Manga Readers Read Badly, Anime Watchers Watch Badly

November 6th, 2009

I’m on my way to present at an event tonight, so don’t have time for a review, but I wanted to share something I’ve been thinking for a while…and open it up for discussion.

When I was a kid comics readers were also book readers. Voracious book readers. Kids who read comics read pretty much anything that had words on it and for ages every comic fan I knew read way above their “appropriate” age level. We were the only kids not surprised in sex ed class, because we’d all been reading books for adults for so long that it wasn’t a shock to the system how that all worked.

I can’t help but notice that many manga and anime fans these days seem to be…pretty bad readers. They don’t get literary or artistic references. In fact, if it’s not games, they often miss that anything all was referenced. They haven’t read classics in mostly any genre. If it wasn’t a movie, they’ve never heard of it.

I’m not saying every reader of manga is a bad reader or every watcher of anime is a bad watcher, but based on comments here and on forums Internet-wide and in fansubs, where references are often missed in herds, some folks really need to crack open a book without pictures from time to time.

So, here’s the discussion part.

If you were going to suggest *two* novels for a manga reader to read to extend their understanding of the world they inhabit, which novels would it be? It can be any genre, history, myth, sci-fi, non-fiction, anything. If you are suggesting a book like Romance of the Three Kingdoms, it might be helpful to suggest an edition or ISBN, as well.

My two suggestions are:

Summer of the Ubume, by Natsuhiko Kyogoku, recently translated by Vertical. It covers a *lot* of ground through Japanese religion, mysticism, the world of Yokai and science. All very useful information if you want to understand tons of references in anime and manga. And there was, gods help us, an anime based on the next book of the series, Mouryou no Hako. Yes, it’s that author.

My second suggestion may seem totally off the wall, but trust me there’s a reason I’m suggesting it. If you haven’t already read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, I beg you to do it now. It’s a brilliant tale of human nature. Which is *exactly* what manga and anime fans seem to lack – a critical understanding of human nature. Not only does a little dose of Stalinist Russsia make you realize how wonderful your life is, Solzhenitsyn is simply a great writer.

I’ll take the best and most cogent comments (suggestions with commentary on why it’s a good choice) and move them to the body of the post with links for easier access.

And let me remind you that classic literature is often found for *free* in your local library. So you don’t really have an excuse to not at least try a book or two.

So..let’s have ’em – what do you think people ought to read in order to be better readers of manga and watchers of anime?

***

WOW! What fantastic suggestions! Here are a few that are either extremely popular, or just amazing, “You really ought to read this” kind of books. I’ll break them down into a few categories for ease of understanding the motivation behind the suggestion. But don’t limit yourself to these – read all the comments and read all the books. I’ve added a few to my own to-read list, in fact. And please remember, you can find almost all of these and the ones suggested in the comments at your local library – for FREE.

Japanese Literature

Kwaidan – A must-read for understanding of Japanese spirits and monsters, known as yokai.
Summer of the Ubume – a must-read for psychology meets yokai
Tale of Genji – Aside from being the oldest novel, it’s the oldest josei work. You’re read this a million times even if you’ve never read it once – it’s about a pretty boy, the women he treats like crap and his clothes.

Russian Literature

Crime and Punishment – As Kate mentions, many Japanese manga artists went through a “Russian” phase. This book is a classic of psychology.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – because this lesson of managing expectations is timeless.

There are no new plots

Shakespeare – He did it all.
Decameron – Boccacio did it all first.

Classic Girl’s Literature

Anne of Green Gables – intense friendship between girls, echoed by practically every schoolgirl story ever. Got your souer right here.

Little Women – Classic, classic, classic. And mentioned in every third school play.

Little House on the… – no one mentioned this, but this, along with Little Women *defined* American girls’ literature for a century, in the same way Hana Monogatari defined Japanese girl’s lit.

Human nature

1984 and Animal Farm – These two brutal, ham-handed allegories on politics make sense every day in every place on the planet.

Tale of Two Cities – Deception, love, self-sacrifice and giving one up for the team maps perfectly to just about any anime or manga.

and in a category by itself;

Just READ this already

Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass – These stories have been ripped, stomped, shredded, parodied in too many anime or manga series to count. It has instantly recognizable visual imagery and is, after the Bible and Shakespeare, the third most quoted book in the *world*. If you haven’t read the original, you’ve missed.

