Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Devotion of Suspect X

I'm finally done with "The Devotion of Suspect X", with the murder exposed, guilty parties behind bars and all the rest. It took almost ten months - much too long, really. I could have finished it much faster, I guess, but by the end I just wasn't all that interested in the story or the characters.

As I wrote already, the problem is that it's a standard murder mystery, meant as a quick, fun read on your commute or during a trip. It's meant as chewing gum for the grain for a few hours. The story is inconsistent, the characters are two-dimensional and poorly motivated and the mystery itself has lots of logical gaps. But these traits don't matter at all; you hardly notice them as you skim through the book.

But when you study a language you don't skim. You're not quick. Instead, you scrutinize every sentence for minutes at a time, looking for clues to the story, to the characters behaviour or simply to grasp the basic meaning. And a quick read like this is simply not written to withstand such close scrutiny. So even though Yougisha X was an easier book to read than Riyuu, it took almost as long, simply because the flaws in the book kept putting me off.

It's not a put-down on the author at all - the exact same is true for, say, Agatha Christie, Ellis Peters, Dan Brown, John Grisham and all the rest (I do like to think that PD James would perhaps hold up better). Their books are fun, but pretty much fall apart if you start thinking too much about the details (and Dan Brown, to be honest, doesn't even need much thinking; I gave up on his bestseller partway through, something I almost never do).

Anyway, the take home lesson is: if you're going to read a book slowly and in detail, you're better off picking a book that is intended to be read that way. Even if they are more difficult you end up having more fun, and probably learning more since you're not tempted to skip or skim.

My next book? I've already picked it, and I've even read a bit already. No, it's not another Miyabe Miyki. We actually bought "Mohouhan" (copycat killer); the problem is, it's a five volume series and according to Ritsuko (who has been reading them) they're just like Riyuu, with lots of characters, asides and detours that only vaguely connect with the main story. It is fun, apparently - Riyuu was fun too, after all - but five volumes worth means I'd be occupied with the series until about 2013, which is a little longer than I want to commit to any one book.

I'll write about the new book once I get started on it properly.

4 comments:

Tommy said...

"But when you study a language you don't skim."

That's exactly what you do, when you read novels. You shouldn't look up any words until they occur repeatedly and you haven't figured them out from context. Novels are really redundant, unlike newspaper articles or magazine articles. You don't need to understand everything upon first impression. And you still end up learning words reading this way.

Limit your obsessive dictionary reading to newspapers and magazines. For manuals and the like, you do need to look up words. Specifically, 20 words per manual. Manuals repeat the same (rare) words over and over.

I learned the speed Japanese novel reading trick 30 years ago from the fluent-in-Japanese American husband of my native Japanese teaching assistance at UCLA. He plowed through Japanese novels like crazy, and it really helped his Japanese.

Janne Morén said...

"That's exactly what you do, when you read novels. You shouldn't look up any words until they occur repeatedly and you haven't figured them out from context. Novels are really redundant, unlike newspaper articles or magazine articles. You don't need to understand everything upon first impression. And you still end up learning words reading this way."

True, if you can understand enough of the text. But you can't figure out words from context if you don't understand the context to begin with.

JJ said...

"True, if you can understand enough of the text. But you can't figure out words from context if you don't understand the context to begin with."

It's easier to start by reading less complicated books. When I first started learning English and Japanese, I read books for small children. 漫画 (comic books) are also a great fun way to learn Japanese, you can grasp the context from the pictures.

There are bilingual editions of famous manga like ドラえもん or サザエさん.

Something more enjoyable than reading a novel fully in Japanese, at intermediate level, is bilingual books. You don't need to look up as many words, so your reading is not as interrupted.

You can also read Japanese translations of books you've already read, which will be easier because you already know the story, and will be able to infer the meanings of a lot more words than if you were reading a book you were completely unfamiliar with.

It really is frustrating when you can't read at the same level as your native language, and I know it's discouraging, but you can't start reading adult level fiction right off the bat, unless you have nerves of steel.

In our native languages, we didn't start by reading Finnegan's wake, or James Joyce's Ulysses,
we all read our way up through increasingly more difficult books.

Most of us started by reading picture books when we were tots, then short books with no images, and longer books when we were a little older.

There is no reason why this process should be any different for adult learners.

Janne Morén said...

"You can also read Japanese translations of books you've already read, which will be easier because you already know the story, and will be able to infer the meanings of a lot more words than if you were reading a book you were completely unfamiliar with."

Ah, but I did. My first book in Japanese was Harry Potter, a young adult book (furigana aplenty) I'd already read in English.

Also, I'd already read 理由 Miyabe Miyuki which is quite a lot harder and longer than this one.

No, the main problem really was that I didn't take to this book. I got annoyed by the plot holes and the inconsistent characters. The Japanese just made it worse, since I couldn't skim the text and stop worrying about the details.