My library (which is magical) had My Solo Exchange Diary / Hitori Koukan Nikki, the sequel to My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (which I haven’t read yet, but which I’m in the queue for at the library.) I’ve been wanting to read My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness since it first came out, but I decided to go ahead and read My Solo Exchange Diary first since I literally had it in hand. I figured I knew enough, generally, about the first book that I could just pick it up and go. It’s an autobiography, at any rate.
I’m not sure I was right about that, however.
The schtick of this book is that it’s an exchange diary that she writes from her past self to her future self.
This, to me, as an American, is just called “a diary,” but exchange diaries are a thing I’ve seen before in manga. There’s a heartbreaking use of one in Wandering Son by Shimura Takako. But, the idea is simple: a group of friends writes a journal together, which is passed between participants.
What I didn’t know until I read the Wikipedia article I linked to, exchange diaries are SUPPOSED to be idealized. You’re supposed to write about who you wish you were, rather than who you are.
Which very much is one of the themes in My Solo Exchange Diary.
Because this is autobiographical, the publication of My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and its reception and how Nagata-sensei deals with her parents (whom she lives with on-and-off) reading it, etc., is part of the story. So, a big amount of the journal entries deal with how, really in polite Japanese society, Nagata-sensei really shouldn’t be talking LIKE THAT (aka honestly) about her family.
Well, I can tell you right now that they’re REALLY not gonna like this book, then.
And, you know, I can relate, as an author. It’s weird when your family reads your stuff. The first time my mom read my sex scenes… uh…. yeah.
Of course, Nagata-sensei’s experience with this is even more complicated because her family is really not very good at the whole family thing. In fact, they seem like pretty awful people, who don’t even know how to say ‘wow, congratulations on publishing a book!’ Instead, they keep asking her when she’s going to get a real job.
I mean… also relatable.
Okay, so, a friend of mine and I were talking the other day about the types of memoirs that are out there. There are memoirs that could be broadly categorized as “I had a more interesting life than you!” or “My job is super weird” or, a big favorite, “I decided to do a thing for year that seemed reasonable, but was crazy AF.” Another huge category seems to be: “I had a terrible childhood.”
I’ve read memoirs of this last variety and enjoyed them, and I didn’t hate My Solo Exchange Diary in the least… no, no, see above, I found a lot to love. BUT. I think that the thing a lot more people will be able to relate to in Nagata-sensei’s latest book–her social anxiety and depression–was stuff I found to be the… least interesting?
No, that’s not fair.
I totally root for Nagata throughout this book, but I think maybe I’ve been ruined by the friends I have IRL who suffer all of these things but have found a way to be genuinely funny about it? Also, as another reviewer pointed out, there’s no neat ending that shows that Nagata-sensei has fully overcome any of it. I mean, with slice-of-life, I don’t really expect that, but it does mean that without the gimmick the the first book had (i.e., hiring a sex worker) this book feels a little… aimless? Depressing?
I was hopeful when Nagata-sensei got a girlfriend.
But, this is based on REAL life, so….
Did I like this enough that I still want to read the first one: yes, absolutely. But, don’t pick this sequel up and expect a feel-good story… or really much of a story at all. It really is much more like reading someone’s diary, illustrated.