Author: brain

I like reading books. I also like writing books. I also like having conversations about books. And by "conversations", I mean I ramble on at length and you offer flashes of insight in the comments.

Ikiru tame ni Hitsuyo dakara, Ikemen ni Ai ni Itta (Burachin 3): Sachiko Takeuchi

BurachinV3_TakeuchiFriends, Sachiko Takeuchi is a blessing to us in these dark times. Every time I open Twitter or even go out in public (the latter of which I try to do as little as possible. Hermit lyfe!!), I hear talk of all the ways the world is basically doomed and half its population are now Nazis. No wonder I try to keep to my little corner of the internet (here!) and Toronto (my apartment!). Nothing but darkness beyond the small territories I have claimed as my own. Every excursion to the outside leaves me hopeless and depressed. And yet go outside I must because at least part of this job of mine is actually talking to people in the form of interpreting. At such times, I must bolster myself, build a shield of sorts to stand between me and the world. And, dear reader, that shield is Sachiko Takeuchi and her pursuit of hot guys.

I have raved before about her spot-on take of nerd life in 2DK and her absurdist and yet sympathetic look at salarymen in Akachan Honbucho. She has such perfect comedic timing and a gift for reaction shots that really resonate, so it is no wonder I eagerly await each of her new releases and find myself wishing that more publishers would give her work. (If you are a Japanese publisher, please hire Takeuchi so I can have more of her books to read!) Thus, when her latest ode to hot guys was released this summer, I was at the bookstore that very day, snagging my own signed copy and feeling very lucky that I happened to be in Japan when it came out. Unlike these cold Toronto days now when I must wait for a shipment of beloveds from across the ocean. (Sennetsu, come to me on swift wings!) (more…)

Oukoku Monogatari: Asumiko Nakamura

Oukoku_NakamuraIt’s a good time to be a Nakamura fan. We’re getting not one, but two new translations of her work in English (both by me and I couldn’t be happier about it), there’s art shows and new editions and more to celebrate the tenth anniversary of her classic BL Dokyusei, the gorgeous set put out by Ohta and Libre to celebrate her fifteenth year as a manga artist, and now we have what the extra insert tells me is her first long-form fantasy story. Even if we only had that last one, though, it would be a great year for Nakamura.

It seems, however, that this new series did not spring from her brow fully formed like Athena. Although the first volume was published just this summer, in a delicious edition with a dizzying number of full-colour pages and black-and-white pages that are a beautiful bleached white, its earliest chapters date back to 2011. I actually have the issue of Erotics f that was home to the third chapter, the first of three about the king and his aide, complete with a pictorial of Nakamura’s work process on the story and a long interview with her. This chapter manages to tell such a complete story in only nine pages that upon first read way back all those years ago, I never expected to read anything else about this strange relationship. And yet seeing it newly published in this beautiful volume, it seems like it was always meant to be part of a larger story. (more…)

Mitsubachi no Kiss: Toru Izu

Mitsubachi_IzuNow that I’m back in chilly Canada, wrapped in my customary layers of scarves and sweaters in this strange transitional period from summer to fall when it can be twelve degrees one day and twenty-five the next which makes getting dressed every day a terrible guessing game that I always lose so I’m glad I work from home and can generally avoid the weather, it’s time to cut Mount Bookstoberead down to some kind of manageable size before I head back to Tokyo in a couple months and fill my shelves right back up. Because this cycle of reading and buying books is apparently my true calling in life, and getting paid to translate some of them is the closest I can get to simply being paid to stay home and read books, with business trips to bookstores to replenish my supplies.

But so many great books are being released in my absence from the overcrowded city, including the latest Juza no Ulna, making me bite my nails in anticipation. After seeing Izu in conversation with Yumiko Shirai earlier this summer as part of the Media Arts festivities, I am more invested than ever in that bizarrely human sci-fi manga with lovingly rendered footwear and the rounded curves of Ulna’s hint of a second chin. Fortunately, past me knew that future me would be in this terrible position at some point, and she went ahead and bought some of Izu’s past work to slip into the pile of unread books for just such a moment, a new edition of Izu’s debut work Mitsubachi no Kiss. (more…)

Satsujin Shussan: Sayaka Murata

ShussanSatsujinOver a delicious vegan lunch one recent sweltering day, my Japanese counterpart (freelance translator of comics into Japanese, random arts interpreter, staunch feminist, fujoshi—we are basically the same person) brought up the idea of vulnerability in contrast to all the powerful posturing and random attacking that seems to happen both on- and off-line these days, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. It’s been nagging at me in a way I find hard to put into words exactly. We’re all pulling up our big kid pants and trying to front like we’ve got it together, or we’re on top of things, or we’re better than someone somehow, or just trying to act like we don’t cry during motivational sports commercials (it can’t be just me, right?) when maybe what we need is to step right off of that high horse and admit that we’re barely functional or lonely or in need of some actual help. (Note: This is not a cry for said help, so please don’t put your Cardigan of Worry on. At least not for me. Look around you, though. Someone might need a kind word or two on a postcard from you.)