Read. It’ll make you a better person and a better fan!

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52 Responses

  1. BruceMcF says:

    Moby Dick, but that may be just because I just saw that episode of Outlaw Star.

  2. Saranga says:

    I think everybody should read Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. Not sure how much they relate to manga and anime per se, but do I think they’re a good lesson for everyone.

  3. Mara says:

    I would suggest reading both:

    ‘Nineteen eighty four’ by George Orwell .
    Then without missing a beat read.
    ‘Wild swans’ by Jung Chang.

    Then marvel at how scarily similar they are. 1984 was published in 1949 when Mao had just declared the People’s Republic yet the fictional Oceania pre-empts the public denunciations, the social backstabbing and the kids ousting their parents as political criminals; all of which occur in the post revolutionary China we are shown in ‘wild swans’. Both books read as a pair re-enforce each other’s messages. This is made all more interesting by one being a speculative function the other a biography and autobiography of sorts (as it deals with the writer’s her mother’s and her maternal grandmother’s lives and experiences).

    I would say that this decision you have come to is a bit jarring. Most of the people I know personally who are into anime/manga/visual novels as much as I am are classicists who are far beyond me when it comes to literature. So I have experienced, if anything, the exact opposite. As this is a Yuri bog we should probably all find and read ‘the cost of living in Edo’ and discuss that. ^^

  4. Jenn2d2 says:

    I’d recommend just about anything by Phillip K. Dick; so many of the concepts in his work have directly influenced the science fiction community. A lot of his ideas aren’t necessarily new, but the presentation can be sensational and accessible, which to a non-reader can be a hook to keep them reading.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Ivan Denisovitch was an unexpected suggestion, but it is indeed excellent. My suggestion would be anything by Saint-Exupéry, because they contain an incredible range of storytelling in very short form; I grew up with epic fantasy and sf and was amazed at how much can be said in 70 pages (my favorite would be Southern Mail).

    Also, for the Japan fanboys, Kawabata’s The Dancing Girl of Izu.

  6. ScottGreen says:

    Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. Explores the patterns of fantasy media (Harry Potter, Naruto) with psychological depth.

    1984 and/or Animal Farm, cornerstones in dystopian society lit.

  7. Rick Noelle says:

    I completely agree with your argument. I can’t recommend any particular books but I would suggest that if you haven’t read anything by Haruki Murakamai, you are really missing out on some great Japanese literature. A particular favorite of mine is Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Reading Murakami will give manga and anime fans a glimpse into Japanese society that they probably won’t find anywhere else.

  8. Sean Gaffney says:

    The Decameron, by Boccaccio, if only as it would teach readers that the ZOMG amazing plot this manga/anime has was most likely around in the 1300s. And done better, too.

  9. Hodge says:

    Haven’t read many of the classics and no Japanese literature outside of a few Edogawa Rampo mysteries so I’ll limit my choices to modern western SF/F.

    First would be William Gibson’s modern SF classic “Neuromancer”. Pretty much all cyberpunk from “Ghost in the Shell” to “Lain” to “The Matrix”, etc., can be traced back to “Neuromancer”. It’s importance can’t be over-stated.

    As for the multitude of ‘gods walk among us’ anime, everybody should pick up some anthologies of Greek and Norse myths. These ancient tales of the gods provide some wonderful insights into human traits such as lust, greed, jealousy, love, altruism and heroism. An excellent modern twist on these tales is “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman.

  10. YuH says:

    Erica, you’re my hero for suggesting “one day in the life of ivan denisovich”—it’s one of my favorite books! Anyway, if it has to be just two: count of monte cristo by dumas, unabridged- oxford university press version; pride and prejudice by austen.

  11. YES YES YES YESSS

    I had no idea that Kyogoku’s Kyoudokudou series was getting published in English! I am now on Vertical’s website so I can buy Summer of Ubume! I hope it does well enough for Vertical to translate and release the rest (although I’m most interested in reading Mouryou no Hako).

    I concur with you 100% on the issue of anime watchers/manga readers seeming to be thoroughly lacking in a literary background these days. Someone recently was expressing confusion over the J-drama Shoujoko Seira – why was the premise so weird?! They had never heard of A Little Princess! I was honestly pretty shocked.

