The Day I Met One of My Heroes

Happy Easter everybody!

Thursday was an incredibly exciting day, because I finally got to meet one of my all-time favorite authors, Kazuo Ishiguro! You’ve already heard me gush about his writing, so I just wanted to share with you how the book signing went!

After reading the Buzzfeed article, “What It’s Like to Meet Your Favorite Author,” in which the author attended an Ishiguro signing in New York City, I was anxious about dealing with insanely long lines. The signing was set for 7:30pm, so I left right after work at 5:00 to give myself plenty of time to beat rush-hour traffic.

After driving for an hour to the Center of Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton, CA, I quickly realized that my fears were exaggerated. I was literally the first person to arrive, waiting thirty minutes before the building even opened. I decided to pass the time by re-reading the ending of Never Let Me Go, before heading inside.

To describe the venue, let me start by giving some background. Atherton, CA, is the most expensive zip code in the entire nation. Right next to the Facebook headquarters, many homes in this city are valued at over $10 million dollars and are often owned by extremely wealthy Chinese investors.

Thus, in case any of you were wondering why the heck this book signing was held at a high school, this was no ordinary performing arts center. It looked like an opera hall; I could practically see the excess of donor money built into its walls.

Front of the center (Image via Archinect)

View of the stage (Image via Bay Area Spaces)

But enough about this fancy-schmancy building! Kazuo Ishiguro came out around 8:00, accompanied by author Tom Barbash. There were quite a few technical difficulties with the microphones, but both men were easygoing trying to make sure everyone in the audience could hear them.

The conversation began with a reading by Ishiguro, followed by Barbash asking him questions, and then ended with reading off questions from the audience’s note cards. My only complaint was that it seemed that Barbash did not do enough research, frequently citing incorrect information from past interviews of Ishiguro’s or taking his quotes out of context. As a former journalist, I cringed every time Ishiguro had to correct him, though he always did so with grace.

It’s nerve-wracking to be sitting in front of someone you admire so much, because there’s always the chance that person is going to be a major jerk. This was certainly not the case. Ishiguro was very humble, making self-deprecating jokes and assuring the audience that we need not clap after he read the first few pages of his latest novel, The Buried Giant. I’m sure it can be monotonous answering the same questions over and over again on a book tour, but Ishiguro was calm and collected, his British accent giving him a sense of soft-spoken sophistication.

Kazuo Ishiguro (left) and Tom Barbash (right)

Kazuo Ishiguro (left) and Tom Barbash (right)

Among the many topics Ishiguro covered were his relocation from Japan to England at five years old, his early life as a songwriter hitchhiking up and down California with his guitar, and his lucky break with fiction-writing. He’s well aware that his success is not typical and disapproves of the saturation of creative writing programs as a means of exploiting young writers’ hopes and dreams.

I was also intrigued by his observation that from the outside looking in, it appears that Ishiguro’s novels are written haphazardly, jumping from genre to genre. He explains that he actually begins his writing process with a kernel of truth about a story he wishes to write, and then selects a setting after the fact.

For instance, at its core The Buried Giant is about remembering and forgetting–both from a micro level inside a marriage to the macro level of a civilization–and it just so happens that Ishiguro felt that post-Arthurian Britain was the best time and place for this theme. Rather than setting out to write a mythical story, Ishiguro goes “location-hunting,” as he puts it, until he settles on the right genre for his intended message. It’s a literary strategy I find very unique, and I greatly respect his ability to reverse the conventions of the writing process.

The event concluded with the signing, with each row called up one-by-one to wait its turn. I was appalled by how many people in the back rows simply left without getting their books signed. Sure, it’s late at night, but for goodness’ sake, who knows when you’d get such an opportunity again!

The three books I got signed!

The three books I got signed!

I waited patiently with the true fans, and Ishiguro was nice enough to sign all three of the books I brought. He also accepted the thank-you letter I wrote for him, and we talked for a minute about how I connected to The Buried Giant’s theme of remembering the past so as not to repeat its mistakes, given that this month commemorates the centennial of the Armenian Genocide.

I drove home that night on cloud nine, elated that I got the chance to meet one of my heroes. Some people idolize athletes or musicians, but I’ve never been so starstruck than I was standing in front of Kazuo Ishiguro. So on the off chance he actually runs across my blog, let me end this post by echoing a sentiment I included in my fan letter:

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Even if you never write another word, you have made a profound difference in my life.

The autograph I'll cherish forever!

The autograph I’ll cherish forever!

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Book Review: The Buried Giant

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

In anticipation of meeting Kazuo Ishiguro this Thursday, I’ve just completed his latest novel in ten years: The Buried Giant.

