Another Green Book

An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green, was published in 2006. It was his second novel. It was the fourth novel by John Green that I have read.

The first sentence of An Abundance of Katherines is: “The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath.

Colin has dated nineteen girls in his life. All of them are named Katherine. All of them dumped him. Colin’s parents are sympathetic and offer support.

Colin is a prodigy, but not a genius. The book explains the difference: “Prodigies can very quickly learn what other people have already figured out; geniuses discover that which no one has ever previously discovered. Prodigies learn; Geniuses do.” Colin wishes he was a genius. He decides that all he needs is one “eureka” moment to become a genius.

His best, and only, friend, Hassan Harbish, convinces Colin that what they need is a road trip. It will help Colin get over Katherine XIX, explains Hassan, and could possibly result in that “eureka” moment.

Colin’s parents think a road trip is a terrific idea. Colin has to lie to Hassan’s parents to get them to agree.

So Colin and Hassan leave Chicago on a road trip in Colin’s car – an enormous gray Oldsmobile named “Satan’s Hearse”. They get as far as Gutshot, Tennessee, where they meet a 17-year-old girl named Lindsey Lee Wells, who has dated only one boy in her life – a boy named Colin (whom Colin and Hassan name The Other Colin, or TOC). Colin and Hassan are employed by Lindsey’s mother, who owns a factory which manufactures tampon strings. Their job is to interview the residents of Gutshot for a history book Hollis (Lindsey’s mother) is writing.

Colin and Hassan adjust to their new lives in Gutshot, Tennessee. Colin works on a formula of past Katherines. He hopes to use it to chart the course of all romantic relationships, and produce his eureka moment.

Colin Singleton has a gift for words. He speaks eleven languages. He’s a genius at anagrams. (Although, as Lindsey points out, he makes words out of other words, but doesn’t invent new words, which makes him a prodigy, not a genius.) He once memorized the first ninety-nine digits of pi and then constructed a ninety-nine word sentence with the first letter of each word corresponding to the digits of pi. (The sentence begins with: “Catfish always drink alcoholic ether if begged…”)

Hassan Harbish is a practicing Muslim, who constantly teases Colin about his lack of religion. Hassan practices his own, unique version of Islam, however: He believes that alcohol is haram, for example, but drinking only half a can of beer with the local Gutshot kids should be allowed. Hassan is also a slacker, with no plans for college, or anything else in his life. He figures that his father is rich enough that he doesn’t have to do anything.

An Abundance of Katherines is a funny and touching novel. I enjoyed it a lot. The story is not always believable, but it’s a comedy that doesn’t try to be entirely realistic. The book is clever, and makes humorous use of footnotes. (The Libby app handles footnotes well, by the way.) Sometimes a footnote will add additional information, like explaining who Archduke Franz Ferdinand was, or will go off on a tangent, like providing a brief history of television, or will just add a comment like “It’s true.”, or will contain the entire ninety-nine word sentence Colin wrote. There’s a lot of seemingly random trivia in this book.

Midway through the novel, I became curious about whether Gutshot, Tennessee is a real town, or not. As I suspected, it’s a fictional place. I did find something interesting in my search, however: There’s a list on Goodreads named “Books set in Gutshot, Tennessee”. The list contains just one book.

I want to read another John Green novel, but a different book has arrived at the library for me.

Norwegian Wood

I’ve finished reading Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami (the author of 1Q84).

I’d learned from YouTube that it’s one of his earlier novels (first published in 1987), and that it doesn’t contain the “magic realism” elements that are typical of his style. I picked it because, unlike other Murakami books at the library, it was available for immediate download.

The story starts with the middle-aged narrator, Toru Watanabe, on an airplane, landing in Hamburg. He hears an instrumental cover of the Beatles song Norwegian Wood, and it brings on some bittersweet memories.

Most of the rest of the book is a flashback to the late 1960s, when Watanabe was in college. He’s best friends with classmates Kizuki and Naoko (Kizuki’s girlfriend). The trio get along great together, but when Watanabe and Naoko are alone without Kizuki, the two of them can’t seem to come up with anything to talk about.

The book follows Watanabe’s college life, his strange roommate, his friends, and his one-night stands. The hippie movement and student protests were part of campus life, but Watanabe participated in neither one.

