyopop translated volume that really had me on tenterhooks, because I would hate for this band to break up!
  7. Hetty FeatherCastle of Shadows, Ellen Renner Princess Charlotte, usually known as Charlie, is a scrappy but upstanding young girl. She has a hard time of it sometimes, and I wish I could live in her world and maybe do a bit of a better job teaching her than her tutors. I like to think she’d find me cool enough that she wouldn’t always skip her lessons. With no mother, or even really a maternal figure, it sounded like she could really use a “cool big sis” in her life, and I think she sounds like great fun to get to know. She’s very admirable, and also very funny.
  8. Hetty Feather, Jacqueline Wilson In the first book, Hetty’s very young, and I wished I could reach into the pages and take better care of her than the awful foundlings home. By the end of the last book, she’s grown up to be a very courageous, if somewhat brash, young woman, who is very certain of her morals and unafraid to find her own way in a society that doesn’t have a place for someone like her: a foundling, an orphan, a poor girl who refuses to settle in to be either a servant or a farm wife. I hope some of her courage would rub off on me.
  9. Vampire LestatChangeless, Gail Carriger i know a lot of people don’t like Madame Genevieve Lefoux because she’s… morally ambiguous, to put it tactfully, but I think befriending her would certainly make life a lot more interesting. Unlike the others on this list so far, I’m not even 100% sure I would trust her. Okay, I probably would trust her, because I’m a trusting person, but it would be a bad idea. I would befriend Mme Lefoux against my better judgement, no doubt beguiled by her vanilla and machine oil scent and incredible fashion sense.
  10. The Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice I saved the two most questionable choices for last. Like Madame Lefoux, I am sure Lestat is not to be trusted, but I’m still intrigued by this soulful rock star memoirist persona. At least i would be smart enough not to trust him. (Even I’m not that gullible!) Like Madame Lefoux again, having Lestat in your life would certainly make everything a lot more exciting. But maybe that’s why it’s best to only visit him in his own book, where you can safely shut the covers on him.

Then Now Next Thursday (April 23, 2015)

Let's Eat RamenTHEN

I’m back to bouncing around from one thing to another and never finishing a book. It’s very frustrating, but I just can’t focus! I did manage to finish Let’s Eat Ramen, a manga dojinshi collection. Maybe I should stick to graphic novels for now?

NOW

Currently, I’m reading the only kind of book it feels like I can finish lately, a cultural history. This one is called Virgin: The Untouched History. It’s no Holy Sh*t, but I’m enjoying it well enough to keep reading. I love learning more about concepts we take for granted, like virginity, or swearing, or cupcakes.

I’m still reading The Story Thieves, but the going is slow because 1) it’s kind of boring? which is a huge letdown because I loved the premise, and 2) I’m taking extensive notes on craft while I read, because I’m trying to improve as a writer, and because I love the concept of the book, but it’s just not working for me and I’m trying to figure out why (so I don’t make the same mistake)


Story ThievesNEXT

Well, if the sun ever comes out again, it will be spring/early summer, which is, in my opinion, the (second) best time (after New Year’s) to (re)read Weetzie Bat or Witch Baby or Baby Be-bop, or maybe all three. (I have the whole Dangerous Angels collection, but I don’t care much for either Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys or Missing Angel Juan.)

I have a library meeting coming up the week after next where we’ll get together and argue about books (it’s one of my favorite days of the school year), so I’m sure my TBR will get some substantial additions for summer reading, regardless of what we decide makes the final cut.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten All Time Favorite Authors

Top Ten Tuesday I’m very particular about who I decide is a “favorite author,” and my criteria have changed over time. I’d much rather tell you my favorite books, but that’s not the prompt – although there is considerable overlap, of course. I just don’t necessarily think I’ll like every single thing an author writes, and that’s OK. Or, like, what if they’re a good writer, and I like their book(s), but they’re a terrible person? (I enjoyed Ender’s Game, but even so, I wouldn’t put Orson Scott Card anywhere on my “Top Ten Favorite” anything.)

So it took me awhile to come up with this list, and I’m still not entirely satisfied with it. I mean, what about Stephen King? I loved Dark Tower, but not only have I not read anything else by him, I never will! So I went with authors who wrote formative books for me as a reader, or my favorite books, or whose books I usually like – it’s not all the same, you know?

