Laura E. Hall's Reviews > The Pillow Book

The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon
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Apr 24, 2011

Read from April 24 to June 01, 2011

Not a pillow book as understood in modern terms (ie, an erotic novel), but a record of observations by a female Japanese courtier in the 990s, making it a contemporary of the Tale of Genji.

Lots of the book is made of lists, such as "Words That Look Commonplace but That Become Impressive When Written in Chinese Characters" (Strawberries / A dew-plant / A prickly water-lily / A walnut / A Doctor of Literature / A Provisional Senior Steward in the Office of the Emperor's Household) and "Worthless things":
* Someone who'd both ugly and unpleasant.
* Clothing starch that's gone bad --- I know an awful lot of people hate this, but that's no reason why I shouldn't note it here.
* And why should I avoid mentioning here the fire tongs that are burnt in the post-funeral fire? After all, these are things that exist in the world. I never intended this book to be seen by others, so I've written whatever came into my mind, without worrying about whether people would find it strange or unpleasant.

The book is equal parts witty, charming, poignant and sad. It was recommended in a list of books to read to understand Japanese culture in the wake of the recent earthquake.
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05/21/2011 page 60
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