about haruki murakami.


someone on tumblr asked what i thought about haruki murakami, so i figured i’d share my answer here as well because i have a lot of thoughts and this is my dedicated book blog!

i used to love murakami when i was in my early twenties, which is when i “discovered” him.  i started with the wind-up bird chronicle and went through his backlist like water and read probably 90% of his novels over the course of two-three years — i was obsessed and couldn’t get enough.

i think that murakami has a way of writing loneliness that speaks to lonely souls.  in my early-twenties, i found his work comforting, not necessarily because of narrative or character but because of the tone and mood he captures with his simple prose and surrealism (despite my dislike of surrealism) (and magic realism), and i think part of me could strongly relate to the solitude of [all] his main characters’ lives, their quiet repetition, their nostalgia even, their sense of aloneness in a strange world.

which is why i still think of murakami fondly despite having fallen out of love with his writing in recent years.

it does bother me how male-centric his novels are and how one-dimensional his women characters are, but, to be honest, my loss of love has mostly to do with how his novels all follow the same formula.  you generally know what’s going to happen in a murakami novel — you’ll follow the male protagonist through his quiet, hum-drum life, and he’ll have one loud, brash friend, and he’ll encounter strange things and meet a girl and obsess over her ear, and he’ll be sort of changed but maybe not by the end of his journey.  it’s a rudely reductive way of looking at his work, i acknowledge, but i find that to be the usual expected framework of murakami’s novels (with a few exceptions, of course).  if murakami is anything, he’s totally consistent, and i think, at one point, mostly likely after 1q84 (which i did like and find interesting), i simply lost interest.  i mean, colorless tsukuru is so beautifully and thoughtfully designed, and i do still love that opening passage, but, otherwise, it was just so, so bland.

maybe it says something that the murakami novels i still think of kindly are the ones that follow women — sputnik sweetheart* and after dark — as well as south of the border, west of the sun, which had one of murakami’s less one-dimensional women (i quite liked shimamoto).  and 1q84 even, thought it could have been (should have been) edited down severely.

or that the novel i absolutely hated (hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world) had one of the most offensively one-dimensional women i’ve ever read, as well as your very typical murakami protagonist male who gets sucked into another world while on his quest.

or maybe none of this says anything at all, and i’m simply trying to over-analyze.

* i must also add that it has been years since i read sputnik sweetheart and have not gone back to it, especially since my second read of norwegian wood drastically diminished my initial love for that.

writing about murakami makes me think about influence and how writers are influenced by everything — the world around us, the music we listen to, the books we read, etcetera.  my love for murakami may have shifted and diminished over the last few years, but i can’t deny that he was a big influence on me as a writer — like, i distinctly remember writing a piece (for the vignettes that have become marble bird bakery), and my friend/reader/editor commented on a passage, saying that it reminded her of murakami.

that’s a very blatant example of influence, and influence obviously does not only manifest itself in such ways.  murakami specifically is one of the authors who made me think more about atmosphere, about mood and tone, about the mental spaces writing can put us in, and he might be one of the reasons i’m obsessed with what i call headspace (that has nothing to do with meditation).

(nell, my favorite band on this planet, is the principle reason i’m obsessed with headspace.)

i love writing that puts me in a different place — and, by writing, i mean writing as on the prose level, not narratively, not character-wise.  murakami, in all the sterile plainness of his writing, has always put me on a different plane, in a world that’s oddly familiar but also off-kilter, just enough to be strange but not enough to be disconcerting.  the reader in me responds very strongly, almost viscerally, to that kind of ability because the writer in me aspires to that kind of atmospheric force, and that’s where influence comes in and why i do still think of murakami fondly and respectfully because, despite all the problems of his male-centric plots and his one-dimensional women (and i fully recognize that these are big problems), he’s tapped into this voice that still entrances me and comforts me.

(i do realize that i’m taking the translation here at face value [maybe trusting the translator too much?], but this is what i meant when i wrote about reading korean literature — i don’t know much japanese [though this is a different topic; japanese is the language that frustrates me most not to know], so i simply accept the translation.)

would i read murakami’s next novel?  maybe.  probably.  i haven’t read the recent releases of his first two novels in english, though — for years, murakami didn’t want them translated, so i’m not inclined to pick them up.  i would also love to hear him read one day; i really, really hope i can.

(i read most of murakami when i was in my early twenties, which means pretty much all my murakami novels are still back at my parents’ in california.  i do wish i had them all with me here!  that would have made a great photo, especially because i love these vintage covers.)

december reads!

december reads!  end of 2014!  this year went by so fast …

fifty-four.  the strange library, haruki murakami.

at the same time, my anxiety had turned into an anxiety quite lacking in anxiousness.  and any anxiety that is not especially anxious is, in the end, an anxiety hardly worth mentioning.  (19) (no page numbers so section number)

this was … weird.  (which i guess kind of goes without saying.)  to be honest, i’m not sure if i liked it or not.  and, to be even more honest, i’m not sure if there’s anything that much deeper to it — it’s a strange little book, and that’s what it was meant to be.

