For fans of The Midnight Library and Before the Coffee Gets Cold, a charming Japanese novel about how the perfect book recommendation can change a readers’ life.
September 5, 2023
Hanover Square Press
ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IS IN THE LIBRARY:
What are you looking for? is the question that Tokyo’s most enigmatic librarian, Sayuri Komachi, poses to those who come to her for their next book. The list of recommendations she gives, however, always contains one unexpected addition that promises to give its the borrower the motivation they didn’t realize they needed to change their life.
Each visitor comes to the library from a different juncture in their career, family, or stage of life, from the restless sales attendant who feels stuck at her job, to the struggling working mother who dreams of being a magazine editor. The conversation that they have with Sayuri Komachi – and the surprise book she lends each of them – will have life-altering consequences.
With heartwarming charm and wisdom, What You Are Looking for is in the Library is a paean to the magic of libraries, friendship, and community, perfect for anyone who has ever found themselves at an impasse in their life and in need of a little inspiration.
************EXCERPT OF WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IS IN THE LIBRARY:
Two days later, I’m standing outside the elementary school with my laptop in hand. I follow the directions from the Community House home page and walk along the school fence until I reach a narrow road. There it is: a two-story white building with a sign over the canopy at the entrance that says “Hatori Community House.”
I go through a glass door and see an old guy with bushy gray hair at the front desk. In the office behind him, a woman with a bandana sits at a desk writing something.
“Um, I’m here for the computer class,” I say to the old guy.
“Put your name down here. It’s in Meeting Room A.” He points at a folder on the countertop. A sheet of paper inside has a table with columns headed Name, Purpose of visit, Time of arrival and Time of departure.
Meeting Room A is on the ground floor. Going past the front desk to the lobby, I turn right and find it immediately. Through an open sliding door I can see two students sitting at long tables facing each other with their laptops open: a girl a bit older than me with soft wavy hair and an old guy with a square face.
The teacher turns out to be a woman, not a man. Ms. Gonno is probably in her fifties.
I go over and introduce myself. “Hello, my name is Tomoka Fujiki.”
She gives me a friendly smile. “Please, sit wherever you like.”
I choose to sit at the same table as the girl, but at the other end. She and the old guy are concentrating so hard on their own stuff they take no notice of me. I open up my laptop, which I’d already started up at home since I haven’t used it in ages and which took forever to boot. My fingers feel like bananas on the keyboard, probably because I only ever use a smartphone. I should probably do some practice in Word as well.
“Ms. Fujiki, you want to learn Excel, don’t you?” says Ms. Gonno, glancing down at my computer.
“Yes. But this computer doesn’t have Excel.”
She looks at my screen again and moves the mouse around a bit. “Yes it does. I’ll make a shortcut for you.”
A green icon with an X for Excel appears at the edge of the screen. No way! Excel has been hiding in my computer all along?
“I can see you’ve used Word, so I assume you have Office installed.”
I don’t have a clue what she’s talking about… But I did ask a friend at college to set up Word for me when I couldn’t figure it out for myself. Maybe that’s how it got in there. This is what happens when you leave stuff up to other people.
For the next two hours, I learn all about Excel. Ms. Gonno wanders between me and the other two but I get special attention, because I’m the newcomer, I suppose.
The most amazing thing I learn is how to perform addition by highlighting cells. Just press a key and bam! with one touch they all add up! It impresses me so much I can’t help cheering, which Ms. Gonno seems to find funny.
While practising as instructed, I overhear the conversation between Ms. Gonno and the other students. I get the impression they are regulars: the old guy is building a website about wildflowers, while the girl is setting up an online shop. I feel like such a waster. All the time I’ve been lazing around in my apartment doing nothing, not far away these two have been getting on with stuff—learning things! The more I think about it, the more pathetic it makes me feel.
When it’s nearly time to finish, Ms. Gonno says, “There’s no set textbook, but I’ll give you a list of recommended titles. Don’t restrict yourself to these, though. Have a browse in a library or bookshop and see what you can find for yourself that’s easy to follow.” She holds up a computer guide and smiles. “You might like to look in the library here in Community House.”
