Skip to main content

Heartwarming in Translation

Published onMar 29, 2024
Heartwarming in Translation

One of the trickier balancing acts of library work is keeping up with trends. The holds for a backlist title may suddenly skyrocket with a screen adaptation or an influencer promoting it at just the right time on a social media channel. We want to keep up with trends—after all, it’s what patrons will walk through the door asking for—but we also have limits on staff time, building capacity, and budget. We’d love to keep the holds queue at a reasonable level, but we also don’t want to be left with hundreds of unused items after the initial trend has died down. Wobble, balance. The jokes about building small castles out of all the extra Fifty Shades of Grey books after the craze subsided may have been hilarious, but the pain of figuring out what to do with all the excess material is all too real.

The best place to be, I think, is slightly behind the curve. There’s still enough time to react strategically before a trend hits a peak while not overbuying or frantically sprinting to catch up. Hitting that target takes practice, expertise, and skill—none of which, I’m sorry to say, I possess in any great quantity. (That’s a different article.) I work for two branch libraries—one busy and large, and the other growing and small—and trend knowledge is something I snatch between the everyday labor of programming, outreach, collection development, and working with the public. It’s a good day when I recognize which TikTok books are flying off the shelves (quick tip: Barnes and Noble has a page of popular TikTok books and NoveList has a subsection of TikTok reads if you don’t have the time or inclination to log on to the app).

All this to say that I was extraordinarily excited when I correctly identified a trend. It started when I read, loved, and booktalked The Cat Who Saved Books, which was a Japanese import by Sosuke Natsukawa, translated by Louise Heal Kawai. Even though it was published three years ago, the book is still circulating respectably at our library. This past year, I read an advanced copy of What You Are Looking For Is in the Library by Michiko Aoyama, translated by Alison Watts. If you look, you might be able to see my smiling mug holding it up on my library’s Best Books of 2023 page. The holds list is enormous (er, sorry about that). My personal victory was complete when I read a Booklist Online article about feel-good books from Japan within the last couple of weeks. I had read (or heard of) every single book on the list. I may have high-fived myself in the staff room.

My insight into larger trends may be patchy, but I am more than happy to share my knowledge on this one very specific topic: cozy, translated reads. These books are well worth seeking out for yourself or your eager patrons, as they are heartwarming, but not without bittersweet or poignant moments. The pace is slow, and the plot generally doesn’t contain high drama. Instead, they are full of books, cooking, coffee, cats, magic, or some delightful combination of the above. 

Apart from these cozy translations, I wish you and all my fellow workers good luck keeping up with all the trends rocketing past. And if one of you happens to stumble upon a reliable trend-deducing crystal ball, help a colleague out, won’t you?

Hotel Science book cover features a silhouette of a hotel building with characters in windows and at the doorway. Color palette is blue, white, and pink.

Hotel Silence by Auður A. Ólafsdóttir, translated from Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon

The titular hotel stands amidst the rubble of war. Depressed Jonas Ebeneser is one of the guests. Jonas intends to end his life, but when he’s asked to use his skills as a handyman, he slowly finds community, connection, and some reasons to hope. Give this Icelandic work to folks who like works by Fredrik Backman.

The Little Paris Bookshop cover image features a postcard in front of a Paris scene of the Eiffel Tower from a bridge.

Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, translated from German by Simon Pare

This book was everywhere a few years ago and I think it might be time for a renaissance. Jean Perdu is a literary apothecary—a bookseller who has an almost magical ability to ‘prescribe’ the right book just when a person needs it the most. However, no matter what he reads, Perdu cannot heal his own broken heart from a love lost years ago. A chance encounter sends Perdu and a couple stowaways with problems on a voyage to seek redemption and hope.

Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop cover image shows a bookshop at night in dark purple with yellow lights. A person walks their dog out front.

Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop by Hwang Bo-reum, translated from Korean by Shanna Tan

Yeong-ju takes a huge leap when she leaves a high-powered job and an unhappy marriage to open a bookstore. At first, she’s overwhelmed and anxious, but with the help of good coworkers, customers, and her own instincts, she slowly builds it into a warm and welcoming place. Told in a series of vignettes, this quiet story asks gently philosophical questions about the meaning of success.

The Kamogawa Food Detectives cover image shows three ramen bowls, one with an orange tabby cat inside.

The Kamogawa Food Detectives by Hisashi Kashiwai, translated from Japanese by Jesse Kirkwood

A father-daughter duo run a restaurant and serve as ‘food detectives’ to their customers. They have the unique ability to recreate a treasured meal from a person’s memories. When customers are served their favorite food, they find themselves with the strength to revisit the past and face the future. The author takes readers on an evocative Japanese culinary journey. Don’t read hungry!

Before the Coffee Gets Cold cover image shows an empty table with two chairs, two mugs of coffee, and one lamp. A cat sits underneath.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, translated from Japanese by Geoffrey Trousselot

A very special cafe in Tokyo allows its visitors to time travel. The book follows four patrons as they journey to the past. Each is desperate to take the journey but must follow the cafe’s rules. Sit in a particular seat, don’t leave the cafe, and return to the present before the coffee gets cold. An intimate and tender peek into the patron’s lives combined with the wistful feel of things that have been lost from the present.

Cat + Gamer book cover shows a black-and-white tuxedo cat with big, yellow eyes.

Cat + Gamer by Wataru Nadatani, translated from Japanese by Zack Davisson

This slice-of-life graphic novel series begins when 29-year-old office worker Riko Kozakura unexpectedly adopts a stray cat. Worried about her ability to care for her new pet, Riko decides to use the skills gained from decades of gaming to level up her cat care abilities. Meanwhile, the adorable cat wonders at their new caregiver’s antics and helps her overcome her shyness to make new connections.

The Savior's Book Café Story in Another World book cover shows two characters interacting in a bookshop, one holding a book.

The Savior's Book Café Story in Another World by Omiya, translated from Japanese by Alexa Frank

A bonus trend to know is an Isekai-style story. Isekai is a subgenre of fantasy where a character is transported from their world into a new or unfamiliar one. This Isekai manga follows 30-something Tsukina, who is transported to a fantasy realm to be its savior. However, Tsukina would far rather have a quiet life, so she opts to open a magical book cafe instead.

Dead-End Memories book cover image shows a red silhouette of a character against an orang, ginkgo leaf background.

Dead-End Memories by Banana Yoshimoto, translated from Japanese by Asa Yoneda

In each of these five short stories, a woman experiences a sudden or traumatic event. With steady care, time, and a dedication to resilience, every woman recovers and thrives. Each story has a multitude of quiet, shining moments that gleam like gems. A shared pot of soup. A much-needed moment of grace. Grocery shopping with a loved one. Pour yourself a cup of tea and get ready to savor the luminous prose.

Jenna Zarzycki's headshot shows her smiling slightly at the camera wearing a mustard yellow button-up, floral sweater, and her brown hair is up in a bun.
I am an adult services librarian at the King County Library System who lives and works in South King County. I adore talking about books to anyone who will listen and regularly contribute to KCLS’ BookMatch and booklist services. My favorite reads tend towards fantasy, romance, and narrative nonfiction, although any book has the possibility to become a new favorite.
No comments here
Why not start the discussion?