It’s J-Lit Time Again :)

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am a big fan of Japanese literature, but what with all the other books I’ve been swamped with recently, it turns out (after looking at my little list) that I haven’t actually read many Japanese works since the end of the last Japanese Literature Challenge back in January.  Perhaps it’s timely then that June sees the return of my favourite challenge – Belezza, the host of the event, has just announced that Japanese Literature Challenge 6 is open for business, and it’s time for all the Japanophiles in the blogosphere to get reading and reviewing 🙂
I’m hoping to get down to it as soon as possible, but given the lag I have between reading a book and publishing the final polished post, I probably won’t have anything for your enjoyment for a good few weeks yet.  In place of a review then, I thought I’d start my challenge by whetting your appetites with a short summary of some of the J-Lit delights waiting to be read at Malone Towers.  Ikimashō!
Among the many volumes in my J-Lit library are a few which have languished there unread for an awfully long time, and this will be the perfect opportunity to do something about it.  Shusaku Endo’s Silence was probably my unofficial book of the year last year (only edged out for the official prize by the four books of Steven Carroll’s Glenroy Trilogy), so it’s surprising that I haven’t got around to another of his books, Deep River, yet.
The same could be said for Natsume Soseki’s The Gate, the third in a loosely-linked trilogy of novels beginning with the excellent Sanshiro and Sorekara.  The book that’s been here the longest though is Jay Rubin’s take on the work of my favourite Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami and The Music of Words.  I meant to read this analysis of Murakami’s work for JLC5, but I never quite got around to it – this year, I promise 😉
That’s a pretty good start, but there’s plenty more where they came from; I also have three more recent acquisitions which I hope to get to over the next few months.  One of these writers, Yasunari Kawabata, is no stranger to my blog, and I have high hopes for his Kyoto-set novel, The Old Capital, after the success of The Sound of the Mountain earlier this year.

The other two though are by writers I haven’t tried before.  Along with Soseki, Ogai Mori is considered as one of the pioneers of modern Japanese literature, and I’m looking forward to sampling his work in the form of his novel The Wild Geese.  Slightly more off-beat is the last of these three books, Kenji Miyazawa’s Milky Way Railroad, a classic story, described on the back of my copy as “a literary, scientific and religious fable” (which can only mean good things!).

Of course, once I heard that the challenge was about to begin again, I couldn’t resist turning on the computer and browsing the electronic bookstores for some new toys as well.  After a few days of drawing up a shortlist of books, I eventually limited myself to three (which only cost me what one book would cost me from an Australian bookshop anyway…), all of which will be great additions to my collection.

The first is another classic, Some Prefer Nettles, a further psychological tale of sexual intrigue from the pen of Jun’ichiro Tanizaki.  I haven’t read anything by Tanizaki for a while now, but I’ve heard good things about this one, so I’m looking forward to trying it.

The other two are both relatively modern works, and the only books on today’s list by female writers.  I haven’t always been overwhelmed by Banana Yoshimoto’s writing, but after the relative success of The Lake, I decided to take a chance on Lizard (even buying a second-hand copy to fit in with my UK Faber and Faber copies with Kanji on the front!).  On the other hand, I was very impressed by Hitomi Kanehara’s Autofiction when I read it, so it was high time that I picked up her Akutagawa-Prize-Winning debut novel, Snakes and Earrings.

That’s just about it for starters, but there is one more book itching to be read.  I also have a copy of Donald Keene’s Modern Japanese Literature, an anthology which combines short stories with extracts from longer works.  I’m not convinced about the idea of extracts (I much prefer to just read the books…), but the collection does contain fiction from some of the great 20th-century Japanese writers, so it has to be worth a look 🙂

And that’s it – ten of the best to kick off JLC6.  Whether I actually stick to that list is extremely doubtful, but it’s always good to have some sort of plan 😉  Please feel free to comment on my choices and suggest some new ones – The Book Depository is always open…


Post-Script: Of course, the problem with planning your reading is that it doesn’t leave gaps for you to fill when you see other books which take your fancy…  Since penning this post, I’ve had a couple more J-Lit delights arrive, taking the tally to twelve 😉

I’d been eyeing off Akira Yoshimura’s Shipwrecks for a while now, and I finally got around to buying it recently, but my other purchase was more of an impulse buy.  After reading a story by Kafu Nagai from the anthology above, I had a quick glance at The Book Depository to see if they had any of his books there – and spotted a copy of Rivalry: A Geisha’s Tale (in a new translation by Stephen Snyder) for just AU$6!  Thirty seconds later…

The moral of the story is… well, I’m not sure there is one (apart from ‘don’t save your credit card details to book sites’).  I certainly have a lot of books to read though 🙂


21 thoughts on “It’s J-Lit Time Again :)

  1. I'm just compiling my list for JLC6 at the moment so it's handy to see what you are planning to read:) At the moment I have 1Q84 (I know, I'm SO late) and Silence. Maybe I can sneak in one by Mishima too! Happy reading Tony!


