At this year's All Japan Library Conference earlier this month, the president of the publishing house Bungeishunju Ltd. made an appeal to libraries to stop lending "bunko" (pocket-edition) paperbacks, when possible.

With the publishing industry languishing in recession, his wish must be that people would buy those affordable volumes, rather than borrow them from libraries.

But libraries are unlikely to comply readily, as paperbacks are said to be popular among users because of their portability.

The humble bunko has a big impact on publishers' bottom line and library service alike.

Books of this format were originally introduced as an inexpensive alternative to pricier volumes of classics and literary works. During the 1970s, Kadokawa Corp. began selling them to promote its movies. I recall this expanded the selection of paperback novels for entertainment.

Needless to say, paperbacks have continued to serve the function of re-introducing good but forgotten books of the past to the public. It is always a happy surprise to discover one.

In her book titled "Dokusho no Tobira" (Door to reading), novelist Mieko Kawakami cites books of the Iwanami Bunko imprint--paperbacks from Iwanami Shoten Publishers--in recommending an unusual method of selecting a book to read.

You stand in front of a bookstore shelf, close your eyes and buy the first your outstretched hand touches. And you must read it to the end, even if the content isn't easy to understand, or you have no idea what the title means.

Selecting a book to read in that way, Kawakami explains, means "encountering something you didn't know before" and "getting a taste of brief freedom from your own consciousness."

Her method should be worth trying, given that Iwanami Bunko is known for its large selection of critically acclaimed titles.

Although I am daunted by this sort of experiment, the affordability of paperbacks--you get change from 1,000 yen--makes me reach out for a volume of a genre I am not familiar with.

This adds to my growing pile of books I intend to read some day. But even then, I always make a beeline for the paperbacks section whenever I enter a bookstore, seeking a new encounter.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 16

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.