Library. What a nice-sounding word. So comforting. I feel like I’m a student again. Library… “Am I allowed to borrow books?”
“Yes, anybody who lives in the ward can borrow up to six books for two weeks. I think that’s the rule.”
Then the old guy calls for help and Ms. Gonno goes over to him. I make a note of the recommended titles and leave.
The library is also on the ground floor. I pass two meeting rooms and a Japanese-style room at the back of the building beside a small kitchen. The door is wide open with a sign on the wall that says “Library.” Rows and rows of bookshelves fill an area about the size of a classroom. A counter to the left of the entrance is marked “Checkouts and Returns.” Near the front counter a petite girl in a dark-blue apron is arranging paperbacks on a shelf.
Feeling shy, I approach her. “Excuse me, where are the books on computers?”
Her head jerks up and she blushes. She has huge eyes and hair tied back in a ponytail that swings behind her. She looks young enough to still be at high school. Her name tag says “Nozomi Morinaga.”
“Over here.” Still holding several paperbacks, Nozomi
Morinaga walks past a reading table and guides me to a large shelf against the wall. “If you need any recommendations, the librarian is in the reference corner.”
“You tell her what you’re looking for, then she will do a search and give you recommendations.”
I can’t find any of the books Ms. Gonno recommended on the shelf. Maybe I should consult the librarian. Nozomi said she was at the back, so I make my way to the front desk, then look toward the rear. That’s when I notice a screen partition with a sign hanging from the ceiling that says “Reference.”
Heading over, I poke my head around the corner, and yikes! My eyes nearly jump out of their sockets. The librarian is huge… I mean, like, really huge. But huge as in big, not fat. She takes up the entire space between the L-shaped counter and the partition. Her skin is super pale—you can’t even see where her chin ends and her neck begins—and she is wearing a beige apron over an off-white, loose-knit cardigan. She reminds me of a polar bear curled up in a cave for winter. Her hair is twisted into a small bun right on top of her head, and she has a cool kanzashi hairpin spiked through her bun with three white flower tassels hanging from it. She is looking down at something, but I can’t see what exactly.
The name tag around her neck says “Sayuri Komachi.” Cute name.
I edge a bit closer and clear my throat. Ms. Komachi’s eyes roll up to look at me, without moving any other part of her body. The whites of her eyes are enormous. She’s stabbing a needle at something the size of a Ping-Pong ball balanced on a mat the size of a handkerchief. What is she doing? Putting a jinx on someone? I almost scream out loud.
“Ah…it’s, ah…it’s okay,” I manage to squeak, but all I want to do is turn tail and get away as fast as possible.
“What are you looking for?”
Her voice…it’s so weird… It nails my feet to the floor. As if it has physically grabbed hold of me somehow. But there’s a warmth in it that wraps itself around me, making me feel safe and secure, even when it comes from that unsmiling face.
What am I looking for? I’m looking for… A reason to work, something I’m good at—stuff like that. But I don’t think that’s the kind of answer she expects. “Um, I’m looking for books on how to use a computer.”
Ms. Komachi pulls a dark-orange box closer. I recognize the design of white flowers in a hexagon shape. It’s a box of Honeydome cookies. I love these. They’re dome-shaped, with a soft center, and made by Kuremiyado, a company that specializes in Western-style confectionery. They’re not exactly gourmet, but just a little bit special and not something you can just pick up in a convenience store.
When she lifts the lid, I see a small pair of scissors and some needles. She must be using an empty box for her sewing things. Ms. Komachi puts away her needle and ball, then stares at me.
“What do you want to do on the computer?”
“Excel, to begin with. Enough to tick the boxes on a skills checklist.”
“Skills checklist,” Ms. Komachi repeats.
“I’m thinking I might register on a career-change site. I’m not that happy with my current job.”
“What do you do?”
“Nothing great. Just selling ladies clothes in a general department store.”
Ms. Komachi’s head tilts to one side. The flower tassels on her hairpin shake and sparkle.
“Is being a sales assistant in a department store really not such a great job?”
I don’t know what to say. Ms. Komachi waits patiently for my reply.
“Well, I mean… Anybody can do it. It’s not like it was my dream job or anything I desperately wanted to do. I just kind of fell into it. But I live on my own, so I have to work to support myself.”