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneJ.K. Rowling OK, OK. I’m really only talking about her Harry Potter stuff here, because I’ve never read (and don’t plan to read) The Cuckoo’s Calling or The Casual Vacancy, but, you know, I really really love Harry Potter and it was such a huge part of my childhood and my development as a reader (and as a person) that I can’t leave J.K. Rowling off of this list.
  • Philip Pullman See? I told you there would be overlap with my favorite books. Of course I put him on this list because of His Dark Materials -and the related books, especially Once Upon a Time in the North. Unlike J.K. Rowling, I’ve read some of his other stuff, like Clockwork, which is great, and The Tin Princess, although that’s odd for me because it’s the fourth Sally Lockhart book, but I haven’t read the others. (I never start in the middle of a series!)
  • Holly Black I haven’t read every single thing she’s written, and while some of it doesn’t interest me (Curse Workers?) and some of it didn’t do it for me (Valiant, oops), I loved Tithe when I was a teenager and I loved Doll Bones as an adult, and I can’t wait to read The Darkest Part of the Forest. I credit Holly Black with introducing me to urban fantasy, which was, like, totally mind blowing to me at the time.
  • Heaven EyesNeil Gaiman Again, I haven’t read everything, but what I’ve read, I’ve really liked, for the most part. (I did not particularly care for American Gods.) Good Omens? I loved it, and I’ve read it a bunch of times. Fortunately, The Milk? I read this no less than ten times out loud to my students (five grades, two classes per grade, once for myself, twice for book club) and it never got any less funny. Anansi Boys? I haven’t read it in ages, but I remember that I really liked it.
  • David Almond I remember there was a time when I read any David Almond books that I could get my hands on. There weren’t many then; my local library had Skellig,Kit’s Wildnerness, and my favorite, Heaven Eyes. Something about them, especially Heaven Eyes, really spoke to me. I remember reading about Erin and January drinking “pilfered sherry,” and knowing, somehow, that this book was going to matter to me.
  • Jacqueline Wilson Unlike the other authors on this list, I didn’t discover Jacqueline Wilson until adulthood, although she writes books for children. I picked up her The Lottie Project after making a display of the original, ugly old cover and the new and improved cover to make a point about not judging books by their covers. Then I read Hetty Feather because I liked the cover of Sapphire Battersea (never read out of order!) and omg it was so good. I went on to tear through a whole bunch of her stuff – Lily AloneMidnightSecrets, and a few others – and I was just as excited as my students when we got our library copy of Opal Plumstead.
  • Tsubasa: Reservoir ChronicleCLAMP Hey, mangaka are still authors! CLAMP wrote the first ever manga I read, Wish, and my favorite ever manga, TSUBASA: RESERvoir CHRoNiCLE, and many, many other manga that I’ve loved and made part of my personal mythology: CardCaptor SakuraTokyo BabylonX. They’re also probably responsible for my weird thing about characters who have something wrong with their eyes. (“It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye, and then it’s a pairing!”)
  • Kazuya Minekura Another mangaka for this list. I’m not as familiar with her work, and I haven’t read everything like I have with CLAMP, but not only do I really love Saiyuki, I have a special place for it in my heart because I have so many fond memories of fangirling about it with so many of my friends. Her Wild Adapter was something else, too, and the full color Stigma that I found for ¥105 remains one of my best Book•Off finds ever.
  • Brian Jacques Except for maybe American Girl or Goosebumps, Brian Jacques’s Redwallwas the first series that I read everything – and I mean everything. I read the whole series in publication order, and then again in chronological order. My bff Mousey became “Mousey” (and eventually, “Mousey”) because of this series. I made all of my first online friends through Redwallforums. I tried to read Castaways of the Flying Duchman, but I just couldn’t do it for some reason. Still, I owe Brian Jacques so much for my reading life that he deserves a spot on this list.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien I guess you probably saw this coming? I did mention a lot of overlap with my favorite books. I’ve been reading Tolkien for over ten years, and you know what? it never gets less good. Sometimes, I reread certain things and cringe, but no. The Lord of the Rings is still a masterpiece, and I recently (last year) read The Silmarillion for the first time and guess what? it was great, too! Tolkien was a formative reading experience for me, and a community touchstone for nerds.

Irregular Review: Let’s Eat Ramen, Nagumo + Aji-ichi

Let's Eat Ramen

Let’s Eat Ramen
Nagumo + Aji-ichi
★★★☆☆ (I liked it.)

Goodreads summary:
Doujinshi, otherwise known as independent manga in Japan, is rarely published in English. In fact, it’s considered underground and quite exclusive in its home country of Japan as well. Let’s Eat Ramen and Other Doujinshi Short Stories finally gives western readers an exclusive look at the elusive world of contemporary Japanese doujinshi manga. Let’s East Ramen is a three-part tale of Saeki, a girl who loves ramen noodles. At last, she thinks that she has finally found the perfect ramen shop, but the problem is the shop is completely full of old regulars and she can’t get in. Will the timid Saeki ever summon the willpower to reach out and get the ramen that she desperately wants?

