When I moved to Tokyo a little over three months ago, I honestly didn't really expect to see many books in my future. Despite the fact that I'm not exactly bad at speaking Japanese, I'm not amazing at reading the language and airline baggage weight restrictions had limited me to only bringing five books from home with me on the journey (and the airport had seen me dumping a lot of stuff out of my suitcase the morning of the flight). I had accepted the fact that, if I wanted to read a book that wasn't by Bill Bryson or Haruki Murakami, I would probably have to go to a rather overpriced bookstore downtown and buy something imported.
Now, it's not to say that I don't love my Nintendo DS or playing DragonQuest or something of the sort on the train to work in the morning wasn't entertaining. But I do have an hourish commute across town and there is something to be said for books, of pulling a small volume out of your bag and flipping through it, not worrying if you can finish a boss battle before your stop or if your DS will run out of batteries halfway through the ride. Not to mention only a few months before I was writing papers on physical imagery in Chaucer or what tropes in science fiction meant towards society as a whole. I missed it, plain and simple. But, having just started work at an English language preschool, I didn't have the money to go out and buy myself a personal library.
The answer presented itself one afternoon while registering myself at the local equivalent of city hall. While I was waiting for my papers to be sorted out, a worker handed me a thick volume entitled "A Guide to Living in Suginami City" and told me to keep it. Twenty minutes later, I was flipping through it at the local donut shop (what else are you supposed to do when there is a Mister Donut next door to town hall?) and to my delight discovered a section entitled "Checking Out Books at the Library." The first paragraph informed me that the Central Library had a foreign books section and I eagerly read the paragraph about Suginami Central Library. It reads:
"The library contains approximately 5,600 foreign books and has a plan to expand the collection. One-forth of the foreign books are about Japan. The picture book corner consists of about 2,400 books from many foreign countries. Also, about 13 foreign magazines from the United States, Germany, France, China, South Korea and other countries are available. Records, cassette tapes and CDs can be checked out."
Underneath was this very vague map of where I was headed:
Obviously, I was on my way ... as soon as I finished my delicious honey glazed.
Thirty minutes and one bizarre encounter later, I found myself on the threshold of Ogikubo Public Library. I had a bit of an adventure making a library card, a process that ended up taking me forty five minutes, but was eventually led to a shady back corner of the library that housed its prized "foreign collection." I was astounded.
Three bookshelves. That's all I found. I suppose I should have seen it coming. 5,600 foreign books do not mean they are all in English. One fourth are about Japan and were not in this section. 2,400 seem to be picture books. My (admittedly perhaps not quite right) calculations tell me that only 3,800 books are not about Japan or told through pictures. Of those, maybe 500 line my three favorite bookshelves.
They seem to be populated by the remnants of past Suginami residents: books that were fun to read but not worth taking home. There are more Tom Clancys than you can shake a stick at but not a single book by an author whose last name begins with 'A'. There are all Harry Potters bar books three and five. There is only one book in the 'K' section.
Thus, a new goal was born: read as many of the English language books (if not all) from the public library as I can before I leave Japan. I have read some bizarre treats since I began (murderous monks, books written about events that actually occur after their publishing, classics I never got around to reading in school) and intend to discover many more as weeks pass.
And that's where this blog comes in. It's no fun to read ridiculous fiction and have no one to share it with. This blog will be full of reviews of the strange, sometimes good, sometimes horrible things I read as I ride the train morning and night. Perhaps someone may find it amusing. Perhaps it'll be taken as a cautionary tale. Perhaps someone might even have read one of the books before--but I doubt it. All in all, I'm taking a journey down a strange path and I hope someone would like to take it with me.
At the very least, let's enjoy the ride. After all, beggars can't be choosers.