    I find it really, really hard to narrow down a list of things people should read to two items. I would honestly, first and foremost, tell them to go read the Bible, regardless of their religious tradition – there really is no way to measure how massively influential it has been and continues to be. I think a lot of anime fans at this point would express confusion – why read a Western religious text to understand something Japanese? Which basically answers the question in and of itself.

    As for a second, I’d tell them to go read Yukio Mishima’s Sea of Fertility tetralogy (yes, I know, sort of cheating here, since this is four books, not one). I think it really captures a very Japanese mindset, that is, that old samurai code-type notion of loyalty above all else, something which still permeates a lot of the media even now. While fans say they understand that, I don’t feel like they really do, honestly – nothing like Mishima to truly inform them of its meaning.

    But, really – only two? How constraining (although I’m sure that was the point).

  12. Pattie says:

    My best suggestion will be obvious to everyone familiar with anime: Alice in Wonderland. And I don’t mean the melding of Wonderland and Looking Glass ah la Disney. The original, surreal text in all its glory has been borrowed, adopted, retreaded and riffed upon countless times and in as many venues.

    It has stomped all over the test of time.

  13. Really great reading suggestions, everyone – I’ll put them all in the body tomorrow when I have some free time!

  14. Oh, snap, I feel like a moron – how could I not suggest anything by Shakespeare? Apparently there are people out there who didn’t realize that Gonzo *didn’t* create the Romeo and Juliet story.

    I also think that anime fans would be well-served by expanding the field of non-anime Japanese films they’ve watched (something which I thought of because I went ‘Shakespeare –> Hamlet –> The Bad Sleep Well –> Akira Kurosawa –> Japanese movies’).

  15. Serge says:

    The first two that come to mind are the Oedipus Trilogy by Sophocles and King Lear by Shakespeare, but any one of his better known plays would be good.

  16. mswas says:

    Someone beat me to the Hamlet reference, so I’ll say – To Kill a Mockingbird. Multi-layered storyline, female protagonist, humor and tragedy.

    Bonus points for adding “chiffarobe” to one’s vocabulary.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I’d suggest these two nonfiction:

    Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

    The Mismeasure of Woman by Carol Tavris

    These definitely can help extend the reader’s understanding of the world we inhabit (and squash plenty of stereotypes along the way). :D

    “I can’t help but notice that many manga and anime fans these days seem to be…pretty bad readers.”

    Sadly, some of them can’t even read manga reviews without mistaking the reviewer for the author:

    http://comicsworthreading.com/2007/11/27/more-baby-sitters-club-the-truth-about-stacey-mary-anne-saves-the-day/#comment-101663

    http://comicsworthreading.com/2005/12/18/othello-recommended-series/#comment-96611

    http://comicsworthreading.com/2006/10/30/steady-beat-book-2/#comment-69663

    No wonder some literature teachers in school don’t want to treat comics as completely equivalent to other books. Some students really need more practice at figuring out what words strung together mean when there aren’t pictures to help them out!

  18. Ahms says:

    Two of my faves are Les Miserables and Dante’s Inferno. They might be a little ‘thick’ for someone getting into their first novel but they are pretty rich in imagery, especially Inferno where it borrows stuff from all kinds of places (politics, mythology, etc.)

    If you get Gustave Doré’s illustrations with Inferno it’s like an old-school comic book haha!

  19. Ran says:

    “The Blue Sword” by Robin McKinley and “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Phillip K. Dick. I agree with Jenn2d2 on the subject of anything by Dick is great, but this is the one of the lot I would choose.

  20. sarcastic_weasel says:

    I’d recommend Homer’s “The Iliad,” because it’s just chock full of primal human nature (people haven’t changed all that much), and Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” because it’s just a fun read.

    I’d also recommend “King Lear” by Shakespeare. (Then again, I was an English Lit major, so I’ll recommend a lot of that kind of stuff.)

  21. Ashrie says:

    I think it depends on the type of shows they enjoy. There are those who are fans of almost everything that’s full of fan service and little substance, to the exception of anything else. It might be stereotypical, but I think these people might not enjoy reading a classic novel, or reading anything that isn’t accompanied by pictures.

