Thursday, 31 May 2012

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 :)