It’s well established by now that I love reading books about reading books. And I don’t mean academic type stuff, theories on reading and mental processes (although that’s good, too). I just like reading people’s thoughts on what they’re reading. Which is maybe no surprise since I do write this blog of my thoughts on what I’m reading. People relate to books in so many different ways, and often reading a book on reading is like getting a little peek into someone else’s brain through this strange pastime of turning text on a page into meaningful ideas.
And there are so many books about reading books in Japanese! I’ve had Rikon on Mount Bookstoread for a while now, ever since I spotted it on a shelf of books about reading in a Tokyo bookstore because readers on the other side of the ocean know the warm delight of books about reading books. I’m a big fan of both Enjoe and Tanabe (and have coincidentally translated both of them), but the fact that they are married has baffled me since I first learned it. She writes dreamy stories about general spookiness, while he is the author of sci-fi roundabouts like “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Galactic Empire”. So the idea of them considering divorce through their reading of books was extremely intriguing. And after recently reading Tanabe’s Osaka Kaidan, I remembered that this volume of essays was still waiting for me to dive in. And so I did.
The obi sums up the whole endeavour rather nicely: “There is no correct way of being married. There is also no correct way of reading a book.” This married couple reads some books and contemplates both the books and the way they are married. It’s an interesting lens through which to read a book, and it makes for an interesting collection of essays. The basic idea is a relay of sorts. It all kicks off with a list of the ground rules—pick a book you want your spouse to read, write an essay about the book you were given and pick a book for your spouse to read at the end of it, repeat.
There are other rules that narrow down what books are fair game and what things are off-limits, like no talking about the essays at home, only discussing the books through this back and forth, etc., and Tanabe’s opening essay gets into some of this in a bit more detail. She explains how the project came to be and kicks things off with the first selection, Kuma Arashi by Yoshimura Akira, which she chooses basically because the topic of bear attacks comes up surprisingly often in their household.
The reasons for selecting a book vary widely from “it popped into my head after reading the book I was assigned this time” to “I want you to develop spatial awareness”, which leads to a wide variety of books being read, both translated and Japanese originals, from recipe books to books about reading (Peter Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read, a fascinating book I actually read not so recently myself, so it was fun to see what Tanabe thought of it). Some of the books are new releases (at the time; the essays were serialized online through 2015 and 2016, and collected into this volume in 2017, so none of the releases are new now), but the majority go further back, with reviews of books like Cujo by Stephen King (in which Enjoe wonders why his wife would choose a book about being attacked by an animal for a series of essays with the end goal of coming to understand each other better as a couple) and a selection from the Ninpocho series by Yamada Futaro (in which Tanabe muses that perhaps they are actually facing their own selves in the series rather than getting closer as a couple).
The essays themselves are a nice length, only a few pages, so they’re neatly digestible when you want a book you can dip in and out of. And they’re all peppered with tidbits about the couple’s life together, including an ongoing weigh-in that develops early on in Enjoe’s essays after he reads a diet book. Tanabe tends to worry more that they will never understand each other, while Enjoe’s focus is more on why his wife isn’t picking up why he’s choosing the books he chooses. And of course, all of the essays feature more or less discussion about the books themselves.
For the collection, the series name was changed from “Yome Yome” (a fun play on the command “read” and a word for “wife”), which I think is a smart choice because “We thought about divorce through reading” is definitely much catchier on the shelf of a bookstore. You’re not going to forget a title like that. And the essays are all annotated by both Enjoe and Tanabe, a little comments section that allows them to talk to each other and remark on their thoughts on the essays now, having completed the series. Exactly who it is that’s commenting is made clear with little cartoon versions of each of the authors, a frowning robot Enjoe and grinning Tanabe frog. It’s very adorable, and I can indeed picture Enjoe scowling through the whole volume, while Tanabe smiles blithely.
As far as books about reading go, this one had pretty much everything I want: a wide variety of books, most of which I’ve never read; personal anecdotes about encountering the books; random thoughts that occurred while reading; and generous minds up for any reading adventures. But as a bonus, this volume includes a glimpse into the lives of two authors whose work I love and whose personal lives I have often wondered about in a non-stalker way. (I am only a pseudo-stalker to those I interpret for.)