Monday, January 4, 2016

Why Haruki Murakami Is My Favorite Author

(Photo taken in Barnes & Noble, Walnut Creek)

Since it is the start of a new year, a more fitting first post of 2016 would probably be something about my goals for the year or maybe a short spiel about what I plan on doing for the rest of my month-long winter break. However, I've been suffering from an unfortunate case of writer's block. I've tried everything—from writing a long list of possible blog topics to journaling daily in physical notebooks—and was unable to write more than a few paragraphs, mostly just summaries of my uneventful days. To distract myself from this unfavorable condition, I've been reading almost 24/7. I'm reading two books as of now, IQ84 by Haruki Murakami and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Both are extremely thick, dense, complicated, long (over 1,000 pages each), emotionally-driven meganovels that are extremely difficult to absorb and comprehend in one sitting. They are not the typical kinds of books I'd be reading over a month-long break. Instead, I usually prefer reading short and sweet chick lits when I have an abundance of free time to kill. Chick lits are perfect with a glass of red wine and a night dedicated to relaxation. These books, however, deal with something much darker: the existential crisis.

I've been meaning to write a review of one of Murakami's books for quite some time now, but even as I'm currently reading IQ84, I can't seem to properly organize my thoughts when it comes to his novels. After much contemplation, I've decided that this has something to do with the fact that Haruki Murakami is my favorite author—I emphasize "favorite" because I am pathetically indecisive when it comes to favorite books/authors and thus it has taken me 19 years to choose one—and his works have single-handedly changed the way I perceive people and the world. I've read 7 of his books so far, and still find myself at loss for words whenever I try to explain why I admire Murakami and his style of writing so much. There is something at the core of his works that I'm unable to convey in words. Nonetheless, it's about time I fight this bout of writer's block and try.

Using exceptional descriptions and dialogue, Murakami conveys the deepest, darkest—often hidden—sides of human nature. Many of his characters experience a type of universal, human despair that forces them to question reality. This is why most of his works fall under the subgenre of "magical realism." Murakami novels portray the universe as a cruel and unfair place. He discusses philosophical issues such as death, time, self-identity, free will, nature of good and evil, and emotional and physical desire from a realist perspective, but his works often take place in alternate realities; cats talk to humans, a Shinagawa monkey steal's the name of a woman and a strange, mythical Sheep Man appears out of nowhere and speakswithoutpauseslikethis. Some characters commit murder while others commit fraud. Some are "colorless" and others throw funerals for telephone circuit boxes. Some spend all day drinking whiskey in a bar with the Rat while others embark on journeys in search of long lost mothers and pinball machines. All of his characters participate in wild, weird sex and some even resort to cheating, a vice we often see in others, yet choose to ignore within ourselves. When it comes to love, well, let's just say it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Murakami makes you feel for these characters as they grapple with loneliness, alienation, loss, old age and the complexity of human relationships. Murakami's list of profoundly intricate characters is endless, and this is just one aspect of what gives his novels their richness.

Music flows naturally throughout all of Murakami's works. For me, this is the most impressive characteristic of his books. Murakami's ability to reference jazz, pop and classical music reveals his extensive knowledge and love of music. (Yes, he once owned a jazz club!) Murakami intertwines the world of music with literature by including pieces by composers and artists ranging from Leoš Janáček and Franz Liszt to The Beatles, Nat King Cole, The Beach Boys and more. In fact, three of his novels—Norwegian Wood, South of the Border, West of the Sun and Dance, Dance, Dance—all take their titles from famous songs. As a curious musician, I often stop reading whenever I come across musical references to look up them up, just to see if I can hear what Murakami heard when he decided to include them in his novels. Even if you're not musically-inclined, you can't help, but find yourself entranced by Murakami's words as they melt into rhythms and sounds. For anyone curious, here is a helpful guide to the music of Murakami to prove my point.

If you haven't been able to tell from this embarrassingly nerdy blog post, Murakami is by far my favorite author, storyteller and dystopia-creator. You know that feeling of satisfaction you get when you listen to the climax of your favorite song or take the first bite of your favorite kind of food? That's the sort of feeling I get whenever I read one of Murakami's books; that kind of feeling is indescribable.

More posts about books