July 29th, 2007

was sleeping

Murakami Haruki confession

...I think I like him.

See, Murakami Haruki is so popular that you don't get any geek points for reading him. Absolutely everyone already knows how great an author he is. He's one of the people that all Japanese majors anywhere know about. I'd ask for book recommendations at parties, and even people who said they didn't read much recommended Murakami Haruki. One of the courses offered at my school went over only Murakami Haruki's Norwegian Wood and Yoshimoto Banana's Kitchen (in both the original and translation)-- and furthermore, the dormmate of mine who took the course kept telling me that I should read Norwegian Wood for the whole semester. I read an essay that compared Norwegian Wood to Laws of Japan: everyone buys it whether or not they intend to read it; they just want to have it. When I asked one of my most book-loving Japanese dormmates for book recs, he first said, "Well, of course Murakami Haruki." "Other than Murakami Haruki," I said.

Of course I bought several of his books: three children's books, four novels, a short story collection, and his nonfiction book. I selected them more or less at random, hardly even looking at the covers, and I only even ever so much as opened only two of them when I was in Japan. My time in Japan is limited, I thought, and I need to spend it as efficiently as possible. If I already know I should try Murakami Haruki, then I'll try him in America. Given that I don't know how easy it is to obtain specific books over here, and used books were pretty cheap over there, I considered it prudent to buy myself a library that had everything I could think I might want to read someday, hence my stocking up on him without even trying him.

Now, yesterday browing heard_of_it, I saw someone recommend Murakami Haruki. "That's ridiculous-- that's like recommending Harry Potter, he's so popular he doesn't need recommendations," I thought, and posted a catty reply to that effect. (I did not first read the Wikipedia article on him, which the original poster linked to; it said that he'd been a superstar in Japan since the mid-'80's.)

Of course, such a reply is not nearly as cool as one that states that the poster has read much of his works in the original. So bound not to be out-Japanese-literatured by a bunch of people who can't even read Japanese, I picked up one of the thinner Murakami Haruki books in my collection last night: TV People, a collection of six stories.

And as soon as I opened that first story, I could see that his works are as carefully edited and smoothly readable as Yamada Kuniko's-- like Yamada Kuniko's stories, his are so carefully written that I almost don't need a dictionary to read them, since I can get so much by context. (Pulp novels are among the hardest for me to read; they generally have much harder words than slightly more literary ones, as well as tending to a certain sentence structure that makes it harder to figure out what those words mean on your own.) He does tend to repeat himself a lot (I think he could have told the same story in half the number of pages), but I'm not one to complain about that.

The story itself was a vaguely strange thing about a guy who sees slightly short people (70-80% of the height of a normal human) who all look alike, carrying TVs into his living room and workplace. No one else can see these people, and the co-worker who should have seen them as well, who he mentions them to, then shuns him. The TVs don't do anything more than show a white screen, and a faint hissing sound, until the end of the story.

So of course it took me all day to read the 50-page title story, which I should have been done with in a few hours. Every page or so, I'd think of an email I wanted to write, suddenly need to check LJ again, get hungry for a snack, think of some correction I can make on my Yamada Kuniko translation, or watch the new Hana-Kimi. It's not that I have ADD or anything-- I think it's more that reading a Murakami Haruki story, and liking it, felt too much like eating humble pie. I, who could read somewhat before I even went to Japan, and read as constantly as I could over there, should like authors like Mayumura Taku, whose brand of-- I suppose you could call it science fiction-- I hear was very popular in the '70's, or Nagano Mayumi, who most people who haven't read a certain amount haven't even heard of. Not Murakami Haruki!

In self-consolation, I suppose I should tell myself that real bookworms read the stuff they like regardless of how well-known it might or might not be.