Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

What happens when people open their hearts?”
They get better.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 269 pages.
Read from February 7, 2017 to February 14, 2017.

Norwegian Wood is the novel that brought Murakami international fame and has become one of the books that he is best known for.  It set a standard for his future novels in terms of themes, overall feel, and characters.

Toru is a young man about to enter college in Tokyo.  However, he has had trouble dealing with the sudden and accidental death of his close high school friend. As a result, he is drawn to the beautiful Naoko, who was his best friend’s girlfriend.  Toru becomes devoted to Naoko as the two of them try to deal with the death of someone they each cared deeply about. While a dedicated student, Toru becomes invariably lonely and lost during his university studies. He walks with Naoko, even if it means not speaking a word, to help deal with this emptiness.

However Naoko is struggling much more with the realities of adult life than Toru and eventually withdraws from society to an outlying facility to help her deal with her own sadness and emptiness. Continuing to stay devoted to Naoko, he visits and writes her as often she will allow. However, as Naoko continues to retreat into her own world with little signs of improvement, Toru finds himself drawn to a smart, feisty and rebellious student name Midori. Toru is still unrelenting with his devotion to Naoko, yet he has to make a choice. Stay in a dream world with Naoko with the hope that she will love him, or move forward with Midori?

This book is about loneliness and grief. Every one of the characters in the novel has dealt with or is dealing with some form of loss and the book is the outcome of how each of them deal with it.  In typical Murakami style, the book is evocative and dreamlike, as Murakami soothes his reader’s senses with his visceral and philosophical approach to storytelling.

I am adding this book to the top five favourites of my Murakami pile.  The plot is simple and easy to follow. The feelings of each of the characters practically seep out of the pages making for a very enjoyable read. The only part I struggled with was with Toru’s specific intimate moment with Naoko. He clearly took advantage of her and he knew it, resulting in Naoko’s own downward spiral inwards. Naoko is in such rough state for most of the book that it is hard to deal with her fragility and what feels like, Toru’s betrayal. Despite, the unfolding events Toru does eventually determine that Naoko will never love him, despite him wish it, and as a small resting punishment he is left with those memories and lingering regrets of what would never be.

As much as I enjoy Murakami, I am coming to see that the pretense to the majority of his books is very similar. Here is the formula I have come up with for making a Murakami novel:

Male main character – Always a man, somewhere between 20 and 30 and he will experience some sort of existential crisis loosely based in reality.

Female characters – There are female side characters but they are always sexualized and often love interests. They are also often portrayed as weak, indecisive, needy, or mentally unstable. Though not all of the time, as there are few exceptions to this rule. For example, Aomame from 1Q84; she is remarkably resilient and strong. However, the plot of that story is shared equally with Tengo, who is a stereotypical Murakami male character, with whom Aomame is the love interest.

However having said that, all of the characters, even the main character, sometimes give the feeling of being gender neutral. This is perhaps how female readers can still relate to the main character without hating the portrayal of the women in Murakami’s stories.

Sex – There is a ton of it. The main character will have sex with one of these said female side characters, or perhaps more than one of them, with at least one of the acts being morally questionable. The act is often meant to show some deeper philosophical meaning in relation to the plot or the main character’s journey.

Food – There will be many, many paragraphs about cooking food.  It is alway something that is really healthy but sounds down right delicious. It is often followed with beer.

Cats – a Murakami story would not be complete without mentioning cats. Either the cat is part of the main story or they are at least a part of an evocative scene when the main character is reflecting on his said existential crisis.

To be a Murakami fan, this formula has to be one that you’re comfortable with or at least willing to accept to some extent. I mean, besides the majority of his novels providing thought-provoking content, there is always the sex scenes. And cats.

Returning to Norwegian Wood, this book is the start of the style that Murakami fans love, so it is a must-read.  Whether you are interested in his writing style or not, this book is also iconic, so if you don’t have it on your to-read list you better add it!

My Best Race by Chris Cooper

Include this book into your training. You will find no better motivation.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 239 pages.
Read from May 4, 2017 to May 9, 2017.

I love books like this; books that just make you feel good and validate your feelings, well in this case it’s feelings on running.  I was really eager to read it after getting a copy from Netgalley. However, I must have been on the cusp of the archive date of this book because I did not get a chance to read it. I was so wanted to read this book that I actually went out and bought a copy.  I have no regrets.

