The Akutagawa Prize Reading Challenge

It’s not a “choose the book we’re going to read” type of poll, right? I’m supposed to vote for the books I’ve read. :sweat_smile:

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Yeah, right. This is not a normal book club, it’s more a tracking list (of books you read) for everybody’s personal use.

But of course, if there is enough interest for a book club for one of the books, then by all means :wink:

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All right, thanks. I was bit confused but I just realized there’s a “None of these so far” option so it should have been obvious. :sweat_smile: But with Konbini Ningen down, only 169 to go! lol

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Yay! :tada: You gotta start somewhere, right?

And don’t worry, I haven’t yet read any others except コンビニ either (but I’m working on it :upside_down_face:)

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I’m not @Myria, but the extracts they posted are much harder to read than 博士. In terms of stream of consciousness sentences, we had ハルヒ, which people found very hard. (Well, there was also the problem of the content, which is the polar opposite of this book :sweat_smile:)
Overall, probably too tough for the intermediate book club, especially that one sentence Myria posted. (Of course it depends of how prevalent those are)

In other news, I am now also sold on that book. I don’t know why the preview/description didn’t catch my interest before :sweat_smile:

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I found the writing style of 博士 rather straightforward; really looking forward to reading another 小川洋子 book!
乳と卵 is much harder, especially if you’re unfamiliar with more casual language. The long sentences require quite a bit of focus (I can’t even imagine how much effort it would take to break them down formally), and if you aren’t familiar with how people (natives) tell stories, with switching perspectives without explicitly naming the other party / without using pronouns, use of active vs passive voice, ていた vs た, use of ます in a subclause to indicate a quote, and so on, I would imagine it’s quite difficult to keep track of the sentences.

In 雪国 the difficulty for me was more about being able to imagine the scene. There were sudden time skips, and due to the story being set almost a hundred years ago, some things / scenes / objects were simply unfamiliar. So sometimes I wasn’t able to make sense of a passage even when reading it several times; other times I just couldn’t be bothered.
乳と卵 is set in modern times, which takes away one hurdle at least. However the sentences really are about 4x the length, which makes it quite annoying to reread passages.

It would probably be quite difficult for the intermediate book club. I think at an intermediate stage it’s probably more beneficial to read books with a clearer sentence structure where you can properly analyze the grammar and where any grammar / context questions have a clear(er) answer. Like 容疑者Xの献身 for example. Of course you could try that with 乳と卵 sentences as well, but most of this casual sentence structure is probably really difficult to formally explain. (I‘m not saying it’s guesswork, but it’s probably more intuition-based?) Of course there’s value in analyzing and studying this writing style as well, but depending on someone’s previous exposure to this sort of casual rambling that you would normally find in a YouTube vlog of someone complaining about work or telling a funny story about their friends, I would imagine it to be quite painful to get through. For people who prefer to reread and analyze sentences frequently, it would probably be a lot of work. As usual, it’s probably easiest to check the sample pages for yourself.

Obviously not every part of this book is as extreme as the snippets I posted, but in general the sentences really are remarkably long. It’s a constant feeling of „wow, this sentence is long, where does it even end?“ and „I want to reread this part but it takes ages to even find the start of the sentence“.

Edit: rereading some parts of the book though, I have to say, the writing style really is quite fun. You can imagine the conversations and her inner monologue really well.

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Actually, the reverse happened after all. I tried to continue reading yesterday, and I did read the sample part before buying, so I thought I was safe. But it actually got harder after the sample ended. I went from “I’m barely managing” to “I have absolutely no idea what’s going on”.
So I guess I’m postponing it until I get smarter.

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Interesting challenge :smiley:
I’m gonna join in and start with むらさきのスカートの女
I first know about it from a review of a book by the same author: Japanese Novel Review: あひる The Duck by Natsuko Imamura (今村夏子) – Japanese Book Club Cafe

むらさきのスカートの女 sounds interesting and I heard the words and grammar used are actually quite simple, that an N3 student would be able to read it without problem.

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Thanks for your judgements! I think I will shift it over to the Advanced Book Club then. (Although it will be a pretty quick read in that club, but what can you do :woman_shrugging:)

Oh, that’s sad to hear! Maybe you can suggest it in the intermediate club, though? Reading it with a club might make things quite a bit easier - also it will maybe not be picked straight away, so you’ll have some time to extend your reading skills.

:tada: Looking forward to your comments!

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Thanks for linking this blog, lots of reviews to read! ^^

I’ve started to read 蛇にピアス. For a moment I considered recommending it to the Intermediate Book Club, because it doesn’t seem too difficult, and it’s quite short, but then I realized, that is very clearly not SFW. So many detailed descriptions of body alteration just in the first 10%, that I had to stop for a day. (I am really afraid of hurting my body, so these were quite triggering.) The next 15% is not that bad, but still NSFW.

