Unable to noodle around in bookstores in Tokyo this summer, I have been noodling more in (online) bookstores in Toronto. But the indies closest to me, and hence the indies I can walk over to and pick up my books from (because why waste time and money on the post?), are pretty focussed in their missions. There’s Glad Day, a celebration of all writing queer and makers of delicious beignets; The Beguiling and its babies, Page & Panel and Little Island, serving all your comics needs; and Bakka Phoenix, your one-stop-shop for everything SFF. So because of the latter, I’ve been reading a lot more speculative fiction in English these days, which weirdly got me wanting to read some speculative fiction in Japanese. Does my brain simply need balance in the two languages? Who can say! Brains are weird.
Fortunately, I’ve had a little treat waiting for my attention in the bookcase of unread books ever since it came out last year. I enjoyed Ueda Sayuri’s last collection of short stories so much that when she released a new novel, I snatched it up. (Back when I was still allowed into Japan and could still hang out in my favourite bookstore…) The obi on Lilas to Senka no Kaze promised me this was a standalone novel, unlike her imposing and daunting Ocean Chronicle series. And no hard sci-fi here! This one’s a historical fantasy, set in World War I, so I figured it wouldn’t be full of made-up words to trip me up and make me doubt my linguistic abilities. It is, however, nearly five hundred pages long, and thus it’s been sitting on my shelf since I bought it because that is a real time commitment, and I am always having to read something else for work. Continue reading “Lilas to Senka no Kaze: Ueda Sayuri”
These random anniversaries have a way of slapping me in the face with the extremely twisty road that is my life, and this anniversary is perhaps slappier than most. Over the course of this particular journal–a smart spring-green affair that was a gift from one of my favourite people–I went from running through the streets of London to buying extremely mislabelled “vegan” food in the night markets of Taipei to a narrow escape from a burgeoning plague in Tokyo to an actual pandemic in Toronto, where I have now been locked up in my apartment for the last three months using my sewing skills to craft masks for all my friends and family, only scurrying out for groceries and beer. It is honestly overwhelming to step back and take a real look at how life used to be and how it is now, especially because my science brain is only too well aware that the normalcy of the Before Times is probably never coming back.
And that’s a good thing in a lot of ways! The plague is certainly laying bare all the ways capitalism has failed us, and so many people suddenly have nothing to do but reassess the way we live in this world and discover the need to burn it all to the ground and rebuild a society that supports all of us, especially the most vulnerable among us, instead of a bunch of venture capitalists and tech bros and the general class of rich white people. Plus, we’re all expert handwashers now! And we have a new fashion possibility in the face mask. Continue reading “Random Anniversary 6: My Brain”
After reading Ju Sai Made ni Yonda Hon, I’ve been thinking a lot about reading histories, the books that take us to the places where we are now. My dad is a huge reader, so books were front and centre in my life for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, generally laying around the house were computer books, books on chess, Louis L’Amour, science fiction/fantasy, and Stephen King. There were no doubt a whole bunch of others, but these are the ones that stick out in my mind. I tried reading them all, of course, because I wanted to read what he read. The chess books taught me some moves, the computer books were mostly incomprehensible except for the programming books bought especially for us kids, Louis L’Amour never quite made sense to me, and Stephen King instilled a young love of horror in me, despite the nightmares.
But the science fiction and fantasy, that was something that clicked for me in a way that none of the other books did. And so I have spent a life reading all kinds of speculative fiction, even during those years when I was at my most insufferably pretentious and thought I should be reading Literature instead of genre fiction. But hot on the heels of those pretentious years of Penguin classics was a move to Japan and a deep dive into a whole other world of reading, not to mention a near total lack of books in English. In those pre-Internet shopping times, my diet of manga and re-reading the few books I brought with me to Japan was supplemented by whatever books were being passed around to every English reader in my prefecture. (We also shared VHS tapes recorded and sent to our northern hamlets by friends and family in faraway countries, which is how I saw certain episodes of Sex and the City about five thousand times.) Continue reading “Hosekidori: Tokizawa Akiko”
It’s Pride Month, pals! And while the parades and the bass-heavy dance hits in the streets have been cancelled, we can still be prideful—with books! (Yes, the answer to nearly everything in my world is books.) I have to admit, living in the heart of the gay village, I’m not exactly broken up by the fact that there is a not a stage set up in every parking lot within a five-kilometre radius blasting the gay anthems (I do miss the parade and the festive events, though). In fact, I generally escape to Japan during this month of proud stylings because my apartment in Toronto becomes unbearably loud. I know I only reveal myself to be more of an Old with every word here, but couldn’t we just turn down the volume on all the outside music just a smidge? Some of us are trying to work in the village. Not everyone can take a whole month off to be prideful and dance.
