I am taking a little break on the blog!
I am busy reading all the tips I can find on the web to prepare for JLPT N1, and I will certainly order some books next week: novels and JLPT textbooks for 2019!
Happy end of the year!
I am taking a little break on the blog!
I am busy reading all the tips I can find on the web to prepare for JLPT N1, and I will certainly order some books next week: novels and JLPT textbooks for 2019!
Happy end of the year!
I have finished 『リカーシブル』by Honobu YONEZAWA (米澤穂信), and with it, I have completed both my reading challenge for the year and my goals for the month of December.
Haruka, her mother and younger brother Satoru have to move back to the mother’s native little town. While Haruka, who starts her first year of middle-school, tries to make her place in the class hierarchy, a growing feeling of uneasiness will change her priorities. There is something strange with this town and Satoru is acting weird: Haruka will investigate.
This mystery novel is quite long (+500 pages) and encompasses a wide range of topics. First, the daily preoccupations of the protagonist Haruka. As a transfer student, she has to find her place in the class hierarchy and make friends. We also soon find out that her family is not what it seems and Haruka has to find her place in it too.
Another important point is the town itself: the town is slowly dying, many stores have shut down, the school is half empty… the adults fight their own battle by lobbying to make the highway come to their town. This is an important theme of the novel.
Finally, there is a legend attached to the town, or more precisely, a folks’ tale that all the inhabitants know of. This is a major topic, and it lays at the heart of the mystery.
To be honest, folk tales, traditions and legends are not what appeals the most to me when it comes to Japanese culture. It interests me, but I would not like to read a whole novel involving deities or legendary characters. If I had known that this topic was so present in the novel, I would certainly not have bought it.
As a result, I was not fully focused when reading the passages about this particular folks’ tale (and they were the most difficult to read, too, which didn’t help), and this is a shame because a good part of the mystery is linked to it.
In spite of it, I enjoyed reading this book very much. The mystery is so intriguing that it kept me reading despite my lack of interest in certain passages and a general feeling that the book lacked real tension or real danger.
I would say that the author really managed to create a feeling of uneasiness: the atmosphere of the town, some people acting weird, it always looks like something is not quite right. This, and the sympathy I had for Haruka, kept me engrossed in the book until the end.
『リカーシブル』is a great mystery that involves a lot of topics and reads a little like a detective novel: the reader, as well as Haruka, has all the elements in hands to solve the mystery. In addition to being an intriguing novel, 『リカーシブル』is also a very consistent one: everything falls into place in the end, and the attentive reader can certainly solve the mystery by himself.
I must admit that I haven’t fully taken advantage of this feature. As I said, some passages bored me, and I haven’t paid enough attention to details. This is a shame really!
For my last Monday post of the year, I would like to look back on the books I have read this year in Japanese!
If I only take the story into account, without considering the language level, I would say that my favourite books this year are:
This is a list of the books that I enjoyed the most because they were both interesting and easy to read in Japanese:
I mean by that the books that I found the most suspenseful and intriguing. Typically, the kind of book that I will always read more than I planned to. For example, I would tell myself to read 10 pages today, and I would end up reading 30.
I could add all the other books by Keigo HIGASHINO (except 『手紙』) because any detective novel by Higashino is bound to be engrossing.
While they are not among my favourites, these two books where very entertaining, so I should mention them:
By this I mean the books that tackle a social problem. “Engaged” is maybe too strong a word for some of them, but you get the idea:
The easiest books are without a doubt the three light novels I have read this year:
These light novels have a limited number of characters and places. You will always find yourself in familiar settings. There are a lot of dialogues and not many descriptions. Paragraphs are short, you won’t find yourself overwhelmed with too much text on a page. The vocabulary and kanji are also limited. The plot progresses quickly… There are numerous reasons that make light novels easier to read for non natives!
And the books for children, especially:
Being a book for children does not necessary mean that the book will be easy to read for non native. The book can have an educational purpose in introducing more difficult kanji or descriptive passages. I found that『未来のミライ』by Mamoru HOSODA was not as easy as you would expect.
From my modest experience, I would say that light novels are much easier to read than books for children (and more interesting too!).
