For the past several months, I’ve been completely entranced with the writing of Haruki Murakami. I’ve read eight of his novels now, nearly back-to-back, and can’t wait to finish reading them all. Murakami is a best-selling Japanese author whose books have been translated into many different languages, and have won various awards, but to me each book feels like a well-kept secret. While I’m reading, I feel as though I’ve escaped to a place that no one can find but me.
I read my very first Haruki Murakami book, 1Q84, in July of last year. It took me the whole month of July and most of August to read it. I did not quite comprehend what a huge undertaking this would be (it contains three books in one, adding up to over a thousand pages) when I decided to read it. I had only vaguely heard of Murakami at that point, but boy am I grateful for the circumstances that led to the discovery of his stories.
It all started with a little TV show called “Orphan Black” (never heard of it? It’s a TV show about clones and it’s awesome — go check it out!). Yes, I know what you’re thinking, how in the world did I get from “Orphan Black” to 1Q84? Well, let’s just say I binge-watched “Orphan Black” like nothing I’ve ever binge-watched before, and when I reached the end of season two and there was nothing left to watch until the new season airs, I felt a void that needed to be filled. I had never really gotten into science-fiction before, and for some reason just always assumed I’d never like it, but after watching “Orphan Black” (and also recently finishing the novel American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which I loved) I realized, hey, maybe I do like some weird stuff. I wanted to find something new to become immersed in that questioned science and reality a little bit.
Enter Murakami. In my search to find something to fill the void left by both “Orphan Black” and American Gods, I came across this list of “5 Books to Read if You Love Orphan Black” on the Barnes and Noble blog. Second on the list is Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. After reading the description (let’s be honest, I saw the word “unicorns” and was sold), I decided that was the book I’d read…until I picked 1Q84 instead, purely out of frugality. I didn’t want to spend money on a new book at the time since I had so many on my bookshelves and stored on my Nook. I already happened to have 1Q84 in my Nook library, so I began reading. It took only a short amount of time reading to get hooked, and since then I’ve been completely Murakami-obsessed.
I find it to be a rare thing when I finish a book and immediately want to read more from that author, but upon the completion of each Murakami novel, I find myself craving more… and not in the sense that the books feel lacking in any way. I just become so deeply involved with the characters and the worlds that Murakami has created that I don’t want to move on just yet. After finishing 1Q84, I felt such a strong sense of loss and sadness at parting with the novel and the characters I had spent the past two months with that I almost wanted to read it a second time through. Fortunately, I forced myself to begin Hard-Boiled Wonderland and learned that (so far) I love the rest of Murakami’s books almost as much as I love 1Q84 (though I think that will always be my favorite). Since then have been working my way through all of Murakami’s books. So far I have read 1Q84, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, After Dark, Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, South of the Border, West of the Sun, Kafka on the Shore, Sputnik Sweetheart, and even a short story collection that Murakami curated (and contributed to) called Birthday Stories. For the most part I’ve been selecting them in no particular order besides whatever I feel like I’m in the mood for after reading the description, though I have opted for some shorter novels like After Dark and South of the Border to read after longer novels like Wind-Up Bird and Hard-Boiled Wonderland, and that has ended up being a very good method because it gives me a bit of a break in between longer reads.
Reading Murakami’s books, I often forget they were not originally written in English. The books seem so perfectly written that it feels as though they must have been first created from scratch using the English language, rather than Japanese. There are only a few expressions Murakami uses throughout his novels that seem a little odd or out of place in English, but I assume are common expressions in Japanese. These are books for readers who truly love language and who appreciate the beauty in the way a perfectly-crafted description of the simple or the mundane can turn it into something much more magical.
These are not books for passive readers who are just looking for a quick, light read. These are books for those who want to read something that will change the way they feel and think and live.
Murakami’s books are heavy, they are strange, they are sad, they are dark, they are complex, they can make you squeamish and uncomfortable and disoriented. But they are also beautiful, tender, heartwarming, and full of life.
Whatever it is you’re looking for in a story, you can probably find it in a Murakami book: love, lust, friendship, family, politics, humor, death, life, food, and cats, to name a few.