Review: Hate List, by Jennifer Brown

7893725Hate List, by Jennifer Brown

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary

Rating: ✮✮✮✮✮

We all got to be winners sometimes. But what he didn’t understand was that we all had to be losers, too. Because you can’t have one without the other.

Jennifer Brown’s Torn Away was the very first book that I ever reviewed on The Grumpy Librarian. It’s almost kind of surreal that, about a year after this blog began, I’m reviewing another one of her books.

The topic of school shootings is a very sensitive one. It’s multi-layered and complex. You look at the situation, and at face value, you see the victims; you dig further, and you consider the shooter’s mental state, what put them in that position in the first place. This makes both parties simultaneously innocent and guilty, and when people are murdered, everybody wants it to be black and white. What Jennifer Brown shows in Hate List is that it isn’t. It’s so multi-colored that you can’t tell where one fades into another.

In the end, Nick – the shooter – is a monster and a victim. He is his own victim; he destroyed himself. The message that Hate List portrays is that, even though Nick was bullied relentlessly, his anger and pursuit of revenge don’t equal the damage he caused – not even a fraction of it. That’s because – and as someone who just recently graduated, I can say this with absolute confidence – those things will come and go. Though I can’t speak for everyone, teenagers mature and come to regret what they’ve done and who they used to be. It was Nick’s inability to contain his anger – deal with it, find a source for it, see past it – that caused him to explode.

And although what Nick did was unforgivable, what Jennifer Brown doesn’t let the reader forget is that he was a human being. She peeks into the kind of person he used to be, before his mind became clouded with violence. She shows how kind he was and how much he loved those he cared about, and how even after what he’s done, Valerie can still grieve for him.

Valerie is a great protagonist, because when Nick blew up, she caught most of the shrapnel. She has to deal with so much guilt: over not noticing Nick’s behavior, for causing her family grief, for starting the mess in the first place. She has to look at the faces of all of the people that she used to blame for her suffering, but were actually innocent, and at what she did to them, indirectly. She has to find ways to make amends, even when people won’t let her. Hate List shows her maturity from beginning to end.

I was completely absorbed by this book. The emotions were all so tangible. One of the qualities of Jennifer Brown’s writing that I love is how she pulls out the flaws in human beings and uses them to shape her books. She shows how even the people we love the most can turn into the people we hate; how even the nicest ones we know can turn cruel. That’s what makes her books so realistic, so engrossing, and so hard to put down.

Project Bungou Stray Dogs: The Setting Sun, by Osamu Dazai

194740Original Title: 斜陽 (Shayō)

Author: Osamu Dazai (太宰 治, Dazai Osamu)

Translator: Donald Keene

Genres: Literature, Japanese Literature

Rating: ✮

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This I want to believe implicitly: Man was born for love and revolution.


Project BSD

I very much enjoined No Longer Human. I liked its quiet melancholy and its deep, depressing theme. Whether or not I cared for the narrator is dubious, but I thought it was insightful and I relished it thoroughly. To completely flip the page over and end up here is a bit of a shock.

The biggest problem with The Setting Sun is that it’s boring, and also that it’s melodramatic. It’s full of symbolism relating to the post-war era of Japan following World War II, and if the book related to the country as a whole, I could get down with that. Instead, Dazai wrote about a specific aristocratic family. This means that the attention is centered on them. This means that I have to care for them and direct my sympathy towards them, and I can not.

If I felt anything at all, it was squashed by Kazuko. How the hell am I supposed to feel bad for her when she writes to a man, knowing that he has a wife and family, asking to become his mistress and to have his child? Ignorance is one thing, but she knows. I realize that times were different then, and that many men had mistresses and their wives even knew about it, but that doesn’t disregard how much it sickens me.

Naoji has told me that many people say you are repulsive, and that you are hated and often attacked. Such stories only make me love you all the more. I am sure, considering who you are, that you must have all kinds of amies, but now you will gradually come to love only me. I can’t help thinking that.

