favorite author of 2017: maggie nelson

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There were a number of great books and great authors that I read in 2017, but there was one particular author who captured my heart in 2017 and who quickly became one of my favorite authors ever: Maggie Nelson. Like most people on social media, I became aware of Maggie Nelson when her text The Argonauts began popping up all over Instagram, review lists, and even Emma Watson’s online book club, Our Shared Shelf. Like a lot of other people within the online space, I become aware of books existing long before I actually get around to reading them. The Argonauts cover always caught my eye — the bright pink against the matte black remains became pretty ubiquitous on book blogs — but it wasn’t until a friend of mine actually made me open up the book in the summer of 2017 that I finally read something by Nelson. And from there, I subsequently became hooked on her writing.

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five japanese books to read: vol 1

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Since my last post on Murakami Haruki could potentially be seen as a bit of a downer, I thought I would take some time to make a post on Japanese book recommendations to counteract my critical tone. I get requests for recommendations a lot on Instagram, but never really feel that prepared to answer them, so I think compiling a few recommendations every once in a while on the blog will hopefully be useful to anyone who wants more exposure to Japanese literature. On one hand, there are the obvious answers when it comes to who to recommend: Natsume Sōseki, Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, Mishima Yukio, etc., and even though I do truly believe that these authors, and their ilk, are absolutely worth a read, I want to take some time to compile five books by Japanese authors that I personally think are truly worth reading that maybe wouldn’t be on that type of a list. These are not necessarily books that I think are under appreciated, incredibly unique, or even absolutely ‘crucial’ to read in order to understand Japanese literature. I am not interested in trying to define any more arbitrary boundaries outside of one: these are five books by Japanese authors that I really love and that I want to share with you!

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why i don’t like haruki murakami (but why it’s okay that you do)

When it comes to books I am not a terribly opinionated person – I have read many a good book and I have read many a book that has not resonated with me at all. For instance, I do not like Henry James and I am not terribly interested in most “classic” American fiction, such as William Faulkner or Mark Twain. Rarely have I received any feedback on any of my opinions that I have shared throughout my posts on Instagram. However, I have been surprised by how much commentary I receive in response to my opinions on one particular author: Haruki Murakami. Without fail, whenever I mention my dislike of his work I suddenly get an influx of comments, either from people who would like more information or conversely trying to “sell” his work to me. This response always intrigued me because, like I said, this never happens with any other author that I post about. I can’t help but think that there is something about Murakami and his work that means something significant for people in a way that differs from the other Japanese authors I post about – and leads people to be a little more defensive about criticism about his work.

After putting it off for a while, I think it is about time that I articulate my feelings for those who are curious: why I don’t like Murakami.

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han kang: the vegetarian

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Between work and research, I don’t have as much time to delve into all of the books that I would like to read when I first hear about them. The Vegetarian by Han Kang is another one of those books that I have seen floating around Instagram for the past year or so. Many of the accounts whose recommendations I trust were reading this, so I filed it away in the back of my mind as something that I would like to read at some point – which is definitely a long list now. Thankfully, my book club voted to read this for October, so I had the excuse I needed to carve out time.

I have a lot of things that I am still thinking through, so if you are expecting a straight-forward review, this will not be the post for you!

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natsume sōseki: reflections on returning to こころ

I am constantly surprised by the fact that anyone reads my posts, particularly because I tend to neglect this space. I started this blog purely as a spot to write about the texts that I read – whether they are fiction or non-fiction – and that I feel deserve some recognition that they maybe don’t get. Initially, a lot of what I focused on was Japanese literature specifically, or at least directly related to Japanese studies in some way. However, through my exposure to more contemporary works through Instagram, I’ve strayed away from my focus as of late. Though I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing, I decided to return to the literature that I love; partially because I am rereading this specific text again, but also because I know that the readers who tend to end up on here are probably drawn in by my work on Japanese literature. And what could possibly be more ‘Japanese’ than Natsume Sōseki’s* こころ (Kokoro)?

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[*NB: Some of you may be wondering why we refer to Sōseki as Sōseki when in the Japanese naming system we always place the family name (Natsume) before the first name (Sōseki). By this logic, we should be referring to Sōseki as Natsume, right? Well Natsume Sōseki is actually his pen name and whenever a Japanese author uses a pen name, we use the name they chose since that was the name that they, the author, chose for themselves. The same thing is true for other authors for example, Mori Ōgai  – the family name is Mori, but we refer to him as Ōgai, because that is the name he selected.] 

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memoirs of a polar bear – yoko tawada

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Scrolling through my posts, you might wonder whether or not I actually read novels – I wouldn’t blame you for such a thought because, for the most part, I tend to read non-fiction, theoretical texts or novels that are assigned for seminars. However, whenever possible, I decided to try to pick away at a novel “for fun”. After class one day, I ended up chatting with one of my classmates and we both commented on how we feel more sane when we read outside of coursework or research, even if it is just a few pages.

With that mantra in mind, I tried to insert a little bit of leisure reading into my February and managed to get through two novels, one of these being Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada. Obviously, it is no longer February, so some time has lapsed since I finished this book – but I enjoyed it, so I felt it deserved some love on this blog.

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chae man-sik: peace under heaven

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Originally, my research focused more on Japanese imperialism in Manchuria, because this was the only context within which I ever even heard about Japanese imperialism spoken of. I thought that if I did end up focusing on post-colonialism in the East-Asian context, it would have to be Manchuria. My lack of context comes from two places: for one thing, Japan* is good at forgetting the past and occluding certain elements from history. Secondly, the status of Japan as an ally to the United States, I think, has something to do with the continued hush around Japanese imperialism.

*I say this in a very general sense, because I can provide a list of many thinkers and writers, for instance, who were contemporaneously opposed to Japanese imperialism and I can also show you thinkers and writers who address this issue now in a very open, critical matter.  Another important thing I want to address here is that when I make this claim, I am not saying that Japan is the only country to do this at all. All countries are guilty of this to varying degrees, from outright genocide to denials of prejudice. Clearly, Western countries have a long, sordid history of terrorizing and conveniently forgetting; those who hold hegemonic power are just lucky in that they get to set the standard for historical fact. 

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