Things that made me happy this week #1

Ellie at Lit Nerd has been doing a thing for a while called "Things that made me happy this week", and I thought I would join in. Yay!

1. Actually spending time with my husband
My husband has been working like CRAZY recently, including going into work in the mornings, and as he goes to work so early and gets back so late I end up not having much time to see him during the day... but that just makes the time that I can spend with him over the weekend feel more special! So I am very happy that I got to spend most of Saturday and Sunday with him <3

Ebizou Ichikawa, one of the Kabuki actors we went to see!
2. Going to see Kabuki
Kabuki, if you don't know, is a traditional style of Japanese play that involves singing, dancing, and elaborate acrobatic fight scenes. It was on my list of things to do in Japan at some point, and I finally got round to actually going on Saturday! Yay! The performance that we went to was about 4 hours long (although that includes some little breaks as they change scenery and one 30 minute break where we ate tea and another 10 or 15 minute break later), and I thought that I might get bored half way through but it was pretty entertaining!

If any of you ever come to Japan and are interested in that kind of thing I recommend it! Tickets for good seats are pretty expensive (we got them through my husband's company and they were very heavily discounted - we paid quite a bit less than half price), but if you ever come to Japan it might be worth going to! You can apparently go on the day and get tickets for just one act, which would maybe be about an hour and is much cheaper, although the seats aren't as good (and half of them are standing). They have English audio guides and a new subtitle thing that you can rent that explain what is going on. I actually used the subtitle thing myself as the Japanese used in the plays is pretty old and I wasn't sure whether I would understand it. My husband got an audio guide in Japanese and said that it was really helpful for him too!

3. Signing up for some MOOCs 
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course), if you don't know, are courses that you can do online for free. There's a massive amount of variation in them,  but a lot of them are basically the equivalent of doing a university module. It's been a while since I was in education, but I have recently realised that although I don't mind most of the translation work I do, the translation that I actually enjoy the most is to do with health and medicine, so I have decided to take a few MOOCs to boost my credentials and knowledge so I can hopefully break into the medical translation industry (at the moment whenever I'm doing something related to medicine I just bombard my mum (who recently retired but was a doctor) with questions). Yay! You can pay for certificates to prove that you have passed the course, which I wouldn't do if I was just doing it for fun, but I definitely will if I'm doing it for professional reasons. Plus, tax write-off, yayyy!!!

If you haven't investigated them before and the idea sounds interesting, I think the three biggest sites are Coursera, EdX and Udacity, and there are all kinds of courses on there from highly respected universities, so even if you're just doing it for fun, I'm sure you could find something interesting! I kind of wish that the Japanese equivalent was more developed (there are some courses in Japanese, but although some of them sound interesting to do for fun, it would be nice to have some that would help me in a professional capacity).

YAY FOR LEARNING! I'm excited to get started, although first I'm doing a course that is supposed to help you learn techniques to learn more efficiently in the hopes that it will help me actually retain most of what I learn, hehe.

If anybody is interested in this I might do a post about it once I've either finished or am part way through some of the courses that I am going to do.

4. Lovely weather
Japan is on the verge of passing over into too hot for comfort territory, but at the moment it is pretty nice! It's sunny almost every day and not too hot, and it's nice to not have to wrap myself in millions of layers every day to stay warm. I love Japan, but houses here really really really need better insulation. Or insulation at all. And central heating! And to look nicer! Hehe. Hopefully there'll be at least a couple more weeks of this before we hit the rainy season (although I don't mind the rainy season either because I have cute wellies. Cute things make everything better!)


February, March and April reading round-up

Well my plan to do a monthly post about what I have read hasn't really worked, has it?! Oh well...

Luckily (???), a lot of my reading time in February to April was taken up with War and Peace, so I don't have too many books to talk about!

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Go back on the blog for my posts on War and Peace (which are full of spoilers, by the way. So maybe don't do that!). There are a lot of them! The readalong ended a while ago now, and I kind of miss it, while also being happy that I have my reading freedom back. One thing that I realised is that at the moment I really don't want to be reading more than one fiction book at a time, so I ended up giving up on trying to read other things for the most part, which wasn't great. Oh well!

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

I enjoyed reading this, and it has made me want to read more Capote. I knew though that although this is non-fiction that there have been parts of it that have been proven not to be true, so I had that thought in the back of my mind the whole time I was reading it which was slightly annoying.

The Martian by Andy Weir

I really liked it. I would recommend it if sciencey stuff doesn't put you off! I really don't have anything else to say about it that hasn't already been said by pretty much everyone I have heard talking about the book.

