Thursday, February 21, 2019

Interview with Michael Hoffman, author of Fuji, Sinai, Olympos

Inside the Book:

Title: Fuji, Sinai, Olympos
Author: Michael Hoffman
Genre: Essays
Format: Ecopy /Paperback

Travel companions on my journeys are four in number: Odysseus, Don Quixote, Huckleberry Finn and Basho.” (Travel) “He walked in priestly garb. Arriving towards evening at a town or village, he’d chant sutras until passersby gave him, or flung him, enough money for a flophouse bed, a little food, a bath and enough sak√©  to induce a measure of forgetfulness. ‘A beggar,’ he admonished himself, ‘has to learn to be an all-out beggar. Unless he can be that, he will never taste the happiness of being a beggar.’” (Walking) ‘“The pleasantest of all diversions,’ said the fourteenth-century Japanese priest Kenko,“ is to sit alone under the lamp, a book spread before you, and to make friends with people of a distant past you have never known.’ Reading is inseparable from reverie. ‘Sitting alone under the lamp,’ I was soon not alone at all, but hosting, I venture to say, as vivid and varied a company as ever gathered under one roof. (Genji, Myshkin and Jones) “Everest is nothing, mere seismology.” (Fuji, Sinai, Olympos) 



Do you listen to music while you are writing?
Yes, often. Classical music through headphones. Nothing like it to cut you off from the world “out there.”  But not always. When there’s silence to listen to, I’ll listen to that, with no less pleasure.

Do you have suggestions for upcoming writers?
Seems too obvious to need saying, but: WRITE. I’ve met “upcoming writers” who are always “going to write.” Secondly: read. It sometimes surprises me how many don’t. Maybe they fear what they read will swamp their originality. That’s not likely. Third – this works for me but may not for everybody: set aside a specific time of day for writing and nothing but writing. Make it inviolable. It becomes a habit – you can’t not write when that time comes. You don’t have to force yourself to write; time itself initiates the flow.

What do you like to do when you are not reading/writing?
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter, swimming in summer, long, long walks in all seasons.

Who are the authors that inspire you?
Many, many. My book is dedicated to Don Quixote, so Cervantes. Dostoevsky. Very much Dostoevsky. Murasaki Shikibu, author of The Tale of Genji. Melville of Moby Dick. Kafka. Lately I’ve been reading Jane Austen. She’s amazing. Her novels are extraordinary – and yet peopled by the most ordinary characters doing the most ordinary things in the most ordinary places. There’s much, much inspiration to be drawn from her.

What did you want to be as a child?
First, a hockey player. Then a rock’n roll drummer. After that it was pretty much writing all the way.

How do you handle bad review?
Depends – on what the review says, on the mood I’m in. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it hurts very much. Sometimes I shrug it off. Sometimes I say, “That’s true, why didn’t I think of that?” Sometimes I get my back up and say, “If you didn’t like it I must be doing something right!”


Michael Hoffman has lived in Japan since 1982. His columns appear regularly in the Japan Times, irregularly elsewhere. His previous books include "In the Land of the Kami: A Journey into the Hearts of Japan;" "Other Worlds; Little Pieces: This Side of Japan;" and "The Coat that Covers Him and Other Stories."

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Book Review: From Straight-laced to Cross-dressed by Douglas Baign

Inside the Book:

Title: From Straight-laced to Cross-dressed
Author: Douglas Baign
Genre: Biographies/Memoirs
Format: Ecopy /Paperback

From Straight-laced to Cross-dressed tells the story of a disturbed adult in therapy seeking to understand and prevent his desire to commit suicide. Douglas starts by knowing that it has something to do with sex but soon discovers that he can't talk about his sexuality without first discussing his religious beliefs and drift away from strict Christian Fundamentalism.The overlapping issues dredge up a confused morass of anger and love, abuse and sex.



I will admit, I wasn't sure what this book was going to be about. Being raised Catholic, even though my beliefs don't lie there some of them rear their heads at times. But, after reading this book I was pleased that I could be empathetic with the author. He has had a very tough path, riddled with doubt, anger and resistance. But, he overcame and seems to have come to terms with his life. I really enjoyed it. 


Coming from a long line of teachers, Douglas Baign has a Masters degree in Education but spent his career testing and documenting low-level software. He likes looking at anything basic then challenging assumptions. Doug also has a BS in Cognitive Psychology and a deep and abiding interest in History and Physics.

Douglas' super-power is breaking things, especially computer code, but he prefers to create books, poetry and music. He also enjoys travel and photography.