A year of reading in Japanese

For my last Monday post of the year, I would like to look back on the books I have read this year in Japanese!

My favourite books (story only)

If I only take the story into account, without considering the language level, I would say that my favourite books this year are:

  • 『豆の上で眠る』by Kanae MINATO. I read this book in January, and I think that it is my favourite. I was totally gripped by the story, it deeply resonated with me, and I was emotionally involved in it from start to finish.
  • 『コンビニ人間』by Sayaka MURATA. I loved this book because I could learn a lot about Japanese society through it. But I also identified with the protagonist and I felt like the novel was touching some unpleasant moment of my own experience.  
  • 『赤い指』by Keigo HIGASHINO. To be honest with you, detective Kyoichiro KAGA is a hero to me. This novel is the 7th of the detective Kaga series. I loved this book for its story of course and because we learn a little more about inspector Kaga than we did in the previous books of the series.

My favourite books (story and language level)

This is a list of the books that I enjoyed the most because they were both interesting and easy to read in Japanese:

  • 『ちょっと今から仕事やめてくる』by Emi KITAGAWA. I really loved this book, it is easy to read, and it conveys a strong message. If you feel worn down by your work, you must read this book!
  • 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』by En MIKAMI. I love books and literature, I love used bookstores, I love mysteries… I love Mikami’s work!
  • 『ぶたぶたラジオ』by Arimi YAZAKI. This book is just too cute… A living plush that gives life advice around him, how could anyone resist? 

Best Mysteries

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.

  • 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』by En MIKAMI. I loved the mysteries in this book and I have read some chapters in one reading session. Me reading 100 pages in Japanese in a row? It does not usually happen! But it happened with Biblia!
  • 『探偵倶楽部』by Keigo HIGASHINO. Once you start one of the short stories, it is hard to put the book down. I absolutely loved it! 
  • 『豆の上で眠る』by Kanae MINATO. I think that this book is much more than a mystery novel, but the mystery in it was really gripping. 
  • 『リカーシブル』by Honobu YONEZAWA. I am still reading this book, but I will soon finish it. While I find it a little slow paced and think it could have more tension, I am totally engrossed in it and find it hard to put down. 

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:

  • 『私のクラスの生徒が、一晩で24人死にました』by Kurara HIMUKANA. The end was not as good as the rest, but overall, it was an entertaining, suspenseful novel. 
  • 『放送禁止』by Toshikazu NAGAE. Another book where I would end up reading more that I initially planned to. It is not one of my favourite, but I loved the “reportage” format. 

Socially engaged books

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:

  • 『コンビニ人間』by Sayaka MURATA. This is the book with the strongest social criticism. It shows how hard it is to walk your own path in a society that wants to force you into one of its defined models. 
  • 『虚ろな十字架』by Keigo HIGASHINO. This is a novel on death penalty. We get to hear several opinions, some against it and some supporting it. I felt that the whole novel was a debate over the capital punishment.
  • 『手紙』by Keigo HISHASHINO. A novel about discrimination and the difficulty to find your place when one member of your family has committed murder. It shows how the whole society turns its back to everything it considers “unsafe”.
  • 『赤い指』by Keigo HIGASHINO. This is a detective story but it does contain considerations about the difficulty to take care of one’s ageing parents at home.
  • 『ちょっと今から仕事やめてくる』by Emi KITAGAWA. This book shows how pressure and stress at work can drive a man to want to commit suicide. 

The easiest books

The easiest books are without a doubt the three light novels I have read this year:

  • 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』by En MIKAMI.
  • 『ちょっと今から仕事やめてくる』and 『ヒーローズ(株)!!!』by Emi KITAGAWA

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:

  • 『君たちはどう生きるか』by Genzaburo YOSHINO. It was written in 1937, it is a book for children that has been a big hit in Japan in 2017 with its manga adaptation.

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!).

