Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Japanese Literature Challenge



With so many challenges on the go just now (this year's Man Booker longlist; the Booker and Pulitzer prize winners; the upcoming Persephone Reading Week; Everything Austen) you would be forgiven for thinking me crazy for embarking on another. However, it just isn't so! Before I was blogging myself I was reading blogs and last year I came across Dolce Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge, now in its third year, and knew then that it would be a challenge I would love to participate in if and when I started blogging. There was no way that I wasn't doing this challenge now that I could and, besides which, it is incredibly relaxed and only holds me to read one book of Japanese origin over the next six months, which I probably would have done anyway. Of course, now that I will be reading about lots of fabulous Japanese literature I will of course want to read more and the challenge may distract me some ... oh well.

I love Japanese literature; I love Japanese culture; I love Japanese history; I would love -more than anything- to one day visit Japan; I love sushi and sashimi, miso soup, and green tea; I love cherry blossom -or sakura- so much that one of these days I will have it tattooed on my body; I already love this challenge.

The books that I am considering reading are:

The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson. Nymeth made this book sound amazing in her review. She loved the book so much that she wanted to share it and buy it for one of her readers; I was the lucky recipient and I have been saving it for this challenge.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. I have read four Murakami books (novels and short stories) and have a couple unread on the white shelf (I have one shelf dedicated to white books which happens to be made up coincidentally of only Vintage Books authors: Toni Morrison, Haruki Murakami and Andrey Kurkov). Norwegian Wood was the first Murakami novel that I bought and although side-tracked by his other work along the way I have been very much looking forward to reading it. Influenced by The Beatles, it seems fortuitous that this copy finds itself a home on the white shelf.

I am a Cat by Soseki Natsume. As a cat obsessive (I have a cat, Mandoo, at home with my parents and I miss him so much), I am desperate to share my domestic space and heart with a feline again and this book will allow me to do that figuratively. I think, however, that I will read it a bit at a time as an ongoing reading project, perhaps throughout the duration of the challenge.

Out by Natsuo Kirino is a book that I actually came across through Dolce Bellezza's challenge last year and it is ridiculous that I have yet to read it.

Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto. I really enjoyed Kitchen when I read it and the synopsis for this appeals to me. In addition to that, it's short!

In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami (no relation to Haruki). I don't know much about this book but I have seen it around a lot and the title amuses and intigues me!

Will you be participating in this challenge? Do you enjoy Japanese Literature and have anything you would like to recommend? What do you think of my choices?

33 comments:

verity said...

With the exception of Memoirs of a Geisha (which probably doesn't really count) and another Geisha book I'm ashamed to say I haven't read any Japanese literature. I don't know anything about Japanese culture so will look forward to seeing whatever you read in the end.

Paperback Reader said...

I think Memoirs of a Geisha counts; it was certainly the first book about Japan that I read (and followed it up by the Liza Dalby book - is that the one you've read?) Geisha culture is fascinating. I have also read a few books about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombs and it was for that reason that the Japanese set section in Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie was my favourite.

Darlene said...

I had a Japanese pen-pal for several years around 19 years ago. Very traditional family, Nobuko left work once she became pregnant (her wedding dress and kimono were amazing!). Her mother sent us a box of origami animals and a dress with matching purse (things she made herself) for my daughter. Nobuko stopped writing suddenly and I later learned that her husband had become quite ill. It was fascinating to learn about another way of life while it lasted though. I'm almost sure that she was deciphering my letters word by word with a dictionary. This will be a very interesting challenge for you!

Paperback Reader said...

Wow, Darlene, that must have been quite the experience for you both! It is fascinating to learn about another culture from your own.

Carl V. said...

I'm so glad you decided to go ahead and start blogging and that you are joining in on the Japanese Literature Challenge. I think you'll enjoy Out...it is intense and dark, but well written.

I love that you have a white shelf. That is so cool. Have you posted a picture of it here? Would love to see it.