I don’t need to hesitate one second to point out the difficult books:
Here are the books that are particularly interesting to read for Japanese learners.
For people who want to start reading in Japanese:
To someone who loves Japanese and wants to learn more about the language:
There are different reason why I would not finish a book. It might be too difficult:
Another reason is of course that I didn’t like the book:
And sometimes, both the difficulty of Japanese and a loss of interest are responsible:
There are two books that I have finished but that I didn’t like, both are books for children:
Of course, I will continue to read Keigo HIGASHINO. I think that I will focus on reading the remaining books of the detective Kaga series!
Among the authors that I have discovered this year and want to continue reading next year are:
And with this list, I am saying goodbye to 2018! I have completed my reading challenge for the year which was to read one book per month (in fact, I read more), so I feel both happy and satisfied.
I will publish my review of 『リカーシブル』by Honobu YONEZAWA on Wednesday (the last book on my list!) and take some blog Holidays until January 1st!
(I won’t stay inactive during those two weeks because I need to collect resources for my preparation of JLPT N1 and make a list of novels I want to read for the beginning of the year!)
『往復書簡』(おうふくしょかん) is a collection of four epistolary short stories by Kanae MINATO (湊かなえ) published by 幻冬舎文庫 (げんとうしゃぶんこ).
With the exception of the fourth story, which is very short and a little different than the others, the three main short stories all follow a similar pattern: several people who share a common past or have a connection with it will start exchanging letters. In each story, there is a particular event that lies in the past, altered by the years, the incomplete memories and the things unsaid. The protagonists will unveil this past mystery and search for the truth.
I found this format very original and interesting. The stories show how a same event can be experienced and remembered completely differently by the person who where involved at the time. You cannot help but reflect about your own past. It is a little scary to think that your friends might have a completely different recollection or experience of some shared events.
In the end, what really happened matters less than the way people experienced it, because their interpretation of the past makes them what they are now, it forges their personality and can influence their choice. I find that Kanae MINATO depicts this perfectly.
I like epistolary novels, but I couldn’t help wondering if it is the best genre to dig into the past.
I am not an expert, but I feel that the epistolary genre is perfect when two persons who used to know each other are separated and talk about their own present life in their letters. In the opposite direction, two persons who don’t know each other can start a correspondence and each one talks about his or her own past.
The problem when people talk about a shared past through letters is that they will have to say things like “At that moment I said… then you replied… then I did… and you remarked that…” for the sake of the reader. I found this a little unnatural. Also, in the second story, one of the correspondent transcribes whole interviews in his letters. He would say “I will transcribe my interview with … :” and then the story reads like a novel, not like a letter.
Another thing that bothered me a little is that the reason why the protagonists start writing letters is a little far-fetched. It is not something people would do in real life, I think.
All in all, I loved the stories, but I am not convinced by the choice of the epistolary genre.
In spite of these negative points, I enjoyed reading the book because I love mysteries and I love when the past is not what we thought it was. But the pattern of each story is a little repetitive and while I loved the first story, liked the second one, I felt a little bored when I read the third one and couldn’t feel involved in the story. This is why I would recommend to read each story at different time, instead of all in a row.
It took me a long time to read it, but I finally finished the novel 『手紙』by Keigo HIGASHINO (東野圭吾)!
Reference: 『手紙』(てがみ), by 東野圭吾 (ひがしのけいご), published by 文春文庫 (ぶんしゅんぶんこ).
This novel is not a detective novel, the only murder occurs in the prologue and there won’t be any police investigation afterwards. 『手紙』is about the aftermaths of the murder, and the story is tell from the point of view of the murderer’s brother.
Naoki is still in high-school when his older brother Tsuyoshi commits robbery and murder and is imprisoned. His first concern is money, for the two brothers have lost their parents, and Naoki is now alone to make his living. But in a society where discrimination is strong, Naoki will realise that his biggest problem is not the lack of money, but his connection to his brother.
In this novel, Keigo HIGASHINO addresses the problem of discrimination and depicts the way the society turns its back on anyone that has a connection to murder.