Attack on Titan volumes 3, 4 and 5 by Hajime Isayama

I started reading this at the end of last year because I realised I was consuming absolutely nothing in Japanese at all, and I like it so far, although it is a bit gruesome. I'm not absolutely enamoured with it though, which is why I haven't got further than volume 5, in spite of having the next few volumes of manga just sitting over there *points* waiting to be read.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

This was pretty gripping, and I liked the fact that the whole apocalypse part of the story didn't play out at all like I thought it would. For a book that is about the world being attacked by giant insects, there is (if you haven't heard anything about the book before) a surprising amount of focus placed on the main character and his extremely complicated relationships with his best friend who is in love with the main character, and his girlfriend. I'm not sure I've read anything else that has portrayed teenager's relationships in quite the same way, and I thought that aspect of it was really interesting.

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

I meant to do a separate post about Pratchett but I was finding it difficult to write so I ended up abandoning it. Sorry! I read this as part of Terry Pratchett Reading Week over on Bex's blog, and I am really happy that I did. I don't think that it is the strongest discworld book, but it is imbued with Pratchett's sense of humour and it kept on making me chuckle. I am planning on getting through all of the discworld books either again or for the first time, and I'm going to try and read at least 1 or 2 every couple of months. I am looking forward to getting to the Death books, as they were my favourites when I read Discworld as a teenager.

Saints by Gene Luen Yang

I read Boxers last year (I don't think I wrote about it on here), and really loved it so I was really excited to finally get a chance to read Saints. I think overall I prefer Boxers, but I do like both of them, and I definitely want to re-read them together at some point, in which case I will try to remember to do a post here covering them properly. I really really enjoyed them.

Ms Marvel Volume 2: Generation Why written by G. Willow Wilson, Illustrated by Jacob Wyatt and Adrian Alphona

I am really really enjoying Ms. Marvel so far and it's making me actually want to read individual issues rather than the collected volumes... but I probably won't (don't have a tablet to read the digital version on and I think my phone would be too small, and I have no idea where I would even be able to get my hands on the actual comics in Japan). Still, I recommend this to everyone! YAY Ms. Marvel!!

And that's it! I use the word "enjoy" too much, don't I? (Not that I actually think anybody will read all of this, so maybe it's okay!)

Also I am posting this at 3 in the morning (ish) because I can't sleep, so I expect it might be a bit mistake-ridden. Apologies!

I really need to do these at the end of each month, I will definitely do on for May!!!


Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

I sort of forgot that I was going to post about this separately, and now it has been a little bit too long since I initially read it to write anything coherent about it (and as I have said before, I don't really take notes), but I do think that it deserves more than what I wrote in my January round up, so... here goes!

In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town's most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept "separate but equal."

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Although it has been a while since I read this, I still have very strong memories of the contents of the book, even if it isn't enough to talk about it in detail. The main impact that this book had on me was through its portrayal of how difficult it was for the black students in the book including Sarah to integrate into this all-white school. One of the earliest scenes in the book is of the students going to school for the first time, and just seeing the abuse that they put up with for it made me feel so sad. And disgusted. It was one of those things where I know the history (although not in a great amount of detail - I am British, after all) but I had never really imagined what it would actually be like to experience it. This is one of my favourite things about books, because I think you can learn about the history all you want, but you'll never get close to how you feel when reading a book that actually puts you in the shoes of the protagonists.

(This isn't really related to this book, but I had a similar experience going to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum recently. I know quite a lot about the history to do with it, have heard personal accounts as my husband's grandma was actually a victim of the bombing (although luckily she escaped with superficial wounds and no other side-effects that we know of) and have actually been to the museum before and could remember how it made me felt, but actually going through the exhibits and seeing pictures of some of the victims after the attacks and seeing objects that were left behind really brought home to me how horrific it was. If you are ever in Hiroshima you should definitely go, but be prepared to feel very very very very very sad.)

I also think the book does a good job of exploring Linda's point of view. She could easily just become the object of hate in a book like this, but I completely understood why she thought the way that she did (while completely disagreeing with her thoughts!), and I think she definitely has the biggest journey in the book and it is fascinating to see how Sarah influences her thinking about pretty much everything she thought was set in stone.

Sarah and Linda's feelings towards each other are a big part of this book, and thinking about it, although I have read plenty of books with male characters questioning their sexuality, this may be one of the first with female characters doing it (which shocked me quite a bit when I realised!). So that was interesting for me (and is also making me think that I really need to read more LGBTQ fiction), and I think that it was done pretty well. One of the things that can annoy me about historical fiction is where female characters act the same way that modern women, who are lucky enough to be able to take for granted a lot of the freedoms that women didn't have in the past, would in the same situation. And thankfully this wasn't an issue here, the whole book seemed to me to be a realistic portrayal of how that situation actually would have played out at the time.

The book was very easy to read although the subject matter was difficult at times, and if you are even slightly interested in the premise I wholeheartedly recommend it!