… apparently, that’s all i have to say about it.  the strange library was interesting to pick up as a visual reading experience because of the way it was designed, and i’d recommend it as such — an interesting visual reading experience.

fifty-five.  belzhar, meg wolitzer.

“everyone,” she [mrs. quenell] continues, looking around at all of us, “has something to say.  but not everyone can bear to say it.  your job is to find a way.”  (34)

belzhar was an easy, quick read, and i liked a lot of the ideas in it — the boarding school for kids recovering from trauma or working through struggles/disorders, a world within journals where the characters can return to the days before their lives were flipped upside down, the juxtaposition of this static but desirable world of the past and the vibrant but unbearable, changed world of the present.  i liked the struggle that came with that, the inevitable point of having to learn to let go and return to the present.

i have mixed feelings about the book, though.  i wished wolitzer would dig deeper; everything felt like it was held on the surface of things; and the stakes honestly didn’t seem high enough, particularly for the narrator.  and i’m mixed about the twist at the end because i’m not that convinced of it?  and the ending was too hopeful, too neat and clean; i honestly kind of just shrugged it off.

all in all, though, it was an easy, quick read, and i enjoyed it enough.

fifty-six.  the unspeakable, meghan daum.

after more than a decade of being told that i’d wake up one morning at age thirty or thirty-three or, God forbid, forty, to the ear-splitting peals of my biological clock, i’d failed to capitulate in any significant way.  i would still look at a woman pushing a baby stroller and feel more pity than envy.  in fact, i felt no envy at all, only relief that i wasn’t her.  (“difference maker,” 116)

i liked how the “unspeakable” things in this collection weren’t big, dark, giant secrets — daum isn’t tackling hugely controversial or necessarily new topics; she’s talking about them with more honesty and candor than might be expected.  like, she doesn’t try to “make excuses” for choosing childlessness or gloss over the intensity of the dog owner-dog relationship or tell some grand tales laden with epiphany or emotion from the mysterious illness that put her in a coma and close to death a few years ago — and, in such ways, i feel she tackles the unspeakable.  she does it in very engaging, frank, and funny writing, too, without going on the defensive (or even feeling like she should be defensive), and i appreciated this collection and daum’s for their openness.

it’s interesting to think about how things become “unspeakable” — or, more specifically, in what ways things become “unspeakable.”  we can talk about things all we want, but when there’s a barrier of emotional expectation or societal niceties, then how much are we really talking?

fifty-seven.  station eleven, emily st. john mandel.

hell is the absence of the people you long for.  (144)

if i had to describe station eleven in three words, i’d call it beautiful, haunting, and hopeful.  it’s a world that’s essentially been “reboot” by a virus that killed off millions (i’m assuming) more or less overnight and thus saw the end of technology and electricity and other such “basic” things we’re accustomed to.  even so, it’s not a book of despair, and it’s not a story of mere survival either but of people who are making their lives in a changed world and finding hope and togetherness and purpose — and i loved how mandel tied together all the different characters and mapped out how they were connected in the “previous” world.

i loved the days i spent immersed in this world.

fifty-eight.  the twenty-seventh city, jonathan franzen.

poverty, poor education, discrimination and institutionalized criminality were not modern.  they were indian problems, sustaining an ideology of separateness, of meaningful suffering, of despairing pride.  in the ghetto, just as in the indian ghettos of caste, consciousness would come slowly and painfully.  jammu had no patience.  she’d hauled the big industrial guns into the inner city and called it a solution, because ultimately it was far easier to change the thinking of a rich white fifty-year-old or to deflect the course of his eighteen-year-old daughter than it was to give a black child fifteen years of decent education.  (399)

when i first read the twenty-seventh city a few years ago, for some reason, i went into it thinking it was sci-fi.  i’m not sure why i thought that — i actually kind of blame it on the picador cover — but i did, so i was so fucking confused for the first hundred pages, wondering where the sci part of it was, which meant that the whole novel was kind of lost to me.  i’ve read (or reread) franzen’s othernovels this year, so i figured i might as well round it out with the twenty-seventh city, which is his first.

to be quite honest, i couldn’t quite get into it this second time around, though i also can’t fully remember what i thought of it the first time around because i was so confused.  the short, clipped sentences drove me kind of batty, and i didn’t like all the conspiratorial stuff of the new police chief coming into st. louis and trying to amass power, and i hated singh for being so dastardly and casual with violence to achieve these conspiratorial ends and i also hated jammu for pretending to be above the dirty, sneaky crap singh would do, like she could keep her hands clean.

