Japanese Literature Challenge 13

Japanese Literature 13





Click here or on the logo to read more about it.

And this year, I met DolceBellezza, who is hosting this challenge. She’s an extraordinary person with whom I share my love for books, my faith, my passion for teaching, we both enjoy perfumes, and we shared our admiration and reading of Moby Dick.

We also are similar in that this season our reading life is not quite as vibrant as it’s been before. I can’t totally speak for her, but in my case, I’ve had more trouble than ever staying focused on my books. Even though I’ve finished many, I’ve also abandoned several, and not because I didn’t like them, but for lack of reading stamina.

Life has been challenging, -and there’s been blessings and growth-, but I’ve only been able to focus on one book at a time, some months I haven’t blogged or read your blogs. However, I’ve not disconnected myself from reading or the reading community.

All that preamble to say I’m terribly excited about this challenge. I’m a January baby, and January seems the perfect month to read Japanese literature. I also love that she’s set it up for 3 months of reading as few or many Japanese books as we want.

For the challenge, I’ve picked three books so far. I want to read a ton more, of course, but these three I know I’ll enjoy, they are doable, and I feel some commitment to them as I’ll explain.

In 2017, I wanted to host a book club and read The Unconsoled together. Ishiguro hasn’t published many books, that’s why, in time, with no new title in view, I’ve resorted to reading many of his books twice. Some days I regret the fact that he hasn’t written more, but other days I’m so glad for this, since ever second read is always better.

I don’t want to chop him to pieces, or over-analyze him. I just think that in his early years, his books had a beautiful Japanese feel he hasn’t pursued since then. I’m talking about A Pale View of Hills, 1982, -his first published book-. He was 26, I’ve heard, when he wrote it. Twenty eight when it was published. Ishiguro was born in 1954.

I’m aware that what we, westerns, call Japanese quality, may be a construct we form. But even if it’s just the people, settings, life outlook, atmosphere, we can still call that Japanese quality, can’t we? And granted that it varies from author to author, from era to era, we all know when we’ve submerged ourselves into the Japanese literature realm.

Back to Ishiguro, these are his novels:

A Pale View of Hills (1982)

An Artist of the Floating World (1986)

The Remains of the Day (1989)

The Unconsoled (1995)

When We Were Orphans (2000)

Never Let Me Go (2005)

The Buried Giant (2015)

An Artist of the Floating World followed A Pale View of Hills. These two books have an infinite quality because of their ambiguity. Every time I read them, something different surfaces. Since they are not very long, I recommend a slow read. The second time, knowing what happens, slows us down and helps us see more details.

His most popular books probably are The Remains of the Day, and Never Let Me Go. Both were made into movies. I’ve watched the movies and they are good adaptations. Ishiguro was involved in the filming of The Remains of the Day. He approves. The movie enhances the book experience.

At Goodreads, I’ve read that Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled is Ishiguro at his best. But it’s also his longest novel, and it’s not, -they say-, as easy to read as his more conventional in form, The Remains of the Day, for example. It reminds me of Don DeLillo’s most popular White Noise, 326 page count, versus his Underworld, 827 page count. Many like and praise him for the first, while aren’t as fond of the last.

I’ve listened and read to both authors talk, and they write the book that they need to write. There’s times when the stars are aligned in a way that what the public or masses feel for and like reading, it’s what they get served by the writers. Other times, the book that claimed to be written, it’s a more ‘cultist’ title, one that just a fraction of the author’s readers seem to appreciate.

In my humble opinion, writers ought to write. And I’ve said before, I’m going to do my part as a reader, and welcome any and all of what they write. I’ll always have my favorites, but in such a harsh and competitive world as today, any person who has sacrificed and labored writing books that afford me beauty, pleasure, food for the intellect, and more; that person deserves to make money out of this, have some fame, popularity, attention, or to be left alone, if that’s what they wish. Whatever they like to do, we, readers, should always root for, defend, love and protect and support our writers.

I’ve turned this post into an Ishiguro fan post, haven’t I? I have no knowledge of Japanese literature, but I am ready to start reading more of it. And I didn’t even explain why I never had that The Unconsoled read along, oh dear! It seemed a very intense book, and not having read it before, scared me about plunging into it as a leader. I made the right decision at the time. I even got rid of my copy, which you can see below.

Serendipity had me buying at my local bookstore, a source of constant surprises, and I found this title in a different edition -below-. This was after I had met Dolce Bellezza. This is her post on The Unconsoled, and I quote her final paragraph with her opinion of it,

This is a beautiful novel, elegantly told, which speaks to the complications and heartache in life of which I am so fond of reading. It is my first book for the Japanese Literature Challenge 11, and one I highly recommend.

These are my three picks. I hope to read at least these titles. The Unconsoled, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, and Rashomon and Other Stories.

