Hello [I am Lothar of the Hill People]! And welcome to the 0th edition of what many people are calling “The Oprah’s Book Club of the Internet, but without the charm, influence or relevance, and mostly in Japanese anyway…”.
A lot of people have asked me for book recommendations. And I struggle with this. On the one hand, I hate being told what to do, and I don’t want to tell people what to do — the whole of AJATT can be summed up in one phrase: “if it’s in Japanese, then it’s good”; that’s the only “condition” or “rule” if you will. Also, my books reflect my tastes, I mean, this is the difference between a typical class environment and doing stuff alone — you don’t have to read that lowest-common-denominator crap about “hey, what’s your major?”, and “Hello, I’m Tanaka Tarou from the ABC company”.
Speaking of interests, I hardly read any novels. Generally speaking, novels and me are not friends. I skip to the last page and try to get myself an executive summary before my next board meeting, nome same? Hehe…mmmm.
Having said all that, there are a ton of Japanese books out there, and when you’re just starting out, it can be a challenge to tell what books are worth getting. Especially if you’re buying exclusively online, and don’t have a chance to, skim, scan and sample the books in question.
So I’ve come up with a compromise: every month I’m going to just リストアップ (list up) the books I’m currently reading, or books I have previously read and really liked, and think you might enjoy. And give you a line or two about why I liked them. Sometimes I might even put up books I hated, but that were interesting.
By the way, I was inspired to do this by the Yamaneko Honyaku Club, which, while now apparently inactive, gave me some super useful book recommendations when I was walking up the Japanese hillock of literacy. Check it out.
I hate levels. For one thing, they’re all just made up anyway. And who the phork’s business is it what you read? If you’re 7 years old and you want to read War and Peace , then read War and Peace (note to all 7-year-olds: this book is about as entertaining as a 1000-page album of other people’s baby pictures in dim light; you’re not falling asleep because you’re stupid, it’s just that this book is indeed boring; remember, if you’re not sad that the book is ending (I’m running out of pages!), then it’s not a fun book for you). You, too, can enjoy any Japanese reading material at basically any time in your Japanese process.
Besides, that, no matter how “simple” a book in terms of level, if it’s boring, then game over. And no matter how supposedly “complex” a book, if you’re enjoying it, then you = teh winn0r. Remember, always give priority to your interests over your level. Something you’re interested in means you’re going to have domain knowledge. A science manga may be hard to read…unless you’re a scientist. As Nick Hornby hinted, it really isn’t that intellectually taxing for a physicist [someone who has extensive domain knowledge in physics] to read a physics book.
Nevertheless, I mean, it is, I guess, a fact that one goes through phases in one’s language development. So…so…(do you like how I write this as it comes?) here are some…some…(you like it?) arbitrary levels I pulled out of my…my…mind, with some reference to my current Cantonese experience. The numbers are nothing but a rough guide, and they may be completely wrong, and truth be told, I don’t know if I’m actually going to use them or not in the end, but here they are just for kicks anyway.
- Egg [0 – 500 sentences/fun listening hours] — pure n00bology, learning the very basics
- Caterpillar [500 – 1500 sentences/fun listening hours] — know all the basics
- Chrysalis [1500 – 5000 sentences/fun listening hours] — that magical intermediate phase, that strange stage where you understand maybe 75-80% of randomly picked authentic material, which is really good, but at the same time not yet enough to actually comprehend something new and raw in its entirety, since this still implies ignorance of every fourth or fifth word.
- Butterfly (you’ flyin’, baby!) [5000+ sentences/fun listening hours] — at this stage, you’re pretty comfortable with lots of stuff, you know far more than you don’t, and the words you are acquiring are of increasing rarity (low frequency).
- Daoist Butterfly — you’re no longer sure whether you’re a Japanese person who dreamed she was gaijin, or a gaijin who dreamed she was Japanese. This is native-level fluency. 本でも書け、ゴルァ！