1. "The Art of Nothing Happening"

    Sōsuke had been relaxing for some time on the veranda, legs comfortably crossed on a cushion he had set down in a warm, sunny spot. After a while, however, he let drop the magazine he had been holding and lay down on his side. It was a truly fine autumn day, the sun bright, the air crisp, and the clatter of wooden clogs passing through the quiet neighborhood echoed in his ears with a heightened clarity. Tucking one arm under his head, he cast his gaze past the eaves at the expanse of clear blue sky above. Compared to the tiny space he occupied here on the veranda, this patch of sky appeared extremely vast. Thinking what a difference it made, simply to take in the sky in the rare, leisurely fashion afforded by a Sunday, he squinted directly at the blazing sun for a few moments, then, averting his eyes, rolled over to his other side and faced the shoji. Beyond its panels his wife was seated, busy with her needlework.

    —the first paragraph of Nasume Sōseki’s The Gate, translated by William F. Sibley and on sale today. The Gate is a classic of the Japanese Meiji era, and it was Sōskei’s favorite of his own novels. Pico Iyer, in the introduction to this edition, writes that, “in Sōseki’s world doing nothing should never be mistaken for feeling too little or lacking a vision or doctrine.” Sam Sacks, reviewing the book in the Wall Street Journal, notes something else: “Sōseki had a genius for sensitively depicting souls in torment.”

  2. Old Stories, New Illustrations

    Carlo Collodi’s 1883 Italian fable, Pinocchio, gains buoyancy from the cartoon figures and candy hues of Fulvio Testa’s ink-and-watercolor illustrations. This large, elegant volume about the wooden puppet that becomes a real boy recounts Pinocchio’s vertiginous, morally complex adventures with artistic good cheer that softens the sharper, scarier bits. The toothy mouth of the shark that swallows Pinocchio and his father, Geppetto, for instance, looks more like the entrance to an amusement park ride than a terrifying maw.

    —a review of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, illustrated by Fulvio Testa and translated by Geoffrey Brock in The Wall Street Journal's “Gift Guide 2012: Children’s Books.” Here’s Brock’s translation of the scene: “With renewed strength and energy, he began swimming toward the white rock, and he was already halfway there when he saw, rising out of the water and coming towards him, the terrifying head of a sea monster, its mouth gaping like a hugh cavern, and three rows of fangs that would have been scary even just in a picture.”

  3. Wolf Story in the news

    Lots of attention for Wolf Story, written by William McCleery with illustrations by Warren Chappell, in the media this weekend. First up is an interview with Michael McCleery, William’s son and the basis for the character of Michael, on NPR’s Weekend Edition. Not only will you hear Michael read aloud from the book written for and based on him, but you’ll also learn that it was written during a “quickie divorce” in Reno in 1947. How the best children’s books are made!  And the book was also reviewed in The Wall Street Journal: an excerpt of the review is below.

    What sings, though, is the lively dialogue in the story by William McCleery (1911-2000) as a 5-year-old boy inveigles his weary father to contrive yet another bedtime story involving a ferocious wolf. The man tries to avoid this, suggesting other animals and peaceable attributes, but only a fierce wolf will do.

    'All right,' the father says, 'a terribly fierce wolf with red eyes and teeth as long and sharp as butcher knives.'
    'Mmmmmmm,' says the boy, resting his cheek on his pillow.
    'I suppose you like that about the butcher knives.'
    'I love it,' says the boy. 'Go on.'

    What follows is a collaborative tale improvised over the course of days, in which Waldo the wolf kidnaps Rainbow the hen and meets trouble in the form of Rainbow’s owners, the wisecracking Tractorwheel family. First published in 1947, Wolf Story is a romp and a laugh and a nostalgic joy to read aloud.