Tag Archives: Yukio Mishima

Other People’s Bookshelves #18 – Victoria James

It is time to spend a little while leisurely nosing around someone elses collection of books with the latest installment of Other People’s Bookshelves. This time around we are having a nebby through one of my most recent delightful bookish acquaintances, Dr Victoria James, one of the most well travelled and well read people I have met in some time. Victoria and I bonded earlier in the year as we judged the Not The Booker Prize for the Guardian and have been messaging and emailing about the books we have been reading ever since. I am currently buttering her up to work on a bookish TV project together. I’m delighted, between flying here there and everywhere she has taken the time to share her shelves with us and so will stop waffling on and hand over to the lovely lady herself.

Firstly can you tell us a bit about yourself and where your love of books came from…

I’ve always wondered if the thing I’m very best at isn’t TV (I’m a television producer) or journalism (I was Tokyo Correspondent of New Statesman, and have written for many papers and magazines), or travelling (which I do often and well) – but reading. During my childhood, each night after bedtime my parents would check on me and pluck off my face the book I had fallen asleep reading. I’ve got four degrees in English, yet to this day feel as desolate on closing the last page of a wonderful book as I did when I first reached the end of the Narnia sequence, or ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’. I love my life, and I really love the way reading has given me thousands of lives in the pages of beloved books.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

For years, I kept all my books, but because I live in a tiny place in London most of them were stored at my mum’s house. When she wanted to move, I did a comprehensive sort-through and took about half down to the local Oxfam shop. Every now and then my mum rings me up to tell me with great annoyance that Oxfam has sent her a running total of the cash raised from my books – it’s in the hundreds of pounds, now. My criteria for retaining/discarding books were simple: was a book (i) ever going to be read again, (ii) of emotional value, or (iii) a beautiful or rare volume? If not, down to Oxfam it went. I try to stick to the same policy now for acquisitions – books that don’t meet any of those criteria but which I want to read anyway I buy for my e-reader.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I tend to group my books by ‘collections’. I studied English at uni and have loads of ‘classics’ – they are all on one bookcase, and modern fiction on another, both ordered alphabetically by author. I lived in Japan for years and have a great number of Japanese books: these are grouped together, then subdivided by fiction and nonfiction (and alphabetically within those). I’ve a smaller collection of books on nature, wildlife and ecology, which go together (alphabetically), and travel (alphabetical by destination, not author). My most recent small collection is of books about Vikings, as for the past 18 months I’ve been writing both a Viking-themed novel and a travel book. These shelves are a glorious mashup of fiction, poetry, sagas, histories, nonfiction, catalogues and picture books (and are not remotely alphabetical).

With the exception of the last, this probably makes me sound borderline-obsessive about my books. Perhaps I am – but the rest of my life is a joyous, freeform improvisation. When a sixth-former I volunteered at my local library, and as a graduate student I earned cash manning my college library desk, so my neat books could be simply the product of a scant few good habits, learned early!

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

As a child I never had pocket money, but my mother joined no fewer than four local libraries to keep me plentifully supplied with borrowed books. The first time I got to ‘buy’ a book myself was when I won the class prize at my new school (I’d got a scholarship to a private school, where they did posh stuff like prizegivings). I chose a beautiful hardback of ‘The Hobbit’. It was part of a series of six hardbacks, along with the three ‘Lord of the Rings’ books, ‘The Silmarillion’ and ‘Unfinished Tales’ and I asked my mother to buy the whole lot, as I was worried that particular edition would go out of print and I wouldn’t have a matching set. ‘But you’d have to win the form prize every year,’ my mother said. ‘Don’t worry,’ I replied, ‘I will’. And I did. And I still have those six lovely volumes today.

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Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I adore gloriously lowbrow sensation fiction, and I have more books by Wilkie Collins than any other author apart from Yukio Mishima. I also love children’s fantasy fiction (such as Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and the Wolf Brother books), and am an unrepentant, lifelong sci-fi fan. But I’m not embarrassed by a single book I own. What a terrible notion – that’s like asking if people hide their naughty children when visitors come round!

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

This probably sounds heretical, but one part of me would be quite delighted if everything I owned went up in flames. I’ve always been bit of a believer in the principle of nonattachment to material things – books are the glaring exception to my attempt to lead a nonaccumulative life. I do have a few books that were given to me and inscribed by good friends, or bought at meaningful moment of my life, but the important things are the friends and the memories; I can always buy the books again.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

My father seemed to spend years of my childhood reading James Clavell’s ‘Shogun’, while my mother bought Oswald Wynd’s ‘The Ginger Tree’ (about a Scottish woman in early 20th-century Japan) after it was adapted by the BBC in the 80s. I don’t have either on my shelves today, but I spent most of my 20s living in Tokyo, so I guess both books made their mark!

