Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thinking back on my trip to Japan

A little over a year ago, I found myself, much to my surprise, in Tokyo. I spent a month there, weekdays in a tiny overheated conference room in front of two computers, weekends wandering about. I wasn't sure if I would be able to keep Wuthering Expectations going while I was there, but I did, helped by my camera and the fact that everything I saw was intensely interesting.

So looking back, the trip was good for my writing. I feel that I have been off my stride lately, although come to think of it, I always feel that way. Japan pushed me, made me think harder in some ways. I don't have that pressure now, and miss it a bit.

The trip was also good for my reading. It forced me to overcome my anxiety about the foreignness of Asian literature. The way I overcame it was by doing a little reading, so it turned out to not be so complicated. The great tradition of Japanese poetry, as brought into English by Kenneth Rexroth and others, is a delight, a breeze. The Chinese tradition is if anything richer. One reason I can so blithely say this is that Rexroth and David Hinton and so on only translate translatable poems. They make it all look easier than it really is.

Because of my chronological neurosis, I soon slipped away from Japanese literature, and back to Chinese poetry of the T'ang period, and earlier. And now I'm itching to move further back, to spend more time with the volumes of the Clay Sanskrit Library, if it were only easier to get hold of the dang things. A piece of the Ramayana is on its way.

I have been using Book Blogger Appreciation Week to expand my social network a little, to leave a few more comments here and there. One was at Dolce Bellezza, the generous hostess of the Japanese Literature Challenge, who invited me to participate. Well, I don't know, I don't ususally - hey, I thought of the right book, so OK.

The 19th century was a terrible time for Japanese literature. Possibly also for Japan. The book I'm going to read is thought of as the first modern Japanese novel, whatever that means. It's Ukigumo, or Drifting Clouds (1887), by Futabatei Shimei, Japanese translator of Turgenev. I know nothing else about it, except that it is only available in English in a volume titled Japan's First Modern Novel: Ukigumo of Futabatei Shimei (1967), author and translator, Marleigh Grayer Ryan. Way to sell it, Marleigh.

This is why I don't join challenges. My entire reading life is one giant challenge. Maybe I should host one. Anyone want to read John Galt? The early 19th century Scottish novelist? Two weeks on John Galt, forthcoming on Wuthering Expectations, as soon as I get his books read.

This is how I welcome the new readers I gain from expanding my blogging social network, with John Galt and a Japanese novel I've barely heard of. I should figure out how to work in some more Adalbert Stifter, while I'm at it.

Anyway, welcome, new readers!


  1. I found myself joining the Japanese challenge because it's just one book and I, like you, know just what I want to read: Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book.

    Which John Galt's books are you going to be reading in the next two weeks? To be honest, I'd never hear of him so I had to go look him up. :)

    I feel my reading knowledge is very limited, and I'm trying to get the "known" classics read so I can feel a bit less clueless. But thank you for leaving a comment on my blog this week because I'd love to learn more about more obscure classics like books by John Galt.

    (Although, if John Galt is not obscure, please excuse my ignorance....)

  2. I've been wanting to read John Galt for a while now, actually, and was re-reminded of him when I saw The Provost on your sidebar last week. Then I was looking him up on Amazon and it looked like all these wack print-on-demand large print editions or something and I decided not to deal with it yet. Not like I don't have other stuff on my plate.

    Would I like him?

  3. Oh, it's not the next two weeks. I don't think I'll read that quickly. But I'll have a big two-week John Galt festival at some point. It will be like the Big Balzac Blowout, except with a writer few have heard of and fewer will read. So time well spent, huh?

    John Galt is definitely, unfortunately, obscure. The Provost is a minor masterpiece and The Entail is a major one; plus I suspect that there's more out there. The Little Professor has described Ringan Gilhaizie, despite its terrible title, as, I quote, "awesome."

