Frontiers in Reading

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It’s not only boy wizards and teen vampires who can still ignite a book frenzy: as already reported in The Rumpus, Haruki Murakami’s two-volume (or longer?) new novel 1Q84 came out this week in Japan. It has already broken sales records and is “on track to sell a million and ‘become a social phenomenon,’” according to the publisher.

Many of Murakami’s fans were disappointed when plot information leaked out before Kafka on the Shore was published, so he clamped down, and speculation has been rushing to fill the news vacuum for months. Plausible guesses include a riff on Orwell’s 1984 (“9” and “Q” are pronounced the same in Japanese); an homage to Lu Xun’s True Story of Ah Q ; and the X-ray crystallography identifier for mouse acetylcholinesterase.

Enter Daniel Morales, of the excellent blog How to Japonese, who decided to liveblog his first couple days reading the book. Why? He starts with a great story about the only kind of professor there should be—the kind who takes his Japanese literature students and former students out to cheer on an unsuspecting and befuddled Murakami as he climbs Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon. “It doesn’t make sense,” the professor says, “but we’re not doing it because it makes sense.”

Morales gets Friday off work, he scores an early copy of the book, he gets up at 5:56 a.m. with a fanboy squeal, and the madness begins!

Lots of mistranslations, lots of booze (including a beer called Norwegian Wood from the best beer store in Japan). Reading at its best:

7:45 It’s a magical taxi?

8:37 Great sentence: 「録音された拍手を長く聞いていると、そのうちに拍手に聞こえなくなる。終わりのない火星の砂風に耳を住ませているみたいな気持ちになる。」 This is spoiler free: “Listen to the recorded applause for a long time and it stops sounding like applause. It makes you feel like you’re hearing the endless, sandy winds of Mars.”

8:52 Mark it, dude. Page 25. Girl with strange ears.

12:28 Quick break for end of basketball game. Looks like The Lebrons will live to play Game 6.

Until at last,

21:15 Time to break out the booze! For whisky, I went with Bowmore, one of the distilleries Murakami visited when writing his book 『もし僕らのことばがウィスキーであったなら』 (If Our Words Were Whisky).

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Interestingly, Bowmore is now owned by the Japanese company Suntory. Murakami calls Bowmore the “great dividing range” (35) of the seven Islay single malts because it’s so balanced; it separates the lighter whiskies from the more pungent ones like Laphroaig and Ardbeg. Here’s one of my favorite passages from the intro:

If our words were whisky, I wouldn’t have had to work so hard, of course. I’d hand you the glass, and you’d take it and quietly send it down your throat – that would be the end of it. Very simple, very intimate, very accurate. However, our words are words, and they can only live in the world as words. When we tell stories, we replace all things with some other more sober things and then can only live within those limits. But sometimes for a brief, fortunate moment there is an exception, and our words really do become whisky. And we – or and least I – live dreaming of those moments. Dreaming of what would happen if our words were whisky. (12-13).

There are actually some very similar passages in 1Q84. Here’s a taste from one of the characters:

“When I write fiction, I use words to change the scenery around me into something more natural. In other words, I re-form it. That way I can confirm that I, as a person, definitely exist in this world” (89)

Mmm…peaty.

More great stuff at the liveblog. And don’t miss this other excellent Japan blog with incredibly beautiful photos: he decided to liveblog his reading of the other liveblog. Not because it makes sense.

frontiers1 Condition: Just had dinner. No booze yet (I have some eight-year old Awamori scheduled for later tonight), but a mighty fine cup of coffee under the belt.

“8:52 Mark it, dude. Page 25. Girl with strange ears.” I’d probably be annoyed about this writerly tick of Murakami’s if it weren’t for the fact that, um, I also kind of have a thing for strange ears.

“22:40 Cutty Sark siting – pg 105.” My brother, Cain, was almost named “Cutty Sark.” I’m not joking.

Good times.


Damion Searls reads a lot and has five books due out in 2009: an abridgement of Thoreau's Journal; translations of Rilke, Proust, and a lost Holocaust novella; and a book of short stories called What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going. Trade book tips with him at [email protected] More from this author →