Month: December 2009

A few things about Haruki Murakami

PinballI just read Pinball, 1973, by my very favorite author, Haruki Murakami. It was the first book I read on my super-cool new Kindle. If you search the name on Google, followed by pdf, you’ll find a long list of files to download because it’s so expensive. For whatever reason, Murakami doesn’t want it published in the States. He doesn’t think it’s good enough.

Pinball, 1973 is Murakami’s second novel and a sequel to Hear the Wind Sing, which has also never been published here for the same reason. The copy I have was published in Japan for people learning to read English. Pinball, 1971, from what I understand, was published by the same people, and I have no idea why it’s so relatively rare.

Anyway, it’s fantastic. Almost difficult to grip, but fantastic. Like many of his other novels including Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and Kafka on the Shore, it alternates perspectives between chapters. Unlike those two novels, though, there is very little connection beyond theme in Pinball. Which is fine.

This isn’t supposed to be a book review. It’s supposed to be a few things about Murakami.

I’m not exactly sure why I like him so much, though it might have something to do with how weird most of his novels are without falling into scifi or fantasy – or maybe it’s his fondness for cats, which have at least a small role in every novel of his I’ve read and at least a mention in every short story. He also likes wells. I have noticed that I like translations by Alfred Birnbaum best and Philip Gabriel least, though one of my favorites was translated by the latter. I’ve read all of his novels that have been translated into English except Dance Dance Dance, which is the sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, which comes rather loosely from Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973. A Wild Sheep Chase is quite possibly Murakami’s most popular novel – and my least favorite (this has happened before: Slaughterhouse Five is my least favorite Vonnegut novel, and I really like Vonnegut). That’s not exactly true: I really didn’t like After Dark either, but I’m not sure why. I like not having read Dance Dance Dance if only because there’s still something of his in English that I haven’t read. His new novel, 1Q84, won’t appear in English until September, 2011, and that seems forever away. There are short stories I haven’t read either, but I never like them as much as his novels. The longer his work is, the more I tend to like it. Case in point: my favorite three novels (I can’t choose one!) are Hard-Boiled Wonderland, Kafka on the Shore, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – three of his longest novels. From what I hear, 1Q84 is long too, so I’m particularly excited. Keep in mind that I generally hate long novels because I’m not good at finishing them.

Murakami has also written some nonfiction stuff including What I Talk about when I Talk about Running, which I read a couple of months ago and loved. It’s about running, and I run. Go figure. There’s also Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, which I haven’t read. He’s published a bunch of essays that have been translated, too.

I’ll stop now.

I guess I might have exceeded the “few things” I wanted to talk about, especially considering that I didn’t mention what I’d originally planned to say, which is that I like how Murakami handles sex. I dislike explicit sex in books – it’s annoying. With Murakami, you know it’s going on, but you don’t get many details. The most explicit scene I remember is in Kafka on the Shore, and I don’t remember it being bad. I need to reread that novel.

How White Noise changed my life…when I was 14

white_noise.largeI spent a week reading White Noise for my modern fiction class. This book was why I signed up for the class in the first place, and I was terribly excited. It’s totally different than how I remembered it.

I read White Noise the summer after my freshman year of high school. Before summer break, I asked a teacher who I idolized what books I should read over the summer, which I would be spending in the no man’s land of Minden, LA. She gave me three suggestions: Hard Times, A Handmaid’s Tale, and White Noise. I read and adored all three, but White Noise was, by far, my favorite. It also changed my life by filling my head with crazy (and reasonable) ideas.

Here’s one that occurs very early in the book. Throughout my childhood, just before I’d fall asleep, I’d jerk awake because I felt like I was falling. It was terrible. It happened almost every night. One of my very first memories was lying in my Strawberry Shortcake-themed bed at my dad’s house, trying to sleep, and being jarred awake. I couldn’t have been older than three or four. Of course, I kept it a secret, as so many kids keep secret anything they think is wrong with them. For a long time, I was convinced that I had a disease. And here’s what White Noise has to do with my problem: it explained what it was and how it happened. I’ve never bothered actually looking it up, but, according to the novel, it’s called a myoclonic jerk, and it’s a “more or less normal muscular contraction.” That’s all I’ve ever found out about it, but it’s enough for me. It hasn’t happened often since I was a kid, but every time it does, that phrase goes through my head. I’d forgotten where it came from.

Life-changing bit number two: I idolized Heinrich. I wanted to be just like him: brilliant and brooding. And I think I might have pulled it off for a while, though that’s another post.

And number three: I don’t remember, but my airplane phobia must have been exacerbated by the terrible near-crash description. This is only part of it:

The plane had lost power in all three engines, dropped from thirty-four thousand feet to twelve thousand feet. Something like four miles. When the steep glide began, people rose, fell, collided, swam in their seats. Then the serious screaming and moaning began. Almost immediately a voice from the flight deck was heard on the intercom: “We’re falling out of the sky! We’re going down! We’re a silver gleaming death machine!” This outburst struck the passengers as an all but total breakdown of authority, competence, and command presence and it brought on a round of fresh and desperate wailing.

Here’s a story: When I was little, having divorced parents, I used to fly alone a lot. A lot. I was generally okay with it until, when I was eight or nine, my dad put me on a plane from New Orleans or Baton Rouge to Shreveport. It was terrible. It was a little puddle-jumper from an airline that doesn’t exist anymore, and we were flying behind a 757. It flew through a thunderhead, and, for whatever reason, the pilot of my plane decided that it would be a good idea for us to go through it too. Once we got into it, though, we started falling. Like two hundred feet at a time, which took seconds. After each fall, we would climb back up and fall again. I, of course, was alone, and I was surrounded by adults who were screaming and crying and holding hands and praying. How could I not be traumatized? For years after that, I gripped the armrests and said rosaries through whole flights, convinced that I was about to die. When I turned eighteen, I got a car, and I SWORE I’d never fly again. And I didn’t for six years, when I was faced with a free trip to Disney World. It was a phobia: I would have nightmares not about planes crashing, but about being forced to board them. I can deal with planes now, I think, only thanks to a combination of NLP and a book called Flying without Fear.

ANYWAY, I’m sure you can see how the description in White Noise might affect my fourteen-year-old psyche (after reading Cat’s Cradle, I wanted to be a Bokononist!). I remember sitting in an airport sometime around then, watching several people exit a plane with IVs and casts and the like. I think I assumed that something terrible had happened on the plane, but now, of course, I realize that planes probably don’t carry IV or cast-making supplies.

And, finally, there’s the athiest nun at the end. I won’t explain the circumstances for the benefit of those of you who STILL NEED TO READ THIS NOVEL. This includes you, Charlotte. I know that, being fourteen, I took that part way too seriously. In fact, I didn’t think White Noise was a funny novel at all. I’m especially amused that I only remembered the first half of it – I guess I was just too young to understand what in the hell was going on.

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