And now, after about three and a half months, it's finished. I haven't been reading it all day, every day, of course, or I'd been done earlier. Mostly I've been reading it during my crowded morning commute, and occasionally during lunch break. At about 45 minutes per day it's taken me 60 hours to read it, for an average of about eight minutes per page average. Nowhere near my normal reading speed, but a pretty good improvement on the 15 minutes per page I spent in the beginning.
The reading speed, I've found, alters the whole reading experience. Sometimes an author hits a slow patch or goes off on a tangent for twenty or thirty pages. At my normal speed I'd breeze through it in fifteen-twenty minutes; just a quick breathing space before the plot picks up again. But in Japanese those thirty pages translate into a whole week with no plot advancement at all. An insignificant change of pace in English becomes almost painfully slow and drawn out in Japanese.
The practice has paid off in familiarity, though. I don't feel intimidated by large chunks of Japanese text anymore - I may still not understand it but now that just makes me annoyed, not cowed. And I have a much easier time now scanning a text for specific information even if I don't grasp the details.
What's next? I won't continue with the next Potter book yet. Authors tend to stay with the same vocabulary and expressions over time so I'm better off reading a different author, and preferably something written in Japanese rather than translated. For bed-reading I'm working through "Rubyレシピブック" (Ruby Recipebook), a computer language book with short one or two-page programming tips*. I can read a tip each night and it teaches me some computer-related vocabulary. So, while I have some other non-fiction waiting I want to continue with fiction for my morning commute.
A good option is "Kitchen" by Banana Yoshimoto, suggested by my teacher. Another would be something by Junko Sakai; Ritsuko enjoys her books a lot and from what I've seen I probably will too. She is an essayist, though, and I'd really prefer to tackle another novel. I suggested "Snow Country" by Yasunari Kawatabata, but my teacher said it's much too difficult and Ritsuko said it's much too boring. So no Nobel-price winning author for me yet.
If anybody has any ideas for book-length Japanese fiction that's not too difficult I'd love to hear about it.
* "Ruby" is the name of a programming language. It's a clean, well-designed language that has gained a lot of positive attention the past few years. It is also the language with the most.. special online programming tutorial ever (special in the sense of "precious" or in the sense of "special olympics" is up to you): Why's (poignant) guide to Ruby. Seriously, even if you have no interest in computers or programs at all, you owe it to yourself to take a look at the first few pages.