Book Group: They're reading Helen DeWitt's "The Last Samurai" (nothing to do with the Tom Cruise movie!) over at Conversational Reading - Maybe we should do the same here?

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This sounds fascinating. I just bought a copy from amazon - It's out of print but there are plenty of used copies to be had.

from the LRB:

"To read The Last Samurai for the first time is to experience an odd mix of emotions. With its kanji and its carbon dating, it seems so new and at the same time so ancient. It’s like plunging forward, forward, back, back, back, to swim once more in the warm sea of Ulysses and the Cantos – imagine what Joyce or Pound would do with the internet! Imagine what the internet might have done to them! "

A S Byatt in The New Yorker:

The Last Samurai” is in fact a triumph—a genuinely new story, a genuinely new form, which has more to offer on every reading but is gripping from the beginning of the first.
“The Last Samurai” is funny and tragic and intriguing and over the top and perfectly controlled. But it is also— in an ordinary and undeniable way—very moving... It is exciting for the future of the novel that a writer can do all the basic things readers need—from “Peter Pan” to the Odyssey, from “Bleak House” to “The Crying of Lot 49”—and do something new with the form of the tale itself.

and here's what our very own Alex In Montreal said about the book on ILE

Helen DeWitt - The Last Samurai
Words can't do this justice. A single mother and her 5 year old genius son living in London, travelling on the circle line while he reads the Illiad in Greek and the Kalilah wa Dimnah in Arabic, with well-meaning bystanders offering her advice. She slept with his father because there was no polite way to end the conversation, informing the reader of this fact while Ludo interrupts her with the naming of increasingly multi-legged octopus (NONAPUS, DEKAPUS, etc. etc.). To provide him with strong male role models, they watch Kurosawa's Seven Samurai over and over. The first part is Sybilla, depressive and rational to a fault and darkly hilarious. The second is Ludo (Steven? David?) on a quest for his (or possibly just a) father, exposing us to increasingly strange and fascinating potential candidates, and endless iterations of the same conversation. Multilingual, hilarious, pedantic, perfect. I have done an awful job of saying what the book is ABOUT, but it's been too long since I've read it to try and have a go at it.

here's the post at conversational reading with a schedule:

but i'm sure we can do better than that once everyone has a copy.

jed_, Monday, 19 July 2010 22:08 (thirteen years ago) link

Okay, good idea. I remember Alex's review and am at least intrigued and have been since he posted it. However, even though the reviews actually do make pretty clear what it's about, I don't feel like I have any idea what really to expect. Is this thing easy to read, or too difficult to be worth it? Would I, a philistine without any interest in the ancients or in Japanese art house, be able to enjoy it without being forced to do long hard thinking about things which I'm inclined not to let cross my mind?

Ismael Klata, Monday, 19 July 2010 22:20 (thirteen years ago) link

However, even though the reviews actually do make pretty clear what it's about, I don't feel like I have any idea what really to expect.

i feel the same way and that's partly why i'm so intrigued.

jed_, Monday, 19 July 2010 22:32 (thirteen years ago) link

AiM seems to be one of the very few people around here who had read or even heard of it, so we can all start from the same position of complete ignorance!

jed_, Monday, 19 July 2010 22:41 (thirteen years ago) link

It's an easy and gratifying read. Perhaps this is what I forgot to mention in my blurb!

Despite all the INFORMATION it never feels condescending, show-offy or difficult

One of DeWitt's big things is that ANYONE can learn this sort of thing given the right time and tools etc. and goes about providing them through the book. Her second novel tried to do this with Arabic to some extent.

It's moving and intelligent and honest-to-god FUN and at least once a page totally hilarious. Also, since the main character (or one of) is an American ex-pat in the UK (and so was the author) it plumbs the divide in a very ILXy sort of way.

Alex in Montreal, Monday, 19 July 2010 22:41 (thirteen years ago) link

And it's not out of print everywhere! Apparently in Canada at least you can order them new, and I find used copies whereever I go.

Alex in Montreal, Monday, 19 July 2010 22:42 (thirteen years ago) link

Again, I fail at explaining the joy of this book. The prose really should do that for itself, honestly.