I go back and forth on which covers I like better for various books, the UK or US. It seems about even for me with Norwegian Wood. I love the UK cover of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and wish I had that one instead of the US version. It is beautiful...and white too!!!

claire said...

It's so funny, we almost said the same things ha ha. It'll be fun reading together! I'm sure we'll enjoy this challenge a lot, being that we both love Japanese-everything! My brother and his wife are going to Japan next month and I'm sooo jealous!

farmlanebooks said...

Out is amazing - the best thriller I've ever read! I hope you enjoy it.

I loved the sound of the Fox Woman too.

I love Japan and all the Japanese books I've ever read - which is quite a lot!

I'm planning to join this challenge too. I'm looking forward to it.

Paperback Reader said...

Carl, I haven't yet posted a photo of my white shelf but look out for it soon! I may base a series of posts around the idea...

The UK covers of Murakami books are lovely but some definitely more than others; Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is a beautiful cover and one I covet.

Claire, I noticed the similarity in our post too! I have a friend not long back from Japan and another going and I am insanely jealous.
I think we will both love this challenge and I am looking forward to discovering the writers you recommended.

Jackie, I am so glad you are joining this too! If it's possible I am as excited about this as I am Persephone Reading Week ;).

I remember your review of Out and can't wait to read it.

kimbofo said...

Out is brilliant. Read it a few years back. Very gruesome though.

Sandra said...

I'm doing this challenge too although I regularly read Japanese lit anyway. I've read Norwegian Wood and I think you'll like it. I too want to see your white books, that's fascinating. I enjoyed Kitchen too, I look forward to what you think of Asleep. I'm trying to read what's already on my shelves as there are so many. I tend to read the newer ones and never catch up with some of the classics I 've collected. Your choices for the challenges look good. Out is too rough for my tastes but I hope you enjoy it. I've added you to my following list, I look forward to reading your reviews on Japanese lit.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Kim, I'm looking forward to it! Gruesomeness aside.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Sandra! Thank you for comment. I appreciate your enthusiasm and I will post a photo of the white shelf over the weekend due to the high demand :).
I try to read Japanese fiction whenever I can as I enjoy it so much but it has been a while (the last I read was Some Prefer Nettles by Jun'ichiro Tanazaki a couple of months ago).
I am also trying to read what I have on my shelf (the first three on this list I have and the others are in the library) but I occasionally fail in my aim...

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I read Norwegian Wood earlier on in the year, and absolutely loved it.

I have a copy of Out lying on my shelf - planning to read it in the next couple of months. It looks incredibly interesting.

Best of luck with the challenge.

savidgereads said...

I would definately say that you were crazy, how can you fit all of these challenges in? Kirino is very interesting though I havent read Out, I read Grotesque last year and havent read anything like it. In The Miso soup is great, I would love to read more of his work. Try 'Strangers; by Taichi Yamanda.

Green Road said...

This sounds very interesting. I've only read Memoirs of a Geisha set in Japan, so my knowledge of Japanese literature is very limited. I have been meaning to read Wind-Up Bird Chronicle for a while but have never got round to it. I will look forward to your reviews.
Swati

Book Psmith said...

My motto is one more challenge couldn't hurt. Which is why I am seriously thinking about joining the Persephone challenge. I have read so many delightful posts about these books that the challenge would be a great introduction. I have enjoyed reading through your posts and have added many books to my tbr list.

Paperback Reader said...

anothercookie, glad to hear that you loved Norwegian Wood! I'll need to read your review if you wrote one. Out does intrigue me and I will let you know how I get on with it - unless you manage to read it first which is highly likely!

Simon, I forgot the Ulysses challenge! Hah. I may have under-estimated this somewhat; already my wishlist and email inbox have grown exponentially. Glad to hear more good things about Kirino and In the Miso Soup.
I went onto Amazon to check out Strangers and immediately saw a glowing review by Kim so down to you both I bought a copy. It helped that it was on offer for only £3.99!
I'm looking forward to it.