    Then there are those fans who like “to think” when they’re watching an anime or reading a manga, and are probably more willing to read widely… and these are probably the ones who watch “Mushishi” and immediately take to it, while the previous group might not even bother watching it, and go to something like “Ikkitousen” instead. lol

    Might it also be a sign of the times, where most kids these days aren’t willing to give a big time commitment to things, wanting everything “here and now”, being used to the consumer-led, instant gratification, modern society? Reading a book is seen to take more time, and watching an anime might take less…hence the preference of anime and manga over a novel?

    So, for my recommendations:

    I’m going to give another vote for Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty Four”. When I watched the anime short “Memories – Cannon Fodder”, it reminded me of Orwell’s world in the way the people in the story were controlled by the greater powers, being moulded into fighting “machines”, without individuality or thoughts of great consequence…

    Also, I’d recommend “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, by Milan Kundera. Not only because it’s one of my favourite books, but it actually happens to be great food for thought. It’s philosophical, and real.

    And, I know you said only two, but I am going to have to add “The Stone Gods”, by Jeanette Winterson, another one of my favourite books. It’s a critique of our world and the issues of taking care of this planet, and also explores the concepts of non-linear time and significance of the “soul”… Actually, I’d add “Written on the body” too, by the same author… She is one of my favourite authors after all… ;)

  22. zookeeper says:

    I’m thinking along the lines of relationships between girls/women and feelings of sisterhood

    Anne of Green Gables (R.O.D)
    Little Women

    I guess some people might think “ohhh, children’s books,” but I think they are classics. Great read for any age. I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head.. I’d love more recommendations, if there are other novels that comes to mind. Thanks~

    in terms of sci-fi
    The Earthsea Series by Ursula Le Guin

    This is a bit cheating here, since it’s a whole series. It’s kind of funny though because although I have read the books, I still haven’t seen Gedo Senki — Tales from Earthsea.

  23. Rowan says:

    The first books that come to my mind are Brave New World (but that has already been mentioned), Animal Farm (again already mentioned), Emma by Jane Austen, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

    Emma, well anything by Austen, contains many similarities to shoujo anime. Readers of Austen would find it easier to understand complex relationships between characters and their motivations behind their actions. Plus, Austen is great as social satire.

    The Giver because it deals with a young boy, who is different because of his eyes, growing up in a highly regulated society and has an increased amount of pressure thrust upon him than that of his peers. It is a good coming of age story. There are loads of anime titles that have a character trying to find a place for themselves in their worlds.

    Sadako and the Thousand Cranes is based on a true story of a girl who died of leukemia as a result of the bombing of Hiroshima. This event had an enormous impact of the development of Japan’s culture post-World War Two and it’s relations with the United States.

    These books vary in “appropriate” reading levels. I remember reading Thousand Cranes in third grade and the others in High School. So, there’s something for every level of reader.

  24. Anonymous says:

    It can work the other way too, for example, watching the fourth season of Marimite and then getting curious about Torikaebaya. Even in Asterix there are many throwaway jokes in Latin (“Daad, what’s this word mean?”) and a tantalising introduction to figures such as Cleopatra and Julius Caesar.

    If I was to recommend a book for otaku to read to help them understand anime and manga, I’d suggest getting a good anthology of Japanese myths. This would especially help someone who likes more of the fantasy series.

  25. Hafl says:

    From Japanese literature, anything by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. From non-Japanese Literature, probably Frankenstein, because I cannot think of anything better right now.

  26. @Anonymous – Yes, it *can* work the other way, but those people tend to be readers first and a/m fans second. it’s not that easy to find a Torikaebaya in English. It takes research – which few people have time or interest in doing.

  27. Hoist by my own petard I see. It’s going to taken me a long time to get all these great suggestions up into the body of the post!

  28. I have two suggestions to add to this terrific list. The first is Kwaidan by Lafcadio Hearn, a brief but powerful collection of Japanese ghost stories compiled by an American ex-pat living in Japan at the end of nineteenth century. If you’ve read InuYasha, Kekkaishi, Red Snow, Dororo, or any other manga with a significant supernatural element, Kwaidan will show you the extent to which Japanese folklore remains a part of modern Japanese consciousness. (There’s also a beautiful film by Masaki Kobayashi that features two of the stories from Hearn’s collection. Kwaidan won an award at Cannes in 1964, I think.)

