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Bookbug is a monthly book club hosted on neocities by Maple and Vashti that was started in December of 2023. Here's where I'll share my thoughts on the books we're reading through. =3

February 2024: Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

initial thoughts

  • There's a 6 week to "several months" wait for this book between my four library cards, so it looks like I'm either going to have to read a PDF scan of the book or listen to the audio book...
  • Alright, audiobook was NOT a good pick for me. Even playing it at double speed. =( If anyone else is struggling to get a copy, Internet Archive has a copy you can check out for an hour at a time here.
  • "I was beginning to judge him. And the very harshness of this judgment, which broke my heart, revealed, though I could not have said it then, how much I had loved him, how that love, along with my innocence, was dying." - OOF, relatable.
  • "...and perhaps one day this morning will not be ashes in your mouth." - I keep going back and forth on how I feel about the prose in this, but there are some beautifully crafted lines.

final thoughts

relevant links

January 2024: Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata; translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

initial thoughts

  • I'm enjoying the prose immensely. Everything feels so vivid and I can very clearly imagine the things the narrator describes. It draws you right in!
  • I desperately wish my Japanese was good enough to read full novels (I could probably barely handle children's books at this point!), but I would love to know how the narration compares between the English translation and the original Japanese.
  • I know I'm neurodivergent as hell, but there are some very #relatable thoughts and moments. Lotta weird girl energy here. I want to be her friend.
  • BRUH, this guy sucks but also like, that feeling of not wanting people to not bother you about your unconventional life choices is a mood. So on the one hand, GIRL NO, but on the other hand, society pls leave me alone. =')
  • Want to do a little supplemental reading before I write up my review to get a little more perspective and settle my own thoughts....

final thoughts

Finished today (1/20/24) so thoughts will be up soon!

I read a handful of reviews before voting in the poll to pick this month's book, but otherwise tried to avoid any information regarding the plot. Having now finished the book, some of these professional reviewers feeling that the novel was funny or calling Keiko disturbing is really disheartening if not upsetting, and I really feel it does a disservice to Keiko's story arc of pointing out the absurdities of pursuing normalcy (uncomfortable, fake, unsafe normalcy!) for the sake of normalcy and making others comfortable. And this is supposedly one of Murata’s tamer pieces, so I can only imagine what critics would have to say about her other works!

As a neurodivergent person myself, it's very easy to read Keiko as such. She is logical and her decisions are purposeful, made for her to continue her work day in and day out, but she is comfortable and content with her routine of working at the store. It is only when her life status is questioned in quick succession by multiple people in her life that she begins to feel that, “Any change, good or bad, would be better than the state of impasse I was in now.” And in a sad way, she was right, but only as a balm for others’ discomfort with her life.

Her sister, their friends, and even her coworkers begin to treat her differently when her fake relationship begins – inviting her out to socialize (which Keiko didn’t even know her coworkers did), encouraging her relationship even after she mentions his non-participation in anything resembling relationship building, and even talking about marriage right as soon as she mentions that a man is living with her. And all of this ultimately culminates in Keiko quitting her job to look for a job more suitable to her age, leaving her depressed and directionless.

My only “criticism” of the book is that it was much shorter than I anticipated, but I found that it probably works better for this story than it would for others. It’s more like a snapshot into someone’s inner struggle up to their final decision. It doesn’t overstay its welcome with an epilogue or try to add in a feel good ending to tie things up with a bow. She tells her fake relationship partner that she is a convenience store worker before even being human and tells him that she doesn’t need him. Given Keiko’s character that we’ve seen thus far, what else would there really be to say?

My ebook copy from my library also included an essay originally published on Literary Hub (the first link down below). I think the combination of both gives a little additional perspective of one to the other even though the narrators are unrelated. Keiko’s story ends in mentioning that she will need to find a new store. She has no attachment to the creature comforts of the single store she has known and loved for 18 years but to the konbini as though it were an archetypical entity. It feels… almost religious and like a very animist interpretation which is maybe a little bit of a personal projection than anything else, but who is there to say there isn’t a god of konbini?

I really enjoyed this book, perhaps because it was comforting to see a little bit of myself in Keiko – both her social struggles as well as her comfort with her unconventional life. I’m very interested to read more of Murata’s work, and maybe I’ll finally start working on my Japanese again so I can read some of her untranslated works.

relevant links