Reading so far in 2021

A lot of Japanese novels or books in Japanese so far this year. The only non-Japanese novel was a recommendation by a penpal and I loved it.

持たない暮らし is one of those organizing/decluttering books that I read mostly over the break. Sadly have not been able to organize my life yet, nor throw all my things away. And so the journey continues.

Read the second book of “Before the coffee gets cold” by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, and I might have liked this better than the first. Can’t wait for the third one to be translated. I could read it in Japanese of course, but since I started it in English I’d like to continue it in English.

The Great Passage was great as per my post. Circe was amazing, I couldn’t put it down.

お探し物は図書室まで is the newest book by Michiko Aoyama, who wrote 木曜日にはココアを and it was in a similar vein with different stories beng slowly connected together. I loved it. While the former book was set in both Japan and Australia, a very ambitious undertaking, this one was all in Japan, very cozy and near.

I finally finished サキの忘れ物. I love the cover and I love the title story, but the other stories were just…not to my taste. I finished about half of the stories, the other half I left halfway through. I kept putting it down and not picking it back up because I was dreading the stories that didn’t catch my attention, feeling guilty wanting to skip the stories (though I had to in order to get through).

I’m reading (though I keep forgetting that I am) both Sense and Sensibility and Anne Karenina. I also started the second volume of 麦本三歩の好きな物 yesterday.

I don’t have any specific reading plans nor goals, I like browsing the bookstores and have the books come to me. And recommendations from friends and penpals and whoever is around is also good, gets me out of my comfort reading zone.

How is everyone’s reading coming along so far this year? Any plans/goals?

麦本三歩の好きなもの, a series??

Have I talked about this book before? I feel like I should have, seeing as I loved it. But I did read it a long time before even starting this blog so I might have forgotten to write about it.

It’s “Sanpo Mugimoto’s favorite things” or “The things Sanpo Mugimoto likes” or something in that vein. About Sanpo, a librarian in her twenties, and her every day life. Every chapter is about something she likes, for example; “Sanpo Mugimoto likes walking”, “Sanpo Mugimoto likes libraries”, “Sanpo Mugimoto likes today”, etc.

It’s a very cozy book, slow paced, every day life, (aka easy vocabulary) just what I like.

So today I dragged Teddy out of the house and to the bookstore/starbucks. I just finished Michiko Aoyama’s 「お探し物は図書室まで」this morning (a post will come later), and so I felt like I could allow myself to look at and even buy a new book having finished reading one.

On the new books’ shelf I saw 麦本三歩の好きなもの, it had a different cover, but I didn’t think that would justify calling it new. But, when I looked closely I saw “第二集” (vol.2)!

It has around 100 more pages and I am very excited. Of course I had to have it right away. I love how they have kept the same style both with cover and the inside in both, both yellow as well. Yellow just kind of gets you excited doesn’t it? Such a happy colour, perfect for the coming season.

It has chapters like “Sanpo Mugimoto likes sleeping”, “Sanpo Mugimoto likes pudding hair” (what プリンヘア is I do not know but I hope to find out by reading), “Sanpo Mugimoto likes girls”, “Sanpo Mugimoto likes corners”, etc.

So if you like slow everyday life kind of novels this is for you, funny, charming, relaxing.

I want to work in a library.

The Great Passage by Shion Miura 三浦しをんの「舟を編む」

This book has been on my shelf for a while, but before we go further I want to put in a disclaimer; I haven’t read it in Japanese yet. I chickened out and read it in English (it has been translated!!)

I was at the bookstore here the other day looking at, well, books. I found two books that I liked:

I ended up buying the お探し物は図書室まで as it is by Michiko Aoyama who wrote 木曜日にはココアを which I loved.

I felt like I had seen Shion Miura somewhere but it didn’t register yet. As I was googling her I came over ‘The Great Passage’ and then it came to me; she wrote 舟を編む!

I watched the anime back when I was in university and loved it, but knowing how much technical terms would be in the book was what initially held me off, so finding that it has been translated was a godsend.

I stayed up till 1am yesterday finishing it, it’s that good. I couldn’t put it down. I love it. I also feel like I need to buy more dictionaries.

It’s about dictionaries and words and life and love and friendship and everything you could possibly want, and it is definitely a recommendation from me.

Maybe I’ll tackle it in Japanese one day now that I have it in English as well. We’ll see.

木曜日にはココアを by 青山美智子 

As I said in my previous post, I loved the first of the 12 stories and was relieved to find that they were not complete stand-alones.

The beauty of these stories are how they are stories in their own right, but they are also part of a bigger story.

Reading this book felt like a puzzle (and I love puzzles). At first you have a heap of pieces, that you connect together piece by piece until you have a complete picture. Every piece, while small and seemingly insignificant by itself, are connected to each other in some way and you wouldn’t get the full picture without them. And the feeling when you put in that final piece, having it all come together to form something greater, seeing how that one piece connected to this other piece, that feeling is so precious.