Alex in Montreal, Monday, 19 July 2010 22:43 (thirteen years ago) link

Ismael, only by reading it will you find out! I've wondered about that very question because I picked it up and felt as if it had been written for me - I'd studied Greek and Japanese and vaguely looked at Arabic, I was faqmiliar withthe places she wrote about, the libraries, the music, the preoccupations (there's even a bit about chicken shops!). But somehow that was also a problem -- she used terminology I'd been taught to dislike, the pronunciation she favours for greek wasn't the one I was taught; and also I thought I was missing out, also, by already knowing things that were being discovered. In Your Name Here, her second book, there were more things I didn't know and so there was more of the joy of wrestling with a problem, and that satisfaction in working something out is I think something she wants to get across. I think it might encourage you into some thinking but not force it.

oligopoly golightly (c sharp major), Monday, 19 July 2010 22:45 (thirteen years ago) link

(there were some xposts there)

oligopoly golightly (c sharp major), Monday, 19 July 2010 22:45 (thirteen years ago) link

i actually typed out this passage ages ago, so here is the chicken bit:

"An American in Britain has sources of solace available nowhere else on earth. One of the marvellous things about the country is the
multitudes of fried chicken franchises selling fried chicken from states not known for fried chicken on the other side of the Atlantic.
If you're feeling a little depressed you can turn to Tennessee Fried Chicken, if you're in black despair an Iowa Fried Chicken will put
things in perspective, if life seems worthless and death out of reach you can see if somewhere on the island an Alaska Fried Chicken is
frying chicken according to a recipe passed down by the Inuit from time immemorial. "

oligopoly golightly (c sharp major), Monday, 19 July 2010 22:47 (thirteen years ago) link


Alex in Montreal, Monday, 19 July 2010 22:57 (thirteen years ago) link

Don't even get me STARTED about the bit concerning the library of Alexandria.


"There are people who, needing a place to put umbrellas, go to Ikea and purchase an umbrella stand for easy home assembly – and there are people who drive 100 miles to an auction in the heart of Shropshire and spot the potential in an apparently pointless 17th century farming implement."

Alex in Montreal, Monday, 19 July 2010 22:57 (thirteen years ago) link

I'm both of those people.

jed_, Monday, 19 July 2010 23:13 (thirteen years ago) link

except i can't drive and don't use umbrellas.

jed_, Monday, 19 July 2010 23:14 (thirteen years ago) link

i will read this

be told and get high on coconut (gbx), Monday, 19 July 2010 23:15 (thirteen years ago) link

what do i do

be told and get high on coconut (gbx), Monday, 19 July 2010 23:16 (thirteen years ago) link

Um. Let's figure out how many people want to and where they can find copies? We could use the same schedule as those other people (just so we can leapfrog/criticize their discussion as well?) or we could figure out something more amenable to us. I will say that amazon sells used copies of the book for like...$3 so this is totally doable.

Alex in Montreal, Monday, 19 July 2010 23:26 (thirteen years ago) link

i recently got a new copy from the book depository, if you don't want to go the used-from-amazon route. (hdw used to suggest that people who got a used copy on amazon sent her $1.50 through paypal if they wanted, since she didn't get royalties on used books.)

oligopoly golightly (c sharp major), Monday, 19 July 2010 23:27 (thirteen years ago) link

(yeah, still suggests that they do. but i think that's pretty reasonable. her blog alone is an endless source of intriguing thinky stuff)

Alex in Montreal, Monday, 19 July 2010 23:30 (thirteen years ago) link

(sidenote: she recommended Bernardo Moraes' Minimundo a while back and even though it's only available in Portuguese, it's really quite wonderful in a Borges/Lynch/WTF sort of way. if you have french or spanish you should be able to hack it.)

Alex in Montreal, Monday, 19 July 2010 23:34 (thirteen years ago) link

(when it's not a source of it-sounds-like-it's-been-genuinely-horrible-but-please-stop-talking-about-your-former-agent)

oligopoly golightly (c sharp major), Monday, 19 July 2010 23:35 (thirteen years ago) link

Although I have not read the book, and have no plans to, I would be happy to discuss it to the best of my ability. (... nods enthusiastically... and grins idiotically)

Aimless, Monday, 19 July 2010 23:36 (thirteen years ago) link

well, YES this is true. BUT when it's a source of transitive properties of arabic verbs or portuguese short stories and so on it's worth it.

