Flamingo Tokyo fights the Biblio Battle, a book review speech contest
The public speaking skills of the Japanese populace is often lamented within academic circles. When you consider the generic stump speeches of politicians and didactic monologues of headmasters, you have to admit that it rings somewhat true.
Perhaps in an effort to rectify the situation, interest in public speaking in Japan seems to be building: TED talks are broadcast regularly on NHK, while even some novel forms of presentation such as KDA’s ‘Pecha Kucha’ are gaining in popularity. At Flamingo Tokyo, we decided to try out a new kind of presentation popular amongst literary circles to lend vigour and edge to book clubs: the Biblio Battle.
First conceived at the Graduate School of Informatics in Kyoto University as a way to connect people through books and ideas, this social book reviewing game has simple rules: each participant introduces a book of choice in a 5-minute presentation, followed by a 3-minute discussion. After all contestants have presented, votes are cast for the book each person would most like to read. The winning book is ordained the ‘champion book of the day’. No notes are allowed, so presentations are improvisational and fun to watch.
As our first Flamingo Tokyo library event, we shared our favourite reads. Interestingly, the recurring preference was for individual narrative, unique methods of story telling, and disruptive drive. Here’s a summary of the presentations, a great guide to your next read.
Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s (Frederick L. Allen)
Published in 1931, this book gives an account of life in America during the 1920s, between WWI and the Wall Street Crash. Whereas history books usually deal with big narratives, this work reports on individuals’ lives in all their specificity. Although this was a decade of great historical change, when focused on the narratives of how people lived it, there is strong resonance with our lives today. At Flamingo, we often focus on how people and society are changing; books like this remind us of how much is constant over time.
Inherit the Stars (James P. Hogan)
Similar to The Martian, this is a mystery novel based on science fiction published in 1980. Set in the 2050s in a future where the moon has been colonised by Earth, the story revolves around the discovery of an unidentified dead body on the moon. Forensics reveals he was dead over 50,000 years ago, before anyone had any means to travel to the moon, and an investigation takes place by a group of scientists. Unlike other mystery novels that bring in human emotion or action to add colour to the plot, this story sticks purely to science as the mystery unravels, offering a fresh approach to the genre.
The Art of Listening (Les Back)
This work questions our current culture in which there seems to be an impaired facility of listening to others. This book helps us to realise the importance of listening to others – for everyone. The book focuses on people in weak situations whose stories cry to be heard. For example, the chapters on tattoos record stories of the British working class and the stories of their body art, revealing the traces of collective memory behind what may look like marks of hooliganism. The author defies the norm of objectified research by adopting a highly subjective methodology to listen to people’s stories in depth, capturing the complexities of people’s lived realities.
Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style (W. David Marx)
This book about ‘American traditional’ clothing offers much more than just a story of how Japan saved American casual fashion; it adopts men’s fashion as a lens to see into the socio-history of Japan over the past 150 years. For example, the entrepreneur, Kensuke Ishizu, not only introduced the Ivy League look to Japan, but he also coined iconic terms like ‘TPO’ (time, place, occasion) giving new ways to reference age-old practices.
The Secret of Starbucks’ Outstanding Service (Masayuki Arata)
People go to Starbucks not just for the taste or quality of coffee but for other reasons including its heartfelt service that encourages people to become fans of the brand. This book attempts to uncover some of its magic by looking at the multifaceted approach to service at Starbucks. Some interesting examples include giving staff more room to improvise, rather than detailed guidance, and providing a unique store design to act as a third space (outside of home and work environments) for customers. Great service is a whole comprised of many parts, some of which can, at a glance, feel far from service as we know it.
Kageboushi (Naoki Hyakuta)
This title has many reasons to put off the potential reader: it’s a story about samurai, it beautifies Japanese culture and tradition, and the author’s an ultra-nationalist. Yet it was voted our champion book of the day. The novel, set in the Edo period, is about a boy trying to find out about an old friend who’d gone missing and was found dead. The story unravels as the protagonist revisits his memories of the past to figure out the truth behind his friend’s misfortune. This story is structured in a way that doesn’t make readers hunt for obvious clues in the character’s recollections to solve the mystery. Rather, readers are emotionally immersed into the strong bond of friendship and the joys of growing up, all told in beautiful language. Contrary to period dramas focusing on famous historical figures and events, the story’s focus on the lives of ordinary people adds to the charm, making it a really engaging read.
- Article by Yuriko Yamaguchi