Perhaps these thoughts are unconsciously steering my reading choices. I’ve been picking up books on people in vulnerable places, work that gives other people gentle and kind consideration, stories that not only dip into but linger in the sphere of the domestic. And this is perhaps where Sayaka Murata shines brightest. Although I loved her Akutagawa prize winner Conbini Ningen (now available in English translation! Run out and get it and support good books in translation!) and its convenience store setting, I’m perhaps even more besotted with her 2014 work Satsujin Shussan and its deep dive into the doubly vulnerable world of pregnancy and murder. Doesn’t get more precarious than life or death! (more…)

Kaban Toshokan: Seimu Yoshizaki

Kaban_Yoshizaki

I found a section in a bookstore a while ago that was books about reading, and it seemed to me to be the most meta thing ever. Reading a book about reading. But of course, it only makes sense. Reading is a fascinating thing we’ve taught our brains to do, so naturally, there would be people out there in this world ruminating on this little mental trick. And there are so many angles to approach reading from; the topic’s inexhaustible, really. By the time I walked away from that books about reading section, I was wondering why I’d never seen such a section before, not to mention why I’d never read anything about reading. With a brain that battles books on the regular, you’d think I’d be devouring books about reading, if only to up my game.

But the sad fact is a lot of those books about reading are academic in nature, and my eyeballs tend to roll right out of my head when I’m confronted with that kind of empty verbosity. (Until people stop using bloated synonyms like “utilize”, I refuse to acknowledge the readability of the denser academic texts.) (And yes, I know #NotAllAcademicTexts.) Where are the user-friendly books on books? Where are the manga?? It turns out they are hiding on a shelf in the bookstore. Because the Japanese comics industry is nothing if not thorough. There’s a manga about everything! And perusing the shelves one day, I noticed a sample dangling from the shelf with the intriguing title Kaban Toshokan, or as the English subtitle would have it, “Stories of the Library in a Bag.” (more…)

Colorless Girl: Honami Shirono

Colorless_ShironoThese sultry summer days have me wanting to hide indoors and keep myself safely air-conditioned and sweat-free. Being a freelancer is a great help in this mission, since I rarely have to go out during the day. I can sit comfortably in my tiny, chilled box of an apartment and peck away at my keyboard, translating all the great books people keep hiring me to translate. But being a freelancer also means that I’m in that little box of an apartment 24-7 if I don’t go out, and at some point, cabin fever starts to set in. I remember that I haven’t spoken to another human being in a couple days. The cupboards start to look bare. My friends send me desperate Lines, begging me to come out. But these are minor issues, easily overcome if you’re an experienced freelancer like me. No, when it truly become impossible to bear, when I absolutely must leave my cool comfort is the moment I run out of books to read. (Insert keyboard of doom sound here.)

Naturally, this is a situation that never happens to me in my Canadian digs. Mount Bookstoberead is always there, growing ever taller, threatening to topple over and murder me in an unguarded moment. But my Tokyo apartment is smaller and always temporary, so I try not to buy more than I can read at any given time. This is generally a sound policy. In the terrible, record-breaking heat of this year’s summer, however, it is a sweaty one. Forced out into the blazing sun, I skitter to the bookstore armed with parasol and water bottle, praying the sunstroke doesn’t strike me down in my mostly prime. Thankfully, the time outside is limited; bookstores are plentiful in this burning land. One such venture into the human breath heat led me to Colorless Girl, an unexpected treat that I then stayed inside to read, nicely chilled. (I know people without AC, and honestly, I don’t know how they are still alive this year. It was thirty-nine degrees in Tokyo! At seventy percent humidity! This kind of weather literally kills people.) (more…)

Metamorphose no Engawa: Kaori Tsurutani

Metamorphose_TsurutaniAugust is Women in Translation month, so really I should be posting something by a women in translation, preferably translated by a woman, too. But I am over here in Tokyo, where all the books are still in their native Japanese, waiting for some kind publisher to license and translate them into English. Which makes it kind of hard to write about a translation this month. You might argue, however, that since I myself am a woman and a translator, every month is WIT month here at Brain vs Book, so there’s no need to really go out of my way in August. And while that is technically correct, it seems like a bit of a copout, especially since I am not actually writing about my own translations here, but rather random books I happen to be reading.

So to make this a bit more WIT and less noodle-y thoughts, I will take the opportunity now to give a shout out to a couple of my recent publications: King of Strong Style, the autobiography of pro wrestler Shinsuke Nakamura, which you really need on your shelf if you are into pro wrestling even a little bit. And even if you are not, the book contains many hilarious photos that provided endless delight for me while I was working on it. And That Blue Sky Feeling by Okura and Coma Hashii is a gay coming-of-age story in which new kid at school meets gay kid at school and starts thinking about sexuality in a real way for the first time in his life. It’s thoughtful and honest and sweet as hell, if only for the main character who is naïve in the best way. And let me also remind you that Brain favourite Conbini Ningen by woman author Sayaka Murata was just released in English as Convenience Store Woman, and was translated by my pal and fellow woman Ginny Tapley Takemori. These should be a good start to your WIT month reading. (more…)