Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch
cbertsch

Help Me Plan My Summer Reading!

Longtime readers of my Live Journal -- of whom approximately six remain -- will know that it's one of my hallowed personal traditions to read at least one Japanese novel in translation every summer. The origins of this habit date back to the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college, when I read the Kawabata Yasunari -- I'm putting last names first in this entry, per Japanese convention -- novel Snow Country as a way to keep the ex-and-future girlfriend who had recommended it to me close to my heart. I didn't start the practice in earnest, however, until two summers later, when I read my first Murakami Haruki novel A Wild Sheep Chase, along with a couple other books of his.

Since then, Murakami has become the novelist I've read most often for fun and perhaps even my favorite author overall. I know the Japanese literary establishment has looked down on him, in part because of his commercial success. But his first-person narrators manage to give me the sensation of being inside my own head as a stranger, which I find very valuable as a kind of low-budget therapy. Indeed, I've read several of his books more than once in order to replenish my psychological stores.

That's why I thought I might begin to reread his novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World on my trip to the beach next week. Since moving to Tucson in 2000, camping in the Carlsbad-Leucadia-Encinitas-Cardiff corridor the week after Memorial Day has been a family tradition, with the commencement of my summer reading a sub-tradition indelibly linked to the sound of breakers at my back and the propane burning in the Coleman Lantern artfully placed on the picnic table to that it doesn't cast light on the tent where Skylar is sleeping. Hard-Boiled Wonderland affected me greatly when I read it -- I can still remember holding the open book in my hands while waiting for a train at Macarthur BART station -- but has somehow managed not to get revisited until now.

As much as I love Murakami, though, I also like to flesh out my knowledge of the modern canon of Japanese literature by reading the work of luminaries like Tanizaki Junichiro, Soseki Natsume, and Kawabata Yasunari. Actually, there's a lot of work I desperately want to read, much of it from the 1920s, that has yet to be translated, which more or less forces me to be very canonical in my choices. Until I can find more of the proletarian or aesthetic school novels in passable English, I must content myself with the "greats." Not that I mind that much, because I really do think they are amazing writers. When I finally got around to Tanizaki's The Makioka Sisters a few summers back, a novel I'd been saving for the proverbial rainy day, it rapidly became one of my favorite books of all time.

While I don't mind traversing literary ground that I've already worn pretty smooth, though, I also try to branch out from time to time by reading an author I'd not previously known. That's how I came to the work of another Murakami -- it's a common name -- with the first name of Ryu, whose novel Almost Transparent Blue is astonishingly visceral. It's really impressive despite being difficult to stomach. In particular, I'd like to read more works by Japanese women. Somewhere in the garage is the Yamada Amy book Trash, which I've been meaning to read for ages. Since it would take me hours to locate, however, I'm including a different work by a woman to include in this poll. I've been on a real "hard-boiled" kick lately, so the noir-ish qualities Miyabe's books are supposed to possess would be welcome.

Anyway, I've preambled about long enough. Please do help me to make up my mind about which book to bring to the beach next week!

What Japanese novel in translation should I read this summer?

Soseki Natsume - To the Spring Equinox and Beyond
0(0.0%)
Tanazaki Junichiro - Some Prefer Nettles
0(0.0%)
Miyabe Miyuki - All She Was Worth
1(25.0%)
Kawabata Yasunari - The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa
1(25.0%)
Murakami Haruki - Hard-Boiled Wonderland at the End of the World
2(50.0%)
Tags: advice, autobiography, literature, poll
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  • Redefining Need

    "Can a society which is incapable of protecting individual privacy even within one's four walls rightfully claim that it respects the individual and…

  • Mind Out of Joint

    These are strange and stressful times for all of us. But I feel simultaneously more prepared and less able to deal with this state of emergency.…

  • It Begins

    My daughter went to Las Vegas with friends this afternoon. Her mom is staying late at her downtown studio. My dad is asleep at his facility. And I…