Alex in Montreal, Monday, 19 July 2010 23:37 (thirteen years ago) link

Let's stop derailing the thread, though.

Alex in Montreal, Monday, 19 July 2010 23:37 (thirteen years ago) link

~copy ordered~

from local used bookstore (tho they only had it available online?)

be told and get high on coconut (gbx), Monday, 19 July 2010 23:45 (thirteen years ago) link

Looks interesting. I've just ordered a copy from Amazon. Conv Reading schedule doesn't start for ages - maybe follow their chunks over Aug/Sept?

(I'm not very book groupy, btw. I may go silent if I decide I don't like it, or don't have much useful to say. But I'm intrigued)

tetrahedron of space (woof), Monday, 19 July 2010 23:50 (thirteen years ago) link

Yeah, I've never done a book group-y reading thing before BUT conversation about this is so rare except when I force friends of mine to read it, and then the expectations are v. built in re: me insisting how good it is, that we don't usually end up talking about the book itself and its ideas - just if they liked it and why.

Alex in Montreal, Tuesday, 20 July 2010 00:05 (thirteen years ago) link

So even if not scheduled, I'm pretty excited at the idea of a bunch of smart ppl I know on the internets getting their teeth into this.

Alex in Montreal, Tuesday, 20 July 2010 00:05 (thirteen years ago) link

excellent. glad some people have ordered it already. AiM and c-sharp can feel free to discuss the book as long as they don't give too much away or tell us what, exactly, to expect - it seems like one of the joys of this book is that it takes unexpected turns.

once a few people are on board we can set a schedule and that may end up being the conversational reading one although people on here read FAST for the most part.

and i'll probably start a dedicated thread for the actual discussion. thanks all.

jed_, Tuesday, 20 July 2010 02:08 (thirteen years ago) link

I'll be up for it. A couple of thoughts:

* schedule is essential, maybe set it a bit in advance to allow to clear the decks of other reading, and to allow me to get round to ordering the thing

* I like the conversational reading schedule, slower is generally better - the listening club ideas were kind of similar and I could join in for a bit, but I just got swamped and had to bow out when it came to four albums a week. There'd be no fun clocking in after a few days to find keener types already discussing the ending. Fast readers will just have to enjoy savouring it instead.

Ismael Klata, Tuesday, 20 July 2010 09:39 (thirteen years ago) link

Slowish schedule makes sense to me - but maybe ppl who like it can burn through it & vow not to drop spoilers or make 'ah, but that's important later on' comments.

tetrahedron of space (woof), Tuesday, 20 July 2010 09:51 (thirteen years ago) link

I feel like I'm up for this. Agreed on a Conversational Reading type schedule is good and its just now a question of seeing when we could start.

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 20 July 2010 10:16 (thirteen years ago) link

I'm tentatively interested, although am dreadful at keeping this sort of thing up, I'm afraid. Initial burst of enthusiasm followed by promises of more developed thoughts actually followed by buggery fuck.

GamalielRatsey, Tuesday, 20 July 2010 10:56 (thirteen years ago) link

i'm in.

ledge, Tuesday, 20 July 2010 11:03 (thirteen years ago) link

annoyingly i can only find (at a reasonable price) the vintage edition with the crappy cover.

ledge, Tuesday, 20 July 2010 11:13 (thirteen years ago) link

i like that cover although the us one is probably a better edition.

jed_, Tuesday, 20 July 2010 11:42 (thirteen years ago) link

I'm all in

dyao, Tuesday, 20 July 2010 11:53 (thirteen years ago) link

my copy arrived today. I've a pile of stuff to read so i can wait until we're all in and on board. i'm thinking we should stick to the conversational reading schedule, yes?

so there's me, dyao, gbx, ledge,

possibly xyzzzz__, ismael, GamalielRatsey, woof, Alex and c-sharp for a re-read?

and aimless who won't read it but will contribute thought provoking non sequiturs ;-)

anyone else? the more the merrier.

jed_, Friday, 23 July 2010 14:27 (thirteen years ago) link

Hmm, I just got this out from the library, though I really should be reading Bros K, but sure, I'm theoretically in.