To be honest, I didn’t like the book at first because I misjudged it. Something happens in the beginning that I found hard to believe (it is not something that really happens in real life) and that made me think that I was not reading the kind of book I expected. I expected a realistic depiction of the society and all of the sudden, it looked like I was reading “a hero is faced with adversity, but he meets someone that changes his life, and with hard work, courage and faith, he overcomes the obstacles and finds happiness” kind of story. I am totally okay with this kind of story by the way, but it is not what I wanted to read here.
But I completely misjudged the book, and it is a pity that I left it untouched for so long a time because of that. It is not at all a feel-good story that leads you towards an inevitable happy end and makes you feel that you can fulfill your dreams if you believe in yourself. On the contrary, reading 『手紙』made me sad and angry in turns, and I loved it for several reasons.
First of all, the topic chosen by Higashino is not something I have often read about or seen in films. The relatives of a murderer are the left over of detective fictions. They are useful to conduct interviews and help to define the suspect’s character, but once the culprit is arrested, nobody really cares about how they will go on with their life. Higashino devotes a whole novel to a character that would have been a minor or peripheral figure in a conventional detective story.
But the real force of the novel is that it overcomes the antagonism between the innocent victim and the discriminatory mass of ignorant people. Those who turn their back on him are not all unscrupulous and Naoki is far from being a saint. It is hard to take a side. You cannot help wondering what you would have done in this situation, how you would have reacted.
While I cannot point a passage that was more difficult than the others, I still felt that 『手紙』was a tiny bit more challenging than other books by Higashino. I think that the reason might be the many changes of setting. The novel spans several years, and we follow Naoki in different places, different activities, different relationships. This means that every new environment has to be described, and the reader has to get used to it, which maybe adds to the difficulty of reading in Japanese.
If you are interested in novels that deal with social discrimination, you will find a lot to think about by reading 『手紙』. It certainly opened my eyes to a social problem I never really thought of before, but gave me no straight answers. While I recommend this book for its topic, I must say that it is not a lighthearted read!
It is time to plan my studies for next year! (I know it’s a little early, but I cannot wait!)
I have greatly enjoyed 2018: finally, I was able to read a wider range of novels, mysteries and detective stories.
I could go on like that in 2019, but being able to read best-selling authors like Keigo HIGASHINO does not mean that I can read any literature in Japanese. There are so many books that are still out of reach, fiction as well as non fiction.
To progress, I will have to go out of my comfort zone and tackle books that are above my level. I think that reading books I can tackle easily helps me to progress, but only a little. I feel more and more at ease with Japanese sentences, I can read faster and faster and I learn some new vocabulary… But to really make significant progress, I know that I have to read a book that is a little too difficult to me and make the necessary effort to understand it.
But I still want to have fun and continue reading mystery and detective books that will not make me struggle too much.
In 2019, I think that I will try to widen even more the range of books I read:
I am very tempted by the JLPT N1. My last test was in 2017 and I have done nothing relative to the test in 2018. I like taking the test, I like to prepare for it, and I must admit that I miss the guided path of a textbook, the idea of studying with a deadline, and the feeling that I belong to the community of test takers.
But N1 is a little intimidating, I remember that making my way through the Shin Kanzen series for N2 was not always fun, and that my Anki had become a dreadful thing after all that.
On the other hand, if I decide to take the test, it will be for December. It gives me ample time to prepare slowly, gives me a goal for the year, and of course, it will help me to progress in reading and ultimately, it will maybe allow me to read these challenging books I have in mind.
Let’s draw the pros and cons:
|It will take me a lot of time, this certainly means less time to read books.||Of course, I will make progress!|
|It won’t be fun all the time, especially going through the Shin Kanzen series for N1…||It will go together with my reading goals for 2019, I am sure that the JLPT N1 will help me read challenging books.|
|It will spoil my Anki deck. I added so many words when I was studying N2 that studying Anki had become a nightmare.||Maybe I can use paper and pen to learn N1 vocabulary and kani and only add to Anki some carefully selected words.|
|It is the perfect excuse to buy tons of textbooks, and I will also have to choose a dedicated notebook!|
|I was looking for ways to use my fountain pens more, studying for the JLPT seems a perfect way to do it.|
|I always complain about my listening level. If I want to pass N1, I will have no choice but to practice listening seriously!|
|The test being in December, it gives me a nice straightforward goal for the whole year.|
|Taking the test is ultra motivating, in fact, the more I think about taking N1 in 2019, the more excited I feel!|
I am sure I could add more points in the “pros” column. So, it settles it I think! I will take the JLPT N1 in 2019! My aim is to pass in December, but I will certainly take the test in July too, as a warm-up.
