In the wake of the terrorist attacks in America, large bookstores have put together special displays on Islam and terrorism, while the cult idolization of the prime minister continues with the publication of a coffee-table book of Koizumi photos (Jun-chan lounging in a robe!). However, as always in recent years, the best-seller list is dominated by life-advice and entertainment titles. The latest life-advice best-seller comes from the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe.

In the 16 essays of " 'Jibun no ki' no shita de" ("Under One's Own Tree"; Asahi Shimbun-sha), Oe writes of his own childhood and of what he has learned as a novelist and as a father in the hope that his experiences might be of some help to children today. No doubt owing to its origins in Oe's interactions with children at weekend Japanese schools abroad (he corrected their compositions and talke to them about his own childhood), the book is a rather odd mix of nostalgia, life lessons and writing lessons.

For example, in one essay Oe remembers the months of rain and flooding in his isolated village in Shikoku soon after the end of World War II. One day, several men came running down the street shouting that people were being carried along by the raging river -- "Hito ga nagareru ga!" (Oe interrupts his story to comment on the function of the second "ga": to add emphasis and express surprise) -- and Oe and the other children ran to the town's concrete bridge. They were horrified to see a young girl clinging to the roof of a house, swept away in the flood, that was headed directly toward a pillar of the bridge.