March has not been a good reading month for me. I did read a lot of books, but I was not motivated, and most books felt difficult to read because I was not really interested in them and had a hard time staying focused while reading. All the books I read for my challenges have been disappointing to some extent.
Mystery Writers of Japan Award – Project
Read all the available winners of the MWJ award for fiction (in chronological order).
『四万人の目撃し』by Yorichika Arima (有馬頼義)
This is the first award winner that I did not really enjoy reading. I think that I would have DNFed it if it weren’t for my project. I found that the detective part of the story was very underwhelming, the novel always seemed to promise more than it delivered.
Baseball is the main topic of the book, and no matter how hard I try, I just cannot get interested in baseball. As a result, parts about career and games were annoying to read to me. At first, I really made an effort to try to understand everything, look at vocabulary and read baseball rules, but then the story was so unexciting as a whole, that I gave up. I ended up just reading some parts without really trying to understand them completely.
This is the second time that I read a book in Japanese that has baseball as a sub-theme, and each time I felt that I could not fully enjoy the book because of it. (The first one was 博士の愛した数式 – The Housekeeper and the Professor – by Yoko Ogawa.)
『黒い白鳥』by Tetsuya Ayukawa (鮎川哲也)
I still don’t know how I feel about this book. I think that it is a good social detective novel, but I did not really enjoy reading it.
The pace was slow and the investigation maybe a little bit too realistic to make for an exciting detective novel. The mystery also relies on train timetables, and I found it a little bit too complex for me, especially given that I am reading the book in Japanese and I am not familiar with all the station names (which somehow makes it more difficult to remember everything and understand where everything is).
In the end, I gave up trying to examine the timetables (we are provided with four different ones in the novels) and piecing the mystery together. I just read the explanations given by the detectives without trying to double-check everything myself with the timetables.
Overall, apart from all the train things, the book was a bit on the difficult side because it has a lot of descriptions in it. It was not bad at all, but somehow I was not really engrossed in it and it took me a lot of time to read.
Read one book per month in your target language (I chose Korean). Check out the prompts here.
행성어 서점 by 김초엽 (Kim Choyeop)
This was by far the most difficult book I read this month. Not difficult because of the language level, but because I did not like the book. This made the book much more difficult to read than it really is, because I found it boring and had a hard time concentrating.
I really had to make an extra effort to start each short story and stay concentrated enough to understand what is happening. Sure, the Korean level is a bit on the high side, but it was mostly my lack of interest that made it harder to read. I found that the author always tends to explain rather than to show, the stories have no real plot, no twist, no good ending, descriptions are lacking, SF elements feel random and the message behind each story rather superficial and naïve.
This book was a real challenge, I was tempted several times to DNF it, but then I was afraid that I would feel less motivated for the entire challenge if I did.
20th Century reading challenge
『何が私をこうさせたか』by Fumiko Kaneko (金子文子)
This is Fumiko Kaneko’s prison memoir. She was arrested in 1923 for high treason and sentenced to death, but her sentence was commuted to life emprisonment. She comitted suicide in prison in 1926.
I read her memoir as part of my 20th Century challenge and my goal was to learn more about Japan and Korea of the time. Fumiko Kaneko lived in Korea for seven years when she was a child and was later close to Korean socialists and activists in Tokyo. It was this part of her life that I was the most interested in, but unfortunately, she does not talk about this at all in her memoir. It looks like she was not allowed to, but anyway, I was very disappointed when I realised she would not talk about any activism or ideology.
It is still an interesting memoir of course, and I recommend it if you are interested in her life. But for my reading challenge, this was a miss, because I did not learn much about the period. I wish I had chosen another book for the 1920s, but I am still glad that I read Fumiko Kaneko’s memoir and learnt about her life.
Misjudged by James Chandler
I was so disappointed in my other books that I picked up a legal thriller to find a new motivation to read. Misjudged is the first book in the Sam Johnstone series. I loved it, it is an excellent legal thriller, court scene are perfect, the trial very exciting and I also learned a lot through the novel (for example, how a jury is selected). If you like legal thrillers, you will certainly love Misjudged.
I started the next in the series, One and Done, and all I can say for now is that you really need to read the series in order. All the plot and twists of Misjudged is revealed in One and Done. I don’t know why authors do this, because it does not seem necessary, and it could spoil the first book for readers who did not pay attention and started with the second one.
『ももこの話』by Momoko Sakura (さくらももこ)
Together with 『あのころ』and『まる子だった』, this book forms a trilogy of autobiographical essays about the author’s childhood. It is relaxing, funny and nostalgic. The essays are short and all illustrated by the author. I love Momoko Sakura, and this book is my favourite read of the month.
I found the three books of the series to be very easy to read, they all deal with daily life, don’t have difficult vocabulary and they tend to have more furigana than most novels. I really think that this series is perfect for Japanese learners.
복수를 합시다 by 배상민 (Bae Sangmin)
This was a very entertaining read and I loved the book. I listened to the audio version on welaaa, and it was easy enough that I could listen to it while doing other activities. It is a light, funny and engrossing story about revenge. I always tend to start several audiobooks and end up not finishing them (the subscription gives an unlimited access to the whole catalogue), but I finished this one in two days because it was so addictive.
The audio version was very easy to listen to, so I guess that the book is easy to read as well. I recommend it for Korean learners.
That’s it for March, I am glad that the month is over and that I was able to finish all the books I started.
Whenever I dislike the the winning book of some book award I always assume the awards are rigged. I think we’ve all experienced mediocre books that somehow won the award. I also feel jaded when it’s extremely obvious the person writing the kaisetsu is kissing the author’s ass. The other possibility is the sparsity of good books that year. I tried to only read award winning books only if I feel attracted to it regardless of the award whether it’s the book cover, title, themes etc.
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I think that given that they deliver one prize each year, it is almost inevitable that some years have no outstanding work (yet, they still have to give the prize to someone), and some years have several good candidates (but only one can win the award). With this award, there is also the limitation that one author can only win the prize once, so even if they publish the best work of the year, they won’t be able to receive the award if they received it previously. As a result, another book, maybe less good, will have it.