Books read, June 2021

Li Yu’s Twelve Towers, retold by Nathan Mao. Seventeenth-century Chinese collection, picked up for research. This book is on the old side (printed in 1975), and I have to admit I side-eye some of Mao’s choices. You might have noticed this says “retold by Nathan Mao” rather than “translated by;” he is very free with the text in places. Example: he gives each story his own title, thus obscuring the fact that it’s Twelve Towers because each title mentions a lou (a tower/pavilion/pagoda/etc). Example: he leaves the ending off the first story because it’s “anticlimactic.” He does at least include endnotes that alert you to these decisions . . . but still. As for the stories themselves, although Li Yu is generally praised for the “realism” of his observations of human behavior, the story Mao calls “Father and Son” (actual title something more like “The Tower of My Birth”) contains series of coincidences that would make a Shakespearean comedy blush — but hey, I find that kind of thing amusing!

Historian of the Strange: Pu Songling and the Chinese Classical Tale, Judith T. Zeitlin. Also picked up for research. This gave me a lot of great context not only about Pu Songling’s Liaozhai zhiyi, but about broader Ming/Qing ideas around topics like obsessive collecting.

People and the Sky: Our Ancestors and the Cosmos, Anthony Aveni. I can’t recall who recommended this to me, but it came up in the context of me asking for a book that would give me comparative astronomy/astrology. This isn’t quite what I was looking for — I want something that focuses more specifically on different cultural systems for the constellations and their meaning — but it’s very interesting in its own right, organizing itself around the different uses we’ve gotten out of the sky and its astronomical bodies, and within that being admirably multicultural in its survey of examples.

Sengoku Jidai: Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu: Three Unifiers of Japan, Danny Chaplin. Also picked up for research, albeit for different reasons. This appears to be self-published, which explains why it was so badly in need of a copy-editor — not just typos and errors of punctuation but “that is not the word you meant there, sir” and (least forgivably, in my mind) the decision to not mark long vowels on any of the Japanese words and names, of which there are an abundance. Having said that, it did what I needed it to do, and my impression from reviews is that most of its errors are more of “you contradicted yourself” sort rather than a “you just don’t even know your facts” sort. It’s a massive brick (I’m glad I read it in ebook) and for my purposes I could have stopped halfway through, but I went ahead and read the rest, giant wads of “I will now name every daimyō who participated in this battle” notwithstanding. Dear heavens was this period just bloody and insane.

Rashōmon and Other Stories, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, trans. Takashi Kojima. Not research, though you’d be forgiven for thinking so! I just happened to be at Kinokuniya and picked this up, along with a folklore collection and a copy of the Kojiki that may take me forever to tackle, given that it’s the kind of volume where the top quarter of the page is text and the remaining three quarters is footnotes. But this book is quite slender, collecting both “Rashōmon” and “In a Grove” (the story that actually provides the plot of the film Rashōmon), along with several others. None of the stories were my particular cuppa, as they ooze a kind of cynicism about human nature that I don’t particularly enjoy, but it was good to read for general cultural broadening.

Easy Field Guide to Indian Art & Legends of the Southwest, James Cunkle. This doesn’t really count as a book, being a tiny pamphlet I snagged at the Grand Canyon. It’s specifically about artistic motifs in Mimbres bowls, and I like that the sketches of each bowl include (where relevant) the “kill hole” chipped in the bottom before it was placed over the face of a buried individual.

The Hero Twins: A Navajo-English Story of the Monster Slayers, Jim Kristofic with illustrations by Nolan Karras James. Illustrated, bilingual retelling of the Hero Twins story, also acquired at the Grand Canyon. My main complaint is that the art wasn’t as well-planned for binding as it could have been; often there’s a key segment of the painting in the gutter where the pages come together, making it harder to see.

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