The Road Through Miyama by Liela Philip
reviewed by Patrick Veerkamp
Department of Art and Art History
My definition of summertime reading is admittedly rather broad. Basically, it can’t be too “heavy” but it has to have enough substance to keep me interested. It doesn’t have to be a novel. It might even be something challenging, something big like Daniel J. Boorstin’sThe Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination, which is a smorgasbord of stories about great artists, writers, and musicians presented in such a manner as to make it truly enjoyable reading. This book qualifies as a summer read primarily because it’s inspirational (that’s what heroes are for) and has a buoying effect on the spirit. Also, each individual “hero” is given a short chapter, about a dozen pages, so you can open the book anywhere or jump around and read only what interests you.
More than likely my summer reading will also include something that will offer an escape from familiar routine like one of William F. Buckley’s books on sailing. Reading Atlantic High: A Celebration last summer made me feel like one of the crew, and being with Buckley and his friends on board the Sealestial was an unforgettable trip (don’t I wish). OK, I’ll admit it, sometimes I’ll even read a book just for pleasure like My Love Affair with England: A Traveler’s Memoir, by Susan Allen Toth. Those who know me know that I have been having a love affair with England for some time now. Reading this book was a lot like eating ice cream – pure delight.
I think summertime reading should be something refreshing like a cool dip in the pool. It ought to be something compelling enough to make you honestly forget about yard work. Also, like any of the sea stories by Patrick O’Brian, a good summer read is something that captivates your imagination and exercises that part of your mind that conjures up daydreams. The book I’m recommending for this list is The Road Through Miyama by Leila Philip. It’s a book that relates to a long-time fantasy of mine: to study pottery in Japan. The book was written by a 22-year-old woman from New York, a cum laude graduate of Princeton University with a degree in Comparative Literature and East Asian Studies, who arranges to become a potter’s apprentice with a master craftsman in “the land of the rising sun.” For two years the author lived and worked as a “shadow potter” in the small rural village of Miyama where the only industry is pottery making.
So, what’s the book about? Well, as you might have guessed, it’s about insiders/outsiders, stereotypes, the co-existence of a centuries-old tradition and high-tech Japan, and the complex and changing role of women in modern Japanese society. But more to the point, it’s about the benefits of taking chances, or a calculated risk, the joys of work, adapting to change, friendships, learning, seeing, art/craft, and pottery. Furthermore, if you enjoy good writing you’ll enjoy this book. So, I hope you find the book as interesting and entertaining as I did – let me know what you think.