"the English sweat" (a new disease) (clotpoll), Friday, 23 July 2010 14:35 (thirteen years ago) link

Mine turned up a couple of days ago, started reading and enjoying last night - I'll put it aside for a bit, and I reckon I'm in.

tetrahedron of space (woof), Friday, 23 July 2010 14:38 (thirteen years ago) link

My copy should have arrived - I'll check tomorrow morning. Yes, I'm in.

Hide the prickforks (GamalielRatsey), Friday, 23 July 2010 14:44 (thirteen years ago) link

yeah, i'm in, and don't mind a) waiting until everyone's ready to start (whether we go with conversational reading or not) and also b) refraining from spoilering.

a sharp minor (c sharp major), Friday, 23 July 2010 14:46 (thirteen years ago) link

I've ordered a copy and guess I'll get it in a few weeks. So, I'm in. I can't promise that I'll have a damn thing to say, though I might have poor enough judgment to say it anyway.

Øystein, Friday, 23 July 2010 14:50 (thirteen years ago) link

when do i need to get hold of a copy for? my 'current reading/to read' 'pile' would actually now reach the ceiling if i were to turn it back into a single pile, i have realised

thomp, Friday, 23 July 2010 14:56 (thirteen years ago) link

as long as I am able to get it i am def in.

xyzzzz__, Friday, 23 July 2010 15:11 (thirteen years ago) link

thomp, we may wait till early September to start or slighty , but not much, sooner. have a look at the link in the first post, we may use that schedule.

jed_, Friday, 23 July 2010 15:32 (thirteen years ago) link

I'm in for early Sept.

franny glass, Friday, 23 July 2010 15:54 (thirteen years ago) link

cool, let's go for that. any objections.

jed_, Friday, 23 July 2010 16:02 (thirteen years ago) link

wth i ordered my copy on monday and it still hasnt shipped

doubly infuriating since the used bookstore i ordered it from is literally two blocks from my house

be told and get high on coconut (gbx), Friday, 23 July 2010 16:12 (thirteen years ago) link

can you not pop round and be like 'hi, any chance i could pick the book up that you haven't shipped yet?'

a sharp minor (c sharp major), Friday, 23 July 2010 17:15 (thirteen years ago) link

have we decided on a schedule yet? i'm finding it physically difficult to restrain myself from reading this

pies. (gbx), Friday, 6 August 2010 19:12 (thirteen years ago) link

perhaps we could do the conversational reading schedule, but a month earlier.

the dialectic of specs (c sharp major), Friday, 6 August 2010 20:47 (thirteen years ago) link

ok this is cheating but I'm 20 pages in and v v pleased already

― pies. (gbx), Tuesday, August 3, 2010 6:28 PM (3 days ago) Bookmark Suggest Ban Permalink


Seeing things like this makes me happy. But yeah, let's firm up a schedule, neh?

The SBurbs (Alex in Montreal), Friday, 6 August 2010 22:12 (thirteen years ago) link

argh I'll have access to this book in about a week, when I start my job again and have access to the library.

dyao, Friday, 6 August 2010 22:17 (thirteen years ago) link

so i'm like 3/4 of the way thru, guys sorry :(

i'll read it again, tho! i like it ~that much~

the gods must be farting (gbx), Saturday, 14 August 2010 00:15 (thirteen years ago) link

YAY YAY YAY. Honestly, gbx, it'll be good to have someone else reading it a second or third time. A lot of the structure of the book and the broader parallels reveal themselves on a repeat reading. It's a book that rewards close and frequent returns.

The SBurbs (Alex in Montreal), Saturday, 14 August 2010 02:26 (thirteen years ago) link

Got it today. Read a few random pages and enjoyed it a lot; it looks very funny. Well, a month left, eh. The Conversational Reading pace seems dreadfully slow, but I guess it might allow people to get deeper into the sections. I'm no deep reader, but I look forward to following what everyone else gets out of the book.

