The Shape of Glory

By Nisio Isin, published in 2006 in Zaregoto Complete Box (as a 5 cm by 8 cm book).

They say you shouldn’t make your hobby a job, but having something that isn’t your hobby as a job sounded even worse, so for my first part-time job I did my best to turn my hobby into a job. Having decided on that, there was still something I had to consider. My hobby is reading. Reading, something not much different from having no hobby. What jobs can you think of that have to do with reading books? The first thing that comes to mind is an author or book critic, but I wasn’t quite up to the task, having just become a high school student. You do hear about authors debuting as teenagers or while still in high school and making a stir in the literary world, but I didn’t have that kind of literary talent (I won’t deny having written fiction, but I’m not so shameless that I would show my writing to other people), much less the aesthetic sense needed to become a critic. Besides author and critic, there’s also the job of editor, but that was even more out of the question for a mere high school student. Which left only one realistic option—working at a bookstore. That is, being a bookseller. It wouldn’t be too difficult for a high school student, and I would be surrounded by a not quite countless, but definitely overwhelming number of books, and just imagining how wonderful that would be made my heart race. As soon as I made my choice, I browsed through a job search magazine and headed to an interview. This might be self-conscious of me, but I felt bashful about working at the bookstore I usually frequented, and chose one farther away from my house, that for reasons of distance and geography I had rarely visited, but was nevertheless a national chain store with an irreproachable line-up. The interview was more like a casual conversation, and I was hired at my first job without much ado. It was very different from the interview when I applied to high school—they only asked me a few questions, like what my favorite authors were and what books I had read. But the last thing that my interviewer (and later coworker) said to me, that I wouldn’t last in this job if I didn’t like books, stuck in my mind. Authors, critics, and editors could all do their jobs even if they hate books, but not booksellers—apparently that was what he meant. At the time, I only vaguely saw his point, but it wasn’t until a week later that I understood it on a fundamental level. The gist of it is, when they say not to make a hobby your job, they don’t literally mean hobby. But at this point, it’s too late for me to be saying that.

My shifts at the bookstore were Monday to Friday, 5 to 8 PM. Three hours a day, five days a week. My hourly wages were 750 yen, which was 2,250 yen a day, 11,250 yen a week, and if you converted that to monthly wages (with 22 days worked in a month), it would be 49,500 yen a month. That might seem like too many hours for someone who didn’t particularly need a part-time job, but I treated it more or less like an afterschool club. There’s no point in writing out “A High School Girl’s Bookstore Chronicles”, so I won’t go into the details of my job. It’s nearly impossible for me to spin an amusing tale out of shrink-wrapping books one by one or lining up bookshelves until my wrists became sore. As I’ve said, I have no literary talent. And I really do mean none. Regardless of if I’m writing fiction or nonfiction.

So instead, I’ll tell you about a middle school girl that I met after having worked there long enough to establish trust in my abilities, and was trained on and stationed at the register. Like clockwork, she came in every day at 6:30, right in the middle of my three-hour shift, wearing a track suit as if she was on her way home from an actual afterschool club, and not just a metaphorical one like mine. I had often seen her even before working at the register. The breast of her jacket read “Class 1-3 Toyoyama Taato”, her name and class. You could call it the nature or karma of a booklover, but when I’m at the till, I can’t help but be interested in what books people buy—it’s just like when you’re on the train and wonder what book the person next to you is reading. The joy of seeing someone buy a book that you enjoy, the surprise of seeing someone buy a book that you wouldn’t expect—that’s the high point of working at the register. There’s nothing quite as thrilling as scanning the barcode of a volume of shoujo manga for an embarrassed high school boy. My first impression from working at the register was that everyone really does have a different experience with reading. Even now, that’s my favorite part about working at a bookstore. Once I began to recognize the tastes of the regular customers, it felt like I had taken my first step in becoming a bookseller. The middle school girl in the track suit, Toyoyama Taato, was one of those regulars.

To be honest, you couldn’t quite lump her together with the other regulars. In my opinion, at least, there was a clear divide between her and the rest of “the regulars”. But it was only after some time that I realized that. The first book that Taato bought—by which I mean the first book I saw her buy, or at least the first book she bought since I started working at the till, nothing as absurd as the first book she bought in her life—was a certain mystery novel. It was a famous, well-respected mystery novelist’s latest work in three years. I myself had bought it on release day. (Once I started working there, I bought most of my books at that bookstore because of the employee discount). As I’ve said, it makes me happy to see people buy books that I like—so I remember it clearly. It was the fifth in a series I had been following since my first year of middle school, featuring the beautiful detective’s brilliant deductions. I was moved that here was a middle school first-year reading the latest installment in a series I had started when I was in my first year of middle school. But not quite to the point that I felt the years going by.