i also hated the ending.  i almost stopped reading because i hated it — it was unnecessarily violent and jarring in the narrative, too, and i just did not like it.

fifty-nine.  the discomfort zone, jonathan franzen.  (audiobook)

adolescence is best enjoyed without self-consciousness, but self-consciousness, unfortunately, is its leading symptom.  even when something important happens to you, even when your heart’s getting crushed or exalted, even when you’re absorbed in building foundations of a personality, there come these moments when you’re aware that what’s happening is not the real story.  unless you actually die, the real story is still ahead of you.  this alone, this cruel mixture of consciousness and irrelevance, this built-in hollowness, is enough to account for how pissed off you are.  you’re miserable and ashamed if you don’t believe your adolescent troubles matter, but you’re stupid if you do.  (“centrally located,” 113)

my first audiobook!  i’ve discovered that audiobooks are awesome for plane rides!  though maybe i specifically mean audiobooks recorded by franzen himself because i love his voice (it’s so throaty and deep and hoarse), and i’m sad that he hasn’t recorded more …

listening to an audiobook is [obviously] a different experience.  i’d already readthe discomfort zone twice before, so i wasn’t listening to it for the first time, so it was interesting to experience the book in a different way, especially because franzen adds his own tone and [physical] voice to it.  it’s also different listening to him read on audiobook because i feel like he’s more intense “in real life,” reading faster and more fluidly whereas, on audiobook, he had to slow down and be more rigid in pace.

sixty.  slouching towards bethlehem, joan didion.

that is a story my generation knows; i doubt that the next will know it, the children of the aerospace engineers.  who would tell it to them?  […]  “old” sacramento to them will be something colorful, something they read about in sunset.  […]  they will have lost the real past and gained a manufactured one […].

but perhaps it is presumptuous of me to assume that they will be missing something.  perhaps in retrospect this has been a story not about sacramento at all, but about the things we lose and the promises we break as we grow older […].  (“notes from a native daughter,” 185-6)

my first didion!  didion’s writing has an ethereal, dreamy quality to it, even when she’s covering trials or immersing herself in san francisco’s haight-ashbury or writing about sacramento.  i like the way she writes about california — there’s a tenderness and affection to it — and it makes me think of california in different hues, too.

sixty-one.  you are one of them, elliott holt.

there is something painfully honest about winter:  the skeletal trees, the brutal repetition of the cold.  there are no empty promises, no hazy, humid hopes.  it’s reality, lonely and stark.  (198)

last book of the year!  i loved holt’s depiction of childhood friendship and the tangles of it and how the spectre of it can loom over you, and the russian and descriptions of russia poked at my yen to travel.  it felt a little anticlimactic, though, and i wanted more conflict, more tension, more emotion, actually, on the narrator’s end.  i loved the ending, though, especially because i was all set to be disappointed in the narrator, so i was proud of her for actively pursuing a decision and effectively shedding her past.

this was a good book to end the year on, and i’m pleased to say that it’s been an awesome reading year, and it’s been such a pleasure to be able to read more and to practice reading more thoughtfully.  i know i’m still not that great at writing about books, but i’m glad to be challenging myself to try to get better at it!

thanks for being with me through the year!  and now i go off to write my year-end recap …!

august reads!

okay, i read a lot in august, so i will keep these as brief as possible …!

thirty-two.  cover, peter mendelsund.

(we are all, in fact, not that which we hope to be, but rather that which we actually do.)

SIGH.  this book is soooo beautiful.  i mean, it’s a collection of covers mendelsund’s designed over the last nine years, and i was pretty much salivating as i made my way through this, poring over the pages carefully and reading everything thoughtfully.  it was a wonderful experience, and i’m glad to have this on my shelves.

thirty-three.  without you, there is no us, suki kim.

was this really conscionable?  awakening my students to what was not in the regime’s program could mean death for them and those they loved.  if they were to wake up and realize that the outside world was in fact not crumbling, that it was their country that was in danger of collapse, and that everything they had been taught about the great leader was bogus, would that make them happier?  how would they live from that point on?  awakening was a luxury available only to those in the free world.  (70)

this book fucking broke my heart.

there’s actually a lot i want to say about this book, so i’m just going to leave this here and come back to it later.  i’m planning to reread it again soon, so i will come back to it.

(this is being published by random house on october 14, 2014, and i highly, highly recommend it.)

thirty-four.  the birth of korean cool, euny hong.

