Stofnun Árna Magnússonar í íslenskum fræðum (The Árni Magnússon Insitute For Icelandic Studies) has a very handsome website, mainly in Icelandic as you would expect, but that's good because it immediately starts your brain learning Icelandic just by looking at it. Handrit, for instance, means, pretty obviously, manuscript. The rondel on the left is from this illumination detailing the stages of medieval book publishing. The last step, often forgotten, is to teach the kids to read.
Is this not the best book jacket ever? Never underestimate the power of eye contact. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Flappers and Philosophers (Scribner's, 1920), illustrated by W.E. Hill. From the digital collection of the University of South Carolina. Via Hemingway's Paris.
Printed by D. Appleton and Company, Bond Street, New York, 1883. Imported by Dawson Bros Booksellers, Montreal, between 1883 and 1889. Added to the Dalhousie University Library inventory June 16, 1936. Signed out January 22, 1977. Returned May 15, 1977. Signed out January 2013. Due back May 30, 2013.
The Japanese Literature Publishing Project is a program of the Japanese Ministry of Culture that sponsors the translation and publication of works of J-lit that might otherwise get passed over by foreign publishers. Some of the books have been big bestsellers in Japan, but are perhaps too specific to Japan to attract an international audience. If you're like me, though, those are exactly the kind of books you want to find.
The series includes:
Supermarket, by Satoshi Azuchi. Never thought about the philosophy of discount pricing? This book will catch you up quick. First published in 1981, this business novel may have helped create the impression that Japan was poised to outmanage the rest of the world. But then again maybe not. It's quite a Machiavellian world, the supermarket. There's an astonishing amount of intrigue among the department managers; and in a purely Japanese twist some of the managers have fan clubs, who sign oaths of loyalty, in blood. The hero, who uncovers a conspiracy to hide losses, decides that the only way to save the company is to keep on publishing false results. And then there's that bent support beam that everyone's ignoring. No, business hurtles along out of anyone's control in Japan just like every place else.
Mistress Oriku, by Matsutaro Kawaguchi. Oriku has owned the renowned Shigure Teahouse on the banks of the Shumida River since the 1880s. Now, in the 1920s, she has a wealth of stories, most involving her complicated love affairs. Oriku has a rule: "One man, one night." But it rarely turns out to be that simple. Oriku, independent, clear-headed, and well-connected, reminds me of Kazu in Mishima's After the Banquet. The more you know about the theatres and music of Toyko the more you'll appreciate this book, so I'm glad I'd read Edward Seidensticker's Low City, High City beforehand. There's also a lot of food in these stories. Now I know to look out for clams in green tea.
The Bamboo Sword, by Shusei Fujisawa. This is a collection of short stories set in the early years of the Edo period, when peace had been established and a lot of samurai were hanging around the castle, getting up to no good. These stories often center on some middle-aged samurai who is forced to think his way through dangers that others have set up for him. The stories are well-plotted and include enough different characters and points of view that you develop a good sense of the world in which they take place. I found myself thinking more than once, This story would make a good movie, and in fact Fujisawa is the author of about a dozen filmscripts.
The Hundred-Yen Singer, by Naomi Suenega. This is a slice-of-life story about survival in the lower eschelons of the entertainment business. The heroine gives it everything she's got, hauling her rolling bag of kimonos between Japan's smallest venues, singing old-fashioned enka folk songs for tips, forever dreaming of that elusive recording deal. You learn a lot about the culture of Japanese spas, which makes this novel a good companion to Thermae Romae. The translation was done in England, and led me to realize that I consider American the go-to English for contemporary Japanese fiction. When the narrator says punters instead of customers it seems like a chip in the glass pane of the translation. That said, I do regard Penguin English as the default English for Heian classics.
Kinshu: Autumn Brocade, by Teru Miyamoto. A divorced couple run into each other after ten years and begin an exchange of letters, telling each other their lives since the separation, and discussing their roles in the love suicide that broke up their marriage. This novel is old-fashioned in its epistolary form, but also in the Japanese belief that love is best understood after it's over. On a different note, Kinshu: Autumn Brocade will teach you all you need to know to start your own advertising brochure business.
Anyone who holds a Halifax Public Library card can borrow books from the Killam Library at Dalhousie University, where they have a good selection of JLPP translations in English, French and Russian. D
Today is Munro Day at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Each year on the first Friday of February the university shuts down to honour 19th-century benefactor George Munro, a Nova Scotian who made good in New York, publishing highly popular dime novels and taking full advantage of the absence of any copyright convention between the UK and the US. In the 1880s Munro used some of his pirate gold to bail out Dalhousie, which was then at the brink of insolvency. Image is from the holdings of the University of South Carolina Libraries.
Once there was a man who ran off with a certain lady. As they traveled they came to a place where there was fresh water. "Would you like some?" the man asked. The lady nodded, and since he had no cup he scooped it up with his hands for her. Thus he took her to the capital. Later he died and she set out to return to her old home. When she reached the spot where he had given her water, she recited this poem:
Where is he now--
The man who scooped up
Handful upon handful
Of Ōhara's clear water,
Asking, "Is it enough?"
Helen McCullough (tr.), Tales of Ise, p. 150.
Tales of Ise is a Heian (tenth-century) collection of waka poems embedded in little anecdotes like the one above. I'm reading them with an eye to adapting one into a short manga. This poignant episode was the one to jump out at me. I imagine it written on the flyleaf of one of Michael Ondaatje's novels. D
One of the heroes of typography is Xu Bing who in 1988 produced "A Book From the Sky" made up entirely of Chinese characters he invented himself, to the consternation of the Chinese authorities, who have a vested interest in controlling words and meanings. He often uses letters of the Latin alphabet as radicals within characters. Here is his name: