Friday, December 25, 2015

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: December 2015

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the works they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: I Am a Cat
Author: Soseki Natsume
via Goodreads
Merry Christmas!

I Am a Cat, originally syndicated, was the breakthrough publication for Soseki, one of modern Japan's most influential writers.  As the title implies, the story is told from the perspective of an unnamed house cat.  For most of the narrative, the cat is eavesdropping on the conversations of his master, Mr. Sneaze, a rather fussy English teacher.

Japan was in a state of rapid transition in the early 20th century, rather too rapid for many people's tastes.  In 1905, Japan shocked the world by besting the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War, unexpectedly emerging as a global power.  While the victory was a source of great pride, many traditionalists were none too happy about the increasing Western influence over Japan.  The discussions among Sneaze and his quirky friends revolve around these concerns.  And of course, there is that ever-present theme of nearly all Japanese literature: the inherent loneliness of modern life.

As my wife recently observed, I'm not a huge fan of wordy books.  People just sitting around talking isn't what I seek in an absorbing read.  I Am a Cat can be slow-going along those lines but it definitely has its moments of both profundity and humor.  Soseki's description of the board game Go, for instance, is wonderful.

The best passages are the ones about the cat himself, though those are few and far between.  Cats are a popular subject in Japanese art, often appearing in woodblock prints, the better ones reflecting a genuine love and appreciation for the animal.  We own two cats and are thus well acquainted with their peculiarities.  One paragraph provides a delightful recounting of the narrator cat chasing his own tail, referring to it as "Great Tail Gracious Diety."  If there had been more about the cat and less about the humans, I'd have enjoyed the book more.  Even so, it's a worthwhile read.

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post January's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is January 29th.


16 comments:

  1. Well, that's a fun one! I, too, think the book would likely be better if it told more about the cat. Still, what a neat pick.

    Happy holidays, Mr. Squid. And best to your fam.
    Veronica

    ReplyDelete
  2. Interesting. I should read more Japanese writings, I have only read Shunku Endo. Enjoy the holidays.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The more Japanese lit I read, the more I come around to thinking that the comic books are the true gems.

      Delete
  3. Sounds like too much ruminating to me. I need more of a plot to hold my interest. Happy Christmas. Squid :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Plot is definitely a selling point.

      Happy Christmas!

      Delete
  4. This sounds like my type of book! I am going to have to order it on Amazon! :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm admittedly a dog lover, but I've always enjoyed stories with cats in them or about cats. They are dynamic creatures. I can totaly see these creatures having a special place in Japanese art. Sounds like a good read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I grew up with a dog and have always felt a strong connection with the animal. But cats have been a part of my life for as long as I have known my wife. Our home feels incomplete with fewer than two.

      Delete
  6. The game "GO" I used to play it a long time ago.
    Son has read this and I started to read it when the children were younger, must try to finish it.
    Terrific review as always.
    What is funny, The Square Ones are very much cat like and my cats were very dog like.
    What a hoot !

    cheers, parsnip and thehamish

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have tried Go and even own a board. I think I would need to play a lot to truly understand it.

      Our younger cat is very dog like. As a kitten, she would even play fetch. Cats are usually way too proud for that game. Alas, she doesn't anymore...

      Delete
  7. I've heard about this one before and have thought about it, but I'm still on the fence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know whether or not to recommend it to you. Parts are delightful but much of it is dry. As I said to sage, manga are the way to go with Japanese lit.

      Delete
  8. I hadn't heard of this book before- but it sounds interesting- especially the cat parts. :) Thanks for sharing! Hope you had a Merry Christmas!
    ~Jess

    ReplyDelete