Hardcover.

1300 yen.

1360 yen with tax.

That must put quite the dent into a middleschooler’s monetary resources. As I needlessly worried over her allowance, I put a cover on the book and handed it back to Taato. I remember that she happily hugged the book to her chest before leaving.

That was Monday.

The next day was Tuesday.

Taato came in at her usual time of 6:30. Thinking that she must have finished the book (it wasn’t especially thick, so that was plausible enough), I watched her go to the paperback corner, pick out a book, then walk straight to the register. It was the fourth book in the series. The fourth book of the beautiful detective’s brilliant deductions. Published three years ago as a hardcover, and recently re-released as a paperback.

I was baffled that she would read the fourth book in a series after the fifth. I had been assuming that she had bought the fifth and newest book having already read the first four books—but wait, could Taato have accidentally skipped the fourth book? It wasn’t as if the books had numbered titles, so it was entirely possible to skip over a book or two. Especially considering the limited information available to a middleschooler.

But that interpretation was all too naive—part of it must have been that I didn’t want to believe that someone would intentionally read a series so dear to me out of order. Over the course of the next three days, I learned that my optimistic interpretation of events was mistaken, or at the very least, off the mark.

She bought the third book on Wednesday.

She bought the second book on Thursday.

She bought the first book on Friday.

One book at a time, she bought the whole series.

This was something I only learned later, but Taato would only buy one book (or magazine) per day (and conversely, decided ahead of time which book she would buy that day), and as part of her almost pathological routine, she would only buy books on her way back from school, so ever since I started working the register, I had complete knowledge of which books she was buying and in what order—but my point is, all the way down to the last, or rather, first book, she bought the series in reverse order.

From book five to book one.

It wasn’t just a cultural shock, it was a Copernican revolution—I had never considered there would be people who read books in that manner. I didn’t even want to think about it, and even having witnessed it, I didn’t want to believe it. I tried to convince myself that she bought the series in the wrong order because of some misunderstanding. I couldn’t just sweep it under the rug as everyone having a completely different experience with reading.

Well, if that were the end of it, then it would have been fine. Not exactly fine, but I could have accepted it. While it was a series, each of the books was a self-contained mystery. You could read it in any order… I suppose. The idea that a series should be read in order was just a narrow-minded preconception born out of a fixation with continuity, or so I said to contain myself. I couldn’t manage to convince myself, but I could at least try to contain myself.

Until the next week.

Until Monday.

At 6:30, she came in the store, and brought the final volume of a certain shounen manga to the register. It was a four-volume cult hit that had concluded its serialization in a small shounen magazine a year ago. The author’s skill in weaving together elaborate yet carefully foreshadowed plot developments in an almost ludicrous setting was highly acclaimed—but only by those who read it in order. With a sense of doubt and then disbelief, I rung up Taato, put a cover on her book, and handed it to her (like always, she hugged the book tight to her chest as she left), and the next day, my feeling of dread crystallized into a dreadful reality.

Taato brought the third volume to the register.

By now, it should be obvious which volumes of what she took to the register on Wednesday and Thursday. She of course bought the four volumes of what would no doubt be remembered for years to come as a masterpiece in reverse order, from the final volume to the first.

It wasn’t a series, but a direct continuation.

Why would you read a single story out of order?

I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

I didn’t want to.

It was like I had encountered some kind of alien lifeform. I seriously considered asking the manager to change my shifts so I wouldn’t be at the register at 6:30, the time she came in. It might sound like I’m exaggerating, but that’s what I genuinely felt at the time. It’s just scary. To think that there would be someone out there reading books in a completely different way… Call me a purist if you like, but I couldn’t think of Taato as simply someone with “different experiences”.

Then it was Friday.

That was the nail in the coffin.

The finishing blow.

But it was still only the happenings at the cash register of a national chain bookstore, it was nothing dramatic—like usual, Taato only picked out a book from a bookshelf and brought it to the register, but like usual, the book she bought was the problem.

It was a mystery novel.

