The Books of My Numberless Dreams


Posted on: June 21, 2007

I’m saving the bulk of my commentary for a review that could possibly appear in the next Quarterly Conversation but I was given permission to reveal some of my thoughts here. So here goes:

You’ve gotta read Kokoro by Natsume Soseki. You’ve just gotta! I should encourage you to buy the book from publishers to help keep it in print — they do come with introductions which are incredibly helpful for someone unfamiliar with this period in Japanese history (like me) so you can gain an informed base to judge the novel’s achievements — but I can’t lie to you. The entire Edwin McClellan translation is available for free on-line. The site also offers some traditional Japanese ghost stories as written by Lafcadio Hearne, the English literature professor at the Imperial University who Natsume replaced. (English lit. professors were a big deal at the time in Japan.)

I now see a way to post about the book without really posting about it. I may give little servings on things I learnt about the Meiji period, the literary movements at the time and how ideas developed on the Western and the Japanese novel. Things that will inform my review but I won’t be able to address in any great detail.

I’m reading way too many books now as you can see in my sidebar. I’m not sure what’s gotten into me. I have to re-read Kokoro now but I also want to burst my way through his oeuvre, similar to what I did last year with Murakami. (What is it with me and those Japanese authors?) At the same time I kinda started A.S Byatt’s The Djinn and the Nightingale’s Eye which is reminding me of Patricia McKillip’s Winter Rose because Byatt is riffing off a traditional tale. The first story is “The Glass Coffin” which she took from the Brothers Grimm. Her decision to always identify the characters as the “little tailor” and the “little grey man” is getting on top of my nerves though. It makes me feel five again. Hopefully things will start to get interesting.

I haven’t placed it in the sidebar yet because I’m not ready to admit that I’m reading 7 books at once. Yikes.

Did I mention that you have to read Kokoro? Because you do. It’s in the fine print of your country’s constitution/charter of rights/whatever you may so illustriously call it.


14 Responses to "Yowza"

I haven’t read but will definitely look into it now.

You’re reading more books than I read pages in a day. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I’m still impressed. Sounds like I’d better find a copy of Kokoro, huh?

Interesting. I was just rereading some Lafcadio Hearne stories. And although I usually pay zero attention to writers’ lives, his story breaks my heart.

You are reading seven books at once?
Oh my. I can’t do that ever. I want to be concentrated in one book per reading.
Don’t you mix up the characters and the scenes?

My son loves Kotoro!

Kelly good, you should. 🙂

Lee I usually stick with four but things have kinda gotten out of hand. At this point I’m actually re-reading one, so it’s not too bad.

Marly ooo I don’t know anything about Hearne. Now you have made me curious.

geekcritic nope, the books are nothing alike, and I don’t think that would happen even if they were, unless the writers were really really crappy.

Dewey aha! have you read it yet, and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for? :p

His misery, his loneliness, his physical trials, his scrappy life: and then to fall into an utterly new world, Japan…

Kokoro is one of my all time favorite Japanese novels – isn’t it wonderful? I must take it out and re-read this summer. Can’t wait to read more of your review. And if you’re on a Japanese novel kick – I can recommend Masks by Fumiko Enchi and The Woman in the Dunes by Kono Abe. Both wonderful! (Don’t get me started or we’ll be here all day – have you read any Kenzaburo Oe? Another favorite. The one I haven’t read too much of is Murakami, for some reason I’ve been avoiding him which is probably a mistake.

Sorry I can’t help it – just one more. Tanizaki Junichiro – Seven Japanese Tales. The one called The Tattoo Artist is just amazing. Gives me chills just thinking about it. He also wrote this amazing little treatist on the Japanese aesthetic called In Praise of Shadows. It’s short and incredibly beautiful (with some fun historical eccentricities thrown in for good measure)

I’m done now, I promise 🙂

Oh my, this post made me laugh! I, too, get involved in too many books at once; the temptation to do so is just too overwhelming. I find though that it leads to a lot of unfinished books. Usually the least interesting get pushed aside and eventually forgotten (although they are still in the pile, each sporting their bookmarks). Do you find that happens or do you push through on each?

Also, when I read your lists of what you’ve read in 2006 and 2007, I was impressed that you seem to concentrate on an author and read a good portion of their oeuvre. I find myself too scattered to do that. Even if I totally adore an author, I rarely read all their books. I wish that I were more focused.

Thanks for the tip about “Kokoro”. I’m going to look for it today.

Verbivore oh, how could you bare to tempt me with more after I’ve told you how many I have? 😉 I actually own Woman in the Dunes and was this close to reading it for Slaves of Golconda but Elizabeth Hardwick’s novel won by one vote. I have seen the Teshigahara movie though, which is what got me interested in the book. Thanks for mentioning that book on Japanese aesthetics — not that I don’t have enough material lying about me as I frantically try to learn something about the development of the Japanese novel but I googled and everyone says it’s short…. Unfortunately my school library site is down so I can’t tell if it has it.

I know about Oe and I really really want to try Kawabata Yasunari. I’m not at all familiar with Fumiko though, so thanks for mentioning it here. I enjoyed your enthusiasm!

Beepy of all the books I’m on now I’m only worried about not finishing Don Quixote. I usually take some time to finish non-fiction books so the single serving I have of that on my plate isn’t too worrisome. And, technically, I’ve already finish Kokoro. The problem is that I always must have one novel to read (Don Quixote isn’t really counting for me right now, it’s more like an endurance race). And I had poems (Paradise Lost) and short stories (Listen, the Wind, House at Pooh Corner and now the Byatt) but no novel.

That’s how I rationalise it to myself anyway.

As for my oeuvre reading tendencies…I never really thought about it. I probably developed it in my younger years when I was a big genre reader and followed certain authors religiously. I still do, really. So if I’m in the right mood and I find a certain author’s mind very compelling I’ll get right into it.

It helps if you have a friend with similar reading tastes. That’s how I got through one or two of those authors — we’d plan to read them together (each at her own pace), which made it all much more fun. 🙂

I’ve never heard of the book but now that I know about it and since it seems to have so many enthusiastic readers I will definitely add it to my must read list.

thanks for the referral!

Um, I meant Kokoro up there of course. 😀

I haven’t, but I will!

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