Initially I began reading the Tale of Genji after studying illustrations for it in an asian art class and hearing references to it in a Japanese history class. Two things struck me as I read it - 1) the timelessness of the novel, and 2) how the author's ability to develop characters grew even as she wrote it. It was incredibly thought provoking to read passages where the lovers wished that the moment could be preserved for a thousand years, and to realize that, in a way, it had. The novel takes you through the gamut of human experience, and you discover that a thousand years ago, human nature wasn't much different than it is today. For example, I was in stitches over one episode - when the protagonist couldn't have the lady he wanted, he managed to take her pet cat. It was so ridiculous, and yet could have been something right out of "Friends".
For me, the first third of the book was a struggle, even though I was quite interested in the historical descriptions. After that, I couldn't put it down. The characterization of the people gained depth and insight as the book went on. It was a delight to read, and I was sorry when it ended.
I chose the Seidensticker one-volume paperback over the Waley edition because it was unabridged, proported to be more true to the original story, and had woodblock illustrations from a 1650 edition. As for another reviewer commenting about the durability of the cover, I covered mine in clear contact paper right after I bought it, and it's as beautiful as new almost 5 years later. My only complaint is that the poetry seems to lose something in the translation. It seems that this may be due to differences between the Japanese and English languages, though, and perhaps may not be as much a translation issue.
I highly recommend The Tale of Genji to anyone who likes a good book and has any interest in history or Japanese culture. Their perseverence will be rewarded.
-JB Zurn, novice nipponophile