It was spring 2010, almost two years since I graduated from college. I was living in Baltimore and reconnected with an old friend in New York City whom I hadn’t seen in what felt like a very long time. We were both philosophy majors at Berkeley, had mutual friends, and some classes together. During my visit, he and I hung out in a cafe in Bushwick for a little, then rode the subway to his place. I listened to him talk about his harrowing pursuit of a masters in philosophy, I met his dog, saw his apartment (piles and piles of books everywhere), heard about his girlfriend.
When it came time to leave, he walked over to a bookshelf and said he wanted me to have a book. He thought I would really like this author and the short stories were a good introduction to his style. Besides, he had two copies. He handed me a copy of Haruki Murakami’s after the quake, a collection of short stories set in Japan after the 1995 earthquake in Kobe. The stories were written between 1999-2000, on the cusp of the new millennium, yet the country’s citizens were still trying to make sense of destruction and loss. The book felt relevant at a time when the 2008 Recession had occurred two years prior, yet everyone I knew was still trying to pick up the pieces.
In this collection of short stories, Murakami seamlessly blends supernatural or mysterious elements into the happenings of everyday life. Within the slim book’s pages, he artfully conveys such depth in the relationships between his characters. The book also encouraged me to think about the lasting impact of catastrophic events on people’s lives, something that the freewheeling 22 year old me never previously thought about deeply. I hadn’t read anything quite like this before, the style of which came very close to how my own heart and my mind experienced the world. I felt like I found a long-lost piece of me.
Later that year, I moved back to the west coast and started law school in the fall. The first few months, I felt very alone. I really was alone. On some weekends I pushed myself to go out and explore, walk the city, find a cool place to eat, and get lost. But during the week, I chose to stay inside my basement apartment and avoid the outside world. I would walk home immediately after another grueling and embarrassing day of law school, get bored with homework, and read Kafka on the Shore. It was my response to the vast amount of assignments, the humiliation of being called on and exposed as a nervous stuttering fool in front of a hundred classmates, the dizzying new social scene, and the intimidation of living alone in a city where I knew absolutely no one and had not yet made any new friends. The book’s main character spent a lot of time alone too, so reading Kafka on the Shore made me feel cool and less lonely.
Years later, I am still reading books by Haruki Murakami. His books have remained one of the only constants in my life, which has changed over and over and over again since 2010. Every year Haruki Murakami has been with me throughout all these changes… my relationship with my family, my friendships, my love life, my career, my various apartments, my neighborhoods, myself… Everything has been upheaved in some way. Reading his books during these times in my life helped me to process all these events and experiences, to think about how all the challenges and setbacks and people I know shape who I am and who I want to be. It’s clear he has this effect on readers; he has been one of most popular and in-demand authors for quite some time.
I really enjoy the philosophical themes in all of Murakami’s books because of my academic history, but there are also other things, too. I love the level of description of the clothes people wear in his books. I love imagining everyone’s classic and unique style. I love reading about all the food the characters eat and make. I love the references to music, especially all the jazz. I love the recurring imagery and character traits across his books. I love the description of the lives his characters live when they are alone. I just love his writing style. Though at times reading Murakami can be mind-twisting, painful, long, and even sickening, it’s also the same as the process of self-discovery. To lose someone or something important, to discover reality is not what it seems, to learn more about yourself and how you fit/don’t fit into the world around you, and to learn what the world around you is/isn’t… It’s rarely ever a pleasant experience, but, as I’ve found, it’s essential to becoming more human, more aware.
At this point I want to mention F. Scott Fitzgerald. I don’t consider myself well-read at all. But F. Scott Fitzgerald and Haruki Murakami are the only authors in my life so far who have gotten to me on such a deep level, that I’ve dedicated myself to reading (and re-reading if possible) every novel they’ve written. While it took me a much shorter time to read all of Fitzgerald’s beautiful heart-breaking treasures, reading all of Murakami’s novels will likely take me much, much longer. But maybe not, who knows?
NOVELS: Hear the Wind Sing (read) / Pinball, 1973 (read) / A Wild Sheep Case / The Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World / Norwegian Wood (read) / Dance Dance Dance (read) / South of the Border, West of the Sun (read) / The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (read) / Sputnik Sweetheart (reading) / Kafka on the Shore (read) / After Dark (read) / 1Q84 (read) / Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (read)
STORY COLLECTIONS: The Elephant Vanishes / after the quake (read) / Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
NONFICTION/MEMOIR: Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche / What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (read)
The lives of both F. Scott Fitzgerald and Haruki Murakami are just as, if not more, intriguing than the things they have written. In my little corner of human existence, these two authors have lit candles that burn very, very bright.