When I was a kid, I’d read hard stuff.

I grew up with books. Always received books for my birthdays and Christmases.

Loved reading.

Novels, non-fiction, poetry.

And I loved reading books that were too old for me.

I’d skip words I didn’t know. Didn’t matter. I could still enjoy the general story. Sometimes things would become clearer later.

Learning Japanese, in recent years I’ve adopted the same tactic.

I read things even if I don’t understand them completely.

If it’s interesting enough, it often doesn’t matter. Dialogue helps.

I don’t use a dictionary usually. Not unless I really want to know what’s up.

In university, we analysed texts word by word. Maybe a bad habit. So at university I never read anything longer than a couple of pages.

When I decided to come back to Japan, I realised I must force myself to read. I made a rule to only read Japanese, which I stuck to for about 5 years.

The first book I read was by Banana Yoshimoto ハチ公の最後の恋人. I couldn’t explain exactly what it was about, but it touched me in many ways.

I felt enormous satisfaction when I finished reading it.

I’d always wanted to read Mishima, Kawabata, Tanizaki, etc. whom I’d read in translation. All of these have simpler offerings, if you’re so inclined.

But before that, I’d recommend short stories by modern authors. One of my favourites is Teru Miyamoto. Gritty, but colourful. Depicts the underside of society but without judgement.

Now that I’m working in translation and frequently checking the work of native English-speaking translators, I get the impression that some have trouble with long sentences in Japanese. I think a good way to overcome this difficulty is just to read and read. If the story is interesting enough, you’ll get used to reading and enjoying long sentences.

I enjoyed collections of short stories because I could gain satisfaction with finishing one story.

My attention span is, er, limited. So often before I finish one book, my interest jumps to the next.

Yes, yes, my love life has been the same.

But just like one night stands, with short stories, you can reach the climax quickly and derive a degree of satisfaction from it. Continue with the same book, or put it on the shelf marked “maybe later.”

Variety is the spice of rife.

Let’s break it down-

Japanese speakers studying English:

Read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Many friends have been so happy to finish this book. I don’t recommend Sidney Sheldon or Dan Brown. This is pulp fiction. The writing is not good quality. Read George Orwell or other good literature.

Studying Japanese:

Mishima 潮騒 Boring in English, but an easy read.

Kawabata 伊豆の踊り子 As above

『イン・ザ・プール』by 奥田英朗 is crazy and cool.

Reading stuff like this, for me, is enjoyable immersion  study. And without effort.

 

I have a few audio books both in Japanese and French and they’re great too, though expensive.

 

If you’re interested, give it a shot.