My fiftieth book will be published within the coming month, and I guess it comes as no surprise to hear that I am regularly asked which of all my books I personally like best. As far as questions go, this is as difficult to answer as ‘which of your children do you like best?’ and I invariably mumble something like ‘probably my novels,’ and then swiftly change the subject. However, while sitting in the park with the beagle this morning, I came upon the idea of rephrasing the question to make it a little easier to answer, and the result of my efforts was: “Which of your books are you most proud of having written?”
This put a different spin on the question and made it easier to look back on the process of writing a little more objectively, and, with the benefit of hindsight, I was able to whittle my answer down to five books. It was then that I realized something that came as a deep shock.
The books I am most proud of are the books that sell the least…
At the risk of sounding pompous, my books sell pretty well. I’m not trying to suggest that I am qualified to bat in the same league as Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling, of course, but many of them tend to be long-sellers and get anything between two and ten print runs as a general rule. Having said that, however, a certain percentage of them turn out to be slow sellers that struggle to sell out of the initial print run, and the five books that I selected (listed below in no particular order) were all in this category.
Just goes to show what I know about the requirements of the reading public.
知識と教養の英会話 / Knowledgeable and Intellectual English Conversation
This book was written with advanced English learners in mind. It contains forty chapters on differing topics, with each chapter consisting of an argumentative dialogue, a glossary of words, a list of pertinent phrases, and an essay. The premise of the book is not only to teach English to non-native speakers, but also to encourage them to formulate and confidently state their own opinions on a wide range of topics, from Greek philosophy through to global warming. Some of the topics covered within the book include The Future as Perceived by Immanuel Kant, Ukiyo-e and Western Art, Japanese Literature, Cancer Mortality Rates, Food Self-Sufficiency, The Activities of the United Nations, and Intellectual Property Rights. Pretty heavy stuff, right? Writing this book stretched my mental capabilities to their limits, and I was extremely (self-) satisfied with the outcome. The reading public, however, beg to differ.
Update (February ‘12): Since posting this entry, the above book suddenly picked up in popularity and is now into its fifth print run. Hallelujah!
ライティング･パートナー / The Complete Book of Writing
At 375 pages of closely-spaced, small-font text, this is a hefty book that took a lot of writing. Many of the books on writing English as a second language published in Japan target the beginner to intermediate levels, and they all have a tendency to place the emphasis on grammar, as opposed to technique. I, in my infinite wisdom, consequently decided to move away from the norm and focused the spotlight on writing techniques; including only one chapter on grammar for the purpose of pointing out the mistakes that Japanese people generally make. A brilliant idea, thought I. A lousy idea, thought the Japanese public.
英語のセンス － ネイティブに学ぶ英語術 / English Sense—Learning from a Native Speaker
This book was co-authored with my good friend Yoichi Hareyama. It targets people studying for the TOEIC test, and it consists of 768 sample sentences that incorporate 960 of the words deemed indispensible to passing the test. Instead of just writing run-of-the-mill, boring old sample sentences, we decided to brighten things up a bit by writing vibrant, amusing sentences liberally interspersed with jocular, tongue-in-cheek, anecdotal and philosophical messages. We were convinced that the reading public would simply lap this stuff up. Unfortunately, the reading public was just as convinced that it wouldn’t.
この日本語、英語ではこう言うの / Japanese Phrases in English
Languages are funny old things in that the words used within one culture cannot be passed across to another without a touch of modification. There are many words and phrases used commonly in Japanese that simply don’t exist in English, and there are also many others that do exist but that are used in different ways. For example, the Japanese equivalent of the phrase ‘you’re kidding’ or ‘you’re joking’ in English is ‘you’re lying,’ which wouldn’t go down too well if translated directly. So, I decided to write a book that covered all of the phrases that either didn’t exist in English or that needed modification prior to use. To make the book more interesting, I created two characters—John, an American, and his Japanese wife Keiko—and wrote the entire book as a series of fun skits that showed what Keiko wanted to say in Japanese and the way that she would have said it had she been American. I love this book! But, the reading public would rather watch paint dry.
TOEIC Testー速効英単語2400 / TOEIC Test-2400 Vocabulary
This book was also co-authored with Yoichi Hareyama. As the title suggests, it targets people hoping to improve their TOEIC scores and it consists of 50 six-sentence passages covering a wide range of subjects. When I started writing the book, Mr. Hareyama sent me a list of 2,500 words that he wanted me to incorporate in the passages. A simple calculation showed that I needed to include 50 of these words in each passage, and with only six sentences per passage, that was not going to be easy. But, I settled down to the task and found the going easy at the beginning. However, as time wore on I found myself left with a fast-diminishing list of non-related words, and it was around then that I started to sweat. But, I persevered and finally managed to fit 2,400 of the words into the book, and I was surprised to discover at the end that the result was extraordinarily natural and seamless. I had completed an almost impossible task, and the reading public was sure to recognize the hard work and dedication that had gone into writing the book.
You’d think, huh?