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Reading Journal: March 2020

I am very happy with my readings at the moment, not because I like everything that I read, but because I feel that I am reading more than usual. As I did last month, I will talk about the books that I am currently reading (and just finished).

Books I finished

I have finished three of the books that I mentioned in my reading journal of February: 『ノルウェイの森』, 『マチネの終わりに』and 『ボッコちゃん』(link to my book reviews).

I have finished the second short story of 『帰郷』, and I will take a break for now. This short story was really difficult to read. I constantly needed to re-read what I had just read. If I tried to just move on, I would soon realise that I was unable to follow the characters’ conversations. I also have to look up words, for example, I never saw the word かかあ to talk about your wife.

I also finished two books that I started after posting my last reading journal entry:

The cover of the books I just finished
『老後の資金がありません』by Miu Kakiya and 『天使のナイフ』by Gaku Yakumaru

First of all, I returned to crime fiction because I was frustrated with 『マチネの終わりに』. If you have read my review, you know that I did not like this book, and I felt I needed to read a good thriller! I chose 『天使のナイフ』by Gaku Yakumaru. It was a nice thriller, not my favourite one, but a good way to relax. It also felt good to be engrossed in a story!

It has become easy for me to read this kind of books. I have mainly read crime fiction in Japanese, and I do think that the more you read in a genre, the better you get. Not only do you know the words that are likely to appear, but you also become better at guessing what will happen next. My advice to read in a foreign language: find a genre you like and stick to it at the beginning!

I read and finished the novel 『老後の資金がありません』by Miu Kakiya (垣谷美雨). It was quite easy to read. Specialised vocabulary would occasionally appear when the characters discuss particular events (like organising a funeral service), but it remains very simple. Most parts of the story are just describing the everyday life of a woman who worries about money, so there is nothing really difficult in terms of vocabulary.

Currently reading

The cover of the books I am currently reading
『草花たちの静かな誓い』by Teru Miyamoto, 『アンカー』 (Anchor) by Bin Konno, 『ファーストラブ』by Rio Shimamoto and『もっと、やめてみた』by Pon Watanabe.

『もっと、やめてみた』by Pon Watanabe (わたなべぽん)

This is the easiest book that I am reading at the moment, but none of my currently reads are difficult this month.

『もっと、やめてみた』is a short エッセイ漫画, or autobiographical manga of 120 pages. The author, Pon Watanabe, talks about different things she stopped doing or buying, and how this allowed her to discover new hobbies, save money, and lead a better life.

It is easy to read, cute and extremely relatable, so I highly recommend it to Japanese learners. Just be aware that some text passages are printed very small and use a funny font, so some people might find it difficult to read. You can see of the picture a sample of the different fonts used and how small it can be.

An extract from 『もっと、やめてみた』
『もっと、やめてみた』, Pon Watanabe, p.12

I find that this kind of books are perfect for Japanese learners who want to start reading in Japanese, still cannot tackle an entire novel, but are not that into manga either. When I started reading in Japanese, I read several of Miri Masuda’s (益田ミリ) manga, and it really helped me take the next step. Similarly to Miri Masuda, Pon Watanabe talks about everyday life, and the thoughts, worries or tendency to overthink of her characters are very relatable.

『アンカー』 (Anchor) by Bin Konno (今野敏).

Last year, I read another book by Bin Konno (『継続捜査ゼミ』) and it was one of the easiest and most engrossing books I had read at that time. It was almost entirely composed of dialogues.

The beginning of 『アンカー』was more difficult than I expected. The Japanese level was not particularly high, but it was hard to understand the situation or follow the characters’ conversation. Exactly as it would be if you were a new employee who just arrived at your workplace and listen to colleagues’ conversation.

I guess that it is because『アンカー』is part of a series. It is the fourth book in the Scoop Series (スクープシリーズ), and I think that the reader is expected to know the characters.

