Reviews: non-fiction e-books and audiobooks - how Japanese grieve, and art of wig wearing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 February, 2015, 10:49pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 February, 2015, 10:54am

Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye
by Marie Mutsuki Mockett
WW Norton & Company
(e-book)

Coming to terms with loss is the thread that stitches together this perceptive and deeply moving book by Marie Mutsuki Mockett, who travels to the home country of her mother and, through her own grief, sees how the Japanese say goodbye. Several weeks after the 2011 tsunami, Mockett, still anguished about her father’s death three years before, visits her mother’s family, whose home is a Zen temple 45 kilometres from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Despite being a relative insider, she often feels like she’s putting her foot in it, behaving not quite as a gaijin but also being not fully Japanese. Having experienced religion mostly through books, she comes face to face with living practitioners, including priests and spiritualists, and provides a personal, and interesting, take on Buddhism in Japan. Readers will also find thought-provoking her description of the tsunami’s aftermath. We hear about looting and, eerily, that the sound of a tsunami is car horns – caused by water pressure.

 

Quirky Essays For Quirky People: The Complete Collection
by Barbara Venkataraman
read by Carrie Lee Martz
Barbara Markley
(audiobook)

It's unfortunate that this collection of essays has such an unexpressive narrator in Carrie Lee Martz. That aside, the "quirky essays" of Barbara Venkataraman should find favour with people who enjoy gentle humour about human foibles. The opening piece about the author's father sets the tone for the following compositions, some just a few pages long. It tells of a jack-of-no-trades dad who yearns for a DIY job he can boast about, and a water-leak that allows him to prove himself. Other subjects include an obsession with kitchen gadgets, why doting pet owners can be annoying and scales of pain. Venkataraman, who is an attorney specialising in family law, also writes about friendships strained because of her writing: a pal worries that what she says will end up in one of the author's essays, and when it doesn't, frets about being boring. Not every piece will sustain the interest of listeners. Whether you have to be quirky to enjoy this collection is debatable. You do, however, need to be in a good mood to allow this to work its charms.

 

Hell Toupee: My Ridiculous Year with Hair Club For Men
by Mitch Friedman
Lewis Avenue Books
(e-book)

You can imagine the chortles when someone came up with the title Hell Toupee. Unfortunately, the book itself is not as funny, although, for anyone considering a "hair system", this is worth reading for an account of what's involved, the cost and how it looked (although before-and-after photos would have helped). After his parents' acrimonious divorce, his own first love and subsequent breakup, the hair loss starts for Mitch Friedman, a comedian, who decides to liberate his head from a "yarmulke with hair on it" that has been glued to his scalp. Every month, he returns to the salon to have the old "system" removed and a new one glued on. He smells of epoxy, uses double-sided tape to keep the hairpiece flat at the front, and develops an itch that can't be satisfied. And for the privilege of having to prove to airport security that he is the same person as in his photo ID, he pays US$1,500 and US$50 a month for the upkeep. By the end, readers will know what's coming and think, "at least he got a book out of it".