Øystein, Tuesday, 17 August 2010 21:04 (thirteen years ago) link

i liked the first five pages a bunch

thomp, Tuesday, 17 August 2010 22:36 (thirteen years ago) link

need to get this.........

just sayin, Wednesday, 18 August 2010 08:28 (thirteen years ago) link

Yeah, I read the first chapter, enjoyed it. Not having been part of a book group before, apart from the obvious (no spoilers, or hinting at things coming up) is there any etiquette that shd be observed, or any special structure to the process? At the moment just assuming it's a slowish chapter-by-chapter read through, with general synchronised discussion as we go along.

Hide the prickforks (GamalielRatsey), Wednesday, 18 August 2010 08:29 (thirteen years ago) link

We need to get our timetable finalised here.

Ismael Klata, Thursday, 19 August 2010 13:23 (thirteen years ago) link

got my copy today!

? (dyao), Thursday, 19 August 2010 13:24 (thirteen years ago) link

ok, shall we start september 5th or wait til september 19th to fit in with the conversatonal reading schedule?

i can see the benefit in both, i suppose we have everyone on board who is going to join in, we just have to make sure everyone who is in has the physical object.

jed_, Thursday, 19 August 2010 13:32 (thirteen years ago) link

i'll definitely have it by the 5th

just sayin, Thursday, 19 August 2010 13:41 (thirteen years ago) link


jed_, Thursday, 19 August 2010 13:52 (thirteen years ago) link

I say the 5th. I want to finish Among The Believers first, but no need to wait longer than that.

Ismael Klata, Thursday, 19 August 2010 14:39 (thirteen years ago) link

ok, starting on the 5th with a 4 week schedule rather than a 6 week one.

any objections to that?

jed_, Thursday, 19 August 2010 16:53 (thirteen years ago) link

Ah well I'm afraid I'm not going to find this but I'll be reading the comments w/interest. Probably revive the thread in a year or so.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 19 August 2010 18:28 (thirteen years ago) link

can't you get it on amazzzz___on?

jed_, Thursday, 19 August 2010 18:59 (thirteen years ago) link

I've never bought a thing on amazon (lammm___e, I know). Might get round to finally doing it.

xyzzzz__, Thursday, 19 August 2010 19:05 (thirteen years ago) link

5th is fine by me.

ledge, Saturday, 21 August 2010 19:06 (thirteen years ago) link

xyzzzzz, email me yr address - tom dot west at gmail dot com

thomp, Sunday, 22 August 2010 11:40 (thirteen years ago) link

thomp - check yr email.

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 22 August 2010 20:14 (thirteen years ago) link

can i just clear something up, since i've never really done anything like this, but if i set week one as 5th-12th of august, for example, does that mean we read the book during that week and post while we read - or read the book that week and post at the end of that week - or that we have all read the first section by the 5th and discuss it afterwards?

jed_, Monday, 23 August 2010 11:06 (thirteen years ago) link

I'll be off-internet for much of September, but should be able to check in once or twice a week. I'll try to drop in my thoughts on scheduled sections, but may not be able to get into discussion.

tetrahedron of space (woof), Monday, 23 August 2010 11:31 (thirteen years ago) link

I've never book grouped either. It's up to you I guess, jed_, though I'd favour the first option (reading the first bit during the first week of discussion) because:

- gives me a little more time to clear the decks
- allows posting in real time as interesting thoughts occur
- means the discussion isn't necessarily just backwards-looking
- spoilers are easily avoided by avoiding the thread
- whereas spoilers might actually be useful, if that's your reading style

(why must my iPhone autocorrect 'reading' to 'Reading'? It's very annoying)

Ismael Klata, Monday, 23 August 2010 13:10 (thirteen years ago) link

why must my iPhone autocorrect 'reading' to 'Reading'? It's very annoying

Drives me nuts.

