Summer Reading Plans: The 20 Books of Summer and Summer Reading Events Galore


20 Books of Summer


I’ve been working on my reading list for the next few months, and I think I’m finally happy with my selection of titles.  I know I want to read something for Spanish Lit Month in July, hosted by Winstonsdad and Caravana de recuerdos – specifically something for the sub-theme of Marquez week in week 4.  I also want to include several books for the Japanese Literature Challenge 8 (June ’14- January ’15) hosted again by Dolce Bellezza.  I should also get in at least one more book toward my list for Roof Beam Reader‘s year-long TBR Pile Challenge.  I also have my Classics Club Spin book to finish and a few pre-selected titles for book groups.  So I needed to keep all those goals in mind when choosing my summer reads.

I normally average 4-5 books read per month – more if I end up with several shorties in a month or get sucked into a graphic novel.  So I expected to eat through perhaps 12-15 books during June, July and August.  So when I read about 746 Books’ 20 Books of Summer Challenge, I figured 20 would be an unrealistic goal for me.  But then I remembered that the next round of Bout of Books runs August 18-24!  During the week of the read-a-thon, it is likely that I’ll burn through 5-10 short books, (I’ve learned that the sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing short works and story collections really motivates me to keep reading during marathon events.) which makes a 20-book list a much more attainable goal for the summer.

So… here is my intended summer reading list.  I’m keeping with 746 Books’ plan of ending my challenge on September 6.  (For anyone interested who may find 20 books daunting, there is also a 10-book version with graphic posted down the page here.)

Note:  If for some reason I don’t end up getting a copy of the new Haruki Murakami when the US version comes out in August, I’ll have to sub in another book and read the H.M. later.


20 Books of Summer sm


  1. A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
  2. An Imaginary Life by David Malouf
  3. As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams: Recollections of a Woman in Eleventh-Century Japan by “Lady Sarashina”
  4. Beasts by Joyce Carol Oates
  5. Budapest by Chico Buarque
  6. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
  7. From the Land of the Moon by Milena Agus
  8. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
  9. Memento Mori by Muriel Spark
  10. Pastoralia by George Saunders
  11. Popular Hits of the Showa Era by Ryū Murakami
  12. The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino
  13. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  14. The Lover by Marguerite Duras
  15. The Martian by Andy Weir
  16. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  17. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
  18. The Third Man by Graham Greene
  19. Weight by Jeanette Winterson
  20. Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong



Spanish Lit Month

Japan Lit Challenge 8

Deweys 24hr RAT

Book Review: After Dark by Haruki Murakami

This will be my second submission for Dolce Bellezza‘s Japanese Literature Challenge 7.

After DarkTitle: After Dark
Author: Haruki Murakami
First Published: 2004 (Japan; English translation 2007)
Rating: 5/5

After Dark by Haruki Murakami reminded me of carefully-shuffled cards. Two decks representing two separate (yet ultimately and intimately related) stories are slowly merged, chapter by chapter, until they make one cohesive whole that is far more beautiful and evocative than either story would be if taken alone. Murakami is a master of this technique, and he is in fine form here.

Story one: It is midnight in downtown Tokyo. An introverted, bookish, somewhat cynical young woman drinks coffee and reads in an all-night diner, escaping into her book, retreating from the world, hiding from phantoms. She encounters several quirky and unexpected other late-night souls and has conversations and adventures, forming serendipitous attachments and revealing more about herself as the story progresses.

Story two: A beautiful young woman sleeps…and sleeps…and sleeps, still as stone in her bed. A quiet (David) Lynchian drama unfolds which may be literal or metaphor, dream, hallucination or reality, or a bit of each. Any details I could give might spoil the story for potential readers, so I’ll simply say it is subtly surreal, atmospheric and rich in symbolism.