The summary on Goodreads only covers the first story, which lends the collection its title. After Saeki’s story, there’s “Plastic Blue,” the story of an ill-timed, unrequited first love, that works out in the end for the two girls; Urameshiya, a ghost story with a twist that, again, works out well for the two girls in the end; and You Make Me Dizzy, a schoolgirl maybe romance that works out pretty well for the two girls in the end.

The Good

Did I mention there are a lot of girls in this anthology? And while “Plastic Blue” is the most forthrightly queer, the others have girl/girl undertones, or focus on the friendship between girls. (Manga, in my reading experience, is sometimes very ambiguous about this. I like that ambiguity.)

Although Saeki does get a little crush on her ramen partner, her true love seems to be ramen – which is why I jumped at the opportunity to read this when it came up on NetGalley. I love ramen. (Unlike Saeki, I have no worries about walking into a ramen shop full of besuited businessmen and slurping with the best of ’em.) So you could say, “Let’s Eat Ramen” spoke to me – and made me really hungry. (My mouth is watering…)

The sweetness (savoryness?) of “Let’s Eat Ramen” was followed by the melancholy of “Plastic Blue.” Minato confesses (i.e., her crush) to Shizuku, but Shizuku shoots her down, saying, “I like you as a friend.” We can only assume it’s internalized homophobia or a fear of coming out that makes Shizuku turn down her friend’s confession, because a year later, Shizuku is still kicking herself. In the end, Minato dumps her boyfriend and the two girls get together and the story ends with Shizuku and Minato flirting, smiling, and holding hands, which is pretty much exactly how I like my girl/girl stories to end.

“Urameshiya” is a sweet little ghost story with a twist. (A footnote on the page explains that “urameshiya,” which the girls use to greet each other as an inside joke, means “boo,” like a ghost.)  I don’t want to give it away too much. Suffice to say, it’s a cute story of a girl who likes to garden and a cooler member of the swim team and how they become friends while Hanako tends to the garden (her name means “flower child;” it’s also the name of a ghostly girl in a Japanese urban legend who usually haunts girls’ school bathrooms) and Natsume (“summer”) attends swimming practice – although she seems to spend more time chatting with Hanako than practicing.

The last story (and my least favorite) was “You Make Me Dizzy.” Although this one wasn’t as cute as the others, I liked that the girls’ friendship was founded on stories. Shibahara, deciding she’s “not very smart,” becomes the class clown. She’s never read a novel, until she befriends Kunitachi, a cooler girl who is always reading “books with no pictures.” There’s a classic manga miscommunication, but all’s well that ends well.

The Bad

I thought some of the art was really cute, like “Let’s Eat Ramen.” The weird style of “Urameshiya” grew on me, too. But “Plastic Blue” was so-so, and the style of “You Make Me Dizzy” didn’t do much for me at all. But keeping in mind that this is dojinshi, independently produced comics, it wasn’t too bad. There were a few wonky pages in “Plastic Blue,” but I think that will be fixed in the final print.

My only other minor quibble was that I don’t think it’s possible to recover from a two year coma that quickly. (I won’t say which story.)

The Verdict

The paperback edition is about $10 on Amazon.com; the 2014 digital archive of GEN Manga is $24, including these stories, so, despite the inconsistent art quality, I’d recommend it for someone interested in reading something outside of the manga mainstream, especially with the queer content. (Unlike a lot of BL (“boys’ love”) or GL (“girls’ love”), these stories – especially “Plastic Blue” – felt genuinely like queer stories, not fetishized representations.)

When I was your age, these stories were impossible to find in English, and then when they became available, they were illegal scans. This is a step in the right direction, as is GEN Manga‘s completely reasonable pricing.

I received a free digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’d Love to Read with my Bookclub

Top Ten TuesdayAfter all the fun of reading everyone’s free choice Top Ten lists last week, it’s back to an assigned topic: Top Ten Books I’d Love to Read with my Bookclub.*
(*if I had a bookclub)

Last year, there was some talk of a Stonewall Japan book club. I created a group on Goodreads, but then nothing ever came of it, but here (the first half of the list) are some books I would like to read if I can ever get that going.

As usual, these are in no particular order.

