The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

“Ever since I was little my mother had told me, if you don’t know something, go to the library and look it up.”

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 96 pages.
Read on July 4, 2019.

This is a perfect example of a book that you should not read on any sort of e-reader. The novella is its own form of art with its unique open-flap cover and varying font formats and sizes throughout its pages. It’s the kind of book that’s hard to say no to when you see on the shelf at a library or bookstore.

The plot of The Strange Library is strange indeed. I mean, most of Murakami’s works are strange but this short novel had a different feel to it. It’s the tamest Murakami book I’ve read so far as well as there are no sexual references within this book. Or of cats. Or of food, for that matter, which are normally typical themes within Murakami’s books.

A boy, whose mother is expecting him home for dinner, gets lured into a strange section of the library by an old man who wants to eat his brains. The man insists that knowledgeable brains taste better so he insists that the boy read tomes of books for a few months before he is going to be eaten. A sheep-man appears to be the old man’s slave as he unwillingly does his bidding out of fear. As time passes the boy, sheep-man, and a mysterious girl plot their escape from the maze of the strange library.

The plot is like a childish nightmare, hence the sheep-man (counting sheep), worrying about not being home in time for dinner, an extensive maze, and cannibalism as they seem like things a young boy would have nightmares about, which is something I didn’t come to see right away. After coming to this realization I came to appreciate the story much more. Having said that, the story is still very different from other things that Murakami has done and I didn’t care for it as much as some of his other books.  It was still a short and pleasurable read and well worth picking up if you’re looking to catch up on a reading goal.

 

The Way Through the Woods by Long Litt Woon

“We live in a society that regards death as a defeat for medical science rather than a part of life. In a culture that allows little place for death in the public area, grief becomes a private affair, viewed as a luxury we cannot afford.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 182 pages.
Read from June 16, 2019 to June 20, 2019.

When I spotted this book off Netgalley I was interested in reading it due to its themes on grief, yet I found myself very intrigued with the information provided on mushrooms and enjoying these aspects much more than I thought I would. Woon’s journey through mushrooms is intertwined with the grief of her husband; her passion for mushrooms and the intimate details of her mourning make a unique relationship that intertwines and reads well.

“We are all amateurs at grief, although sooner or later every one of us will lose someone close to us.”

Woon discusses her grieving journey intimately and just how uncomfortable we are with death as a society despite it being a part of literally everyone’s life at one point or another. It’s so uncomfortable that many of those grieving feel utterly alone and abandoned in their mourning as no one knows what to do to provide support or relief.  In social interactions the death and memory of the person are often just avoided altogether, leaving the bereaved to heal on their own. It’s a tragedy in its own right, however, the grieved are still the ones that ultimately have to decide how to move on.

“Grief grinds slowly; it devours all the time it needs.”

This is when mushrooms became paramount in Woon’s grieving process. Woon and her husband had once discussed taking a mushroom course together before he died, something that they never got to do together. Woon found herself drawn to sign up for the class alone and quickly learned to lose herself in the world of mushrooms and the journey that comes in learning about them, picking them, and cooking with them. Woon provides some great facts on the different types of mushrooms in Norway and the mushroom culture. Did you know that not every country can agree on which mushrooms are considered toxic? They deadly ones are consistent but the what one country labels as toxic another considers harmless. The book is complete with drawn images of distinct mushrooms in Norway and even a few really yummy-sounding ways to prepare and cook mushrooms, a great addition to the book that I was not expecting.

Mushrooms are something that I have very little experience in eating and tasting having only really come to enjoy them in my adult years. I have, however, always found them interesting and have been in awe of people who are knowledgable on them. Woon discusses how people usually perceive mushrooming as a dangerous ordeal as the little knowledge that people have when it comes to wild mushrooms is only on how poisonous some can be. Woon details the education process it takes to become an expert in mushrooming and explains that errors rarely happen. The wild mushrooms gathered in Norway are inspected by certified experts before they’re allowed to be taken home. With the right knowledge and by double checking each other’s haul, wild mushrooming is a perfectly safe hobby to have but it’s still hard to convince the general public of it.

Through mushrooms, Woon managed to crawl out of the pit that grief had put her in and slowly put together a new life without her beloved husband. Loss, as Woon explains, means so much more than just the loss of that loved one’s life, it’s the loss of the life that will never be had again. Those that are left behind after someone dies will never be the same. Their lives as they know it, or knew it, will never be the same. The unwanted task then falls the mourning to find their way again and start anew with the perceived insurmountable task of doing it without the person they lost.

This book is a comforting and validating read for anyone grieving and while the glimpse into the mushroom culture and its accompanying facts are extremely interesting, most of the information is only valid only in Norway. Even with that, Woon’s writing is highly engaging, enjoyable and interesting, even if you’re only mildly interested in mushrooms.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

“Like Lincoln, I would like to believe the ballot is stronger than the bullet. Then again, he said that before he got shot.”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 258 pages.
Read from January 22, 2019 to January 31, 2019.

This is not a book I would have normally picked up which is why book clubs are so amazing. This funny and slightly morbid travelogue is about all the assassinated Presidents of America. Sarah Vowell has a very entertaining writing style which makes you wish that she could have authored every single history book you read in school.

You likely know who Sarah Vowell is but may not recognize her face. She has a unique voice and is involved in a number of popular podcasts but she is best known for her voice in The Incredibles Movie as the character, Violet. In this novel, Sarah goes on a road trip visiting all the murder sites of each of the assassinated Presidents throughout American history. This isn’t your typical vacation and the author recognizes her strange obsessions with humour as she drags her reluctant friends and family around the country with her in order to feed her assassination hobby. Sarah discusses the political reasonings and outfall of each of the assassinations as well as giving some, often hilarious, insights into the lives of each of the presidents and how they have come to change the face of America today.

I can’t say I have ever cared about dead America Presidents but Sarah’s passion, wit and humour on the subject comes through in her writing and this book made for an enjoyable and engaging read.