Monday, August 15, 2011

Unrelated Thoughts About Reading Haruki Murakami

The more I read this Haruki Murakami fella, it's easier to understand why his fans are as loyal and passionate as they are. He's pretty freakin' good. As of this writing, I've finished 1.87 of his novels (all of Norwegian Wood, and most of Kafka on the Shore), which admittedly, is a small sample size of his work. But I've got a few more in the queue before his magnum opus 1Q84 comes out Oct. 25.

And so reading two of his novels in a month has made me think some thoughts. Profound, eh? So here are some unrelated (and rather unacademic) thoughts about reading Murakami, from a new member of his legion of fiercely loyal fans.

— Murakami is a clear influence on Ida Hattemer-Higgins, who penned my favorite novel of the year, The History of History. (my review) Unfortunately, I didn't realize that when I read The History of History this spring, because I hadn't yet read anything by Murakami. Had I known that then, I'd be much deeper into Murakami's catalog by now.

— As further evidence that Amazon is trying to systematically destroy the world, it has Kafka On The Shore labeled as "Reading Level: Young Adult." Nice one, jerks. What's next? Twilight is a "Modern Classic"?

— Have you seen that blurb and book review cliché "effortless prose?" What the hell does it mean? Presumably it attempts to convey the idea that the prose appears to have required little effort to write because it flows so smoothly. Of course, that idea's absurd. Even though it's hyperbolic, we know the writing required tons of effort. For Murakami's fiction, however, that cliché just feels apt. It just does. To read Murakami is to devour 100 pages without any notion of time passing. I'm not a particularly speedy reader, but I've read 404 pages of Kafka On The Shore in five days. That pace is a new record for me. How much of the credit for how smooth Murakami reads in English goes to the translator, I have no idea. But someone did something really well to make reading "difficult" fiction so easy.

— Anybody else planning to re-read 1984 in anticipation of 1Q84?  Yeah, me too.

— John Updike wrote in the NY Times that Kafka On The Shore is a "real page-turner." He also called it an "insistently metaphysical mind-bender." Those two descriptions next to each other make as little sense to me as the term "effortless prose" used to. But Updike is right. The novel's both. Murakami's all about blowing up traditional notions of fiction, it seems.

— Both titles of the novels I've read of his are actually song titles. Norwegian Wood is a Beatles song, and the plot draws from the first few lines. Kafka On The Shore is a fictional song, the lyrics for which roughly form the "rules" of the novel. As someone who obsessively reads the lyrics of songs I like, I love this story-telling/titling strategy!  

— Here's a simple syllogism:
Haruki Murakami likes music.
Because I like music, I like novelists who like music.
Therefore, I like Haruki Murakami.

— Here's another one:
Haruki Murakami seems to like baseball.
Because I like baseball, I like novelists who like baseball.
Therefore, I like Haruki Murakami.

— Next up on my Summer of Murakami list is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and then Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World...and then 1Q84, which is about a thousand pages. Yes!

Do you think thoughts about reading Haruki Murakami? Let me hear 'em. Please comment below!

(Also, though I have absolutely no idea how I'm going to do this yet, look for some somewhat coherent thoughts about Kafka On The Shore on Thursday.)


  1. I like best his shorter novel, After Dark, about what goes on in Tokyo after dark and after the trains have stopped running. See a young woman sitting in the 24 hour Denny's! I'm still trying to make time for The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, which takes some quiet time and concentration! I do like Murakami!

  2. Kafka on the Shore is my favorite of the four Murakami books I read (so I love that you're enjoying it), and I'm beginning to think a lot of that is because it was translated by a different person. I hope that's not the case, and that I'll like his other books a lot once I get to them, but The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was such a chore for me to get through. I'm excited to read 1Q84, but I hope the translation is good.

  3. Oh, I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on KAFKA, the only Murakami I have read. I enjoyed it quite a bit, much to my surprise. Thank goodness for book clubs, with their accompanying expanding of reading tastes.

  4. To further your love affair of this amazing guy, you should read his memoir "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running". This is as close as anyone's going to get into Murakami's mind.

  5. Maybe the reason Amazon labeled Kafka on the Shore as young adult reading level is because it may be recommended to young adults. That doesn't necessarily demote the book, though, so unless there's something inherently wrong with the assessment (like... really explicit scenes or something), I'm not sure it's that bad.

    These thoughts definitely make me want to finally read something by Murakami. But I figure it'll take some more time until I pick up one of his books... He seems like the kind of author who once you don't start reading him, you don't get what the fuss is... but it takes you "forever" to get around to him...

  6. I'm a huge Murakami found and devoured all his works (in English) while I lived in Japan. I don't think I'd say I have a favourite - it would depend on my mood. But I second what Sandy said about reading his memoir, that's also fascinating.

  7. @Harvee - I like the premise of After Dark, too - seems to be one of his more poorly review novels, though. And yes, you need to clear your schedule to be able to concentrate on WUBC, I've heard.

    @Katie - Yep, I loved Kafka - I'll post some thoughts tomorrow. And, yes, I keep hearing TWUBC isn't easy, but it's also his most rewarding novel, if you can handle it.

    @Trisha - I was surprised how much I liked it, too. I wish I'd had a book club to puzzle out all the riddles - hopefully the blog's commenters will help with that when the review/reaction thing is posted tomorrow.

    @Sandy - Thanks for the recommendation - I'm in!

    @Biblibio - Well, two things. 1) Yes, there are some rather R-rated sex and violence scenes. 2) To label adult literary fiction as YA actually does demote it, in my mind (and probably that of many others, too). But I think your second paragraph is right on the mark - I was the same way: didn't get the hype until actually reading him. Now I understand.

    @Amanda - Thanks for the second on that recommendation - definitely will check out the memoir.

  8. I haven't read any of his novels; however I do approve of your reading exactly 1.87 of his novels. Way to represent :)

  9. I just think the man is "fucking amazing" (but you know that already). He's sewing up together those highly metaphorical stories with such seamlessness, I find it beautiful. Suddenly, you're reading what seems to be a waking dream and you're like "oh, it's cool" and devour the next thirty pages. KOTS wasn't my favorite, but it's still a damned good book.