Hey listen, sometimes you gotta take it easy on the Nihongo. Sometimes you look at some heavy tome and go, “You know what? No. I want some popcorn for my brain.” So, you pop into the library and check out the kids’ section for a light read. And what I found was the series 動物と話せる少女リリアーネ. The original German title for the first book is Liliane Susewind. Mit Elefanten spricht man nicht! by Tanya Stewner.
I had some grand plan of reading more than ten Japanese novels this year in order to improve my reading, vocabulary, and what have you. I have since reached a grand total of three. Which, hey, is a far better number than zero, but it’s not anywhere near where I wanted to be.
One of my favorite downtime pastimes is to walk into a bookstore and browse, no matter where I am. Depending on the size of the bookstore/my ability to read the language, I can be in the same shop for hours. And while many people spend those hours standing in place and reading through a book, I’ll be flitting back and forth between multiple sections, delighting in everything available I have yet to read.
On one such outing, I came across また、同じ夢を見ていた (I saw the same dream again) by 住野よる (Sumino Yoru). It looked cute, I could read the title and first page without help and, most importantly, the story looked interesting to me.
…is, all things considered, very similar to purchasing a book in your native tongue.
All right, so, you’ve gotten enough vocabulary, grammar and determination to try reading in your second language of choice. What’s your first step? How do you survive without coming away with a book that a) you don’t understand or, even worse, b) don’t like?
There are some simple things you can do to help yourself out.
- Look online for recommendations. Before you even go to the bookstore, think of what you enjoy reading and put your favorite search engine to good use. Let’s say that I’m looking for good Light Novels in Japanese. Well, I could search “recommended Light Novels” in English, or maybe, “ライトノベルおすすめ” or maybe “ライトノベル人気”. Have an author you hear is good? Search for their name on your favorite book or shopping website and see what comes up.
- Know what section of the bookstore your novel will be in. I don’t mean look up a map of your bookstore before you go, but make sure you know what the name of the section is. Is it general fiction? A self-help book? An exercise guide? Knowing what category your book falls into will help you (and potentially the staff!) in finding something relevant to your interests.
- Look for a cool cover. Okay I know that sounds silly; insert saying about books, judging by their covers, etc., but I fully admit to being drawn to a cool cover. Let yourself have fun choosing books in whatever way works for you once you’re at the bookstore.
- Can you read the title? Now you’ve got a book in your hand. Can you read and understand it without having to look anything up? This is a pretty good measure for your level versus what you’re challenging yourself with.
- Can you read the first page? This part is a little more flexible. Read the first page. How long does it take you? Can you do it without looking anything up, or can you see a couple words you need to check? At this point, keep in mind that you do not need to understand 100% of what you see on that page. It’s totally fine to notice some things that don’t make sense- that happens in our native languages too, right? What should concern you is if you crack it open and only understand about 50% or less of what you see. If you get around 75% or so of what you’re reading, awesome, you’re at a good level for yourself.
Another possibility is the question “can you read the blurb inside the cover/on the back of the book”, which is a fair enough gauge too, but I find that reading the first page is a great way to see if you like the writing style, as well.
These are just some ways to find what you need in a bookstore; if you have more ideas, please do share them!