Sunday, February 18, 2024

Sunday Salon: What You Are Looking For is in the Library/Before Your Memory Fades

Today I am going to be sharing two mini reviews of books I have read for this years Japanese Literature Challenge. I am half way through another and have one more to read but whether I will finish both of those before the end of the month is debatable.

When I reviewed The Kamagawa Food Detectives a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I tend to be reading books which are constructed as a series of vignettes, and both of these books fit this description.  


The first book is What You Are Looking For is in the Library by Michiko Aoyama, translated by Alison Watts, who also translated Sweet Bean Paste,which I read and loved last year.



The stories include a young woman who is working in a fashion department in a store. Tomoko doesn't want to stay working there but she also doesn't have the first clue of what else she can do. She starts talking to a young man who encourages her to go to her local library to help learn some new skills. My favourite part of Tomoko's story was when she decides to challenge herself to learn to make Castella, a Japanese cake. I think I might even try to make it.



Other stories include a woman who is working her way up the ranks at a magazine publishing company but finds herself moved into a new role when she returns from parental leave, a young man without a job and an older man who finds himself moving into a new phase in his life when he retires. In a way, each of the stories is about beginnings.



The magic in this book comes in the form of the librarian who can not only help the characters find what they are asking for, but also gives them something that they didn't even know they needed. In addition, she gives them a felted mascot to carry with them.




One thing I really liked was the way that these characters are ever so loosely connected, not in an obvious way, but still connected. They all have the library in common as well.



However, I did have one quibble with this book and that is the way that the librarian, Sayuri Komachi, is described. She is a larger lady and some of the ways that she was described were a bit....off. Maybe I am a bit sensitive to this but it was still a bit of a stain on an otherwise good read. I did see someone else comment on a similar thing recently, so maybe it is a cultural thing.



This book also counts for my Books About Books Challenge




The second book I wanted to mention is Before You Memory Fades which is the third book in the Before the Coffee Gets Cold series by Toshikazu Kawaguchi is translated by Geoffrey Trousselot. I have listened to each of these books and I expect that I will listen to the next one too, partly because they are pretty quick and easy to listen to. I will say that one of the characters in the first story had a bit of an odd accent but luckily that was only in the first story.



This series has been a Booktok favourite for a while (not that I am on Booktok) so I will only give a  brief summary of the book. I did review the first book a couple of years ago.



The first two books are set in a cafe called Funiculi Funicula in Tokyo. This time, the location has changed to Cafe Donna Donna which is in a town called Hokodate on the island of Hokkaido in Northern Japan. It does make me wonder how many other places there may be a time travelling cafe in Japan! Whilst the location has changed, there is one character who has temporarily moved from Tokyo to Hokodate and that is the chef Nagare. Fortunately, the rules are the same for anyone who wants to travel either to or from the past, otherwise that might get a bit confusing.


  • You must sit in a particular chair in the corner and the you can't move from the chair
  • You can only meet people who come into the cafe
  • Nothing that happens in the past will change the future
  • You must finish the coffee before it gets cold in order to return to your own time

I liked the change in location. The cafe stands on a road which goes up a mountain and so you can look out across to the harbour. It sounds like a beautiful place, and be changing the location the author was  able to share different cultural events with us

Once again we have four stories that make up this book along which almost stand alone although there are regular customers who appear in all the stories. One of the cute ideas running through this novel involves a young girl who is reading a book which asks 100 questions about what would you do if the world was ending tomorrow. It's a fun mechanism to get the characters talking to each other.


Once again the stories feature people who have lost someone wanting to make one last connection. This does mean that there is a certain sameness to the stories, but I guess it makes sense because those are the people who would want one last conversation, one last chance to see their loved ones.

Before  you can sit in the designated chair, you have to wait for the ghost who normally sits there to get up and go to the bathroom. In this book, the ghost is a man who appears to have been there for years. It might be interesting to get to hear the ghost's stories, especially how they got stuck in the cafe, unable to move on.

I think for next year I will try to focus on a longer, single story for the challenge, in addition to these episodic type of books.

I am sharing this post with Sunday Salon hosted at Readerbuzz, the Books in Translation challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader, and also with the Japanese Literature Challenge.


10 comments:

  1. I keep meaning to read “Before the Coffee gets Cold” — maybe soon? I like your reviews.
    best, mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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  2. I read Before the Coffee Gets Cold two years ago and liked it, I wonder if the second book improves on it.

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    Replies
    1. They are very similar so if you liked the first one you will probably like the second one.

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  3. I never did get around to reading for the Japanese Literature Challenge this year. I read Before the Coffee Gets Cold, and I feel certain that I would like the rest of the stories in the series. I have also read What You Are Looking For is in the Library and I enjoyed it. I didn't realize it before you pointed it out, but I think I like books written in vignettes, too.

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    1. It does make it easy to portion out your reading Deb

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  4. Nice work. I LOVED the whole Before the Coffee Gets Cold series--I did not expect to. Time Travel? So not me. Instead I loved it. I wanted to read "What You are Looking for..." but it didn't come in to the library in time. I'll get to it.

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    Replies
    1. I think the fourth Before the Coffee Gets Cold book might be my next audiobook.. We'll see

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  5. I've heard good things about WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IS IN THE LIBRARY. I need to read it one of these days. Great review!

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  6. I had to double check that What You Are Looking For is already on my TBR and it is. I need to actually start reading all these books :-) These sound lovely. Thanks for linking to my Books in Translation challenge!

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