Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A time to be thankful

We've got a lot to be grateful for this season, despite our economic woes and the growing preference for screens and 'zines over tomes. Americans seem to want gravitas in everything except what they read. 

But things could be worse, I suppose. McCain could have won. But he didn't, so in January there'll be one less turkey in Washington. One could tell the departing foul (sic) to get stuffed, or just flip him a bird on the way out. 

But why be mean-spirited? Let's enjoy family and friends and all the things in our lives that we like, and let's be grateful for all the people who have gone out of their way this year to give us a kind word, a pat on the back, a hot meal. 

For those who want to explore the web of their relationships with others, I encourage them to look at Gregg Krech's fascinating book about Naikan, a Japanese form of psychotherapy that explores not the self alone but the self in society. In our more crowded world and amid a growing sense of interdependence and mutual concern, it's important to understand not justwhat makes me me, but what makes me and you us. For more about naikan, visit the Todo Institute. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"A good night for the English language"

So glad I dipped into James Wood's wonderful parsing of Obama's speechifying in this week's New Yorker. Since Obama's election I've watched You Tube and other postings of Obama's oratory, in particular his fabulous treatise on race in America last spring and his acceptance speech in Chicago. I"ve listened to these two speeches a couple times, yet still I get chills and now, with his victory, even teary-eyed. George never made me cry, only cry out, and Sarah made me wince. But listening to Obama, I get carried off on a near-dreamlike sea of rhetoric and meaning, and feel connected once again to my own past, my country, my civilization. 

Wood's article analyzes the magic behind the power of Obama to move. It's magic, yes, but not a trick or a fabrication. While Obama  of course, like any great orator, weaves together words, rhythms, and images, he shows himself to be more a master allusionist, an exploiter of phrases that resonate through the American subconscious. "By the people, for the people" is maybe the most obvious example. Wood also points to Obama's clever archaism of "where we are met with cynicism" echoing Lincoln's "met on a great battlefield," and his use of the word "promise" to evoke the "promised land" that MLK claimed to see on the eve of his assassination. Barack being smart, and gifted, it is no coincidence that he is drinking from the well of these two leaders, both of whom have become iconic vessels of our nation's yearning for both heroes and salvation.

It's great to see smart language in a public place. And it's great to see powerful oratory used to generate hope instead of fear. I'm basically a words-on-the-page guy, but when it comes to making sweet music out of language, Obama's got my vote.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Exploring Kyoto called “the ideal travel guide”

Midwest Book Review’s “Wisconsin Bookwatch” gives Judith Clancy’s updated guidebook Exploring Kyoto high praise, calling it “a superbly written and thoroughly ‘user friendly‘ guide to what this beautiful city and its surrounding countryside have to offer,” and declaring it “the ideal travel guide.“

Now I know that since Yohan’s demise it has been hard finding this book in Japan, but I’m told that you can get it at Junkudo Kyoto, Kyoto Handicraft Center, Shin Miyako Hotel, Book First Kyoto, with more shops to come. Anyone heading to Japan this fall or in the coming months will absolutely love this book, and it will open the city up to you in ways no other guidebook can. (Japan bookstores: Get your act together already!! Readers — and publishers— are getting impatient!!)

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Big Interview with Fred Schodt in Electric Ant!

SAME HAT! SAME HAT! This “weekly manga commentary, featuring horror, gag & erotic-grotesque nonsense” reports that the new zine Electric Ant http://electricantzine.com/ features a long interview with Fred Schodt, author of Manga! Manga, Dreamland Japan! , and The Astro Boy Essays (among other fine works about Japan and Japanese culture). Look for Electric Ant on your local newsstand or wherever fine ‘zines are sold!