- Paperback: 190 pages
- Publisher: Variety Crossing Press (Jan. 15 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0981227937
- ISBN-13: 978-0981227931
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 0.6 x 22.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 363 g
- Customer Reviews: 5 customer ratings
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,573,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Reading List: Literature, love and back again Paperback – Jan. 15 2012
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"An engrossing and charming memoir about getting back to basics: home truths, family, and the life-altering, life-saving power of books." âEmma Donoghue, author of Room
âThe Reading List brims with frankness, provocative wit and acute insights into our hearts and psyches. A journey into the dark night of the soul and into the light of love and reconciliation, it proclaims its relevance in myriad ways. It is the story of a young woman finding her footing in the present by exploring a painful past, accompanied by her father and guided by the literature she loves. It celebrates the power of that literature to illuminate our inner lives and crystallize our desires.â âKerri Sakamoto, author of The Electrical Field
âIâve read a lot of good memoirs, but itâs a rare talent that can weave together so many threads â family, love, literature, career angst â so effortlessly as Leslie does in The Reading List. She guided me through her life via the mirror of her favourite books and as I came to the end of The Reading List, I found that her own book had become just such a mirror for this reader.â âMicah Toub, author of Growing Up Jung
About the Author
Leslie Shimotakahara is a writer and ârecovering academic,â who wanted to be simply a writer from before the time she could read. Hard- pressed to answer her parentsâ question of how she would support herself as a writer, Leslie got lured into the labyrinthine study of literature, completing her B.A. in Honours English from McGill in 2000, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern American Literature from Brown in 2006, writing her dissertation on regionalist and modernist aesthetics in a record two years. After graduation, she got a job at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, where she taught until 2008.
Leslie woke up one morning and realized that sheâd had enough of the ivory tower. The fact that she wasnât doing what she wanted with her life loomed over her, and the realization was startling. It was time to stop studying and passively observing life and do something real instead. She needed to discover herself and tell her own story. Since returning to Toronto, Leslie has worked in a range of communications positions for the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, Deployment for Democratic Development, and presently at Waterfront Toronto.
Over the past year, Leslie was selected as an Emerging Writer in the Diaspora Dialogues program, and invited to give a reading at The Word On The Street. An excerpt from The Reading List manuscript has been published in the anthology TOK: Writing the New City (volume 5). Back in her former life as an English professor, she published a smattering of essays on American modernism in obscure, critical theory journals (but these are best resigned to the annals of dry academe).
These days, Leslie is more engaged in writing for her blog, www.the-reading-list.com, and rereading for inspiration the stories she wrote as a kid and self-published in pretty, Crayola-designed covers.
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As a fourth generation Japanese-Canadian who grew up in Toronto, she only has a faint awareness of her background: she doesn't speak Japanese, her chopstick ability is merely an imprint of her Caucasian ex-boyfriend.
Imagine that young, Asian-looking urban woman teaching British and American literature to Macdonalds and MacIsaacs and Gillises in a bucolic land. Her lecture is always a flop (later she finds out that she's been chosen by students as "The Worst Professor Ever"), students and colleagues bombard her with ignorant, stereotypical questions, and her loco lover gives her a cutting remark: "You're obviously not Canadian."
On the verge of a nervous breakdown, she drives two and a half hours every weekend to Halifax to consult her therapist or just to wallow in urban pleasure.
Her worried father Jack urges Leslie to come back to Toronto for the summer but she's been dragging her heels - until his words trigger curiosity in her: "It's your grandmother."
Back home, her grandmother awaits her on her deathbed. Granny, who is originally from Portland, a past Miss Japanese American, seems ever so fine even on the brink of passing away. To Leslie, granny has been a mystery. Her unreadable, Noh-mask like face only makes Leslie feel distant to her; however, she is astonished to witness her father interrogate, with a tape recorder, his mother about her past.
Here, it is worth mentioning that the Shimotakaharas are a special family in the Japanese-Canadian community. Issei Kozo Shimotakahara, Leslie's great-grandfather, was the first Japanese-Canadian physician. He set up his practice in Japantown in Vancouver, providing his service free of charge to the poor. During WW2, he served as the doctor at the family detention camp in Kaslo.
Leslie, who keeps up with the family's legacy, is her father's pride. Aside from the Granny-crises, recently-retired Jack has a hidden agenda. To take up his newly adopted hobby, which is reading, he asks his lit-prof daughter to put together a list - The Reading List - of the must-read 20th century novels in English.
What is outstanding about this memoir is this reading list. Each of the 13 chapters is associated with a writer. To name a few, Hemingway and Joyce and Atwood - and of course, Kogawa. Shimotakahara craftily and effortlessly expresses her journey of self-discovery by a psychoanalytic reading of them.
The listed titles are not only the must-reads, but Leslie's own favourites. By this odd sharing, she starts to understand her father's unquenchable desire for the past and for the truth. She, too, starts her own painstaking process of understanding herself, a person who is desperate in her career and love life.
The father's and daughter's conversation on literature is sometimes comical, sometimes heart-wrenching. As they read on, it unearths some dark side of their ancestral history. Kozo the Saint, his untold truth, his son Kaz, who couldn't keep up with the family's legacy, his downfall, Kaz's wife, Granny, her secrets under her Japanese-doll poker-face. Is the insanity that undermines deeply in her family what makes Leslie who she is?
Shimotakahara's writing is edgy and honest. She puts her finger on exactly where it hurts on your body. Love, career, family, history - so many threads she weaves inextricably into a gripping narrative. If you are a refugee from Academia or love or career, a can't-grow-up or lost-in-identity or literature geek, you'll certainly find yourself amongst a lot of drinks and sex and tears and literature in The Reading List.
I have no doubt Leslie Shimotakahara is one to watch. I look forward
to reading more from this engaging author.