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.
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.
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
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.
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!