This might be changing it up a little bit but The Tale of Genji is an important book in Japanese literature study.
I read excerpts of it in college but this year I decided to read the whole thing. I started it in January and I finally finished it this week.
Another title for this book could be “The Life of a Philandering, Rich, Royal Dude.” It does get a little repetitive and most of the sections of this book are about Genji having issues with his wife and his courtship with other women.
There came a point where I wasn’t really reading this for the plot or characters. I enjoyed reading the culture notes, appendices, and looking at the pictures. That’s what gives this book its longevity and importance. There is a lot to be learned about Heian culture even though this is a work of fiction. Historians and literary critics both find something to value here.
If Heian period culture and history is something you are passionate about and you’ve read other books on the subject, I definitely recommend reading the fancy Penguin edition of this book. If you are interested in the Heian period but don’t know where to start I would recommend The World of the Shining Prince by Ivan Morris which talks about the cultural and historical background of The Tale of Genji and uses excerpts from the book to illustrate points. If you want to know what all the fuss is about but are intimidated by this giant book, you can probably find an anthology with excerpts and you would get the gist. You can also read excerpts from Murasaki Shikibu’s diary if that is more your style, although I will say that her personality is not my favorite. She comes off a little whiny and stuffy at times.
Thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!