Fun fact: this is the only Akutagawa-prize winner novel that was published in my native language (Hungarian). That’s why I chose this one (even though I haven’t read the translation, I just knew this existed because of the translation).

I haven’t read 博士の愛した数式 or 妊娠 カレンダー yet, but based on your discussion I added them to my to-read-list.

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So, I finished 蛇にピアス 2 days ago. It remained easy to understand, but all the explicit blood and sex scenes were a bit much sometimes. And the plot was just really sad.I couldn’t really understand the heroine, who basically just flew with the events all along.

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I’ve read the 蛇にピアス translation after your description, as a sort of consolation after my failure with 推し、燃ゆ (both were written by very young authors, so it’s kind of replacement. But since 蛇にピアス was released in early 2000s it isn’t really present-day-book anymore. But oh well, it’s the period of my own teenage years, so there’s at least that emotional connection. It’s still better than saying that Banana Yoshimoto is the writer of the young generation - yes, I saw this kind of marketing for her works. I’m not saying young generation can’t enjoy her books, but the lady is already 56 years old and started writing in the 80s…)

…Ahem.

I admit that in my case it was “someone had to stop reading because it was too intense? i want to check it!” :sweat_smile:
Since it was a translation, I did read it in one go during one evening. For me it was quite tame, if sometimes unhygienic, but I understand how it can be triggering for some. Unfortunately, my own triggers are about atypical things and I usually cannot count on getting a warning :frowning_face: but on the other hand I’m very comfortable with the pain and blood and rough sex stuff like in this book.

(I was mostly worried that he didn’t wash his feet and she has her tongue newly pierced so what if she gets an infection, things like that :sweat_smile:)

What was disappointing, however, is that I was sometimes counting on the plot being somehow encouraging of characters way of life. Like, okay, they are doing some risky stuff, and living on the edge of society, but they are supporting themselves financially and are happy like this. And this didn’t happen. It was a tale of self-destruction after all, and this made me upset. I was honestly wishing for more, and I felt like it was yet another story of “welp, wandering off from society is bad”.

I think this is sorta the point. She is disturbed, has problems with her mental health, and is incapable of making good decisions. So it isn’t supposed to make sense for someone with good (or at least better than the heroine’s) mental health.

I guess I just wish her a life where she pierces her body, gets tattoos, but is still able to hold some job (I admit it may be hard to continue working as a waitress with some of the ornaments, although I loved how she was able to fake being a perfect Japanese young girl), doesn’t cheat on her partner, and maybe plays with pain a little, during sex, by changing her piercings to larger ones a little too quickly, but maybe doesn’t destroy her body by refusing to eat, but maybe chooses partners who don’t kill anyone.

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Hahaha yes, it was for the young generation… 30 years ago.

Yes, I really don’t like needles. ^^" When I was reading parts like “it hurt this much, and blood went out like that” I was always making faces (and ughh noises apparently), my family kept asking what’s the problem.

I read stuff like this before in my native language, and it wasn’t too much for me, so maybe it has something with the fact that I read it in Japanese, so it took longer and I had to digest the sentences.

My problem is that in the beginning she didn’t seem that disturbed. Yet she never could make any good decision. In the end I sorta understand that she already gave up everything and 仕方がない, but she never really decided anything for herself from the beginning.

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That might be a good explanation indeed. I experienced something similar when we read Kino no Tabi with the book club, some of the worlds are really gruesome, and sometimes reading it made me almost feel sick in my stomach. (Although usually I’m not that sensitive when reading stuff like that in English or in my native language.)

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As I am almost done with my current book, I was thinking about what I could be reading next and this thread came to mind.

I just checked my local library for 推し、燃ゆ, and, err, I would be 503 on the waiting list. Estimated wait time: about 2.5 years. Yeaaah, no.

There’s obviously 乳と卵, as mentioned

It’s still very possible for it to win the nomination in the advanced book club, since we have so few voters (actually, that’s a bit of a problem). If not, I’m strongly considering to read it on my own.

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I finished reading 道化師の蝶 (2011年下) by 円城 塔 and omg this book is difficult. But on another level to 乳と卵.

It consists of two short stories, each about 90 pages. I don’t even know where to begin describing. So the first story is about a genius author and about an entrepreneur trying to find that author. It also mentions a net that can catch ideas.
The second story is about two writers who translate each other‘s stories, thus creating their own versions of it.

I feel like the author is pretty self-reflective since writing and translating are at the core of each story.