Toru Watanabe describes himself as an average man, with average abilities and interests. He’s a fan of classic American literature, especially The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who once said that you can’t trust any man who describes himself as average.

Kizuki kills himself on his 17th birthday, leaving behind no clue as to why. Watanabe and Naoko begin taking long Sunday walks together, gradually growing closer together. Right after her 20th birthday, Naoko checks herself into a sanatorium in the countryside.

Watanabe meets a classmate named Midori, who is an outgoing, uninhibited free spirit – in many ways the opposite of Watanabe. They spend time together, and Watanabe falls in love with her. When he tries to kiss her, Midori informs him that she has a boyfriend.

Watanabe visits Naoko in the sanatorium – a progressive institute where it’s often difficult for Watanabe to tell the doctors and patients apart. Watanabe meets Naoko’s roommate, Reiko. Over the next few days, Watanabe, Naoko, and Reiko become close friends.

Reiko helps Watanabe and Naoko define what their relationship is, as well as what it should be. Reiko also helps Watanabe sort out his feelings for Midori.

Despite the suicides (yes, more than one) and general gloom, Norwegian Wood is a beautiful novel. I enjoyed it a lot.

Reiko makes a passing remark, comparing Watanabe to Holden Caulfield (“that boy in Catcher in the Rye“), and quickly withdraws it, but I think that’s a pretty close comparison. Toru Watanabe is drifting through life, not really knowing what he’s looking for. He’s a borderline curmudgeon, but still a likable character.

There’s a circular quality to this novel, and that fascinates me. For instance, the way Watanabe keeps finding himself in three-way friendships, over and over.

Despite not having that element of magic that 1Q84 would have, there are some weird yet wonderful scenes in Norwegian Wood. I especially loved the scene where Watanabe and Midori are relaxing on the rooftop of Midori’s family’s bookstore, drinking beer and playing folk music, while watching the shop down the street burn.

Norwegian Wood is that type of novel that consists mainly of people sitting around talking, or sitting alone and thinking to themselves. It’s my kind of novel.

Norwegian Wood has one of the best endings I have read in a long time.

Fifty-Two Books

Well, I did it. I completed Popsugar’s 2017 Reading Challenge in 8 months, plus a few days. That’s 52 books in 248 days. That averages out to a book every 4.8 days. (There were some short books in there.)

The combination of having a goal, a deadline, and a commitment to document the completion of each book worked well for me.

There were books I liked, and books that didn’t thrill me. Some books disappointed me. I stuck to my self-imposed rule to complete every book I started for the Challenge, even if I wasn’t enjoying it. (I figured the point of a reading challenge is to be pushed out of one’s comfort zone.)

Here are ten books (in alphabetical order) I discovered, and fell in love with, along the way:

1Q84
Afterworlds
The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion
Asleep
Bestest. Ramadan. Ever
The Dalai Lama’s Cat
The Ghost Bride
The Golem and the Jinni
Orleans
Saga, Volume One

I read fifty books for the first time. I read two books I’d read before (because the Categories required it).

Seven books were eBooks. Forty-four were physical books. One book was an audio recording (because the Category required it).

I read one book by a former President of the United States. I read one book written by a future President of the United States.

I read books originally published in the USA, in the UK, in France, in Finland, in Iceland, and in Japan. I read a book by an author who was born in South Africa, and a book by an author born in Zimbabwe. I read an American book written by a Dutch author.

I plan to do this reading challenge next year. There are plenty of reading challenges out there, but so far, I like Popsugar’s the best – it’s full of surprising and off-beat Categories.

A Family Member

Brothers, by Ralph Josiah Bardsley, was published in 2015. An internet search for “book with a family member term in the title” lead me to this book.

BrothersJamus Cork is a Bostonian by heart, but he is attending graduate school in New York City. He is enjoying life in New York. He meets a man, by chance, in a bar and they fall in love. Life in New York is wonderful.

Jamus has his life planned out. He will finish school, stay in New York, and be a writer.

Then, both of his parents die in a car crash. Jamus’ only brother, Nick, had been born just before Jamus left for college. Nick was three years old when their parents died.

Now, Jamus is back in the South End neighborhood of Boston, raising Nick on his own. This is not the life Jamus Cork was planning.

