Book review before the coffee gets cold
book review, Books

Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Welcome to another book review, friends. I’ve been on a serious J-lit (Japanese literature – learnt that was an actual abbreviation recently) kick ever since reading Tokyo Ueno Station a couple of months back, and I won’t lie to you: I’ve no intention of stopping any time soon. I haven’t quite cracked what it is about Japanese novels that’s got me hooked, but I’m going to keep reading and thinking until I figure it out.

For Bookshop Day 2019, I popped to Waterstones to pick up a copy of The Memory Police (which I’m currently reading) and a lovely bookseller at the tills recommended Before the Coffee Gets Cold as a fellow J-lit lover. So naturally, I had to bring that bad boy home with me too. The more the merrier, right? Whatever. I’m running with it. Run with me.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Genre: Urban fiction

Length: 224 pages

Publisher: Picador

Other bits: translated by Geoffrey Trousselot; Japanese bestseller, first published in 2015 as Kawaguchi’s debut novel, but only recently translated into English

Synopsis

At some point in your life, you’ve probably asked or been asked the question: what would you do if you could travel back in time? This, in a nutshell, is what the novel is about. But this is completely different from any time-travel narrative I’ve ever experienced so far for a number of reasons, not least because no matter what the characters do or say when they go back in time, nothing actually ‘changes’ in the present.

Enter, the Funiculi Funicula cafe and its time-travelling coffee.

My thoughts

Right off the bat, I really enjoyed how matter-of-factly the time-travelling coffee is treated by everyone once the rules are explained. We never find out how or why this is possible, but you’re so immersed in the four micro-narratives you probably won’t notice that until you’re writing a review about it later.

The novel comes off a little awkward initially but it works given the context – a woman is being awkwardly dumped by her somewhat awkward boyfriend. Yikes. The characters, though a little camp at times, will have you emotionally invested in their respective time-travel stories. These narrative threads are expertly woven together to produce a tale of magic realism gently hemmed in with that classic Japanese flair for propriety and protocol, and I’m very much here for it.

Her heart swelled in anticipation. She looked around the cafe. As there were no windows, there was no way of telling night from day. The three old wall clocks with their hands pointing in different directions didn’t tell her the time. But something must have changed. She looked desperately around the cafe, searching for a sign that she had gone back.

from Before the Coffee Gets Cold

There’s Fumiko Kiyokawa, a salary woman desperate to revisit a talk she had with her boyfriend. Kohtake, a sweet nurse dedicated to finding out what’s in a mysterious letter when her husband, suffering from Alzheimer’s, can no longer recognize her. The vivacious Hirai, estranged from her family and longing to apologize to her younger sister for leaving her to shoulder the responsibilities that come with their parents’ business. We also meet Kei, who ventures into the future to find out whether or not her unborn child stands a chance at life.

These different narratives are slowly, tantalizingly, fed to the reader, flowing and shifting focus from one protagonist to another, and another, as each one takes centre stage and the rest of the room blurs into the background. As you read, it slowly dawns on you that you’re a protagonist in your own life, but you’re simultaneously also a background character in someone else’s narrative.

I’ll level with you. I cried a bit at the end. In a good way.

-Kelly

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book review caitlin moran how to be a woman
Books, review, thoughts

#CurrentlyReading: How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

book reviews

If you know me, you’ll know that I have something of an addiction to books. I own roughly 350 books spread across 4 bookshelves around my house, and I have absolutely no intention of stopping until I get my own Beauty and the Beast style library. Am I asking for too much? Possibly. Will I give up? Unlikely. Anyway, unhealthy obsession aside – I’m starting a series of blog posts called #CurrentlyReading – essentially book reviews before I’ve finished the book, just because the book in question is just too damn good to wait (or  too terrible to continue).

caitlin moran how to be a woman

To kick off this literary love-affair, I’m excited to share Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, published in 2011 by Ebury Press.  I first heard about Moran through one of my favourite BookTubers (Leena from JustKissMyFrog), and put her on my to-read list along with another 20 or so books. I completely forgot that I wanted to buy How to Be a Woman until I saw it at Blackwell’s in Newcastle (also known as my second personal nirvana after Waterstones) and quickly snapped it up before my little brain could forget again. I am now hooked. This book is part-memoir, part-humour, and 100%  pure wit. She takes us through her own life, from awkward childhood through to impossible puberty and that mysterious thing called Womanhood in a seemingly effortless thread of questions, like:

  • Why do women get Brazilians?
  • Do we have to get Brazilians?
  • Why is everyone asking me about babies?
  • Why is everyone asking me about my love life?
  • Why is everyone getting married?
  • What about porn?
  • Why do bras hurt?
  • Is there a better name for ‘the vagina’?
  • What are the worst names for ‘the vagina’?
  • What’s this ‘fashion’ thing?
  • Children?!

