Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (Booker Prize 2022 Longlist)

As they carried on along and met more people Furlong did and did not know, he found himself asking was there any point in being alive without helping one another? Was it possible to carry on along though all the years, the decades, through an entire life, without once being brave enough to go against what was there and yet call yourself a Christian, and face yourself in the mirror?

p. 113

Perhaps that sounds sappy to you: calling yourself a Christian and being brave enough to help someone else. But, I do not think there is anything more important in the world than to love one another. Especially when it’s hard.

Out of his own experience, Furlong knows what it is like to not fit in, not belong, get questionable looks from strangers. He does not know who his father is; he is raised by the Protestant widow for whom his mother worked. She did not cast his mother out of the house in her unmarried condition, rather she took the responsibility for raising Furlong herself.

It is Christmas, and the Irish town is hushed in snow. The people are struggling with poverty, and cold, and hardly enough means to pay Furlong for the coal or wood which he delivers on threadbare tires.

His wife makes the Christmas cake, with the help of each member of the family, and then the daughters sit at the kitchen table to write their letters to Santa.

Furlong remembers his childhood, asking for a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle with a picture of a farm on it. When he woke there were three presents under the tree: a bar of soap and a comb wrapped together, a hot water bottle from Ned, the farmhand, and an old copy of A Christmas Carol which smelled musty. He cries out his disappointment privately, in the barn.

“Daddy?” Sheila said.

“Santy came, surely,” Furlong said. “He brought me a jigsaw of a farm one year.”

“A jigsaw? Was that all?”

p. 25

Oh, that part pierces me. Even more than when he makes a delivery to the convent and finds a girl shut away in the coal house. A girl whose breasts leak milk and asks one thing of him: “Won’t you ask them about my baby?”

It is the experiences of our lives that make us who we are, and yet so many opportunities arise in which we must make a choice: do we help? Or, do we go on with our eyes down?

It’s like when Furlong comes across an old man in a waistcoat with a bill-hook, slashing thistles by the side of the road. He asks the man, “Would you mind telling me where this road will take me?”

“This road?” The man put down the hook, leant on the handle and stared in at him. “This road will take you wherever you want to go, son.”

p. 46

Loved this book. Loved, loved, loved it.

At 116 pages, Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These is the shortest book recognised in the prize’s history – the shortest to win was Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald (1979) at 132 pages (thebookerprizes.com)

Find an excellent review of Small Things Like These at Read Her Like An Open Book.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Book Three: The Birdcatcher (October 1984-December 1985)

Book Two ended with Toru having a blue-black mark on his cheek, the size and shape of a baby’s palm. He does not know how he got it any more than he knows how to get rid of it, and like everything else in these strange series of events, he seems quite accepting. In fact, other than his pursuit for Kumiko, I find him to be a terribly passive person.

When his uncle told him to “stand on a street corner somewhere day after day and look at people who come by there,” (p. 328) Toru does just that, although he ends up at the Shinjuku city center. He looks for hours at people’s faces, and only one person connects with him. A woman comes to sit by him who is well dressed, meticulously, in fact, and at their second meeting she asks him to come with her. She purchases him new clothes, new shoes, a new watch, and gets him a haircut. She introduces herself as Nutmeg Akasaka, as Toru insists on having her name; her equally meticulous son she calls “Cinnamon.”

As a young boy, Cinnamon witnessed two men outside of his window, in the middle of the night, digging around a tree. And then one put something inside it, which Cinnamon discovered to be a heart. Since then, he does not speak. He moves his lips, and his fingers convey messages, but he has no voice.

And then one evening, a total stranger is sitting in Tori’s darkened living room. He introduces himself as Ushikawa, but “everybody calls me Ushi.” As he works for Noboru Wataya, he promises to find a way for Kumiko and Toru to be reunited, if Toru will “cut all connections with this ‘hanging house.’ Which means the house with the well that Toru sits within, thinking.

When Cinnamon comes to visit Toru, bringing groceries and cleaning his home, it becomes clear that Toru works for Cinnamon and his mother in some capacity. She has clients, who wish to remain anonymous, and for that purpose Cinnamon has set up an impenetrable wall of security, both digitally and in the physical world.