Hide the prickforks (GamalielRatsey), Monday, 23 August 2010 13:14 (thirteen years ago) link

Plus it's kind of creepy when you do mean Reading. It shouldn't know.

tetrahedron of space (woof), Monday, 23 August 2010 13:20 (thirteen years ago) link

xyz&c., spare copy in the mail to you today

thomp, Monday, 23 August 2010 13:30 (thirteen years ago) link

Thanks thomp!

xyzzzz__, Monday, 23 August 2010 20:21 (thirteen years ago) link

like… is today the day?

j., Sunday, 5 September 2010 06:22 (thirteen years ago) link

Yes. Will be cracking on and hopefully get a comment or two in as the week goes on.

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 5 September 2010 09:51 (thirteen years ago) link

what kind of schedule are we looking at? the one in the first post is ~ 100 pages a week. could be tough - might end up reading it in one and then just going back over.

ledge, Sunday, 5 September 2010 09:56 (thirteen years ago) link

from jed above:

ok, starting on the 5th with a 4 week schedule rather than a 6 week one.

so you can take a knife to your copy and divide it by four parts of equal size?

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 5 September 2010 10:00 (thirteen years ago) link

will do :) my copy is 480 pages so ~ 120 each week.

ledge, Sunday, 5 September 2010 10:17 (thirteen years ago) link

I can't decide whether this should have a new thread or not

Ismael Klata, Sunday, 5 September 2010 10:25 (thirteen years ago) link

if we're doing it in four parts i'd approx suggest (us edition)

99-189 (chapter titled 'i. we never get off at sloane square for nebraska friend chicken')
191-358 (donald richie quote, chapter starts '20 march 1993')
358-end (chapter starts 'i decided not to apply')

this is top-light end-heavy but the thing is there's a natural break at p190 which one might as well go with.

(tbh it's easier to break into thirds than quarters)

czyczyczyczy comparative (c sharp major), Sunday, 5 September 2010 12:45 (thirteen years ago) link

sorry! i'll start a new thread later today & link up the schedule with c-sharps info. thanks.

jed_, Sunday, 5 September 2010 12:52 (thirteen years ago) link

think I've got a weird edition - it's the hardcover, clocks in at 530 pages.

dayo, Sunday, 5 September 2010 13:11 (thirteen years ago) link

us paperback is 530 pages as well?

ps that's 'nebraska fried chicken', not 'friend chicken', i cannot type

czyczyczyczy comparative (c sharp major), Sunday, 5 September 2010 13:27 (thirteen years ago) link

oh okay - just saw the 480 pager upthread and assumed that's what everybody had. well, guess I'll get started reading!

dayo, Sunday, 5 September 2010 13:28 (thirteen years ago) link

are we agreed on a 4 week schedule starting NOW?

jed_, Sunday, 5 September 2010 13:40 (thirteen years ago) link

Yep, fine by me.

GamalielRatsey, Sunday, 5 September 2010 13:44 (thirteen years ago) link

Yep, go for't

Ismael Klata, Sunday, 5 September 2010 13:49 (thirteen years ago) link

Is this book about Samurai?

I saw some trailer for the film once and I thought it was. But whenever I see a quotation from it here it seems to be about modern Britain or something!

the pinefox, Sunday, 5 September 2010 18:11 (thirteen years ago) link

Book Group: They're reading Helen DeWitt's "The Last Samurai" (nothing to do with the Tom Cruise movie!) over at Conversational Reading - Maybe we should do the same here?

jed_, Sunday, 5 September 2010 18:34 (thirteen years ago) link

pinefox, the samurai are <a href="";>the movie samurai serving as substitute father-figures</a> for the main character. the book is full of LANGUAGES and TRANSLATION, maybe you will think it is neat.

j., Sunday, 5 September 2010 22:13 (thirteen years ago) link

couldn't open that last link; clearly misread the thread title; think I have been somewhat misled by conversation at rare ILX FAP the other week where I thought all the ILB people were saying this novel WAS the same as that Cruise film.

the pinefox, Monday, 6 September 2010 16:56 (thirteen years ago) link

whoops, here you go:

nyt review of 'the last samurai'

j., Monday, 6 September 2010 17:13 (thirteen years ago) link

come on board, pinefox. it would be good to have your input.

jed_, Monday, 6 September 2010 18:56 (thirteen years ago) link

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