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The Word Book

(Japanese Literature)

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  119 ratings  ·  22 reviews
Like the surfaces of a jagged crystal, each story in this collection shows an entirely different facet when viewed from a different angle. Playing games with the basic units of both life and fiction—the solid certainties of the self, the world around us, and the words we use to describe these things to one another—Mieko Kanai creates a reality where nothing is certain, and ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published October 8th 2009 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published 1979)
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Average rating 3.49  · 
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 ·  119 ratings  ·  22 reviews

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Nov 17, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
"The Word Book" is a collection of short stories which took me ages to read because of their unreadability. The stories seem like a stream of consciousness of multiple people who are really nobody. Most stories are about time, existence and mundane experiences which seem life changing to the character featured in the story. The narrative voice is distant in a very self conscious way...the confusion of being which the stories are about is made clear by abrubtly changing the narrative point of vie ...more
Seán Hudson
Jan 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Short stories that radically transform details of mundanity (waiting for a train, going to get milk) by forcing us to reconsider time, identity, and the medium of prose itself. Almost every work is bewitching in its own way, but together they challenge the form of "short story collection" by not only complementing and contrasting each other in tone and topic, but in the way that certain moments, whether a tiny sensuous detail or a whole subjectivity, break free from their stories and persist sub ...more
Alice Jennings
Jul 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I love love love this book. Feminist author of 1970s who wrote fantastic pieces in stream of consciousness. Half her stories are about the relationship between the author and reader, and the others are filled with blood, guts, and women using their submissive roles to trick men.
Well written, easy to read and not just for women! Written from the male perspective, Kanai does not make men look weak, rather she demonstrates how power can corrupt any gender if it is absolute. A female Raymond Carver
Edward Rathke
Oct 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Wasn't really sure what to rate this. All day I've been bouncing between a three and a five, so four seems like a good rating. It's a great collection and Kanai is an excellent writer.

I suppose I don't have a lot to say here. Some of the stories are truly excellent and peculiar in an awesome way. Others are sort of a miss for me, but I'd say it's well worth a read.
supposedly from the borges/godard herd, but i felt it typical japanese style of everyday ordinariness until.........
Jun 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
One of the truly great reading discoveries. This book will rank with a handful of books--Beckett, Rulfo, and Schulz come to mind--as revolutionary. I will be rereading it many times.
Aug 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
short stories like dreams
lyell bark
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
half these short stories were about sitting on the train. ttrains ftw
The first story was good, but I wasn't able to get into any of the others.
Dec 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
You’ll have to really want to read something like this to enjoy it. Metatextual to metaphysical, blurring the line between fiction and essay; between short story and novel. Blurring age, perspective, timeline, Mieko Kanai’s collection is an exciting find. Her prose swirls steadily from the page and then explodes. Then, pink dust snows back onto the page and vanishes. Nobody will believe me when I tell them this, but I know it is true because some of the dust tickled my nostrils just before the l ...more
bhen adrecra
Sep 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
What a weird little book. What a weird, wonderful little book.

Allow me to start again: Dream. Dream. Dream. It is 3am. I haven't slept. I have been reading through the dream journal that is Mieko Kanai's The Word Book. It is not a literal dream journal; it is a book of short stories. A book of short stories which, when read together in one sitting in the depths of the night, run together to form a whole. Phrases repeat and ideas, images, double back on themselves. Characters move in and out of
Picked this up on a whim at the Gothic Bookshop, thinking it would be nice to have some short stories for a trip. I started it at the very beginning of November, and despite the fact that each of the stories is quite short and the volume itself is barely over 100 pages, it took me over a month to finish.

Part of it, I think, was that I wasn't really prepared to read it - I've ready essentially no Japanese fiction, didn't do my homework about the author, and also didn't have the time to sit down a
Feb 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
At times I was reminded of Queneau's Exercises in Style or the Zukofsky poem in which the poet takes a line from Shakespeare and works through the permutations of its word order, over and over. Here, as I see it from my first reading, the antecedents of pronouns seem to be playing a game of musical chairs. Or, to pull in another strained comparison, the effect of reading this is at times like staring at a figure/ground illusion, your construal of what you see ponging back and forth, back and for ...more
Mar 04, 2015 rated it liked it
Impenetrable collection of "short stories" that has turned out to be the longest 140 pages I have ever read. Only reason I am not rating lower is that I recognize I may be missing something culturally and the possibility something gets lost in translation. Though I am doubting either is the case...

Maybe some day I can give this a shot in the native Japanese, but if I ever follow through with learning Japanese, my list of untranslated want-to-reads is already long enough.
Nov 28, 2012 added it
We didn't read the whole book because we're moving on to poems for our nightly reading-aloud, but the several stories we did read were wonderfully odd metafictional/puzzle stories. I found it interesting that they were all from the viewpoint of a male. The voice was similar from story to story with slightly difficult sentences, long sentences with unpredictable structure.
Oliver Ho
Jun 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
A fascinating and very odd collection of short stories...or is it rather a linked collection of stories...or maybe it's actually a novel? Dreamlike, poetic, hypnotic, it reminded me at times of Murakami, Auster, Borges, while also feeling utterly unique. It's not mainstream, linear fiction, and I will definitely read this again.
Mar 23, 2011 rated it liked it
The last few stories in this collection (which are basically part of the same story) are fantastic. I wasn't particularly enamored with the earlier stories, but this is definitely a book worth reading, and the ending will reward you for your patience.
Oct 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is waaaaay too difficult for me. The ones I got, I liked, but there were more that I didn't get. I can't bring myself to finish all. The four stars are for the ones I like.

The concepts of time and memory offered here are really intriguing. Very Borges-y, but closer to the ground.
My review appears in Belletrista:[return][return]
May 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
A challenging, brilliant writer of startling originality who thankfully, is finally just coming to us in translation!
Jan Moens
Jul 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Andrew Bourne
Feb 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Curious stories. Terrible bookcover.
rated it did not like it
Aug 01, 2016
Madeline Clasen
rated it it was amazing
Mar 20, 2019
Peter Collins
rated it liked it
Dec 07, 2013
Tom Willard
rated it really liked it
Jun 12, 2014
rated it it was ok
May 11, 2019
rated it it was amazing
Aug 22, 2011
rated it it was amazing
Apr 11, 2015
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Sep 01, 2012
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Mieko Kanai (金井 美恵子 Kanai Mieko?, born November 3, 1947 in Takasaki) is a Japanese writer of fiction, especially short stories, as well as poetry. She is also a literary critic.

Mieko Kanai read widely in fiction and poetry from an early age. In 1967, at the young age of twenty, she was runner-up for the Dazai Osamu Prize for Ai no seikatsu (A Life of Love), and the following year she received the

Other books in the series

Japanese Literature (1 - 10 of 12 books)
  • The Budding Tree: Six Stories of Love in Edo
  • Plainsong
  • Shadow of a Blue Cat
  • Isle of Dreams
  • Temple of Wild Geese and Bamboo Dolls of Echizen
  • Embracing Family
  • Triangle
  • Realm Of The Dead
  • The Glass Slipper and Other Stories
  • Me Against the World
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