I’ve now read all ten of the books in level 3 of Ask’s graded readers, and six of the ten books in level 4. I’ve also discovered (by reading the front cover…) that they didn’t just record audio for some of the stories; they did it for everything, but the ones that were too long were left off the CD and put online as MP3 files. That gives me a total of eight hours of professionally-recorded audio of stories that I’ve read and understood.
Mostly understood, anyway. I had a little trouble with the basic premise of 野菊の墓, which is that Our Hero’s first love can never be his, because she’s two years his senior. It’s possible Ask’s version has been over-simplified a tad, so I’m going to attempt to read the real thing at Aozora Bunko, a free online library of Japanese literature.
Another one I had some trouble with was called 走れメロス, not so much because of the story as the basic problem of figuring out who the heck these people are in this tale of ancient Girishia. Quite literally, it’s all Greek to me.
One thing I found interesting at Aozora Bunko was their method of encoding furigana in a text file. A string of kanji characters is glossed by following it with hiragana surrounded by double angle brackets. If the glossed word immediately follows another kanji that isn’t covered by the furigana, a vertical-bar character is added to separate it.
So, the title of the first story would be rendered as 「野菊《のぎく》の墓《はか》」, and if I only wanted to add furigana to a single word in an all-kanji phrase, it would look like this: 「東京｜特許《とっきょ》許可局」. They also include annotations of the form ［#whatever］ (mostly for rare kanji and special formatting). All of the characters are full-width forms that line up neatly with kanji, but aren’t otherwise used in Japanese prose. I don’t know if this is a common standard, but it seems to be sufficient for most uses.