Category Archives: English fiction

September meeting report

At our August meeting, we read and discussed chapter 1 – “Arrival on Himmel Street” up to chapter 2 “Saumensch” of “The Book Thief”.  The page references in this blog are to the 10th anniversary Black Swan edition  of 2016.

For next time, we will read up to the end of Part One – The Gravedigger’s Handbook. Next time will be Wednesday October 4th.

Some of the ideas and themes we discussed in our August meeting were:

  • the final solution, an expression which now has only one, stark, meaning for all Jews and Europeans everywhere.
  • “the nothingness of life moving on with a shuffle” (p.28) is perhaps a reference to Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” speech in which he says

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause”

February meeting

Our February meeting was held on Feb. 4th. We welcomed a new member.

We started reading a new story: “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway.

We discussed the introductory paragraph and its meaning and style, and the possible significance of the leopard carcase.

We read up to the end of the first section, where Harry says, “I don’t like to leave anything behind.”

Our next meeting will be March 11th.

January & February meetings

Happy New Year, everyone!

Our first meeting of the year was on Jan. 14th, and at that meeting it was decided to stop reading “Reading Lolita in Teheran”.

Our next meeting will be Feb. 4th and we will be reading Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”.

I referred to some other books and a movie that also tell about life in Iran after the Revolution. Here are the details:

  1. Unveiled Threat: A Personal Experience of Fundamentalist Islam and the Roots of Terrorism by Janet Tavakoli. (This book is only available in Japan as  a Kindle book. As far as I know there is no Japanese translation as yet. It is a short book.)
  2. Whirlwind by James Clavell (author of “Shogun”). This is a  long book, but in typical Clavell-style, it includes much background information about Islam and Iranian culture. Again, as far as I know there is no Japanese translation as yet. I bought the cheaper Kindle version.) It is a novel, but based on real events, with all the names changed. It is far less intellectual than Nafisi’s book, and in my opinion, gives a much more rounded picture of life in Iran at that time.
  3. An animated movie, Persepolis., made in 2007. It tells the life of a young girl growing up in Iran.

February 2014 meeting

In our February meeting, we read chapter 8 and started reading chapter 9 of “Reading Lolita in Tehran”.

One topic we discussed was “philosopher-king”, the ideal ruler, according to Plato in his “Republic”. (Click here to read the Japanese Wikipedia entry).

For our next meeting, the reading assignment is

  • the rest of chapter 9
  • chapter 10
  • chapter 13

Our next meeting will be March 26th. I look forward to seeing you all then.

October meeting

October’s meeting: Wednesday, October 30th (Hallowe’en!)

Next reading material: Nafisi’s “Lolita in Tehran”, sections 1-5 inclusive. (See the September post for links to the English book, the Japanese translation, and the Kindle versions). At the next meeting, I will ask everyone if they want to continue reading this book, or change to another one.

In September’s meeting, we finished reading Kipling’s Jungle Book story “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”. Many thanks to all who attended.

For our next book, I have chosen a longer and much more challenging book, “Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi. Nafisi taught English literature in Iran during the days of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s rule. She is very well read and makes many references to various authors and works of literature. I have not read many of the books she refers to (including “Lolita”), and I don’t think it is absolutely necessary to have read the books she refers to – although obviously it will add to one’s enjoyment of the book.

While reading her book, I did find myself using Wikipedia a lot! For example, early in the story, when one of Nafisi’s students comes to her house wearing clothes decorated with a large butterfly, Nafisi says, “Did you wear that in honour of Nabokov?” I did not understand the connection, but Wikipedia told me that, as well as being a writer, “He also made serious contributions as a lepidopterist and chess composer.”

Some of you have already started reading the book, but whether you have or whether you have not, please take a few moments to write down your thoughts and impressions about the following topics. I am interested to know your knowledge and impressions BEFORE you read the story.

  1. What do you know of Iran, and what are your impressions of that country?
  2. What do you know of Iran in the time when this story takes place (1975-1997)?
  3. What do you know about the novel “Lolita”, and what are your impressions? Have you read it?
  4. What do you know about the author of “Lolita”?
  5. What do you know about Gatsby, James and Austen?

