Book review: 『本を読む人だけが手にするもの』 by Kazuhiro Fujihara

Introduction

Title: 『本を読む人だけが手にするもの』
Author: Kazuhiro FUJIHARA (藤原和博)
Published by ちくま文庫
296 pages

Review

I will say it plainly: I didn’t like this book. Reading it was a waste of time, the author kept bragging about himself, I haven’t learned anything, and I felt insulted by the author.

“I am such a great person” type of book

The point of the book is to show the importance of reading, I guess… But to be honest, it rather looks like the whole point of the book is to show how great the author is because he reads so many books and achieved so many things and has so many great ideas to improve education.

I haven’t read a lot of self-improvement books in Japanese, but Japanese authors always seem to brag about how many books they read, how many blog posts they write, how many video they upload and so on. I find it annoying, but if the author is creating great content that helps me getting more productive, it’s fine. In this book, the author just boasts about his exploits, but does not do anything for me.

As a blogger myself, I am certainly impressed by authors who upload a blog post every single day, but as a reader, I felt that the author’s reading habits sounded a little too impressive to be true. For example, the author says that when someone talks about or recommends a book in a conversation, he will buy this book the very same day and:

そして、できたら翌日には読み終え、メールですぐに感想を送る。3行でも5行でもいいので、相手が驚くようなスピードで感想を送るのである。(p.174)

Well… good for you I suppose 🤷‍♀️

Overall, the author talks a lot about personal anecdotes, but it does not bring anything to the book. It just feels like the author wants to talk about himself rather than talk about what reading can bring you.

Nothing new in this book

I agree with a lot of things that the author says about reading. His main points are that reading books can help you forge your own opinion and think by yourself. It also enriches your experience, because we cannot experience everything in our life, and reading brings you the experience of the author.

Well, to me, these points seem obvious. The author presents them like his big discoveries about reading, but I was hoping that we would start from here and develop on these topics. However, there is not much more in the book apart from personal episodes. I haven’t learned anything new.

The author also seems to think that books are the only way to learn about a topic and forge one’s own opinion about it. With so many media accessible today, how can one say that books are the only way to position oneself on a topic? It’s nonsense. The author says that “people who don’t read books” have a reduced vision of topical issues (p.61), and I can’t agree with that 🙅‍♀️

Insulting

I also found the author to be quite insulting at several occasions. I don’t know why, but the author has decided to oppose books and video games, reading and spending time on your phone. This is so reductive and simplistic. I mean, I read books, and I play video games, and I think that having several hobbies is a good thing. But the author is classifying and ranking hobbies, stating that some are better and some are useless.

In particular, the author seems to profoundly despise people who play games on their phone. I wish that the author had downloaded some mobile games and try them before saying that. Even on mobile, a lot of games are just incredibly entertaining, clever and beautiful.

The author also classifies people into “people who read books” (the good ones obviously) and “people who play games” (the bad lot). He likes to criticise people who play games or spend time on their phone in the subway. I mean, people are tired of their day at work and they chill out with a stupid mobile game, what’s wrong with that? They might be highly successful in their work, they might even be avid readers at other times. Or they might not, and that’s fine, why would you go around judging people?

Oh, but I forgot… the author is capable of reading books on his way home after drinking. Talking about literary fiction:

どんなに遅くなって眠くても、接待で飲み過ぎて酔っぱらっていても、帰りの電車のなかでは作品を読みふけった。(p.110)

So yes, if you are playing on your phone in the subway instead of reading literature, I guess you are just not worth it in the author’s mind. I felt directly insulted, because I don’t often read in the subway. Mainly because I don’t skim through my books like the author, I like to get immersed in the story. This is not something I can do in the subway with the constant announcements and people talking around me. So yes, subway=phone to me.

Conclusion

I love reading, and I hate how the author talks about reading books as just a way to get better, to get more productive, to become a successful person and to build a better society. He never talks about reading for pleasure, he never talks about genre fiction. Reading to get better and improve yourself is fine, but reading is also a hobby, and if you read only with another purpose in mind than the book itself, you might be missing something. Overall, I find that the author has a very reductive view of what a book is, what a novel is, what a video game is and what a mobile phone is. There are interesting parts in this book, but the author’s tendency to oppose the (intelligent) people who read books and the (stupid) people who don’t made this book a complete no to me.

I will leave you on a last quote from this author:

ゲームをやっている間はほとんどアタマを使っていない。p.35 🤦‍♀️