Swati, I hope my reviews will result in you reading more Japanese Literature in the future. I loved The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and its surrealism.

Hi BookPSmith, thanks for commenting :). I agree: one more challenge can't hurt so you really should join us for the Persephone Reading Week! It will I am sure provide a great introduction and we have a number of fun things and giveaways planned to get you started.

Anonymous said...

I'd definitely recommend Out, which is gripping, I couldn't put it down - a complete change from all the geisha-lit I'd read before. (Her next book, which I think was called Grotesque? was a bit too grotesque for me!)
But on a more traditional note, The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi - which won Japan's biggest literary prize when it was published in the 1950s - is exquisite. It's about a wife who has to choose a concubine for her husband and all the relationships in the household. Beautifully written and not very long.

Paperback Reader said...

Anonymous, thanks for the recommendation - I've added it to my wish-list! It sounds fascinating.
I've heard so many good things about Out.

dolcebellezza said...

You have a great list, Paperback Reader! In fact, I haven't read many of them myself, only heard about them through others. That's why the challenge is so fun to me. I haven't read Out, or I am a Cat. I did love Kitchen, though. I'm going to add some of your ideas to the suggested books list because I think I accidentally left them out. It's good to have you join in!

Paperback Reader said...

bellezza, thanks for commenting and for hosting such a wonderful, exciting challenge!
I am quite pleased with my list but there are a couple that I may add and try to read via suggestions. Strangers by Taichi Yamanda is definitely one I am going to include.
I am really looking forward to taking part in this, can you tell?!

katrina said...

A great list. I started Out last year but was a bit too gruesome for my tastes, some good suggestions in the comments too. I look forward to seing your reviews. I love your white shelf, I have a black shelf under the tv in the front room - the only shelved books in the room

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Katrina, thanks for stopping by. I am curious how gruesome I will find Out now after people's comments...
Your black shelf sounds fabulous!

anothercookiecrumbles said...

Here's my Norwegian Wood review. Enjoy! :)

Paperback Reader said...

Great review, anothercookie! I am looking forward to it but will bear in mind the depression evoked.

Mark David said...

I hope you enjoy Norwegian Wood :)

Paperback Reader said...

I hope I enjoy it too, Mark :). I may have to read it sooner than I was intending too as I am excited.

Nymeth said...

Norwegian Wood is actually my favourite Murakami, even though it lacks the surreal/fantastic elements I so love about him. It was also probably the book that made me cry the most in my life, so I'd recommend having a happy book at hand for afterwards :P

I plan on reading Asleep too, which I won in a giveaway last time. And I can't wait to hear your thoughts on The Fox Woman :)

Paperback Reader said...

Thank you for the warning, Ana! So, I have to read it in Autumn/Winter and I have to follow it with a happy book...

I am glad that we are both planning to read Asleep and of course I am excited about reading The Fox Woman and sharing my thoughts.

mel said...

Thanks for posting this very interesting list-It will for sure give me some ideas for the Japanese challenge-as a very much cat obsessed person I have to read
"I am Cat"

Paperback Reader said...

Hi mel and thanks for posting! I am looking forward to the cat-orientated Japanese reading and made a start with "The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles".
Good luck with the challenge!

Tony said...

Definitely read 'Norwegian Wood'; it's one of Murakami's best, if the most 'normal'!

Having read all of Murakami's fiction (including his first two novellas but not including the recently released - and untranslated - '1Q84'), I am concentrating on older writers, starting with Yukio Mishima's 'Sea of Tranquility' quadrilogy. I have just finished the first, 'Spring Snow' (review on Jap. Lit. Challenge site), and it was brilliant!

By the way, I actually lived there for three years myself a while back...

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Tony, thanks for commenting. So many recommendations for Norwegian Wood! I'm desperate to read it now.

I definitely want to read Spring Snow at some point too - your review made it sound sublime.

I envy you your time in Japan! I would love to visit at least but living there would be wonderful.