Kazuko is whiny. She’s whiny and self-absorbed and just plain annoying.

In regards to the writing, Dazai has this habit of stating an event, and then going back and describing what happened. I hate this tactic, because it’s anti-climatic – it’s almost lazy. Where’s the build-up and tension? As a whole as well, parts are extremely plain, some are purple enough to induce vomiting, and some just don’t make sense. (Why are the words ‘breast’ and ‘breasts’ used so often? Is it intended to be sexual or could he not think of a proper synonym?)

This book is important to Japan because it depicts its transition into a more industrial society. It’s not that I don’t understand that, or that I’m overlooking it – I simply didn’t enjoy this book.

Goodreads Book Tag!

Goodreadsbooktag

おはよう、皆さん!(Good morning, everyone!)

I’m almost done with high school. My final day is next week! I’m nervous and excited all at the same time. I’ve been really busy, but now quite a few of my classes have ended, and I have more free time than ever.

To celebrate, I decided to do this tag that absolutely nobody asked for!

I nabbed it from over at Icebreaker694, and if you haven’t been tagged already by her, you should do it, too!


WHAT WAS THE LAST BOOK YOU MARKED AS READ?

After a long week of wrapping up my resume and portfolio project, I managed to finish a collection of stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa! I read the ninth volume of Haikyuu!! the same night, which I am slowly making my way through as the volumes become available at the library.


WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

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I can’t say anything about this yet, but I did like No Longer Human, so hopefully I will like this one as well.


WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO READ NEXT?

One of these two!


DO YOU USE THE STAR RATING SYSTEM?

Well, yes. Although I wish that Goodreads would include the half-star ratings.


ARE YOU DOING A 2017 READING CHALLENGE?

I WAS. But here’s the thing, see. I set it really high because I was reading a lot of manga, and although I was double-checking that I was adding the ‘read’ dates, for some reason Goodreads would cut like, twenty or so of my books out of my challenge. Gone. Kaput. So I just said, “Screw it,” then cancelled my challenge and figuratively sulked in a corner.


DO YOU HAVE A WISHLIST?

Yes, although I haven’t added any books to it in a while.


WHAT BOOK DO YOU PLAN TO BUY NEXT?

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I really want to read some poetry by Chūya Nakahara, but his books are so hard to find! I can’t get them through Mel-Cat. I especially want this one because it’s a bilingual edition.


DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVORITE QUOTES?

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

I need to read more Jane Austen.


WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE AUTHORS?

It’s not that I love every book that these authors have written, because Maggie Stiefvater is my favorite of all-time, and I haven’t been able to finish any of her older books yet. It’s just that they’ve written books that mean so much to me.


HAVE YOU JOINED ANY GROUPS?

Yes, but no. I’m a part of a few groups, but I don’t participate in any of them, and I feel like it’d be rude for me to leave. ;–;


I’m feeling lazy today, so this time I tag everyone!

(Seriously, though, everyone should do this tag.)

Until next time! ❤

(P.S: I’ve been watching Prince of Stride: Alternative lately, so have a gif of this angel.)

Project Bungou Stray Dogs: Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories, by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

35206Original Title: 羅生門 (Rashōmon)

Author: Ryūnosuke Akutagawa (芥川 龍之介, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke)

Translator: Jay Rubin

Genres: Literature, Japanese Literature

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

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What happened to the lowly servant, no one knows.


Project BSD

Stories in this book:

  • Rashōmon
  • In a Bamboo Grove
  • The Nose
  • Dragon: The Old Potter’s Tale
  • The Spider Thread
  • Hell Screen
  • Dr. Ogata Ryosai: Memorandum
  • O-Gin
  • Loyalty
  • The Story of a Head That Fell Off
  • Green Onions
  • Horse Legs
  • Daidōji Shinsuke: The Early Years
  • The Writer’s Craft
  • The Baby’s Sickness
  • Death Register
  • The Life of a Stupid Man
  • Spinning Gears

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa was actually one of the few Japanese authors that I knew before I started this project. He’s one of the more well-known ones out there. There was a collection of his stories in my school’s library, but when I started to read them, I wasn’t impressed. The translation was awkward and the story was confusing, and I only finished a couple before I gave it up and returned the book.

