EVERYONE Has Read This but Me - The Catch-Up Book Club discussion

I Am a Cat: I
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message 1: by Kaseadillla (last edited May 02, 2018 03:43AM) (new)

Kaseadillla | 1371 comments Mod
Hello all - starting up discussions for the MAY 2018 BOTMs. For this month's theme of Japanese Literature, this discussion is for the group's poll selection for the CLASSICS category: I Am a Cat: I by Natsume Sōseki.

This discussion will be FULL OF SPOILERS. If you have not read the book yet and don't want to ruin the ending, hop on over to the spoiler-free discussion HERE .

Happy reading!

message 2: by Kristin (new)

Kristin Ames (kmames) | 147 comments So this was just okay for me. My favorite parts were when the cat actually talked about being a cat and not the parts where he was just a fly on the wall. The fence part with the crows was my favorite. Other than that I was board through large chunks of the book. How about that ending though. I know the author originally wrote this as a series of short stories, but people loved them so much he had to write more and more. I think he just got sick of writing about the damn cat and his dull master so he stopped it the only was he could think to get the madness to end. Totally still a dog person :)

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 568 comments It reads like a cozy to me with intellectual pretensions.

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 568 comments The set of books grow on you. Book one was tedious and too 'talky' with literature, ideas and philosophy, but it introduces the characters. Now that I am at Book three, I find myself smiling a lot, even laughing. But readers have to take their time - it is best to read a chapter, then walk away.

This is a basically a very tame and wordy domestic fiction about a Japanese teacher in 1904, with a cat who listens carefully to his master and his friends when they visit. The teacher is a bit pompous and silly, but he has a couple of friends who come to visit often with whom he discusses literature and ideas. He clearly is not as smart as one of his friends. He has neighbors who plot to make him move with ideas like paying kids to throw baseballs into his backyard and then fetch them, which annoys him. The neighbors think he is too pompous and try to insult him, but he rarely understands that is what they are doing, which frustrates them. He has a wife and children, but they are not heard from very often.

The cat observes them all, and makes smartass, if sometimes long-winded, and on-target observations about his master, friends and the neighbors. If you have the version that comes with a foreword, it has a major spoiler about the cat.

message 5: by NancyJ (new)

NancyJ (nancyjjj) I'm feeling sorry for this book. 40 people voted for it, but it doesn't appear that many people read it.

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 568 comments I felt sorry for it, too. And the cat. Book people are odd, yeah?

message 7: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl  (cherylllr) | 1057 comments I wanted to read it, but family issues got in the way, and then other comments revealed that it's not so much about the cat, which is what I wanted when I voted for it.

In case I do get a chance to try again, what discussion questions does it prompt?

And what is "Japanese" about it? Iow, how does it fit the theme of the month?

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 568 comments Well, the author is totally of Japanese ethnicity. Otherwise, clearly the domestic scenes in the novel could be taking place in any neighborhood I am familiar with. It clearly is a novel for philosophical ideas, more than anything travelogue specific to Japan.

message 9: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl  (cherylllr) | 1057 comments But philosophical ideas are not universal. Nor are the cultural markers that the book is (reported to be) satirizing, at least not all of them.

For example, some ppl say that the cat is physically abused (kicked?). Is the reader given to understand that the author considers this normal behavior? Acceptable? Deplorable? Particular to the specific setting?

message 10: by aPriL does feral sometimes (last edited Jun 03, 2018 01:49PM) (new)

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 568 comments The cat is not given much attention after the first book. The servant abuses the cat when it first is adopted, but she is reprimanded. The cat does not much like the kids, but the kids and wife barely matter in the four books, as they are not much part of the action. The neighbors have a greater visibility than the family in several comic disputes, where they expect ‘the master’ to behave deferentially, but he either is ignorant of the meaning behind their supposed signs of scorn or defensive or doesn’t want to get involved. He is considered pompous by various servants and neighbors, who plan to demonstrate to him how badly they think of him, but he misses the point of their schemes entirely as he is oblivious. Primarily, the friends come over and discuss their dating issues or marriage issues, or philosophical issues. There is a case where the police come because of a burglary, but it is all very domestic.

The author went to University in England, btw. He was a high-end intellectual writer, and this novel is a high end literary novel.

I studied philosophy 101 in college, plus I used to read The Atlantic Magazine, and the basic stuff of Japanese intellectualism is the same as the stuff of American intellectualism and English intellectualism.

Most foreign Japanese translated books that are considered important literary classics mostly discuss European philosophers and their works, comparing these ideas with local Asian philosophers and their books with historical impacts on society and government. The philosophical issues are about common questions philosophers discuss the world over, apparently.

We English speakers do not really see the ordinary commercial novels of Asia or Eastern Europe, so the novels I have read from Japan and China and India have all been literary classics (or detective mysteries) and include a lot of deep high-end academic philosophy from European and Asian philosophers which are argued about in many chapters in these literary, high-end novels.

