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The Pillow Book

The Pillow Book

3.9 9
by Sei Shonagon

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The classic portrayal of court life in tenth-century Japan

Written by the court gentlewoman Sei Shonagon, ostensibly for her own amusement, The Pillow Book offers a fascinating exploration of life among the nobility at the height of the Heian period, describing the exquisite pleasures of a confined world in which poetry, love, fashion, and whim


The classic portrayal of court life in tenth-century Japan

Written by the court gentlewoman Sei Shonagon, ostensibly for her own amusement, The Pillow Book offers a fascinating exploration of life among the nobility at the height of the Heian period, describing the exquisite pleasures of a confined world in which poetry, love, fashion, and whim dominated, while harsh reality was kept firmly at a distance. Moving elegantly across a wide range of themes including nature, society, and her own flirtations, Sei Shonagon provides a witty and intimate window on a woman's life at court in classical Japan.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Sei Shonagon was born approximately a thousand years ago (965 is a likely date) and served as lady-in-waiting at the Court of the Japanese Empress during the last decade of the tenth century. Her father was a provincial official, but is best known as a poet and a scholar. It is possible, though unlikely, that Shonagon was briefly married to a government official, by whom she may have had a son. Her life after her Court service came to an end is totally obscure. There is a tradition that she died in lonely poverty: but this is probably an invention of moralists who were shocked by her promiscuity and thought she deserved retribution. Our knowledge of Shonagon's life and character rests almost exclusively on the Pillow Book itself.

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The Pillow Book 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Pillow Book was a surprisingly wonderful read! Sei Shonagun's stories of the Japanese court life were fascinating and her descriptions of the silly gentlewomen she lived with made me laugh out loud! I'd recommend this book to anyone who's especially interested in poetry or Japanese history. The Pillow Book is riddled with short poems composed by Shonagun to the Empress, as a way of impressing Her Majesty. And, as it this book was written during the Heian period, it's filled with descriptions of everyday life in ancient Japan. The stories told about the elaborate festivals put on at the palace are also amazing because some of them don't exist anymore. Shonagun takes every little thing into account in her stories, and it makes you feel as if you're actually there living the scenes with her. The only thing that readers should be cautious about is the amount of analysis required in order to fully comprehend the deeper meanings in Shonagun's writing. For example, her poems usually contain hidden references to older Japanese stories as a way to impress those who read her poetry. Potential readers also need to have a long attention span because Shonagun often gets off topic by talking about things that disgust her or trees she likes, etc. She then will veer back into the story she was telling, so it's of utmost importance that you, as the reader, pay attention to the core story. Other than that, The Pillow Book is extremely interesting and I'd give it four out of five stars, easily.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Pillow Book clearly exceeded my expectations by providing both the important and influential elements of the Heian Age and humorous stories that kept me as an active reader. The book is a journal of Sei Shonagon, where she writes many random excerpts of events, opinions, and observations about the environment. It's filled with detailed descriptions about the common life in the Heian Age, and will take some analysis to discover that poetry, literature, and religion dominated their culture. I’d recommend the book to anyone who is generally interested in Japanese or Asian culture, because it provides many details that will describe many aspects about Japan. The one thing I especially adore about the book is that the author never attempts to censor her feelings and opinions, and honestly expresses them in way that can be both humorous and relatable to the reader. She unintentionally reveals to the reader that she is intelligent, witty, and experienced. The book will not be difficult to read, and I’d recommend to those AP world history students who have a hard time reading college-level books. The book will talk about events that indicate people’s influences and give historical insight to the reader, while they’ll occasionally get the time to read lighthearted and amusing stories that Sei and her fellow court-ladies encountered. The book stresses about the importance of your intelligence and how it affects your social status and how people will see you. I’d give the star four out of five stars, only because the form of zuihitsu, multiple miscellaneous excerpts, is at times hard to follow. Overall, it’s a great book, and I’d recommend it to any other person who has taken an interest to Asian culture.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Long long time ago, the dressy ladies and gentlemen were living in Japan. This is the best nobel for learning of Japanese traditional culture. Lika a time slip.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Pillow Book, by Sei Shongaon, is a first hand account of what life was like in Japan¿s Imperial Court during the 11th Century. In her mid-20s, Sei Shonagon became a gentlewoman to Empress Teishi. When the Empress is given a bundle of paper, she asks Sei Shonagon what she should do with it. Sei Shonagon asks the Empress if she will give it to her to use as her pillow. She then put it beside her bed and used it as a journal of her thoughts, lists, stories, observances of nature and people, and poetry. Shonagon is witty and intelligent and speaks in a unique and descriptive voice regarding her thoughts and feelings. She proves that human nature has not changed over all of these centuries. Her voice is truly relatable. She proves that things that are bothersome to my generation bothered her as well. In one of her many lists she writes, ¿Things it¿s frustrating and embarrassing to witness¿someone starts talking about another person unaware that he¿s sitting within earshot.¿ I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about the Japanese Imperial Court during the Heian period. During this time tranquility and prosperity were abundant. The book is also filled with maps and glossaries that provide much information about the Imperial Court and gives further information to Shonagon¿s writings. The book¿s only downfall might be that the Imperial Court of that time was highly isolated from the outside world, so you do not learn what life was like outside of the Court for the rest of Japan. I loved reading Shonagon¿s accounts of her life and loves. She writes in a beautiful feminine voice that is entirely relatable.
Phil_K More than 1 year ago
This is an extraordinary view of Japanese court life during the Heian period, written by a highly cultured, perceptive woman who served as a lady-in-waiting to the young empress Teishi. In addition to providing fascinating insights into the complex etiquette and refined cultural life of the upper classes -- the highest virtue appears to be the ability to provide an apt quote from a Chinese or Japanese poem on the spur of the moment -- it's remarkably up-to-date in its personal reflections on the vagaries of status, the beauty of the natural world, the enjoyment of spectacle, etc. Little is known of the author's biography, but as we read her reflections (and occasional complaints about things that vex her), she seems like an intimate friend. (One caveat: if the title leads you to expect some accounts of boudoir activity, you'll be sorely disappointed.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I definitely enjoyed this book.
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