    My other suggestion is Crime and Punishment. A number of prominent Japanese artists — Tezuka and Kurosawa among them — went through a “Russian phase,” taking their inspiration from the psychological realism found in Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky was one of the first modern authors to explore the darker parts of the human psyche without resorting to religious and supernatural explanations for behavior that, frankly, could be interpreted as evil.

  29. Ellen says:

    I recommend a few of the Norse sagas. The writing is incredibly compact. Njal’s Saga is the one indispensable first read, and contains what is considered the first courtroom drama in European literature. And if you are lucky enough to find the Saga of Thorstein the Staff-Struck you get a chance to appreciate how different moral and legal codes can be from ours. It’s the finest small saga I’ve met.

  30. Anonymous says:

    ” it’s not that easy to find a Torikaebaya in English. It takes research”

    It takes research and/or just plain luck.

    Me, I found a translation of Torikaebaya Monogatari by browsing the fiction-in-general section of the main branch of a large urban library. Now I wanna make it easier for others, so here’s the info!

    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/9623316

    WorldCat is a database that ties into library databases all over the world (even if there’s some lag when it comes to listing books those libraries just bought and added to their own databases).

    Unfortunately, this link lists “Rosette F Willig” under “Author” even though the book was written by someone we dunno back in the Heian era. OTOH, if you scroll down you’ll see the more accurate “translated, with an introduction and notes, by Rosette F. Willig.” under “Responsibility”.

  31. Pattie says:

    @ Ahms; I was also going to suggest Les Mis, so thanks for saving me from having to spell it.

    Also on my lengthy list were: A Tale of Two Cities, A Wrinkle in Time, Book One of the Foundation Trilogy, anything by Ayn Rand, The Mahabharata… but these books have no clear a/m connection. I’m suggesting them for no better reason than they make you think.

    What could be better? ^__^

  32. Anonymous says:

    Since no one else suggested it: Lord of the Flies. It’s both an easy and densely symbolic read. I second the vote for Anne of Green Gables, but since it’s already been suggested I’ll throw out Dune for a sci-fi novel that’s fun but still has meaning. I want to mention more (Alastair Reynolds/Camus/etc)…but it’s only a two-book list and I already cheated. ^_^

  33. Anonymous says:

    First, I gotta say I’ve already read these ones :)

    Romance of the Three Kingdoms

    Orwell’s 1984

    Huxley’s Brave New World

    ‘Wild swans’ by Jung Chang

    The Little Prince by Saint-Exupéry

    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Minority Report by Philip K. Dick

    Kawabata’s The Dancing Girl of Izu

    Lev Grossman’s The Magicians

    Norwegian Wood and Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

    Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Murakami

    William Gibson’s modern SF classic “Neuromancer”

    pride and prejudice by austen

    the Bible

    Alice in Wonderland

    Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Macbeth, Richard III, and Julius Caesar by Shakespeare

    the Oedipus Trilogy by Sophocles

    To Kill a Mockingbird

    Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

    The Mismeasure of Woman by Carol Tavris

    Dante’s Inferno

    “The Blue Sword” by Robin McKinley

    Homer’s “The Iliad,”

    Anne of Green Gables

    Little Women

    Quicksand by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

    Crime and Punishment

    A Wrinkle in Time

    Lord of the Flies

    “Also on my lengthy list were: A Tale of Two Cities, A Wrinkle in Time, Book One of the Foundation Trilogy, anything by Ayn Rand, The Mahabharata… but these books have no clear a/m connection.”

    I can think of one connection:

    Ayn Rand was in the “Don’t care what other people think!!! I want other people to care what I think!!!” crowd, wasn’t she?

    One of the mainstream American stereotypes these days says that people who feel “Don’t care what other people think!!! I want other people to care what I think!!!” should have hobbies like reading comics and watching anime instead of hobbies like playing soccer and attending concerts.

    Hmm…

  34. Anonymous says:

    Also, since you have a Russian section don’t forget Viktor Pelevin! :) He’s still alive and has fingers on the pulses of post-USSR Russia, Greek mythology, surreal speculative fiction, etc. :D

  35. @Anonymous – …What?