And so on and so forth, hilariously mingled with Moran’s very relatable personal anecdotes. I rarely laugh-out-loud when reading, but this one has had me snorting cappuccino out of my nose in the most unattractive way possible. One of the blurbs on the cover is from Grazia and describes the book as, “The book EVERY woman should read.” Quite frankly I’d like to take this further and say anyone who is or indeed knows a woman should read it, even if it’s just for the laughs. We do our best learning when we’re laughing anyway. I like to think so, at least.

Let me know if you’ve read this book or anything else by Caitlin Moran in a comment below! What are your thoughts? Is this something you’d read?

-Kelly

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top 10 books to read
Books, Lists of Love

Top 10 Books on my To-Read List

As a self-confessed book-hoarder, bookworm, and bibliophile, having an out-of-control list of books I want to read is a part of the job. Another thing we book-fiends revel in is talking, writing, and gushing about books until we hear the gentle click of the kettle as it comes to a boil. Enough chit chat – on to the books!

1 | Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I’m utterly obsessed with vikings and Norse mythology, and I think Neil Gaiman is just fantastic. When I hit Waterstones in Newcastle and saw this beautiful hardback edition of a book that merged those two things together, I just had to have it.

2 | Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest

Now this is actually a collection of poems by English spoken-word poet, Kate Tempest. I only really started to appreciate poetry when I was reading for my degree in English, but since then I’ve more than made up for it by making time to read good poetry, especially by writers who are still alive and kicking today.

3 | Event by Slavoj Zizek

Slavoj Zizek is a brilliant philosopher who, yes, I discovered at university but want to learn more about. Enter Event. 

4 | The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

After falling hopelessly in love with The Great Gatsby and dealing with the inevitable book-hangover that followed, I’m ready for my next dose of Fitzgerald. Let’s say it – the man has a knack for badass titles.

5 | A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes

A colleague of mine with excellent taste in books recommended this to me, and I’m going to trust her completely on this.

6 | The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

Shame on me for not having read this already, I know. I’m sorry, please forgive me. But I’m here now, and I’m ready to enter Discworld.

7 | Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is one of those writers who make you feel like you’re sitting down for a chat with your ridiculously good-humoured friend who’s also casually clever.

8 | East of Eden by John Steinbeck

This one is one of the heavier reads that I challenged myself to read a year ago. Ish. I’ve obviously failed. But I love John Steinbeck and will consider this blog post a promise that I will read it this year. Hold me to it, guys.

9 | Underworld London by Catharine Arnold

I love a bit of history – especially when it’s mixed in with some gritty crime. The full title is Underworld London: Crime and Punishment in the Capital City. Need I say more?

10 | The Elder Edda translated by Andy Orchard

Ah, we end where we began – with norse mythology! The Elder Edda is a collection of anonymous, Old Norse poems alive with the culture and history of the people who created them. It was actually one of the texts that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, so it gets my vote twice.

Have you read any of these? Let me know what you thought in a comment below.

Until next time!

Kelly

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the sound and the fury william faulkner
Books, thoughts

#CurrentlyReading: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

the sound and the fury william faulkner

Another blog post and yet another book my fellow bookwormy friends. I was re-watching Mad Men for the umpteenth time and noticed that Don Draper’s lady-friend, Joy, was reading The Sound and the Fury in one of the episodes. I’ve wanted to read something by William Faulkner for a while, and the title of this particular work is – let’s face it – pretty badass. I’m half way through the novel right now, and wanted to share my thoughts with you guys.

The first thing that struck me was the way he brings together the stream of consciousness technique with a certain ‘bare’ quality that I just love. What do I mean? Here’s an excerpt:

When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight o’ clock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.

That. Last. Line.

It’s not the easiest read in the world, so give yourself some time to settle into the book and adjust to the character’s perception in each chapter. The Sound and the Fury is probably best described as a tragedy, so don’t read this if you’re looking for a light, happy story, and get ready for some messed up lives and fragmented family happenings.

Oh, and I find it best to read Faulkner without any distractions (e.g. TV, Netflix, YouTube – forget about it). At the very most, some instrumental music or the background buzz of a bustling cafe’ will do.