Ok, now about the difficulty. 乳と卵 was so easy to understand and so straightforward compared to this. The book is so abstract and hardly sets the scene or tells you what’s going on, it seriously makes you doubt your reading comprehension skills. (Comments on bookmeter like 二回読んでもわからない and several other comments calling it 難解 encourage me in my theory that it’s not my Japanese level that’s too low)

First of all, the author doesn’t even properly tell you whose viewpoint you’re reading right now. Everything is told from わたし perspective. There’s barely any names used, and not even the gender of most characters is clear. At first I had a feeling that every sub-chapter is told from a different person’s perspective, but then I was like „wait maybe it was the same person all along?!“ and then „nah it can’t be, surely this must be someone else“. All these possibilities are constantly in the back of your mind. It’s that level of vague.

The second story suddenly interleaves viewpoints of a character that lives during the time Neanderthals were still alive. And there’s a bit of time travel going on as well, which makes you go „???“
You will, however, learn some useful archaeology vocabulary :+1:t2:

Another thing that makes the perspective confusion even worse is that both stories talk about authors and about the (short) stories they write. You can never be sure whether you’re reading an excerpt from one of the stories written by the author in the book, or if this is the main story, or if these events are actually taking place or if they are just fictional. Which is confusing, to say the least.

Starting the second story, I wasn’t even sure whether it was connected to the first story or not, because there were some meta references that really caught me off-guard (but also made me regain my sanity a bit):
So in the first story, there is this entrepreneur, and the protagonist first meets him in a plane. And I thought the whole time that the entrepreneur is male (even though there’s no clear confirmation, I think? I‘m not sure.)
Then, a few chapters later, the same scene is told from the view of a third person on the same plane, and this person sees the protagonist and the entrepreneur talking, but they are described as two women. So in my mind I’m like „ok I misgendered the entrepreneur the whole time, guess she was a woman all along!“
And then (!) at the end, the same entrepreneur is described as an old man? If I didn’t misunderstand anything?
That sent me down a whole other spiral of doubting my understanding :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

By then I was like „okay, whatever, I guess I didn’t pay attention at some point“, the story was over anyway, I was okay with filing it away like that.

But then the second story begins, and it’s about these two authors who write weird stories etc. And at one point it dead-on says
男だと思っていたのが女であって、実はやっぱり男であったとか、「わたし」の語が登場するたび、いちいち違う人間であるような話を書いた。
Literally meta-referencing and describing my (almost) exact understanding of the first story!

And that quote made me think that maybe I wasn’t insane. Maybe the author is subtly confirming that „no, you didn’t understand the story wrong, don’t worry, I was just gaslighting you“, which was actually kind of comforting? :smiley:

I was also never sure if the stories involved actual (low-level) magic, or if the more supernatural phenomenons could be explained away by „the power of imagination“.
One really crazy phenomenon actually had a legit scientific explanation (a brain injury similar to what Zasetsky suffered from), which I found really cool. I definitely learned new things, and I enjoyed the fact that the story had supernatural elements, but that it was still firmly set in the real world and talked about real-life scientific phenomena.

I really want to read it again and see if my understanding changes, but then again, I could read something else (something easier for once, maybe?) in the meantime… So I probably won’t, at least for now.

If anyone is interested in how I’d compare it to 雪国: grammar-wise and vocabulary wise it’s definitely a bit easier, but understanding what he means by that is actually a bit more difficult than with 雪国, I‘d say. I rated them about the same on Natively.

By the way, someone posted the cover of a book called これはペンです in the 多読 thread, saying „Finally, a book we can all read“, but it’s by the same author, and I’m telling you, IT‘S A TRAP!

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Out of context, that sentence would be properly terrifying :joy:

Hmmm, yeah, not adding that to my “to read” list, at least not until I have a completionist urge to get through the whole list (and we are probably decades away from that).

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That book does sound horrible o_o Good job on finishing it!

Has anyone tried looking at other prizes? I recently read 夜のピクニック and in the postface they talk about how that book won the second edition of the 本屋大賞, i.e. the Japan Booksellers’ Award, that was created in 2004. They say that other prizes tend not to like books that actually sell well (too mainstream?) and this award fills the gap. The books on that list might be more accessible? There are 10 awarded each year, the first one being the grand prize winner. A lot of them have been turned into movies/manga.

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I’ve been reading 天冥の標, which is one the 2019 winner of the 日本SF大賞 (the Japanese SF prize).
It’s great! But it’s SF, so that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. (Also, the technical lingo makes it a bit less accessible for those who do not know it)

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The Akutagawa Prize is actually geared towards more “literary” books, while there is a sister award, the Naoki Prize, for more “mainstream” and accessible books. E.g. Yougisha X is one of the winners of Naoki Prize. I only truly understood this difference after I set up this list :sweat_smile: as I initially knew only Konbini Ningen which is very accessible. So it came as a surprise to me how hard the other books in this list are.

I’m thinking about maybe setting up a similar list for the Naoki Prize winners in the near future, to point out more accessible books as well.

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