Nutmeg and her mother had escaped from Manchuria to Japan. On the way, an American submarine surfaced next to the transporter they were on, and it seemed that all the passengers would be killed. Much like what happened to the animals at the zoo, where Nutmeg’s father, who was the chief veterinarian with a blue-black mark on his cheek, worked.

The themes of war, in Asia, are clear and horrific. They are almost unbearable to read and write about. Yet, it is about Kumiko and Toru which I am most interested. When the cat comes back, unexpectedly, the reader senses that Kumiko, too, will come back. But, this is the quest which Toru is on: bringing his wife back no matter what. And to me, the mysterious characters sprinkled throughout the novel, serve to point him in the right direction towards accomplishing this feat.

By infiltrating the complex computer system which Cinnamon has set up, Toru and Kumiko are able to converse. Briefly. And then, while in the bottom of the well, Toru is able to get through the wall into Room 208, the one with the heavy scent of flowers and a woman in bed who will not let him shine the light on her face. (I believe this woman to be the one who called Toru on page one, asking him how well one knows anyone. I believe it is also Kumiko; they are one and the same.)

Eventually, Kumiko explains the hateful, evil person that is brother, Noboru. He ruins everything he comes in contact with, from their sister, to the “imaginary” Creta whom he violated. Kumiko will not rest until she kills him, then turns herself in. “I am calm with the thought that I will have to obliterate his life from this world. I have to do it for his sake too. And, to give my own life meaning.” (p. 603)

So, here are some thoughts I hold about each character:

  • Toru’s purpose is to bring back Kumiko.
  • Kumiko’s purpose is to vanquish her brother, Noboru.
  • Noboru’s purpose is to destroy everything in his path, in order to gain power.
  • Nutmeg’s purpose is to overcome the terrible poverty and sorrow in her life by becoming involved in fashion, and making those around her “heal” in her “fitting room.”
  • Cinnamon’s purpose is to support his mother, while dealing with the image of the heart he found, buried in the ground, which I believe to be his father’s.
  • May’s purpose is to challenge Toru in his search, sometimes deliberately blocking him so that he will persevere, sometimes standing by his side in friendship.
  • Mr. Honda’s purpose is to tell Toru to think hard, and long, and maybe getting his wife back was a more important job than being a lawyer for right now.
  • Lieutenant Mamiya’s purpose was to shed light on the atrocities of war.

What do you think? Do you agree with any of my suppositions? It seems to me that Murakami has written an incredible labyrinth of lives intertwined, perhaps encouraging us to go into some “well” of our own to consider what it is that has been done to us; what it is that we must overcome, or discover, or fight for.

Scattered All Over The Earth by Yoko Towada (translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani) for Women In Translation Month…sadly, I abandoned it.

Scattered All Over the Earth has a label on it reading “Science Fiction.” But, I wonder how accurate that classification is. Consider these quotes, which seem entirely possible:

…since China has stopped exporting goods, America must produce all its daily necessities domestically, but no one there knows how to sew anymore. This being the case, they’re desperately trying to recruit immigrants who can speak English and are good with their hands. Europe, on the other hand, has developed a comprehensive welfare system that covers everyone, including immigrants, but with national budgets running low, they would rather have all the foreigners who can speak English move to America.

(p. 43)

In the beginning of this novel, Knut, Hiruko, and Akash go to dine in an Indian restaurant, which serves pizza, before visiting the Umami Festival held at the Karl Marx House in Germany.

Knut is studying linguistics; Akash is a Comparative Cultures major. He is also transitioning from male to female. “So you can change your sex, but not your caste,” Knut says to him. Her.