We have a cafe owner, a waiter, a girl writing letters in English, a mom that can’t make an omelet, a kindergarten teacher who forgot to take off her nailpolish, a lingerie designer, an old married couple, a newly married couple, a former banker, a witch, an artist, a translator, a sick girl.

We are in Tokyo, and we are in Sydney.

I sped through this novel faster than I have ever read a Japanese novel before. And yet I felt dissatisfied. I felt annoyance towards my eyeballs that they could not move faster. I started following the text with my finger in an attempt to increase my reading speed. I had a need to race through and find the connecting pieces.

And it was beautiful. I laughed. I cried. I was moved. I felt inspired.

I want to have everyone read this book. I want to talk about it, but I do not wish to spoil.

I have decided to try my hand at translating, at least the first chapter. Not that I am a great translator or anything, but it will be both good practice for me and count as studying which I have sorely neglected to do this year.

I do hope for a professional translation of this to come out one day, maybe there is somewhere one can send in requests for works to be considered for translation? If so, do tell me, I have a list of books that I’d like to see translated.

Book buying blunder and can you skip short stories?

Long time no post. I either feel the need to write three times a day or once every three months.

Today a copy of Kawakami’s People From My Neighbourhood arrived in my mailbox, a book I had forgotten I had ordered in September. The delivery date had apparently been by October the 13th, but as I had completely forgotten about it, I bought it as an ebook on the 15th and finished reading it yesterday.

I didn’t love it. I think it was good and an entertaining read, but not on the level of Strange Weather in Tokyo or The Nakano Thriftshop in my opinion.

At first I thought it would be many weird little stories that weren’t particularily connected to each other but as I read on I found out that they were. They were all little snippets of a frankly absurd neighbourhood (absurd in a good way) and the same characters kept popping up here and there. Incredibly short with only 89 pages in the kindle edition (121 in paper edition) and at the same price as a full-length novel, which is a bit… absurd (to me). Then again, I did purchase it twice, thanks to my non-existent memory.

I am still reading 先の忘れ物, another short-story collection but without the connection between the stories as with Kawakami’s. I loved the title story. I wish it would have been a novel by itself. The second story was okay. The third story is where I have a problem. I didn’t enjoy it so I skipped halfway through and went on to the next story.

So my problem is; can you skip some stories in a short-story collection and still say you read the book?

The Makioka Sisters and how soon is too soon?

I am always hesitant to write too much about the plot of the books I read, it always ends up very vague and not very interesting which makes me a very unsuitable to write book reviews. Even when I want to gush about my favorite parts I feel like I need to hold back, just in case there is someone out there who hasn’t read it yet, be it a month after publication or a hundred years.

How long after publication does one wait until spilling the beans so to speak? how soon is too soon? Do we have to use spoiler alerts forever?

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki. I always assumed the title was the same in Japanese, so something like まきおか姉妹 or まきおか物語 (like Little Women) but I found out after trying to talk about it with other Japanese people that the title is 細雪 (sasameyuki, or light snow fall), so, completely different.

Even though I’ve know about this book ever since I got into Japanese literature and it is one of the greats, THE classic basically, it has even been translated into Norwegian (in 2015), I didn’t know anything about it, except for it being about the Makioka sisters obviously.

Reading the synopsis on the back I felt a trifle annoyed, thinking that perhaps they would like to just write out the whole ending and spare me 530 pages? (I can be a very sarcastic person and I apologize in advance, it is one of my character flaws and a great burden). Going from knowing nothing about the plot I felt like I had been spoiled it all as they wrote as far as “She has a series of love affairs, bears a child, and ends up as the wife of a bartender”. But I was determined to enjoy the book anyway and delved into the story. (Spoiler alert: it does not spoil the book)

I was able to overcome my prior prejudice and thoroughly enjoyed it. I am always a bit apprehensive about classics as they can sometimes be hard to get into, but I found the Makioka sisters to not belong in this category.

I hadn’t really thought about how old this particular translation/edition is, but it struck me as I came across a footnote explaining what sushi is. Nowadays it feels like that is common knowledge, with sushi places in just about every country, but back in 1958 when this was first translated and released, sushi must have been a lot less common or maybe even unknown outside of Japan.

It spans such a long time that I usually wasn’t sure what year we were in, but I felt it really wasn’t that important. I mean, yes, the time period is very important because of the historical side of it, but I, personally, was more drawn into the personal lives of the characters. I have never had much sense regarding the historical aspects of things, history class was very difficult for me because I couldn’t relate to the events nor remember the dates, but enough about that.

There were many characters and names, but as you were drawn into the story it wasn’t too hard to keep track of them all.

