Culture Immersion

February 18, 2007

On occassion it is fun to immerse oneself in the literature of a particular time, region, or culture- sort of a thematic reading period. I don’t know what caused me to suddenly want to do that in the midst of a snowy February, but once I made the decision I got excited about it and started planning. I am usually good about following through once I start a project like this, so I committed to it by investing in a few more books to augment the unread ones that were already on the to-be-read shelf.

The plan is to read some of the best literature from Japan. I really enjoyed Kawabata’s Snow Country last week, and several of my favorites from recent years were from or about regions in Asia.

The local Barnes and Noble didn’t have anything that I was looking for, so this afternoon I drove the 30 miles to a large independent bookstore that I always have pretty good luck at. I picked up Kokoro, by Natsume Soseki, written in 1914. I also bought a more recent novel published in 1980 called Silence, by Shusaku Endo. The others on the list were not available, but they can wait.

The literary experience will have to begin with The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu.
Murasaki Shikibu
Writing Murasaki Shikibu, by Kikuchi Yosai

I found a terrific bargain on a slipcased copy of the highly regarded Royall Tyler translation a couple of years ago, and it has been sitting on the bookshelf waiting. Since it helps to understand a little about the culture of the era, as well as know more about the author that one is reading- a diary or autobiography seemed essential. So, Diary of Lady Murasaki seemed to be an appropriate online purchase. Unfortunately, the search for that led to stumbling upon The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. That one sounds really fascinating, and got me up to the free shipping minimum.

Guilt is setting in because of all the purchases. The Tale of Genji is lengthy, and is going to take a while, so I’m hoping it will keep me from book shopping for the duration. This is going to be fun.


6 Responses to “Culture Immersion”

  1. Dorothy W. Says:

    I’ll be interested to hear how you like The Tale of Genji. I read it last summer and enjoyed it, although it was long and not terribly exciting — I made sure I was reading other things at the same time for a little break. I’m very interested in Japanese literature too, so I’m curious to see how your reading plan goes.

  2. Ex Libris Says:

    Your project sounds very interesting! I have “Thousand Cranes” and “The Dancing Girl of Izu and Other Stories” by Kawabata, but haven’t read them. I look forward to following your progress 🙂

  3. Brad Says:

    Dorothy – I got started on The Tale of Genji this weekend. I agree that it is not going to be exciting, at least from a plot perspective. I have been enjoying some of the events and particularly the dialog. (More on that later). I did read the introduction, which included plenty of plot spoilers, but I am glad that I read it. I am also going to read the numerous footnotes. I want to get everything that I can from it. I’m sure that this book had a huge impact on the future of Japanese literature. I also agree that I will need to read something else at the same time to keep from getting bogged down.

    Ex Libris – I haven’t read those Kawabata books, but based on my reading of Snow Country, I recommend that you try one.

  4. jenclair Says:

    I read The Tale of Murasaki by Liza Dalby several years ago and really enjoyed it. Murasaki, author of The Tale of Genji, begins writing the tales of Prince Genji to entertain her friends, but her tales become more important to her as she uses them to comment on the people and sexual intrigues of the Japanese court. Here is a link to Dalby’s website: There is some really good stuff here.

    I’ve read some of “Hateful Things” by Sei Shonagon. Here are a couple of “hateful things” that I love 🙂 — “One has gone to bed and is about to doze off when a mosquito appears, announcing himself in a reedy voice…hateful in the extreme,” and “One is telling a story about old times when someone breaks in with a little detail that he happens to know, implying that one’s own version is inaccurate–disgusting behavior.”

  5. Brad Says:

    jenclair – Thanks so much for the Liza Dalby link. It is an interesting and unusual site. I especially like the visual journal, which includes a picture of a Paulownia tree. The title of the first chapter in The Tale of Genji is titled “Kiritsubo.” Kiri means “paulownia tree” and tsubo means “a small garden between palace buildings.”
    The hateful things are hilarious- I’m looking forward to Shonagon’s Pillow Book.

  6. gceif Says:

    Good site!!!

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