I want to change a little the format of my blog in 2019. Until now, I was writing 3 times a week, following the pattern:
I think that I will only write twice a week next year:
But now that I want to take the JLPT, I think that I could add a “JLPT journal” section and post once a week in this category, to stay motivated.
I still have to think about it, and I will take some blog holiday at the end of the month (from the 20th)!
What are your plans for 2019? 🙂
(I don’t usually post book reviews on Friday, but I will certainly take some holidays at the end of the month, so if I want to publish all my book reviews before the end of the year, I will have to post twice a week!)
I have finished 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』by En MIKAMI (三上延) and I loved it! It is a light novel published by メディアワークス文庫 (Kadokawa) and as such, it is easy to read, even for Japanese learners.
『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』is a novel, but it is divided into 4 chapters that each contains an independent story. I like this structure very much because the book, while being a novel, allows you to take a break between two chapters without feeling lost when you return to it.
The story is simple enough: the young Daisuke meets the owner of a used bookstore, the beautiful and mysterious Shioriko. Together, they will solve mysteries brought by the clients of the bookstore. Hence the subtitle of the book: “栞子(Shioriko)さんと奇妙な客人たち”.
To be honest, I was a little afraid that the story would evolve into an obvious romantic relationship between the two protagonists, but it does not: the novel is a mystery novel, not a romance.
And the mysteries are quite good, too. I was unable to put down the book once I started a chapter, and I have usually read a whole chapter in only one or two reading sessions. Once you start, you want to know what happened, and you cannot stop reading!
As I said, each chapter is devoted to a mystery, and this mystery is always linked to a book. You absolutely don’t need to have read these books to enjoy the story, you don’t even need to know who the authors are. Daisuke, the protagonist, has a physical condition that makes him unable to read. As a consequence, he has read none of the books that appear in the story, and if the contents of the book is important, Shioriko will explain it to him. So no need to have studied Japanese literature!
I still don’t know how to define a “light novel”. All I know is that I have read three this year, and they were all easy to read. If we take the definition that author Emi KITAGAWA gives of a “light novel” 「とにかく楽しいもの」, then I can say that 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』is a perfect light novel: this book was highly entertaining, enjoyable and pleasant to read.
I highly recommend this book to Japanese learners. The Japanese level is not high, there is enough suspense to keep you reading even if you stumble across a difficult part, the plot progresses quickly, no long descriptions or narrative passages, a lot of dialogues, a limited number of characters, and so on.
As a Japanese learner trying to read novels in Japanese, this book was one of the most pleasant experiences of the year. Of course, I feel rewarded if I can read my way through a challenging book, but being able to forget that I am reading in a foreign language and simply enjoy the story is also extremely rewarding.
I am tempted to read the other books of the series, but there are so many interesting titles on the メディアワークス文庫 site, that I might pick another one next time!
There are 5 short detective stories in 『探偵倶楽部』(The Membership Detective Club – たんていくらぶ) by Keigo HIGASHINO (東野圭吾) and I loved every single one of them!
The stories all feature the Membership Detective Club, but the detectives are not the protagonists. The stories mainly focus on the people that are involved or find themselves involved in a murder case. The police is also playing a part in some of the stories, creating a tension between people trying to hide things, police officers who try to solve the case, and the detective agency working in the shadows.
But what is really amazing in these stories is the the complexity of the case. You would think that a detective story of 50-60 pages can only have a straightforward plot because there is no room for plot twists, but Higashino is able to condense a very complex story in a few pages. I have been surprised in every single short story because the end turned out to be very different from what I expected. I always consider myself blessed when I can enjoy a good plot twist in a detective novel, but being offered 5 in a row is a real delight!
