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the bookshelf:
smartie-pants pageturners  
by Yee-Fan Sun
| 1 2

Back in high school, summer books rested firmly in one of two categories: the Great Books from your mandatory summer reading list, and the brainless beach blanket books. You slogged through The Old Man and the Sea because you knew you'd be tested on it on the first day of school; you raced through cheesy romance novels, trashy horror stories and bad sci-fi while you worked on your tan.

With required reading lists blissfully a thing of your former student past, summer reading these days is all about the pleasure. Still, all those years of schooling have trained you well; even while you're looking for something that'll suck you in with its engrossing storytelling, you don't want to feel like you've lost brain cells from indulging in it. After all, you spent four long years and accumulated a heap of debt to nurture that big ol' brain of yours. Here are three great, big, meaty novels that offer plenty of food for your mind, and provide your entertainment fix at the same time…

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle 
by Haruki Murakami
buy it

Toru Okada's formerly ordinary life has taken some unexpected turns lately. After he quits his glorified gofer job at a law firm, he finds himself an unintentional househusband, doing the laundry, cooking up meals, keeping house, and waiting for his magazine editor wife Kumiko to return at the end of each workday. Kumiko and Toru have been married for six years, but it's only lately that Toru's begun to realize that he might not know his wife as well as he once thought. She starts coming home late more and more often; she flips out when he buys blue toilet paper (she only like pink, yellow or white). And when the cat they've had since they first got married goes missing, her obsession goes beyond the normal concern for a lost pet. Though she won't explain why, she seems to think there's something more deeply symbolic in the cat's disappearance. The search for the missing cat -- named Noboru Wataya, after Kumiko's unctuous politician brother -- soon brings three strange few women into Toru's life: a death-obsessed neighborhood teen named May Kasahara, and two psychic sisters named Malta and Creta Kano.

Murakami is one of the great Japanese contemporary writers, and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle offers an interesting look at modern Japan, as well as some of the darker history that continues to haunt it. It's an ambitious book that covers a lot of themes -- marriage, memory, responsibility, sex, violence -- but it's the way in which it does this that makes it such a joy to read. The characters are weird and funny and intriguing, the story is delightfully quirky and surreal. And the writing is almost hypnotic, taking you on bizarre twists and turns as deftly and convincingly as the very best of dreams. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is so engaging that despite it's hefty size, you'll find yourself sorry to see the story come to an end.

amble on this way please

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