But even when I have deadlines pressing me up against a painful wall of late nights and anxiety, I always have time for books. And while I’m still waiting on that box of books from Japan (although it has at last made it across the ocean, it is now stuck in Vancouver for the rest of time, apparently), I’ve been taking advantage of curbside pickup at my fave SFF bookstore, Bakka Phoenix and maybe buying too many new books when I still have shelves of previously purchased unread books. (What is this sickness that pushes me to constantly acquire new books??) I will always prefer an actual visit to a bookstore and noodling around in their stacks, but I do like how the indie online bookshops I love have curated lists and recommendations. I recently picked up Girl Town by Carolyn Nowak based on a staff rec list at The Beguiling, and it was exactly the thing I wanted to read. (Another prideful read with its cast of queer characters!) And poking around on one list or another at Bakka Phoenix led me to the debut novel from Rivers Solomon.
And what a happy encounter it turned out to be. For one thing, in these semi-apocalyptic times we live in, it was extremely cathartic to read about a class war in which brown, queer, gender nonconforming, neurodiverse, and poor people have had enough already. Seriously. If you are looking for an outlet for all that inexpressible rage you are constantly living with because *gestures at the world at large*, stop reading this and go buy An Unkindness of Ghosts already. You’ll feel better when you finish it and even more motivated to agitate for a more just world for all the people who are not white billionaires. (An aside: Having come up in the world of punk, it is very gratifying to see the world suddenly embracing the idea of ACAB and abolishing the police, like a strange affirmation of my teenaged self.) And it’s written by a queer Black author! So prideful! Continue reading “An Unkindness of Ghosts: Rivers Solomon”
Ms Ice Sandwich: Meiko Kawakami (trans. Louise Heal Kawai)
Spring Garden: Tomoka Shibasaki (trans. Polly Barton)
I feel like novellas are enjoying a resurgence of sorts in the last few years. Too long to be a short story, too short to stand alone as a novel, these tales have so often been relegated to short story collections, that big-ass story that rounds out the collection, the meal after several tiny appetizers. And while I’m not necessarily opposed to that approach—after all, it’s the publishing of the book that costs the most; adding more pages is pretty cheap comparatively—novellas have never really sat too nicely in that setting for me. They’re standalone works that deserve the pages and binding to sit and breathe alone, without being crowded by shorter pieces with a fundamentally different feel and structure. Plus a novella is the perfect length for whiling away an afternoon reading. You start it and you finish it in a couple hours, and end up feeling accomplished and refreshed. If there are more pages in the book because the publisher wanted to round the volume out with some short stories, it takes a bit away from both of those things.
But some publishers, mostly science fiction/fantasy and small presses, are taking up the novella as a work in and of itself again. Tor’s been consistently putting out some incredible novellas like JY Yang’s Tensorate series and Martha Wells’ Murderbot books, and Pushkin Press put out this lovely sextet of Japanese novellas. Other publishers should really jump on board with this sort of thematic novella publishing, if only because book nerds like me will squeal with delight at the matching book design and feel compelled to get them all so they look beautiful on their bookshelves. The designs are honestly lovely—simple, colourful, evocative. My only complaint, of course, is that they put the name of their own press on the cover instead of that of the translator. This is especially vexing because the publisher’s name is pretty much never on the cover of a book. A quick check of my own shelves reveals only one volume with the publisher’s name on the cover—This Little Art by Kate Briggs. Which leads me to wonder if it’s an indie UK publisher thing? Either way, the translator’s name should be on the cover alongside the original author’s. Continue reading “Novellas! Three!”
It can be weird at times, being a translator of a variety of books with a brain that is a battler of even more books. By day, I read books I might never have otherwise read and turn them into English for all the monolinguals, and by night, I read all the books I dream of bringing to all the monolinguals in English. Naturally, there is overlap between these two selves. Sometimes, the dream of translating a beloved book comes true (like my precious baby Magician A, coming to Kickstarter backers very soon and to select bookstores later this year!), and sometimes, I discover that a book I’m translating is a true beloved (I will never stop pushing After the Rain and Requiem of the Rose King on everyone who asks me what they should be reading; they are perfect and true books in their own beautiful ways). And sometimes, translating something leads me to picking up other work by the same author.
After translating a short story by Seia Tanabe years ago for the Haikasoru collection Phantasm Japan, I kept my eyes open for more from this author of quietly frightening stories based on Japanese ghost and folk tales, eventually stumbling across her novel Ningyo no Ishi, a book I still reflect on surprisingly often two years after finishing it. Her prose is so sparsely moody and yet strangely down to earth for the tales of the supernatural that she tells.