The most challenging books

I don’t need to hesitate one second to point out the difficult books:

  • 『彼女がその名を知らない鳥たち』by Mahokaru NUMATA. This book really challenged me! Especially the dialogues that use a lot the Kansai dialect. I usually find the dialogues to be the easiest part of a novel, but in this book it was the hardest part!
  • 『イノセント・ディズ』by Kazumasa HAYAMI. I remember that this book was becoming more and more difficult, which was a little depressing. I found the beginning quite easy, but the difficulty level somehow kept increasing.
  • 『コンビニ人間』by Sayaka MURATA. It was not difficult to follow the story, but the book was full of subtle nuances, cutting remarks and awkward situations that one must understand to fully enjoy the book. I sometimes had to re-read a dialogue or a passage twice.

The books I would recommend to a Japanese learner

Here are the books that are particularly interesting to read for Japanese learners.

For people who want to start reading in Japanese:

  • Any of the light novels I mentioned above.『ちょっと今から仕事やめてくる』is maybe my favourite and the easiest one, but 『ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖』might be a better choice because of its structure. Each chapter contains an independent story so you can make a break between two chapters. 
  • A book from the collection Tsubasa of publisher Kadokawa. It is a collection for children that has full furigana. I read the novelisation of the film 『未来のミライ』by Mamoru HOSODA. While I would not recommend this particular book, reading with full furigana makes everything easier!

To someone who loves Japanese and wants to learn more about the language:

  • 『日本語びいき』by Yumi SHIMIZU. It is extremely rewarding to read a book about Japanese in Japanese. It was also funny to read about mistakes that Japanese make, re-discover grammatical particularities that make the beauty of Japanese and reflect on the language outside of a textbook.

The books I didn’t finish

There are different reason why I would not finish a book. It might be too difficult:

  • 『それでも、日本人は戦争を選んだ』by Yoko KATO. It is a history book and it is still too hard for me. I haven’t given up the idea of reading it, but I will first read in English on this period to at least know the facts, the names and the places. Then I’ll come back to this book.

Another reason is of course that I didn’t like the book:

  • 『光』by Shion MIURA. Shion MIURA is the author of one of my favourite books ever: 『舟を編む』, that’s why it pains me to say that I didn’t like 『光』. In fact, I liked the story, but I always felt far away from it and from the characters, I could not understand their attitude and their reactions, I didn’t feel involved and I realised that I didn’t care for them enough to continue.

And sometimes, both the difficulty of Japanese and a loss of interest are responsible:

  • 『在日』by KANG Sang-jung. I loved the beginning of the book, when the author was talking about his youth and life as a Korean in Japan, but when the author talked about his studies in Europe, it became both less interesting to me and more difficult to read. 

The books I didn’t like

There are two books that I have finished but that I didn’t like, both are books for children:

  • 『君たちはどう生きるか』by Genzaburo YOSHINO. I am not saying that you shouldn’t read this book, on the contrary, it has been such a hit last year that there must be something with the story that bewitches its readers. It just didn’t work with me. I felt the whole time that it was indeed a book for children, that I had been there before and that as an adult, I was neither learning something nor was I entertained.
  • 『未来のミライ』by Mamoru HOSODA. This book is the novelisation of the film and while I am sure that the latter is great (though I haven’t seen it), I think that it lost a good amount of its magic through the process of novelisation. I found the pattern of the story to be very repetitive and a little boring in the end, and I hadn’t any sympathy for the main character. 

The authors I want to read next year too

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:

  • Kanae MINATO, of course! I particularly want to read 『告白』which was recommended to me in the comments by Choronghi.
  • Arimi YAZAKI and the adventures of M. ぶたぶた. There are a lot of books in this series and I plan to read at least one of them next year: 『ぶたぶたの本屋さん』.
  • Emi KITAGAWA. I plan to read her new book 『星の降る家のローレン』and more generally, I will keep an eye on her new publications.
  • En MIKAMI. I am sure that here will be a time in the course of next year when I want to relax. This is when I pick the volume 2 of 

Challenge completed!

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!)