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.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

This debut novel explores the story of the family leading up to the murders and the idea of whether or not Lizzie did indeed commit the murders.

He was still bleeding.” I yelled, “Someone’s killed Father.”

4/5 stars.
324 pages, ebook.
Read from April 7, 2017 to April 8, 2017.

Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC and for fueling my crime and murder intrigue!  I would like to point out that I technically finished this book in one sitting whilst on a 14-hour flight that crossed over between two different days. Yeah, high-fives for me!

Everyone knows the story, or at least the song: “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.” On August 4, 1892 in Fall River Massachusetts, Lizzie Borden was charged with murdering her father and step-mother with an axe. Lizzie was later acquitted of the murder, despite the majority of people believing she was guilty, because basically it was thought that women could not be capable of committing such a brutal act. Narrated from many perspectives, this debut novel explores the story of the family leading up to the murders and the idea of whether or not Lizzie did indeed commit the murders.

Toying with the idea that Lizzie was spoiled and functioning at a child-like capacity (it was easy to forget that she is actually a grown woman), the novel reflects on how her sister Emma has been trying to escape the family home and getaway from Lizzie since the passing of their mother. Their overbearing father, Andrew, always favoured Lizzie and did little to spare Emma any responsibilities after the passing of their mother, even though he has since married a plump woman named Abby.  The home was tense and unhappy. Even the maid, Bridget, is saving every spare coin she had to getaway from the argumentative and strange family.  However trouble is brewing on the horizon and someone has it in for Andrew Borden. With an intense climax and twisted ending, this book will not fail inquisitive minds.

Schmidt is the queen of acute and sensory descriptions. There are few books that can describe blood and vomit in such an uncanny way.  If you are at all squeamish, this book may be a bit unsettling for you but don’t let that stop you. I promise it is worth it. The book is intensely visual and the author has an immense talent in bringing her words alive.  The characters, especially Lizzie, are curious, disruptive, complicated and disturbing and the plot adds a new twist to an old story.

I expect to see a lot from this author in the future as this novel is a killer debut! Ha, see what I did there? Bad joke… yeah. Anyway! If you are at all interested in true-crime, historical-fiction, murder, or just curious characters with great visuals then add this book to your to-read list ASAP and pick up a copy this summer when it comes out in August.