“i still don’t think korean food is fine dining,” he [hooni kim] said, which made me raise my eyebrows.  “the best food in france is cooked by the three-star michelin chefs.”  by contrast, “i think the best food in korea is cooked by the mothers and grandmothers.  there is a history of restaurants in certain countries.  korea doesn’t have that.  korean dining food history is jumak — home-cooking, casual street food, market food.”
“looking, hearing is one thing.  tasting, touching is another.  smelling and tasting is the heart and soul of what korea is.  as much as pop culture wants to globalize, food is the best way for koreans to share their soul and culture.”  (88-9)

i liked this book, and i didn’t.  it was informative in certain ways (i give hong massive props for explaining han), but it was also pretty shallow — i wanted hong to go deeper and provide more analysis (i suppose).  i did deeply appreciate her insight into how heavily the korean government is invested in its culture as an export product, though, and hong also did a great job at providing context and historical background throughout the book.  she also has this wonderful dry, sarcastic humor that made me laugh out loud from time-to-time, too.

in the end, though, i have to admit that i wasn’t convinced of hong’s argument for korean “cool.”  maybe i’ll come back to this, maybe i won’t — we’ll see.

(the above quote made me smile.  it reminds me of a brief post i wrote earlier this year about the korean way of eating, which i think is unique and wonderful and encompasses so much of korean culture.  i absolutely love the korean way of eating.)

thirty-five.  colorless tsukuru tazaki and his years of pilgrimage, haruki murakami.

and in that moment, he was finally able to accept it all.  in the deepest recesses of his soul, tsukuru tazaki understood.  one heart is not connected to another through harmony alone.  they are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds.  pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility.  there is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss.  that is what lies at the root of true harmony.  (322)

this is the most grounded, solid, earthly novel written by murakami, i thought as i read colorless tsukuru tazaki.  i kept waiting for the surreal elements to come heavily into play, but they didn’t, not in a very prominent way at least, and i have to admit — i loved how solid this novel felt.

at the same time, though, tsukuru tazaki is still a very murakami novel.  tsukuru himself is very much a murakami main character, and he’s stuck in that place of isolation and confusion that causes him to depart on a journey to seek answers and discovery, like most murakami main characters.  there’s something very bittersweet about tsukuru’s discovery, though, and the ending felt very open but appropriately so — i think that, if murakami had gone about trying to give us hard closure, it would have felt forced and rather self-gratifying.

i enjoyed this a lot, more than i thought i would to be honest, although i had no idea what to expect as i went into this.  i didn’t even read the excerpt that was published pre-publication or any blurbs about it, and i enjoyed going in totally blind.  i’ve read a few comments elsewhere about colorless tsukuru tazaki being a good introduction to murakami, and i would agree with that.

thirty-six.  mr. penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore, robin sloan.

kat gushes about google’s projects, all revealed to her now.  they are making a 3-D web browser.  they are making a car that drives itself.  they are making a sushi search engine — here she pokes a chopstick down at our dinner — to help people find fish that is sustainable and mercury-free.  they are building a time machine.  they are developing a form of renewable energy that runs on hubris.  (209)

this was SO much fun to read.  the narrator’s voice is truly unique, and i love how sloan drew in “real life” things like google and integrated them fully into his world.  it’s a fun, amusing adventure tale that integrates technology in a very natural way, and you meet interesting characters along the way — and i don’t know what else to say!  it was tons of fun, and i just had a really good time reading it, which doesn’t actually happen very often.  like, i enjoy reading (obviously), but reading mr. penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore was pure fun.  there’s no other way for me to put it.

also, the cover glows in the dark, and the book is beautifully designed (great font), so everything about this book is pure win.

thirty-seven.  ajax penumbra 1969, robin sloan.

“the measure of a bookstore is not its receipts, but its friends,” he says, “and here, we are rich indeed.”  penumbra sees corvina clench his jaw just slightly; he gets the sense that mo’s clerk wishes they had some receipts, too.  (22)

read this immediately upon finishing mr. penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore and thought it to be a lovely companion piece.  (:

thirty-eight.  us v. apple, judge denise cote.

ok, yes, i know this isn’t actually a book, but it’s 160 fucking pages, and i read the whole damn thing, so this counts — IT COUNTS.

objectively, this is a well-written brief (and i never think attorneys are good writers).  it’s cohesively laid out, and judge cote does a great job at presenting the facts in the appropriate slant (as we are taught in legal writing).  she even lays out the legal standard step-by-step, and it’s all very clearly written, so i give her credit for that.  and it was more fun than i thought it would be because judge cote definitely has a flair for the melodramatic, which i found hilarious.  she should write legal thrillers.  and publish them with amazon.

that said, i’m not really going to write much else about this, other than it read very much like a forgone conclusion.

thirty-nine.  men explain things to me, rebecca solnit.

we have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern.  violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.  (“the longest war,” 21)

read this on the plane back to new york, felt myself sick to my stomach because this is the current state of the world, where there is so much violence against woman that is written off and diminished and, via indifference or silence or willful ignorance, condoned.  this book of essays isn’t all about violence against women, but it is about women.  and it’s a great, necessary collection — slim but bursting with truth, both horrifying and hopeful.  recommended.

forty.  never let me go, kazuo ishiguro.

