Kimi ni Aetara Nante Iiou: Nemu Yoko

I am an Old, and I am also happily free of children. The desire for children is one of those things that has completely baffled me my entire life. Not that children are bad. I have met some very nice children. I like my sister’s kids a lot, and seeing them go from squalling tiny creatures on my living room floor to responsible, kind grown-ups whose company I genuinely enjoy has been a real trip. But the idea of giving up my entire life so that I could have some kids of my own has never been anywhere in my realm of possibility. I remember telling grown-ups that I was never getting married or having children when I was six years old. Of course, I got a deeply patronizing response, one that I would become quite familiar with as I grew up and heard it over and over again: You’ll feel differently when you’re older. And yet? I do not feel differently when I am old enough to render the entire question of wanting children moot due to my Advanced Age. 

But as a woman, there is always that ambient societal pressure to pair off and have kids. It’s everywhere, this heteronormative concept of family. And it’s on the milestone checklist for a “good life”: finish school, get married, buy a house, have kids, get a dog (or maybe the dog comes first), raise kids, retire, die. It’s what you’re “supposed” to do. And a lot of people do! This is not a judgement on them. But I cannot fathom it. I seriously hope I don’t die alone in my apartment, my corpse left to rot until a neighbour complains about the smell, because I didn’t birth some people who would feel compelled to check in on me from time to time, but I can’t imagine a day when I would regret not birthing those people. 

Which is why a book like Kimi ni Aetara is so fascinating to me. Kiri, a freelancer in her mid-thirties, is married with a cat, but no plans for children on the horizon. She’s in that grey space that I imagine so many women occupy these days. She’s got a great job and a great relationship, a nice apartment; she doesn’t feel any real lack in her life. She’s happy with the way things are. But she also knows biology is thing working against her here, and if she and her husband do want kids, they are going to have to start doing something about that or her womb will fill with desert dunes. She gets to thinking about this seriously when she finds out that a colleague is pregnant, and after an awkward conversation with her husband, she tips over onto the side of yes, let’s have kids. Continue reading “Kimi ni Aetara Nante Iiou: Nemu Yoko”

Hosekidori: Tokizawa Akiko

Hoseki

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”

Amedama: Seia Tanabe

Amedama_TanabeIt 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”

Chikyu Seijin: Sayaka Murata

Chikyu_Murata

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”

Girls in Love: Shimura/Nakamura

GirlsLoveBefore we talk about books, I have an important announcement! You may remember how I read a book called Majutsushi A a couple years ago and fell utterly in love with it and the stunning talent of the artist, Natsuko Ishitsuyo? And how I said no one would ever publish it in English? I was wrong about that last bit! Because I am publishing it in English! Well, it’s actually Peter of The Beguiling who’s doing the publishing part of things, but I did do the translation and worked together with a great team of people, including editor Penny Clark, letterer Karis Page, and many Beguiling staff members, to make the publication a real thing that is happening in this world. And now you can buy this translation baby we have worked so very hard on for the last year. Support our campaign on Kickstarter and be the first in line to hold this pretty princess in your hot little hands! 

Thank you for indulging me in this bit of self-promotion. With that out of the way, we can get to the important thing here: the books. As always, one of my first stops upon escaping from painfully wintry Toronto to pleasantly temperate Tokyo was the bookstore, where I stocked up on the latest volumes of all my favourite series, plus a couple of new series by favourite authors. Weirdly enough, both of those new books are girls’ love and published within a week of each other, so I figured why not compare and contrast these different takes on the world of women who love women. Continue reading “Girls in Love: Shimura/Nakamura”

Yatagarasu V3-6: Chisato Abe

YatagarasuWell, 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”

Ijuin Hayato-shi no Fuon Naranu Nichijo: est em

ijuin_em

Although I am a professional manga person, I am sometimes shockingly ignorant of manga. Not on purpose, of course. But there is a lot of manga out there in the history of manga and I am just one person with one set of eyeballs. Plus, I also like to read novels, non-fiction, and a variety of work in English, too. It’s just not possible for me (or anyone really) to have read all the manga. So I’ve never read Ashita no Joe or Cardcaptor Sakura or Slam Dunk or really any of the really famous titles. I read the first couple volumes of Vagabond on the recommendation of my hairdresser at the time? I’ve always been more interested in randomly picking up whatever title I happen upon at the bookstore than “educating” myself on the “classics”, a stance I take with pretty much all books. All those lists of “a thousands books you have to read before you die” can go to hell, as far as I’m concerned. Read what you love, read what draws your eye. You’re not over here writing a history of the canon or anything. (Unless you are and then you should probably read all those big old books.)