With Little Women, I think we all have a favorite sister, a sister that maybe we look up to or that resembles ourself the most. But with the Makioka Sisters I couldn’t find one like that. They all have their fine points and their flaws (as do we all), but I couldn’t root for one more of the other. I liked them all the same and was invested in their lives, but nothing outside of that. The one I liked the best was Teinosuke, I admired him for being such a great husband, and brother-in-law, and father. (Let’s not talk of Taeko).

I enjoyed the story greatly, seeing all the different paths human lives can take. However I am not sure if it will be a reread for me or not, and it is definitely not on the list of books to get hardcovers of yet, but, if in the future I find myself rereading it, it might get onto that list, we’ll see.

Japanese hardcover of Little Women aka one of the most beautiful Japanese books I have seen so far

I intended for this blog to be a place of writing, but some times words don’t cut it.

For instance; in the event that you find a beautiful Japanese hardcover of Little Women

If you think I was able to leave it at the bookstore you are sorely mistaken. I might have deprived a Japanese person of the wonder of Little Women and for that I am sorry, but this book was meant to go home with me.

After Kuri’s post on book covers in Japan you might wonder why I have one, but it was solely to protect this beauty until we got home.

Not once, but twice I was soaked to the bone getting off the bus and being caught in a torrential downpour before I was back home safe and sound with my copy still untarnished

I am in love with the cover, even the back of the book has a dear little illustration!

I want to dive into this at once, at the same time as I am apprehensive regarding whether I will be able to read it in a satisfactory manner. Considering the age of this work I am afraid that they might use older words and phrases with which I will not be familiar with.

The glorious index page featuring all the sisters at work

From the little front flap:

メグ、ジョー、ベス、エイミー。

世界でもっとも愛されている四姉妹のかけがえがない、

しあわせな日々へようこそ。

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy. Welcome to the joyful days of the irreplaceable and most beloved four sisters in the world.

But since it is a book for readers both young and old, there seems to be plenty of furigana for the younger ones (or for us struggling foreigners, I thank thee) so it might not be too bad, and as I am more than familiar with the plot I do believe that I might not get too lost after all.

I am unable to get over how pretty this is.

I will probably update on the progress of reading it, but I make no promises on when that will be. For now, just enjoy the beauty of it.

52-hertz whales 「52ヘルツのクジラたち」

I picked this up at the nearby Tsutaya, where they were having a summery display, but while this book is blue, fitting with the summery theme, it is anything but a light beach read.

What drew me to it was the cute cover and the interesting title. I bought it not knowing what it was about. It said something about a lonely whale on the cover, but quickly flipping through I deduced it would not be about a whale but actual people so I bought it.

Coming home I googled “52-hertz whale” and found out it is an actual whale. A whale of an unidentified species that calls at 52 hertz, while other whales call at around 10-30 hertz, so no one can hear its call and it remains alone. From this you might think that the book will be about lonely people and it was.

While not a very happy story throughout, you keep reading. You get invested. You want them to be happy, to find happiness. Not a light read or as easy-going as for example 「麦本三歩の好きなもの」but nonetheless a captivating read. I only cried once, I swear.

Neither we, nor the locals in the book, know much about her. It took me twenty pages to figure out her name. It is Kiko. But, her friends call her Kinako, the few she has at least. The opening line is:

明日の天気を訊くような軽い感じで、風俗やってたの?と言われた。

“So did you do sex work? I was told as lightly as if asking about tomorrow’s weather.”

She is having some work done to the house she just moved to, a house out in a small town where gossip is the local currency amongst the grandmas. We see that she is not very friendly, I wouldn’t go as far as to call her unfriendly, but she keeps to herself. And she might be harboring a lot of stress or anger or both. She wants to be left alone, to live quietly by herself. She thinks of someone called An, and we get the feeling they were close but something happened and she is torn up about it. Maybe that’s the reason she came to this place, to escape.

There is a sense of tragedy, that something terrible has occured, but the book keeps you in the dark, keeps you guessing. That is not to say it is all doom and gloom, you have some little sparkles here and there but the overall feeling is sad, lonely, searching for something.

While I loved the book and gave it 5 stars on goodreads, it can be quite a heavy book, emotionally, and so be warned.

A thing I learned from this book was about an old hiragana for ‘e’. It looks like this: ゑ

One of the character’s name is さちゑ. Since it looked like る, or looked like it was in there, I thought it was an old way to write “ru” or maybe a kanji for “ru”. I posted on my instagram story with “what the f is this?? A kanji?” (I know, my language is very lady-like), and kept reading her name as Sachiru.

Two people (a coworker and “my” japanese mom whom is actually my friend’s mom) were nice enough to school me in the history of old hiragana. So I learned that her name is not Sachiru but actually Sachie. The only reason I can think of for the author using this old-ass hiragana for that character’s name is only the fact that she (the character) is an old lady. Maybe there are other reasons, however they are not apparent to me.

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