Advanced Japanese Book Club // Now reading: 海辺のカフカ

Ohh :partying_face:

s-l400

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For those of you who are still contemplating joining the youngest book club spinoff 冷たい密室と博士たち (or who have not read the main book すべてがFになる yet), the whole series is currently discounted (as in, pay less money when buying) on Bookwalker (and probably elsewhere as well?)

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Only one year? How has it only been one year?

Did we really only start the Advanced Book Club after the Sickness?

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Feels like it has been here forever, right? That’s what I like so much about it.

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Although we’ve just extended the reading schedule of our current pick by one week, it’s already time to think about the next book for this club! (With the usual one-week break, the next book is due to start on September 18th.)

We currently have 14 nominations (11 “fast” ones and 3 “hard” ones) so we are in a very good position. Still, there is room for some more proposals - fire away if you have ideas for nice book club picks!

I’m planning to start the next poll on August 5th. But if you want to nominate a book and absolutely can’t make the time before that, please drop me a note and we can see about it.

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I’m enjoying so far kind of belatedly (in more ways than one) participating in a book club, so there’s a couple of books I think I’d like to nominate:

文字渦

Author: 円城塔 (Toh EnJoe)

Summary

Japanese

昔、文字は本当に生きていたのだと思わないかい?
――秦の始皇帝の兵馬俑から発掘された三万の漢字「文字渦」
――硯のうえで文字を闘わせる、いにしえの言語遊戯「闘字」
――漢字の領土争いにルビの反乱! Unicode宇宙大戦「誤字」
――さらには、恐ろしい大量殺字事件までもが起こり「幻字」

English

(I couldn’t find an English summary so this is just my attempt at translating the Japanese summary)

Long ago, characters were really alive, don’t you think?
– 30,000 kanji excavated from the first Qin emperor’s Terra Cotta Army “文字渦”
– characters made to battle on an inkstone, an ancient word game “闘字”
– Kanji’s fight for territory - Ruby’s resistance! Unicode Space Battle “誤字”
– Furthermore, it even goes so far as horrific mass “litercide” “幻字”

Length: my copy is about 300 pages even, bookwalker has 348
Category: probably hard, not due to age but difficulty

Availability

amazon.co.jp
Bookwalker

Personal Opinion

This is next in one of my queues - I think I found it by looking for past SF award winners. It sounds extremely interesting, and also basically impossible to fully translate, so I’m super curious about it.
I also think it would be funny to read a book about characters on a site for learning characters. That could help mitigate the hard-looking parts since it’s a topic we’re clearly all interested in.

Pros and Cons for the Book Club

Pros

  • It’s about 文字 so it would be extra appropriate to read on this site.
  • Won the 日本SF大賞, a major Japanese science-fiction prize
  • Seems like it’s neatly divided into 12 episodes of some sort, so portioning weeks might be easy.

Cons

  • The topic and style might make it hard to read. I suspect it’s loaded with references (esp. tech/science ones) that might be hard to get, and interesting but confusing subversions of how characters are normally used.
  • Wikipedia quotes someone about the author: “His complicated narrative structures are the subject of heated discussions and have even evoked harsh reviews calling his work ‘indigestible’, ‘sleep-inducing,’ and ‘reader-unfriendly’” so… there’s that.
  • A bit on the long side for something I can’t 100% vouch for (since I haven’t read it yet).
  • I don’t think there is (or possibly even could be?) an English translation.

Pictures

First Three Pages of Chapter One



Additional Pages

Given the subject matter, there’s ample opportunity for playful textual things, and flipping through the physical copy shows unusual things like these:


Difficulty Poll

How much effort would you need to read this book?

  • No effort at all
  • Minimal effort
  • Moderate effort
  • Significant effort
  • So much effort my head might explode
  • I don’t know

0 voters

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I was also thinking of nominating パノラマ島綺譚, but I’ll hold off for now in case a bunch of other people want to nominate stuff / in case there’s a procedural reason I shouldn’t / just to do something else since that took a little while :slight_smile:

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Out of curiosity, why パノラマ島綺譚 out of Ranpo’s books? (I was planning to skip this one, so now I want to know if I shouldn’t after all :stuck_out_tongue: )

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I think it was the first Ranpo book I heard about, and the one I’ve seen referenced most often - as an especially cool-looking manga adaptation, in the afterward of the first Ranpo collection I read, and as elements in movies, so it feels like one I should read as a prerequisite to some cool stuff, and as a major one of Ranpo’s works.

I also saw in one of the collections while I was considering nomination it that 横溝正史 said it and 陰獣 were「乱歩文学の両巨峰であると信じて疑わない」, plus wikipedia says apparently he was the magazine editor when it was originally serialized? So that makes me interested too as a budding Yokomizo fan…

Plus it’s standalone and a good length for the book club :slight_smile:

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Ugh, up until that point it sounded really interesting.
Well, I’m still interested to be honest. The very beginning of the sample pages was kinda difficult (lots of unknown vocab for me), but after that it seemed more normal, so hopefully it’s not too too bad.

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It seems like it’s 12 interconnected stories, so hopefully at least the individual chunks are digestable!

And yeah, the summary’s tip-off that the start of the sample was talking about China and the terracotta army helped me contextualize the difficult vocab. It seems like maybe if you can track whatever specific topic he’s digging into it might not be too bad, but otherwise, who knows…

I noticed it’s even got a 引用 ・ 参考文献 section at the back…

I’ll just go ahead and nominate Panorama Island since I talked about it.