“That’s right,” I (Akash) said a little flustered. “Our bodies are always changing from moment to moment. In these baths (in Trier) the ancient Romans surely felt that. They’d have unwanted body hair plucked away, get their hair and nails cut, enjoy a massage to loosen their muscles. The body changes when we sweat in the sauna or drink water. And that’s not all. Even our brains change sex every second – depending on the book we’re reading, we become men or women.”

p. 57

Yet some of the points of view are disconcertingly accurate. Here is one from a character named Nora:

Just at that time, I was reading a book in which contemporary society was compared to a multi-tenant building. The tenants are not bound together by common ideals. While they share a desire to protect the building from fire, the inner sufferings of other tenants mean nothing to them. Nor do they care about equality or human rights. Basic principles the state once held in esteem have broken down, so that even if a neighbor is covered in urine or feces, as long as one’s home doesn’t smell, one doesn’t interfere.

(p. 68)

While I made it almost halfway through, I must admit to defeat: I lost interest at page 90 of 219. The insights are profound, and the future they point to almost terrifying (what if everyone stays inside and just orders what they need through the internet?), but it felt repetitive. Perhaps you will fare better than I, but Scattered All Over the Earth was ultimately not for me.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Book Two (July – October 1984): Bird as Prophet. “When it is time to wait, you must wait.”

So many riddles. What is in the light that Lieutenant Mamiya described while he was at the bottom of the well in the desert of Outer Mongolia? What is the evil that Noboru seems to represent? Who is the woman, whose name she claims that Toru knows, but can’t remember? What does Malta know about good things and bad things that are entering his life at this time? What is that Kumiko wanted to tell him, but didn’t? And, finally, what (or whom) is the wind-up bird which winds up the world’s spring?

In Chapter One of Book Two we discover that Kumiko never came back one night. After one o’clock Malta Kano calls him to say, “I must tell you, Mr. Okada, I believe that the cat will almost certainly never be found. I hate to say this, but the best you can do is resign yourself to that fact. It is gone forever. Barring some major change, the cat will never come back.” (p. 118) Then she asks if there is something else with which she can help? It is as though she knows that Kumiko is the one who not to be found.

Two chapters later, Malta and Noburo meet Toru for coffee at the Shinagawa Pacific Hotel, where Toru met Malta before. Noburo tells him quite bluntly that Kumiko has taken another lover and left him. He goes on to say that Toru was wrong from the start; his head is full of garbage and rocks. Apparently, Kumiko had not only met with her brother to tell him she had taken a lover, she had met with Malta, after discussing the disappearance of the cat. “You will have to win with your own strength,” Malta tells him. “With your own hands.” Is it in his power to find his wife, Kumiko? To bring her back?

“Mr. Okada,” she (Malta) said, “I believe that you are entering a phase of your life in which many different things will occur. The disappearance of the cat is only the beginning.”

“Different things,” I said. “Good things or bad things?”

She tilted her head. “Good things and bad things. Bad things that seem good at first, and good things that seem bad at first.” (p. 44)

Another letter from Lieutenant Mamiya arrives, with information that he feels Toru alone would understand. Mamiya’s memories only get stronger with each time he tries to push them away. The time that the light struck him while he was in the well he saw a shape of something there, but he could not make out what it was. “It is trying to come to me, trying to confer something upon me very much like heavenly grace.” (p. 208) What he suffered with, more than hunger and thirst, was not being able to attain a clear view of what it was in the light. “Had I been able to see it clearly, I would not have minded dying right then and there. I truly felt that way. I would have suffered anything for a full view of that form.” (p. 209) But, just as Mr. Honda had told him, he could not die, even though he would have preferred physical death to liberate him from the pain of being himself.

Toru decides to go the bottom of the well in a vacant lot himself, to think. While at the bottom of the well, Toru has a dream that isn’t a dream that “happened to take the form of a dream.” He is talking to the woman who had first called him. She is in a room with a bouquet of freshly picked flowers with quite a heady scent. She tells him that he already knows her name. “All you have to do is remember it. If you can find my name, then I can get out of here. I can even help you find your wife; help you find Kumiko Okada. If you want to find your wife, try hard to discover my name. That is the lever you want. You don’t have time to stay lost. Every day you fail to find it, Kumiko Okada moves that much farther away from you.” (p. 246)

