Monday, September 28, 2009

Introducing the Japanese Literature Book Group and Read-along

Thank you to those of you who expressed interest in joining a Japanese Literature Reading Group and/or Read-along when I asked last week, and for encouraging me to go ahead with this. After listening to your input, here are the book choices and the schedule for our first group reads.

Opinion was pretty equally divided between having the discussions on a fixed day of the week vs. a fixed date. I hope it won't be a logistical nightmare or too confusing but in an attempt to make everyone happy, I've decided to use both methods!


The bi-monthly book group will discuss the current selection every two months (January, March, May, July, September, and November) on the last Monday of the month.

Our first book for the book group is The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata.

The discussion for The Old Capital will begin on Monday, November 30th, 2009.  This gives you about two months in which to procure a copy, if necessary, and read it. Of course you're welcome to post your reviews and/or thoughts on your own blog any time. You can also join in the discussion any time after it has been posted. The comments will remain open and even if you couldn't read the book in the allotted time, we'd still love to hear your thoughts. I will try to post some questions or information about the book to kick start the conversation, but please feel free to discuss any aspect of the book you'd like, or to ask any questions you may have. Also, if you have any questions while you are reading, feel free to email me so I can bring them up in the discussion post.

The second book for the reading group will be The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa.
The discussion for The Housekeeper and the Professor will begin on Monday, January 25th, 2010.

These two books were chosen somewhat arbitrarily from suggestions by those who responded, just to get us going. In November I'll ask you to nominate titles that you'd like to read with the group and then we'll have a poll to choose the next selections more democratically. Does that sound fair?


The Read-along is for those selected titles that are perhaps longer, for which we could all use some mutual cheer-leading, or that would benefit from a closer reading. The schedule will vary depending on the length of the books. The updates will typically be posted here on the 15th (and sometimes the 30th) of the months in which a read-along is scheduled, and will run concurrently with the book group. You can post about each section on your own blog according to the schedule or any time that is convenient. I'll include any links on the updates so we can compare thoughts.  

Our first read-along is I Am a Cat by Natsume Soseki. Since it comprises three volumes, my original idea was to read it over 3 months. However, I then wondered if that would perhaps be too long causing our reading to lose momentum. It's a little thick but nowhere near as chunky as, say, The Tale of Genji! The whole book (I have the three volumes in one edition from Tuttle Publishing, as in the image to the right) is a little over 600 pages long so is it reasonable to read those 600 pages in 6 weeks?

My thought was to divide it up as follows:
Volume One (156 pages) for November 15th
Volume Two (196 pages) for November 29th (a day early because on the 30th I'll be posting the discussion for The Old Capital) December 15th
Volume Three (279 pages) for December 15th January 15th
For a total of 631 pages.

This schedule would have us finish by mid-December, and would work out well for those who prefer not to carry over a book from one year to the next. But I expect most of us will be reading other books at the same time so please let me know if you need more time. I'm happy to extend the read-along if needed.

Update: After some discussion and to hopefully allow more people to join in, the schedule for the first read-along has been extended to run from November to January. See the corrections to the schedule above.

The second read-along book is tentatively set as The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. If the above schedule stands, it would most likely start in January. However, like for the book group, later this autumn I'll ask for suggestions of other possible titles that we can vote on to choose our next book for a read-along.

I've added the buttons, and the current book choices with the relevant dates, to my sidebars.  I haven't decided on the best place for them yet so they may still move around a little, but they'll be there. You'll also be able to easily find the information about current (and past reads once we have some) for both groups by clicking on the "Book Group" or "Read-along" tabs in the linkbar above. I'll also label the posts either "JLit Book Group" or "JLit Read-along" so you'll always be able to search for the posts that way as well.

Feel free to grab the buttons for your own blog, if you'd like.  Please save them to your own server and let me know if you'd prefer a smaller version or need help resizing. Also, please do leave a comment if you're planning to join in the discussion for The Old Capital, or the read-along for I Am a Cat. I'd like to have an idea who's participating, so that I can watch out for any posts you do about the books, and so I can link to them in any updates. Equally, if you could let me know when you've posted about one of the books, so I don't miss any, that would be great. Please let me know if you have any questions. I'm looking forward to reading and discussing some great Japanese Literature with you. Let the reading begin!


  1. Fun! I'll be joining at least the first discussion group, probably both. :)

  2. Awesome!! It sounds great (: I'm definitely gonna try and find a copy of the book The Old Capital (:

  3. Yey! :)

    I've already read The Old Capital so it should be easy for me to join that one, I'll just have to browse the book again to refresh my memory of all those questions that lingered in my mind while I was reading it. I really think it'll help me understand the book more when some of you who actually know Japan would share insights into the culture that is reflected in the book. Oh, I'm excited :)

    I'm not yet sure about the I Am A Cat read-along because I don't have a copy yet, but perhaps I'd join if I find one. The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is something I've always felt daunted by its thickness, but otherwise would really love to read, so I'm sure the read-along would really be helpful for me :)

    I'm currently (still, for the longest time) in the process of moving things around in my site, so I'll think about how I'd post the banners for these two. And your banners are very fitting, I must say :)

  4. Just to make sure, the dates that you gave us for the read-along are when we are expected to finish that section and start the discussion right? So Nov 15 is when we open the discussion for vol 1, not when we start reading?

    I'm definitely joining I Am Cat. 100 pages a week sounds reasonable. I'm not sure about the Old Capital just yet because I wasn't impressed with Kawabata's Snow Country, but we'll see. I'd love to join the Housekeeper and the Professor.

    I'd like to bring up Silence by Shusaku Endo for the next book (not sure which one it fits more, probably the book group), and Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki. How about nonfiction? You have read quite a few (I haven't, so would be interested).

