It’s been a while since I’d read a proper book. Most of the last year was just reading magazines, mainly because they’re a lot easier to carry around. I just rushed through “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen in my last day of break, because it’s a big-ass, hard-covered behemoth and I did not want to drag that to and from work.
During hiatus I knocked out a few books on the bus and train rides and sits in various parks and squares:
–“The Wild Sheep Chase” by Haruki Murakami: I really like Murakami — the spareness of his writing and also, I realized, because I often relate to his protagonists. They often are lonely and feel like they’re outsiders looking in (I’ve wondered if this is why they don’t just off themselves; they have a disconnection from themselves too and they’re even looking at themselves passing through life from the outside).
Based on the few that I’ve read, it seems that Murakami’s novels are either set in real life or in the surreal; this one is based on a surreal one, involving what the title is. I like that the surrealness isn’t a distraction in Murakami novels — you just roll with the fact that there are portals to different dimensions and that you’re not quite sure if a certain character is real or a ghost. I’m still mulling this one over, but it seemed to me that the book was about stripping a character of all that is — or seems — important from his life to see what’s left. I relate to the character at the end, but I’m still not sure what’s left after all that loss.
–“South of the Border, West of the Sun” by Haruki Murakami: I think I enjoyed this book slightly more than “Sheep,” maybe because it is set in real life, maybe also because this novel felt the most hopeful out of the novels of his that I’ve read (I’ve also read “Norwegian Wood” and “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles”). Maybe as I’m getting older (ha ha), I’m starting to understand that all your dreams don’t come true but am curious how you deal with that reality. And I think this book was one perspective on how to deal with an imperfect, possibly flatter future than you hoped for.
-And for some bonus Murakami: “Yesterday,” a short story published in the New Yorker. It’s available to non-subscribers too, so if you haven’t read a Murakami, this is a quick way to check him out. And yes, I enjoyed the story.
–“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt: Starting out, I really disliked the book — all the characters were just so reprehensible to me: Self-absorbed little college students who are so certain about their place on the Pantheon. But whenever I was ready to toss the book, a compelling tidbit would be thrown in, just a tiny sentence, and I’d take the bait and keep slogging, which I’m glad I did. The book ended up being an interesting study of human behavior, which wasn’t what I expected.
–“Wicked” by Gregory Maguire: I first heard of the musical, so I assumed that like all musicals, the book must be peppy and hopeful. It is not. But I really enjoyed it. It’s the story of the Wicked Witch of the West and how she became that. I really love fantasy books that are fully fleshed worlds with maps and different societies. It also made me think a lot about choices and fate: How much of who the witch was due to her upbringing? The unfortunate color of her skin? The way she chose to deal with it? How would things have been different if she had a lasting, meaningful relationship?
–“Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen: This is the last book I read in my spree and at this point, it was getting tough to read about hopes being crushed and the bad decisions made by unhappy people. I liked that it showed these people’s lives in all its messiness — the blinding moments of terribleness, the plateaus of numbness and the tiny bits of hope and forgiveness. Like with “South,” you see how people slog through all the imperfectness.
I started Murakami’s “1Q84” with a friend’s copy in Boston, but had to give it up when I moved onto Pennsylvania (was also a hardcover behemoth and also not mine). And I’m dying to start Edward St. Aubyn’s series — but I’m still too frayed to read more about bad decision-making and you know, child rape. I need a chaser of something fluffy and easy. Any recs?