The Pillow Book of Shei Shonagon. I even gifted two other copies of this book to friends. I was so excited about it when I bought it, and I started to read it but, you guessed it, I never finished it.

If you are not familiar with it and know nothing about its structure, you may find Wikipedia’s blurb interesting:

The work of Shōnagon consists of a collection of essays, anecdotes, poems, and descriptive passages that have little connection to one another except for the fact that they are ideas and whims of what Shōnagon was thinking of in any given moment in her daily life. In it she included lists of all kinds, personal thoughts, interesting events in court, poetry, and some opinions on her contemporaries. While it is mostly a personal work, Shōnagon’s writing and poetic skill makes it interesting as a work of literature, and it is valuable as a historical document. Shōnagon’s writing in The Pillow Book was originally meant for her eyes only, but part of it was revealed to the Court by accident during her life; this occurred “when she inadvertently left it [her writing] on a cushion she put out for a visiting guest, who eagerly carried it off despite her pleas.”

She wrote The Pillow Book as a private endeavor of enjoyment for herself; it seemed to be a way for her to express her inner thoughts and feelings that she was not allowed to state publicly due to her lower standing position in the court. Shōnagon never intended for her work to be viewed by an audience or to be read by eyes other than her own, although this was not the case, considering her work has become a famous piece in most of literature throughout the centuries. The book was first translated into English in 1889 by T. Purcell and W. G. Aston. Other notable English translations were by Arthur Waley in 1928, Ivan Morris in 1967, and Meredith McKinney in 2006.

I saw this thin book in the classics section, at the usual bookstore, a long time ago. Since it’s a compilation of short stories, I thought it’d be another good choice to add to the mix. It sounds vaguely familiar. I may have read some of his stories in my twenties. I’m hoping, -but fearing-, than these were those utterly depressing stories I read during one 4 day holiday while I lived in Madrid. At least I’m trusting that they are short and well written.

Of further interest it would be Murakami’s books, specially The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I read 1Q84, and it may have been the time when I read it, -mys husband was sick-, but though I couldn’t stop reading it, it left a bitter taste. In hindsight, he may be one who we need to read in some order or more quantity, to gain that bit of understanding that will give clarity to why those things in it that rubbed me wrong are there. I’m very willing to try.

43 thoughts on “Japanese Literature Challenge 13

    • Cathy, Tomorrow, with time ahead, I will read in detail this post you linked. I briefly checked it, and it is full of ideas and clever observations. And I know you will be very pleased to know that I have read Memorias de Adriano, by Yourcenar.


  1. Oh, Silvia, I feel I could have written so many pieces of your post! “Not quite as vibrant” is one way to put “the most books I’ve ever abandoned in one year”! Also, I am a January birthday girl as well, so just add that to all the things we have in common. (I think we may have discussed that once before.)

    I loved The Unconsoled. When I first began reading Japanese literature, I was so frustrated by what I thought was a lack of resolution. Now I see, as Murakami once wrote, that things are open to possibilities. How lovely, and different, from the way most Americans write. I am so eager to begin An Artist in The Floating World.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds like a great plan for you and I feel similar…that it’s hard to now read multiple books at once. Our reading lives change. I also have a copy of The Unconsoled that I need to read so maybe this could work for me too. At least that one book. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I am happy to see the Pillow Book! I have been thinking about that book lately and wanting to get back to it. I, too, had started it and set it aside among a pile of others, even though I had enjoyed what I’d read.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ooo….see this sounds like something I’d like to do! I like that you can choose what to read and how many books to read. Lots of flexibility there! I think I’m going to join in on this one. See what I mean…..all these reading challenge temptations! LOL But this is not the usual reading challenge type of list. And I like that!

    I’ve been wanting to re-read The Remains of the Day and this may be a good time to do that. I think I’d like to try Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills also. Never read that. The Makioka Sisters is on my TBR so maybe that one too. Or maybe I need to just to commit to one of these and then just see what I get read. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      • Yes. 🙂 The Makioka Sisters caught my attention awhile back and that’s when I added it to my TBR. Reading the description of it again just now, it definitely sounds really good. But it is for sure a longer book! I also really do want to re-read The Remains of the Day. And I already have the book so that’s a plus! 🙂 I think it’s going to probably be one of the two of these first. But I want to look over titles DolceBellezza mentions in her post and a couple of others you’ve mentioned too before I make a final decision on my first book to read.


        • I’m always recommending and I feel it’s always like “this is the best book ever” LOL. But even if it is not this year, please read The Makioka Sisters. It’s long but it doesn’t feel long at all. It is truly at the top of my favorite books. There’s no one among those I have recommended it who have no less than loved it themselves.

          But it can be next year. The thing is that many of the best books are long. Yeap. Rereading Remains is a lovely plan. I have read it twice myself, and it’s always so much better the second time.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. I think we all go through waxing and waning phases not only with our reading and blogging lives, but in other areas as well. All we can do is honour them as they roll by and be gentle on ourselves until calmer times reappear.
    I find that Japanese literature suits the waning phases best – the nostalgia, melancholy and gentle observations seem to suit this slowing down process.