Jamus has a good job in a bookstore. He continues to write. He loves his brother, and does his best to be a good guardian. Still, Jamus has nightmares of the crash that killed his parents.

Brothers Jamus and Nick Cork are more like father and son.

Sean Malloy has finished graduate school in west Massachusetts, with a doctorate in Education. He’s returning to Boston. As he’s packing, Sean receives a phone call from his brother, Kevin. Kevin has just been honorably discharged from the Marines.

Brothers Sean and Kevin Malloy move back into their parents’ house in South Boston. Their two sisters live nearby. Sean’s teaching career is at odds with his family’s blue color background.

Grace Kinvara grew up in South Boston. She went to school with Sean and Kevin. Kevin had asked Grace to the prom, but she told him she was waiting for Sean to ask her. It caused a rift between the two brothers for a while. Sean didn’t ask her to the prom, however.

Now, Grace is still making romantic moves toward Sean, but he’s clearly not interested. Kevin can’t figure it out. Neither can Father Richards, who thinks Sean and Grace would make a wonderful couple.

Nick becomes a rebellious, tough teenager. He’s known, all his life, that his brother is gay, and, to him, it’s just who his brother is. Other kids are not so accepting. Nick gets into fights. During one fight, he calls his opponent, whose parents are from Nigeria, a racial slur. Nick is stopped by his English teacher, Mister Malloy, who calls Nick’s guardian in for a parent-teacher conference.

It’s not the first time Sean Malloy and Jamus Cork had met each other. They’d locked eyes during Mass once, and had had a casual conversation afterwards. Grace noticed the way Sean and Jamus had looked at each other.

More than halfway into this 250-page book, Sean and Jamus go on a date. It’s Jamus’ first date in ten years. Jamus is afraid to tell his bother that he’s going on a date with his English teacher. Sean is afraid to tell his brother that he’s going on a date with a man. Sean has never gone on a date with a man before.

Brothers is a pretty good novel. It was a little slow at times, and the ending wrapped up a little too neatly, I thought, but I enjoyed it, overall. It was full of side stories and plot twists, just enough to keep it interesting. It’s a character-driven story.

My favorite character was Nick, who grows from a child wondering why his brother takes him to the park alone, unlike the other “parents”, to a teenager wondering why his brother doesn’t keep any of his novels on the bookshelf at home. When he gets a copy of Angel of New York, Jamus’ most popular novel, Nick begins to wonder how much truth there is in the story of a gay street kid, high on drugs, who kills his family in a car crash.

  • A book with a family-member term in the title

Things Japanese

Yesterday, right before I left for work, I downloaded Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami (author of 1Q84) onto my phone. I don’t have a lot of time for reading during my commute, but I’ve found that I enjoy reading a few pages along the way, and that I also enjoy reading on my phone.

The Seattle Public Library has a good selection of eBooks by Haruki Murakami, and I’d learned a little bit about his work from reviews on YouTube. I picked Norwegian Wood because it was available for immediate download.

Yesterday, at work, while listening to YouTube videos, I clicked on a “Recommended for you” video about a tiny apartment in Japan. That apartment was rented by an Australian named Emma, who goes by “Tokidoki Traveler”, who’s living in Tokyo. That lead me to Tokidoki Traveller’s channel. I watched (mostly listened to) a few of her videos. Along the way, I learned that there’s a whole genre of “ex-pats living in Japan” YouTube channels out there. My favorites, so far, are “Tokidoki Traveller” and “Rachel and Jun”. (I really miss “Texan in Tokyo“!) I’m sure there are channels by ex-pats living in countries other than Japan, but I haven’t yet figured out how to find them.

I came home from work, intending to write a blog post about my eBook download and the YouTube channel I’d discovered, but I got into Cities: Skylines and didn’t get around to blogging. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t get around to blogging yesterday, because last night, Phillip and I watched the latest in our Netflix queue: a Japanese anime named Tekkonkinkreet.

The film was gorgeous to look at. I wanted most of the background as a piece of artwork. Unfortunately, neither one of us liked the film. But, at least, it filled out a Japan-themed day quite nicely.

More Than 800 Pages

1Q84, by Haruki Murakami, was published, as a single volume, in 2011. The trade paperback edition of the novel, which I borrowed from the library, is 1,157 pages long.

