What is the significance of reading books for those of us living today? Or, to put it another way, what is the significance of college students reading books as part of their academic studies?
The importance of this question seems to be increasing. Why do we read books when there are various other media such as the Internet and television? Is it just a medium of the written word, or can it be replaced by something else?
Needless to say, it is the publishers who continue to stand at the forefront of this huge question. As long as they publish books, they have to respond to this question in some way.
The company that has been answering this question in Japan is Chikuma Shobo. Founded in 1940, Chikuma Shobo is one of the most famous publishers in Japan, and it is notable for its large-scale development of academic books, which are unlikely to sell in large numbers. One of its labels, “Chikuma Gakugei Bunko”, offers classics, high-level research books, and introductory books in compact paperbacks at relatively low prices. Other labels, such as “Chikuma Sensho” and “Chikuma Shinsho” have produced many books that are both accessible to the general public and of a high academic standard.
This time, we interviewed Yoshihiro Kitamura, editor-in-chief of the “Chikuma Gakugei Bunko” at Chikuma Shobo, which is engaged in such a project, about the current state of academic publishing and its attempts, and the following is a reconstruction of the interview.
One of Chikuma Shobo’s publishing labels, “Chikuma Gakugei Bunko”, is participating in the “Chichikakakohe” fair, which will be held for the seventh time in 2021, and in its pamphlet, Kitamura gives the following short introduction to “Chikuma Gakugei Bunko”.
“Chikuma Gakugei Bunko has been publishing works from the humanities and social sciences to science that are fresh and new. In today’s world, we are bombarded with an enormous amount of information, especially on the Internet, and our interests and hobbies have become increasingly fragmented. What are the words and thoughts that remain brilliant and stimulating in the midst of all this?”
Simply put, it is the response to this question that has shaped Chikuma Shobo’s academic publishing.
Chikuma Shobo is engaged in academic publishing with the aim of connecting the general public with academia, conveying to the general public the intellectual achievements that have been accumulated by humankind, and expanding the scope of research and study, which is essential for the development of the future. For this reason, they publish many classics and introductory books that can be read by the general public with a bit of effort, rather than voluminous research books.
The genre of the books focuses on the humanities and social sciences in general, philosophy, history, literature, art, economics, and law, but there are also many publications related to the natural sciences.
“Chikuma shobo” publishes a wide variety of books for ordinary people who complete compulsory education. And they have some labels,such as “Chikuma sinnsyo”, “Chikuma primer shinnsyo” “Chikuma sennsyo”, “Chikuma gakugei bunnko”, which have different characteristics respectively.
First,“Chikuma sinnsyo” mainly publishes books about current social issues and are written by the popular author. So these books provide fresh and trendy information. In addition, “Chikuma primer shinnsyo”, a sister-rabel of “Chikuma shinnsyo”, publishes introductory books about common topics with a small number of pages for young adults.
On the other hand,”Chikuma sennsyo” aims to offer profound knowledge which enables readers to think about one topic more deeply. So, they publish books dealing with narrow but deep topics.
Finally,”Chikuma gakugei bunnko”,which we interviewed this time, mostly focuses on providing popular books which sold well as tankoubon, for much more people at lower price. And also, sometimes publish books in cooperation with other publishing companies.
“Chikuma shobo” is a company which sells books as commodities. Therefore, sometimes they have no choice but to go out of print. However, they think they are not just the company which pursues their profit but also have responsibility to support the development of scientific research. So, they try to keep as much stock as possible. And also, even though they go out of print once, some books could be republished by readers. Furthermore, lately, they promote publishing books as e-book, because it saves costs and enables much more people to access books easily.
One of the most important tasks of a publishing company is to broaden its readership. As part of this effort, as mentioned earlier, Chikuma Gakugei Bunko are holding a joint fair with other companies under the title “Chichikakakohe”. This is an acronym for the six publishers including Chikuma Gakugei Bunko, and the seventh fair is currently being held under the theme of “Living with Culture” to promote the books to as many people as possible. They are also actively communicating through SNS and other media.
However, Mr. Kitamura said that it is important not only for publishers to take action, but also for readers to actively recommend books that they think are good to each other. Today, with the spread of the Internet, it is easy for individuals to send out information, making it easier for so-called “word of mouth” to spread among readers. It will become increasingly important for both publishers and readers to take advantage of this tendency to promote books through active information dissemination.
In this interview, Mr. Kitamura introduced the following three books as recommended books for us university students.
The first book is “Lectures on World System Theory”. This is a history book that describes modern world history based on a single view called world system theory. Since it is a book based on a lecture given at a university, it is relatively easy to read. It is a book that should be read by anyone with a broad interest in history and economics.
The second book, with a slightly provocative title, is “Identity Kills People. This is an essay written by Amin Maalouf, a Lebanese-born Frenchman, and it gives us the perspective we need to live in a society where globalization is advancing and people with various identities are living together.The translator, Masatsugu Ono, is an Akutagawa Prize-winning author, and his translation is characterized by its extremely high quality.
The third book is “An Invitation to the Philosophy of Science”. This is a book on the history of science, describing the history of science from ancient times to the present. Mr. Kitamura said that it is a book that should be read in order to think about various scientific issues that surround us today, such as nuclear power plants and the Internet.
Mr. Kitamura says that the experience of reading through one academic book is important to create the habit of reading academic books. If you are not familiar with academic books, why don’t you try these books as your first choice?