November 3rd, 2008

What I’ve Been Reading – October 2008

Incredibly, while I found this month’s reading to be sprawling, at times pointless and often confusing, I was completely sucked in. Completely. It was typically exhaustion that led me to put the book down, not boredom; my eyes unable to hold any more words and my brain threatening to crash. It was as if I was able to see the white words on the back of my eyelids, glowing on a field of blue as my book faded away and all systems prepared for the Blue Screen of Death.

Books Acquired:

Deadwood – Pete Dexter

The Space Between Us – Thrity Umrigar

Books Read:

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

(What? No. Not now.)

Thankfully, I gained some inspiration from the South Dakota Festival of Books – enough, at least, to put a dent in the book budget (however small it’s become) and set me back another several hundred pages. The inspiration didn’t really help me understand the book any better. The inspiration simply reminded me that, sure, I could take forever on this book if I wanted. But that would be silly. Especially since I had just purchased twice as many books as I had read in the past month.

The fact is, a book list never fades. It only grows. You can never catch up, and the faster we all come to that realization, the easier it will be to continue with our egregious hoarding tactics. For instance – I didn’t even read the One Book South Dakota (Louise Erdrich’s The Master Butchers Singing Club) but her discussion on Friday night led me to desperately want the new Marilynn Robinson novel (Home). By not reading one book, I found another to buy. Perfect.

Sometimes it seems like the South Dakota Festival of Books serves more as an excuse to add to my library than an exhibition of authors. The more speakers I see, the more books I purchase. This year, finally, I was able to keep it down to just two, and all were more or less directly influenced by seeing the speaker firsthand. So there you go, aspiring authors. The audience you reach at a book festival is a buying audience.

(Can this wait? We’ll talk about it later.)

It was an audience like this that first steered me toward Murakami, and most specifically, to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I didn’t know much about it aside from the fact that a lot of very intelligent authors thought it to be a masterpiece and an old colleague (who majored in both business and philosophy, as if the two could logically coexist) thought it to be better than, well, anything.

That should have been my first warning. Never trust the high-falutin’ authors and especially never trust a philosophy major (with special apologies to philosophy majors and high faluters.) The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle caters to minds that are at ease with that feeling of floaty questioning, like debating in a vacuum – no one can hear you, so you make up your own answers and, most of the time, they are weird and silly.

(Seriously? We have to talk about this now?)

(Fine. Yes. It’s true. I didn’t post a September What I’ve Been Reading. There wasn’t a September What I’ve Been Reading because I didn’t really read anything. I mean, I didn’t finish anything. I read, yes. But finish, no.)

(I can’t blame anyone or anything but myself. I knew it would be difficult to get it done this month – after all, I did choose a 600+ page book. No, it was all me. I just couldn’t do it. Can we drop it? I feel bad enough as it is.)

Ahem.

Where was I? Oh, yeah – I was preparing to take a dump on a book that a lot of people love.

The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleThat wouldn’t be fair, though. Because, for all of it’s weirdness, I really really enjoyed The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. In the way that I enjoyed Twin Peaks. It’s weird, but there’s a creeping believability to it all. You start believing your own dreams and imagining alternate realities (both play big parts in the book, as do cats, wells, the mundane trivialities of life and prostitutes named after islands). Weird things start making sense. Cats and dogs, living together … you know the rest.

I should make two quick clarifications. I enjoyed Murakami’s style immensely. I think he’s great, and there seems to be little awkwardness in the translation. Also, this isn’t the first time I’ve compared a book to Twin Peaks. The first, Other Electricities by Ander Monson, reminded me through location and characters – winter-dwellers who mourn the loss of a beauty queen by separating themselves even more from reality than they had before. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle reminded me through pure weirdness and dreamy confusion.

There’s no easy way to explain the story of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle except to say that the protagonist’s wife disappears by choice (or not) and a series of chance acquaintances, fortune tellers, war veterans and 16-year-old girls attempt to help him out. A lot of time goes into the set up. You learn everything about both the man and his wife. Then, you learn a lot about the war veteran’s history. And then, you learn a lot about a zoo, and a woman/son team that runs some weird energy/relief/voodoo type of business.

With 450 pages completed, I still hadn’t run into any sort of clear picture. And that’s my biggest complaint. I’m sure there’s a whole ton of intelligent debate about The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and maybe I’m missing some incredibly important theme that would wrap everything up, but it all seemed like a lot of preparation for a 50 page buzz kill. It’s beautifully written, and it’s creative and clever and all of that, but it’s still a disappointing finish for a tome of its size.

It took me nearly two months to read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. That’s just what happens nowadays. And what is most frustrating is that I wasn’t sure what direction I was facing for the first month or so in regards to this story.

Which is too bad. I mean, I should have thought of that at the time.

At least then, I’d have something on which to blame the lack of a September article.

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