1Q841Q84 was originally published in three volumes, between 2009 and 2010. Volumes 1 and 2 were translated from Japanese into English by Jay Rubin. Volume 3 was translated by Philip Gabriel.

Aomame’s name is written with the same characters as the word for “green peas”, and it’s pronounced with the same four syllables: “Ah-oh-mah-meh”. People have a hard time believing that that’s her real name, but it is. Her grandfather came from a village where a lot of people are supposedly named Aomame, but Aomame has never met another person with the same name as her.

Aomame is in the back of an unusually luxurious taxi. Janáček’s Sinfonietta is playing on the cab’s stereo. Aomama is lost in the music, until she remembers that she is heading for an important meeting, and they’re stuck in a traffic jam on a Tokyo expressway. She’s going to be late for her meeting. The cab driver gives her an “extreme” solution: Leave the cab, climb down the expressway maintenance ladder, to the street three stories below, and take the subway to her meeting.

Aomame pays her fare and as she leaves the taxi, in the middle of the expressway, the cab driver tells her: “Don’t let appearances fool you… There’s always only one reality.

Tengo has a memory from when he was one-and-a-half years old. A man, who is not his father, is sucking on his mother’s breasts. Tengo realizes it’s unusual to remember anything from such a young age. It’s even more unusual that he sees himself in the memory, as if reading a story in the third person.

Tengo has this memory often, and every time he does, it causes him to have a kind of seizure.

Tengo is in a café near Shinjuku Station when he has this vivid memory, and the resulting seizure. They both last about ten seconds. He’s in the café with his friend and mentor, Komatsu. They had been discussing an author named Fuka-Eri and her debut novel Air Chrysalis. It had been submitted to a new writers’ competition. Tengo and Komatsu agree that the novel is poorly written, certainly not a prize winner, and yet it’s a compelling book.

Komatsu is a magazine editor. Tengo is a school teacher, and part-time writer. The two met five years earlier, when Tengo submitted a piece for Komatsu’s magazine’s new writers’ competition. Komatsu informed Tengo that the piece was not good enough to win the competition, but showed enough potential that Komatsu offered to become Tengo’s mentor, judging everything Tengo wrote. Eventually, Komatsu hired Tengo as a screener for the new writers’ competition.

Komatsu presents an idea to Tengo: Air Chrysalis should be submitted to the prestigious Akutagawa Prize. It would have to be completely rewritten, however, and Komatsu suggests that Tengo do it. Tengo has skill but lacks imagination, Komatsu points out, while Fuka-Eri has imagination but lacks skill. Tengo rejects the idea. It sounds like committing fraud, he says.

As she descends the maintenance ladder, Aomame has a memory of a lesbian experimentation she once had with a classmate. The memory is vivid, and seems entwined with Janáček’s Sinfonietta, but she can’t remember what year it took place. In fact, she’s suddenly having difficulty remembering any dates at all. “It is now April 1984. I was born in… that’s it… 1954. I can remember that much.

On her way to the subway station, a police officer passes her. His uniform is the standard police uniform, but it’s slightly different. He’s carrying a sophisticated automatic weapon, instead of the typical revolver.

Aomame arrives at the hotel. She cleans herself up. She knocks on the door of room 426. She tells Mr. Miyama that she’s a member of the hotel staff, there to inspect a faulty air conditioner.

Aomame murders Mr. Miyama quietly and professionally. She leaves the hotel, looking like any other business woman. She leaves nothing behind that would suggest it was anything other than a heart attack.

Tengo meets with Fuka-Eri, still unsure whether he’ll take on Komatsu’s plan. Fuka-Eri is a 17-year old girl who doesn’t display many emotions. She speaks in short sentences, without inflection. She doesn’t go to Tengo’s school, but she’s attended a couple of his lectures. She doesn’t care much for literature, despite having written Air Chrysalis. She claims she didn’t submit the novel to the competition, but won’t say who did. She doesn’t care if Tengo rewrites her book or not. She doesn’t care much about anything. Suddenly, Tengo decides to do the rewrite. Fuka-Eri says that before he does, there’s someone he should meet. She won’t say who this person is until they meet him.

