Friday 5: Straight No Chaser

Obligatory:

What keeps you on the straight and narrow?

I use Habitica (formerly HabitRPG) to keep track of my to-do list and to make sure that I stay on task and finish the things I need to do. It includes habits like “15 minutes of focused work” and “30 minutes of focused work” (yes, Pomodoro method!), and also task-based benchmarks like “one pass on a paper” or “finish a blog entry.”

What I need is a better method of keeping track of long-term projects. I have a Swedish translation project I want to get done; I want to finish revising a novel manuscript; I want to finish reading approximately half a dozen books.

And above photo is also relevant because it was my birthday on Wednesday and I have spent the last few days treating myself to a kladdkaka that my sambo baked for me from scratch. Once in a while you need to venture off the straight and narrow path and indulge, in food as in anything else.

Who in your life is a real straight shooter?

Noah (another friend I’ll be visiting en route to the wedding this August) is probably the most forthright friend I have. Exhibit A: After a 24-hour bus journey across three states to see him for the first time in over a year, his first words to me were: “Whoa, you need a shower.”

My dad could probably also take this prize. (This is probably why I get along with Noah so well.)

How straight are your teeth and hair?

My teeth are pretty well aligned. My hair is naturally a touch wavy, which can make having bangs/fringe a little tricky. If you dry them the wrong way, the end result can be a very goofy look.

What’s a good song with the word straight in its lyrics or title?

 The only ones with lyrics in my library with “straight’ in the title are “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and “Straight Outta Compten,” which I guess speaks to the broad range of my musical tastes?
If we include lyrics, then “An Englishman in New York,” “School of Rock,” and no doubt loads of others I can’t remember right now.

What’s something that needs straightening?

My apartment. 🙁 Speaking of long-term projects I have yet to get around to…!

Book Review: Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali

As the paucity of book reviews* here would suggest, I’ve been in a reading slump recently. As an avid reader, I always find it troubling when I go for weeks without finishing a proper novel. Madonna in a Fur Coat was exactly what I needed to break my losing streak.

I’m a member of an informal Internet book club that’s going on two years old. It’s done a really good job of balancing light fiction, classics, and nonfiction, so I have to say that our two founders (who started the club and who pick most of the books, though with input from everyone else) have excellent taste! Other books I’ve read (and enjoyed!) for this book club include  The Road to MeccaPassing, and The Price of Salt.

*Picture books notwithstanding.

Author: Sabahattin Ali

Translators: Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe

My GoodReads rating: 4 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 4.5 stars

Language scaling: B2+

Plot summary: From the dust jacket flap on my edition:

A shy young man leaves his home in rural Turkey to earn a trade and discover life in 1920s Berlin. There, amid the city’s bustling streets, elegant museums, passionate politics and seedy cabarets, a chance meeting transforms his life for ever. Caught between his desire for freedom and his yearning to belong, he struggles to hold on to the new life he has found.

Recommended audience: Anyone interested in Turkish literature; anyone who likes a tragic love story.

Madonna in a Fur Coat, Sabahattin Ali
Image courtesy Penguin Clasics

In-depth thoughts: I am a sucker for character-driven stories that feature moody, introspective protagonists. I guess that even as an adult, I’m an angsty teenager at heart. That’s not to suggest that there’s anything callow or self-indulgent about Madonna in a Furcoat. Even if it leans heavily on romance tropes that might strike some readers as overdone or tedious, what makes Madonna in a Furcoat stand out isn’t the love story but the writing and the characters. It would have been a welcome palate cleanser after The French Lieutenant’s Woman, a novel with a similar plot but altogether different style and attitude towards its characters, particularly its love interest. I’ll leave off with a favorite quote:

Just as warm sunlight can, by passing through a lens, turn to fire, so too can love. It’s wrong to see it as something that swoops in from the outside. It’s because it arises from the feelings we carry inside us that it strikes with such violence, at the moment we least expect.

“What time is it?”

And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Wise words from one of America’s greatest modern writers. My own version of this was a game I started in college, and have played ever since. It doesn’t really have a name—I just call it “my favorite game” and leave it at that. I suppose you could call it the “what time is it?” game, otherwise. I play it during parties, picnics, and other pleasant get-togethers, though it isn’t a party game as such.

The whole game is just a simple request: “Time to play my favorite game, guys! What time is it?” The trick is that you aren’t allowed to check the time; you have to guess. It’s understood that I’m not really interested in what the time actually is, but what time you think it is.  You win by being the closest, I guess, but the point is never to win. The point is to be cognizant of the passage of time and to either appreciate how much time is still left to enjoy the night and how slowly time has passed so far despite the fun we’ve been having, or to try to come down and wrap up the night. It’s usually the former; I usually invite a round of the “what time is it?” game after I check the time myself and am pleasantly surprised at how early it still is.

