If you have been following my Instagram feed for a while, you may have noticed that I receive a book box from The Boxwalla every two months. I have been receiving these boxes for over a year and a half now and have finally come around to feeling like I can provide solid feedback on their content and their ethos as a company. The Boxwalla actually offers four different types of boxes: books, beauty, food, and film (all of which you can switch between if you are part of the subscription service), but since I am only familiar with their book box, I will focus on that service. Before I say more, I want to pause here to lay some things out. In this day and age, it’s always good to be as transparent as possible, so I want to say that I don’t have any sort of affiliate relationship with them nor do I get any compensation for anything I say about them. I do receive the boxes for free, but there has never been any pressure to review the boxes — clearly, since it has taken me about a year and a half to actually write a post about them.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit is, like most contemporary writing, something that I saw floating around online and laid out prominently in bookstores for years before I eventually got my hands on it. Solnit even came through the city I live in about a year or two ago but, since I wasn’t really familiar with her work at that point, I didn’t even go see her talk — though now I am kicking myself for not going! I finally got the chance to read this collection of essays because of a secret gift exchange I do with some coworkers each year. The lovely lady who was my secret gift giver picked this book out for me because it was on her to-be-read list, too. I am so glad she sent this to me because I was (unsurprisingly) absolutely floored by Solnit’s writing.
Like I said before, I was pretty unfamiliar with most of Solnit’s work, though her name inevitably appeared in various literary lists, articles, and what not. I wasn’t even aware of the connection between this titular essay and the concept of mansplaining that took over in recent years, especially in the online space. I know both the term ‘mansplaining’ and the title ‘Men Explain Things to Me’ can elicit a knee-jerk reaction from some people who assume something about Solnit’s ideas from what they believe the title or word indicates. However, what I like about Solnit is that she can be fairly polemical in the way she unabashedly criticizes culture, but she is also very self-reflexive and that self-reflexivity is what makes her ideas so brilliant and nuanced. Take, for example, how she views mansplaining:
“The term “mansplaining” was coined soon after the piece appeared, and I was sometimes credited with it. In fact, I had nothing to do with it’s actual creation, though my essay, along with all the men who embodied the idea, apparently inspired it. (I have doubts about the word and don’t use it much myself much; it seems to me to go a little heavy on the idea that men are inherently flawed in this way, rather than that some men explain things they shouldn’t and don’t hear things they should. If it’s not clear enough in the piece, I love it when people explain things to me they know and I’m interested in but don’t know; it’s when they explain things to me I know and they don’t that the conversation goes wrong.)” — Men Explain Things to Me, 13
Like many people, I find it really difficult to start writing. By now, I’m pretty familiar with how I approach writing: research a lot until you get to a point where you know (deep inside) that you need to actually sit down and start writing about all the ideas that you have been focusing on for ages during the research phrase. It’s hard to start writing, because I worry about covering all my bases — what if I read that one book that really, really makes my argument solid — and making an argument that is actually interesting. However, I’ve come to realize that we can always improve our bibliographies and that we can honestly never come to the end of the research period. But we have to start writing since we’ll only ever have an asymptotic relationship to a research saturation point.
One way that I’ve found that I can get the writing process started much more easily is by writing on here. There are far fewer stakes within this space and I can start playing around with the material that I’ve been looking at without worrying about formatting or an overall structure; I can just write! Since I have been focusing on Ōe Kenzaburō over the last few months, I thought I would take time and do a little feature on him since he is one of my favorite authors.
There were a number of great books and great authors that I read in 2017, but there was one particular author who captured my heart in 2017 and who quickly became one of my favorite authors ever: Maggie Nelson. Like most people on social media, I became aware of Maggie Nelson when her text The Argonauts began popping up all over Instagram, review lists, and even Emma Watson’s online book club, Our Shared Shelf. Like a lot of other people within the online space, I become aware of books existing long before I actually get around to reading them. The Argonauts cover always caught my eye — the bright pink against the matte black remains became pretty ubiquitous on book blogs — but it wasn’t until a friend of mine actually made me open up the book in the summer of 2017 that I finally read something by Nelson. And from there, I subsequently became hooked on her writing.
Since my last post on Murakami Haruki could potentially be seen as a bit of a downer, I thought I would take some time to make a post on Japanese book recommendations to counteract my critical tone. I get requests for recommendations a lot on Instagram, but never really feel that prepared to answer them, so I think compiling a few recommendations every once in a while on the blog will hopefully be useful to anyone who wants more exposure to Japanese literature. On one hand, there are the obvious answers when it comes to who to recommend: Natsume Sōseki, Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, Mishima Yukio, etc., and even though I do truly believe that these authors, and their ilk, are absolutely worth a read, I want to take some time to compile five books by Japanese authors that I personally think are truly worth reading that maybe wouldn’t be on that type of a list. These are not necessarily books that I think are under appreciated, incredibly unique, or even absolutely ‘crucial’ to read in order to understand Japanese literature. I am not interested in trying to define any more arbitrary boundaries outside of one: these are five books by Japanese authors that I really love and that I want to share with you!
When it comes to books I am not a terribly opinionated person – I have read many a good book and I have read many a book that has not resonated with me at all. For instance, I do not like Henry James and I am not terribly interested in most “classic” American fiction, such as William Faulkner or Mark Twain. Rarely have I received any feedback on any of my opinions that I have shared throughout my posts on Instagram. However, I have been surprised by how much commentary I receive in response to my opinions on one particular author: Haruki Murakami. Without fail, whenever I mention my dislike of his work I suddenly get an influx of comments, either from people who would like more information or conversely trying to “sell” his work to me. This response always intrigued me because, like I said, this never happens with any other author that I post about. I can’t help but think that there is something about Murakami and his work that means something significant for people in a way that differs from the other Japanese authors I post about – and leads people to be a little more defensive about criticism about his work.
After putting it off for a while, I think it is about time that I articulate my feelings for those who are curious: why I don’t like Murakami.
Between work and research, I don’t have as much time to delve into all of the books that I would like to read when I first hear about them. The Vegetarian by Han Kang is another one of those books that I have seen floating around Instagram for the past year or so. Many of the accounts whose recommendations I trust were reading this, so I filed it away in the back of my mind as something that I would like to read at some point – which is definitely a long list now. Thankfully, my book club voted to read this for October, so I had the excuse I needed to carve out time.
I have a lot of things that I am still thinking through, so if you are expecting a straight-forward review, this will not be the post for you!