A mystery novel written by a different author from the series she bought last week, one who was fairly well-known but still new—specifically, the latter of two volumes of the novel.

Part one.

Of two.

If I were a detective out of a mystery novel, or the sort of person who could consider any and all possibilities, I could have entertained the entirely feasible, charitable interpretation that this time, she actually did have the first volume sitting on a bookshelf in her room.

But I couldn’t take it any longer.

I hit my limit.

That was my last straw.

After putting a cover on the book and giving it to her, I waited until she left the store to approach my coworker, who was stocking shelves. I told him that the customer who had just left forgot her change, so I would go return it.

That was, of course, an excuse.

Taato was very particular, and no matter which day of the week it was, she paid for her books with exact change, never off by even one yen. It was as if she had decided ahead of time what book to buy, calculated its price including tax, then had the exact amount ready in her wallet.

Luckily enough, my coworker didn’t seem to know about that peculiarity of hers, and with a sure, go ahead, he took over the register for me. I grabbed a handful of coins and chased after Taato with the store’s apron still on.

She stood out in her track suit.

So I found her in no time.

She was standing at a nearby crosswalk, waiting for the red walk sign to turn green. She was still holding the book she bought to her chest. It seemed almost precious to her—even though it was the last volume. If only it were the first volume, the sight would have warmed my heart.

I walked up behind her casually and quietly, and said “Excuse me.”

Taato turned around.

She looked at me and said “…Saply hawack ioh pibassazauh rabbima waraits ya ioh cuyre masaj kijaseooi gra masaj lewwpab menajjeramom kay coiky belremazaikef kay?”

Now that I thought about it, this must have been the first time I heard her speak—her gaze were always shyly downcast, and even at the register, she would put her book on the counter without saying a word, only nodding when I asked her if she wanted a cover for her book. Hearing her voice for the first time, I was simply baffled.

What’s she even saying?

“Saply hawack ioh pibassazauh rabbima waraits ya ioh cuyre masaj kijaseooi gra masaj lewwpab menajjeramom kay coiky belremazaikef kay?”

“…U-um—”

“Hm? Ah. At this point in Earth’s history, Lamplightian isn’t a lingua de franca yet, is it? That was my bad. Right, then, since this is the 21th century, will Japanese be alright?”

This time she droned on in a language I could understand—Japanese.

“Hello, Jibai Nakoto.”

I was startled because I hadn’t introduced myself yet, but then remembered the name tag pinned to my apron. It’s been two weeks now that she’s seen me behind the counter, so it wouldn’t be unusual for her to remember my name.

“Uh… Hello, Taato.”

“H—H-H-H—H-How do you know my name!?” she shrieked and drew back. …I’ve never seen someone stutter in shock before. Her reaction was so spectacular that if this were a book, it would be perfect for an insert illustration.

She had to be doing it on purpose.

What a weird character.

I pointed to the embroidery on her breast. Her book was covering part of it, but just like my name tag, it read “Class 1-3 Toyoyama Taato”.

“Well then.”

She puffed up her cheeks.

“That’s awful of you to sneak a look at someone’s name when they haven’t even introduced themselves. Are you trying to stick it in my face and lord over me? I don’t like you. You’re so mean. But never mind that. I might as well forgive you. How kind of me.”

I didn’t even know what to retort to.

She suddenly went from offended to forgiving to magnanimous.

“Humanity is so uncivilized in this era. I had better include this in my report. It’s no wonder that this country’s society will collapse in fifty years from this point in time.”

“…Um, Taato.”

I tried my best to ignore the whackjob nonsense coming out of her mouth and get back to the topic on hand. Or rather, I haven’t even brought up the topic. I had chased after her on an impulse, but was now overwhelmed by her unbelievable personality.

I had to do it.

I had to ask her.

To be honest—

I might have just been angry.

“You—”

“Did I forget my change? Thank you for taking the time to return it to me. That’s very diligent of you. I appreciate your kindness.”

Taato took a hand off of her book, and held it out to me. Returning her change was indeed my excuse for chasing after her, but it was nothing more than an excuse, and besides that, how did she know about it?

“I never thought that humans from an era without interstellar warp technology would be so considerate. Very well, I’ll have my change now. I believe it’s a billion yen.”

I must have come to the conclusion that she was mocking me, and that had shown on my face. Taato trembled, and retreated another step back. She had already backed off a fair distance, and was in danger of hitting a pole, but instead of worrying over such trivialities, she said, “Wh—Wh-Wh-What is it?”