“how could i have tried?” ruth’s voice was hardly audible.  “it’s just something i once dreamt about.  that’s all.”  (226)

this is one of those reads where i just want to note that i’ve read never let me go again but refrain from commentary.

(also the covers for the buried giant are out, and … sigh.  i’m not keen on either the US or the UK covers.  though that in no way diminishes my excitement for it.) 

forty-one.  jane eyre, charlotte brontë.

“i don’t think, sir, you have a right to command me, merely because you are older than i, or because you have seen more of the world than i have — your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.”  (230)

read this mostly on my iPhone because, over the last few months, jane eyre has been my go-to omg-when-is-the-bloody-G-train-coming book.  i enjoyed the slow-burn read, though, and i’ve read jane eyre enough times that i could step away from it for days (or even weeks) and pick it up without having to re-situate myself.

jane eyre is that book from my childhood that made me fall in love with literature, so i will always hold it close to my heart.

forty-two.  rebecca, daphne du maurier.

it seemed incredible to me now that i had never understood.  i wondered how many people there were in the world who suffered, and continued to suffer, because they could not break out from their own web of shyness and reserve, and in their blindness and folly built up a great distorted wall in front of them that hid the truth.  this was what i had done.  i had built up false pictures in my mind and sat before them.  i had never had the courage to demand the truth.  (263)

i finished jane eyre on my flight to nyc and decided that i had to read rebecca again because, you know, one gothic novel about a young girl and an older man naturally makes you want to read another gothic novel about a young girl and an older man.

du maurier does such an exquisite job of getting inside the narrator’s head.  i laughed out loud at quite a few parts over how her imagination runs away with her, as she gets lost in these fantasies and imagined scenarios, and they’re funny because they’re so dramatic and so symptomatic of the young, lonely, isolated mind.  i love the world du maurier creates, too, the enchantment that is manderley with its specter of rebecca hanging over everything — it’s so rich and lush and almost otherworldly, set apart on its corner on the coast.

it was interesting rereading this because i knew what would happen.  i knew the truth about rebecca, and i knew to anticipate certain scenes, so it colored the reading experience in a different way, which i found enjoyable.  that’s one of the fun things about rereading books, isn’t it — going back to it and seeing how you’ve changed and, consequently, how the book has changed, too, because the best books are those that reflect us back to us after all, aren’t they?

currently reading acceptance — taking my time with it because it’s the last book in the southern reach trilogy.  it is SO GOOD, though, and i’m loving it and looking forward to reading the whole trilogy again to see what i’ve missed.  also reading sweetness #9 and your face in mine and just picked up a tale for the time being, green girl, and a short history of women.

and mcewan’s new novel comes out on tuesday.

ah, there’s so much to read!!

colorless tsukuru tazaki and his years of pilgrimage

let us take a minute just to marvel over how beautiful this book is.  what incredible work from chip kidd; i can’t stop petting it.

i was supposed to go to a midnight murakami event in brooklyn last night, but i chose to forgo it for a last minute trip out to california.  i was sad to miss out on midnight murakami, but that’s all right — i get two weeks of family and friends (and korean food/tacos/in n out) in california and was able to pick up a copy of colorless tsukuru tazaki today!

this book is just so pretty.  the type is gorgeous, too — all of it is such a feast for the eyes, and it makes me thrill inside, seeing a book get such wonderful love.  and the opening passage is wonderful, too, so i just had to type it up (obviously) before i slipped off to bed with colorless tsukuru tazaki!  good night, all!


From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying.  He turned twenty during this time, but this special watershed — becoming an adult — meant nothing.  Taking his own life seemed the most natural solution, and even now he couldn’t say why he hadn’t taken this final step.  Crossing that threshold between life and death would have been easier than swallowing down a slick, raw egg.

Perhaps he didn’t commit suicide then because he couldn’t conceive of a method that fit the pure and intense feelings he had toward death.  But method was beside the point.  If there had been a door within reach that led straight to death, he wouldn’t have hesitated to push it open, without a second thought, as if it were just a part of ordinary life.  For better or for worse, though, there was no such door nearby.

I really should have died then, Tsukuru often told himself.  Then this world, the one in the hear and now, wouldn’t exist.  It was a captivating, bewitching thought.  The present world wouldn’t exist, and reality would no longer be real.  As far as this world was concerned, he would simply no longer exist — just as this world would no longer exist for him.

At the same time, Tsukuru couldn’t fathom why he had reached this point, where he was teetering over the precipice.  There was an actual event that had led him to this place — this he knew all too well — but why should death have such a hold over him, enveloping him in its embrace for nearly half a year?  Envelop — the word expressed it precisely.  Like Jonah in the belly of the whale, Tsukuru had fallen into the bowels of death, one untold day after another, lost in a dark, stagnant world.

