Try this experiment: I assume most of you have your pipe organ and your grand piano in the same room. Play a chord on the organ and hold if for a while – then let go, and listen to the piano. You didn’t touch the piano, yet there’s the same chord sounding. That sympathetic resonance is what extensive reading feels like. The more you read, the more Japanese-tuned strings in your head start to ring, the more you understand – not because you studied, but because you resonated.
This affects your brain in many wonderful ways, but the effect I noticed the most this go round was the jump in my listening skills. That’s right; listening – and that even though I spent far less time per day on active listening than usual. Most of my time listening this month was music, and that mostly background. But the hours a day of reading left enough of an imprint after only two weeks that I was hearing new words and phrases again and again in songs I’d listened to dozens of times.
Try it, you’ll like it!
This tadoku contest was almost all about manga for me. If you’re going to spend a hundred or more hours at something you’d best be very sure you pick something you enjoy, and as someone who is both very visually oriented (as a once and future photographer) and loves a good story, manga is perfect for me. Also helpful is that a volume of manga doesn’t take that long to get through, so you feel like you’re making swift progress. The final tally put me at just over 2600 equivalent pages, so around 13000 pages of manga – good enough for my first top ten result, and well over double my previous score.
Herewith some awards:
The Rembrandt Award for Best Art: 黄昏乙女ｘアムネジア
Not picking on the old Dutchman randomly here – めいびい’s art has powerful chiaroscuro effects that reminded me strongly of the Dutch masters. Backgrounds and scenes are moody and detailed, perspectives draw you into the page, and on top of all that, he is the absolute master of facial expressions. I’d recommend this manga even if you couldn’t read a word of Japanese. It came close to getting best story too, but among some strong albeit very different competition was:
Best Story Award: こばと
CLAMP are very good at setting up your heartstrings for maximum tweakability and this is a wonderful example. Truly one of the most beautiful stories I’ve read in years, in any language. Leaves you misty-eyed and smiling and hopelessly in love with the deeply real and human characters (even the ones that actually aren’t human, which is, well, the majority of them).
Rossi Award for Most Epic Single Volume: 神のみぞ知るセカイ volume 19,
the last in the long arc that starts around volume 9. Honestly, the pacing and tempo is excellent throughout the arc, but volume 19 turns up the intensity to nearly unbearable levels and keeps it there without missing a single beat right to the finish line. Like a good race, it hurtles along with utter inevitability and yet you aren’t sure right till the end exactly how it will turn out.
びっくり Award: この彼女はフィクションです。
I got this four-volume manga expecting nothing more than substance-less entertainment; and certain it is that there is rather a lot in here specifically designed to amuse middle school boys. Amazingly, though, somewhere under the dross and in the midst of the trainwreck is a really good story with surprising depth. What does a high school boy do when the ideal girl whose character he’s been writing for ten years appears in front of him? What if he’s already fallen for someone else? Can she change and grow now that she’s in the real world and not only his notebooks? The characters are certainly in a bizarre situation, and in the hands of a lesser storyteller would have been mere laughable paper cutouts, but you end up really feeling for these people – if that indeed is what they are. Even all the rubbish around the main storyline has the disconcerting yet fascinating effect of the reader never quite knowing at any moment whether the story is completely going off the rails, or working as intended as it lurches and crashes to its conclusion. Which leads me to -
がっかり Award: この彼女はフィクションです。
Same manga. Now, yes I just called it a really good story with surprising depth, but the absurdities and annoying irrelevancies are still there in abundance. This series would benefit immensely from a ruthless editor. Two volumes would have been sufficient. Alternatively, more back story and more exposition could have been added. Either way, this author is not to be trusted with his own pen. More importantly, the story comes so close to raising and dealing with some really very deep and interesting questions – significant among them that of “to what degree is a character a person?” – and yet every time it nearly gets there it veers off on some trivial tangent or some development seemingly designed to break your suspension of disbelief. I am neither recommending this manga nor saying to avoid it, just saying that as bad as it is it’s really quite excellent, and that as good as it is it’s still a trainwreck. Oh, it must be said, the art is very good, actually among the best I read this month. Characters are highly expressive, and very individual despite there being rather a lot of them.
Strawberry Cheesecake Award: ひよ恋
If you want cloyingly sweet fluff, this story of the highly improbable (yet absolutely inevitable, because this is shoujo after all) love between the tallest boy and the shortest girl in the school will satisfy the most romantic thirteen-year-old girl part of your heart. And yet as eye-rolling as it potentially could be, the writing is good enough and the characters are lovable enough that you get all the happy and none of the faintly ill feeling. As a bonus, the language is very easy. If you’ve just finished よつばと and feel like you’d like some romance, I do recommend this. Just make sure to have some espresso with it to counteract all that sweetness. Oh, I also like that each chapter has a column of hand-written commentary from the author. Her writing is quite neat and makes good practice for reading handwriting. She also seems like a really sweet person (surprise!).
The tadoku contest is designed to help you establish the practice of extensive reading as a regular habit. There is always a danger of going a bit overboard during the month and burning out, thus reaching the opposite effect. I was a little concerned that this might happen, but in the end I just want to keep reading. The world is full of wonderful stories, and the correct number to have read is always just one more.