  2. I found 'Burial in the Clouds', Hiroyuki Agawa & 'The Blade of the Courtesans', Keiichiro Ryu @ the library. The first is the fictional diary of a pilot in a kamikaze unit, and the other one is historical fiction about samurai & ninjas & presumably, courtesans. I have no clue, but I'll see how they go. 🙂


  3. Well, those certainly sound… interesting 😉 The second one, especially, sounds more like a film than a book – I can see the fake blood staining the samurai swords already…


  4. I will participate as well this year. Japanese books are always among my fvaourites. I'm not sure why I don't read more. Maybe following the logic “can't have too much of a good thing”…
    The Sea and Poison was in my last year's readalong, this year it's Ibuse's Black Rain. In July.
    I've got a few books recently but many are only available in French.
    I'll post a list but not just yet, I've done too many sign up posts recently.


  5. having also enjoyed Autofiction, I also have Snakes & Earings on my shelf, as well as Some Prefer nettles. Have read the book about Murakami & enjoyed it enough to post on it, not yet read any Banana Yoshimoto, al;though do have Lake & kitchen again on my shelf. So will be hoping to find some new to me writers & some old friends for this my favourite challenge.


  6. I'd love to take part in this as I have a few unread Japanese books languishing in my TBR including Some prefer nettles and The key by Tanizaki, Snakes and earrings by Kanehara, Real world by Natuso Kirino (I've read her Grotesque), Kappa by Akutagawa, and Kafka on the shore by you know who! Most are quite short … I should try to squeeze them in but …


  7. Tony, what a veritable feast you've set before us! (I still want to devour more of the Oxford collection of Japanese short stories which you told me about, and I bought, last year. Isn't it funny how we have these collections but then don't get to them?)

    I so agree with you about the power of Silence. I felt similarly about Endo's novel Wonderful Fool. He really causes me to examine my faith, of which I'm quite convinced, but he brings in new angles which I haven't considered. As a sheltered and rather privelged American…

    All of your list sounds wonderful, from Banana Yoshimoto to the more classic authors, and I'm thrilled to have your participation. Thank you for posting about it, and inciting such excitement in fellow bibiliophiles. Like me. 😉


  8. Caroline – I find I don't read more J-Lit because I finish them so quickly… leaving me with even more reviews to write 😉

    I'm hoping to join in with 'Black Rain' by the way, so that's another to add to my list 🙂

    Rise – Part of my study is slowly being taken over by my J-Lit library – I actually need another couple of shelves just for that 😦

    Stu – Alas, I've read all Murakami's fiction, so I only have the non-fiction to go. I have to say though that Kirino doesn't appeal to me – I'm not one for crime and gore…

    Gary – Looks like you're all set just from what's on your shelves! Not everyone liked 'The Lake', but I enjoyed it, and 'Kitchen' is also a nice read.

    Sue – Well, you have seven months to get one read 😉 I'm planning to read more Akutagawa at some point, and 'Kafka on the Shore' is one of my favourite Murakami books.

    Bellezza – You must finish the Oxford collection! It's a wonderful introduction to a host of great writers.

    As for my list, it's a starting point, but I doubt it will be a finishing point – my German lit. list from last year shows that I easily get distracted by shiny things 😉


  9. Hello Tony,
    I haven't read too many Japanese novels or stories, in fact none except Memoirs Of A Geisha, which is, erm, not a genuine japanese novel. But I am starting 1Q84 today. i hope I like it as much as everyone else here did.
    You have a very nice blog. I love your tatse in books. Following you now!
    Please do visit my book blog, and if you like it, please do follow!


  10. Delectable and delicious selections you have got there Tony. I look forward to your reviews. I would love to read Silence one day. I have signed up for the challenge.


  11. Jo – Please do – it's an excellent book 🙂

    By the way, this post is already out of date; I have another two J-Lit books on the way. I think I'll have to do an updated post with more photos 😉


  12. I'm drooling! So many of these authors I haven't heard of before. I love that you get to introduce us to other, less popular writers. The Miyazawa especially, is calling out to me.. “literary, scientific and religious!”

    I'm not particularly overwhelmed by Yoshimoto as well but I find her books so pleasant. I haven't yet read The Lake though, but I remember liking Lizard a lot, though that was over 10 years ago, and I was still a student then, so I don't know.


  13. Claire – Well, hopefully I'll get to it at some point; November is German-dominated, so it'll be a while though 😦

    As I said in my other comment, I'm almost definitely going to organise a J-Lit month in January for those who are interested, so I hope you'll read something for that 🙂


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