Year: 2011

Thinking of home

Last Thursday night, I watched on live television as wave after wave assaulted the shores of my homeland, houses on fire rolling on a black crest of water across farmland, engulfing cars, vans, and trucks fleeing before the tsunami. I watched people die that night, helpless and powerless, transfixed by a TV screen thousands of miles away.

Since the Great Tohoku Earthquake & Tsunami struck Japan last week, little else has been on my mind, and I return time and again to memories of the 15 years I spent there from birth through adolescence. I have vague memories of taking a boat ride among strange islands of greenery overhanging wave-carved stone. My father tells me that was Sendai, nearly 30 years ago. I wonder what they look like now.

Sapporo, 1977

Here I am circa 1977 in Hokkaido, ensconced in a tokonoma, lined up with a carved Ainu bear, iron kettle, water jug, and a sock monkey made for me by my great-grandmother.

Surface archaeology on the streets of Dublin

“The farther one travels, the less one knows.” – Laozi (Lao-Tsu) in Tao Te Ching

Last time I visited Dublin, two and a half years ago, I barely looked up from the literary past as I followed the footsteps of Yeats, Joyce, and Shaw. Evidence of the country’s turbulent history is everywhere in Dublin, but the capitol of the Republic of Ireland is not some sort of ossified open-air museum content to obsess over its own past. What struck me this time, though, was just how modern Dublin is on the surface while still not diminishing its connection to history.

Royal College of Surgeons & Luas

My photo above captures this perfectly, I think. A Luas tram stands at the St. Stephen’s Green station in front of the Royal College of Surgeons, its columns riddled with bullet holes from the 1916 Easter Rising (though they’re hard to see in the picture at this size).

This theme repeats itself across the city — generally as a wonderful synthesis of old and new, but occasionally in a jarring juxtaposition. Like this McDonald’s on the first floor of a Georgian building.

McDonald's - Dublin

Nevertheless, I love Dublin for its many layers. I know I’ve only brushed a few grains from the visible surface, picking up a few stray artifacts along the way, and there are still stories from thousands of years left to discover — both in the past and in the future.

The alleged BBC book list Facebook meme

It’s time to catch up on the bandwagons that passed me by over the past few months.

Without the pressure of feeling as though I needed to share my list alongside everybody else, I spent some time trying to figure out where this list really came from. Most importantly, there’s no such list on the BBC website. However, there is a similar list that the BBC published in 2003, with many of the same books in a different order.

There are interesting differences between the 2003 BBC list and the 2009-2011 Facebook version — both in terms of the list itself and the context provided with each. The Facebook version alleges that the “BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books,” while the original site only states that the BBC “began the search for the nation’s favorite novel, and … asked you to nominate your favourite books.” Variations also exist among the versions of the instructions that accompany the list, adding or removing formatting, asterisks, comments, and so on to indicate the variety of ways in which the individual has consumed the book.

Whoever compiled the list I’m using consolidated books in a series but also left individual books from the same series. For example, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe made the BBC list at #9, while both the book (#36) and the series (#33) made the list on Facebook.

What’s most thought-provoking to me, though, is how a list of books sorted by popularity among Britons at a particular point in time has been transformed into an apparent challenge from an authority figure and a competition within our social circles. How very American…

Verbatim, the instructions making their way around Facebook:
Instructions: Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here. Copy this into your NOTES. Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety, italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read an excerpt, and underline the ones for which you’ve seen the movies.

My list (after the jump): (more…)