Aomame goes to a bar, and strikes up a conversation with a stranger. She asks him about the new police uniforms. The man remembers the change, but thinks it was a long time ago. The bartender tells them that the police updated their uniforms, and began carrying automatic weapons, about two years ago, following a confrontation with a militarized cult. It was quite a big story, he says. Aomame doesn’t remember that. She goes back to the man’s hotel room, and they have sex. Afterwards, she watches the news, and sees an update about the moon base being built as a joint project by the Soviet Union and the USA. This is the first time Aomame has heard of this moon base.

Aomame forms a hypothesis: Her world, or the whole world, has changed. It’s no longer 1984, she decides. It’s now something she names “1Q84”.

That’s the first hundred or so pages, less than ten percent of 1Q84.

When I picked up 1Q84 at the library, I had very little idea what it was about. I knew it had something to do with parallel worlds, or alternate realities, or something along those lines. But that’s all I knew. I guessed it might be science fiction, but I wasn’t even sure of that. I picked it for the Challenge mainly for its number of pages.

At the end of “Book 1”, 387 pages into the novel, I still had no idea where it was going, but I couldn’t put it down. It was reminding me, somewhat, of the TV show Lost. Everyday events become mystical. Details begin looking like clues to solve a mystery. But I didn’t even know what that mystery might be.

At the end of “Book 2”, at page 739, I began to understand how the worlds (whatever worlds those might be) of Aomame, Tengo, Fuka-Eri, and Air Chrysalis were connected, but I still didn’t understand why they were connected. The book still had around 400 pages to go, and I didn’t know where it was going, and I didn’t want to put the book down.

I had been on a long waiting list at the library for this book, and I knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to renew it, so I made plans for when my three-week loan would be up and I hadn’t finished the book. That didn’t happen. Reading 1Q84 was like binge-watching Lost. I’d open the book, intending to read a chapter, the story would take an unexpected twist, and I just had to keep reading to find out what that twist meant. I’d continue reading another chapter, and then another. I flew through the thousand pages in less than three weeks. I’ve never read a book that quickly – until now.

1Q84 is an amazing book. It’s a mystery, and a detective story, and a romance. It’s erotic (and quite graphic). I won’t tell you if it’s science fiction or not, because that would be spoiling it. The characters are fascinating and the story is compelling.

Actually, the story consumed me. It brought me into its world (or worlds) and wouldn’t let me go.

I absolutely loved 1Q84. It’s now one of my all-time favorite books.

  • A book that’s more than 800 pages

 

Buried In Book Pages

I have been into a book, lately, more than I’ve ever been into a book. (I’ll be posting a review soon, so I won’t reveal the title just yet.) I can’t put this book down. It’s taken over my life. It’s amazing.

I’ve spent evenings without ever jumping onto the computer. I haven’t been playing Cities: Skylines or The Sims 4 or Kerbal Space Program. I haven’t been hanging out on Facebook much.

Last Tuesday, Phillip and I spent a short, but enjoyable, visit with Amy in her new digs in Crown Hill. Afterwards, Phillip and I ate hamburgers in our car, in the Dick’s parking lot. When we got home, I read more of this book instead of writing a blog post.

Last night, Phillip and I spent a fantastic evening of fondue and Scrabble with Colin and Sam. When we got home, I read more of this book instead of writing a blog post.

I don’t usually write a “why I haven’t been posting” post, but this is why I haven’t been posting.

Another Disruptive Day

With the move underway, and the solar eclipse, I suspect our department’s production levels were lower than normal today.

I expected that I’d be moving into my new cubical last Friday. I turned down a day at Hempfest because of it. Then I expected to be moved in today. I suddenly realized that I’d underestimated the enormity of moving a department from one floor to another. My department started moving on Friday. The move is continuing. I also realize that my coworker and I are out of the way, in our little room. We’re not blocking anything. We’re both probably low priority.

My coworker and I took a break this morning, and walked over the one of the plazas at Columbia Center to view the eclipse. There were a lot of people there who, apparently had the same idea. It was quite the impromptu little party.

I didn’t have eclipse viewing gear, so I experienced the effect of the light on the buildings surrounding us. We didn’t get the full eclipse in Seattle, but it was still impressive. The thing that surprised me was how cold it got. We’re still in a heat wave, but during the eclipse, it got downright chilly. At the time, I thought it was merely the buildings reflecting the cooler air from the waterfront, but a few friends who don’t work Downtown commented on the sudden cold. I didn’t know a solar eclipse could do that.

