living covertly in Japan

1Q84 – Haruki Murakami

I picked up a copy of Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, 1Q84. In Japanese it’s pronounced, “Ichi-kyu-hachi-yon,” and that’s how I pronounce it in my mind and aloud. I have to wonder though, what if I ran into that book 5 or 6 years ago randomly in a Barns & Nobles? What would I call it then? “One-Q-Eighty-four?” “One-Q-Eight-Four?” Now that just sounds silly to me. Funny how things change.

It’s a big book. In Japan books are often published in two different volumes, the 上 followed by the 下.  However 1Q84 was published in Japan as Book 1 followed by Book 2. A Book 3 was eventually published and came as a surprise. The books sold quickly, Book 1 was sold out the day it was released.

The translated copy I picked up is comprised of all three books in a hardcover binding. I don’t like hardcovers. Well, to be precise, I don’t like the paper covers that wrap around the hardcovers. They always slide up and down the book, and get crumpled up at the top and bottom. I used to hold this against the book, you really can judge books by their covers. It’s like the book puts and extra obligation on you to handle it with a little more care and deal with it being as slippery as a lubed up monkfish. But now that I’ve gotten older, and pay for my own books, I just take the paper cover off and carelessly toss it aside. It doesn’t matter to me what happens to that paper cover. And this way I can settle down comfortably with my naked book and enjoy a good read.

Murakami is my favorite author. I’ve liked a lot of books in my life, The Grass Dancer, White Fang, Dune, Old Man and the Sea, Starship Troopers, Blue Like Jazz, LOTR, Catcher in the Rye, and lots of others. But one day in the tiny English section of a Japanese bookstore I picked up a book of short stories called Blind Woman Sleeping Willow. I read it in coffee shops stuffed with hipsters with thick plastic framed glasses, next to pools reeking of chlorine, and on the beach in the shadow of my surfboard. When I finished don’t know if I can convey the feeling in words, but I had to go further. I can’t really compare it to anything because that never happened to me before. Maybe it’s like falling in love or maybe just youthful infatuation, I’m not sure, but I had to keep reading books written by this same author.

Even Neil Patrick Harris couldn’t save the movie though…

My bookcase in Japan is filled with manga volumes and Murakami novels and short story collections. His books scare me a little. A lot of his male characters don’t just remind me of myself; it’s like they’re little alternate versions of myself. Sometimes while reading I’ll have to put the book down to collect myself. At times, it’s like I’m reading about something inside of me hidden deep away. Other times, it’s like the book is speaking to me, trying to call out something important or trying to teach some vital truth that I already know, but for some reason forgot.

It’s not just me. A friend emailed me after reading Norwegian Wood because the main character spooked her because it was like reading about me. My wife tells me the female characters do the same for her, she can see herself in them. That’s even scarier though, because a lot of Murakami’s female characters either go insane or kill themselves… or both.

I once had a girl…

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