It turns out, I am not alone in my opinion. I mention this to emphasize the fact that a good story can be ruined due to a terrible translation, and that it’s better to see which ones are available before picking one up.

This collection is much, much different. The writing is beautiful, and Akutagawa’s creative genius shines through. The tales are morbid, strange, and cynical. Hell Screen, the longest one in the book, was one of the ones that I tried to read previously. The first time, it was like trying to complete a puzzle with pieces that didn’t go together; this time, I was absorbed completely.

Akutagawa has been compared to Atsushi Nakajima on multiple occasions, but to be honest, he reminds me of Osamu Dazai. Both authors committed suicide, and death and alienation are two recurring themes in their work. There are multiple differences in style – Dazai’s No Longer Human felt very sad in a numb, hollow way, whereas Akutagawa’s stories are more dramatic – but both authors suffered in similar ways, and it’s reflected in their writing.

–I don’t have the strength to keep writing this. To go on living with this feeling is painful beyond description. Isn’t there someone kind enough to strangle me in my sleep?

The most controversial ones are Akutagawa’s non-fictional work. (Daidōji Shinsuke: The Early Years Spinning Gears.) There is especially criticism regarding The Life of a Stupid Man, Akutagawa’s “autobiography”, told in fragments. Akutagawa’s personal life, though interesting, is inconsequential to me regarding the story’s merit; it didn’t affect how I read it. I loved it because I thought that it was beautifully written, and the way it’s sectioned gives it a poetic feel that I particularly liked. I wasn’t that impressed with Spinning Gears, neither was I O-Gin or Green Onions, but as a whole I think this is a great illustration of Akutagawa’s craft.

Akutagawa was, in a way, tragic. His skills once put him at the top – but changing times, mingled in with his own doubt and other’s criticism, resulted in his decline. That is why although quite a few of his works are considered to be masterpieces, there are others that are far less than that. I don’t think Akutagawa’s work is something that you will always love 100% of the time, but an author is never perfect, and many of his stories are true classics.

Review: Honestly Ben, by Bill Konigsberg

27230789Honestly Ben, by Bill Konigsberg

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQIA

Rating: ✮✮✮

“We change. We keep changing. We won’t be finished products ’til the day we die.”

This review contains spoilers, and is also a bit personal. Please read with caution!

Openly Straight, this book’s prequel, is very special to me. It’s the book that helped me realize that I was attracted to girls; it is essentially the book that helped me come out to myself. Eventually this escalated to where I’m at today. Without Openly Straight, I don’t think I ever would’ve been honest with myself about my true feelings.

It was not a perfect book, but in a bittersweet way, I liked how it ended. I enjoyed Rafe and Ben’s relationship and wanted them to have their happily-ever-after, but the fight and loss of friendship was more realistic. It felt finite. So all it took was one look at Honestly Ben for me to know what was going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not a bad book, just the same as Openly Straight wasn’t. I like the way Bill Konigsberg writes, I like how he characterizes, and I like the silly and sometimes extremely dark humor that he sprinkles in.

“I feel like we already have a truce,” I said. “I’ve placed my imaginary Maginot Line, and there is an uneasy accord along the Western Front.”

“Oh, Ben,” he said, and the gentleness of his voice made me look away. “Wait. Am I Hitler in that analogy?”

I hadn’t thought of it that way. “I guess.”

“So you made the Jewish guy Hitler. Nice.”