“Could it be that you’re angry, Jibai Nakoto?”

“I’m…”

I must be.

“D-did I do something wrong? But no matter what I did, you shouldn’t glare at someone younger than you like that.”

One breath after mentioning Lamplightian and interstellar warps, she was saying something much more sensible. But really, she did have a point here. What am I doing, running out of the store after a middleschooler much younger than me? It isn’t as if she’s a shoplifter, the sworn enemy of bookstores. All she did was buy the last volume before the first—

“If you’re going to get mad at me, do it more like a tsundere.”

“…”

A tsundere…?

D-don’t get me wrong! I was only chasing you because I wanted to ask you a question! Geez, you’re hopeless! I’m definitely, definitely not mad at you, ok!

What, like that?

Is she stupid?

Am I?

“I don’t understand, but…I guess I did something wrong? I still don’t know…all I did was buy a book. But, well…ok, I’m sorry.”

“No, really, there’s nothing for you to apologize for…”

There shouldn’t be.

“Um…”

My body and head had finally cooled down, but by this point, it would be awkward to go back to the store, leaving her with a “never mind, it’s nothing.” I pointed at her chest again. This time, I wasn’t pointing at her jacket’s embroidery, but of course, at the book she was holding.

The last volume.

“Why did you buy the last volume first?”

“Huh?”

“I mean the last volume of that book.”

I tried to keep my voice level.

“You haven’t read the first volume yet… have you?”

“…Gosh.”

Now her cheeks turned red.

“You were paying attention to that? Do you keep track of everything your customers buy? I’ll have to be careful if I buy any porn mags.”

That last sentence sounded strange coming from a blushing middle school girl, but let’s not dwell on that. If I stopped to think about everything she said, I wouldn’t get anywhere.

“I do have to report to the publishers which books are bought and in what quantities,” giving her the corporate-approved response, before steering us back on track. “But it’s not exactly normal to buy the volumes of a book in the wrong order, is it?”

I couldn’t let her put me on the defensive.

“Is there some reason you did that? If so, would you please explain, Taato?”

“A reason…”

Taato looked puzzled.

“Do I really need a reason for something like that? …All I can say is that I wanted to buy the second volume first.”

“Taato. Before you bought that book, or even before then, you had an unusual way of buying books, didn’t you?”

I listed the titles of the four-volume manga that she had bought from volume four to one and the mystery series that she had bought from the latest to first installment.

“You have sharp eyes.”

She sounded briefly impressed, but that was it.

She had no other reaction.

“Why did you do that?” I asked, pressing the issue.

“There’s no real reason… That’s just how I buy my books…” replied Taato. “I think that as a customer, I should be free to buy my books in any order I like, and that as a reader, I should be free to read my books in any order I like.”

“That’s—”

Absolutely true.

But still.

“Don’t you think that’s disrespectful to the author?”

“Disrespectful? What do you mean?”

“What I mean is, well—-if you were the author, wouldn’t you want your books to be read in the order you wrote them?”

“I don’t get it.”

Taato shook her head dismissively.

“Who cares about the author?”

“…”

There are unpleasantly many people in all walks of life who try to win arguments by feigning ignorance and pretending to misunderstand what the other party is saying, but it seemed like at least in this case, Taato truly didn’t understand what I was saying.

Alright, let’s calm down.

She’s a middleschooler, younger than me.

I’m a highschooler, the older one here.

“Let’s talk about mystery novels, for example. You like mystery books, don’t you, Taato? You bought five of them in a week, after all.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Can we agree that you shouldn’t read the solution to a mystery before reading the rest of the book?”

“…”

There was a tense silence.

But after a pause, Taato said, “Yeah, I agree.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. At least we had some common ground. Otherwise, there would be nowhere for our conversation to go.

“It’s almost as terrible as reading the afterword first.”

This was something I couldn’t quite agree with (I’m the kind of reader that reads the afterword first whenever possible), but I decided to concede that point for the sake of argument.

“It’s just like that,” I said.

“It’s only natural for authors to want their books to be read in order. The first book in a series, then the second, then the third. The first volume of a manga, then the second, then the third. The first volume of a novel, then the second. That’s the order that the author wants them to be read in.”

“Who cares about the author?”

Taato’s repeated question stung.