In the early years of their marriage, Kumiko became pregnant. While Toru wished her to have the baby, she decided it wasn’t good timing in their lives, and when he was away in Sapporo for a business trip, Kumiko had an abortion. Afterward, when they were talking about it, she told Toru she had something to tell him, but she just couldn’t yet. “I’m not hiding it from you. I’m planning to tell you sometime. You’re the only one I can tell. But I just can’t do it now. I can’t put it into words.” (p. 252)

And so, like Toru, I am waiting. Not at the bottom of the well, certainly, but pondering all these puzzle pieces as I ponder my own life and the people who have entered, and left, as we go on our journeys. And, while waiting, I can’t help but wonder if the name that Toru is looking for is Forgiveness.

I am reading this with Stephen, of Swift as Inspiration, as a shared read-along.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Book One (June and July, 1984): Magpie “A Well Without Water. A Bird That Can’t Fly. An Alley Without An Exit.”

Book One, The Thieving Magpie, takes place in June and July, 1984. But, it ends with the most horrible scene that I can imagine: the skinning alive of a Japanese man named Yamamoto, that happened decades ago. The Russians had demanded a document from him, which he would not give, even under pain of torture by the Mongolians. This story, told by Lieutenant Mamiya, pierces the quiet, dreamlike mood of what has come before in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

The novel opens with Toru Okada asking the question, “Is it possible, finally, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another?…We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone?” (p. 24)

It seems that Toru knows very little about anything. He does not know the woman who is calling him at 10:00 in the morning asking him for ten minutes of his time. He does not know where his wife’s cat, Noboru Wataya (named after her brother) might be. He does not know what he wants to do with his career, quitting his job in a law firm even before taking the bar exam. And, he does not understand these strange people who are entering his life at this moment of time.

There is Malta Kano who asks him to meet her in a tearoom, telling him that his brother in law, Noburo Wataya, had recommended her to help find the missing cat. Her name comes from Malta, and Kana is translated “god of the water.” She tells him that he is entering a stage in his life when many different things will occur; the disappearance of the cat is only the beginning.

Then another fortune-teller, this time Mr. Honda, tells Toru that legal work might be the wrong thing for him. “The world you belong to is above that or below that.” When Toru asks him which is better, he says not to “resist the flow…now’s the time to stay still. Don’t do anything. Just be careful of water. Sometime in the future, this young fellow could experience real suffering in connection with water. Water that’s missing from where it’s supposed to be. Water that’s present where it’s not supposed to be. In any case, be very, very careful of water.” (p. 51)

After that, a sixteen year old girl who lives in Toru’s neighborhood, May Kasahara, shows Toru a dry well in an empty house near their own. Mr. Honda had told him, “When you’re supposed to go down, find the deepest well and go down to the bottom.” What does all this mean?

Malta Kano’s sister, Creta, whose real name is Setsuko, comes to visit dressed as a woman from the sixties. She says that Malta sent her, and when pressed for more information about herself from Toru explains that she has had tremendous pain, physical pain, for most of her life. Headaches, menstrual cramps, bruises appearing such that she never wanted to go swimming. Furthermore, she became a prostitute and was brutally attacked by Noboru Wataya. Before she can explain more, she abruptly leaves Toru’s home.

All of these occurrences, these characters with strange and seemingly disparate stories, combine to form a mysterious aura. Although I have read the book before, I cannot remember being so careful with each piece as I am now because I want to know how they fit together properly.

Coming back to where this post began, Lieutenant Mamiya, who told the horrible story of torture, was sent to Toru’s home by Mr. Honda, a man who had also witnessed the torture. Mr. Honda had given Mamiya the mission to present a keepsake he had especially selected for Toru, something from his closet just for him. When Toru unwraps layer after layer of wrapping paper he finds a Cutty Sark box. It is completely empty inside.

Clearly, the themes from Book One are water. A well. An emptying of oneself. War. I am eager to continue reading, while keeping the image of Jacob from the Old Testament, who was thrown into the empty well by his brothers, in the back of my mind. It may, or may not, have anything to do with this story, but I know that coming out of the well can be a form of transformation. At least it was for Joseph, who went in a hated brother, and came out to be a ruler in Egypt.