  5. For sure I will join in on the read of "The Old Capital"-this will be my second read of this book-I want very much to also read along on "I Am A Cat"-I am a devoted cat person-it maybe a bit of a challenge for me to locate this work in a Manila area book store -

  6. I absolutely love this!!! I'm so excited :D Can I ask a favor? I'm sure you'll be doing this anyway, but can you remind us when it gets closer that we really need to be reading if we haven't already :p I lose track of all of my reading commitments :p

  7. I'd really like to read I Am A Cat but also want to read The Old Capital, but cannot fit in more than one book in Oct/Nov due to my other shared reads (Proust and Undset both). I wish they didn't overlap. :) But anyway, I might join one or the other. Lovely buttons, btw!

  8. I would really like to join both! But my average is 1 book in 2 weeks so 100 pgs a week for the readalong is a bit much for me I'm afraid.

    I will try to get my hands on a copy of I am a Cat anyway since it has been on my wishlist for ages ;)

    I absolutely love the buttons btw!

  9. I won't be able to join the read-along this time around but I'm going to really try and get The Old Capital read in time for the discussion. I've read one book by Yasunari Kawabata and liked it so it'll be great to visit again with the author.

  10. Hi, this is such a great idea and the books you have chosen are really varied (I haven't read Kawabata's The Old Capital which sounds intriguing and I've been meaning to read I am a Cat forever!). I really enjoy reading your posts as Japanese literature has a special place in my heart. I've got a long list of books I'm aiming to get through in the coming months so I may not be able to join your venture just yet, but I'm hoping to do so in the future. I just wanted to stop by and wish you luck, and hopefully discuss some books soon!

  11. Very much looking forward to this! Thanks, Nat!

  12. I'll definitely participate in the book group! Thanks for picking a short book to start. I'm sure it's going to take a bit of getting used to Japanese literature.

  13. I love the fact that you're doing this. My hands are a bit tied thanks to my book buying ban and lack of access to libraries, but I can always add The Housekeeper and the Professor to my Christmas list (I already wanted it anyway) and join you all in January!

  14. I love this idea! I'm feeling rather overwhelmed with reading/life/everything right now, so I'll probably sit out the first two rounds, but I have Wind-up Bird on the shelf and would love to join the readalong. :)

    By the way, I love your header. I feel a little sheepish not knowing if it is a brand new change or not, but very very lovely.

  15. I'd love to join the read-along for "I Am a Cat." I will be reading it for the Japanese Literature Challenge and could use some company! If you do a read-along for "Wind-Up Bird Chronicle," I'll be interested in that as well. I have already read it for the challenge, but still need to review and would love to read it again.

  16. Eva - Yay, I'm glad you'll be joining in! :)

    Emily - I just ordered my copy of The Old Capital a few days ago and now I'm just waiting for it to arrive.

    Mark David - I'm very much looking forward to hearing your questions. I'm certainly no expert but there are some aspects of Japan that I'm just completely used to now, so I think it'll be interesting to know what others find unusual.

    And I'm forever tweaking this or that here on my blog. It's like a perpetual work in progress.

    mee - You probably already saw my clarification but yes, the dates are when the discussion for that volume will begin.

    I didn't love Snow Country either but then I read some of Kawabata's short stories and quite enjoyed those, so I'm going to try to go in with an open mind.

    I'll make a note of these two suggestions but please mention them again next month when I ask for titles. And sure, non-fiction would be good too. Maybe we could have a non-fiction theme one month.

    mel u - It'll be interesting to hear from you what your impressions of The Old Capital are after a second reading. I hope you'll be able to find a copy of I Am a Cat so you can join in.

    Chris - I'm glad you're excited! :)
    And sure, I'll give a reminder or two closer to the discussion time. I completely understand the need for reminders. I've started writing down my reading and blogging commitments on a calendar to keep track of them.

    claire - I'm impressed with all the read-alongs you're doing. All books that intimidate me enormously. Someday...

    I think you've already seen that I extended the schedule for I Am a Cat. I hope that'll make it a little easier for you to join in, if you can.

  17. gnoegnoe - I'm glad you mentioned this because I'd hate for anyone to be left out because the pace was too rushed. Leisurely is definitely better!

    Iliana - That would be great if you can join the discussion for The Old Capital. I've only read one of Kawabata's novels, and some shorts stories so I'm looking forward to re-visiting him too.

    chasingbawa - Aw, thank you. It's always nice to hear that someone enjoys my posts.
    I have a long list of books I should and would like to read over the next few months too so I understand. I hope you'll get a chance to join us when you have some time.

    Thanks Amy! I'm glad I finally decided to go ahead with this.

    Kristen M. - Japanese literature does seem to have a certain style. I'm glad you'll be joining us for the first book group selection.

    Nymeth - I think that's a good plan! I'd love to have you join in the discussion. So how long is your book buying ban going to be in effect? ;)

    Trish - No worries, I know how overwhelming things can get sometimes. It would be great to have you join us for The Wind-up Bird Chronicle next year if you're up to it.

    And thanks! I just changed the header last week so no need to feel sheepish. It was nice to get out with our cameras for the first time in ages to take those pictures.

    Terri B. - Yay, I'm glad you'll be joining us for I Am a Cat. I read the Wind-up Bird Chronicle a few years ago now and would really like to read it again too. I wonder how much of it I've forgotten.

  18. Do you have to join the Hello Japan Challenge somewhere to be a part of the Japanese book group? The books you'll be reading look great, I'd like to get in on that part.

  19. Diane - Not at all. The Book Group, the read-along, and Hello Japan! are all independent of each other so you can join in where and when you like. I'll be great to have you reading with us!


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