Besides being a depository for my various attempts at translation, one of the aims of this blog has been to report the going-ons of contemporary Japanese literary culture. I get to do this occasionally by reporting on Japanese literature from the perspective of what is happening, or might be happening, here in the United States—potential releases, book reviews, American publishing companies and their translations, etc. But I fear I don't do it that often with what's going on directly in Japan. Every now and then I do, but I realized I've been missing (perhaps ignoring) the most obvious indicator of literary trends: the bestseller lists.
The reason I parenthetically say ignoring is because when I do think to check the bestseller lists, I find it kind of boring—or worse, depressing. Bestselling does not always indicate quality. This week's New York Times Bestseller list, for example, includes eight interchangeable thrillers in the top ten. And The Help. Not to be snooty about my reading habits, but no thank you.
But, I am genuinely curious to see what the Japanese are reading, even if it won't be my literary cup of tea, and luckily, Tohan has data for the top selling books of the first half of 2011.
Let us take a look-see:
In the everything-list, which has both fiction and non-fiction titles put together, there are only three novels in the top ten books, however, they are at least, the very top three.
In first place is 謎解きはディナーのあとで, "The Riddle Will Be Solved After Dinner," by Higashigawa Tokuya. It won the Bookseller's Prize (chosen by people who work at bookstores, but it's basically a popularity prize), and it's described as a collection of six mysteries solved by a lady detective and her "sharp-tongued butler." Ooooh.
If you check out the novel's Amazon listing, it, amazingly, awesomely, has a 2 out of 5 star rating, with a sizable majority of 156 people giving it only one star. Choice review quotes: "A disappointment," and "It's a mystery why this garbage sells so well."
But of course, it's still so popular it's going to become a TV show.
In second place is the non-stop stales behemoth もし高校野球の女子マネージャーがドラッカーの『マネジメント』を読んだら, "What if a High School Baseball Club's Girl Manager Read 'Management' by Drucker?" by Iwasaki Natsumi. (Yes, this is a novel.) This was already a bestseller when I was in Japan a year and a half ago. For more information about this one, check out my friend hopeful in nagoya's write up about the book, and the anime and movie it spawned, as the most strangely-titled yet wildly successful pop culture juggernaut in recent memory.
In third place is KAGEROU, which means both "may-fly" and "ephemera," by Satohiro Saito, also known as Hiro Mizushima, a relatively famous TV actor. This is another one that somehow has both an award, this time the Poplar Fiction Prize, and a terrible Amazon ranking, this time a 2.5 out of 5. It's about a deeply in debt dude who gets downsized and tries to kill himself, only to be stopped by a man in a black suit, who offers him an escape from his money troubles by working for his underground organ donation "company." BUT IS EVERYTHING AS GOOD AS IT SEEMS?
Finally, in bonus fifth place, is granny Toyo Shibata's collection of poetry くじけないで, which we've totally talked about you guys!
Just so you know, three of the remaining five spots are occupied by various Monster Hunter guides (positions 6, 7, and 10). 4th place is 老いの才覚, "A Plan for the Elderly," about what to do with the huge elderly population of Japan, 8th place is a self-help book (do you really care about the title? Fine, it's 心を整える。勝利をたぐり寄せるための５６の習慣, "Re-Arrange Your Heart: 56 Habits to Reel In Success") and 9th place is 救世の法: 信仰と未来社会, "The Law of Salvation: Faith and Our Future Society." I imagine the content is self-explanatory.
Next time, I'll take a look at the actual fiction hardcover and paperback bestseller lists for the first half of this year. Then, in the next week or so, I'll take a look at that current week's bestsellers.