Meanwhile, I have just two books left in the 2017 Reading Challenge. I’m currently reading one of them. The other one, which I have picked out, is on the shelf at the Central Library. I could have picked it up when Phillip and I met up there after work on Friday, but I want to get nearer to the end of one I’m reading now before I start a second one. The one I’m reading now is huge. (A glance at the Reading Challenge page will tell you that I’m reading a book for the “more than 800 pages” Category.)

After the movie on Sunday, over dinner, Phillip and Kelly agreed that they’d never seen me read as quickly as I’ve been reading lately. Again, I credit the combination of having a goal and having a minimum of distractions (no TV, and no internet on the laptop) for completing 50 books by the middle of August.

I currently have no eBooks on my phone.

Difficulty

One of the things I love about Popsugar’s Reading Challenge is how vague, and open to interpretation, its categories can be. There’s “A book about a difficult topic”, for instance. Does that mean a topic that’s difficult for me, or difficult for society in general? Does that mean emotionally difficult, as in a story of abuse, or difficult to comprehend, as in a book about quantum physics? I tend to over think some of these categories, but that’s actually part of the fun.

I put several books on my “For Later” library shelf for this category, unable to decide in which direction I wanted to go. I finally decided to go for a topic that’s emotionally difficult for me, and also (I hope) society in general. Maybe it will be difficult for some people to comprehend.

The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin, was first published in 1963. I downloaded it from the library and read it on my phone.The Fire Next Time

The book consists of two essays. The first essay is titled: “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation.

James Baldwin wrote this letter to offer hope and encouragement to his nephew – on both a personal and national level.

I know what the world has done to my brother and how narrowly he has survived it. And I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of man. (But remember: most of mankind is not all of mankind.)

He makes a point that every civil rights struggle is simultaneously unique and shared. He urges his nephew to be strong and recognize that there are those who will insist that he isn’t being oppressed – which is an act of oppression.

The second essay is titled: “Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind.

In this essay, James Baldwin tells about growing up in Harlem, and getting assaulted by the police at the age of 10, on his was to the library. He tells about finding Christianity at the age of 14. He wrote at length about “the Negro problem”.

Negroes in this country – and Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking, exist in any other – are taught to despise themselves from the moment their eyes open on the world. The world is white and they are black.

He tells about his early Christian faith, and what it meant to him. He tells about what he thought Christianity should be, versus the way it was being used.

He turned to Islam for answers. Although he didn’t agree with everything the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam were saying, they did, at least, treat him better than the Christians. And yet, he writes, he didn’t consider himself Muslim, and he didn’t consider himself Christian.

The Fire Next Time is a powerful, thoughtful, and difficult book. Its two essays are filled with anger, pain, love, hope, beauty, history, politics, and humanity. It is a book about problems, solutions, and the problems with solutions.

It is a book about how flawed the United States of America is.

  • A book about a difficult topic

A Bangsian Fantasy Book

This was a tough category. How in the world do you find a book in a genre or subgenre that you’ve never heard of? The internet is the obvious place to start, but what exactly do you search for?

Then it came to me.

I searched for “obscure book genres”. This lead me to a list of genres, some of which I had never heard of, along with books within those genres. This lead me to “Bangsian fantasy”.

BestFantasyBooks.com defines Bangsian fantasy like this:

Bangsian Fantasy is a sub-genre primarily concerned with the afterlife and specifically with the exploration of the afterlife. The sub-genre gets its name from author John Kendrick Bangs. Bangs wrote stories about the afterlife and the supernatural, but with a humorous style. Bangs is not the first writer, nor the last, who wrote stories like these, but his work gave the sub-genre shape.

A common feature of Bangsian Fantasy is the inclusion of dead famous people and mythological characters. These stories tend (though not always) to have a genial tone. There are three main categories that Bangsian stories fall into: ghosts stuck in the living world, living people stuck in the world of the dead, and people who have died in a Heaven (or Hell). All Bangsian stories try to answer the question of: “So I’m dead, now what?”

A list of Bangsian fantasy books led me to The Ghost Bride.

The Ghost Bride, by Yangsze Choo, was published in 2013. I downloaded it from The Seattle Public Library and read it on my phone.

