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March 2009



It is such sweet sorrow indeed -- but I've said most of what I had to say in previous blog entries, so there's little else to add, except perhaps to explain why I initially wrote this blog in Japanese and later switched to English. My original intention was to assist those who are already fairly good at English but need to hone their skills, and for that purpose I suggested that reading one's favorite books aloud and recording them for self-assessment would be useful and fun to do. This tenet of mine still stands. However, I came to realize that I had been addressing a wrong audience by writing in Japanese. That's not the way to connect with really advanced students of English. The kind of people I want to reach out for are those who are really serious about improving their language skills. So I've decided to take a more targeted approach and write in English, aiming just for those who have the stomach for it. In fact, you wouldn't be reading this far down in the paragraph unless you are a studious reader of English yourself, which means I've successfully pared the audience down to a chosen few. I have retained Japanese headlines, however, as an eye-catcher. Here's why.

I am functionally bilingual, but whenever I see Japanese and English texts placed side by side, my eyes are quicker to take in the Japanese text. One might say my text comprehension is Japanese-dominant, just like I am right-eye dominant (i.e., when I see an object with both eyes, my right eye tends to send a stronger visual input to the brain). Or it may be comparable to right- or left-handedness. For a non-native speaker of English, the pressure of having to speak in English is not unlike the frustration of not being able to use one's dominant hand. But a certain level of ambidexterity can be achieved with practice. In a way, studying foreign languages is like learning how to use the non-dominant hand -- you just have to work at it until your brain is rewired. By this analogy, the best way to study English would be to use it as often as possible, without reverting to Japanese (or whatever native tongue of yours). For Japanese readers, it is all too easy to access Japanese-language blogs and sites that purport to help you improve your command of English, but I suspect it only serves to reinforce your dominant language brain, when in fact it's your non-dominant language brain that really needs exercising.

Well, I'll leave it at that. I'm going to lie low for a while, and privately record some audiobooks I have been neglecting. Perhaps I'll be starting a different project (maybe another blog?) soon. I'm thinking of focusing on books in English written by Japanese authors. For instance, I've recorded early chapters of Bushido by Nitobe Inazo and The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo, both written about a century ago. These guys really seem to know what they are talking about, and damn, their English is good, although I prefer Okakura's style better. Nitobe seems to me to have too big a chip on his shoulder. I've chosen The Book of Tea as the last audio sample for this blog. In a similar vein, Lafcadio Hearn's "Japan, an Attempt at Interpretation" also seems tempting. Well, perhaps some other time. Although I'm closing the blog entry for now, I might be posting recordings at this site from time to time. . . but don't hold your breaths!

Thanks for reading (and listening). I hope many of you will take up recording your own audiobooks and have fun listening to them. Who knows, it may turn out to be the best education you could give yourself!

From "The Book of Tea"


x99:オーステン「Emma」よりChapter 8

As I'm an Austenophile, one of the final audio samples had to be from one of her novels. I am in the process of recording Emma, and I'm posting the latest chapter here. As all the principal characters and their dispositions have been clearly laid out in the earlier chapters, the plot gets predictable in a way, but I cannot put down the book as the depictions of the characters are ever so insightful and relatable. I'll certainly cherish recording the rest of the book, and am looking forward to taking on her other works as well.




"Mythmaker" from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Glancing at my archive of home-made audiobooks in order to select the final few audio samples for this blog, I was inevitably drawn to this book by Jean-Dominique Bauby. Each short chapter has its distinct flavor that stays fresh, even when read over and over again. I think this book is meant to be read aloud and listened to, which allows the meaning to slowly sink in and form indelible impressions in our minds. Highly recommended.



x97:Elizabeth Kostova 「ヒストリアン」

Chapter 1 of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I read this novel soon after it was published, and was hooked by its exoticism. I visited Hungary the next year, not in small part due to the influence of this book, and planned a tour of Bulgaria and Romania (which didn't materialize due to unsuccessful travel arrangements). The book kept having a strange grip on me even since, as I recorded the entire tome the following year. The recording turned out to be over 24 hours long, and then I listened to the recording twice. I rerecorded the first chapter for this blog, which made me wish to redo the entire recording. Am I possessed by an evil spirit or what?




Inspired by Vermeer's masterpiece entitled Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier wrote the eponymous novel set in 17th-century Dutch city of Delft. I found the book rather interesting and well written, and recorded it a couple of years ago on a whim. Although the result was mixed, I liked the idea of producing my own private audiobooks, and started recording some other books, which eventually became a hobby of mine. Since my earlier reading of this book sounds rather unsatisfactory today, I've made a new recording of an excerpt from Chapter 1.





You know what they say about all good things, and I'm ending this podcast in five more installments or so. It has been my intention all along to stop at the 100th episode for a respite. For the next few remaining sessions, I'll revisit some of my favorite novels that I have recorded. Today's piece is an excerpt from The Old Man and the Sea, in which the hero who has caught his big fish tries to fight off the sharks -- in vain. This recording was made about a year ago.



x94:オバマ大統領 Education Speech

Nicholas Kristof's March 10 blog entry "Obama takes on the teacher unions" led me to read the original text. The speech, though rather long (over 30 minutes), is sharply focused on what the President intends to do with education in America, and the text is up to his usual high standards. The following excerpt is the closing segment where he speaks about his own experience, together with an episode of a high school student in California. A touch of endearing intimacy like this is the hallmark of Mr. Obama's speech.

For further detail, I urge you to read the original (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/10/us/politics/10text-obama.html?pagewanted=1&ref=politics). Would that Japanese education administrators were as smart and outspoken as this man!




Continuing on the theme of discoveries that seem too good to be true, here is the Times article of February 26, 2007, one of many that finally debunked the myth of British pianist Joyce Hatto. If you want to refresh your memory about how her "reputation" was made, please refer to the previous entry. It might be interesting to compare the two stories and see how the 2005 article strikes you in hindsight.




The Times article on the Shakespeare portrait got me thinking about keeping an open mind. For example, without prior knowledge about the outcome, how would an average reader have felt about the following Boston Globe article of August 21, 2005? The story about British pianist Joyce Hatto, a miraculous virtuoso-turned-plagiarist, is now well known (or perhaps was, and is now fogotten). But imagine for a moment that you live in 2005 and are reading this article for the first time, knowing that it was written by a correspondent of a reputable Bostonian paper -- would you have given credence to it?




The Times article of March 10 on the alleged portrait of Shakespeare's. It's an interesting story, to be sure -- but perhaps too much so. The article offers scant evidence to support the claim. Until a fuller and more satisfying account is presented, one has to remain sceptical.





Having read The Diving Bell and The Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby a couple of times and watched the movie version on DVD, I finally took up this article -- which I had been saving but didn't dare read until today. Entitled "The Truth about The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," the salon.com article of Feb. 23, 2008 by Beth Arnold seemed only mildly interesting at first, but as I read on the article turned out to be far more intriguing than I had imagined.

I had noticed the movie version deviated significantly from the book in many points, but most of the episodes and the overall tone seemed consistent with the book. I figured the filmmaker must have had some intimate source for making those small yet purposeful changes. It turned out that there was indeed a source, the author's ex, who was possibly more interested in enhancing her own image than in telling the truth. Apparently, she wielded an influence over the screenwriter to let him depict her in a favorable light. As a result, she was painted as a dedicated but wronged woman in the film, becoming a focus of the audience's sympathy. But the accounts of those who actually took care of Bauby in his last days turned out to be quite different. . . To find out more, go to http://www.salon.com/ent/feature/2008/02/23/diving_bell/index.html or click below to listen.


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