  36. Anonymous says:

    BTW, I read Tale of Genji too because it’s not just josei but The First Novel Ever.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Here you go, links to info about Viktor Pelevin’s books:

    http://books.google.com/books?q=inauthor%3Aviktor+inauthor%3Apelevin

    The Yellow Arrow, Homo Zapiens, and The Helmet of Horror are good and I haven’t read the rest

  38. BruceMcF says:

    Ah, I applaud the invention of genre specific rec’s. OK, I vote Moby Dick for shonen, third (or whateverth) Emma for shoujo, and third (or whateverth) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, or else any Philip K. Dick short story collection (short story was in many ways the premier form in the Golden Age and still in the 1950’s) for SF.

    Even though my favorite Austin is Northanger Abbey.

  39. darksyx says:

    The NeverEnding Story and The Hobbit are a must read for every fan of fantasy, and we know there’s a lot of this in anime and manga XD.

    Also adventure and horror classics like Dracula, The Three Musketeers, Ivanhoe, Frankenstein and so on…

    Sci-Fi: The Time Machine by Wells.

    Another one to understand metaphors of human life and psique: The Metamorphosis by Kafka.

    And a lot of books I’d recommend have already been posted above so I leave it here.

  40. Alexander says:

    I am surprised that no-one has mentioned Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughter House Five should be required reading.

    More recent brilliant general fiction: J. M. Coetzee’s Slow Man (ISBN-13: 978-0670034598) and Saturday by Ian McEwan (ISBN-13: 978-1400076192).

    All these stories focus on humanity, sometimes at its basest level, and sometimes at its most elevated. These stories have definitely influenced the way I read and perceive literature.

    If you’re into poetry, another classic, excellent work is T.S. Elliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Again, focusing on uncertainty and humanity.

  41. Anonymous says:

    I’d have to argue that there are at least a few other modern amenities besides manga and anime that are contributing to reading/writing skills dying off. Comics and animation have been popular with kids for somewhere around three quarters of a century now and I’m pretty sure your ‘when I was a kid’ doesn’t go back that far, heee. Well played Mrs. Back-in-my-Day, but I’m afraid it will take more than that to win the match.

    On to suggestions though! (sorry I don’t have any good edition suggestions though)

    For Shonen battle manga fans, try Beowulf, the Iliad, the Odyssey or the Aeneid. Oh oh, try the Lankmahr stories by Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories and Elric of Melnibone stories from Michael Moorcock.

    Fans of Noaki Urasawa might enjoy the writing of Franz Kafka.

    Horror fans just aren’t horror fans if they haven’t read an H.P. Lovecraft story.

    Philip K. Dick is also a great author for people who enjoy the odd psychedelic sci fi story. Warning: don’t start off with Scanner Darkly or the Valis trilogy though.

    Fans of the Eden manga and sci fi space opera type fans should check out the Dune series by Frank Herbert.

    Wahh, I wanted to list super literature, but it’s all geek stuff. Go read some Ryunosuke Akutagawa. There.

  42. thedarkworld says:

    Seeing this post has made me feel much better. There are so many great recommendations here.

    My local bookstore is closing. It has left me in a quite a slump. I’m a writer who’s afraid that people are moving away from books. I’m truly quite afraid of a world in which nobody values knowledge or a good story any more. Where books disappear not because of book burning or censorship, but because of pure indifference.

    When I was watching Aoi Hana, I actually realized that I had never read Wuthering Heights. I went and picked it up and it’s a great book, full of characters that are so messed up you can’t help but love to hate them.

    I’d also recommend The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. The characters in that story are just wonderful, and it’s a great journey, at times weird, ugly and painful but also brilliant. I also liked his book Cell, but that’s probably because I’m a little obsessed with the end of society. The Stand is also pretty fitting right now with all the flu going around.

    And World War Z by Max Brooks is just plain entertaining… Sure it’s an account of a fictional zombie pandemic, but it’s told so brilliantly you could feel that this thing could actually happen… if zombies really existed, of course, lol.

    Before I go on for years (because I could) I will let you go!

  43. BruceMcF says:

    there are at least a few other modern amenities besides manga and anime that are contributing to reading/writing skills dying off

    But, oh most recent Anon, you Read the Blog Badly – it explicitly specifies that “back in the day”, comic book readers were voracious readers overall.

    This hypothesized development was, IOW, explicitly set out as a “it wasn’t like this back in the day”.

    I would normally be tempted to go on … but arguing against a proposition that the post did not in fact propose is just too perfect given the topic of the post. So I will sit back now and enjoy the irony.

