A large part of the appeal of independent bookstores is their ability to carry and promote books that you don’t see everywhere else. These two books have little in common other than that; I picked them up at my local indie bookstore because they looked wildly different. The Maids and The News lived up to that promise.
The Maids, Junichiro Tanizaki, Tr. Michael P. Cronin
Tanizaki was an extremely important Japanese writer who lived form 1886-1965. This book is an accompaniment to his more popular novel, The Makioka Sisters, which tells of the daily adventures of a wealthy family that closely resembles the author’s own. The Maids acts as a kind of completion of that tale. Employers and servants share a very small space, and their lives intertwine in complicated ways. It is a fascinating window into Japanese life at this time, with all its class systems and regional distinctions.
At first I tried to follow it like any other novel, keeping track of all the characters. This was frustrating, as there are many, many characters who come and go (and reappear!) at will. I learned to let that kind of wash over me, at least for this first reading. I read it more as a succession of closely observed, very intimate portraits. There is no wonder that he is considered a master of Japanese literature, as the writing is stunning in its particularity.
The News: A User’s Manual, Alain de Botton
A user’s manual for the news? As someone who recently disabled the NY Times news alerts on her phone, (too much! I can’t live with constant crises!) I was intrigued. De Botton is a philosopher, and here he delves into the news itself – how it is presented, how it affects us, and how we can start to challenge and think about it.
Broken into short, mini-essays with occasional photos, it is a quick and fascinating read. Published in 2014, it’s at times unnervingly prescient. De Botton explains that the most effective technique for a modern dictator isn’t to suppress the news, but to so overwhelm it with information, conflict, multiple stories, gossip, and celebrities that no one can follow or act upon any one issue. Yeah.
If you have ever found yourself bored, frustrated, guilty or depressed after reading the news, read this. It does get a bit fragmented at the end, but it is well worth the price of admission and I know I will be referring to it for a long time to come.