Novels are not and were not universally common in the world. Vast sections of the world do not write or print novels of any kind, partially because of religious concerns and government suppression.

I have read several foreign literary novels, and what is considered literary fiction in Eastern Europe and Asian novels always seems to include a great deal of philosophical musing (is there a god, if so, where is he and what is his scope of effort, why so many religions and what specifically do they all have in common or different about heaven or god’s nature or good and evil or punishment, why do we suffer, what is different between the Western philosophers and the Eastern philosophers intellectually, how to think, what is consciousness, what this or that book from the West and the East really meant, what should kids be taught, what do we owe society and our families, what causes poverty, is education important, how do we stop poverty and wars, when is violence necessary, what is the purpose of mankind, why are we here, are women equal to men, latest science and what does that mean to the soul, do animals have souls, do women have souls, freedom of speech issues, use of violence issues, what is the role of religion, should government control morality, what is morality, what is history, do societies change, which society is best, what is right and wrong, what do we owe the gods, what happens after death, what is death etc.). Even noir novels written by Eastern Europeans seem to include tons of philosophical musings about governments, forms of governance, religion, policing, history, war, right and wrong, morality, etc.

These comments are totally from my limited reading - the high-end literary novels which have been translated or been published here in the States. Many foreign literary fiction books seem to quote mostly famous European scientists and philosophers. Some, mostly Japanese, compare European knowledge with their local famous philosophers, but mostly they include local myths, which tend to have Buddhist ideas of being and spirits and a world of life beyond death, mostly ghosts, seeking revenge. English literary novels seem to include some or a lot of Celtic myths and Norse myths. Indian literary novels only seem to discuss philosophy in terms of ancient and current famous Indian thinkers and Hinduism or Chinese religions, plus lots of local class issues, and include much history between England and India, and huge plots about family strife and life and the clash of old religious Hindu and a Buddhist beliefs with modern society.

English and American literary novels focus more on the relationships of people and feelings and failures of marriage, love, parenting, and the social issues liberals and conservatives are most concerned with like is my son gay, if he is should we do something, my daughter is marrying someone of another race, if my neighbor prays in a mosque and wears a hijab, or is poor or a drunk or a drug addict should I help them or ignore them if they are beaten up, the sufferings involved with poverty and mental illness etc.

English literary novels always seem to bring in some veteran of WWII, or some personal vendetta because of WWII or some family being destroyed because of WWII, or class/poverty issues. Philosophy issues and philosophers are not in discussions as foreign literary novels.

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) | 568 comments p.s. Because most novels and non-fiction that are written are freely printed and available in Western World nations, and have been for centuries, and many foreign books were not allowed or are not printed in the authors’ home countries, being censored or because the home country would put the author in prison, their home governments, even democracies, often forbid novels of any kind, most foreign fiction from these countries reflect Western-style writing through local prisms. Also, many foreign authors went to Western universities, because that is where the books are available that they can study. Philosophy is considered dangerous by most countries in the world.

message 12: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl  (cherylllr) | 1057 comments Fascinating ... thank you so much!

Allegra | 250 comments NancyJ wrote: "I'm feeling sorry for this book. 40 people voted for it, but it doesn't appear that many people read it."

Having f-i-n-a-l-l-y finished, I feel it was a joke by the 40 to see how many would slog through. Maybe because it's dated, maybe because it's a different culture, but the universal part was pettiness and one-upmanship. "Master" was a jerk to everyone, but everyone was a jerk. Loving cats was not enough.

message 14: by NancyJ (new)

NancyJ (nancyjjj) I admire your effort Allegra!

message 15: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl  (cherylllr) | 1057 comments Thank you Allegra for doing the work so that I didn't have to!

message 16: by Lea (last edited Jul 26, 2018 12:06PM) (new)

Lea (leaspot) | 135 comments This book is extremely clever. Unfortunately, I am not.

I did have to look up a few words, which is always really fun for me.

I did enjoy some of the philosophical commentary of the cat. In the end, we all are rendered ridiculous by the cat's observations. Even the cat himself is ridiculous.

Some of it is funny, but I found I couldn't read too much of it at one setting. Sometimes the observations seemed a little mean spirited. Mocking other people continuously, even if they deserve quite a bit of it, is just not enjoyable for me to read.

message 17: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl  (cherylllr) | 1057 comments Yes, that sounds like what I gathered I could look forward to, and why I stopped so early. I totally admire your persistence!

Renee (elenarenee) I have finally gotten to read the book. I did enjoy it. I think my favorite part was the beginning.

I enjoyed the picture of the teacher trying to paint and be more than he was

It took me a while to read but I persevered. I did find some of the cats perspective to be mean spirited.

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