But this only concerns the very first pages. When the story starts, it becomes much easier to read, with a lot of dialogues. This book reads very quickly. I often end reading double the number of pages that I intended to. I think that it comes from the many dialogues that make turning the pages very fast. There is also a line break after every one or two sentences. That means that even when there is a passage without dialogue, you never get to read an entire block of text.

『草花たちの静かな誓い』by Teru Miyamoto (宮本輝)

This book is the exact opposite of 『アンカー』: it reads very slowly, haha. I never read Tery Miyamoto before but several of his novels are translated into French, and he also won many literary awards.

I am not used to reading literary fiction in Japanese so I was afraid that『草花たちの静かな誓い』would be difficult to read, but it is surprisingly not. There is nothing very difficult in terms of kanji, grammar or Japanese level in general, but there are a lot of descriptions and the pace is very slow. We follow the protagonist in everything he does. The first chapter of 100 pages, except for some pages at the beginning, only describes one day.

Extract: The protagonist describes the house of his deceased aunt. She lived in California. The protagonist notices the turkish stones flooring of the entrance and then describes the wooden floor of the kitchen:

「キッチンの床は杉綾の形に組んだたくさんの微妙に色の異なる木が敷き詰めてあった。」

The only word I didn’t know was 杉綾・すぎあや (herringbone), and I guessed the meaning of 敷き詰める because I knew the word 敷く・しく (spread out) and the context made it easy to understand. But even if you don’t understand these words, it is enough to know that the narrator is talking about the wooden floor of the kitchen. You can also guess that it has an exquisite/complex appearance.

To be honest with you, I didn’t know the English word herringbone… 😔 And then I wondered how we say it in French but had no idea 😨 I looked it up, and apparently we say “chevron”… Maybe I should stop all Japanese activities right now and start learning my mother tongue! 😅

What follows is much easier, the narrator then talks about his aunt’s habit to give slippers to visitors of the house, even Americans:

「しかし、菊枝(きくえ)おばさんが、訪ねてくるアメリカ人にも靴を脱いでスリッパに履き替えるのを求めたのは、各部屋の特別な材質の床を傷つけたくなかったからではない。おばさんは家のなかに外履きの靴やサンダルで入り、そのままソファに横たわったり、ベッドに乗るという、アメリカ人の習慣だけは我慢ならなかったのだ。外で履いた靴がどんなに汚いものかがどうしてわからないのかしら、菊枝おばさんはよく言っていたなと弦矢(げんや)は思いながらキッチンから庭に出た。」(p.40)

There is not a single unknown word to me in this passage, and in fact, this book is not very challenging in terms of vocabulary. I am thinking of using it to study and look up the words I don’t know and add them to Anki. I don’t usually look up words when reading novels (apart from very difficult ones), but it has been a while since I studied vocabulary seriously (since the JLPT to be honest 😔)…

Just started: 『ファーストラブ』by Rio Shimamoto (島本理生)

I like reading several books at the same time, so I also started 『ファーストラブ』by Rio Shimamoto. This novel won the Naoki Prize in 2018.

I am still at the very beginning, so it is hard to say if it is easier or more difficult than the two above. I would say that for now, it looks like the most difficult book, but it might just be because I am still not used to the characters and the setting and find some things a little confusing.

For instance, the narration is clearly told from the first-person perspective, but it does not feel like a first-person narration, it feels like a third-person one. I am therefore surprised everytime our protagonist says 私 in the narrative parts, because I tend to forget that it is indeed a first-person narrative. I don’t know if it makes sense 😅, in any case, I am still not really into the story yet.

Conclusion

My reading challenge for March (monthly challenges/goals are published on my home page) is to start and finish 3 books. I have already finished 『老後の資金がありません』, I will certainly finish 『アンカー』before the end of the month, but I am not sure whether I can finish 『草花たちの静かな誓い』. I love the story and the main character, but as I said, it reads very slowly. But I will try my best to complete my monthly challenge!

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