Reading Outside The Lingo

Reading Outside The Lingo

A Story by William 'Wulfy' Crowbourne

Some thoughts on reading outside our culture-language.



This is going to be a thought-splurge inspired by Open Book on BBC Radio 4. This mini-essay is not at all preplanned (just a small warning).


On her programme Mariella Frostrop said we Brits are not very open to non-English books. We read a lot of British, American and English language literature. How many works in translation have you read?


The radio programme got me thinking about my own reading and it is quite eclectic and widespread but still maybe not enough... there's a few bits of Swedish literature (they do crime ever so well), Russian and South American and a hell of alot of Japanese and Chinese literature.


Should we read widely? Yes. For the same reason it's a good experience for anyone to live outside their own culture. You not only get to experience something new and exciting, widen your horizons with new thoughts, traditions and cultures but you also begin to appreciate home a little more. I know this from five years in Japan.


So, what have I read or what do I recommend. I'm going to quickly write about a few books I think should be must-reads. Of course it depends on what genres you enjoy. All the works are available in translation.


1. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata (Japan)

     The book has the most famous opening line in Japanese literature. Quote it and people will know what you're talking about. It is as famous as the Basho haiku with the frog (Furu ike ya, kawazu tabikomu, mizu no oto). The book follows a man escaping his dreary Tokyo life to spend time in a mountain onsen resort with a geisha. Komako, the geisha, is one of the few literary characters ive fallen in love with. The book is charming and frustrating in equal measure...though the ending feels like someone lost the last chapter which goes to show the western need for a finite ending isnt all its cracked up to be.


Other Must reads from Japanese Literature:

     Audition / In The Miso Soup / Coinlocker Babies by Ryu Murakami

    The Setting Sun / No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai

    Norwegian Wood / Wild Sheep Chase / Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

    Autofiction by Hitomi Kanehara


2. Snow by Orhan Pamuk (Turkey)

     Poet Ka goes to Kars in eastern Turkey to discover his poetic mojo while confronting the politics of Turkey's present and past. A truly beautiful and moving novel opening up Turkey to all of us. I would say more but my copy is somewhere in Shanghai. I will get it back.


    If you liked this also try "My Name Is Red" by the same author.


3. The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson

     As I said before, the Swedes seem to have a handle on crime fiction. Just watch the Swedish Detective show with Kenneth Brannagh. It's based on books by Henning Mankell. Last year we got the translated trilogy by Stieg Larsson, a human rights activist and writer for a famed Swedish magazine.

     The story follows editor Blomvist and abused girl Salander in a series of crime-mystery thrillers. The first about a murder mystery in the far north of Sweden. The second about Russian mobster and the third about Salander herself and what lengths the state will go to...


Other Swedish gems:


Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson (who invented Moonmins).


4. Chinese Literature.


As my shanghai journalist friend keeps telling me we get the crap stuff in English...the anti-communist writers rather than slice of life biopics but the quality and quantity of Chinese literature is increasing.


2009 saw two great pieces written in English first:


1. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers by Xiaolu Guo


2. The Vagrants by Yiyun Li.


There's also Shanghai decadence from Wei Hui (Shanghai Baby and Marrying Buddha), the aforementioned cultural revolution exiles like Gao Xingjian (Soul Mountain & One Man's Bible) and Ma Jian (Red Dust).


Also check out anything by Ha Jin, Dai Sijie and Geling Yan.


5. South American Literature:


I heartedly recommend anything by Isabel Allende (House of the Spirits / Zoro) and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude / Life in the time of Cholera).


Who do you recommend?

© 2010 William 'Wulfy' Crowbourne

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Sure you can. If I get a job or get the book published i plan a jaunt to Shanghai to recover my book. You know, i still have this wild plan to take a train home from Shanghai. Should take a month with plenty of Siberian stop-offs. Would make a great book dont you think?

Posted 11 Years Ago

I want to read Snow now. When you get it back can I borrow it? haha...

I bow to your widespread readness... I am very shallow in what I read because I have wasted so much money on tripe I am now very, very careful. Yeah, yeah, I should join a library... but then I just have to pay those huge fines!

I hope people read this Wulfy. Mishel was asking after you. :)

Posted 11 Years Ago

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2 Reviews
Added on February 21, 2010
Last Updated on February 21, 2010


William 'Wulfy' Crowbourne
William 'Wulfy' Crowbourne

The Cotswolds, United Kingdom

William Crowbourne, once known as Wulfstan Crumble and Will Tyrman, is a Cotswold based writer. He writes non-fiction for Japanese magazines and is working on his debut novel. Become a fan and m.. more..