  44. dejadrew says:

    I know most of this post and the comments have been focused on the books, but I just want to comment on the “anime watchers watch badly” part of the title. Today, I got a newsletter from crunchyroll.com which contained the following piece of “trivia”:

    “Did you know that Osamu Tezuka started working on Metropolis, the manga, when he was 15? Over half a century later in 2001, Fritz Lang would make the featured film based off his Tezuka’s works!”

    OW.

    I sent a long response via their customer feedback and support page gently educating them about groundbreaking and influential German expressionist silent filmmakers, hopefully someone will read it and issue a correction at some point, but in the meantime, OW.

    My recommended reading:

    Journey to the West, famous Chinese epic that inspired manga and anime from Gensoumaden Saiyuki to Dragonball to that one random filler episode of Inuyasha. Full text in English is available for free download here.

    Taketori Monogatari, aka Princess Kaguya, the Bamboo Cutter and the Moon Child, etc. One of the most famous Japanese fairy tales. Referenced in Sailor Moon, Planet Ladder, etc. I highly recommend reading both it and any other Japanese fairy tales you can get your hands on. Some e-books here.

  45. @dejadrew – Oh, ouch. Sigh. Of course the Taketori, which is the basis for the manga Kaguya-hime and referenced in far more anime and manga than anyone could name. And Journey to the West is one of my very favorite Chinese epics, how did I forget that one? Thank you!

  46. Brian Fies says:

    Late to the party. Keeping in mind that the problem we’re trying to solve is readers who don’t get classic references, my two choices are Romeo & Juliet, and Goethe’s Faust. R&J isn’t even my favorite Shakespeare, but it’s bedrock Western literature whose theme of starcrossed love has been redone a million times. Ditto Faust: every story about a character who makes a deal with the devil (literal or figurative) and learns to regret it comes from Faust. Might as well go to the source.

    I’m going to cheat because I just thought of a third: Frankenstein. Similar reasons.

  47. Alex says:

    It is so fantastic to see Haruki Murakami mentioned. Norwegian Wood is easily his most identifiable work and perhaps his most affecting. The others mentioned are also good.

    I’ll go ahead and recommend to non-Japanese novels as it seems you’ve got that covered.

    Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. Fantastic thriller set in Victorian England. Oh and Yuri fans will probably really adore it.

    Ada or Ardor by Vladmir Nabokov. A very interesting book which has the distinction of being one of the first steampunk novels ever written. It’s also an alternative history novel. A one about a romance between a brother and sister. And it’s by the guy that wrote Lolita!

  48. Ashrie says:

    @ Alex:

    Ah Fingersmith… Such a gorgeous novel. Another of my favourite authors. “Tipping the velvet” was my first real, 100% lesbian novel. That, along with “Fingersmith” and “Affinity” would be great reads for Yuri fans… :)

  49. Alexandra says:

    I’ve got to say read Kafka. I’ve read all of his published works and he is amazing and if you read metamorphosis in school and didn’t like/get it try reading some of his other short stories they are easier to understand and once you know his style you should get metamorphosis better.

    Kafka talks about the absurdity of human society.

  50. Anonymous says:

    Hi Erica!

    I posted this link in response to another blog post you commented in, but it did remind me of the reading-badly issue you discuss here.

    “If you were going to suggest *two* novels for a manga reader to read to extend their understanding of the world they inhabit, which novels would it be?”

    I now realize that this idea’s gotta go even beyond novels and literary nonfiction. Reading text isn’t just another form of art appreciation like watching films and listening to music. It’s also for just plain getting data about in order to be more aware of, and less ignorant about, the outside world

    For example, lately a whole bunch of manga readers have seemed confused about why on Earth a customs official would want to know in the first place about what’s inside a package crossing an international border. I recommend that they read these:

    http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/border_security/port_activities/agro_inspection/agri_ins_overview.xml
    http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/sample_declaration_form.xml

  51. Anonymous says:

    A bit late, but what needs to be read is Les Miserables (the FULL version, thank you very much).

    My second choice, for those of us who love Haibane Renmei, Voices of a Distant Star, and similar, would be The Old Man and the Sea by Hemmingway.

    I know this is late, so I hope it goes down well.

  52. If I was to recommend a book for otaku to read to help them understand anime and manga, I’d suggest getting a good anthology of Japanese myths. This would especially help someone who likes more of the fantasy series.

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