I have already discussed at length why I love Ishiguro’s writing so much in this recent blog post. Needless to say, after such a blockbuster success with his last novel Never Let Me Go, fans’ expectations were extremely high while reading this book!

The Buried Giant is yet another one of Ishiguro’s experiments with genre. It features Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple living in a mythical, post-Arthurian Britain. Due to a mysterious mist, people have fallen victim to forgetfulness: it’s not uncommon for the villagers to get riled up about something only to forget their troubles the next day.

Unsure of their estranged son’s whereabouts, or even if he is living or dead, Axl and Beatrice set off on a journey to find him. Along the way, they befriend a skilled Saxon warrior, his young cursed apprentice, and Sir Gawain of King Arthur’s court.

This misfit group of travelers face ogres, pixies, and other monsters, but once they discover the cause of this mist, they must confront an even more fearful obstacle–whether to regain their lost memories or continue living in blissful ignorance of the truth.

As you can probably tell, this is no ordinary fantasy tale. Ishiguro packs so much metaphor into this story that what’s more interesting is what’s going on between the lines. His use of simple, stilted dialogue gives the impression that these characters are allegorical, and you quickly adjust from asking yourself what this book is to what this book means.

By far, the most intriguing part of The Buried Giant is the insertion of Greek myth with the enigmatic boatman. Rumor has it that couples who do not share a most cherished memory do not get ferried together, so how do Axl and Beatrice avoid separation when they cannot remember the past?

Although I did not enjoy The Buried Giant as much as Never Let Me Go, it’s still a fascinating tale of love and loss, as well as an apt reminder that history does indeed repeat itself for a reason. This book may not fit in with others in the fantasy section, but it will make readers appreciate a unique kind of magic: our memories.

Top Ten Books on My Spring TBR List

Meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! So far, I’ve read six books in 2015, so I’m ahead of schedule for completing my annual reading quota of 20 books. Today’s Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is about the stories on the top of our TBR (to-be-read) list this spring.

  

Currently reading:

1. Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
2. Beowulf translated by J.R.R. Tolkien
3. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

We all have TBR lists that are miles long, but I’ll start with the three that I’m currently reading. Bet Me and Beowulf have been put on hold, so I can finish The Buried Giant before I meet author Kazuo Ishiguro! The book signing is less than three weeks away, so it’s crunch time!

  

   

Will be reading:

4. The Gendarme by Mark Mustian
5. Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares
6. When in Doubt, Add Butter by Beth Harbison
7. Perfectly Matched by Heather Webber
8. Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale
9. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

The next four books that I’ve listed are ones that I have already purchased and are waiting for me on my shelf. I’m particularly excited about The Gendarme, since its subject matter will coincide with the centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide next month. I have yet to buy Flowers from the Storm and Fangirl, but they come so highly recommended that it’s only a matter of time before they’re added to the shopping cart!

Bonus! Non-fiction:

10. Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: 16 Writers on Their Decision Not to Have Kids by Meghan Daum

Lastly, I don’t officially count non-fiction toward my quota, but I can’t wait to get my hands on Selfish when it’s published at the end of this month. It will be so refreshing to hear from other writers on their decision to live childfree lives. I have a feeling I’ll be nodding along in agreement through the entire book! So what’s next on your TBR list? Let’s share our reading suggestions!

BREAKING NEWS: I’m going to meet Kazuo Ishiguro!!!

All cover images from Goodreads

If there was ever a reason to use the word ‘amazeballs,’ this would be it. One of my goals for 2015 is to attend more book signings, and on April 2nd, I will be going to my first one of the year. And talk about setting the bar, because I’ll be meeting Kazuo Ishiguro, world-renowned contemporary fiction writer and the author of The Buried Giant, which is his first book in a decade!

Many people may be unfamiliar with Kazuo Ishiguro, including many of my fellow book bloggers, who seem to focus predominantly on YA fiction, so I’m here to enlighten you!

Ishiguro is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest writers living today. I was first introduced to his work in college, where I read Never Let Me Go and a couple of his short stories. I was hooked immediately and have since read The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, which were also amazing.

Why is Ishiguro such a literary genius? He’s a master of rewriting the rules, or as he puts it, he’s “been promiscuous with genre.” His novels could be considered science fiction, mysteries, or romances, but they’re written in such a way that those labels would leave out all the nuances and multidimensionality.

The best part is that you can’t deduce what his books are about from their mere summaries. You can’t discuss them without giving too much away. His words are wrapped in enigma, which is exactly why reading them is such a profound experience–you have little idea as to what you’re getting yourself into, and that intrigue fuels you to turn the pages.