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I buy every book I want. It’s like a sickness, Simon. I’m sure you understand…

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

The latest added to my shelf is ‘The Gentle Author’s London Album’, a largely pictorial book about London life and recent history. It’s exquisitely produced, with golden endpapers – to handle it is to covet it. The latest added to my e-reader is Eleanor Catton’s ‘The Luminaries’. I know some people don’t much like e-readers, but they make me a better buyer of newly-released fiction when the alternative is a hefty hardback for which I have neither shelf-space or bag-space.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

My Big Wish for my bookshelf in the future is (cough!) a copy of my own first novel: a stirring (cough!) tale of Greenland’s last Vikings, who are suddenly confronted with proof that their world – and their dreams – are much larger than they ever imagined. There’s just that small matter of finishing it (10,000 words to go) then securing an agent and publisher.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

They can think what they like! But you wouldn’t need to be too perceptive to deduce the following: My reading tastes – omnivorous and insatiable. Me – an outdoorsy, well-travelled bookaholic with a thing for Japan, Vikings and spaceships.

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A huge thanks to Victoria for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Victoria’s responses and/or any of the books that she mentioned?


Filed under Other People's Bookshelves

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea – Yukio Mishima

At the weekend as well as being at a meeting of UK Book Bloggers in London town, I also spent the day with the lovely Evie Wyld at Foyle for Vintage Classics Day. Well when I say the whole day we missed two hours of it because we were too busy having a good old natter and quite a lot of cake. Anyway, Martin Amis was there and he said he believes that Japanese and Chinese will become the forefront of literature (to the point where in the it’s the prime language we will all read in), he also said that literature from the 60’s to 80’s seems to be forgotten or less popular because they take longer to build up, even the short ones, and today’s modern reader pretty much instant gratification. All this is very interesting, I hear you murmur, but what has this to do with today’s book? Well it’s Japanese and it was originally published in 1963 and it has the slow build up.

This was really quite the surprise read for me, I didn’t really know what I was getting with Yukio Mishima’s ‘The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea’ (mainly because I pilfered it from my mother’s shelves when I went to stay) and as I sat down with it I wasn’t really sure what I was in for, I certainly didn’t expect a book as full and as dark as this slim unassuming book might suggest. All in one this book manages to be a tale of love, of coming of age, the darkness of the mind and a family saga.

Noboru Kuroda is a young boy of thirteen who has had five years of the world just being him and his widowed mother Fusako. In fact as the book opens and Noboru sits in his chest of drawers spying on his mother as she undresses you realise here is a boy filled with obsession and serious dependence though he fights against it. However one night his mother isn’t alone in the room as she has brought a man home with her. The man in question is sailor Ryuji Tsukazaki a man who is somewhat distant from the world and those around him, until he meets Fusako that is. Initially Noboru is not particularly fazed by his mothers new relationship as Ryuji sails away again, however when he returns and things get more serious Noboru wants action and so turns to the delinquent gang he has joined and their troubled leader.

I can occasionally be guilty of wanting a book to instantly pull me; Mishima slowly teases you and builds everything up with this novel and it catches you unawares. You are initially made concerned by Noboru and his spying on his mother, then you become engrossed in the wonderfully tender and touching true love story of a rich widow and a penniless sailor before being further disturbed when Noboru and his gang meet up and commit a callous act that actually really upset me (it involves a kitten is all I will say) and Mishima starts to let the reader know this could have far from a happy ending. I thought this book was marvellous, a slow burning taught book which packs a weighty punch whilst incorporating a truly beautiful love story only making it all the more bittersweet. 9/10

Highly recommended! Only worry is that I have heard this is Mishima’s masterpiece so have I read the best one already, anyone read any of the others?

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami (read it before my blogging days and was in awe of it)


Filed under Review, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics, Yukio Mishima

Books from Mothers and Others

Yesterday I told you about the mini Margaret Atwood gem ‘The Labrador Fiasco’ that I had grabbed off the shelves at my mother’s over the long weekend. I actually hadn’t stopped there and had picked up another four short(ish) books that I honestly felt I could ‘squeeze in’ over the weekend too. How I do not know as there were ten under tens to keep my eyes on, lots of family to catch up with and walking, pubbing etc, etc. In my head though I thought it was possible. Once I finally admitted defeat and was all down trodden my mother decided I could borrow them (this is as rare as me loaning a book) and so I thought I would share them with you all.

The Pigeon – Patrick Suskind
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea – Yukio Mishima
The Only Problem – Muriel Spark
In Between The Sheets – Ian McEwan

Then when I came back there were some delightful parcels awaiting me which had some gems inside them so I thought that I would share them all with you in case So without further ado here they are (sorry about the pic quality my third blackberry in a year – am a bit narked – is playing up)…

Hodd – Adam Thorpe
The Odd Women – George Gissing
The Book of Disquiet – Fernando Pessoa
The Arsenic Century – James C. Whorton
The Pleasure Seekers – Tishani Doshi
What the Day Owes the Night – Yasmina Khadra
The Postmistress – Sarah Blake
Anatomy of Murder – Imogen Robertson

So that’s those, have you read any, been meaning to or read anything else by any of these authors? Do let me know!


Filed under Book Thoughts