This is book holds about 50 unique recountings, from pros to amateurs, as they share the one race that they won’t ever forget. Some stories are ones of winning, medals and Olympic trials, while others are memorable regardless placement or perceived failures. There is even a love story for romance fans! From World Champions and Olympians, to the average avid runner, all the stories share the same passion for the sport. The stories also cover a variety of distances and generations giving a history of some very memorable moments in running. There are contributions from:

Kathrine Switzer – The first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967 despite women being barred from the race.

 

Boston-Marathon-photo-credit_APImages_web.jpg
Kathrine running the 1967 Boston Marathon. Her then boyfriend, now husband, is trying to stop the race official from physically removing her from the race. 

 

John Galloway – a pioneer of the run/walk method, a top marathon runner,  member of the 1974 Olympic team in the 10,000m, coach and writer for Runner’s World. 

Pam Reed – 2002 Badwater Ultramarathon overall winner and the first woman to become the overall winner in the Badwater marathon, one of the toughest ultras in the world.

I wanted this book the last forever. This book motivated me through all my runs this week. Seriously, I think I am going to start including works like this into my training regime as it gets me so stoked to go out for a run and inspires me to perform better.  I know I could have definitely used this sort of boost in my last marathon!  The format of the book actually caters really well to this as each story is only a few pages making it easy to bookmark and return to specific passages or stories that spoke to you. After each story, the narrator provides a short piece of running advice as well, the best one that I took away from the book is one by Pam Reed who recommended using club soda on endurance runs to keep the stomach moving and receptive to food. I am seriously going to give this one a try.

The best thing about books like this is that it puts these amazingly talented pro-runners on the same pages as the joe-schmo runners and that is because at the root of it, whether fast or slow, we all love to run. If you are not a runner, the unique feeling that comes with running and the community it invites is not one that is easily explained.  I know my boyfriend sure doesn’t understand why I would want to run for such long stretches at a time or why I racing 42.2 is my idea of fun versus a form of punishment. While running does require a little bit insanity, the main concepts revolve around pushing yourself to your limits and the infinite rewards it brings. I swear to you, nothing is more satisfying and confidence building. Running also enables you to get outside to enjoy the little things, to take some time for yourself, and offers ample opportunities to meet like-minded people in one of best supporting communities around. Runner’s are a special bunch of people.

I would recommend this book to runners of all types. Add it to your training repertoire and return to it when you need a boost.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

The historical scenes in this book are outstanding.

3/5 stars.
ebook, 432 pages.
Read from January 1, 2017 to February 8, 2017.

This should have been published yesterday, my apologies. This novel showed up on my radar as it has recently won the Giller Prize and was also nominated for the Booker Prize. Once I read the premise, I was excited to see what this historical-fiction would hold.

Marie (Li-Ling) is a first generation Canadian who is unfolding the story of two different generations of her family.  Her family, originally from China, lived through the Mao Cultural Revolutions and the following generation was there for the Tiananmen Square protests. When her estranged older cousin Ai-Ming comes to live with after escaping the aftermath of the protests in China, Marie starts to learn more about her father, Kai, and her Uncle Sparrow who is Ai-Ming’s father, through a series of notebooks. Sparrow and Kai were both accomplished musicians, with Sparrow being genius composer.  The two of them shared an immensely close bond. Kai moved to Canada and started a family while Sparrow remained in China and gave up composing. In secret, Kai went to visit his friend and never returned after taking his own life. The notebook also details countless other family members and their tragic stories in China during these tumultuous times in history.

If the description of this novel seems convoluted, it’s because the plot line is too. The storyline jumps around a lot and it is hard to keep track of the numerous family members in the story.  There are also extensive conversations about music and composers, which I imagine would be great if you were familiar with them, but as I am not, I found parts of this novel to be extremely dry.  I felt very frustrated with this novel. On one part, the historical aspects and scenes of this story are outstanding. Thein creates some phenomenal imagery and at times I felt as I deeply immersed in the story. There are also some very memorable characters and relationships in the book but you had to wade through a family tree to get to ones that mattered. I do not feel that this story was told as well as it could have been. The notebook concept was not delivered very well and at times I felt confused and bored by what I was reading, which is a reflection of how long this novel too me. The story and concept of this novel are award-winning however, the writing is not.

I can say that there were times I considered putting this book down, however there are some golden scenes in this book that made up for it, the ending especially. This book is still worth reading and I would recommend it to history buffs or historical fiction fans.