This game gets rather more difficult when you live at latitudes farther from the equator than what you grew up with. I’ve lived in Sweden for almost four years now and I think I might have a handle on how to deal with winter, but then again I might not—it’s all too easy to blithely handwave winter away in the middle of June and forget how grim it can really get. In the winter, the “what time is it?” game isn’t about hope and joie de vivre but about reminding yourself to persevere. In the summer, though, it becomes straight-up sun worship.

All of that is to lead up to this subpar smartphone snapshot I took while I was out on a run yesterday:

Stockholm sidewalk during a summer evening.
So, what time is it?

This was yesterday: June 26, 2017. What time is it?

9:41 PM.

Winters in Stockholm are bleak, but summers are the most amazing thing. You need to store up moments like this one and hold on to them when it’s pitch black by 3 PM.

After all, if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

Greek and Latin Suffixes: A

This is the last installment in my classical English affixes series: suffixes. Suffixes are morphemes added to the end of a word stems, and rather than changing meaning, changes function. For example: change is a noun, but add the suffix -less and you get changeless, an adjective.

Today’s suffixes all start with the letter “A.”

Prefix Meaning Example
able, ible can or able to be done portable, audible
ance, ancy, ence, ency the state or quality of importance, hesitancy, patience, fluency
ant, ent having the quality of flagrant, potent
arch rule monarch
arium, ary, orium, ory place, room aquarium, library, auditorium, laboratory
(as)tery, (e)tery place monastery, cemetery
ate to make or do equate
ation the result of making or doing incarnation

Friday 5: MVP

Most valuable players, huh?

What’s the most important single ingredient in trail mix?

Here’s my typical trail mix:

Image courtesy Anitapepper from MorgueFile.com
Why mess with perfection?

What’s the most important single topping in a taco?

Shredded cheese! Or possibly sour cream. Actually, yes, I’ve changed my mind: sour cream.

What’s the coolest instrument in an orchestra?

I’m going to go with the harp. A deep and abiding love for The Marx Brothers, and Harpo in particular, has left me enamored with this particular instrument.



What’s your favorite animal at the zoo?

I love giraffes and how cute-awkward they are.

I also love okapis, which aren’t quite so common in zoos, but I’m going to count them anyway because they’re relatives of the giraffe and they also have a tough time, so they can use some extra love. (Donate to the Okapi Conservation Project if you feel like helping them out!)

Which are the best pieces in a sampler box of chocolates?

The ones that don’t mix unholy abominations into chocolate, like nuts or peanut butter. Anything else is great, but nuts? Peanut butter? Why would you do that to perfectly good chocolate? Why??

ArmchairBEA, Day 1: Introduction

ArmchairBEA is the Internet/social media version of BEA: Book Expo America. BEA is a chance for readers, authors, and publishers to mingle and share their love of the written word, not unlike Stockholm’s own (much smaller) Litteraturmässan.

I missed ArmchairBEA this year, which is a shame because it’s my favorite way to hear about new books and to find new book bloggers (and, increasingly, BookTubers — people who vlog about books on YouTube). It’s a potpourri of Twitter chats, giveaways, and blog prompts, and I’m so bummed about missing it that I’m going to participate anyway.

The first prompt is, as usual, a simple introduction prompt. In case you wanted to know more than what’s on my About Me page!

I am . . .

Most basically, I’m an American expat in Stockholm who cobbles together a living from freelance editing and EFL tutoring. I don’t see the fields as discrete; rather, they interact with and reinforce each other.

Currently . . .

I’ve just wrapped up lessons with three different students, just in time for me to pick up work on two (rather large) editing projects.

I love . . .

I love giving people the tools they need to articulate themselves. This is where editing and tutoring overlap, and it’s the best part of both jobs for me.

I also used to work in a jewelry-making supplies store, and incidentally that was my favorite part of that job as well. Only I was helping people articulate themselves through a very different medium!

On a less career/aspirational level, I love being outside in the sunshine (and being at home in the rain), reading, a good cup of tea, and Korean food.

My favorite . . .

My favorite Korean dish is budae jjigae (a spicy stew that includes assorted American-style meats), my favorite tea is Söderte, and choosing my favorite book would be like choosing a favorite child. You can read about my favorite books according to GoodReads, if you’re curious about my tastes.

My least favorite . . .