And I know I should be used to this by now because authors stumble across my posts here about their work surprisingly often (and let this be a lesson to those of you who would use a foreign language as a secret code to gossip about people on a crowded train or some other such public place—there is inevitably a speaker of that foreign language somewhere near you who understands every word you’re saying and will no doubt take the first opportunity that presents itself to publicly shame/embarrass you if you are talking any kind of smack about anyone), but a few months after I posted about that novel, Tanabe reached out to me to thank me for reviewing the book and offered to send me some of her other books. Which was a delightful surprise and kind as hell, and you know that I gratefully accepted. (Thank you, Tanabe-san!) Continue reading “Amedama: Seia Tanabe”
Let’s welcome in this new year with books, the best way to start a year, a month, a day—any moment in your life that needs starting! How about this book I translated and am producing with my pals over at the new press started by The Beguiling’s Peter Birkemoe?? Magician A is a wild ride through smutty town, a collection of stories that examine desire and capitalism and spirituality in ways you will never see coming. (No, that is not intended as a pun.) I know I have been hassling you about maybe backing the Kickstarter for the book, but I promise this will be the last time. Because the Kickstarter ends this week! So if you’ve been halfway persuaded by my previous sales pitches, maybe this will push you over the edge and you will buy my sweet translation baby?? It is worth it, I promise. (If you need more convincing, see my post about the book back when it came out in Japanese and was not yet even a dream in this translator’s eye.) There are stretch goals even. French flaps! Build a tiny book fort with fancy flaps! And a special interview with creator Natsuko Ishitsuyo in which we discuss mythology of all kinds and go to the shrine to pray for the success of the English translation among other things.
But if you are feeling less comics-oriented in this new year and more word-y, perhaps you would be interested in Sayaka Murata’s recent Chikyu Seijin, which comes out in English translation by my pal Ginny Tapley Takemori in this the year of our Lord 2020. And now that I have read the book, dang! I do not envy Ginny this difficult task. In fact, when I turned the last page of the book, I said out loud to my empty apartment, “What the fuck, Murata-san?” This book is taking you places you maybe didn’t want to go, but too bad, Murata’s got you in her sights now, so you’re going whether you like it or not. Continue reading “Chikyu Seijin: Sayaka Murata”
Well, it’s been a wild ride, but we all knew that it had to come to an end. I mean, going into the Yatagarasu series, I was aware that there were only six books in it. This isn’t some light novel series that drags out its tale volume after volume until its translator prays for mercy. And I have at last finished all six of those books. I’d intended to keep writing about each volume as I finished it, but of course, work and life and travel and other books all got in the way of me actually sitting down to write, even as I kept reading. And now I’ve finished the last of the six books, Iyasaka no Karasu, and all my brain wants to do is the big overview, so here we are.
Let’s just get this out of the way now: publishers, please, please license this series and hire me to translate it into English. People will want to read these books! They are unlike anything I’ve ever read in the world of science fiction and fantasy, and we could all use some beautifully written fantasy based on Japanese mythology and culture. I’m so tired of orcs and elves! Let’s get some crows and monkeys on the SFF shelves! Continue reading “Yatagarasu V3-6: Chisato Abe”
People have been telling me for ages that I should read Yukiko Motoya, that I would enjoy her quirky, magically realistic style. So she has been on my reading list for some time now, and yet I never manage to get around to reading her work. I always have so many other things to read! Things that were on the list first, things I need to read for work, things written by authors who are already my favourites which means they are naturally higher up on my list of reading priorities. So Motoya never seemed to get a foothold in my reading world.
And then I went to London earlier this year to talk to people about manga and translation, a thing I do for free on Twitter, so I was more than a little surprised than anyone would actually pay me to do it, much less fly me across an ocean. But they did, so I jumped on a plane to tell some British people why manga is important and interesting as a genre in itself and what the challenges in translating it are. (Spoiler: It has a lot to do with the pictures part of the equation.) The festival was mostly a celebration of fiction without pictures, though, so I was surrounded by great authors and amazing translators for a week, which was such a treat. I got to hear about so many interesting books and translation projects and challenges from people doing fascinating work in the world of Japanese art and literature. It was like I was living all books all the time. I very much recommend the experience Continue reading “Picnic in the Storm: Yukiko Motoya (Trans. Asa Yoneda)”
I often get annoyed at works of fiction in any medium that feature an almost exclusively male cast. Where are the women? Girls? Who is producing all the men in this strange world? They baffle me, these worlds without women. As I’ve said before, there are only two situations in which I will accept a startling lack of women: boys’ boarding schools and men’s prisons. These are places where the population necessarily lists male-heavy. Any other setting in a world of human beings better have some women who say something and are part of the action in a significant way or I am walking away.
But I have at last discovered a third world in which a mostly male cast is entirely acceptable: Heian-style segregated imperial court. After the first volume of the Yatagarasu series Karasu ni Hitoe wa Niawanai, which was pretty much all ladies all the time, Karasu wa Aruji wo Erabanai presents the men’s side of the story. And not in a #NotAllMen kind of way. Abe simply rewinds time in a way, bringing her readers back to the beginning of Hitoe and retelling the story of that entire time period from the perspective of the men involved in the story. And since the court in this world (and in the flowery bygone days of a long-ago Japan) is mostly segregated by gender, the story of the men mostly involves men, much like the story of the women mostly involved women. Continue reading “Karasu wa Aruji o Erabanai: Chisato Abe”