JAPANESE LITERATURE CHALLENGE 13
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.