My least favorite precious gem is the diamond. Controversial opinion time, I guess! But even if they weren’t an ethical nightmare, I would still be unimpressed. I’ve seen properly cut, high-quality quartz that has the same sparkle and flash as a diamond. And that’s not even including Herkimer diamonds.

My least favorite book is equally hard to choose, but out of a field of mediocre reads, one that stands out is Rabbit, Run. I’m not a big Updike fan.

My current read . . .

Oh, so many! I have two that I’m reading for group obligations:  Madonna in a Fur Coat for my Internet book club and The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide for my in-person critique group. I’ve also borrowed The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage from a critique group friend, a book that is relevant to my interests as well as my ongoing writing project. Finally, my Swedish book of the moment is Karin Boye’s Kris.

My summer plans . . .

I’ll be traveling to the US in August for a wedding.

My buddy . . .

My buddy Aaron is the one getting married! Here we are in Beijing during Lunar New Year 2010:

Myself (center left) and a friend (center) at a company dinner party in Beijing for Lunar New Year 2009
Myself (center left) and a friend (center) at a company dinner party in Beijing for Lunar New Year 2010

He’s conversant, if not fluent, in (Mandarin) Chinese, and when I touched down in Beijing on the evening before Lunar New Year, he put that Chinese to good use finding us a place to eat. All of the restaurants anywhere near our hostel had been closed all day, or closed early. When we got here, they initially turned us away, too, but he finally switched to Chinese and explained that it was my first night in Beijing, and that I had just flown in from Seoul without any dinner. Either his Chinese, my sad story, or both convinced them to let us in, and we shared a huge company meal, complete with alcohol and dancing.

And now he’s getting married!

My blog/channel/social media . . .

The other place on social media where you can find me is on Twitter (@KobaEnglish). I would rather eat rusty nails than start a video channel.

The best . . .

The best part of this trip will definitely be seeing so many of my friends in the US who can’t take the time (or spend the money) to come see me in Stockholm.

Greek and Latin Prefixes: T and U

With “T” and “U,” we’re closing out all of the English prefixes derived from Latin and Greek.

Here are the rest of them:

Reminder: prefixes are morphemes that you can attach to word stems. (You can browse that link for previous posts on classically derived word stems.) Generally speaking, prefix changes word meaning, not word function. That happens with suffixes, which I’ll be starting in the next post in this series.

Prefix Meaning Example
tele far; from afar telephone
trans, tra across, change transpose, travesty
tri three trinity
un not unruly
uni, unit one unique, unite

Friday 5: Malfunction Junction

When have you had a wardrobe malfunction?

I lost a skirt to a motorbike gear while I was in Indonesia. Nothing too mortifying, but we needed to stop and get a new one for me. Going to Indonesia with a regular peasant skirt from the US and leaving with a batik print one from Indonesia isn’t a bad deal, though!

Kat Koba Indonesia
Before…
Kat Koba Indonesia
…and after

 

When did you last have a problem with your alarm clock?

Yesterday, actually! Either I slept through it, or the alarm doesn’t automatically override the headphones if they’re plugged in. It’s set for 7:30 and I didn’t wake up until almost 10.

 

What was your most recent computer problem, and what was the fix?

Well, one of the hinges on my laptop is breaking, which seems to be a common denominator in a lot of HP laptops. I’m not sure what the fix is, since at this point it’s no longer under warranty and I can’t really afford the time it would take to send it off for repairs.As for software, once in a while I need to restart Word or OpenOffice because they slow down, but that’s about it.


What’s something about cars you know specifically because you had to have one repaired?

Nothing, really.


Have you had any brain malfunctions this week?

I miscalculated hours for a student (in their favor and not mine, at least) and I missed an important-ish email about an editing project, though I suspect that was an email attempt at sorting spam malfunction more than anything else.

Book Review: No-No Boy

I have two big shout-outs/thanks in this post. First, for Adam over at Memento Mori. As soon as he mentioned No-No Boy in one of his videos, I realized that I had never read anything about the Japanese internment camps. I think we had a copy of Baseball Saved Us somewhere in the house, but I want to say it was my brother’s (baseball fan that he is) and not mine. I might have never even read it and just remember the cover.

The second shout-out and thanks go to my friend Henny (of Dirt Nap Podcast fame), who was kind enough send me a huge dump of ebooks from my Goodreads “to-read” shelf, including . . . No-No Boy!

