As I’ve noted on my paper doll blog, no matter how hard I try to moderate myself, I really just have two settings when it comes to hobbies and projects: white-hot intensity and complete indifference. I can try to say “I’ll spend two hours drawing, two hours studying Japanese and one hour reading this book in English” and I can keep that up for, oh, five days. Actually, I get better at balancing things as I get older — it is not too often anymore that the housework completely goes to hell while I work on something — but the fact is that I’m just happier if I’m totally obsessing over one thing.
I write all this in hopes of explaining why I haven’t read a new Japanese book, or indeed an English one, in well over a week. There’s a video game series which I adore called Metal Max; I actually translated the SNES remake of the first one, Metal Max Returns, for Aeon Genesis a while back, and Metal Max 2, well on its way to being translated but in need of a lot of work, has been hovering in my consciousness recently. I bought Metal Max 3 when it came out for the DS in the summer of 2010 and played a good forty hours in, so when I wanted to play it again I decided to just restart. The difference between what I understand now and what I understood then is pretty astounding, and I credit it to extensive reading because that’s the only thing that’s changed between then and now. Besides just general improvement in reading speed and comprehension, the big difference I’ve noticed is that I’m much more able to pick out the important parts of something I don’t understand very well, instead of just getting frustrated and skipping everything.
In any case, that’s what I’ve been doing instead of reading my normal fare. The ReadMOD players have a mechanism for counting games in their extensive reading tallies, but I don’t have the first idea how many screens I’ve looked at, and in any case Metal Max 3 is really well above my fluent reading level; there are many words I don’t know, both in terms of technical jargon and rough language. (I can understand that someone wants to kill me, and I can understand the context in which they wish to kill me, but the actual words they use to deliver their message are often a little incomprehensible to someone who still spends her time reading books about friendly bears baking cakes.)
This nearly magical improvement is very encouraging to me: if these are the kind of results I see at 100,000 words, I can only imagine how it’ll be at 250,000 words, 500,000 words, a full million. Of course, for that to ever happen I have to stop screwing around with video games that are way above my level and get back to business.
Happily, I found a resource which will make the process of getting back to business much easier! I am still feeling like I would prefer level 3 and 4 books to level 5 books, but in my experience with the three libraries where I find Japanese books, those level 3 and 4 books are rare little beasties compared to the amount of level 2 and level 5/6 books. Even at the central Seattle library I’m finding fewer and fewer of those 3/4 books, and I wind up bringing home level 5 books or level 2 books that are a little more advanced than most picture books. I had just started thinking about buying more books or scouting out the other libraries in the Seattle system when I learned about Nikkei Bunko, a Japanese-language library that’s part of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington. I went on a field trip the very next day and seriously. oh. my. God. There’s easily five times more kids’ books there than there are at the central Seattle library, and it looks like there are enough level 3/4 books to keep me happy for some time. You’re limited in the number of books you can check out; the sign-up sheet says “five” but the guy there said “Oh, you can check out more” and I picked out another five — not wishing to push my luck just yet. I really like the idea of finding one book you like that’s at the right level then reading others in that same series, but most of the time when I get books out of the library I only find that they’re part of a series when I look them up later, meaning I have a great lead on what I might want to buy at some point but that I can’t just skip from book to book. However, this place has a lot of collections of children’s literature, illustrated reference books, series of books fairy tales and so on; it looks like it was put together with an eye toward being educational for the kids who take Japanese language classes at the JCCCW, but it also has the side effect of making it easier for extensive readers to pick out new books.
So if you are at all close to Seattle, I highly recommend that you make some time to visit Nikkei Bunko! I’m going to add the books I’ve read since my last update, then get started reading some of my new treasures.
- Extensive reading is known as 多読, or tadoku in Japanese. To try it, start with very easy books (ones with no more than two or three unknown words per page), and follow these principles:
1. Don’t look up words in the dictionary while reading.
2. Skip over parts you don’t understand.
3. If you aren’t enjoying one book, toss it aside and get another.
Find something to read!
Hundreds of free books and stories online
Local bookstores and libraries
Buying new and used books online
For more information, read "What Is Extensive Reading?" and "Classification System."
To learn more about Kunihide Sakai, who developed the three principles of tadoku and has worked to popularize it in Japan for years, read this interview with him.
Finally, for more than you ever wanted to know about why I believe extensive reading is worth your time, read my tadoku manifesto.
Superfluous StatsBooks read: 303
Word count (since starting the blog): 380,500
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