  1. TakarazukaTakarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan, Jennifer Ellen Robertson We’re in Japan, so we should read about Japan, right? The Takarazuka Revue is a wonderful thing that must be seen to be believed. It’s a homosocial world of all women actresses with adoring female, usually married, fans. There’s a lot to chew on here, and maybe we could go to a show after?
  2. The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault I admit, I have mostly selfish reasons for wanting to read this one with a book club. First, I know some people in Stonewall Japan are totally smart enough to understand it. Second, I’m not that smart. I would love to sit at Chu’s over ginger ale and talk with some other expat queers about this book.
  3. Wandering SonHōrō Musuko (Wandering Son), Takako Shimura This manga is a story about two friends, a trans girl and a trans boy, as they’re growing up. It was adapted into a twelve episode anime in 2011, too, so we could do one of those “read it and then watch the movie” things.
  4. Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan, Mark McLelland I know that at least one Stonewall Japan member is researching BL manga for a doctorate thesis, so I would love to read this and then pick her brain about it. BL was the first queer content I could access as a rural queer teenager and, really, how weird is that? a white American teenage lesbian reading about gay Japanese boys in comics written largely by and for straight Japanese women. This would be a great discussion book.
  5. Shiroi Heya no Futari (Our White Room), Ryoko Yamagishi I admit, I had never heard of this one before I started looking for books to add to my list, but Our White Room is the trope codifier for a certain subgenre of girls love manga, originally published in 1971.
  6. KitchenBad Girls of Japan, Laura Miller This one isn’t strictly a “queer” book, but it could be some interesting discussion fodder for Dyke Weekend. So much of a nation’s fears and hopes are projected onto the bodies of young women, and how young women act to acquiesce, subvert, or challenge patriarchal societies is always interesting.
  7. Revolutionary Girl Utena, Chiho Saito Utena is a classic girls’ manga. I think everyone’s heard of it, at least; I know I’ve never had a chance to read it, but a book club would be the perfect chance and I know from overheard discussions that there is a lot in this to talk about.
  8. Kitchen, Banana Yoshimoto This is a famous contemporary work of Japanese literature (which I have never read) and one of the major characters is a trans woman.
  9. Our White RoomQueer Voices from Japan: First Person Narratives from Japan’s Sexual Minorities, Mark McLelland There’s been plenty written about Japan by 外人 (gaijin, foreigners) in English, but what I think makes this book a good one for discussion is that it’s translated essays from queer Japanese people, dating back to the 1940s and 1950s.
  10. What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Fumi Yoshinaga This is a sweet manga about the blossoming romance between two middle aged men in Tokyo, a salaryman and a hairdresser. The salaryman loves to cook, and their romance is told through their meals together and it’s really sweet.

There are so many good books about sexuality in Japan, but I didn’t want to just list them all here. I know a lot of these are dense academic texts, but this is the kind of conversation that I know I enjoy, and judging by the Facebook group comments, I’m not the only academic queer expat who enjoys this kind of conversation.

Fictional Friend Friday: Fay D Flourite

Fictional Friend Friday is hosted by The Quiet Child.

Fay D FlouriteI would be lying if I didn’t start this meme with Fay D Flourite, one of the supporting characters in CLAMP’s TSUBASA: RESERvoiR CHRoNiCLE (and now, the sequel, WoRLD CHRoNiCLE).

(It’s ファイ•D•フロライト in Japanese, alternately romanized as Fay, Fye, Fai, and Flourite, Fluorite, and Flowright. The only thing anyone can agree on is the D, but it’s not an initial, so it shouldn’t be followed by a period. CLAMP’s official, if slightly bizarre, romanization is Fay D Flourite, except that it rhymes with “eye” and he’s named after fluorite, the stone. It’s complicated.)

Fay is, without a doubt, and a little embarrassingly, my favorite fictional character in anything, ever.

It’s typical of manga and anime to have certain archetypes, and for fans to prefer characterizations. I have a friend who likes the quiet sociopath character. My students usually love the brash hero or sweet friend best. My favorite characterization shorthand is the quiet, smiley one with a deep, dark secret.

That character? will almost always be my favorite, and Fay is that character better than any other. (Sayuki‘s Cho Hakkai comes in a close second.) He’s sweet and tragic and funny and sad and really, really ridiculously good looking.

There’s a reason I put TSUBASA on my list of Top Ten Favorite Books to Reread, and that reason is Fay. Oh, it’s an enjoyable series in the sense of pretty art and cool outfits and kicking butt, and then at the end the plot turns into a glorious train wreck, but what really makes it my favoritest manga ever is this character, Fay.