“You managed to find employment, you go to work every day and you can feed yourself. That’s a fine achievement.”
Nobody’s ever summed up my life in this way before. Her answer makes me want to cry. It’s as if she sees me, just as I am.
“But all I do to feed myself is buy stuff from the convenience store,” I blurt out clumsily, though I know that’s not what she really means by “feed yourself.”
Ms. Komachi’s head tilts to the other side. “Well, the motive doesn’t matter so much as wanting to learn something new. That’s a good attitude to have.”
She turns to the computer, places both hands on the keyboard and pauses. Then she begins typing, at amazing speed! Shoo‑tatatatata! Her fingers move in a blur and I nearly fall over myself in surprise.
Ta! She gives one final tap, then delicately lifts her wrists from the keyboard. Next moment, the printer springs into action.
“These should be suitable for a beginner on Excel.” Ms. Komachi hands me the sheet. A Step-by-Step Guide to Word and Excel, Excel for Beginners, Excel: Fast Efficient Notebooks, A Simple Introduction to Office. Then I notice, right at the bottom, a title that stands out.
Guri and Gura? I stare at the words. The kids’ picture book about two field mice, Guri and Gura?
“Oh, and this too.” Ms. Komachi swivels on her chair slightly as she reaches below the counter. I lean forward a bit more to sneak a look and see a wooden cabinet with five drawers. She opens the top one, which seems to be stuffed with soft, colorful objects, picks one out and hands it to me. “Here you are—this is for you.”
Automatically I hold out my palm and Ms. Komachi drops a lightweight object on to it. It is round and black, about the size of a large watch face and with a straight bit poking out. A frying pan?
The object in my hand is a felted frying pan with a tiny round clasp on the handle.
“Um, what’s this?”
“A bonus gift.”
“Yes, something fun, to go with the books.”
I stare at the frying pan…er, bonus gift. It is sort of cute.
Ms. Komachi opens the Honeydome box and takes out her needle and ball again. “Have you ever tried felting?”
“No. I’ve seen it on Twitter and stuff, though.”
She holds up her needle for me to see. The top is bent at a right angle for holding it, while the tip at the end has several tiny hooks sticking out.
“Felting is mysterious,” she says. “All you do is keep poking the needle at a ball of wool and it turns into a three-dimensional shape. You might think that you are simply poking randomly, and the strands are all tangled together, but there is a shape within that the needle will reveal.” She jabs roughly at the ball again.
There has to be a ton of felted things inside that drawer. Are they all bonus gifts to give away? But her attention is now completely focused on her hands, as if to say My job here as librarian is done.
When I return to the shelf of computer books, I find the recommended titles and choose two that seem easy enough to understand. But what about Guri and Gura? Maybe I should get that too. I read it many times when I was in kindergarten. I think I remember my mother reading it to me too. Why would Ms. Komachi recommend this book? Did she make a mistake?
The children’s picture books are in a space next to the window sectioned off by low bookshelves. It’s a shoes-off area covered with interlocking rubber floor mat tiles. When I enter and find myself surrounded by lots of cute picture books, I feel peaceful all of a sudden. Calmer, and more relaxed. There are three copies of Guri and Gura. I guess the library keeps multiple copies because it’s such a classic. Maybe I will borrow it… I mean, it’s free, isn’t it?
So I take my two computer books and Guri and Gura over to Nozomi at the checkout counter, show my health-insurance card as ID to apply for a borrower’s card, and check out the books.
Excerpted from What You Are Looking For Is in the Library by Michiko Aoyama. Copyright © 2023 by Michiko Aoyama. Translation from the Japanese copyright © Alison Watts 2022 Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Born in 1970 in Aichi prefecture, and currently living in Yokohama, Michiko Aoyama worked for two years as a reporter for a Japanese newspaper in Sydney after graduating from university.
After her return to Tokyo, she started to work as a magazine editor at a publishing house before turning to full time writing.
Her work has won the 1st Miyazakimoto Prize, the 13th Tenryu Literary Prize, and has been a runner up of the 2021 Japan Booksellers Awards.
This is her English-language debut.