One defining character trait about myself is that I am a creature of habit when it comes to my book selection. For the past five years, I’ve been reading mostly the works of Haruki Murakami, a Japanese author and clear lead-running favorite on my bookshelf. To date, I haven’t kept track of how many of Murakami’s novels and short stories that I’ve read. (Though, a quick browse through my Goodreads will shed light on this metric.) And I’m determined to read them all.
It’s a delicate matter though. Timing is important when selecting a new book to read. For instance, I read Norwegian Wood during a difficult break-up and then Kafka on the Shore while questioning my career (and life) direction. Both novels colored my life with much-needed perspective to my then-life situation. On the other hand, I bought a copy of 1Q84 years ago, and still, it sits on my bookshelf unstarted and unread for lack of any good reason. It’s neatly categorized in my mind as a novel “to be read under the right circumstances,” and so far, time hasn’t allowed for its entrance.
After spending the first half of this year reading a few popular books (Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series and Dave Eggers’ The Circle), I craved a return to go back to the transcendent magical realism aesthetic, the style for which makes Murakami famous. On my most recent trip to one of San Francisco’s bookstores, Booksmith, I perused the “M” section of the fiction shelves.
I could probably close my eyes and choose any of Murakami’s books to be satisfied with. But, while at Booksmith — and this is my favorite part of bookstores — I love reading the store’s staffers’ handwritten notes, typically affixed below their respective books, that summarize in detail why they recommend this book, what makes it remarkable, and why you, reader, should absolutely read it. Maybe I’m a sucker or easily convinced, but I take these notes seriously!
Coming across and reading the notes on Murakami, I decided on Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World as my next read. The note provided context to the book. Reading the bookstore note and conducting research on my own, I learned the following:
Murakami has, in multiple novels, written dual, concurrent and intersecting stories. In keeping with this style, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World are separate stories. Each chapter or couple chapters alternate the storytelling. (Some literature critics identify this style as a defining characteristic of post-modern literature.) Both narratives together create this singular novel. This novel is particularly special because it is Murakami’s favorite and Jay Rubin’s favorite. (Rubin is my favorite Murakami translator.) The bookstore note also indicated that Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World, written in 1985 and translated to English in 1991, is one of Murkami’s first books to define his signature style.
To date, I’m fifty pages into the book, and at risk of confirmation bias, I regained the feeling of a cyclical process of disorientation-recalibration, one most similar when I read Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Sputnik Sweetheart for the first time. This book is one that stands on its own though, and while I’ve only scratched the surface, and if historic trends continue, I can tell that it’ll be one hell of a trip.