Two Feel-good Japanese Novels About Books And Libraries
April 07, 2024
Kitten with books

 

For bookworms, their favorite spaces include books, whether that is a bookshelf at home, a public library or a neighborhood bookstore. If you are a booklover, consider reading these two feel good novels from Japan. Fun fact, both of these books have a cat on the cover, so if you are a cat lover and a book lover, you have one more reason to explore these novels.

Days At The Morisaki Bookstore

By Satoshi Yagisawa, translated by Eric Ozawa,

Narrated by Catherine Ho

The cover of the book and it’s premise intrigued me when I first came across this recommendation. Takako, the protagonist, is a young woman going through a hard time after being dumped by her boyfriend. She moves into a room above the second-hand bookstore run by her uncle Satoru. The neighborhood of Jimbocho is full of bookshops and Takako, who is not a reader, gives into the spell of books that surround her and begins to read.

The first part of the book takes us into Takako’s life and the neighborhood comes to life in this section with the regular visitors to the book store who engage in conversation with Takako. As she delves deeper into the books, Takako’s bond with her Uncle deepens as well. In an unexpected scene, they both confront Takako’s ex-boyfriend.

Although the second half focuses less on books, it becomes more interesting as the intriguing Momoko, Satoru’s wife, who left him years ago, returns. Her departure and her return are both mysterious, specially to Satoru who can’t figure out what exactly went wrong in his marriage. Takako is tasked with finding the truth and begins to hang out with Momoko who is a free spirit. The two women take a girls trip to the mountain where they share their secrets as they have their own adventure. 

In a not so unexpected turn of events, the story comes full circle when, in a way, Takako returns the favor Satoru had done for her at a low point in her life by getting to the bottom of the rift between him and Momoko. The writing, like the people in the book, is simple. Life happens but there is someone who gets you – a real person or a book. 

My opinion: Read it on a rainy day when you need a warm story to cuddle with or when you are looking for an easy read.

What You Are Looking For Is In The Library

by Michiko Aoyama, translated by Alison Watts, 

Narrated by Hanako Footman, Susan Momoko Hingley, Kenichiro Thomson, Winson Ting, Shiro Kawai

If you liked Before The Coffee Gets Cold, you may enjoy this book that uses a similar plot device. The novel is composed of a series of short stories that are loosely linked. Multiple characters with their own burdens come to the library, a nondescript place that provides an anchor as well as a turning point for their lives.

From Tomoko, the 21-year-old shop assistant who is unsure about what she really wants to do in life to the retired office worker, to newly-retired Masao, who wonders how his life will turn out in his golden years, we meet other interesting characters at different stages of life who are dealing with personal dilemmas. 

For some reason, they find themselves in a community library in the presence of Ms. Sayuri Komachi, who seems to have an uncanny knack for not just finding books on the subjects that people are looking for, but also offers them an extra book which on the surface is unrelated to the topic of interest. Although skeptical, when each of the characters accepts the recommended book, they find that it holds the answer to the unspoken question that each of them have been struggling with.

We also meet Natsumi, a forty-year-old woman who has been sidelined at work after her daughter’s birth and Ryo, an accountant who has creative dreams but is tied down to a stable job while Hiroya, an artist lacks confidence despite being a gifted artist. While each of these characters may seem extremely ordinary, their stories mirror real-life situations for many people in Japan and also resonate with readers with similar experiences in their own countries.

Each character is well-etched and it’s easy to feel a genuine connection to them and their problems. Although it is a simple story, it is not a simplistic representation of contemporary life. The author effortlessly draws us into their lives and at the end of each story we are left wanting to know more, particularly about Ms. Komachi, the enigmatic librarian who kept her felting paraphernalia in her desk and gave each of her visitors a small gift along with the perfect book.

My opinion: A simple, easy read that will draw you into the real lives of real people while magically solving their problems, one book at a time.

Photo by Alice Feigel on Unsplash

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