I am reading this book with Stephen, of Swift as Inspiration, looking forward to his insights as we proceed.

The Martins by David Foenkinos (translated from the French by Sam Taylor) Paris in July 2022

Published July 16, 2022 by Gallic Books

The Martins has sold more than 100,000 copies in its first two months on sale in France. It is about a disillusioned Parisian writer who finds inspiration in the ordinary lives of his neighbors, the Martins.

When the author is bored, and uninspired, he steps out of his apartment and introduces himself to an elderly woman coming down the sidewalk with her shopping. He addresses her with this comment:

I know this might seem a bit strange, but…It’s a challenge that I set myself…I’ll spare you the details but basically I decided that I was going to write about the first person I met in the street.

p. 11

Indeed, it does strike her as strange, but not so much that she refuses him. Rather, she invites him into her home, as she has things that need to go in the freezer, and they begin to talk. Soon, she is telling him about her first love. Later, he becomes involved with writing about her daughter’s life as well, with her husband and two teenagers.

I had infiltrated a tired family, trapped on the wheel of routine; passengers on the same ship who brushed past each other without ever really meeting.

p. 41

Each one confides in him: the husband’s feelings of discontent with work; the wife’s feelings of not being desired; the daughter’s curiosity about a boy she wants to date; and the son’s utter reluctance to confide much of anything.

Irony is often the gateway to despair…When you aren’t happy, other people’s lives always seem much more interesting; your judgment on such matters is impaired to say the least.

p. 55

As he listens to their woes, he considers his own. What of the woman who has left him because he wouldn’t listen to her? Do they still have a chance? And, what of the mother’s first love, who now resides in Los Angeles, California? The author and this elderly woman make the trip to meet him, and while there, he continues an exchange of texts that he and his former love have recently conducted.

The conclusion of this novel is quite satisfying. Without any sort of outcome that one might expect, or even hope for, there is a specific resolution for each character within these pages. I found it a delightful excursion to Paris, as well as insight into a family which may live anywhere so common is their experience to humankind.

Finally, a few quotes which intrigued me while reading. The first, is a question he asks the elderly mother:

How did your relationship with time change once your days were numbered?

p. 64

She tells him, earlier, that she worked in the fashion industry with Karl Lagerfeld, who apparently said that:

“Silence was his mother’s favorite melody.”

p. 128

And finally, this, when the mother’s daughter, who feels undesired by her husband, comes out of her room to have dinner with the author:

She was wearing make up and her body was sheathed in a skin-tight dress, elevated on high-heels; her outfit was a trailer for the film of her thoughts.

p. 131

These are only a few of the marvelous insights which occur on almost every page of The Martins, which I found to be a most enjoyable novel.

Find more thought at Mae’s Food Blog and at Words and Peace.

Sunday Salon: A Messed-Up Foot and A Wind-Up Bird

I was born with bones in my feet which refused to align. My mother would put rubber spools between my toes when I was a baby in order to encourage them to grow straight, but alas, they would not. Thankfully, I was always able to walk, but not without discomfort.

I had a surgery on both feet in 1975, after which they were casted for the entire summer. I had another surgery in 2006, which turned out much better. After that one, I had to wear tennis shoes for six weeks which was a huge improvement over plaster casts. On Monday, I had surgery on my right foot; when that heals, I will have the left done.

It is not entirely woeful. I love having time to read. It is so sweet that my husband brings me every meal, my parents bring me bread pudding and jelly beans, my son brings me roses and aranciata San Pellegrino. All that, and being an introvert at heart, makes being quiet at home a sort of paradise.

As there is a lot of time needed for recovery from this third procedure, I asked a new blogging friend of mine at Swift as Inspiration if he had any interest in reading The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami with me. It is a rather lengthy book, one which I would love to discuss because I’m not entirely sure I understood all of it the first time around.

Then, I thought I would widen the invitation. If you have any inclination to read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle with us, the schedule will go as follows:

Book One: The Thieving Magpie for the week of July 18

Book Two: Bird as Prophet for the week of July 25

Book Three: The Birdcatcher for the week of August 1

After each week, we will write a post with our thoughts and observations; hopefully you can engage in our discussion should you wish to read along (and post as well?).