I also agree with basically everything this book is about: agape, or unconditional love. It’s a type of love that goes beyond anything physical or material, and can relate to anyone, paternal, sexual, emotional, etc. I strongly believe in this type of love; I don’t believe in soul mates, exactly, but that there is someone, or possibly multiple someones, that are out there and are so right for you that things like sexuality and gender don’t matter anymore. As Ben says repeatedly, he is not gay or bisexual, but he still loves Rafe despite the fact that he’s a boy. A lot of readers seem to be upset by this and claim that this is misrepresenting bisexuality, and as someone who was formally bisexual, I can understand their point of view – but at the same time, I get what Konigsberg was trying to say. I don’t think he was trying to be biphobic; I think he was trying to show that people love who they love without restriction. That is agape.

Image result for Yuri agape gif

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

My problems with this book reside in other things, the first and foremost being that Honestly Ben feels like an excuse to give Rafe and Ben the HEA that they were deprived of in Openly Straight. Otherwise I can think of no other significance. There isn’t even a change of scenery; the book literally dumps you in where the previous left off. The result is that I felt like I was reading the exact same book. I would’ve liked something a little different: a new place a few years from now, maybe, but something to give it a change of scene.

This relates to the other thing, which is the advocacy. I want to mention that I have absolutely no opposition about advocacy in books whatsoever, because I think that’ll be the generated idea. I love it. This book touches various subjects, including misogyny, anti-war, gender identity, and of course homosexuality. These topics are very important to me, but when I see them in a book, I want them to be integrated in a way that flows with the plot. I want it to still be a book. Instead, all that it does is prop the book up for its lack of substance. I kept feeling like I’d fallen inside of Tumblr.

I felt the same way about David Levithan’s Every Day. I appreciate and support these things when they are discussed in books, but I don’t want it to be everything. I am still a reader; I still want to be entertained.

A good book all in all, but I wish that it had varied from its predecessor. If there are ever going to be any future books about Ben and Rafe, I’d like them to be experiencing new situations instead of dealing with old ones.

Project Bungou Stray Dogs: The Moon Over the Mountain: Stories, by Atsushi Nakajima

9811918Original Title: 山月記 (Sangetsuki)

Author: Atsushi Nakakima (中島 敦, Nakajima Atsushi)

Translator: Paul McCarthy and Nobuko Ochner

Genres: Japanese Literature, Chinese History

Rating: ✮✮ +½

Image result for Atsushi Nakajima gif


“We are all of us trainers of wild beasts, it is said, and the beasts in question are our own inner selves.”


Project BSD

Stories in this book:

  • The Moon Over the Mountain
  • The Master
  • The Bull Man
  • Forebodings
  • The Disciple
  • The Rebirth of Wujing
  • Waxing and Waning
  • Li Ling
  • On Admiration: Notes by the Monk Wujing

I try not to be apologetic when I review books, but this is one case where I feel truly terrible – and my rating isn’t even that low.

Atsushi Nakajima is famous for his stories on Ancient China, and is considered to be a master of the sub-genre by keeping his stories faithful to their original source. He’s highly regarded in Japanese Literature and praised for his work – an annual festival is even held in his honor – and his writing style is one full of rich philosophical idioms about what it means to be the “self”, and why things are the way they are. According to the translators, Nakajima’s original Japanese is “erudite” and hard to read, which might be why this is the only collection of his stories published in English.

To the accuracy of the content, I cannot verify; I studied Ancient China once, but it was years ago, and it’s all but forgotten. The first few stories – including, of course, The Moon Over The Mountain – are beautiful. They’re absolutely beautiful.

Having chanced to go mad, I became a wild beast

Calamity piled upon calamity – I cannot escape my fate.

Who could now withstand my fangs and claws?

Yet in student days I shared your bright promise –

Now I have become a beast crouching in a thicket,

While you ride grandly in an official’s carriage.

Tonight I gaze at the bright moon over the mountain.

Unable to sing an ode, I can only howl.