Author: John Okada

Aside: the story of John Okada, the author, is kind of tragic. No-No Boy is his only novel. It was published in 1957 to a lukewarm reception at best, and so he more or less left the writing world for the rest of his short life. He died in the early 70s of a heart attack, and while he was working on another novel at the time, the documents are lost to us so it’s hard to tell if he just had notes, or if he had a completed draft, or if he had something almost completely finished. Only a couple of years after his untimely death, No-No Boy was sort of rediscovered and quickly attained the recognition and praise it rightly deserved.

My GoodReads rating: 5 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.73 stars

Language scaling: B2+

Plot summary: No-No Boy is the story of Ichiro Yamada, a no-no boy who comes back to his life in Seattle after his prison sentence. His mother is proud of him for being a no-no boy; she thinks Japan actually won the war, and that soon she and other loyal Japanese will get to go back. Others are, unsurprisingly, furious with Ichiro, white and Nisei alike. Eventually Ichiro runs into Kenji, a fellow Nisei and a veteran who lost his leg in the European theater and who is only getting more and more ill. Kenji seems to understand Ichiro, at least better than anyone else does, and the two spend a lot of time together as Ichiro tries to figure out his new place in the world.

Content warning: Okada writes about the racial tensions going in post-WWII America, so dialogue can include terms that have since fallen out of favor (or flat-out racial slurs).

Recommended audience: Those interested in post-WWII American history or teaching/studying it in school; those interested in Asian-American authors; those who enjoyed George Takei’s stage show Allegiance.

Cover of the new edition of John Okada's No-No Boy.
Image courtesy University of Washington Press

In-depth thoughts: The title No-No Boy refers to the loyalty questionnaire Nisei Americans (American-born Japanese) were required to answer, as a de facto test of patriotism/”Americanness.” The last two were real humdingers:

Question 27: Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?

Question 28: Will you swear unqualified allegiances to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any and all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or other foreign government, power or organization?

Thousands of people answered “no” to both questions for a variety of reasons: misunderstanding the terminology, resentment at being asked to swear loyalty and serve in the armed forces of a nation that had ripped them out of their homes and sent them to detention centers, fears that they would be deported to Japan regardless and that a “yes” would come back to haunt them, etc. They became known as “no-nos” or “no-no boys” and served time in prison for their answers. Okada was not one of them, but the protagonist of his novel is.
There are a handful of books I review here that I really hope people will go out and read (if they haven’t already). Usually it’s because they’re really good, but this is one I think we should read because it’s important. Well, and it’s also really good and worth reading regardless—Okada takes the stream of consciousness style that really came to a head with the Beats and makes it his own. Here’s a quote from early on the in the novel, when Ichiro decides to pay a visit to the university where he was studying before the internment camps and then prison:

Not until the bus had traversed the business district and pointed itself toward the northeast did he realize that he was on the same bus which he used to take every morning as a university student. There had been such a time and he vividly brought to mind, with a hunger that he would never lose, the weighty volumes which he had carried against his side that the cloth of his pants became thin and frayed, and the sandwiches in a brown grocery bag and the slide rule with the leather case which hung from his belt like the sword of learning which it was, for he was going to become an engineer and it had not mattered that Japan would soon be at war with America. To be a student in America was a wonderful thing. To be a student in America studying engineering was a beautiful life. That, in itself, was worth defending from anyone and anything which dared to threaten it with change or extinction. Where was the slide rule, he asked himself, where was the shaft of exacting and thrilling discovery when I need it most? If only I had pictured it and felt it in my hands, I might well have made the right decision, for the seeing and feeling of it would have pushed out the bitterness with the greenness of the grass on the campus and the hardness of the chairs in the airy classrooms with the blackboards stretched wall-to-wall behind the professor, and the books and the sandwiches and the bus rides coming and going. I would have gone into the army for that and I would have shot and killed, and shot and killed some more, because I was happy when I was a student with the finely calculated white sword at my side. But I did not remember or I could not remember because, when one is born in America and learning to love it more and more every day without thinking it, it is not an easy thing to discover suddenly that being American is a terribly incomplete thing if one’s face is not white and one’s parents are Japanese of the country Japan which attacked America. It is like being pulled asunder by a whirling tornado and one does not think of a slide rule though that may be the thing which will save one.

Where (for me) novels like On the Road became self-indulgent and navel-gazeyNo-No Boy balances these deep dives with action and spreads them among multiple characters. We get to know Ichiro quite well, but we also spend time in the heads of the people around him, who have different perspectives, experiences, and opinions.

I hope that whet your appetite! If you’ve read No-No Boy, I’m curious about what you think. If not (or even if you have, I guess), what are some other under-read and underappreciated classics that you think should be more famous? Why?