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The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (1596)

by Sei Shonagon

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,225374,959 (4.03)80
One of the great classics of Japanese literature, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon is by far our most detailed source of factual material on life in eleventh-century Japan at the height of Heian culture.
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» See also 80 mentions

English (34)  Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (37)
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
It's always nice to find a classic that's entertaining; consider Don Quixote. It's even nicer when that classic can be read in ten minute increments just before bed, and I recommend that everyone do precisely that with The Pillow Book. There are plenty of novels out there, plenty of poetry collections, popular philosophy books, essay collections, lots of literary criticism, memoirs and so on. This combines all of those things, and does all of them well. I could quote at great length, but won't. Here's a couple of bits that I enjoyed:

185: Nothing in all the world could be worse than a man or woman who turns out to use words vulgarly... it's actually not a bad thing to use vulgar or unseemly words intentionally, knowing them for what they are. What's astonishing is when someone produces a word from their private store without pausing to consider its nature.

243: I particularly despise people who express themselves poorly in writing.

Amen, Sei, Amen.

I'd also like to recommend that everyone get this newer Penguin edition, translated by Meredith McKinney. Even if you knew nothing of Heian Japan (and I know very little), you'd still be able to enjoy the writing and wit thanks to McKinney's translation and notes. A model of scholarship for the common reader. ( )
  stillatim | Oct 23, 2020 |
This collection of tales, observations, poetry, lists, gossip, and personal reveries comes from the writings of Sei Shonagon, a lady at the court of the Japanese empress from the years 993 to 1000. They range from the comic to the moving, from the exasperating to the joyful. And they are intensely intimate, providing a glimpse into the world of the Japanese palace and its manners and customs entirely unmatched by other works, including the The Tale of Genji.

Reading it, I believe, should not be done at one or two settings. Its musings are best appreciated in 10-20 page passages, so as to linger over the imagery and wordplay, rather than gobbling it all down at once. This particular edition is greatly aided by Meredith McKinney's first rate translation as well as her extensive introduction, appendices, and notes, all of which should be incorporated into a close reading of the subject matter.

Personal observation: I read The Pillow Book while simultaneously reading several other works of Japanese literature, including everything from old folk tales to modern and contemporary mysteries. It was a coincidence. But it was remarkable to see how the manners and customs of this era of Japanese history, the Heian period, were trickling down into the popular culture of the immediate times on until today. In fact, I strongly recommend reading the older folk tales along with The Pillow Book to get a well rounded appreciation for the force and might of cultural attitudes over an entire civilization. ( )
  PaulCornelius | Apr 12, 2020 |
Sei Shōnagon is sensitive to people's manners. She carefully describes her taste, likes and dislikes. She is excellent describing behaviour that repules her and other items that bring her joy. She has a candid style that is charming and entertaining. ( )
  cakecop | Dec 28, 2019 |
A collection of writings by a woman from the Heian period in Japan. She served as a lady in the court for Empress Sadako. ( )
  niquetteb | Sep 2, 2019 |
The pillow book presents both a slice of life and a way of life. Provides an observant sense of time and place with humor and specificity. The narrator's personality is hard to pin down or predict...she oscillates between gossip, mystic, and biographer. ( )
  albertgoldfain | Aug 15, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (92 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sei Shonagonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Birney, AlfredPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Deane, JasperIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Edmond, VibekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Facetti, GermanoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heijman, PaulTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Méjan, Marie-SophieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McKinney, MeredithTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morris, IvanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vos, JosTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Waley, ArthurTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Yumiko ToriiCalligraphersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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One of the great classics of Japanese literature, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon is by far our most detailed source of factual material on life in eleventh-century Japan at the height of Heian culture.

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