パノラマ島綺譚

(also spelled パノラマ島奇談)
Author: 江戸川乱歩

Summary

Japanese

日本の探偵小説界に大きな足跡を残した江戸川乱歩の作品。貧乏小説家の人見廣介と大富豪の菰田源三郎はうり二つであった。源三郎が死んだことにより廣介は成りすましを考える。果たしてそれはうまく実行され、念願の芸術を完成させるためある島をパノラマ島へ大改造してしまう。目くるめく壮大で華麗な島。やがて完成間際というとき、源三郎の妻が疑念を抱く。果たして夫は本物の夫なのか。想像の極地のパノラマ島で起こったこととは……

English (technically of the manga adaptation but I'm not sure it matters)

Hitomi Hirosuke enters the Showa era as a poor novelist dreaming of leaving his mark on the world. His latest story is rejected by his editor but Hitomi finds a new way to make his dream a reality. A school friend, a wealthy, rural family head, dies suddenly. Hitomi, who has always bared a striking resemblance to his former friend, concocts a plan to “resurrect” Genzaburo Komoda and take his place. He plans to use the Komoda fortune to realize his dream; constructing an island paradise of excess and debauchery.

Length: My copy is 136 pages or so
Category: Hard (it’s from the 1920s)

Availability

amazon.co.jp
one of the paid Bookwalker options
Aozora version (on bookwalker) - FREE!

Personal Opinion

I wanted to nominate an Edogawa Ranpo book for the club, and this is a standalone novel of about the right length that’s the highest on my priorities list of stuff to read by him. I’m pretty sure hearing about the manga adaptation is how Ranpo came onto my radar in the first place, and the afterword in a Ranpo collection I read talked quite a bit about Panorama Island as well.

I haven’t read this particular book yet, but Ranpo in general seems like a great fit for the book club, since his writing can be complex but gripping.

Pros and Cons for the Book Club

Pros

  • Prominent standalone work from a major author of mysteries and horror
  • There’s a gorgeous-looking manga adaptation
  • a good length, pre-divided into short chunks
  • one site calls it a 幻想的でおどろおどろしい世界を描いた不思議な物語 which sounds cool
  • there’s at least one English translation

Cons

  • Ranpo’s writing can tend to be lurid, and reading a little deeper into the synopsis than what I posted, it sounds like it could be pretty messed up in places. It might not be for everyone in the book club, especially without someone having read it already to provide exact content warnings.
  • It’s possible there’s other Ranpo books out there that could be a better fit.

Pictures

First Three Pages of Chapter One



Difficulty Poll

How much effort would you need to read this book?

  • No effort at all
  • Minimal effort
  • Moderate effort
  • Significant effort
  • So much effort my head might explode
  • I don’t know

0 voters

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Hey hey! I can join if you folks point me toward an English translation, at this point I still require “training wheels” to read, I read in both languages side-by-side and sloooowwwwwllllyyyyy, and if you accept me I will have hundreds of questions for the next 2-3 books, but after that I think I’ll be able to mostly read like ABC regulars. I’m going for the trial-by-fire approach.

I have no nominations, and for voting, I’m open to bribery peer recommendations

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Can confirm that Wikipedia is not lying about his writing style. It is… intensely confusing. I read his Akutagawa prize winning book 道化師の蝶, and wrote about my impressions here: The Akutagawa Prize Reading Challenge - #45 by Myria

Not trying to discourage anyone, and actually I am also interested in reading 文字渦 at some point. But it’ll probably be a struggle, content-wise.

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Nausicaä. It’s got an English translation. :grinning:

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Haaaa yes I remember that. I didn’t realize it was the same author. I’ve updated my vote to “significant effort” then >_<

Reading various reviews, it seems that the writing style itself is fairly straightforward (several people say it’s 読みやすい), but the content, the story or lack thereof, is difficult to understand. Probably not for everyone, but a lot of people seem to enjoy it regardless.

Some quotes from amazon/bookmeter reviews highlighting the difficulty

ゲーム、アニメ、進化論、聖書、仏典あらゆる理屈を混ぜ合わせてでっちあげたエンターテイメントだと思います。(…) お読みになる時はPCの検索を立ち上げておくことをおススメです。

読み易いが、楽しむためには教養が必要。(…)私のような教養に欠ける人間が、本書を楽しむにはハードルが高過ぎたようだ。

おそらくこの本の10%も理解してないんだろうな。

理解ができているかは自信無いけど比較的読みやすかったかな。

ワクワクしながら読み進めた。全然わからなかったし大変時間がかかったけれど。

etc.

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I would like to nominate 金閣寺 by 三島由紀夫, but it looks like I would have to write up a nomination, eh?

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Yeah I think so, but there’s a template in the wiki post at the top of the thread that’s copy-and-pastable, which made it pretty easy!

Worth noting though, it looks like there’s already a work by Mishima that’s been nominated (here) and is active for a vote, 午後の曳航. I don’t know that that precludes nominating another, but it might inform your decision to nominate or not nominate.

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Thanks, I didn’t notice before that 午後の曳航 was a 三島 book. I started to make a nomination for 金閣寺 anyway, but then I realized…

  1. It’s almost 400 pages and probably very difficult reading.
  2. There doesn’t appear to be a Bookwalker edition for eBook readers.

So I’m leaning towards not nominating for now, although I still personally want to read it. Maybe I’ll end up posting it at some point in the future.

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No, it doesn’t. But:

That might be a bigger issue :wink: If it really classifies as “hard” (meaning ~15 pages per week), that would take us ~26 weeks which we should avoid at all cost. Maybe we could get used to the writing and increase the speed after a while, but I would not want to bet on it. Therefore I think it might be safer to read his shorter book 午後の曳航 first in order to get to know his writing style :sweat_smile:

I’ll be posting our next poll tonight (maybe in 12 hours roundabout) so if anybody wants to nominate anything, it’s last orders now!

And everybody: please don’t forget to rate the difficulties of the books, especially the new ones :blush:

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