He’s also an expert in creating introspective characters who say so much more than in their dialogues. If you’re a fan of unreliable narrators who experience complex character developments, then Ishiguro is definitely the writer for you.

However, I admit that Ishiguro is not fond of clean stories with plenty of closure. His books never end with a pretty bow tied around the plots. Instead, these tales haunt you, urging you to reflect on the past and contemplate the future. Every time I reread his books, I learn more about them–and myself–in the process.

To make a long blog post even longer, if I haven’t convinced you to check out Kazuo Ishiguro, then maybe this information will:

  • The Times named him one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.
  • The Remains of the Day won the Booker prize in 1989, and the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, declared that it was the most influential book he has ever read: “Before reading it, I didn’t think a perfect novel was possible.”
  • The film adaptation for The Remains of the Day, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Music (all of which were won by that other WWII movie, Schindler’s List).

I will be sure to give you all a full report of the book signing next month. I’m already restless with anticipation! In the meantime, I’ll be reading The Buried Giant, which I’m sure to give a stellar review!

Image via The Sunday Times

To see whether Kazuo Ishiguro is visiting a city near you, click here for the tour dates.

My Most Anticipated Books of 2015

Happy New Year everybody! There’s nothing like starting the year off right with a good book, and 2015 is shaping up to have many good books in store for us!

I wanted to share my top five most anticipated books of 2015, so let’s get right to it!

All images via Goodreads

1. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, release date March 3. It’s been almost an entire decade since Ishiguro’s last novel Never Let Me Go, which was awarded TIME magazine’s ‘Best Book of 2005’ and listed in its ‘Top 100 Best English-Language Novels.’ The novel is also one of my absolute favorites, and after reading The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, it’s safe to say that Ishiguro is one of my most admired authors. I can’t imagine The Buried Giant being anything less than extraordinary.

2. P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han, release date June 2 (cover art TBR). This sequel to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before follows Lara Jean as she sorts out her feelings for Peter Kavinsky, the boy who blurred the lines between pretend and real boyfriend. With all the buzz in the book blogosphere, it’s clear that Han is a rising YA star with scores of devoted fans like me who are just itching to get their hands on this book!

3. China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan, release date June 16. Crazy Rich Asians was one of the most entertaining books I read in 2014, and I cannot wait for this sequel, which continues the story of Rachel Chu, the most envied girl in the Far East. Engaged to Asia’s most eligible billionaire bachelor, she tries to balance wedding planning among the uber-rich while searching for her estranged father in China. I’m so ready for this crazy whirlwind rollercoaster!

4. If I Could Turn Back Time by Beth Harbison, release date July 28. I can’t forget Beth Harbison, who has penned some great chick-lit. I enjoyed Shoe Addicts Anonymous and Secrets of a Shoe Addict, and I’ve got When in Doubt, Add Butter waiting for me on my bookshelf. This latest novel with “Freaky Friday” similarities sounds like a hoot. A 30-something waking up in her 18-year-old body after a boating accident? Count me in!

5. Rhiannon by David Levithan, release date unknown (cover art TBR). YA fans everywhere are hyperventilating over this companion book to Every Day, this time written from the perspective of A’s love interest Rhiannon. Every Day has to be the most unique romance that I have ever read, and I’m sure that Levithan will knock this book out of the park like he always does!

So that’s it! Which books are you most looking forward to in 2015? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Book Review: When We Were Orphans

Image via Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5

BEWARE: SPOILER ALERT!

It’s been quite some time since I’ve read a Kazuo Ishiguro novel, so becoming familiar with his writing again was a memorable experience. I was going to say “enjoyable,” but I didn’t think that was the right word. Ishiguro’s stories aren’t enjoyable in the sense that they’re lighthearted and easy to read. Far from it. But immersing yourself in the minds of his characters is a journey unlike any other.

When We Were Orphans, published in 2000follows the life of Christopher Banks, who was raised by his English parents in the International Settlement in Shanghai during the interwar period. They become embroiled in the opium trade, with his father inadvertently enabling it on one hand and his mother actively protesting it on the other. When they both mysteriously disappear and young Christopher is unceremoniously shipped back to England, it’s up to him to piece together the puzzle.

Christopher, fueled by his desire to rid the world of evil, becomes a renowned detective and eventually returns to Shanghai during the Japanese invasion. But with evil gaining too much momentum, by the time he solves the case of his missing parents, he has lost all hope of returning to his former life.

The pacing of this story was superb, starting off slowly as Ishiguro paints the picture of Christopher’s childhood playing make-believe with his close Japanese friend and next-door neighbor Akira, then deepening as he transitions from England back to Shanghai, and finally rushing chaotically through the heart-wrenching climax.

