It’s almost the end of the year and the time for lists, so I thought it would be appropriate to list my most enjoyable reads of the year. There haven’t really been any duff reads and I think I only gave up on two books earlier in the year before I started my blog in July.

1) The most enjoyable thing this year was starting my blog! I was really nervous about this and, having been surreptitiously reading book blogs for about a year beforehand, I felt rather intimidated at the professional manner in which many blogs are maintained. They are all so lovely, funny and well thought out. But I took the plunge and I’m really glad I did, because it’s so much fun and I’ve met some incredibly nice bloggy people.

It’s made me think a lot more about why I read and the books that I choose. I also found it surprisingly hard to write a negative review and made me think about the honesty in my writing.

2) OK books, here we go. In 2009, I really liked reading and writing about:

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam
Love Marriage by V.V. Ganeshananthan
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
The Boat by Nam Le
The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
The Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert
The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas

I also liked the following which I didn’t write about, as I read them before I started blogging, but highly recommend:

The Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erickson
The Book of Other People edited by Zadie Smith
Alexandria by Lyndsey Davis
All the Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen
In the Woods by Tana French
Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace
Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson

I realise that I haven’t written about my favourite book of the year, Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erickson since I read it way back in January, but as I’ll be reading the second installment in the 10 book sequence next year, I promise to write a big juicy post about the Malazan Book of the Fallen series when the time comes.

3) I found some amazing book challenges this year including RIP IV and the Japanese Literary Challenge 3 which put me in touch with some lovely people, the Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge which actually motivated me to read something off my TBR shelf and the Women Unbound Challenge which has made me veer towards some thoughtful reading. I’m also enjoying the Hello Japan! challenge which has made me look at Japan anew.

4) I also reconnected with my love for Japanese drama and film. This year’s favourites were Crows Zero, Sakuran and Gokusen.

♥  Thank you to everyone who has taken their time to read my blog and post comments. I always enjoy hearing from you and I look forward to getting to know you all a lot more next year!

And I’ll leave you with my favourite book and cover art of the year.

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Shimotsuma Monogatari

I watched this film a few weeks ago and was totally bowled over. It had been on my radar for a number of years now since its release in 2004, but I wasn’t particularly drawn to it as I had no interest in the gothic lolita trend that was sweeping Japan and slowly travelling to the West. But Shimotsuma Monogatari was a bright, funny and poignant film about friendship, fitting in and chasing your dreams.

The style of the film is similar to that of director Tetsuya Nakashima’s subsequent film Kiraware Matsuko no Isshou (Memories of Matsuko) which I saw a few years ago, a technicolour pop extravaganza that seems to be at odds with its weighty themes but works brilliantly.

The protagonists Momoko and Ichigo, played by two of Japan’s most talked about actresses Kyoko Fukada and Anna Tsuchiya, are both charmingly contrary and you can’t help but want them to succeed. There are a lot of comic moments in the film, especially in the beginning when we are a given a technicolour kaleidoscope of Momoko’s background and upbringing, especially her petit yakuza father’s dodgy business: flogging pirate brand goods which became a surprise cult hit.

After getting caught and threatened with legal action, Momoko and her father make a quick getaway to live with her grandmother in a sleepy town called Shimotsuma, where the locals all shop for clothes at Jusco, Japan’s Wal-Mart. Momoko, who spends all her time alone, has one passion, and that is for the lolita fashion brand Baby, The Stars Shine Bright. It isn’t cheap to go all the way to Tokyo to shop for clothes and Momoko soon needs to look for ways to fund her lolita fashion lifestyle, and she does so by selling her father’s long-forgotten knock-offs. And that is how she meets Ichigo, a member of the local ladies motorbike gang, Ponytails. The two strike an unlikely friendship and the film follows their transformation as they realise what they mean to each other.

Shimotsuma Monogatari is a comic, yet poignant, portrayal of smalltown Japan, slowly vanishing as it is consumed by the ever encroaching urban sprawl. The message I got was that wherever you are, you should follow your dreams and that there is always someone you can bond with even in the most unlikeliest of places. I know it sounds cheesy, but what a great film.