By Amy Cosio
If you want to look cool, buy a Haruki Murakami book.
If you want your mind to implode, read it.
If you have selected mind implosion, read on for some tips on how best to appreciate the end of your brain as you know it. This is how I believe one should read Murakami.
1. Start with “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning”.
This short story from the collection The Elephant Vanishes is an introduction to Murakami’s straightforward voice. The whole story is just a detailed explanation of one simple event (the title might give you a clue). Nothing extraordinary happens, but you are drawn in by his dead-pan narration of true love and the romance of possibility. Read this, and you will believe in love at first sight — and anything else Murakami will say. That’s important, because extraordinary things will happen.
2. Put some music on.
Murakami ran a jazz club called the Peter Cat before he watched a baseball game in 1978 and decided that he wanted to write a novel. He admits to listening to classical music while writing, and many a song has been used as a plot device. His stories may take you for a dizzying ride into the surreal, but just as you appreciate Miles Davis diving into an improv solo, trust Murakami. The rhythm of his prose will often times keep you turning page after page (a good tip for when you’re reading all 1000 pages of his latest novel, 1Q84).
3. Throw out your Japanese cliches.
Don’t let the name mislead you. Haruki Murakami is not a manga artist, nor does he write about kimonos or geishas or sushi. They do have McDonald’s in Japan and in “The Second Bakery Attack” (originally published in Playboy and included in The Elephant Vanishes), is the target of a newlywed couple’s deep hunger. Leave the badly translated Japanese sayings to that cheesy stationery. Murakami may not write in English, but he grew up reading western paperbacks, lived in Europe and the U.S. for many years, and is a prolific translator. That said, Johnnie Walker in Japan is a cat murderer, and Colonel Sanders is a pimp (Kafka on the Shore).
4. Don’t think too much.
Several of Murakami’s novels are of seemingly unrelated but equally remarkable stories woven together (Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and Kafka on the Shore). Also, there is an abundance of cats. And a few hot librarians. And always that parallel world that the protagonist accidentally slips into, whether through a well (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) or a late night stroll through a Greek island (Sputnik Sweetheart). Roll with it. Murakami is notorious for writing his stories with no specific end in mind. In all his mysteries, “I write the book because I would like to find out.” Even though his plots are incredible, Murakami will walk you through it with painstaking clarity.
5. Find meaning in Norwegian Wood.
This book was created to be a hit, and it was. As Murakami’s most (if not the only) realistic work, Norwegian Wood presents his favorite themes in a very relatable story. None of those runaway cats or isolated communes. Here, his lonely male protagonist is torn between two women–the mysterious and elusive Naoko who represents his spiritual world, and Midori the cool and quirky girl who lives in the real world. Missing, searching and finding–Murakami’s novels revolve around these three. But the real gem is not whether the mystery is solved, it’s the transformation. Okay, so it’s still deep stuff. But hey, you’re dealing with a postmodern intellectual here.
6. If it all gets too much: RUN.
Get your whole body involved in the experience of reading Murakami. The 64-year old novelist follows a strict routine when writing: he wakes up at 4 am and writes for 5 to 6 hours. Then he runs for ten kilometers and swims for fifteen hundred meters. (He runs ultra marathons, for crying out loud!) In the afternoon he reads books and listens to some music. He goes to sleep at 9pm every night. The surreal parallel worlds Murakami creates can be pretty exhausting. But through strict repetition and running, he enters a deeper state of mind. Try it yourself. Just be wary of talking cats, abandoned wells and name-stealing monkeys.