Meanwhile, I am finishing books for Paris in July 22, and 20 Books of Summer. I have only read 12, if you count two I could not finish: Book of Night by Holly Black and Geiger by G. Skordeman. But, the French books have been an utter delight: Perestroika in Paris by Jane Smiley, Paris by Edward Rutherfurd, Maigret and The Reluctant Witness by Georges Simenon, and The Martins by David Foenkinos.

And you? Are you finding time to read? Enjoying anything related to France? Finishing your 20 Books of Summer?

Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses by Georges Simenon (translated from the French by William Hobson) for Paris in July 2022

I have been fully immersed in books for Paris in July 2022. It is wonderful to delve into a theme and stay there for awhile. Just as I do with every “challenge”, I found a wonderful author who is new to me. This year, it is Georges Simenon, who is certainly not new to very many. His Maigret novels are well-known, and well-loved, with, I can see, good reason.

Detective Chief Inspector Maigret works at the Police Judiciare in Paris. In this particular novel, Maigret And The Reluctant Witnesses, he is not only solving a case, but working out his imminent retirement and his advancing age.

When he leaves home, his wife reminds him not to forget his umbrella, and he’d better wear a scarf, for it was raining while coming home from the cinema the night before and he’d acquired a stiff neck. Now he feels old.

While arresting a man whose great passion is to sleep in rich people’s domiciles while they are away, using their kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom, a call comes in from the prosecutor’s office to say that a man named Leonard Lachaume has been shot. Lachaume…the name brings back the memory of his childhood, where the village grocer sold “cellophane-wrapped biscuits labeled: Lachaume Biscuits. There were Lachaume sweet butter biscuits and Lachaume wafers, both of which, as it happened, had the same slightly cardboard taste.”

Maigret and Janvier head out to the Quai de la Gare, Ivry, where the incident happened and find a once impressive house, with a three-story brick and stone facade. It has since fallen into disrepair, and becomes almost a character in itself with its foreboding.

“Everything was decrepit, the house’s contents as well as its occupants. The family and the house had turned in on themselves, taking a hostile appearance.” (p. 45)

The family who resides there is most odd: a very elderly father and his wife, their son Armand and his wife, Paulette, and a hunchbacked woman who is their maid. The oldest son, Leonard, is lying upstairs in his bed with a gunshot wound in his chest.

The interview which Maigret conducts is most artful, as are his following strategies to solve the murder, for each of the family members is most unwilling to share anything but the most obvious information. Even that is given in one sentence responses, the conversation of which is delightful to read. I can imagine Maigret’s mounting frustration, as I feel it within myself, in trying to uncover the secret they are hiding within their family.

There is none of the contrived drama, the manipulation of facts or theories, which I find so prevalent in today’s mysteries. I was drawn back to my time in France, with the lovely bistros, the telephone booths in glassed walls called cabins, the mirrors behind the bars. Like Maigret, I often long for the charm of the past while being forced to manage the present day changes. I look forward to reading more of his mysteries, and fortunately, there are many to discover.

(Thanks to Tamara and Deb for hosting Paris in July 2022.)

Paris In July 2022 with Perestroika in Paris (“Paris beat all for strange goings-on, and who was he to deny that?”)

Twilight was descending over the vast green expanse of Auteuil Racecourse. The jumps had dimmed into dark shapes against the still vivid green grass. Admiring this, Paras did something that she often did – she pressed against the door of the stall, and this time something happened that had never happened before – it swung open. After a moment, Paras stepped carefully out onto the fine, crunchy gravel and snorted…Paras was a very curious filly.

Perestroika in Paris

I love a well written book with animals. Consider Charlotte’s Web, Pinocchio, and The Wind in The Willows. These creatures have shown me what it is to be brave, or adventurous, or even foolish.