The problem with his style, though, is that it’s unbalanced. Though it might be accurate, most of these stories are “related” and not “created”, just as Sima Qian laments about in the novella Li Ling. Basically, these stories are recounted fact for fact, until it stops reading as a story and becomes a textbook. While in the shorter stories the effect is softened, in longer ones such as The Disciple, The Rebirth of Wujing, and Li Ling, it’s exponential. The events that take place in these stories are indeed full of blood, power struggles, politics, and war – there’s even a castration. Ouch – but due to the way it’s written, it’s hard to get enraptured and easier to fall asleep. It’s exactly the same as medieval history: it seems exciting until you start studying it.

This could be a big case of, “It’s not you, it’s me”. For him to be so highly respected, I have to think that my feelings are more due to personal taste than Nakajima’s abilities as a writer.

This or That Book Tag!

ThisorThatBookTag

This was a freebie that I snagged from Icebreaker694! Because it’s not like I haven’t done 9,999 tags already.


Rules

  • Mention the creator of the tag (Ayunda @ Tea and Paperbacks)
  • Thank the blogger who tagged you
  • Choose one of the options, you don’t have to tell the reasons why you chose that but you can also do them if you want to.
  • Tag other people to do this tag to spread the love!

READING ON THE COUCH OR ON THE BED?

I tend to read more in bed, despite the fact that I’m always falling asleep.


MALE MAIN CHARACTER OR FEMALE MAIN CHARACTER?

Female – though ironically, I prefer to write from male perspectives.


SWEET SNACKS OR SALTY SNACKS?

Sweet~. ❤


TRIOLOGIES OR QUARTETS?

Quartets. The more books, the merrier!


FIRST PERSON POV OR THIRD POV?

Third-person. Putting some distance between myself and the main character helps me figure my feelings out for myself, instead of basing it off of their own emotions.


READING AT NIGHT OR IN THE MORNING?

Reading at night. I’m too busy during the day to get much reading done, so most of my reading is done in the evening and night time.


LIBRARIES OR BOOKSTORES?

Libraries! I get almost all of my books from there.


BOOKS THAT MAKE YOU LAUGH OR BOOKS THAT MAKE YOU CRY?

Books that make me laugh are always the best.


BLACK BOOK COVERS OR WHITE BOOK COVERS?

Black. They don’t get as dirty that way.


CHARACTER DRIVEN OR PLOT DRIVEN?

Plot-driven. Although I have to admit, a certain character can make a boring book twice as enjoyable.


Okay, now to tag some freaks.

Sophie @ BlameChocolate

Emma @ TheYaHunt

Jess @ TheMudAndStarsBookBlog

(As always, only do it if you want to!)

See you next time!

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Project Bungou Stray Dogs: Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination, by Edogawa Rampo

196150Original Title: N/A

Author: Edogawa Rampo (江戸川 乱歩, Edogawa Ranpo*)

Translator: James B. Harris

Genres: Horror, Mystery-Thriller

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

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“The living world is a dream. The nocturnal dream is reality.”

— Edogawa Rampo


Project BSD

Stories in this book:

  • The Human Chair
  • The Psychological Test
  • The Caterpillar
  • The Cliff
  • The Hell of Mirrors
  • The Twins
  • The Red Chamber
  • Two Crippled Men
  • The Traveler With The Pasted Rag Picture

Edogawa Rampo is referred to as “Japan’s Edgar Allan Poe”, and to that there are multiple reasons why:

  1. Edgar Allan Poe was Rampo’s mentor; he was an avid reader of both American and European mysteries, and a big fan of Poe’s work. (Eddie’s swelled head would blow up at that.)
  2. Similarly to Poe being the creator of the modern detective story, Rampo created the first original Japanese mystery story.
  3. Edogawa Rampo is the Japanese pronunciation of Edgar Allan Poe. The author’s birth name was Tarō Hirai (平井 太郎, Hirai Tarō).

