Sunday, August 29, 2010

Beauty And Sadness — Read 2010.08.28

When I bought this book, second hand but 'new,' I ignored the little alarms that warned me to keep my money in my pocket. I had spent too much time looking for my usual dreck in my local used bookstore, and had made myself late — books before life! As I'm in the process of leaving the store I see atop an 'in-box' near the cash register Beauty and Sadness. I decided that the author being Japanese out-weighed my caution against him being a Nobel prize winner. I allowed my visual aesthetic to tumble me into an infatuation with the Japanese print without reading the publication details. And so it came to pass that I impulsively bought a Japanese version of Henry James because I was in a hurry.

Henry James! I had rather throw sand in my eyes than read HJ! But, there I was. I spent my time reading this book wondering at whether or not it was the translator or the author who had effected the dull thud of short sentences filled with ominous meaning spoken by automatons repetitively about slowly rotating chairs, or obis, or paintings over and over again, repetitively.

The different characters all spoke in the same manner, with the same cadence, and the same heavy handed overtures to misplaced meaningfulness in a meaningless life. There were several times when I had to re-read the dialogue in order to keep straight who was speaking because the sentences all sounded as if they were spoken by the same person.

And the passions expressed were done in such dead voices that the finale was almost funny in its obviousness. Now that I'm older, it strikes me that James' characters tend to sound emotionally like overly melodramatic teenagers, housed, supposedly, in the bodies of adults with the adults' life experiences but twisted by their youthful fixation on nirvanic virginal sex, unrequited puppy love, and a cloyingly repugnant narcissistic infantilism. And this is exactly what Yasunari Kawabata and/or his translator gave us with Beauty and Sadness.

Why did I finish reading it, then? Well, in short, because I foolishly fell back into my own version of infantilism, to a time when I took pride in my having finished reading every book I started, regardless whether or not I enjoyed it. Michener's The Source humbled me in that regard, and with his writing sparked my nascent understanding that reading bad writing is a narcissistic waste of life. Life is short; read the good books first! (Okay, okay, what is a good book is hard objectively to define!)

And so why did I finish reading Beauty and Sadness? Because I belong to some weird web-based book club, and I wanted to put another book into my 'read' file; and because I wanted to write a review of it that I could put up into the ether-sphere. Oh! And because the book is very short, with relatively large font, and is festooned with lots of white space. And when I write this review I get to stuff it on other web sites, at least one which offers a chance at winning some money for books.

If you like Henry James, you'll probably like this. If you find youthful melodrama played out by so-called adults with emotionless sensitivity trite and trying, give this book a pass.

Moral of the story? When buying books, do not ignore the small inner intuitive warnings lest your book buy's haste has bought you waste.

Yasunari Kawabata.
Beauty and Sadness.
Toronto: Vintage Books International (A Div. of Random House), 1996. Tr. by Howard S. Hibbett. ISBN: 0-679-76105-5.

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