The Warded Man

Enjoyable, but with notable caveats.

The world and the not too large cast of point of view characters is well done. The main conceit is that demons or ‘corelings’ manifest from under the earth from a ‘Core’ (the center of the earth) every night. Sunlight is fatal but they are nearly impossible to kill otherwise and the world must work around that. Buildings and property are protected with wards, which are usually carved, but a scratch to the carving or some other small disruption can make it useless, so families and whole villages are killed on a regular basis. A cultural effect of this is an emphasis on early marriage and procreation, because humanity is more or less in constant danger of being wiped out if not constantly replenished. However, this is no excuse for a male writer to have his female character talk about their ‘flower’ so often or even, really, ever.

Also, I was often disappointed in the action scenes. But the small things, like trade being done by Messenger (capital M), who use portable warding circles but are still respected for being willing to be outside at night for weeks at a time. Aspects of matriarchy creeping into societies, because motherhood is more than usually key to a locale’s survival.

Will I read the next one? Maybe. I’m not one hundred percent sold yet.


The Tattoo Murder Case

Rather like my first foray into Japanese mysteries, this one flips the script by providing a false protagonist for a large portion of the novel. Though the seeming person who will solve the crime, turns out not to, he (Kenzo, if you are curious) is, arguably the protagonist. Kyosuke, nicknamed the Boy Genius (I hope that sounds better in Japanese), a friend of Kenzo, is the one who solves the crime.

While a couple of items could have been guessed, like Doyle’s famed mysteries, the reader isn’t really given enough to definitively solve on her/his own.

I think I liked to the steady proceduralism of Points and Lines more than The Tattoo Mystery‘s more holmesian style.

The Barnes Foundation

This was my first time visiting the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and it was a moderate disappointment.

Many years, while the old Barnes building was being remodeled (they moved to the current location when it became clear that the original building simply could never be made suitable for safely storing and displaying the collection), I saw a temporary exhibit of many of the collection’s works at the Musée d’Orsay and it left a strong impression (though I was also pretty young back then).

I added that parenthetical caveat because, seeing it again in its new home, I was left unsatisfied. It didn’t seem like they actually had much gallery space and the curatorial choices were downright baffling.

The galleries were small, but items were hung in the style of traditional eighteenth and nineteenth century salons, but those salons were traditionally in much bigger rooms, so the effect is different and feels cramped. Also, every room had a long of ironwork on the walls. Not sure why.

I am not sure because there are not placards identifying the pieces, only individual room guides, which I didn’t have the capacity to view because I had a child with me. She loves art, but she is still a kid and not inclined to wait around while her father reads booklets.

I am also a little baffled about the choices of why paintings were placed together. It seemed vaguely but weirdly thematic (a room of mostly paintings of children; a room of mostly women getting dressed/undressed). And, if we are honest, in the service of these presumed themes, a lot of second rate paintings were put out. I love many second rate paintings and second tier artists, but I want some context, which context was placed just out of my reach.

On the good side, it was family day, so the little one got to make a sketch book and see a lot of dancing (hip hop, tap, Indian, and Cambodian).

The picture near the top is by yours truly, the coffee philosopher. The rest were taken by the little one. Like her father did at that age, she has a thing for African masks.

The Brightened Mind

For the life of me, I can’t remember what possessed me to put this book on hold. The best guess I have is because I read it was about Thai Buddhism. But, while the author appears to be a convert to that practice, it’s really just another, new age-y book about mindfulness and meditation for the keenly felt stress of being white and having money in a country that values both those qualities immensely (and where both those qualities are deeply intertwined).


Before They Are Hanged

I don’t know why I chose to return to this series, having read the first volume a couple of years ago, while visiting the in-laws in Thailand (pre-fatherhood, I used to get a lot reading done in Thailand; not that it wasn’t constantly fascinating, but a time whenever around you is speaking a language you can’t understand is a pretty good time to read a book).

While my memory of the first book isn’t as sharp as it could be, I felt that several characters got some nice fleshing out, relative to their introduction in the earlier volume, and some interesting new characters were introduced.

