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21 Oct 2003: Reading



I've just finished reading The Child that Books Built by Francis Spufford. It was an interesting book, being largely a personal analysis - drawing on a variety of ideas - of all those books that carried the author through childhood. It made me feel inadequate, because he seems to have read way more than humans are meant to.

While reading, I remembered how I learnt English, which was mainly through the acquisition of books. Spufford writes: "At the same time, I couldn't read quite a lot of words in The Hobbit. I had accelerated into reading faster than my understanding had grown... There were holes in the text corresponding to the parts I couldn't understand. Words like prophesying, rekindled and adornment had never been spoken in my hearing. No one had ever told me aloud to behold something, and I didn't know that vessels could be cups and bowls as well as ships." He proceeds to explain how he skipped over the words he didn't know but still find an understanding of the whole.

I learnt English through reading, but more importantly, through the enjoyment of English. So it was with this sudden realisation that I also came to learn that my Japanese study was flawed. I mean, it's Japanese study. It's not fun, it's study. I have noticed over the last year that I've picked up far more words from speaking with others, trying to participate in conversations at work, enjoying the language, than any session sitting in front of a textbook or even my lessons.

So I've started reading Japanese stories. Now there's a payoff at the end, a story, an idea, instead of a textbook trying to smuggle new words across the well-guarded border into your brain. For example, Japanese for Busy People 3, Chapter 20, Edo Period Education. I mean, come on! For healthy reading material, I've started with Kenji Miyazawa's Ginga Tetsudou no Yoru (there are a lot of translations of the title, which look something like "night of the galactic train") and I couldn't tell you what it's really about yet if I tried having only got through about 8 pages so far. But it's a start and that's enough.

Going back to previous projects... I tried Mononoke Hime but that was just too darned difficult without help (thanks Aki), but I am making very happy progress through Evangelion without subtitles. It looks even better on my brand new Plasma television which now dominates my apartment; I swear, it's heavy enough to bend space-time.