The Ghost BridePart One takes place in Malaya, in 1893. The narrator is a 17 year-old woman named Li Lan.

Li Lan’s father has asked her if she would like to become a ghost bride. It wasn’t a question, however.

A young man about Li Lan’s age, named Lim Tian Ching, had died a few months earlier. He was a member of the Lim family, one of the wealthiest families in Malacca.

The head of the Lim family had approached Li Lan’s father about marrying his daughter to Lim Tian Ching. The practice of marrying a dead person was uncommon, and used in only special situations, such as a marrying a deceased concubine so that a son could be legitimate.

Li Lan’s father had once been a successful businessman, but after smallpox killed his wife and scarred him, he retired from business. Now, he has very little money left. He sees marrying Li Lan into the Lim family as a way to give her a better life.

Li Lan had seen Lim Tian Ching once or twice around the city, but he’d made no impression on her. It is a mystery to Li Lan why the Lim family chose her.

Li Lan is invited to meet Madam Lim at the Lim mansion. The sprawling home is more beautiful than anything Li Lan could have imagined. There, she happens to meet the servant who maintains the mansion’s many clocks. She is quite impressed with this handsome, intelligent, and charming young man, and can’t stop thinking about him.

Li Lan learns of the connection between her family and the Lim family. She learns the identity of the clock-cleaning servant, and the reason behind the wedding proposal.

The night after her visit with Madam Lim, Li Lan meets Lim Tian Ching in a dream. In one of the dreams that follow, Lim Tian Ching asks Li Lan to marry him. Li Lan is disgusted. She tells him no.

Ghosts can be powerful beings, however – and so can mediums, who promise to protect you from ghosts.

Part One of The Ghost Bride is a historic drama. It tells of life in Malaya when it was a British colony. More specifically, it tells of life in the port city of Malacca. It’s a lively, melting-pot city of many races, languages, religions, ceremonies, and beliefs.

Part Two of The Ghost Bride is more of a fantasy. It takes place in the afterworld.

Li Lan is a spirit, but her comatose body is still alive. Her doctor tries to awaken her, while she watches, as a helpless spectator, from outside.

While learning the physics of the spirit world, Li Lan travels to the Lim mansion, where she uncovers layers of mystery surrounding the death of Lim Tian Ching.

Li Lan travels the streets of Malacca, as a wandering spirit. She learns from ghosts waiting for the right moment to enter the Plains of the Dead and face the Nine Courts of Hell. She learns from ghosts unable to move on. She learns to hide from demons.

She learns to enter people’s dreams, as Lim Tian Ching had entered hers.

Li Lan has a feeling that she needs to find a way to enter the Plains of the Dead, but she doesn’t understand why she has this feeling. All she knows is that getting there is going to be difficult, since Lim Tian Ching controls the border guards.

Part Three of The Ghost Bride is named “The Plains of the Dead”.

Ghosts in the afterworld have many of the same needs as a living person, including food, transportation, and money. A ghost receives these things from offerings left at their shrine. This presents a problem for Li Lan, since she isn’t dead. Li Lan is resourceful, however. With a ghost as her guide, and with the aid of friends in the land of the living, Li Lan travels across the vast Plains of the Dead.

Part Four of The Ghost Bride is named “Malacca”.

Existence in the Plains of the Dead is difficult. Finding your way back to the land of the living is more difficult. Knowing whom to trust is even more difficult.

Ghosts, just like the living, are not always who they claim to be.

The Ghost Bride is a complex story, and yet it was easy to follow. It’s a mystery story, and a young adult romance, and a tale of political intrigue, and a historic drama, and a ghost story.

I loved everything about this book. I loved the character of Li Lan, as well as the other characters. I loved learning about a history and culture I had been previously unaware of. I loved all the details the author, Yangsze Choo, wove into the worlds she created. I loved the twists and turns this story followed. And so on.

After the end of the story, Yangsze Choo provides further information about ghost marriages (which were practiced primarily in overseas Chinese communities, such as Malaysia, and almost unheard of in mainland China), as well as the Chinese vision of the afterlife, taken from parts of many religions. She provides more information on the history of Malaysia – known as Malaya at the time of this novel’s story. She includes information about Chinese dialects, and the names and words used in the story.

Yes, I absolutely loved this book.

  • A book from a genre/subgenre that you’ve never heard of