“This isn’t Japanese class, why do I have to think about what the author wants? That’s the trouble with you primitives. What difference does it make what someone’s feelings were when they wrote a book? All that matters is what kind of book they ended up with.” Taato continued, “The reason you shouldn’t read the conclusion or the afterword first is because books come in the basic unit of one volume.

“That’s the only reason why, because that’s the basic unit of a book. The author’s opinions don’t matter. I couldn’t care less what kind of person the author is.”

“Wait, but—don’t you get curious? If you read a good book, it’s only natural to wonder what the author is like. You can’t help but wonder how they ended up writing that kind of—”

“That’s as shallow as saying that mystery novelists spend their time thinking about how to murder people. Or like those people who dig up a serial killer’s written assignments for elementary school and pick them apart, thinking they’ve learned something. Only the final product matters, not who was responsible. You shouldn’t elevate the process over the end result. Even if you told me that every single book in the world was written by one person, I would believe it.”

“…”

Ah.

Hold on, we went off topic.

She did have a point, and the examples I chose were somewhat extreme. Now we were arguing about something else. You shouldn’t focus on the author to the extent that you lose sight of the work—that’s not something I need a middleschooler to lecture me about, it’s the basics of the basic for any reader.

Even so.

That’s no reason to read the last volume before the first.

When I told her that, she clicked her tongue with a loud “Tch.” So she was trying to deflect my line of offense by quibbling over a technicality. I had taken her for an airhead, but she’s craftier than I thought.

“To be honest, or well, to be blunt, you could say that it’s because I’m someone who reads the last volume before the first.”

“That isn’t much of an explanation… There are some mystery books that are also split into two volumes. You’re even holding one right now. Even with books like that, you would still read the last volume first?”

“Yeah.”

“But then you’ll read the conclusion first, won’t you?”

“Of course.”

“…Doesn’t that contradict what you said before?”

“No, it doesn’t,” Taato said. “I would just read it the wrong way.”

“…”

“Even though it’s wrong, I’d still do it. When I read the last volume first, I end up reading the afterword first. I would do something terrible. I know it’s wrong and terrible of me, but I would still do it. That’s all there is to it, Jibai Nakoto.”

She didn’t show an ounce of remorse.

“So what? I’m not bothering anyone.”

“…”

Here’s one of those youngsters who thinks she can do anything as long as it isn’t causing trouble now or bothering anyone. …Even as a fellow youngster, it’s more aggravating than I imagined.

“You really care that much about how other people buy their books? ….Hah.”

I was unsure of what else to say but couldn’t bear going back to the register without settling this, so I fell into silence, until Taato spoke and sighed emphatically as she gazed up at the sky.

She raised her hand up high, almost as if she was trying to get reception for her transmissions from outer space.

“Um…?”

“Hold on. Right now I’m taking the words I need to convince you and tuning them to this era’s common sense and accepted practices. If only you spoke Lamplightian, this would be so much easier, but since you can’t, I’ll just have to translate.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Mm. Tuning complete. Sorry for the wait, Jibai Nakoto.”

She lowered her hand and spoke.

“Books, you know, don’t get published all the time.”

“Huh…?”

What are you talking about?

Of course they do.

It’s booksellers like me that sell them.

“No, that’s not what I mean. There’s a gap between when one book and the next gets published. Once a book comes out you have to wait for the sequel to come out.”

“Well, that’s…”

True.

There is a gap between publications.

For the mystery book that was the first book she bought, it was a three-year wait.

“So my mom—she was hospitalized a while ago, by the way, and she’s a huge fan of this fantasy series.”

Hospitalized—past tense.

I suppose she’s been discharged.

“But the author—that existence that you always wonder about—was taking a very long time to release the next book and resolve the cliffhanger that the story was on. There were always rumors that the next book would come out in a month or so, but it never did.”

“Hm.”

It’s a common occurrence.

As authors becomes more popular, they release books less frequently. It’s a universal law that applies to all popular authors, regardless of writing speed, and booksellers call it the “laziness of popular authors.”

“And then,” continued Taato. “My mom died.”

“Huh?”

“She didn’t get to see how her favorite series ended.”

So that’s why she used past tense.

She had been hospitalized—

Eagerly awaiting the continuation of her favorite series.

“It’s really tragic, not being able to read the rest of your favorite series. When it’s on a cliffhanger or a high point, and you can’t wait to read what happens next, but then you can’t.”