When everything is said and done, Christopher is orphaned once again, but the pain cuts so much deeper the second time, because it extinguishes any promise of a brighter future. Because we spend so much time looking through his eyes, even when we know that the world is mocking him, when the past is revealed we can’t help but feel fooled and utterly embarrassed that we ever considered an optimistic ending.

Critics have pointed out Ishiguro’s repeated use of the “unreliable narrator” in his work, but during this story, I felt that there was something inadequate about that concept. In an interview with January Magazine, Ishiguro explains:

The traditional unreliable narrator is that sort of narrator through whom you can almost measure the distance between their craziness and the proper world out there. That’s partly how that technique works, I think. You have to know that distance quite clearly. He [Christopher Banks] is perhaps not quite that sort of conventional unreliable narrator in the sense that it’s not very clear what’s going on out there. It’s more an attempt to paint a picture according to what the world would look like according to someone’s crazy logic. So a lot of the time the world actually adopts the craziness of his logic.

That’s precisely why I love Ishiguro: his writing is so enigmatic and multi-faceted, not because he’s attempting to recreate the world as it truly is, but rather he’s escaping into a world as one individual views it.

As a man born in Japan and raised in England, Ishiguro gravitates toward stories set during World War II. He has been quoted as being fascinated by what type of person he might have been if he was born one generation earlier. I highly recommend his acclaimed novel The Remains of the Day, as it also tells the tale of an Englishman trying to make sense of the tragedies he witnessed during the war.

Overall, I would say that Ishiguro is an acquired taste. You will never walk away from one of his works feeling a sense of resolution. But that’s what life is all about; it’s never fully understood. At one point in the novel, Christopher has the opportunity to leave Shanghai behind him and start life anew, but not for one second does the reader believe that he will abandon his pursuit. Life cannot start over, no matter how desperately we want it to.

“Perhaps there are those who are able to go about their lives unfettered by such concerns. But for those like us, our fate is to face the world as orphans, chasing through long years the shadows of vanished parents. There is nothing for it but to try and see through our missions to the end, as best we can, for until we do so, we will be permitted no calm.”

Dance like Big Brother’s Not Watching You: A Tribute to Dystopian Novels

I’m currently at a conference predominately catered toward analysts and engineers in the government sphere, which has got me thinking about some great novels about what can happen when governments grow too corrupt, using technology for devious purposes. This dystopian theme has garnered more popularity in the past few years, thanks to the rise of young adult thrillers like The Hunger Games, so I thought I would share some tidbits about the novels that make you want to wear an aluminum hat.

The Classics

1984 by George Orwell (1949): The king of dystopia, Orwell paints the bleak picture of a totalitarian state that not only watches your every move, but also sabotages your mind with double-think. The intensity of this story quickly made it one of my favorites of all time!

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932): This is an excellent portrayal of genetic engineering gone totally wrong, complete with drug-induced complacency. Read with caution, as it also contains more disturbing themes than the other two classics.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1950): A haunting commentary of society’s attention-deficiency and willingness to sacrifice literature and civil rights for mind-numbing entertainment. Its brevity proves that good things can come in small packages.

The Genre Re-Definers

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985): One of the most well-renowned feminist writers, Atwood illustrates an alternate dystopia where the feminist movement of the 1970s backfired, creating a twisted world where women are reproductive slaves. Given current politics in America, this story’s just as relevant almost 30 years later.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005): I’m hesitant to label this novel as science-fiction, or even describe its main premise for fear of spoiling the reading experience, but I will say that never have I seen an author blur the lines between genres as Ishiguro. A heartbreaking tale that transcends past, present, and future.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd (1988): I don’t normally include graphic novels, but this one epitomizes dystopia to the max. Based on the history of Guy Fawkes’ Day, it depicts the ultimate narrative of revolution. The V mask is a must-have for anarchists everywhere.

The Newcomers

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008): After flipping channels between reality TV and war footage, Collins wrote the bestselling trilogy of the ancient Greek-esque punishment for rebellion. Arguably too brutal for children, but it’s an apt critique of society’s desensitization of violence.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (2005): One of my favorite YA series, it demonstrates how our obsession with beauty and perfection often hides uglier interiors. Add an element of romance, and you’ve got the next silver screen contender.

Matched by Ally Condie (2010): Again, what’s a YA trilogy without a love triangle? Lit nerds will love its influence from poetry, and Twihards suffering withdrawals will soon have new boys to swoon over when Disney brings the adaptation to a theater near you.

So there you have it! My recommendations for those wanting to dive into dystopia! What other novels would you add to the list?