Category: Book Blog (page 27 of 27)

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.

Martin Amis is fantastic, too.

n4815.jpg About a week ago, I declared my love for Philip Roth. Now, he is not alone. Because Martin Amis is fantastic, too.

I’m terrible about remembering books I’ve read, even just a couple months after I’ve read them. I figure this might help a bit. Or, at least, it’ll amuse me for a few minutes.

So, in a few quotes, here’s why I like Martin Amis so much. I qualify this declaration like I qualified my love for Philip Roth: I’ve only read one of Amis’s books. So here we go:

Like writing, paintings seem to hint at a topsy-turvy world in which, so to speak, time’s arrow moves the other way. The invisible speedlines suggests a different nexus of sequence and process. That thought again. It always strangely disquiets me. I wonder: is this the case with all the arts? Well, it’s not the case with music. It’s not the case with opera, where everyone talks backward and sounds god-awful.

Brilliant! By the way, the events of the novel are told backward, but the narrator doesn’t know. It’s fantastic.

You can see the stars, now, in the city, or everybody else can, and not just an attractive smattering here and there. No: the inordinate cosmos. Most people behave as if the stars have been visible all along. To them it’s no big deal…To me, the stars are motelike, just twists of dust. Yet I feel their fire. How the burn my sight.

Oh, God!

Now and then, when the sky is starless, I look up and form the hilarious suspicion that the world will soon start making sense.

This stuff is absolutely beautiful. Not all of it is, though, if that’s what you’re beginning to suspect. The sentence directly before this little clip is “He dreams he is shitting human bones.”

And, finally,

How fortunate that I am unkillable. Unkillable, but not immortal. What happened to our manhood?

Ahh! (Remember, here, if you’re confused, that the story goes backward.) How I love Martin Amis! Entirely differently, of course, than I love Philip Roth. I sure as hell wouldn’t volunteer to be Amis’s Herta.

Why I’m in love with Philip Roth

portnoys_complaintSo, you say, maybe you shouldn’t declare your love for an author when you’ve only read one of his books. And maybe I shouldn’t. But I am.

And here, in a series of quotes, is why. I sure as hell hope my mother doesn’t read this.

The bus, the bus, what intervened on the bus to prevent me from coming all over the sleeping shikse‘s arm – I don’t know. Common sense, you think? Common decency? My right mind, as they say, coming to the fore? Well, where is this right mind on that afternoon I came home from school to find my mother out of the house, and our refrigerator stocked with a big purplish piece of raw liver? I believe that I have already confessed to the piece of liver that I bought in a butcher shop and banged behind a billboard on the way to a bar mitzvah lesson. Well, I wish to make a clean breast of it, Your Holiness. That – she – it – wasn’t my first piece. My first piece I had in the privacy of my own home, rolled round my cock in the bathroom at three-thirty – and then had again on the end of a fork, at five-thirty, along with the other members of that poor innocent family of mine.

So. Now you know the worst thing I have ever done. I fucked my own family’s dinner.

Oh God, my eyes were tearing up as I read that. In the writing lab. EM#4 (the good one, if you have any idea what I’m talking about) asked me what was so funny, and I couldn’t tell him. I just couldn’t. He had, incidentally, asked me if I believe in God only two days before, and I had already disappointed him once.

On to #2. And this one’s especially terrible! Here’s the setup: Lina, the prostitute, has just had sex a few times with Alex and his girlfriend, The Monkey. Here’s what happens afterward:

So Lina – not a person overly sensitive to interpersonal struggle – lay back on the pillow beside me and began to tell us all about herself. The bane of existence was the abortions. She was the mother of one child, a boy, with whom she lived on Monte Mario (“in a beautiful new building,” The Monkey translated). Unfortunately she could not manage, in her situation, any more than one – “though she loves children” – and so was always in and out of the abortionist’s office. Her only precautionary device seemed to be a spermicidal douche of no great reliability.”

Okay, I know it’s not funny. Except it is. Except I can’t help myself.

Only two more. You can make it! Be a trooper!

I’m not even going to explain this one:

“Sarah, the best safeguard against asphyxiation is breathing. Just breathe, and that’s all there is to it. More or less.”

Just one more. I won’t explain this one either, though it’s not too difficult to figure out:

“As it turns out, you can’t stick tapioca pudding into anything.”


And there you have it. This, dear readers, is Why I Am in Love with Philip Roth. And what might it say about me, you ask? No comment. I would volunteer to be his Monkey, but someone would get the wrong idea…

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