The right book can instantly transport you to anywhere — and anytime — in the world. Every Thursday, we recommend one of our favorite books with a strong sense of place so you can see the sights, meet remarkable people, go on exciting adventures, and feel big feelings. Bonus: You don't even have to put on pants.
This post is part of our 'Weekend Getaway' series.
Meet an unforgettable heroine with a unique perspective on the world. In this slim, unputdownable novel, you’ll experience her version of Tokyo and see the beauty she sees in the titular convenience store.
This weird and wonderful novel focuses on the microcosm of a Japanese convenience store and expands it into the entire world of our heroine, Keiko. She’s 36 years old, she’s never had a boyfriend, and the convenience store is her safe place.
Keiko’s entire life revolves around the store where she’s worked for 18 years. She finds solace in the repeating rows of products and the routine of her work shift. She takes pride in re-stocking the shelves just so. She cheerfully greets each customer with a perfect cadence, just as she was instructed in her training video.
Keiko consumes food and bottled water from the store almost exclusively: ‘When I think that my body is entirely made up of food from this store, I feel like I’m as much a part of the store as the magazine racks or the coffee machine.’
Her friends and family — a devastatingly normal sister, snarky friends, ambitious co-workers — don’t understand her: Why she doesn’t crave a more respectable job? A husband? Babies?
In her own way, Keiko makes sense; her world is compact but complete. Then a new employee invades her life and upsets her equilibrium in ways that she — and we — could never have anticipated.
As Keiko fights to get a grip on her true identity, we can’t help but root for her.
Fun fact: There are more than 50,000 convenience stores — called konbini — in Japan. Author Sayaka Murata still worked part-time in the convenience store that inspired this story, even after winning a prestigious Japanese literary prize. Convenience Store Woman sold more than 650,000 copies in Japan and is her first novel to be translated into English.
The audiobook, read by Nancy Wu, is a delightful way to be pulled into the story. Keiko’s first-person narrative is very expressive, and the way Wu gives voice to Keiko’s judgy friends is hilariously biting.
I love this moment. It feels like morning itself is being loaded into me. The tinkle of the door chime as a customer comes in sounds like church bells to my ears. When I open the door, the brightly lit box awaits me — a dependable, normal world that keeps turning. I have faith in the world inside the light-filled box. — Sayaka Murata
This brilliant, odd little novel (176 pages) was published in September of 2019 by Grove Press. The book takes you to Japan. Melissa read Convenience Store Woman and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.
Top image courtesy of Fabrizio Chiagano/Unsplash.
Want to keep up with our book-related adventures? Sign up for our newsletter!
Can you help us? If you like this article, share it your friends!
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is ©2023 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.