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09:36am 22/12/2008
Discard Before Using
今週は、久しぶりに本を三冊読んでいた。 Three books. THREE BOOKS. Hisashiburi indeed.

1) Making Sense of Japanese – Jay Rubin
Why, why, why was this book not part of my undergraduate Japanese language curriculum? Its first 74 pages alone would have done more to clear up my confusion over は・が and verbs of giving and receiving than did two years of classroom teaching, and would have saved me the time and effort of laboriously working said subjects out, on my own, through trial and error. Rubin’s treatment of んだ, though much shorter, is also a gem--especially given the tendency of most Japanese textbooks to treat this vital element of the language as something students will just “get” through repetition sans any explanation of what it actually does. (And oh yes, on this point, we are very, very bitter.)

Rubin’s writing precisely explains the usages of many common grammatical stumbling blocks. It’s also frequently entertaining, especially in the earlier, longer sections (into which the author obviously poured most of his effort). He does falter in the latter half of the volume, which is markedly poorer in quality than the first two essays, but even still I am willing to state that (unlike most of the Kodansha offerings) this book is no waste of cash. Indeed, it deserves to be much, much better known in Japanese-learners' circles.

2) The Clash – Walter LaFeber
The Clash traces the history of U.S.-Japan relations from America's first, pre-Perry attempts to open Japan in the 19th century to the early years of the Clinton administration. Overall, LaFeber's take on the events of those 150 years is surprisingly neutral, and he does a good job of balancing his focus on U.S.-Japan bilateral relations while providing necessary context on the contemporary global environment.

Unfortunately, LaFeber occasionally tries too hard to shoehorn the nations' relations into his chosen analytic framework: not every U.S.-Japan clash has China at its root; nor are the relations of these two countries as devoid of genuine cooperation as LaFeber sometimes makes them out to be. Finally, while LaFeber’s tone is quite readable--almost conversational in places--it could have done with some tighter editing for typos and stylistic consistency.

That said, I would still recommend The Clash to anyone looking for a general introduction to (or refresher on) modern U.S.-Japan relations.

3) Valiant – Holly Black
As mentioned last week, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Holly Black's first book, Tithe, and thus hopped right into book two, where another pleasant surprise awaited me. Instead of merely rehashing her first success, Black's writing actually improved.

Don't get me wrong: in regards to several plot points, Valiant shares much in common with its predecessor. But that's to be expected--this is an escapist fiction fairy tale, and all the usual elements are present. Where Black really shines is in terms of plotting. She introduces quite a lot of clues and foreshadowing into the story, all of which become clear as the story runs its course, sans big exposition dump and better yet, she trusts that her readers will have remembered what they read--in other words, no big neon arrows pointing you back to relevant passages in case you missed them. I wish more authors would take a page out of Black's playbook in this regard.

There's still some over-the-top melodrama (especially toward the beginning), but like all good books about Faery, Valiant overwhelmingly deals with serious issues. This is no "kid's book" where characters don't die because that would be Bad For The Kids Reading It. I like a book with stakes.

The fairies populating Valiant are just as awesome as those in Tithe, if not better. Black really, really does have a feel for Faery and its inhabitants. Some of the situations in the latter half of the book were Clarke-worthy.

I do have some reservations—I rather imagine kicking a serious drug habit is a bit more difficult than deciding not to use for a few weeks, and the protagonists are never forced to deal with their cold-blooded murder of a police officer, psychologically or otherwise. But overall, Valiant is an entertaining fantasy read that's better than most, and one that improved upon its predecessor. Good show.

That will be all.
location: ze rectangle
music: va - o come o come emmanuel
tags: books, reading
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