Banana Yoshimoto Wants Books to Give Her Insomnia

What books are on your night stand?

I read most of my books on the Kindle, but as far as paper books go, I have: “Elemental: Critical Essays,” by Keijiro Suga; Monkey, a literary journal edited by Motoyuki Shibata; and “Kuishinbo no Onayami Sodan” (“Dilemmas of a Glutton”), by Shunsuke Inada. They’re all very satisfying to read, and I’ve read each of them repeatedly.

What’s the last great book you read?

That would be “Elemental: Critical Essays,” by Keijiro Suga. It reads like a beautiful novel. I thought the preface, in which he addresses young people, was also brilliant. I feel blessed to be alive at the same time as someone as amazing as he is.

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

I recently finished “Orlando: A Biography,” by Virginia Woolf. I have tried reading it multiple times before, but always threw in the towel right around when the setting for the time period she is living in changes drastically. I finally finished reading it though, and I’m really glad that I did. It made me feel as though I’d transcended time and space, and found myself a new friend.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

I would say at night, in my bed, reading a long Stephen King novel in one go, and concentrating so much that I find myself holding my breath. I love it when I don’t have any plans the next day and end up reading until daybreak because I can’t sleep. It’s the best feeling.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

“The Dance of Reality,” by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Maybe it’s actually pretty well known, but I think it’s a true masterpiece. It goes beyond simply being the original text on which the movie was based, and feels like a book that helps you understand what art really is.

Are there Japanese writers you wish had a wider readership outside of Japan?

I think she has a pretty good readership already, but I would say Hiromi Kawakami. Her short stories in particular are brilliant, and the way they are written feels very representative of the Japanese style.

Your father was a poet. Do you read much poetry yourself, and (if so) who are your favorites?

My favorite poet, I have to say, is Gozo Yoshimasu. I love his works, and he gives these powerful performances that really move me.

Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

Books have been a deeply integral part of my daily life, so there’s never been a case when they came between myself and anyone, nor have they ever been the cause of something like that. That said, books are very important and precious to me, so I had a very difficult time as a child when people wouldn’t return the books they had borrowed.

Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?

I would love to see more chefs write on the topic of cooking and cuisine. There are so few chefs in the world with a talent for writing, which is why I’m very thankful for Shunsuke Inada, whom I mentioned earlier.

What moves you most in a work of literature?

I’m moved the most when people use words in a way that only they can to write definitively about freedom.

How do you organize your books?

I’ve been gradually replacing my paper books with e-books.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

I have this comic book that I read when I was a small child, called “Nazo-nazo ni Tsuyoku Naru” (“Becoming Better at Word Puzzles”), on my shelf. I can’t imagine many people would hold onto a book like this for so long.

How have your reading tastes changed over time?

I’ve gotten more tenacious, so I’m able to get to the end of books one step at a time, slowly but surely.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Haruki Murakami, Amy Yamada and Hiromi Kawakami.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

That would be “Mishima Yukio Ron” (“The Yukio Mishima Theory”), by Keiichiro Hirano. I can’t seem to make any headway, mostly because I end up reaching for the works by Mishima that are being discussed. But if you were to ask me whether I like or dislike the book, I would answer that I like it immensely. I think the fact that it makes me want to reread Yukio Mishima’s works makes it a great book, actually. I’m determined to get through to the end of it one day.

What do you plan to read next?

I’m planning to read “Old Terrorist,” by Ryu Murakami. I recently realized I’ve never read it, so the plan is to sit down and finish it in one go during a vacation.

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