“Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that.”
— Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
I am sitting here now in my lobby, in the dark, staring vacantly at the glimmering fireplace in the afterglow of my first Murakami novel. (To whom it may concern, I read the Rubin translation.) I feel, somehow, like Norwegian Wood was a bad place to start. Especially after having read Number9Dream by David Mitchell, which is, essentially, a contemporary retelling of this story.
Number9Dream came to me by way of my high school AP English teacher, who was, is, and shall remain, the best teacher I was ever graced with in my illustrious career in academia. She is still a valued friend, and though we don’t speak often, I find myself still thinking of her advice with fondness. (“No test designed by me or the state of Pennsylvania can determine your worth as a human being,” or something to that effect. And yes, I still think of those pink star-shaped sunglasses [which, in fact, sit on my bookshelf to this day] whenever I know I need a shift in perspective.) She is the sweetest and most genuine person I believe I know, and I shall love her until the day I die. I am not exaggerating.
Anyway, this book, which was given to me by her as means for completing an assignment, is my favorite book. It tells the coming-of-age story of a young Japanese boy named Eiji who ventures off to Tokyo to find his father, whom he has never met. I remember while completing this assignment, I came across a review from the New York Times which ripped it as a knockoff of Norwegian Wood. Now, having read both, I disagree.
While the novels have a similar course of action, they vary enough for both to be worthwhile. This is, of course, beside the obvious fact of the style and storytelling differences between Murakami and Mitchell. While Murakami is grounded and straightforward, Mitchell sways into unreality and vivid, synesthetic detail. Both are fantastic. I still prefer Mitchell.
Regardless, I believe that, based on what I’ve read about Norwegian Wood being quite the departure from Murakami’s usual course, this was the wrong place to start in his body of work. I have also meant to read 1Q84 and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. But, the unfortunate fact remains that I am bad at making the decision to read, and more frequently than I would care to admit, I quit a book ten pages in.
Recently, though, I have read two entire books, including Norwegian Wood. The previous was a Stephen King anthology called Night Shift, with which sitting alone in the dark was sometimes a trepidacious undertaking. The last book before this that I read was Patrick Rothfuss’s The Slow Regard of Silent Things, back in June. And so I have decided that sticking with this new momentum is probably a good thing. I have on my shelf three more works by Mitchell (Cloud Atlas, Black Swan Green, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet) as well as two books I brought home from Paris nearly two years ago: John le Carre’s The Looking-Glass War (which came from a free book cart outside the American Library of Paris, which we found completely by accident) and, fittingly, an unabridged edition of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (the Denny translation). I’m sure there are more I have attempted to read and forgotten about somewhere, as well.
Once I’ve finished these, however, I fear that I will hit the metaphorical wall once again, and so I am asking a favor. I want all of your book recommendations. Books you loved, books you hated, books you loved to hate, and hated to love. Classics, contemporaries, fantasy and fiction. Chances are anything you may have to suggest I have not yet read, as I have read virtually nothing in the last five years, though I have read and loved many books from many genres. I will give anything a go, assuming I can get my hands on it.
Please send in your titles, and if you’re so inclined, lend me a book. The way I’ve been reading lately, I’ll likely have it finished and returned to you within a week. And if you want me to get cute and leave you index cards or sticky notes with commentary, I will do that, too!