These stories are more suspense than mystery. At any rate, those that contain murder are not about whodunit, but how they were caught, such as in The Psychological Test and The Twins. Some of them are horrifying and some are grotesque, but all of them are very, very peculiar.

Take The Human Chair, the first and probably the best story in the entire collection. A man that defines himself as “ugly beyond description” writes a letter to an authoress. In the letter, he recounts how he created an armchair that could inhabit a human being, how he holed himself up inside of it, and his experiences with all of the women that have sat in it – all of them unknowing that there is a man underneath them, caressing their body.

Gives you the absolute creeps, doesn’t it?

Then in The Hell of Mirrors, a man obsessed with optics creates a perfect sphere of mirrors and accidentally gets locked inside of it, and the images reflected cause him to go raving mad. In The Twins, one of two identical twin brothers confesses how he murdered his other half and took his place, then proceeded to carry out crimes as his true self while he continued to pose as his brother. In The Red Chamber, a madman recounts how he caused the deaths of ninety-nine individual people without lifting a single finger.

I was disturbed over and over again.

Another great thing about these stories is that they’re written in a way that feels timeless, like they could take place anywhere, anytime. Though the style of these stories is without a doubt Japanese, the translation gives it a Western feel, and this is due partly to Edogawa Rampo’s love of Western mysteries as well as his contribution to the translation. (According to the translator’s preface, Rampo could both read and comprehend English, but was unable to write it or speak it; the translator could speak Japanese but could not read or write it. Thus a painstaking five-year project commenced, with the translator turning out sentence after sentence until Rampo was satisfied with how it was read in English.) So even though Japanese mysteries are largely unknown to English readers, it’s easy to integrate into Edogawa Rampo’s writing, since he knew how Western mystery stories were crafted.

Today there is a Japan Mystery Writer’s Club, which Rampo founded, meaning that there is a whole vein of writers of the genre that have yet to be discovered. Still, there is no better place to get started than the man who started it all.

*Note: 乱歩 has been romanized as both ‘Rampo’ and ‘Ranpo’.

Project Bungou Stray Dogs: No Longer Human, by Osamu Dazai

Original title: 人間失格 (Ningen Shikkaku)194746

Author: Osamu Dazai (太宰 治, Dazai Osamu)

Translator: Donald Keene

Genres: Literature, Japanese Literature

Rating: ✮✮✮✮

Image result for Dazai gif


“Mine has been a life of much shame. I can’t even guess myself what it must be to live the life of a human being.”


Project BSD

No Longer Human is considered to be Dazai’s masterpiece, and it’s without a doubt one of the most depressing books that I’ve ever read. Considering the elements that relate to Dazai’s personal life, including suicide, it’s no wonder that people consider this more of an autobiography than a work of fiction.

The story follows the life of Ōba Yōzō, who feels alienated from other people and creates a cheerful facade in order to dispel his true nature. As he grows older his fears increase and prevent him from integrating into society, and he falls to smoking, drinking, drug abuse, and adulterous affairs with women. He reveals on multiple occasions that he wants to die, and considers a violent death a blessing.

During the course of my life I have wished innumerable times that I might meet with a violent death, but I have never once desired to kill anybody. I thought that in killing a dreaded adversary I might actually be bringing him happiness.

Definitely not a cheerful book.

This is a book where the relationship between the reader and the narrator is not definite. Even though I constantly felt sympathetic towards Yōzō’s situation, there were many times where I was frustrated with him as well. I think that was Dazai’s point, to not make him completely likeable, to emphasize how troubled he is. To create a character that is simultaneously likeable and dislikable is an amazing thing.

Overall, what this book highlights is how some people are unable to cope with everyday life, with the trials of “being human.” As a result, they are isolated and lonely beings who go through life as if in a living hell. In that aspect, although we don’t want to face such things as grief, guilt, and fear, if we avoid them we will only suffer more.

This book was dark and depressing, but a quick read, and beautifully written and translated.