I mentioned David Lynch, and although he is a bit more in-your-face than Murakami, I feel the points of comparison are strong. There is a magical realist air all through the book, where the mundane takes stranger and less expected turns as the story progresses. This is not a work of horror fiction, yet there are several instances of imagery that would be right at home in one of the finer, more understated Japanese horror films. This book felt very cinematic to me, and I can very much see it being adapted for the screen by one of Japan’s avant-garde and visionary auteurs. (I’d suggest Katsuhito Ishii, or perhaps Takashi Miike in one of his thoughtful, introspective phases.)

Murakami has created a lovely, unusual book full of surprises, wry humor, gorgeous prose, artful dialogue, poetic metaphor and cinema-worthy scene-building. Read this if you love the author or Japanese literature in general, multi-layered meaning that will keep you thinking and re-evaluating long after you have finished reading, deftness of language, colorful and theater-quality casts of characters, or plots that coil labyrinth-like back and around and onto and into themselves. Read this if you are looking for the perfect book to escape into over coffee, in an all-night diner, after dark.

Book Review Rewind: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Japan Lit Chal 7 - DolBelDolce Bellezza is currently hosting the 7th incarnation of the Japanese Literature Challenge.  As this challenge started in June and runs through January 30, 2014, I’m quite unfashionably late to the party.  But as I am currently reading (or rather, rereading) a Japanese work, the time seems right to get involved.


I originally read and reviewed Kitchen in 2012, and I found it both engaging and emotionally satisfying. Currently, a book group I am part of is reading/discussing the book, so I’m re-reading – something I don’t often do.  I am loving it all over again and will post an update with any new thoughts I have on this second go-around.  This is my original review from my first read, so I have something to compare with my thoughts with after the re-read.


KitchenTitle: Kitchen
Author: Banana Yoshimoto
First Published: 1988 (Japan; English translation 2006)
Reviewed: 2012 (original; rereading now & will update with thoughts on 2nd read)
Rating: 4.5/5

Reading this brief duet – a novella and a companion short story – brought me a breath of fresh literary air. The emotions were so authentic and the characters so delicately-drawn that I felt cleansed by my reading. After many heavy, word-thick reads, Banana Yoshimoto’s clean, bright prose was refreshing and heart-lifting, and she never veers into the maudlin or the saccharin.

The novella, Kitchen, is the real star here, and the paired story, Moonlight Shadow, serves to follow up on related themes. In Kitchen, we meet Mikage, all alone in the world after losing her parents as a child, her grandfather as a young teen, and finally her grandmother now that she is in her university years. Her path crosses with that of Yuichi, who trains in biology while working at the floral shop Mikage’s grandmother loved to frequent, and Yuichi’s mother, who has led a colorful, many-layered life. Together, they explore several shades of grief, regret, longing, and hope, and woven through it all are kitchens, both literal and symbolic, which are where Mikage truly feels at home.

This book could have been a terrible downer, but Yoshimoto somehow manages to make a study of grief and loss feel hopeful and uplifting, with a strong sense of rebirth. The effect is actually a bit magical, and there is a touch of the sort of quirky, bittersweet magical realism that graces the movie Amélie and the other works of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. There is also some kinship with the quiet side of Haruki Murakami’s work. The story’s form takes shape on a framework of the sort of placid strength and quiet resilience that is to me, if not uniquely, then certainly distinctly Japanese.

Taking Kitchen together as a pair with the short story that shares the volume, Moonlight Shadow, my overall rating would be  4.5 out of 5. I didn’t love the hard jolt of the transition between the novella and the paired short story. I would grant the novella Kitchen 5 stars as a standalone work and Moonlight Shadow 4 stars as a self-contained entity. The story – of a girl whose lover died far too young and who has a strange, transformative experience – also deals with loss and grief and longing, but the abrupt stop between the two story worlds, which do not share characters, didn’t fully work for me.

All in all, I highly recommend this quick read, and I will enthusiastically seek out more of the author’s work. There is something indescribable at play between the lines of Yoshimoto’s prose, and I find its pull irresistible.