Monday, July 09, 2007

Murakami: Jazz Messenger

The New York Times features an essay by Haruki Murakami on music and writing:

One of my all-time favorite jazz pianists is Thelonious Monk. Once, when someone asked him how he managed to get a certain special sound out of the piano, Monk pointed to the keyboard and said: "It can’t be any new note. When you look at the keyboard, all the notes are there already. But if you mean a note enough, it will sound different. You got to pick the notes you really mean!"

I often recall these words when I am writing, and I think to myself, “It’s true. There aren’t any new words. Our job is to give new meanings and special overtones to absolutely ordinary words.” I find the thought reassuring. It means that vast, unknown stretches still lie before us, fertile territories just waiting for us to cultivate them.

I'm not sure if everyone who reads Haruki Murakami feels the same way, but reading his books, I often feel his narrative voice lulling me into a quiet, private space. There's just him and me, at a table, and he's having a smoke. He's taking his time; there's no hurry, no place to go. He looks up, sighs, and then he starts telling me a story in his measured, deep voice. He's telling me the story of these people he knows and the strange things that happen to them.

That's how I feel when I read Haruki Murakami. It's like chilling out to some good jazz.


Andi said...

I've never read any Murakami, but I've heard nothing but good things. Where would you recommend someone start?

Carl V. Anderson said...

Not sure that I have ever heard any of his music, but I have always loved the name 'Thelonious Monk'. What a great character name!

Imani said...

Kafka on the Shore was the book that got me into John Coltrane, if you can believe it. :D I love all the musical allusions in his work.

Although I wasn't asked Andi, I'd recommend starting with Kafka on the Shore or Norwegian Wood. Kafka was my first Murakami and it made me a convert. Most folks usually say Wind up Bird Chronicle though because it's considered his best. I think it's the sort of book you read up to.

Andi said...

Thanks, Imani! Your recommendations are always welcome. :)

darkorpheus said...

Andi: My copy of Kafka on the Shore is still on the TBR pile - so can't say much about it.

I started with Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - so I supposed I went backwards. ;p

Wind-Up was bizarre, but it intrigued me. But Norwegian Woods is supposed to be the book that launched him to fame. It's still the most popular title among his backlist.

Recommendation-wise, I'll go with Imani. :)

Carl: I thought Thelonius Monk has a beautiful sound too. It has to be a pseudonym though. Can't imagine anyone surviving childhood with a name like that.

Imani: I really should get around to Kafka on the Shore for the music. Thanks for the recommendation.

Imani said...

Dark O well, you know, I probably go with the wussy choice of Kafka or Norwegian because I'd read...maybe one or two books labelled as "magic realism" and really no author's ever quite as weird as Murakami. I'm not sure how I would have reacted if I'd started with Wind Up -- probably run in the opposite direction. Whereas Kafka kinda conned me into it.

Most readers of Murakami (that I know) started off with Wind Up. I have it ass backward. :D

You're welcome, Andi!

Carl V. Anderson said...

I'm sure it is too, Dark O., but it is a cool one.

Ana S. said...

I am currently reading "Kafka on the Shore" :)

And I love that quote of his you posted. I really think it's true. That's what makes great writing.

"Norwegian Wood" was one of the books with the strongest emotional impact in me ever. When I finished it, I cried for the rest of the day, and the thing is, to this day I cannot exactly say why. It's a sad story, sure, but I've read plenty of sad stories and nothing ever messed with me that much.

Andi said...

Thanks for the recs, Dark O!

Bybee said...

I want to try Murakami again. A do-over beginning. I read Sputnik Sweetheart awhile back, and I just wasn't impressed. I'll try KOTS or NW.

Anonymous said...

I love Sputnik Sweetheart and Norwegian Wood. Gosh such good books. I hadn't thought about Murakami's writing in this particular way but it makes a lot of sense. Now if I can figure out which one to try next.

Anonymous said...

i'd never thought of it like that!

i've only read kafka and half of that is first person, so i haven't really had the chance to sit down with him.

but i think i have a similar experience. i feel so safe and comfortable when reading his work. he is always in absolute control and at all times a very courteous host. i love that feeling. i've actually been thinking recently about how much i miss his world in kafka... being there. and how much i miss his characters - like people i'd met!

i also agree that his writing is wonderfully, peacefully paced. i love the way it gently moves forward like a slow wind.