“…It is tragic.”

“Well, I made up that stuff about my mom,” Taato said nonchalantly.

What, she was lying?

“That’s just an example of something that could happen. It’s an analogy to show you what I mean. That’s why I read starting from the latest release, whenever I can. So something like the manga I bought this week is my ideal. I want to read everything I can in reverse order, going from the last to first volume. The series I bought last week wasn’t complete yet, but the next book probably won’t come out soon, maybe not until I’m in high school, which means it might as well be complete, so that was a compromise.”

“So, what you’re saying is…you can’t help yourself from wondering what will happen next, which is why you only read completed series?”

If you worded it like that, I could just barely understand it.

I do have friends who read books in that way. It’s not exactly something I approve of, completely holding off on reading the series until the last volume is published, then reading the whole thing in one go. With that method, you miss out on long-running series and series with sporadic release schedules, so you would have to make an exception (or in Taato’s words, a compromise) for those cases. So it goes with only reading completed series—but even those people wouldn’t read the series in reverse order. That defeats the whole point of waiting for the last volume.

Hold on.

What is the point of reading a series in reverse order?

“If it’s because you can’t help but wonder what will happen next…but then, that would mean—”

“Wondering what will happen next is only half of it.”

“Half?”

“Th…That’s the first time I’ve seen you smile.”

“…”

There she goes randomly dropping a great line.

I wasn’t even smiling.

“Heh.”

And then Taato smiled.

“Another analogy…has this ever happened to you, Jibai Nakoto? You buy the first book in a series, go home, finish it, and really like it—so you spend the night dying to find out will happen next?”

“I—”

Wondering what will happen next.

Dying to find out what will happen next.

But that must be an extremely common experience, something that every reader has gone through. That’s not even an analogy. You want to drop everything and run barefoot to the bookstore to buy the sequel, but it’s the middle of the night and the bookstore doesn’t open until ten in the morning. That experience, that ordeal, that agony is something you grow as reader by overcoming.

What about it?

“And the day after you spend the night dying to find out what will happen next, you buy the sequel, but it’s not very good—has that ever happened to you?”

“There’s—”

No way.

That it hasn’t happened to me.

Some books you read are good and some are bad. That’s something that everyone has definitely gone through, an even more common experience. There are books that bored me but interested many other people, and books that everyone else disliked but I enjoyed. That’s how it goes. Taste in books being as varied as it is, there’s no escaping that. At the same time, it’s also a ray of hope.

For any reader.

“That night of agony turns out to be all in vain. What do you think about that? About being disappointed?”

“Nothing in particular—isn’t it inevitable? Sometimes you’re disappointed and sometimes you’re let down, that’s what happens—you don’t know what’s in a book until you read it, and just like that story about your mom, you can’t help but wonder what happens next, so—”

“Which is why, so that you don’t have to wonder about that, you read starting from the end.”

“Ohh.”

If you start reading from a book with no sequel, if you start reading from the end towards the beginning—like you’re looking back in time—then you won’t wonder about what happens next. And if you already know what will happen next, you won’t be disappointed. With no “next” to be worried about, that’s only natural. If you read starting from the first volume, you’ll worry about the next volume, but if you read the final volume first, there’s nothing after that—I suppose. Is that really the case, though? Couldn’t the opposite happen instead? What if you read the last volume and enjoy it, then get curious about the first volume, but it turns out to be boring…there are plenty of series with a mediocre beginning that dramatically improve in the following volumes.

How would you deal with those cases?

“The future and past have completely different connotations, right? It might be hard for someone from this era to understand… but the last volume is to the “future” as the first volume is to the “present”. “Wondering about the future” is completely different from “wondering about the past”, and so are “a dull future” and “a dull past”. The past will never become the present, but once you know what the future is, it becomes the present.

“When you’re dating someone, would you pry into their past? Or would you dream about your future together?”

Out of the blue, Taato made a crass metaphor.

At the same time, it made her sound like an actual middle school girl.

“As long as the present is good, that’s enough for me. That’s why I read starting from the latest release, the last book, and the final volume. If I like it, then I’ll look into the past. Like I’m diving back in time. That’s all.”

“…”

“I read the conclusion first and the afterword first—no matter how wrong or terrible it is, that’s what I want. All I want is to read the best part first.”

