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For what seems like the longest time, I’ve found myself struggling to sit down and read actual fiction. I read a lot of nonfiction – blogs, newspaper articles, self-help books, and for a time books that educated my on school subjects – but I just never seemed to have the time to read fiction. For several years, I’ve told myself “this year, I’m going to read two fiction novels.” For several years, I’ve failed at this.
This year, I’ve read over 30 works of fiction. That’s no small feat to me. Looking over what I’ve read, many of these works are around 80,000 to 120,000 words, which is to say they are rather average sized novels. Almost all of them have been indie works. Towards the beginning of the year I was really interested in the GameLit and LitRPG subgenres, but towards the end I let go of that and was willing to try new things. I read a lot of works I wouldn’t have considered reading otherwise. Some of them I enjoyed and some of them I am only glad I read so I know not to ever write like them in my own stories.
In a way, it’s been a great way to explore other stories, and kind of break free from the binds of what I “should” and “shouldn’t” read. Some of these stories have been downright racy. Others, just offensive. The communities tied to these novels have been great, though; people congregate to share what they enjoy about these works. It’s kind of neat. In these communities, I also realized there was a type of reader and fan that I did not want to be like, but there were also things I did as a reader and as a fellow poster that I realized after the fact weren’t terribly becoming. I found myself taking a stand on some of the weirdest issues that were important to people in these groups. I also had to leave others all together as they became too strange.
This is an interesting segue into Chad Davis’s The Kimochi Warui Diary. This could probably be translated as “The Bad Feeling Diary” and, as is explained around 61% into the book, is a play on words of sorts of Takuboku Ishikawa’s habit of writing his travel journal in romaji, so that others couldn’t read it (although this work of fiction specifically does not mention how he did this to ensure his wife of all people couldn’t read his work.) The main character scrawls in a Campus notebook in such a way that it is hard for others to read it as well.
The Kimochi Warui Diary is an interesting work of fiction. The story can be boiled down easily enough – the main character, who refers to himself as “Watashi” (Literally “I” as if he were the subject of a sentence) travels to Japan with his older, more grounded firefighter brother. He fails to plan for most of the trip, which leads to shenanigans. He also needs to come to terms with how he believes he is above fans of anime and Japanese pop culture and wanting to be seen as respectable and worth note, despite being a very big fan of anime and Japanese pop culture and being absolutely unsure of himself. Along the way he meets up with a girl he knew from Twitter who seems to have a thing for him, and a friend from college who is doing well for himself. He learns a lot about Japan, but more importantly he learns a lot about himself.
This book made me laugh several times because of the antics and the way the main character approached things. He is genuinely in denial about why he likes the things he does, even going to far as being confused as to why the rest of the populace doesn’t have the same affection for singer Shugo Tokumaru, an “indie musician his white friend told him about.” He suggests, to himself in one conversation, that he might be “too hip even for the average Japanese person” and “likes Japanese things more than Japanese people?”
If the author had told me this was based off of a true story, I would have believed him. The feel of the story is believable, but more than that the way the main character approaches everything around him is relatable. He enjoys things, but he doesn’t want to be seen with the sort of stigma of one who enjoys things, and as a result he’s not true to himself. Worse, he discovers just how untested his knowledge of the Japanese language is, which catches him off guard, and proves to him just how untested he as an individual is. The older brother never overshadows the story, being a perfect foil the the character’s worst idiocy and a pillar of strength when he is at his weakest without ever taking over the story himself.
I did find the use of actual Japanese to be disconcerting at times, and while the author does a great job of showing us with context what is being said there are often times a literal translation isn’t available which I found frustrating. One thing I did not find frustrating, however, was the way the author integrated certain memes and interests that the character had into the story. I never felt like a reference was there and I was just too much of a “normie” or “out of the loop” to get it, unlike other books that covered foreign pop culture I’ve read this year. Even the references I didn’t catch still enhanced the story, which made them perfectly executed.
There’s also some artwork between chapters. These drawings are simple, but also charming and have a lot of character to them. It would have been easy for the writer to choose an illustrator who was too “anime.” Fortunately they did not. The pictures fit well, and the style matches the feel of a travel story and does a good job of showing without detracting.
The story is a solid, yet bittersweet, adventure. Frankly I am surprised it doesn’t have more reviews (as of the time of this posting, it only has 7.) I would definitely encourage others to read this novel. For the price of a morning coffee it’s sure to entertain, so go give it a look.
As for me, my journey through these different styles of indie books continues, and I hope to find something of myself in them the way Watashi has. The landscape is definitely a foreign one at times, and has me asking questions about myself just as much as questions about what I’m choosing to read.