I won't be turning this blog into a book review. There are enough of those, plus I'm not that deluded about the value of my literary opinions. Surely I do have them and I'll argue argue them to no end, perfectly aware of their abject subjectivity. If it is in fact subjective. For all my liberalism, be it innate, inbred or consciously assumed, I really do feel like there is a concrete aesthetic in the universe: some things are simply more beautiful than others. As far as I'm concerned, there is no argument here. It just is so. I don't care who you are, as writers go, James is better than Rowling. Not just smarter or more complicated or more mature or has been around longer. He's just better.
Now, If you adhere to the notion that there is no basis for such a judgment because we all know that in this postmodern world there is no privileged position in the universe, know this: Einstein wasn't talking about you because you are wrong, and the reason why I can say that is because I am not. Unraveling the flawed logic here is not worth it. I know my condescension casts doubt upon my very contention a priori. (The latin is here to amuse and/or confuse [as is that rhyme] according to a whim, so don't get distracted, supposing that reading this post is not, in fact, a distraction.) The subtextual tension lies, however, in whether such a conspicuous acknowledgment of my own tenuous argument refutes or bolsters my earlier assertion. Heh, heh. I love spewing rhetoric. I just Kant stop myself!
Enough already. Continuing, I recently found two books at a used bookstore near my apartment. The store is one of a national secondhand hand bookstore chain called "Book Off." Smile if you like--your reaction is not wrong. Just remember this isn't a English speaking place. The name is English because all Japanese just happen know a lot of English for a few reasons, not the least of which is that anyone born later than the mid 70's has had a minimum of 6 years of English study in school. Everyone who reads the store front understands "book" as in "book" and "off" as in "discount," so for Japanese customers "Book Off" is actually quite a descriptive, straightforward name devoid of innuendo. We should be a little magnanimous in our tolerance for the English foibles of another country and be happy they even make an effort at all. We should also be happy they didn't use the name of their sister store that sells used AV gear and computer ware called "Hard Off." Video games and computer programs are sold at "Book Off," by the way, so you needn't be concerned about the existence of a "Soft Off" as well.
Whatever the "Off," I bought the only two English titles for sale among the vast racks of Japanese books, manga and porn: August 1914 and The Island of the Day Before. Just how these two eclectic, heady tomes found their way into a used bookstore squeezed between a McDonald's and a conveyor belt sushi joint along some rural highway in Nara, Japan might be enough material for a third eclectic, heady tome. I bought them out of jocular desperation: I'm out of things to read, since my Japanese literacy leaves much to be desired and Tr**a won't lend me any more books, as those she's lent in the past somehow don't ever make it back to her.
Dad used to, and I'll bet he still does, keep a log of who's borrowed what book when, and I'm sure my name is still listed 6 or 10 times in delinquent glory therein. Maybe Tr**a should try that. My policy is to never lend a book outright. I either give it away (something painful that I try to avoid) or people borrow it from my house without asking, knowing that I won't notice it missing right away and even when I do, I'll just think I misplaced it in one of the 8 other places I pile my ever growing collection of books. Now I have two more.
I can't help but but wonder about these books. I think they bespeak some things about some elements of the ex-pat crowd. First of all, they smack of a sense of self-importance. These are works of two of the hardest reading authors I've ever encountered. They both make me feel guiltily stupid about how much I'm missing on each turned page. (Some of you will know the article I stole that from. I say, "good for you." Revel in your elitism. I certainly join you! More of you will not know the reference. Again, "good for you." Any perceived originality will just polish my urbane veneer.) Somehow, with all the much more accessible writers around, the store's English section consisted of Solzhenitsyn and Eco and no one else.
One could, of course, pick up an English novel at any good new bookstore, but those books are mostly self-help and psudo-political rags (Rich Dad, Morally Triumphant Dad, The Closing of the American Mouth and other such ilk), Victorian classics, complete with TOEIC rating, or airplane reads. Though ex-pats read whatever popular fiction is around--we are no more immune to Dan Brownanity than anywhere else--there is always a section of us that fancies themselves above such commonness. These are the people who only order from Amazon, or worse Exlibiris, after reading the NY Times book review with the hope that their less intellectually pretentious foreign friends will be impressed when they come over for exotic Tex-Mex burritos or shepherd's pie and see the pompous display of erudite, though unread, texts decorating an Ikea bookcase.
Looking at The Island, I feel good seeing that there are only creases halfway through the spine, because now I know I won't be the only person who has owned the book trying to project an air of I'm-better-than-you-ness but never in sooth finished reading it, though that isn't so important since books like these aren't the kind you could ever chat about if you were to finish. I mean, how much can you say about something you didn't really get and no one else has read?
Looking at this, quite a lot, it seems, while affording, no less, a chance to drop an "in sooth" with grace and panache.
This leads to another thing the books say about ex-pats: a conclusion deduced from the two titles themselves. The two books are both the work of well established, fairly famous writers, though neither book is its respective writer's most well known work. Most of the Japanese ex-pat community do have college degrees due to several visa/immigration issues, so it's entirely within the realm of possibility that some, hopefully many, of these primarily liberal arts graduates will have had found themselves confronted at one point with A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch or The Name of the Rose in some history or literary survey class and might, thus, not only remember the story and its writer but even be able to spit up some of the insights their professors had. Because of this, it would be dangerous to display one of those more well known books if you haven't read them. But many ex-pats feel the need to showoff academic acumen they don't posses, so for them, it's better to flaunt something that will impress by association with out risking exposure as a scholastic fraud.
What is, however, a readily apparent fraud is how much I have written about two books I have yet to read a page of. I'm amazed how much there is to say about nothing. What would be even more amazing is if someone actually read this much of that nothing. What more could I then say but "thanks" and "my condolences."