Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Maruzen Kinda Rhymes With Susan

I haven't been blogging much lately here. There are two reasons:

1. I started another blog, Bybee's Bookish Past. It's my reading history since 1993, which is as far back as I can go. At this writing, I'm up to 1997. It's astounding and humbling to see how much I've read and forgotten.

2. I took a little jaunt to Fukuoka, Japan. I was tagging along with my son, who was getting his work visa.

26 hours in Japan isn't really enough time to see the sights, so I decided to do what I do best and go bookstore hunting. If I had to walk a bit, I wasn't fussed about it. Walking down the sidewalks in Fukuoka (and maybe the rest of Japan?) isn't quite as tension-filled as walking in Seoul and other cities in Korea. There's absolutely no shoving or bumping, and there are just as many pedestrians. So I could wander in my somewhat dreamy fashion, looking for a particular location.

At first I couldn't find the place I sought, but bookworm is my name and bookstores are my game, so it was bound to happen. While standing at a crosswalk, I finally saw the sign across the street from Tower Records*: MARUZEN. What a nice name -- it almost rhymes with "Susan". Definitely a good omen.

Spanning 3 floors, Maruzen's foreign books section was located on the 5th floor. There was a really nicely organized section of books about Japan and Japanese fiction. I was looking for some Murakami nonfiction, but no joy. I also couldn't find the Yukio Mishima novel I wanted, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea. I moved on to the main English-language books section.

Just for fun, I decided to stop by the audiobooks, and I found a treasure I'd been hunting for: Great Expectations read by Hugh Laurie!!! Yes, it's abridged and I know what I said about abridged books, but it wasn't a hard call to make. You'll never catch me leaving Hugh Laurie to languish on some shelf. Besides, Dickens can take a little trimming and still come out all right.

The fiction section ranged from trashy bestsellers to pretty nice literature. Most of the selections were things I'd already read, but I was pleased to find a copy of Janet Frame's posthumously-published novel, Towards Another Summer. She wrote the novel in 1963, but considered it too personal to be published during her lifetime. If you've ever read Frame's autobiography, that's pretty hard to imagine.

Exploring further, I found a series of books called Rough Guides and happily seized The Rough Guide To Classic Novels. How could I resist that cute picture of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses? This list is impressive, staggeringly so. The usual suspects are present and Simon Mason suggests literature from a total of 32 countries. Thumbing through the book at the store, I saw a mention of Icelandic literature, and knew that he was really casting the net wide. Satisfied, I added it to my pile. Like the cherry on top of a perfectly assembled banana split, Mason adds a screen adaptation tie-in. Perfect for the Read The Book, See The Movie challenge.

What I liked best about Maruzen was the Penguin Books section, which was a mixture of old and modern Penguin classics. This is where I could really see how Japan goes more for the British angle when it comes to literature -- I saw a good many authors that I haven't seen in my bookstore roaming here.

While I was blissfully combing the shelves, the sweetest little announcement came over the PA in English. A woman's soft voice cozily welcomed customers to Maruzen, detailed which books were located on which floor and wished us a pleasant shopping experience. I smiled broadly and even my Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm's innards got all marshmallowy with delight.

When I went to the cashier to pay for my three books, she had me fill out a form for a discount card. "No, she lives in Korea," my son protested. The cashier and I both smiled: So what? While I was writing down my information, she folded book covers onto my books that have a map of Japan and all the different places Maruzen is located.

As you can probably see, I'm feeling the urge to go back to Japan soon -- does anyone else want a tag-along on his or her visa run?

* I also bought something at Tower Records: A Woody Guthrie compilation. I've got some Depression-era reading on the TBR and I thought Guthrie's music would make a suitable musical accompaniment.


Val said...

Another excellent piece of prose. U rock :)

nat @book, line, and sinker said...

such the globe trotter!!! i have yet to travel to asia but my dad lived in hong kong for about 5 years when he was a kid.

glad you enjoyed your shopping trip and visit to japan. i can't imagine what it must be like to live there!

Michele said...

Holy cow, Hugh Laurie narrated an audiobook? Sheesh, he could narrate "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and I'd buy that, lol! Thanks for the heads up!

Unfocused Idiot said...

I used to have poster with that picture of Marilyn, she's never looked prettier to me than there. I wonder if it was Arthur Miller who gave it to her? Sounds like a great book, and a great day, Woody Guthrie how fun. You're right about Dickens.

Kathleen said...

I checked out Bybee's Bookish Past...what a great idea. It's nice to remember the books you read in the past and what was happening in your life at the time. It is a wonderful way to revisit the good, the bad, and the ugly! Thanks for sharing the link. P.S. Your trip to Japan sounds grand!

Bybee said...


I'd love to see Hong Kong.

Hugh Laurie could narrate the phone book and I'd buy it.

Yes, it's a beautiful picture of Marilyn. She looks so peachy. Yeah, I bet Miller gave her the book.

I wish I could have taken better notes on what I read in the past.

fiona said...

If you ever want a bookish traveling companion, please let me know - I'm in Yeongyang in North Gyeongsang Province and am always looking for an adventure - have you been to the used English bookstore in Daegu yet?

Bybee said...

I know about the bookstore, but don't know where it is, exactly. I know someone working in Andong & we might meet up one weekend in Daegu. Long trip, but I could KTX it.