It was as if he were sleepwalking through life, as if he had already died but not yet noticed it.  When the sun rose, so would Tsukuru — he’d brush his teeth, throw on whatever clothes were at hand, ride the train to college, and take notes in class.  Like a person in a storm desperately grasping at a lamppost, he clung to this daily routine.  He only spoke to people when necessary, and after school, he would return to his solitary apartment, sit on the floor, lean back against the wall, and ponder death and the failures of his life.  Before him lay a huge, dark abyss that ran straight through to the earth’s core.  All he could see was a thick cloud of nothingness swirling around him; all he could hear was a profound silence squeezing his eardrums.

When he wasn’t thinking about death, his mind was blank.  It wasn’t hard to keep from thinking.  He didn’t read any newspapers, didn’t listen to music, and had no sexual desire to speak of.  Events occurring in the outside world were, to him, inconsequential.  When he grew tired of his room, he wandered aimlessly around the neighborhood or went to the station, where he sat on a bench and watched the trains arriving and departing, over and over again.

He took a shower every morning, shampooed his hair well, and did the laundry twice a week.  Cleanliness was another one of his pillars:  laundry, bathing, and teeth brushing.  He barely noticed what he ate.  He had lunch at the college cafeteria, but other than that, he hardly consumed a decent meal.  When he felt hungry he stopped by the local supermarket and bought an apple or some vegetables.  Sometimes he ate plain bread, washing it down with milk straight from the carton.  When it was time to sleep, he’d gulp down a glass of whiskey as if it were a dose of medicine.  Luckily he wasn’t much of a drinker, and a small dose of alcohol was all it took to send him off to sleep.  He never dreamed.  But even if he had dreamed, even if dreamlike images arose from the edges of his mind, they would have found nowhere to perch on the slippery slopes of his consciousness, instead quickly sliding off, down into the voice.

- Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

2013 reading review!

2013 in books!  This is long.  I also proceeded in the order in which I read these books, instead of trying to make some sort of arbitrary order …  Also, there are more quotes in here than in previous years (here are 2011 and 2012).

First Book Read in 2013:  Alice Munro, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

Wrote in my book journal:  “Munro is less about writing/prose than she is about a certain tone/mood she captures. […]  Munro is so fabulous at creating a whole, lived-in world, even in the frame of a short story.”

Favorite stories were “Family Furnishings,” “Nettles,” and “What Is Remembered.”

It seemed to her that this was the first time ever that she had participated in a kiss that was an event in itself.  The whole story, all by itself.  A tender prologue, an efficient pressure, a wholehearted probing and receiving, a lingering thanks, and a drawing away satisfied.
-  “Floating Bridge” (84)

One of My Favorite Passages Was From Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun:

Yukiko, I love you very much.  I loved you from the first day I met you, and I still feel the same.  If I hadn’t met you, my life would have been unbearable.  For that I am grateful beyond words.  Yet here I am, hurting you.  Because I’m a selfish, worthless human being.  For no apparent reason, I hurt the people around me and end up hurting myself.  Ruining someone else’s life and my own.  Not because I like to.  But that’s how it ends up.  (207)

blogged about this earlier this year, and to quote myself (har):  “This is such a great summation of what it means to be human, I think.  We don’t mean to hurt people or do wrong, but it can’t be helped because we’re human.  We’re imperfect and sinful and selfish, hopeless, worthless, &c, and the most we can do is the best we can — all we can do is try and recognize that we will fail, but, then, we get up and try again — so, in the end, I did appreciate Hajime’s struggle throughout the novel and how he came out from it.”

(I generally enjoyed this book; it felt more solid and less other-worldly than his other books.) 

Author of the Year:  Banana Yoshimoto

2013 was the year I read Banana Yoshimoto.  I wanted to finish all her books (that have been translated into English) this year, but I’m still working on Amrita, so, unfortunately, I can’t say I quite accomplished that goal, but I got pretty damn close!  Amrita is surprisingly long (for Yoshimoto), and, because it’s my last of her books, I’m taking it a little slower.  Or, you know, I’ve picked up three other books while reading Amrita, so …

Yoshimoto reminds me a lot of Murakami, in that I don’t necessarily find myself that engrossed in their stories/worlds/characters but I’m intrigued enough to keep reading.  And, clearly, I’ve been intrigued enough by Yoshimoto to plow through her backlist, so I’d say that probably says enough in an of itself?

(Favorite Banana Yoshimoto:  Goodbye Tsugumi

I really enjoyed the dynamic between the narrator and Tsugumi in this, and Tsugumi, particularly, cracked me up, her and her digging a hole especially, and I liked the little bits of thoughtful wisdom placed throughout the book.  In general, Goodbye Tsugumi felt very warm and tangible and genuine to me, and, in turn, I felt warm and comforted by it.  That’s generally one thing I love about books personally — they give back as much as I invest into them.

