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Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (Jan 2024)

This was a reread for me & my fondness for this book comes from a deeply personal place. In short, I see the protagonist as someone like me, maybe even painfully so. I find myself relating to every character I read about, but this is different. As a child, like her, I would constantly mimic the speech patterns & mannerisms of others, so I could appear normal. When she spoke of grilling that dead bird into yakitori, all I could think about was how I recently tried to explain that I would certainly eat a dog, because I would eat a pig & there's no difference to me. When she called the dead flowers "corpses," I realized that I did the same thing. As she greets her customers with a smile & a loud voice, I thought of how someone tipped me a twenty recently & told me it's because I was always so happy & pleasant to be around & how in my head, all I could think was how that's nothing more than an act, because work is just me pretending to be a normal person, with normal, happy mannerisms, with smiles & a "how are you." I understood her as she spoke about how it seemed as if everyone else had some sort of guide to how to be a human, how she needed it to be explained to her. I understood her after she tried so hard to be normal & still failed, how she resolved to be herself in the end, even if by other's standards her self is wrong & unconventional.

And even more than the story itself, I understood the cover & its reviews. The reviews called it a funny book, but it's not funny at all to me. & all I could think was that these reviewers didn't understand at all & I thought to myself that so often I speak seriously & candidly & people tell me that I'm being so funny, that I'm hilarious, but I'm not. So even outside of the realm of the story & into the real world, I understood what it's like to be perpetually misunderstood, for no one to take you seriously. & my heart twinged.

Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Dec 2023)

I took this book with me on my weeks long visit to Oregon. Originally, I was reading the P & V translation, but that copy belonged to the library & I didn't trust myself to remember to bring it back home with me, so I found another copy, the Sidney Monas translation. This one was actually a gift from my sister's high school English teacher; She was quitting, so she gave my sister her library of books. I think we actually had two different copies of Crime & Punishment, but this is the one I found, which I'm happy with. I thought the translation was quite good, albeit rather plain in language. I can't compare this translation to the original Russian, but I definitely don't think this translator added any of their personal flourish to it, so I'd like to say it seemed reliable.

There's so much to this book, so much to say. One of the things that stood out to me the most was how well woven together its story & its characters were. In its first pages, I was a bit exasperated every time a new character was introduced, because there were so many of them, but they came back again & again in the story, none were forgotten. It was just so well thought out, so it struck me, the way a novel of such grand proportions seemed so meticulously thought out.

Often times when I write up my thoughts on a book I really enjoyed, I like to pull out my favorite quotes & leave them here on the site, so I don't lose them, but that's just not possible with Crime & Punishment. It was hundreds of pages long & every few pages I found myself tagging the corner so I could return later. There's just too much I liked to be able to record it here.

The book really surprised me, not the murders, but how gentle the book somehow was. With the name Crime & Punishment, it sounds like a brutal story, & in many way it is, but there is not much punishment to be found in this book. I was really expecting Raskolnikov to be looked at with disdain, disgust, but he was met with love & redemption. & its conception of love was something I hadn't seen before: In this book, love is holding someone accountable, not letting them get away with it. I was really touched. It's not just a story about crime, about murder, paranoia, punishment, it's a story about love.

I really liked Raskolnikov, even from the beginning, because I understood misery like his. As I read, I kept thinking that he should flee, should run away, should abscond, because I wanted him to be free, because I cared about Raskolnikov. But after he made his decision to turn himself in, found his resolve, I understood & wanted him to do what was necessary. I didn't want to recognize it at first, but Porfiry was right & what Raskolnikov did was for the best, because it was the only way he could be met with forgiveness & live on his own terms. It reminded me of The Guest by Albert Camus, this idea of choosing punishment because it sets you free. It's as close to a storybook ending as Raskolnikov could get.