    I’m excited about what books I might fit in for this challenge – a post will appear soon 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  6. The problem with Murakami is that (with few exceptions) he has been writing the same book, by mixing the same ingredients – just in different proportions, and he put in way too much mysticism in “1Q84”. The books where, in my opinion, he got the mix mostly right are “After Dark” and the latest, “Killing Commendatore” (a joint effort in translation again, but the two parts are different enough that this chimera does not feel forced).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yuri. How are you? I have missed you and the special time we shared with others, while we were living through reading “The Gray House”, and talking about it in your company.

      See? You are spot on. It’s that mysticism mixed with some violence and ugliness that I don’t know what is meant to do with the other elements, what disconcerted me. I saw parts where he shone, and others a bit hanging in the air.

      Thanks for the tip, I may start again with “After Dark”.


    • How interesting to see his books elicit so different impressions of him and his ways. I only have Ishiguro as a reference of someone I have read much from, and I could say too that he repeats himself. Looking at the settings, one could say that his books are very different. But his major obsessions or explorations, are notoriously repeated.


  7. ¡Qué bonito reto! Justo ahora estoy leyendo ‘Los restos del día’ y reviviendo muy fuerte las fantásticas interpretaciones de Emma Thompson y Anthony Hopkins que me hipnotizaron tanto cuando vi la película. Me está encantando y me apetece mucho seguir con otras obras del autor, así que tu post me ha venido de perlas. 😀

    Me encantará leer tu opinión sobre ‘El libro de la almohada’ y ‘Rashomon y otros relatos’, dos clasicazos japoneses como la copa de un pino que siempre llamaron mi atención. ‘Rashomon’ incluso lo llegué a tomar prestado de la biblioteca una vez, pero fue un mes en el que pequé de ambiciosa y lo tuve que devolver sin abrirlo siquiera… Y mira que podría haber leído al menos sólo el relato correspondiente al título, pero bueno, supongo que no era el momento.

    ¡Mucho ánimo con todo y que disfrutes al máximo de la literatura japonesa! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sonia, qué gustazo tu comentario. Estoy super de acuerdo con las fantásticas interpretaciones de Thompson y Hopkins. Tienes razón con Rashomon, al menos el cuento que da título, ja ja ja. Pero si no era tu momento, pues no era. Ahora lo será. Ishiguro siempre me hipnotiza. Es eso de que cierro sus libros, y viven en mí un montón de días, y meses. Me encuentro, no sé ni cómo ni por qué, siempre hablando de él y de sus libros. Con gusto compartiré lo que pienso sobre esos clasicazos. Gracias por parar por aquí.


  8. I totally agree that the movie enhances the experience of Remains of the Day. I’m afraid Burried Giant was an absolute slog to me, but I did finish it. It seems everyone I know who is our age is suffering from the same lack of reading stamina. Maybe it is part of our age? I, too, bemoan it. I can’t face huge books right now and they have been a life-long love. It took me a month to read a 150 page book that I loved! Distractions are an epidemic. I love hearing from you in your blog, on Goodreads, etc. Your thoughts on books are always well worth it. Merry Christmas, dear friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • First and foremost, Merry Christmas to you too, my lovely Lisa.

      Psssttt, don’t let anyone hear, Buried Giant is not as liked by me as all his other titles. I appreciate his experiment, but it may be that I’m not raised in that Arthurian/British tradition, it just didn’t get as close to my heart as his other titles. His Pale Views, and An Artist…, they are both shorter than Buried Giant, and much more piercing. And more “Japanese” too. Maybe it’s part of our age. Concentration is a priced commodity for me, ha ha ha. But I’m determined to gain some stamina! Let’s see what happens next. Stay tuned.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I can’t wait to come back and read through this carefully, Silvia! I can’t join any more full challenges as I’m in one from Instagram with Helena to read 12 classics, 1 a month, in 2020. I think I want to pick one of these next year to try, though! You’ve whetted my appetite! Say, a bookish question for you! I’m getting some Flannery O’Connor for Christmas and was wondering what you think of her and anything I need to know going in. I’m getting mixed feelings on her around Bookstagram (Instagram)? 🙂 Help, Well-Read Friend! ❤ Merriest Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Rashomon is very interesting. I have read 3 by Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day, Never Let me Go, and The Buried Giant, Never Let me Go being my favorite of the 3. I liked the long tension at the beginning, when you know for a long tie something is wrong, but you don’t know what and why for a while. I’m so looking forward to that challenge as well

    Liked by 2 people

    • From those three, I too prefer Never Let Me Go. All the others are more markedly Japanese and showing ambiguity, tension, mystery. I hope you read more of his books.


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