A passage:

Each one of us continues to carry the heart of each self we’ve ever been, of every stage along the way, and a chaos of everything good and rotten.  And we have to carry this weight all alone, through each day that we live.  We try to be as nice as we can to the people we love, but we alone support the weight of ourselves.  (39)

My second favourite Banana Yoshimoto would be The Lake.)

(Favorite Quote from a Banana Yoshimoto is from “Helix” in Lizard:

“Even when I have crushes on other men, I always see you in the curve of their eyebrows.”  (64)

I think that is so bloody fantastic.)

Biggest Disappointment:  Elizabeth Winder, Pain, Parties, Work:  Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953

This could have been great.  Seriously.  The author had a lot of interviews to cull from, and, had it been written better (or maybe even researched better?  I can’t tell), this could have been pretty damn awesome.  Instead, we got a very superficial, surface-skimming book with a lot of quotations and stated facts, and that was that.

I did like this, though:

What strange anxiety did this all trigger in Sylvia?  The precarious nature of her own happiness, the instability of character, persona, identity, even affection.  The instability of identity — how we are seen only one dimension at a time.  Cryilly saw a kindred bluestocking.  Laurie Glazer saw a cultivated beauty.  Ann Burnside saw a caviar-stuffing barbarian.  How we are labeled for our glamour — or lack of it.  That French perfumes were far more important than she even imagined (and Sylvia never doubted their importance).  That if you stand still for a moment the world keeps moving, that sometimes no head will turn despite shiny hair and freshly applied lipstick.  That many of your peers will want less than you, and that you will envy them for that.  (203)

Least Enjoyable:  Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

I read this for a Murakami book club, and, while I hated the book, it made for a fun book club discussion because we were polarized — half of us loved the book while the other half hated it; there wasn’t any sort of middle ground.  For me, I think part of it was that the book wasn’t really one thing or another — it was surreal but not?  Or maybe the dream-like world segments were too convoluted?  Although the real world stuff was just as convoluted?  Maybe I just didn’t Get It?

But, I did love this passage:

“No.  Think it over carefully.  This is very important because to believe something, whatever it might be, is the doing of the mind.  Do you follow?  When you say you believe, you allow the possibility of disappointment.  And from disappointment or betrayal, there may come despair.  Such is the way of the mind.”  (351)

In the end, I’ve learned this year that neither surrealism nor magic realism does anything for me — they tend to annoy me, rather.

Quote in Defense of Stories (Because This Is Currently a Sore Subject For Me)

Now, the significance of stories is this.  While many stories are often no more than entertainment, narratives are actually so fundamental to how we think that they determine how we understand to live life itself.  The term “worldview,” from the German word Welternschauung, means the comprehensive perspective from which we interpret all of reality.  But a worldview is not merely a set of philosophical bullet points.  It is essentially a master narrative, a fundamental story about (a) what human life in the world should be like, (b) what has knocked it off balance, and (c) what can be done to make it right.
-  Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor (157)

And, In Relation, an Obligatory Quote from One of Franzen’s

“But Kafka’s about your life!” Avery said.  “Not to take anything away from your admiration of Rilke, but I’ll tell you right now, Kafka’s a lot more about your life than Rilke is.  Kafka was like us.  All of these writers, they were human beings trying to make sense of their lives.  But Kafka about all!  Kafka was afraid of death, he had problems with sex, he had problems with women, he had problems with his job, he had problems with his parents.  And he was writing fiction to try to figure these things out.  that’s what his books are about.  Actual living human beings trying to make sense of death and the modern world and the mess of their lives.”
-  Jonathan Franzen, The Discomfort Zone (140-1)

(I thoroughly enjoy Franzen’s non-fiction voice.  Part of it is that I feel like his non-fiction voice reads very much like him himself, which, okay, duh, sounds like an obvious thing, but a lot of times there’s a disconnect between a writer and his/her voice, even in non-fiction.  Franzen’s funny, too, or I just have a bizarre sense of humor [you know, it really could be that], but I like his general sort of crankiness and wryness and self-awareness.)

Most Sometimes-There-Is-A-Proper-Time-And-Place-For-Books:  Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot

Eugenides is 2 for 3 in my book!  I first picked up The Marriage Plot when it was first published in 2011, but I couldn’t get past the first 20-some pages because I was in university then, studying comparative literature and surrounded by the same character types depicted in the beginning of the novel.  I picked it up in paperback earlier this year, though, when I was in law school and miserable and unhappy, and, damn, was it a comfort to my soul.

The thing that stood out to me most about The Marriage Plot, though, was how much love Eugenides had for his characters, especially Leonard, and I felt a lot of warmth/love while reading it.  The ending was good, too — not so tightly closed or neatly knotted together but rather realistic and hopeful? 