Which is not to say I haven’t read any of the classics. Just that I read them when they come to me in a more organic way. Which is why I didn’t read Kaze to Ki no Uta until just a few years ago. And I utterly adored it, most likely because I wasn’t forcing myself to read it in the name of reading all the manga. So it will come as no surprise that I have never read a single one of the thirty-five volumes of City Hunter. Nor have I seen any of the anime or films based on the manga. Until recently, all I knew about City Hunter was the name. And then est em stepped into the picture Continue reading “Ijuin Hayato-shi no Fuon Naranu Nichijo: est em”

Watashi no Uchu: Ayako Noda

Uchu_NodaOctober knocked me flat on my butt, as it does every year. And yet I am completely taken off guard by the frantic speed at which the days whip past when I still have so very much work to do before the calendar page montage reaches November. I have a couple series that always have a volume due for translation by the end of October. The Toronto International Festival of Authors is at the end of October, and I interpret for whichever Japanese author they invite across the ocean to be a part of the CanLit scene for a week. (This year, it was Kyoko Nakajima, whose first work in English translation The Little House has a tender queer aspect to it and name-drops Nobuko Yoshiya to ensure that the subtext is text and you don’t miss or willfully misinterpret it.) And of course, I usually embark on my winter life in Tokyo sometime in November, meaning there are all kinds of things that need doing in October before I can fly across the ocean to warmer climes. I know that this is how October is going to be, and still I wander through September blithely, certain that I have all the time in the world, that this October will be different. Reader, it was not.

So I spent the last month translating and reading and stalking Kyoko Nakajima online which left me little time to read anything that wasn’t written by or about Nakajima. But no worries! I am making up for that time away from my personal reading in spades this month. And first up is a book surprisingly long neglected by me, the debut manga of Brain darling Ayako Noda. How could I have left it unread for so long? Noda is an artist who has done nothing but dazzle me over the last few years. I cherish each of her new releases and struggle with my desire for her to hurry up and make more books, and my wish for her to live a healthy, happy life and not die young of overwork because the manga industry is a truly punishing one. But for some reason, it has taken me until now to read Watashi no Uchu. I think I was a little afraid it would be bad, thus tarnishing her perfection in my mind, however slightly. The cover of the first volume is all off-beat high school drama, and honestly, that’s just not my jam. I could’ve just read the back to discover that actually, it is much more than off-beat high school drama, but we all know that I avoid reading the backs of books. I like to go in fresh, without any cover copy to lead me in one direction or another. Continue reading “Watashi no Uchu: Ayako Noda”

Picnic in the Storm: Yukiko Motoya (Trans. Asa Yoneda)

stormPeople 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)”

Hitori Hitoneko: Ami Uozumi

Hitori_UozumiEvery time I move between Canada and Japan, I overestimate my abilities, stamina, and time to a degree that is honestly quite shocking. I have been doing this round-trip life for a decade now, so you’d think I would have at least a vague grasp of what I am capable of doing in what period of time. But no. Every single time, I grow increasingly frantic as I push further into the crumple zone—the plane is going to leave whether I am on it or not, and that unyielding wall jams my days back up into each other like the front end of a car in a crash. Miraculously, however, I did once again manage to throw my apartment into my suitcases and get them to the airport on time. Even more miraculous perhaps is the fact that for the first time in I can’t even remember how long, said cases were not overweight because of all the books I bought. Friends, I showed admirable restraint on my bookstore visits during my summer in Tokyo.

That is not to say that I did not buy any books. That would be absurd. My suitcases were still filled with fun treats for my brain to battle. I simply tried this idea of only buying books when I was ready to read a new book. Plus a couple extra. I am not a monk over here. But during the last frantic week of the crumple zone, I make a concerted effort not to buy any new books because I am panicking about how much space I don’t have in my luggage. This effort is constantly thwarted, though, because people keep putting out great books that I want to read. Or author friends spring their latest release on me over dinner the night before I leave and said release just happens to be a 500-page tome. (Please stop writing doorstoppers, author friends. Think of my poor, struggling suitcases.) Or I happen to spot the latest from an author I’ve enjoyed battling before, like Ami Uozomi, whose live-in lesbian cooking/romance manga charmed the pants off of me. And this one promised cats, too! How could I resist the possibility of queer cat manga?? I am not made of stone. Continue reading “Hitori Hitoneko: Ami Uozumi”