I like to know what people look like, what they sound like, and if you are interested, you can use the wonderful tool called the Internet and find audios and videos of Azir Nafisi and see what she looks and sounds like. You can also find videos of and about the author of “Lolita”, as well as clips from the movie “Lolita”. You can also find, of course, articles about “Lolita” (the book and the movie), and you will find criticism and controversy as well as praise.

Let me just give you one: the beginning of a short TV movie, a dramatization of “Nabokov’s lectures on Franz Kafka‘s The Metamorphosis. The part of Nabokov is played by Christopher Plummer.”

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September meeting

Update: Today, we are changing stories. Today’s (September 25th) meeting, we will finish reading Kipling’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” story, then read the first few pages of “Reading Lolita in Tehran” with Japanese translation.

(Original post:)

Dear Readers,

Thanks very much for participating today. We still haven’t quite finished Kipling’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” story (we read up to the 2nd paragraph on page 13; contact me if you want a copy of the text). We’ll finish next time.

Next meeting will be September 11th  25th.

What shall we read next? “Pygmalion” by British author George Bernard Shaw seemed to be a popular choice. It is available online for free from the Gutenberg project here:

Another suggestion (which I made a long time ago) was “Reading Lolita in Tehran” because it’s written by a woman and because it’s about a reading group like ours, but in post-revolutionary Iran, based on the author’s own experiences.

or you can buy the Kindle version at half the price

There is, I discovered today, a Japanese translation available:
It’s a little expensive but there are some cheap second-hand ones available (see the link above).


July meeting

There will be no meeting in June. And I will move the meeting to the FIRST Wednesday of each month instead of the last. The next meeting will therefore be July 3rd. We will contune reading “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”.

In the May meeting, we finished discussing “How the First Letter was Written” and started reading “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”. We read up to where the mongoose saves the young boy’s life by killing Krait, a small, deadly snake.

I look forward to seeing you there.

2013 February meeting

March meeting announcement

March’s meeting will be on March 27th, and we will discuss “Jeeves and the Old School Chum” by P.G. Wodehouse. P・G・ウッドハウス. This story, first published in 1930, appeared in the volume titled “Very Good, Jeeves” でかした、ジーヴス (森村たまき訳、国書刊行会より刊行) (2006年7月)

February meeting report


A smaller group than usual today, and less discussion than usual, but that was mostly because of the kind of text we were reading: “The Elephant’s Child” by Rudyard Kipling.

I mentioned the sad story of Kipling’s only son, Jack, who died in World War I.  There is an excellent movie about this, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Rudyard’s “My Boy, Jack“. Daniel Radcliffe gives an excellent performance as Kipling’s son. David Craig (Kipling) looks so much like the real Kipling, it’s spooky. I heartily recommend the film マイボイジャック


Some famous quotes from Kipling:

  1. the white man’s burden” 「白人の責務」which is the title of a poem Kipling wrote in 1899 (a Japanese translation of it is here – thanks to T.O. for the link). The poem has often been taken as a justification for colonization, and arouses strong emotions in people, both for and against. Wikipedia says“At face value it appears to be a rhetorical command to white men to colonise and rule other nations for the benefit of those people (both the people and the duty may be seen as representing the “burden” of the title). Because of its theme and title, it has become emblematic both of Eurocentric racism and of Western aspirations to dominate the developing world.[8][9][10] A century after its publication, the poem still rouses strong emotions, and can be analyzed from a variety of perspectives.”
  2. “If” (a poem written for his son, John or “Jack”, then 12 years old. In 2009, it was voted Britain’s favourite poem. Here is the text of the poem with Japanese translation (I haven’t checked it). What do you think?
  3. OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet” –
    from “The Ballad of East and West” 「東と西のバラード」. (Complete English text is here Couldn’t find a complete Japanese translation; can you help?) The first line of the ballad is the most famous and often quoted, but the story tells of two brave and honourable men, one British, one Indian, who come to respect each other for their courage and honesty, despite their difference in culture. しかし東もなければ西もない、国境も、種族も、素性もない、