Favorite Overall:  Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings

I picked The Interestings up on a whim and started reading it on a particularly humid Wednesday in August, ignoring any and all other responsibilities I had because it was too goddamn humid to do anything but read.  I didn’t expect to love it, but I did — I head-over-heels loved it.

It’s rare (in my opinion) to find good books about friendship and, particularly, about friendship in an ensemble way, but The Interestings did so deftly, weaving together these six lives and carrying this friendship through time, which, also, is impressive — but I’d say that what I liked most about The Interestings was that the characters felt thoroughly real to me.  They felt like people to me, people I could know, could come across, and they lived lives that were actual, full lives — these people, these friends, were fleshed out, traveling the trajectories of their individual and, also, entwined lives, and I, as the reader, was there along for the ride.

This passage, in particular, gets me in the heart every single fucking time:

Once, a few years earlier, Jules had gone to see a play at Ash’s theater, and afterward, during the “talkback,” when the audience asked questions of the playwright and of Ash, who’d directed the production, a woman stood up and said, “This one is for Ms. Wolf.  My daughter wants to be a director too.  She’s applying to graduate school in directing, but I know very well that there are no jobs, and that she’s probably only going to have her dreams dashed.  Shouldn’t I encourage her to do something else, to find some other field she can get into before too much time goes by?”  And Ask had said to that mother, “Well, if she’s thinking about going into directing, she has to really, really want it.  That’s the first thing.  Because if she doesn’t, then there’s no point in putting herself through all of this, because it’s incredibly hard and dispiriting.  But if she does really, really want it, and if she seems to have a talent for it, then I think you should tell her, ‘That’s wonderful.’  Because the truth is, the world will probably whittle your daughter down.  But a mother never should.”  (460)

Also, I’m still a little in love with Ethan Figman.

Non-fiction of 2013:  Boris Kachka, Hothouse:  The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus & Giroux

I’m such a sucker for anything related to publishing.

However, while I really, really loved what this book was about, I kind of really, really didn’t care for the writing.  For one, it drove me crazy that Kachka wasn’t consistent with the names — like, he kept hopping between “Roger” and “Straus” and “Straus Jr,” so I was bloody confused from time-to-time exactly which Straus he was referring to.  For another, the writing just seemed really uneven — it wasn’t bad, per se, just … uneven … and it didn’t necessarily detract that much from the reading, but, honestly, I couldn’t not enjoy Hothouse because it was the story of a great publishing house.

My favorite passage from it:

It may have been Straus who, by sheer force of his charm and quickness managed to preserve the company that arguably set the intellectual tone of postwar America.But it was Giroux and Robbins and Vursell and many other underpaid strivers who advised him on what to publish, how to promote it, how to translate it and sell it properly abroad — who, in short, made the company worth preserving.They worked in gloves in the winter when the heat broke down; they jerry-rigged the paper towel roll in the ladies’ room with an oversized dinner fork; they repaired their own desks and bought their own pencils and made sacrifices in their lives that well-born Roger W. Straus, Jr., would never have to make, all for the freedom to publish what they loved, and little else.  (09)

Favorite Poem Because, Yes, Sometimes, I Read Poems, Too:  Ted Hughes, “The Offers,” Howls and Whispers

Ted Hughes is one of two poets from whom I’ve read fairly extensively (the other poet being T.S. Eliot).  I always say I’m going to read more poetry, but the truth is that I probably won’t ever — I used to love poetry when I was young, but my love for poetry died a swift and permanent death early on.

The last few lines are my absolute favorite:

Even in my dreams, our house was in ruins.
But suddenly — the third time — you were there.
Younger than I had ever known you.  You
As if new made, half a wild roe, half
A flawless thing, priceless, facetted
Like a cobalt jewel.  You came behind me
(At my helpless moment, as I lowered
A testing foot into the running bath)
And spoke — peremptory, as a familiar voice
Will startle out of a river’s uproar, urgent,
Close:  ‘This is the last.  This one.  This time
Don’t fail me.’

Fun Fact:  Ted Hughes is distantly related to John Farrar of FSG!

Last Book Read in 2013:  Aleksandar Hemon, The Book of My Lives

Read it.  I’d have more to say about this, but I finished it on 2013 December 31, and I’m still processing it in my head.  But read it.  I highly recommend it.

Going Into 2014 Reading:

  • Chang-rae Lee, The Surrendered
  • Naoki Higashida, The Reason I Jump
  • Diane Middlebrook, Her Husband:  Hughes and Plath — A Marriage

Looking Forward to in 2014:

  • Chang-rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea (Riverhead, 2014 January 7)
  • Lydia Davis, Can’t and Won’t (FSG, 2014 April 8)
  • Shin Kyung-sook, I’ll Be Right There (Other Press, 2014 May 6)
  • Gong Ji-young, Our Happy Time (Atria Books/Marble Arch Press, 2014 July 1)
  • Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Random House, 2014 August 12)