Sunday, August 22, 2010


One of the things that seems to have gotten harder over the years is pleasure reading. In a way that is odd since I work as a librarian you'd think I read all the time. Well I do, but only in a professional capacity. I try to read at least four or five juvenile novels a year so that I have some idea what middle-school and high school students are reading. That means that I seldom read anything that I appreciate as an adult. Most  of the books read are written for students aged from about 10 to 17 and while they are sometimes very good indeed, most of the time they are are not very good at all.I don't count those because I am reading them as part of my job. I don't have a great deal of time to simply read something because I want too.

I ran into an exception this week. I read The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa.I read it because it is a book that is read by the high school students in the school where I work in the 11th grade.

I was absolutely stunned by this book and it will haunt my thinking for weeks to come. I am sure I will read it again. It is a lovely book.

Like all really good books it is utterly unbelievable.  I think that is why the book works so well. While the themes and ideas presented are simply stunning; generally speaking only talking animal books, Watership Down, The Book of the Dunn Cow or The Wind in the Willows can deal with subjects in the way this book does because we know humans too well to talk like this. In a normal novel the professor would be contrived or corny and he isn't in this book.

The basic plot of the book is that a 28 year-old, unmarried mother who is the daughter of an unmarried mother is sent to work as a housekeeper for a retired professor of mathematics, a genius, who has only 80 minutes of short term memory because of brain damage in an automobile accident many years before. After 80 minutes he forgets everything and everybody. The professor can remember everything in his life until 1977 but has to write note to himself for important things in order to live. He does not remember the housekeeper from day to day; or even from morning until after lunch.  The housekeeper has to struggle to find ways to deal with this most eccentric of old men. In the process she becomes his friend and he becomes something of a father figure to her son. And yet, because he cannot remember them from day to day cannot return their affection.

Something that I found especially odd about this book is that only one of the main characters is named and he never speaks. A main character in the book is a famous Japanese baseball player Enatsu, who was a favorite of the professor before the accident. The housekeeper's young son is always referred to by the nick-name the professor gives him "Root" never his real name. You never find out the name of the housekeeper, the professor, Root, the professors widowed sister-in-law or any of the other people in the book. In a sense that helps the reader to internalize this book and makes it more personal. It is just assumed that you know every-bodies name.
You'll learn a lot about math from this book and wish knew more.

You will also struggle to be thankful fort being able to wake up and know your name.

To say more would be to spoil the book for you.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a read that is more than simple entertainment.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who should really read more

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Long Road Home

After a summer of traveling we returned home to find jobs waiting for us and a buyer for the Causeway Bay flat with cash in hand. The really-pretty-looks-25-years-younger-than-she-is-smart-hard-working-Chinese-wife and I were suddenly in moving mode.  We'd purchased the flat in Causeway Bay as an investment and never really thought that we'd live there. It turned out to be the place we've lived longer than any other place since we've been married. We owned that flat nearly 10 years and there were a lot of memories tied up in it but I was still glad to leave. Sometimes we see stories on the news or in the media about people that have lived in one place for 40, 50 or 60 years. This is presented as some sort of virtue but I wonder about that.

I think it is good to move house every so often and this was the time for us to move.

We invest the places we live with part of ourselves. The pictures on the wall the paint on the door, the curtains and even the scratches and wear on the floor become comforting and make us feel secure. A home home also ties us to our past and as we age it becomes important to move on or we may find that we cannot move at all. When I was younger I used to live up the road from an old woman, in her 90's, who had one child, a son and he died in accident along with her husband when the son was about 8 or 9 years-old. She never remarried and still had her dead husbands clothing in the closet and the little boys bedroom just as it had been 65 years before. She'd grown old but hadn't really noticed because she was trapped in the past. She should have moved on past those tragic deaths but couldn't and I think that after awhile it was the house that trapped her.

Mrs Mao and I have had nothing that tragic happen to us but as empty-nesters it was time to move on. Our kids are grown, married and gone. All we have left besides photographs is the occasional Email and even rarer visit. That isn't a sad or bad thing, it is life. They have their own families and their own concerns. They are doing well enough and I guess I should feel thankful that they seem to be happy in their lives and done bother us for huge piles of cash. Yet, in the Causeway Bay flat we were tied to an earlier time. Symbolically moving was a way to start again; to move on into the next phase of life.

Because we both work in the New Territories it made sense for us to be there rather than on Hong Kong Island.

Until Next Time
Fai MAo
The Blogger with a new home