Book Club - The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

Book Cover

What better selection for the book club than the first novel of all time? And of course, we have to read the best possible unabridged translation. No baby mode here at GeekNights

The plot revolves around Genji, who is the son of the Emperor and a low ranking concubine. Genji is removed from the line of succession, and proceeds to go on an epic journey. The journey involves tons of romance and court drama. Spicy!

Despite being older than any other novel, The Tale of Genji has a tremendous amount of relevance to the geeks of the 21st century. The influence of Japan on nerds around the world is undeniable, and a surprising amount of things we see in pop culture are present here in a book from the 11th century. I'm quite confident after reading it how we will notice how many newer stories have been making references to this tale without us realizing it.

Also, I feel the need to point out that this first novel ever written was written by a woman. For all these reasons and so many more, this is more than worthy of book club selection.

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If you don’t want to buy it, it’s public domain. Internet Archive has it here:

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This free version has an intro by Tyler but the actual translation is by Seidensticker.

I’m torn between going digital/Kindle or physical. The paperback is deckle edge, which is annoying. The hardcover has a normal, cut edge.

I actually own this book! I haven’t sat down to read it yet however, it’s under Infinite Jest in my stack >>

Deckle edge is the devil’s edge.

The bad kind of devil.

Very nice read and also very interesting. Can’t say about english translations, got two diferent versions in spanish. This weekend I’ll start re-reading it. You guys are such a good influence. :slight_smile:

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Serious business.

Five chapters in, The Tale of Genji is a soap opera.

This defunct tumblr has amusing chapter summaries for the first twenty chapters.

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Saw this tweet. Haven’t read the book yet so no idea of the significance, but figured it needed to be shared here:

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The hardcover edition is two volumes, chapters 1-33 and 34-54. This seems like a natural point to pause. I finished the first volume and am taking a break to read some other books.

Thoughts so far:

  • It starts off as a soap opera and basically continues as one, though the subject matter matures as Genji does.
  • It took about ten chapters to finally internalize the titles-in-lieu-of-names logic. I still stop to look people up occasionally.
  • The mix of titles and a heavy use of pronouns can sometimes be confusing, especially if I pause in the middle of a chapter rather than at a chapter break.
  • A novel usually has scene transitions either explicitly mentioned in the text or annotated with a separator. The Tale of Genji doesn’t do this all and will flit between scenes and people.
  • This is the first novel where I actually notice and remember the chapter titles and find them useful as a reference, perhaps because they provide structure and context for the reader-derived names of its characters.
  • A couple of these chapters are hilarious. After hundreds of pages of subtle nuance which sometimes requires the use of footnotes to pick apart, when we see characters barge in without grace it’s as surprising to me as it surely is to the other characters in the story.
  • Genji is a privileged man behaving badly, albeit in a society that no longer exists. In that sense it’s a familiar story.
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Guys, it’s okay to bail on a book. Just stop reading it. It isn’t a sign of lack of character to decide a book isn’t for you or not worth finishing. If you get to page 50 and aren’t enjoying it, stop. Also don’t feel like you should continue just because you’ve read most of it or more than half. Life is too short to stress about it.

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I agree. If I felt it wasn’t for us, not worth finishing, or I wasn’t enjoying it, then I would bail on it. None of those things are true. It’s just LONG AS FUCK.

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Best summation of the events:

“Unfortunately, a gay orgy did not follow this sentence.”

Maybe read a handful of novellas while working on this book, like John Scalzi’s The God Engines, Becky Chambers’ To Be Taught, If Fortunate, or Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti. That’ll give you more quick book club content without having to dedicate yourself to separate full-length novel to do so.

I’ve never been able to read just one book at a time… (I guess only exception are very short stories, swallowed under one hour, but even those, sometimes…). I’ve always managed to have around a dozen books open at the same time, and jumping from one to another every now and then… It’s a mess if I ever have a long period of disconnection in my readings, cause when I start again, I usually start from scratch, a new selection of books, which add up to the previous one… It works for me, although I do not recommend it.

I envy your capacity to do that at all. I’ve tried in the past and ended up conflating parts of The Invisible Man with The Fellowship of the Ring.

I got half way through War and Peace. Then I got dialup internet at home, and all reading-only time went out the window. Thank fuck, as it saved me from that book.