Bookends #12 – reading recommendations

A weekly round up of miscellaneous bookish news you may have missed (and often I missed them too)

I’m not a great fan of ‘must read’ book lists.  They either make you feel smug that you’ve read most of the titles or inadequate when you discover you’ve not even heard of most of those authors. Those few words “must read” get my back up also for another reason: they make me feel like I’m being given a medication prescription for some nasty cough medicine instead of having a door opened to what could be a wonderful experience.

But there are some lists which make me sit up and pay attention. Often they are lists where the selection is made by authors themselves rather than publishers or critics. Or they are lists that introduce me to writers from parts of the world outside my own. I use these lists to find titles I can consider for my world of literature project.

Two articles published recently have ticked both of these boxes.

Japanese literature

In the first,  David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas and more recently Bone Clocks) who is a fan of Japanese literature recommended 5 books by Japanese authors. I was expecting Haruki Murakami to feature in the list but in fact Mitchell has chosen a few lesser known authors. “They are books I would like people in the West to know more, because they are some of the high points of Japanese literature,” he said. “Even the most famous aren’t widely known outside Japan, and … three aren’t even really well known there.”

I’ve not heard of any of these authors but I’ve added two of the recommendations to my wish list (the titles by Tanizaki and Ariyoshi).

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki, is a domestic family saga with dark undertones. Set in Osaka on the eve of World War 2, it portrays the declining fortunes of a traditional Japanese family.

Silence by Shusaku Endo. Mitchell says this is a big historical novel about an era after Christianity is outlawed, with complex and flawed characters

The Doctor’s Wife by Sawako Ariyoshi. Another historical novel, this time featuring a Japanese doctor who was the pioneer in the use of anaesthetic in the 1810s and the first doctor in the world to perform successfuly surgery for breast cancer. (the English translation of this novel is currently out of stock but being reprinted)

The Woman In The Dunes by Kobo Abe. Mitchell says Abe is ‘a bit bonkers’ which perhaps accounts for the odd nature of this novel. It’s about an entomologist who falls into a sandpit when he is out looking for insects one day. Somehow he becomes the slave of inhabitants of a nearby village who won’t let him out of the sandpit. He has to keep digging away at the wall of the sand dune  in order to keep it from encroaching upon the village.

The Housekeeper And The Professor by Yoko Ogawa.  Mitchell describes Ogawa as an experimental writer whose  experiments don’t always work.  This novel is one that does. It’s about a mathematics professor who wakes one morning to find his memory has been wiped clean.  His housekeeper and her son help him cope with his defect.

Central American literature

I know absolutely nothing about literature from this part of the world but thanks to Words without Borders I’ve been introduced to some upcoming writers from one of those countries. The October issue of Words without Borders e-magazine features short stories by 7 Guatemalan writers. This is an opportunity to read work by authors whose material is not widely available outside their home country or translated into English.

 

 

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on October 12, 2014, in Bookends, Japanese authors, South & Central American authors, world literature and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

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  2. I’ve been going through my TBRs and I realize that some books keep getting pushed down the queue because of so many new books. Many of the “old” books are ones I’ve marked years back (including Cloud Atlas!).

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  3. I loved Silence, The Woman in The Dunes, and The Housekeeper and The Professor, although they all differ greatly from each other. Silence gave me so much to think about in terms of faith, having been a believer all my life. The Housekeeper and The Professor addresses what it means to be family in such a fresh way. Lovely choices, each one.

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  4. The trouble with must read lists is that there is always some sort of agenda behind the selection. You see it most obviously in the ‘best of’ lists at the end of the year when the clear message is ‘look how erudite I am, choosing something so dull and worthy that no one else will have read it to be able to challenge me on my selection.’

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  5. Frankly, almost all book lists seem to have the same set of books listed, so boring. But, I like this Japanese literature book list – some interesting selections there. I have been wanting to read Silence for some time now, it’s got some great reviews.

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  6. Isn’t there a film of Woman in the Dunes? The thing I like about lists (and I agree with you that they’re flawed) is that they can serve as a starting point for anyone interested into getting into a specific county’s literature of genre.

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