Each short story is like a detective novel that would have been squeezed to extract only the essential information surrounding the murder and the investigation. Of course, I enjoy novels where the characters and the setting are well built, where the reader gets involved and where the relationships between the characters evolved and so on. But sometimes, I just want to know who done it and how, I don’t want the author to describe every object of the room, and I cannot wait to read the final revelation. If you feel like that, you should read 『探偵倶楽部』!
To give you an example of how exciting the short stories are, the second short story “罠の中” opens on the discussion of three persons planning the murder of a fourth one. We don’t know the names of the would-be criminals and we don’t know who they intend to murder and how. We only have a little indication. Then we are at a dinner party with ten or so participants. We know that the murder will happen there, but we don’t know who will be involved and how it will be done. That’s exactly the kind of stories I want to read!
Last but not least, a word about the Japanese difficulty of this book. It is not more difficult than other books by Higashino, but I found that there was a lot of names to remember. Especially in the first two short stories where all the persons are introduced almost at the same time. If you like short stories, you could also have a look at the sixth book of the Detective Kaga series called 『嘘をもうひとつだけ』. I remember that it was much easier to read than 『探偵倶楽部』.
To conclude, I loved this book, and I found it very refreshing to read short stories, even if it is not usually my favourite genre!
We are in December, time to look back on the year and see what progress I have made!
I feel that I haven’t worked as hard in 2018 that I did in 2017. When I say “work hard” I mainly mean learning tons of vocabulary and spend a lot of time in grammar books.
In 2017, I took the JLPT N2 twice, in July and in December. It definitely helped me to make progress in Japanese. I worked with the Sou-matome series for the test of July and with the Shin Kanzen series for December. I have learned a lot of grammar, made a lot of exercises, and my Anki literally exploded with N2 words.
While preparing for the JLPT helped me to improve my level, it was also a little too much in the end, and I wanted nothing more than to relax and take advantage of what I had learned to read novels in Japanese.
Even though I had in mind to try N1 in December this year, I gave up the idea because I didn’t feel like going through the JLPT preparation again.
So while I have continued to study Japanese in 2018, it is nothing compared to last year. As a result, I certainly have progressed less but had more fun in my experience with Japanese.
My main goal in learning Japanese is to read novels, so I naturally spent more time and effort in improving my reading over other skills. This has been true since I started learning Japanese and it paid off.
This year, I have worked on my reading by practicing a lot rather than by learning new vocabulary or making JLPT style exercises.
For the first time this year, I have read different authors and tackled challenging books (with mixed results, but oh well…). In 2017, I had read mainly Keigo HIGASHINO’s books because he was the only author I knew I could read without struggling.
In 2018, I started a reading challenge for the year and wanted to read one book per month. This is what I have done for some months, but then I certainly started reading faster and I was able to read more than a novel per month. In the end, I read much more than I expected to. I still come across novels that are too difficult to me, but I have undeniably broadened the scope of authors I can read.
In spite of my effort, I cannot feel a lot of progress in listening. There are things that I can understand well, like some drama and animation films. But mostly, I still feel lost when I watch a Japanese film without subtitles or listen to a podcast.
In writing, I feel like I am taking baby steps only. I haven’t written every day during the whole year but I did make some effort in producing at least some lines in Japanese on a regular basis. But to be honest, I feel that the progress I make are so tiny, no one would notice them.
As for speaking, I haven’t put effort in it at all. I don’t have occasion to speak Japanese and I am not trying to create them either. During this whole year, I have spoken Japanese only once. It was last month, during the Seoul Pen Show, to buy an old fountain pen from a Japanese seller of vintage Pilot.
If I were to note the turning points of the year, I would select two:
It is strange to think that the year is almost over. I have started and given up a lot of things, but all in all I have stuck to my mission of reading more and to diversify what I was reading.
Looking back on the year is an interesting exercise, you might have studied more or made more progress than you realise. It would be great if we could meet the person we were on January, 1st and compare ourselves to that person! Trying to go back to the beginning of the year and visualising our level and our expectations of the time is a good way to measure our progress. I don’t know if I have changed much during this year, but the Japanese learner inside me has definitely changed a lot!