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…)

Moratte Kudasai: Niboshiko Arai

Moratte_AraiSo often these days, the world seems like a blazing dumpster fire in the middle of a heatwave in summer. The stench! The nightmarish heat! The constant and baffling dehumanization of other human beings for no apparent reason at all! And sure, we all want to (and should) work to make things better for ourselves and our fellow members of a society that is crumbling into the dark void of a bottomless ocean. But all the gloom and doom that greets us every time we open Twitter can really eat away at the soul and make us contemplate never interacting with the world again.

So a holiday like 801 is especially critical in these trying times, a reminder that there is still something pure and good in this world. And that is hot guys making out with other hot guys for our voyeuristic pleasure. Thus I invite you, my fellow fujoshi, to step away from the Nazis on Twitter and the mansplainer who is a Facebook friend of your mom’s friend’s friend who inexplicably replies to your innocuous comment about the recent heatwave to tell you climate change is a liberal conspiracy, and walk into the warm and welcoming world of hot man sex. Let these horny dudes wrap you up in a gentle and possibly sticky hug. (more…)

Amagi Yuiko no Tsuno to Ai: Yoko Kuno

Amagi_KunoBeing in town for the latest round of the Japan Media Arts Festival meant that the whole song-and-dance was more on my radar than in other years. I always notice who the winners are and give a little high five to myself when artists I love win, but that’s generally the extent of my involvement. But it’s actually a whole thing, with events and talks around town and even a big exhibition at the National Art Centre, which is a lovely place to visit on its own, so any excuse to head out that way is a welcome one. This year, two artists I am particularly fond of won prizes—Aoi Ikebe for her Nee, Mama and Toru Izu for his Juza no Ulna—and there was even a conversation between Izu and Brain super fave Yumiko Shirai, and you know I was so there for that. They got into some of the nitty gritty of Ulna, including the secret behind the care Izu shows all the shoes in the book. (Spoiler: he is really into shoes.)

And all of this good fun is free! If you find yourself in Tokyo in the month of June, take advantage of government-sponsored art action. The coolest part is that you will probably discover some new stuff that you can fall in love with through these awards and the various related events. Like, I’d seen Amagi Yuiko kicking around the bookstore before, but it didn’t really register with me until I saw pages from the work as part of the Media Arts Manga Division exhibit. And those pages definitely intrigued me enough to pick up the book the next time I came across it. To be fair, I should have grabbed it the first time I saw it. It’s published by Beam and has an intriguing title and cover, a combination which has never let me down in the past. (more…)

Joshi Keimusho Life!: Rumi Nakano

Joshi_NakanoEver since I read Human Scramble, I’ve been curious about the reality of Japanese prison. The prisons in that anthology series actually seem pretty nice, all tatami rooms and yukata, and given that pretty much everything I know about prison comes from American TV, it seemed impossible that J-prison could be so far from that pseudo-reality. But the other manga on prison that I’ve come across like Keimusho no Naka seem to lend credence to the idea that J-prison is much nicer than North American prison, a place where you can hone your penmanship and sip tea while making envelopes by hand. (An aside: Why is this a prison job in Japan? Is it a prison job in other countries? Who is selling these handmade envelopes? Envelope-making seems like exactly the sort of thing a machine would be perfect for, what with the precise measurements and folding and tedious repetition.) Rokudenashiko’s take on prison was a little more sober, although the most sobering part of her memoir manga is the treatment she received at the hands of the police and the legal system rather than her time in holding centres. But none of these manga really scratched that itch for me and told me what really went down in prison.

Enter the cosy bookstore I came across a few weeks ago and their subculture section! Displayed front and centre there was a lady-colour explosion of pink and purple emblazoned with the tantalizing title, Joshi Keimusho Life! (Ladies’ Prison Life). The double-wide obi is kind enough to sum up the basics of what you will find under the cover: Author Nakano was arrested for drug possession/sales four times and spent a total of twelve years in prison. And now she is talking truth about life on the inside. This obi is no liar! Joshi is surprisingly comprehensive on the subject of lady prisons, even offering up comparisons with men’s prisons, although these are naturally not based on personal experience but rather discussions with men who have been to prison and research into the state of the prison system in Japan. (more…)

Kageki Shojo: Kumiko Saiki

Kageki_Saiki.jpgAdventures in the world of shojo continue! I’ve been noodling a little longer (lingering, loitering, getting side-eyes from suspicious shop clerks) in the shojo sections of bookstores these days, trying to see past the dazzling displays of tiresome and heteronormative romances (I’m sorry, romance-loving friends. Girl/Boy falls for boy/girl who doesn’t even notice her/him is just so dull to me. I want stories about people doing things other than falling in love and trying to get the attention of their crush) and dig deep into the possibilities shojo has to offer me. On one such trip to the bookstore, I ducked into an aisle to one side to avoid the curious gazes of actual shojos perusing the shelves. And lo! Awaiting me there was Kageki Shojo, an honest-to-goodness delight and a gem of a series. Why did none of you tell me what a great artist Kumiko Saiki is?! I could have been reading her work for years already instead of only stumbling upon it now.

Fortunately, it’s never too late for great books. And now that I’ve finished all five available volumes of Kageki, I can go back through Saiki’s catalogue. She’s been making manga since 1999! She’s got a lot of books for me to devour. My future right now is very bright, my good chums. I mean, when even the legendary shojo artist Riyoko Ikeda is blurbing her books, you know you are in for some very delicious treats. (Seriously! Can you imagine being a shojo artist and having praise from Ikeda printed on the obi for your book?? I would have the vapours and be calling for smelling salts.) (more…)