While I was reading Perestroika in Paris, I thought about how delightful it would be to read it to my class. Really, it is such a charming, light-hearted tale of a racehorse, a retriever, and a raven who live in Paris, forming a trio of friendship in some ways similar to The Three Musketeers. They forge their own way, independent and resourceful. They show me Paris through their eyes.

They have taken me, again, to the Champ de Mars, the Place de Chaillot, the Place du Trocadero, and the Tour Eiffel. Their observations of these famous landmarks, and more, are fresh as well as often amusing. Raoul, the raven, has this opinion about the Tour Eiffel:

Raoul was sitting on one of the struts of the great Tour, useless, as far as Raoul could see, to humans, but a wonderful convenience for Aves…

When a young boy, named Etienne, observes Paras from his grandmother’s home where he lives, he invites her in. His grandmother is blind, and deaf, and somehow doesn’t seem to notice (or care about?) the presence of a horse in her salon. Using his own ingenuity, Etienne gains the aid of a butcher, a baker, and a gardener to help keep his secret.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this impossible tale, for while noting that it could not happen in actuality, I was hoping deep down that it would.

(I read this book for 20 Books of Summer 2022, as well as Paris in July 2022. I am now beginning Paris by Edward Rutherford, and it is merveilleux.

Cats of the Louvre, a Hobonichi Techo cover, and Taiyo Matsumoto

Cats of The Louvre caught my eye as I walked through the library last week. I don’t normally stop at the manga section, but there was something about the artwork on the cover that seemed familiar.

The familiarity was all the more striking when I opened up the book, and then I realized the illustrations looked almost exactly like that of my Hobonichi Techo cover!

Last January I (temporarily) abandoned by beloved Traveler’s Notebook for the Hobonichi Techo A6. I read that the Hobonichi is the most popular planner in Japan, and so, of course, I had to try it. It’s efficacy is a topic for another day; for now, let’s just stick with the covers.

It was Cat Over Kanda which I purchased because it looked exactly like the scene outside of my window when my husband and I left Narita airport on our way to Tokyo.

How it is that a “cartoon” and a landscape can so closely resemble one another I can only attribute to the skills of the artist, Taiyo Matsumoto.

Taiyo Matsumoto drew this Kanda, Tokyo themed illustration for us, and we’ve printed it across the entire techo cover.

The idea for this cover came from our recently moving our office to Kanda, Tokyo. We fell in love with this part of the city and wanted to make a techo designed after Kanda. Taiyo was the first person we thought of to ask for help. We wanted to see Kanda from his unique perspective and reached out to him about working together.

The name of the piece is Cat Over Kanda. You can see the famous arch bridge in Ochanomizu, called Hijiribashi, and the scene is drawn from the perspective of looking out from on that bridge.

Taiyo says, “That intersection between the JR train line at Ochanomizu Station and the bright red Marunouchi line that crosses over the Kanda River is really cool. And lately, I’ve been into drawing flying cats. I drew it this way because I feel happy when I look at cats.”

It’s impressive to see the stark contrast between the flexible and energetic cat and the red cars of the Marunouchi line.

This cover was carefully printed to retain all of the little details of the original illustration by Taiyo: the delicate brushstrokes of the cat’s fur, the texture of the paper that Taiyo himself painted onto, and all the tiny little details of the city.

Hobonichi site

If you decide to use a Hobonichi for your planner, and if you decide on a cover, perhaps this one would appeal to you as well…but, imagine my surprise at coming across a book by the same artist in my city’s library. I checked out the book, and read it in an hour as one is able to do with manga.

Cats of the Louvre, by Taiyo Matsumoto, is a charming story involving the cats which live in the Louvre Museum. “At night, within its darkened galleries, an unseen and surreal world comes alive—a world witnessed only by the small family of cats that lives in the attic. Until now…” (Viz.com) Matsumoto won his second Eisner Award in 2020 for this book.

Cats of The Louvre is my third book for 20 Books of Summer, the other two being The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher, and All The Lovers in The Night by Meiko Kawakami. My thoughts on those may or may not be further discussed on my blog; today I just wanted to tell you of kitties, covers, and the artist who connected them for me. In case you would be as intrigued as I am.