“But then…you won’t be able to watch how an author matures from their debut… If you fixate on the results, on the outcome, you’ll overlook—”

“I’m not the author’s mom, why should I care about how the author matures? Pros only have their final product to show, so I’m not fixating on the results, just giving it the attention it deserves—it’s not something you should look away from. I’m not going to judge an author based on their writing process. It’s the absolute worst when you can see the author’s effort.”

“Still—I don’t mean to contradict myself, but if you read the last volume first and it turns out the first volume is better, won’t you regret it? There are some series where the beginning is good, but by the end it fizzles out or jumps the shark—”

“I won’t regret it. I’d be glad. You’re right, the latest book in a series isn’t necessarily the best, but if you read starting there, then that doesn’t matter. It’s the difference between the present, the past, and the future. Reading might mean something different to you, Jibai Nakoto, but that’s what reading is to me.”

Everyone has a completely different experience with reading.

I suppose that’s what it boils down to in the end. My conversation with Taato gave me something of an explanation. I knew what she was thinking, what she was saying… what she wanted, and what she did.

But it wasn’t something I could do.

It was impossible for me.

Or should I have told her?

Should I have said that at the start?

Not that she was wrong, but that she was strange.

“I’ll be going now,” Taato said. “I want to get home as soon as I can and read this book—can I? The signal’s changed between green and red so many times. It must be waiting for me to cross.”

“Go ahead…” I said. “I’m terribly sorry for keeping you.”

“Don’t worry about it. …Oh, that’s right, since all I’ve been doing is telling you about my opinions, I’ll say something for you. Something personal to you, Jibai Nakoto, who always wants to know about the author. Speaking of being disappointed, why don’t you think about what it’s like to have people expect things from you that you don’t deserve?

“…”

“Luhamay papmi hew.”

After saying something that must mean “goodbye” or “farewell” in Lamplightian, Taato, Toyoyama Taato, crossed the street. It wasn’t long before that tracksuited middle schooler vanished from sight.

Today was Friday.

Next Monday—

She might come to buy the first volume.

But not if she didn’t like the last volume.

In that case she would buy a different book.

Either way, that’s the end of my account of the eccentric girl I met. I hope I conveyed even a fraction of the discomfort, of the disconcertion that I experienced. Still, ending my story without a good closing line would leave a bad aftertaste. Even with my lack of writing ability, that doesn’t sit well with me (but neither could I let her final line in Lamplightian become the closing line), so to sketch out a bit of what happened after Taato left, I was at a loss for what to do but didn’t want to linger there, so I returned to the bookstore. I shouldn’t leave my coworker to cover my register forever. He asked if I managed to return her change, and I told him that I had misunderstood something. It would be trouble if I tried to maintain my excuse and the till wasn’t balanced at the end of the day.

When we passed by each other behind the counter, he commented about how Taato didn’t come in on weekends. After I agreed, he chuckled, saying that he wished he didn’t either.

I knew exactly what he was referring to.

This Saturday was the release date for the final book of a long-running national-bestseller of a series. A shipment of so many cardboard boxes that it would be difficult to believe they were all filled with the same book was scheduled to arrive tomorrow. My coworker was responsible for stocking and displaying all of them. It was the kind of hard labor that would be unbearable if you didn’t love books.

It was the final book of the series.

That made me think.

I had no intention of reading the final book first, and besides, I had already read all the previous works in the series, but even so, that made me think.

I remembered something.

It was what Taato said.

To imagine what it’s like to have people expect things of you—that was a legitimate point. It might be my privilege as a reader to raise my hopes, feel let down, and come to acceptance all at my own convenience. It might be selfish of me. Of course, authors go into the business fully aware that this baggage comes with it, and naturally they profit from having high expectations placed upon them, but I wonder if they feel relieved when they publish something with no continuation, that is, the last book in a series, and are freed from the readers’ expectations.

As I was thinking that, my coworker said something.

That he was excited.

What would that author come out with next?

Translation Notes

At Japanese bookstores, you can ask for them to put paper covers on the books you buy.
Books in Japan are relatively small, so longer books often get published as multiple volumes.
The gender of Nakoto’s coworker (or coworkers?) isn’t specified, but I went with male.

2 thoughts on “The Shape of Glory

  1. Cool piece! The girl’s method has more downsides, though.
    Wondering how many bonuses may be hidden in Japanese books. I’ve heard a Katanagatari short story even came with manjyu!

    Like

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