Margin Notes



How Do You Live? tells the story of Jun’ichi “Copper” Honda, a teenage boy growing up in Tokyo. The book was first published in 1937, but only recently translated into English for the first time after the announcement of a film adaptation directed by Hayao Miyazaki through his Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro).

After the death of his father, Copper forms a close bond with his uncle, who becomes a mentor figure as Copper navigates ethical questions about how to live a good life. The story follows a loose narrative, but is largely episodic: an event from Copper’s daily life at school or with friends is recounted and his uncle responds with insights and questions in a notebook he shares with Copper, helping his nephew to see how the event relates to larger issues that he will continue to reflect upon throughout his life. These cover a wide range of subjects, from friendship and heroism, to the relations of production and poverty. The uncle’s notes are not condescending, but supportive and challenging. For example, when Copper shares his discovery of a theory about human relations, his uncle explains that many thinkers have explored this idea before, but encourages him by remarking that it is an achievement to have come to that understanding independently. The writing is approachable and pleasing, with many beautiful descriptions, and readers will quickly become attached to Copper and his friends.

How Do You Live? is a great book for young people curious about exploring big questions. It is an excellent entry to philosophical thinking and will encourage young people to reflect upon themselves, their families and friendships, and their place in the world.

Iain McMaster grew up in Montréal and is an avid reader of translated fiction. He is working towards a Bachelor of Education degree at the University of New Brunswick and holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh.

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