Haruki Murakami on Writing

I recently finished reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (I loved this book; I am still thinking about how to write a review), and it made me think about his style of writing and what things in his life have inspired him.

Many of my questions were answered in this absolutely fascinating interview with Haruki Murakami posted in Paris Review.

The entire interview is worth reading, but I highlight three of the most notable parts below…

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Book Review: Joseph Brodsky’s Watermark (a Memoir on Venice)

I felt I’d stepped into my own self-portrait in the cold air… The backdrop was all in dark silhouettes of church cupolas and rooftops; a bridge arching over a body of water’s black curve, both ends of which were clipped off by infinity. At night, infinity in foreign realms arrives with the last lamppost, and here it was twenty meters away. It was very quiet. A few dimly lit boats now and then prowled about, disturbing with their propellers the reflection of a large neon Cinzano trying to settle on the black oilcloth of the water’s surface. Long before it succeeded, the silence would be restored.

The above quote is how Joseph Brodsky describes the city of Venice in his brilliant collection of essays titled Watermark. I needed to take a fictional break recently, and I wanted to read something short, and Watermark turned out to be a wonderful (actually: an incredible) selection. The book is only one hundred thirty pages, comprised of forty-eight chapters, each recalling a specific episode from Joseph Brodsky’s many visits to this ephemeral city. But what this book lacked in length, it more than made up for in poignancy and enchantment. Watermark is a beautiful, confessional meditation on the relation between water and land, between light and dark, between past and present, between the living and the inanimate, dreams and achievements.

It’s hard to compare Watermark to other books, because I think it should stand as a classic on its own. But if I had to make a connection: it is the lyricism of The Great Gatsby, the mystique of Invisible Cities, and the confessional of the Notes from the Underground.

In the passages I highlight below, pay special attention to the adjectives and the vigor of the punctuation (the comma, the semicolon, and especially the em dash). If you’re short on time, the parts that I bold are especially worth reading.

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Readings: Diller’s Creative Process, Google Cars, Africa’s Soccer Impostors

Some interesting articles I’ve read recently:

1) “Picturing Failure, Sketching Dreams” [Wall Street Journal] – an excellent profile of Elizabeth Diller and her creative process. She’s the architect behind The High Line in New York City. This passage about the creative process resonates with me strongly:

Ms. Diller said her creative breakthroughs usually come when she isn’t working. She might be watching a play by the experimental Wooster Group, or seeking out work by late French Dadaist Marcel Duchamp, known for his irreverent use of everyday objects. They might come while she’s reading—from an academic journal to People magazine. (Mr. Scofidio [Elizabeth Diller’s husband] sticks mostly to novels; the frequent traveler sometimes rips out each page of a paperback after he finishes it to lighten his load.)

Read the entire piece here, and please also check out my photo essay on The High Line.

(2) “Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic” [New York Times] – very interesting development from Google. This is fascinating:

With someone behind the wheel to take control if something goes awry and a technician in the passenger seat to monitor the navigation system, seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. One even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of the steepest and curviest streets in the nation. The only accident, engineers said, was when one Google car was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light.

So is Google competing with DARPA’s Urban Challenge?

(3) “Africa’s Soccer Impostors” [Slate] – this is a sad, incredible story about a team that pretended to be Togo’s national soccer team while playing a game in Bahrain in September 2010. How did it happen?

After what must have been a grueling piece of detective work, the investigators pinned their suspicions on Tchanile Bana, a former national-team coach who had recently been suspended for taking another fake team to a tournament in Egypt.

The story is even more insane than most people would expect… In January 2010, Togo’s real national team traveled by bus into Angola’s Cabinda province, the site of its first match in the Africa Cup of Nations tournament, and this is what happened:

As the Togo team’s bus crossed into Cabinda, armed soldiers from a separatist sect opened fire, killing the driver and two staff members and wounding several players. The team’s French manager, Herbert Velud, was shot in the arm. For around half an hour, the rebels fired on the bus with machine guns and fought with the team’s Angolan security force while the players crawled under the seats.

So unfortunate and bizarre. Are there any national soccer teams that have had worse luck and misfortune? I should mention that the article is written by Brian Phillips, who authored a post that I claimed is an absolute must-read.

On Reading Fiction

All forms of desire have their natural enemies and I find that nothing saps my desire to read fiction like the Internet does.

I just finished reading Kevin Hartnett’s essay “When I’m in the Mood for Fiction,” and it has definitely got me thinking (the quote above is from that essay). Are there times or circumstances when I prefer to read fiction over non-fiction? In general, I read both fiction and non-fiction, and my response to the question would be something mundane: after I read a few non-fiction books in a row, I want to experience something more imaginative. But that almost seems like a cop-out, and I don’t really have a good answer. Hartnett’s essay hits the nail on the head:

The more I’m engaged with life—and particularly with other people—the more I want to read fiction.  At the peak of a wedding reception or in the throes of a night out when the crowd has given itself over to celebration, I often want to sneak off and read a novel. It’s a contradictory impulse, to want to retreat into a book at the precise moment I am most enthralled with life, but such are the circumstances we live by.  What I’m after, I think, is a kind of synergy that can only happen when I approach a novel while my body is still charged with the feeling of being present and alive.

This thinking does seem contradictory, but I think it makes sense. When you’re on a roll or on an emotional high, you want to keep it going. Fiction provides this outlet, or in this case, extends it. When you’ve been reading news or get sucked into politics, perhaps it’s more difficult to get “into” fiction. Then again, the critic in me knows there are others who will chime in as follows: after a long day of reading the boring on the Internet (see Hartnett’s quote at the top which began this post), the first thing you may want to do is unwind with fiction. Interesting how I turned that around, right?

I don’t think there’s a black-and-white answer for me, but I do agree with this point:

At the same time, several of my most memorable encounters with fiction have taken place when I’ve been my most alone.

I should mention that at the moment I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which is what the Washington Post Book World cited as Japan stuffed “into a single fictional edifice.” Which begs this extracurricular question: are there degrees to fiction? Can something be more fictional than something else?

I don’t have all the answers, but I’d like to close with this (I say it because it’s true for me): non-fiction stirs the mind, but fiction—well, it stirs the soul.


Questions for the reader: what do you think of Hartnett’s take on reading fiction? Do you agree with him? When do you prefer reading fiction over non-fiction? Can you even pinpoint your mood or a set of circumstances, or is the answer something vague (like my answer is)?

The Unseen Sea: A Beautiful Time Lapse of San Francisco

This post has nothing to do with reading…But this time-lapse video taken in and around San Francisco is one of the most beautiful videos I have ever seen. Simon Christen, an amazing photographer, spent a year creating this video… “The Unseen Sea” is a feast for the senses.

Please take three minutes of your time and watch it. You will not be disappointed.

Here is how @KrisLindbeck on Twitter described the video:

In redwood time/ fog flows like surf / airplanes circle like flies/ and the moon kisses the sea / softly.

Beautiful. I love everything about this video, but perhaps most amazing to me is the heavenly, undulating motion of the clouds at around the 2:05 mark. And that ending? Simply sublime.