[Review] Making Sense of Japanese, by Jay Rubin

[Review] Making Sense of Japanese, by Jay RubinMaking Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don't Tell You by Jay Rubin
Published by Kodansha on 2013 (first published 1992)
Genres: Non-fiction
Pages: 136
The verdict: four-half-stars
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Making Sense of Japanese is the fruit of one foolhardy American's thirty-year struggle to learn and teach the Language of the Infinite. Previously known as Gone Fishin', this book has brought Jay Rubin more feedback than any of his literary translations or scholarly tomes, "even if," he says, "you discount the hate mail from spin-casters and the stray gill-netter."
To convey his conviction that "the Japanese language is not vague," Rubin has dared to explain how some of the most challenging Japanese grammatical forms work in terms of everyday English. Reached recently at a recuperative center in the hills north of Kyoto, Rubin declared, "I'm still pretty sure that Japanese is not vague. Or at least, it's not as vague as it used to be. Probably."

Oh, this book. OH, THIS BOOK.

You see, when I read the reviews where everyone was praising this book, saying how useful and funny it was, I was slightly sceptical. Sure, I like Rubin’s translations. Sure, he knows his Japanese. But I don’t trust non-fiction/selfhelp/reference works to keep me interested. I always get bored reading them, I just don’t have the patience. And this book is funny? Yeah, right.

Good job, Rubin, proving me wrong. I really enjoyed this book for so many reasons. For one, it really is quite funny. I couldn’t help smirk at some of his comments and comparisons, thinking “Yes, yes, that’s exactly what it’s like“. Fair enough, not having grown up in the US, I didn’t get all the references (who’s Johnny Carson?) but I wasn’t bothered by it.

Anyway. ‘Funny’ is all well and good, but the most important thing about this book is: damn, it’s useful. If you study Japanese, and especially if you’re at the point where you are starting to become confident and as Rubin himself says “progress from cognitive absorption to intuitive mastery”, you have to read this book. I’d personally recommend this book for anyone level N3 and up. I think that’s when you will benefit the most from it.

Rubin covers all kinds of topics related to the Japanese language, in small and slightly larger chapters. For me, they can be divided in three: 1) topics that I had no problem with, 2) topics that I never quite got but that are now clear, and 3) topics that I thought I understood but apparently got all wrong (ouch).

Rubin not only explains how certain aspects of Japanese grammar work, but also how to practically deal with them. And that precisely is what makes this book so useful.

The only complaint I have about this book (which is why it’s a 4.5 instead of 5 star book for me) is that I would have liked all Japanese examples to have kanji&kana next to the romaji.

And that’s it. That’s my only issue. Besides that, this book was perfect. I hope Rubin will continue to work on it (it has been revised once already) and will add new topics.

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