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Help Me Plan My Summer Reading! - De File — LiveJournal
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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
Tanazaki Junichiro - Some Prefer Nettles
Miyabe Miyuki - All She Was Worth
Kawabata Yasunari - The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa
Murakami Haruki - Hard-Boiled Wonderland at the End of the World

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10 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 28th, 2010 03:47 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I'm guessing you have read Kenzaburo Oe's work already. I love A Personal Matter, but you can try Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids,or The Silent Cry. Hope this finds you well.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 28th, 2010 05:11 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks for the suggestions. I actually haven't read much Oe, for some reason, perhaps because I was waiting for advice on what to read. My poll was based on the books I happened to have readily accessible at home, but I will definitely be on the look-out for these Oe titles so I can add them to my personal queue.
elf_owl From: elf_owl Date: May 28th, 2010 04:56 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I don't know any of these books, so chose based on title.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 28th, 2010 04:59 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
With the exception of the last one, I don't know them either, although I've read all but one of the authors. Choosing on the basis of title is as good a way to pick as any!

Thanks for the input. And for stopping by. I miss you amid the ruins of non-Russian, non-community-driven Live Journal.
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: May 28th, 2010 09:44 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I don't know anything about these books, so my answer is fairly arbitrary. Part of me wanted to vote for Murakami for all the reasons you outline above--you haven't returned recently and you've been in the mood for returning. But I ended up voting for Miyabe because I'm not sure I've ever really read a "hard-boiled" novel by a woman--and that prospect really intrigues me.

On a vaguely related note, have you ever tried reading manga? Every quarter, one or two of my students interns with TOKYOPOP here in LA, so I've been learning bits and pieces about the industry and some of the major titles, but I haven't had the time to pick up any myself. I should ask my students for recommendations about where to start...
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 30th, 2010 08:52 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I don't know that much about the books in the poll either! Hell, I still don't know much about Japanese literature. It's a hobby, one that I've gone out of my way to preserve as a totally amateur endeavor.

Skylar had a brief manga phase. I have read some myself. I do like the idea of them, but am somewhat stymied by the lack of words I want to read, in the majority of cases.

violetselkie From: violetselkie Date: May 29th, 2010 12:33 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I actually vote In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami; it's even better than Almost Transparent Blue (although equally hard to take at points).
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 30th, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I want to read that! Unfortunately, my copy is buried at the back of my storage space, so I will have to defer it until later this summer. Thanks for the reminder that it's on my list, though.
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 29th, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I'm not an LJ member, so I can't fill out the poll, but I'll cast a vote for Tanizaki. Also, it's Natsume Soseki -- Natsume is the family name, while Soseki functions as a given name (though it's actually a pen name). It's perfectly natural that you would assume the reverse, because he is always referred to as "Soseki," not "Natsume."

If you're interested in hard-boiled fiction by a Japanese woman, you might want to check out something by Kirino Natsuo. Her "Out" is excellent, though I'm not sure about the translation. Also, if you haven't read Murakami Haruki's "After Hours," you might want to pick it up sometime when you're in the mood for something short and fairly light.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: May 30th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks so much for your comment. I knew that Soseki was a pen name, but it never occurred to me to put Natsume first. Döh!

I have seen Out and mean to read it. Unfortunately, I don't yet have it and will not be able to pick it up until later.

I do have After Dark, which I have yet to read, so I might bring that along.
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