A Murakami State of Mind

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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.

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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.

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Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys was written by Neil Gaiman and is the sixth book I’ve completed of his. Anansi Boys is often called the “sequel” to Gaiman’s American Gods. It really is only a sequel in that it is a story about gods in America. Otherwise, it’s really very different. It is also a wonderful story of family, friendship, love, and finding yourself.

“Each person who ever was or is or will be has a song. It isn’t a song that anybody else wrote. It has its own melody, it has its own words. Very few people get to sing their song. Most of us fear that we cannot do it justice with our voices, or that our words are too foolish or too honest, or too odd. So people live their song instead.”

Charlie has never gotten along with his father and has always been embarrassed by him. He is engaged to Rosie, and they are content if complacent about spending their lives together. Charlie moved to London many years ago with his mother when his parents divorced, and has since tried to shed every aspect that made him like his father. Charlie’s father passes away, and he returns to Florida for the service, and learns that he has a brother who he does not remember meeting.

“It is a small world. You do not have to live in it particularly long to learn that for yourself. There is a theory that, in the whole world, there are only five hundred real people (the cast, as it were; all the rest of the people in the world, the theory suggests, are extras) and what is more, they all know each other. And it’s true, or true as far as it goes. In reality the world is made of thousands upon thousands of groups of about five hundred people, all of whom will spend their lives bumping into each other, trying to avoid each other, and discovering each other in the same unlikely teashop in Vancouver. There is an unavoidability to this process. It’s not even coincidence. It’s just the way the world works, with no regard for individuals or for propriety.”

Charlie tries to get in touch with his brother, and his brother, Spider, comes to visit him in London. What should be a lovely story of two brothers being reunited becomes something totally different when Spider begins to take over every aspect of Charlie’s life, including his relationship with Rosie.

This story made me laugh, cry, and feel very frustrated and angry at times. At some points, I didn’t like any of the characters and at other times I liked all of them.

“They were kissing. Put like that, and you could be forgiven for presuming that this was a normal kiss, all lips and skin and possibly even a little tongue. You’d miss how he smiled, how his eyes glowed. And then, after the kiss was done, how he stood, like a man who had just discovered the art of standing and had figured out how to do it better than anyone else who would ever come along.”

Anansi Boys is so different from American Gods that I don’t like to compare the two, but if I had to choose a favorite, I would say that I enjoyed American Gods more. Then again, it was a much longer book so I think I became much more involved with the story than I did with Anansi Boys.

I would definitely recommend both of these novels to anyone looking for a story with a bit of fantasy and mythology. I would suggest reading American Gods first, and then Anansi Boys.

Anyone read either of these books? What did you think?

American Gods

Last year, I read the novel American Gods by Neil Gaiman and it was one of the best books I’ve ever read. For years, I had tried to get back into reading, but could never find anything that made me as excited about reading as I had been when I was younger. Through years of reading and analyzing and writing essays for classes in middle school, high school, and college, I had lost my love for reading.

Then one day last year in the Spring, I decided I wanted to read a book and I randomly decided on American Gods, having read one Neil Gaiman book beforehand and hearing a lot of good things about his writing in general.

American Gods drew me in slowly. The beginning was slow, and I read off and on before about a third of the way through I became enthralled with the story.

The characters were so fascinating, yet surprisingly relatable for a ex-convict, a bunch of gods, and even a dead woman. The story was strange and confusing, but fascinating and thought-provoking. The novel takes on the idea of there being many “gods” in the world, and in the story there is a war going on between the old gods and the new gods of America. Reading this book will change the way you look at America. I went on a road trip a few months after reading this novel and realized that the way I saw places like tourist traps had changed. In American Gods, tourist traps are essentially “holy” places — they are the places where the gods meet because they hold so much of the power of the American consciousness.

American Gods is one of the most wonderful pieces of writing I’ve read. Neil Gaiman is so great at using mythology and fantasy in a modern way. In Neverwhere, he showed us the hidden side of London, and in American Gods he shows us the hidden side of America. He continues to show the hidden side of America in the so-called “sequel” to American Gods, Anansi Boys. While I wouldn’t really consider it a sequel, I did read it and it had similar themes and ideas. I just completed Anansi Boys recently and will discuss it in my next post.

I’ll leave you with my favorite passage from American Gods:

“I can believe things that are true and things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not.

I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen – I believe that people are perfectable, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones that look like wrinkled lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women.