Have you read anything by Faulkner? What do you think about his work? 

-Kelly

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T.S. Eliot the love song of j alfred prufrock
thoughts

Thursday Thoughts & T. S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot the love song of j alfred prufrock thursday thoughts

So I’ve never written anything like this (i.e. thinking out loud) before, but hey – why not? I was going through some photos I took yesterday, and stopped at this one. It’s nothing special, just a photo of the sea – something which we have in abundance here in Malta, a tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean, sandwiched between Europe, Africa, and everyone else. Something about it (don’t ask me what or why, because for the life of me I don’t know) reminded me of T.S. Eliot, one of my favourite poets, and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock – a beautiful poem I studied when I was reading for my master’s. It’s a pretty long poem, and I’d recommend listening to it here, but here’s the ‘full’ quote in all its poignant glory:

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

Something about this part of the poem resonated with me. Maybe it’s the sense of apprehension Prufrock feels, the ping-ponging of ideas and lukewarm decisions that plague and terrorise those so unsure about what to do next or how to do it, scaring themselves out of taking action in the process. Maybe it’s the potentially-maddening routine he captures in his ‘evenings, mornings, afternoons’ and coffee spoons. Maybe, being a coffee fiend, I just remembered the coffee. I don’t know, but I just wanted to share this particular poem on my little piece of internet in general, and with you in particular. Read it. Enjoy it. I won’t go into any more detail about the poem or my thoughts on it because I don’t want to colour your own interpretation, but I would love to hear what you think about it and how it makes you feel. Hit the comments if you’d care to share, fellow literature-lovers.

Have a great Thursday!

-Kelly 

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Books

Book Review: 7 Brief Lessons on Physics

A few weeks ago I blogged about Books I Bought in Italy, mentioning that I’d review at least one of the books eventually. I decided to start off with Carlo Rovelli’s Seven Brief Lessons on Physics – a short but immensely satisfying read with a beautiful cover to boot.

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Each chapter covers a monumental moment which shook the world of physics in the 20th century, and continue to shake and shape our world today. From Einstein’s theory of relativity, to quantum mechanics, black holes, the architecture of the universe, and the nature of self and the mind, Rovelli wraps these complex theories and truths in language which brings out the art inherent in science. Here’s a short extract from his book to highlight exactly what I mean:

Quantum mechanics and experiments with particles have taught us that the world is a continuous, restless swarming of things; a continuous coming to light and disappearance of ephemeral entities. A set of vibrations, as in the switched-on hippie world of the 1960s. A world of happenings, not of things

A world of happenings, not of things – how beautiful is that? It’s easy to forget you’re reading a book about science with words like this. I’m definitely going to give this a solid 4/5 as a read which is well worth your time.

-Kelly

 

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Books, Travel

Bella Italia: Books I bought.

Buongiorno a tutti! If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’ve spent the last week or so shamelessly gallivanting around Italy, eating all of the food and drinking all of the red wine. Despite going through 5 years of secondary school Italian, I have a bit of a confidence problem when it comes to actually speaking to someone and reading a few pages takes forever.

That’s a problem for another day – preferably one to be solved while sitting in a bustling piazza sipping cappuccino and reading something in Italian. Until then, I’m perfectly happy hunting down small but very well-stocked English sections in librerias dotted around the cities.

La Feltrinelli

I made my first purchase at La Feltrinelli in Pisa – a treasure trove for those of us who are as obsessed with pretty stationery as we are with books. I almost didn’t care what this particular one was about, I just knew the cover was beautiful in its simplicity. Then I saw the title, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. Sold.

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Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

IBS.it

My only ‘problem’ with this bookshop is that I actively have to stop myself from popping in every time I walk past it – it’s 2 minutes away from the Duomo. Oh well! It was a tough call, but I exercised serious self-control and only bought one book – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned. Honestly now, would you be able to resist a book that looks this good? Didn’t think so.

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The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Galileo Galilei Museum

The first time I visited Florence, I bought a Thames & Hudson book about Greek and Roman Mythology from the Uffizzi Gallery. This time around, I hit the immensely interesting Galileo Galilei Museum and (of course) had to buy something from the gift shop.

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The Great Scientists in Bite-Sized Chunks by Nicola Chalton and Meredith MacArdle

I have a few books to get through before I read these beauties but I’ll be posting a review on one of them soon enough. Promise!

What are you guys reading right now?

-Kelly

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