    Nicole - so, as a preface, to anyone who is, by some oversight, not reading bibliographing, Nicole is reading epistolary novels, with Humphrey Clinker currently under the microscope - Nicole, would you believe that Galt's The Ayrshire Legatees (1821) actually updates Humphrey Clinker, pretty specifically? So I think you'd like him. Although The Ayrshire Legatess is frankly pretty thin.

    If I were smart, I would have two weeks of Jane Austen, followed by a week of Little Women. Instead, it's going to be Galt and mediocre Melville and James Greenleaf Whittier. I don't actually hate my readers, I swear. But I have to go where the books take me.

  4. I'm so glad that you thought of a book for the challenge and have decided to join in. Might I add you don't chose light tomes? This one, new to me, seems quite the endeavor! I admire your willingness to go into the deep and relatively unknown.

    This line of yours cracked me up, and I'm actually still smiling; "This is why I don't join challenges. My entire reading life is one giant challenge." It's such a great statement I may have to ask you permision to post it on my blog sometime. I'm so glad to be getting to know you, Amateur Reader. (By the way, in the comment you left in my book suggestion post you asked me to erase something? Do you mean it? I liked what you wrote, even if the italics carried on a bit father than the title. ;)

    Also, shouws what I know: I've only heard of John Galt from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Phew, sometimes I think I must be illiterate!

  5. Of course, in my hurry, I meant "farther" and "shows". I can spell, I just can't type getting ready for work.

  6. Nicole, would you believe that Galt's The Ayrshire Legatees (1821) actually updates Humphrey Clinker, pretty specifically?

    Well, that does it doesn't it? When am I going to get time for this...but reading Smollett also reminded me of something else: I need to expand to more Scottish, not just English, lit.

  7. Come on, do an early 19th-century Scottish novel challenge! I'm in, if you're running it. :)

  8. I went through a phase of really wanting to read the Ramayana, but was undone by my very Western desire to get the "definitive" version - of which none exists, since it's a work that thrives on re-telling and adaptation. I just couldn't get past that at the time. Now that I've had a few years to sit with it, I think I could deal with choosing among the many re-tellings - which version did you decide on? I'll be interested in your thoughts.

    I've never heard of Galt either, but I'd be up for giving him a shot!

  9. Bellezza, I was afraid I had ruined the comments with my unclosed italics. So I guess, just delete the request to delete.

    As for using quotes, please do. Except for A Watched Plot Never Spoils™ - must credit Amateur Reader.

    I suppose if I want to do a John Galt festival I should find out if there is actually any connection between "Who is John Galt" and the novelist. I can't imagine. I'd rather not know.

    A challenge, huh? I'll have to think about it. Who would one read? Scott and Hogg and Galt. Why not push back and out to include Smollett and Boswell and Burns and Hume, and forward to include Stevenson.

    Unlike most challenge hosts, though, I would be a tyrant. "That book didn't count! Read another!"

  10. I suppose if I want to do a John Galt festival I should find out if there is actually any connection between "Who is John Galt" and the novelist.

    I've often contemplated this, but not having read any John Galt I couldn't really say. Ah, but Wikipedia can:
    "Literature professor Shoshana Milgram traces the origins of the character to adventure stories that Rand read as a child, including the French novels La Vallée Mystérieuse and Le Petit Roi d'Ys. Rand also owned a copy of a 1940 novel with characters named Jed and John Peter Galt. There was a 19th Century Scottish novelist of the same name, but Milgram says that any connection to the character is 'highly unlikely.' Milgram also notes that the name Rand originally picked for her character was Iles Galt."

    Iles? Whatever.

    I'm totally a fan of pushing back and out. More Smollett is already on the table and I am all about Burns and Hume.

  11. Iles? Iles?!?

    Thanks for finding that. No work for me, hurrah.

  12. Emily, I've read the R. K. Narayan versionof the Ramayana twice, once as a kid and once as an adult. It is fan-tas-tique.

    But now I'm going to read a piece of the "real thing," the first of the 9 or so volumes of the Ramayana published by the Clay Sanskrit Library.