I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone’s ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline in good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state.

I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste.

I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we’ll all be wiped out by the common cold like martians in War of the Worlds.

I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman.

I believe that mankind’s destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumble bee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there’s a cat in a box somewhere who’s alive and dead at the same time (although if they don’t ever open the box to feed it it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself.

I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck.

I believe that anyone who says sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what’s going on will lie about the little things too.

I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, a baby’s right to live, that while all human life is sacred there’s nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system.

I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”

Stardust

In January, I completed the book Stardust by Neil Gaiman, my first book of 2015. Neil Gaiman has quickly become one of my favorite authors.

“The sky above was a deep color–blue, perhaps, or purple, not black–sprinkled with more stars than the mind could hold.”

My first Neil Gaiman novel was actually his most recent, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and it was very dark and strange and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Months later, during the summer of 2014, I was looking for something to read and I decided to give American Gods a try. It was an incredible, fantastic, unforgettable book, and is now one of my favorites. It’s also gotten me really interested in mythology as well as made me much more aware of how much Americans are obsessed with and drawn to tourist traps (I’ll have to do a review of this book on the blog later!).

I’d seen the movie Stardust awhile back and really enjoyed it, but hardly remember it at this point so while I had a vague idea of the premise for the story, I couldn’t remember much else. I decided to read the book because I was looking for something that was not quite as dark or as long as the Murakami books I’d been reading before it. I needed a break so I decided to go for something by an author that I knew I liked but would be a little bit lighter of a read.

“The sun shone in their eyes, half blinding them and turning their world to liquid gold. The sky, the trees, the bushes, even the path itself was golden in the light of the setting sun.”

Stardust is very much like a fairy-tale, so much so that it takes place in a world called Faerie, separated from the “real” world by a wall. I don’t want to give too much away for anyone who hasn’t read it, so I will just say that a boy from the town just outside the wall ventures into Faerie and discovers all sorts of magical things on his journey.

“The squirrel has not yet found the acorn that will grow into the oak that will be cut to form the cradle of the babe who will grow to slay me.”

Neil Gaiman has a fascination with mythology, folk tales, and fairy tales, and he gets the inspiration for much of his writing from these tales and ideas. One of my favorite things about his writing is the way he combines these sorts of mythical ideas with the real world. Stardust doesn’t exactly take place in the modern real world in the way that American Gods or Neverwhere do, but it still is a sort of combining of reality with a world of magic and myth.

Adventures are all very well in their place, he thought, but there’s a lot to be said for regular meals and freedom from pain.

Has anyone else read Stardust or seen the movie? Did you like it? Let me know what you think!

Their Eyes Were Watching God

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“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

I recently read the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. It was quite the journey to read but it was definitely worth it. I thought that I had read this novel back in high school, but either I did not really read it (as was the case with so many books I was supposed to read in high school) or I did not fully comprehend it at the time.

“Dancing, fighting, singing, crying, laughing, winning and losing love every hour. Work all day for money, fight all night for love.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a beautiful story about marriage, race, class, love, death, and life. Janie, after a long journey away from the town of Eatonville, Florida, returns with a long story to tell about where she has been and what has happened to her and her husband, Tea Cake. She begins her story back when she was a young woman. After meeting her first husband, Janie first travels to Eatonville where she and her husband settle down and become leaders in the town. Janie learns about marriage and happiness, as well as unhappiness and pain, and over the years begins to learn what she truly wants from a marriage and from her life.

After her first husband passes away, Janie truly begins to become herself. She falls for Tea Cake, and the two go on a long journey, living and loving and truly being human.

Janie returns home in torn and tattered and dirty clothing, with the whole town wondering where in the world she has been. In her own words, alternated with the words of the author, Janie tells her story.

“He drifted off into sleep and Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place.”

Hurston’s writing is truly incredible, from the early 1900s southern dialect that immerses you in the characters’ language and in their world to the perfectly crafted similes and metaphors in the narration that give life to the story.

“Then you must tell ‘em dat love ain’t somethin’ lak uh grindstone dat’s de same thing everywhere and do de same thing tuh everything it touch. Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.”

“You got tuh go there to know there. Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two thing’s everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

If you have a chance, please read this novel. It is a shame that Hurston was never truly recognized for her work until after her death, but fortunately this novel is now accepted as a literary classic and her writing will continue to be read and appreciated for generations.

“They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”