Murakami, reading and the unread 2 Comments

Murakami, reading and the unread

Somehow it seems we arrive at November again. I look to my bedside table and I see a stack of unopened books. I look to my bookshelf and I see books half started (or is it half finished). Around this time of the year I try to make a pact with myself that I’ll finish all the unopened books on my shelf before New Year’s. I’ve tried and gotten close in the past, but never completely done it.

This makes me think about the acquisition of books in general – collecting books is sort of like bragging about your brain, your interests, your world view, especially if you don’t finish reading them. Not that I’m saying we all purport to have read all the books on our shelves, it’s just interesting. At TiNA this year, Adam Liaw spoke about how cook books are these almost useless lifestyle objects that we don’t use to their full potential. However literature is different, we tell ourselves.

Why do we persist in buying books that we don’t read? I had the realisation a few years ago that there isn’t enough time for me to read all the books I want to. Lately I’m thinking fondly of artists or writers retreats where all I am charged to do is to read, write and work on my craft. But how am I meant to have funded this sort of behaviour at the age of 24 when there are so many other things to do in the world, like eat, play, drink, love, find out what I want to do for work.. Who is paying me to read? Or how do I rationalise this time.

This is how bookstores and libraries can seem like depressing places, while simultaneously being wonderful collections of thoughts, stories and ideas on pages. Maybe I mean oppressing.

Recently I finished reading Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. His protagonist, Kafka Tamura, is a 15 year old runaway who happens upon a library opened by a rich family who used to collect haiku and tanka. He has a similar realisation when he first visits the library: that it’s an overwhelming setting to be in, a place where people have troubled to put their thoughts about a particular topic on a page. And you won’t have enough time to read them all or hear them all out.

I think that we’ve always been surrounded by too much information, as opposed to what we’re being told now about this “information saturated age” (what’s up, internet). It seems that’s always been our condition and a great part of life is straddling that dilemma. Perhaps this is why it’s a good idea to know different sorts of people, because that way they can absorb things you wouldn’t normally and you can feed off them. Like the information succubus you are.

During a recent car trip I told my friend I was obsessed with this Murakami book and I’d need to read it to him because I needed to know what happened next. I gave him an outline of the plot and began reading. He was soon hooked. I took over driving for a bit and he read to me. We got lost in Murakami’s Japan – as anyone who’s ever read his work will know it’s a very consuming place to be – and suddenly realised we were, after two or three hours on the road from Horsham, reaching the outer suburbs of Melbourne. We switched driving again and somehow ended up outside my house, completely sucked into this book, of which only 90 pages remained. My friend came in the house and we kept reading until the damn thing was finished.

This book is the first that I have finished reading since March. I have made attempts, with poetry and short story collections, to engage with the written word. But it has been hard to finish something.

There are trophy books on my shelf, like a half read Hilary Mantel, Sylvia Plath biographies, books on feminism, independent alt lit books that are only about 150 pages long, yet all of them are equally unfinished. Sometimes it feels like I should force myself to read something. As I said, around this time of the year I try to make a pact with myself to finish them before December 31st, so I can start the year afresh, with no lingering unfinished books smelling up the place.

But maybe it is about the sensation of simply having books around that rationalises this ‘keeping books you don’t read’ idea. The simple notion of having other people’s thoughts and ideas around is comforting. To know they’re there.

It came to a point where I had this overwhelming realisation that it would be Murakami to get me out of my reading funk. It just so happened that I settled on Kafka on the Shore, where Murakami writes about reading and growing up and dealing with some really weirdly pertinent shit – weirdly pertinent to me at time of reading, weird shit in general.

Takeaways from this: reading funks are real, they can last for a long time, longer than mine. The world is an overwhelming place. Murakami is king. Bookstores are calming. Libraries are good too (but often child-riddled so choose your time wisely). Words will always be there. Everywhere.

Image: Musashino Art University library

  • Lotus

    Absolutely a comfort to have others’ thoughts at your fingertips. I keep my bookshelves in my bedroom.

  • chouxie

    I got a Kindle for Christmas last year and I feel that has helped me out of my reading funk. I also started with fairly accessible books like Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Each time I finished a book, it made me want to finish reading more and explore different writing. I also felt like I was forcing myself to read lots of the “classics” because that’s what every should read, and I think applying that pressure on myself made reading less enjoyable. Great post, Susie :)

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