But we also got some clunky exposition dumps and… was the major, continuing plot thread a snipe hunt?

But I reckon that I will finish this series, regardless.

The Tale Of Genji: The Blue Trousers

This volume I have tentatively nicknamed, A Tale of Mellow Genji.

Every so often, Murasaki lets us know approximately how old characters are, but it’s intermittent and she likes to do multiyear jumps forwarded. Genji turns forty during this volume and appears to end it in mid or even late forties.

There is more than a bit own petard hoisting, as Genji finds himself cuckolded. Though he really doesn’t feel that bad about it and is not nearly so embarrassed as you might think (though, of course, he still keeps it relatively secret, even though his son suspects).

He is pressured into marrying his half brother’s (a former emperor who abdicated the throne) favorite daughter, in order to guarantee she is will cared for. To modern sensibilities, this is icky for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that the girl is thirteen and very childlike (she carries on a correspondence with Genji’s favorite concubine about the “activities” of her dolls).

One of his son’s friends develops an infatuation and has one night stand, as it were, with her (the novel constantly portrays it as being almost rude for a woman to say no to sex if the man has succeeded in getting her alone in a room and past a modesty screen), resulting in child which, based on the lack of recent sex (a year, Genji specifies) between her and her husband, is clearly not the product of the marriage bed.

The friend dies of grief and shame (sort of) and Yugiri goes on to seduce his widow.

It’s that kind of book.

Lady Murasaki (the character, not the author) dies, as well, leaving Genji, the reader feels, without a moral center.

I started to read the next volume and was quickly shocked. It opens with the country in shocked mourning because Genji is dead. This hit me pretty hard and I was legitimately upset and had to put it down for a bit.

Narratively, it makes sense because, ultimately, the personal narrative of Genji is of a man who constantly lets his lust and passions direct him. Whether trying to seduce two different girls he informally adopted, sleeping with the only girl for a hundred miles while in exile. He comes across not so much as sex-obsessed, but as someone who is easily distracted by the appearance of even the slightest chance of a some sly nookie.

But, still… sigh. I was constantly repulsed by his actions and thoughtlessness, but the author did her work well, because I miss him, in spite of it all.

The Tale Of Genji: A Wreath Of Cloud

I picked up Genji again after a long absence and, after some initial struggles getting back up to speed (it’s got a huge cast of characters and is episodic, so it’s both easy to lost and easy to make yourself push through to the next ‘episode’ or event), I was quickly re-immersed in that world.

While Genji himself has mellowed a little with age (he ends this third book of the tale in his late thirties), it is getting easier to see him as the villain of his own story.

He is more or less running the country on behalf of the Emperor (who is, secretly, his son, having had an affair with his father’s concubine, which is not nearly the creepiest sexual encounter of his life so far), but honestly doesn’t seem to be paying that much attention to affairs of state. As usual, women take a great deal of his attention.

There was a long, running thread of finding the long lost daughter of a woman who Genji had loved, but whose lover was not the titular protagonist, but his friend and sometimes rival, To no Chujo.

A series of coincidences allow Genji’s servant to rescue her and bring her to his palace where he immediately reunites her with her father, To no Chujo. Just kidding. He tells everyone she’s his daughter and manages to both encourage suitable men to court her and also to try and sleep with her himself. He doesn’t succeed, but the moral center of the tale, his primary spouse, Murasaki, reminds him that before they became lovers, she was a young girl he was raising as a daughter.

The beautiful flow of the tale and the strangeness of the time and place (at least to a western reader) often lets the reader glide past these things, but every so often, you think… yucky.

As always, a reminder that modern sexual mores about pre- and extra-marital sex are pretty recent (the sort of adopted daughter’s husband is basically chosen by which one she lets sneak into her room and make love to her).

And some personal fantasy nostalgia for a time and place where people would communicate by poetry on an almost daily basis (most written communication takes the form of short poems, with more or less allusive meanings).