blue sky, names, sadness

After the deluge on Thursday (the day when everyone was actually told to stay at home from school and work due to extreme weather conditions), we had plenty of sunshine yesterday (Friday). I had the day off from work, so of course I wanted to spend the day enjoying these lovely blue skies. The only problem was that the wind still seemed as blustery as it was at the peak of the storm, so I wasn’t particularly keen on going outside…

But who needs to go outside if you’ve got a bed perfectly located under a window? It wasn’t so much a conscious decision to curl up in bed and read all day, as it was just a natural thing to do (like playing music when I turn on my computer, or switching on the TV when I sit down for brekkie on week-ends). And so, as the wind howled and roared outside, I alternately sat and lied in bed reading Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

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parallel stories

I’m currently reading Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, and concurrently reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

I started reading HW&EW on the plane to Japan. I figured that it would be somewhat appropriate to read a novel by a Japanese author while I was there, and I’d been meaning to read more of Murakami’s works anyway.

A couple of weeks ago (and a couple of weeks since getting back from Japan), I was out in the City to get a haircut. Subsequently having a bit of time to kill before dinner, I decided to retreat to the library. Out of curiosity, and just because that’s what I do, I browsed the “recent returns”. At the time, I was somewhere in the middle of HW&EW, so I wasn’t really looking for something to borrow out and read, but when I picked up ATTB, and read a few pages, I just couldn’t put it down.

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audience participation

A couple of months or so ago, I noticed that I was getting increasingly obsessed with my blog stats – the number of views, comments and likes – day by day, and month to month.

Of course, it’s natural to care about this stuff, right? That’s what I told myself. But then I thought about why I’m blogging in the first place: I told myself that it wasn’t about trying to get famous or well-known – it was not about who did or did not read what I wrote. What was important was that I had this medium for writing, and for writing whatever the heck I wanted.

But the truth of the matter is that it’s not about me. If all that mattered was having this creative outlet, then I could just have a private blog. Here’s a revelation: I could write without a blog at all.

All throughout high school, in English, History, Economics, Media, etc – in all these subjects I studied, I was told (either by the teacher or, eventually, by myself) to always consider the intended audience of a text as I wrote it. I feel like this is something that has been so ingrained in me, that it’s now fundamental to everything I write.

I heard somewhere, some time ago, that those who read fiction are better at empathising with others. I can’t remember if this was backed up by any substantial evidence, but I think there is truth to it. It’s all something to do with being able to use your imagination to put yourself in another person’s position (even if they are a fictional person), and understand their thoughts and emotions. Perhaps this is another reason why people who read are good at writing – because they can perceive the audience’s reaction, and can thus manipulate their text to manipulate the audience.

Anyway, I digress. (Side note: I got a feeling of deja vu when writing the above paragraph about reading and empathising. Apologies if I’ve mentioned it in a previous post.)

While I noticed that I seemed to care a lot more about my blog stats than I did when I first started out on WordPress, I also noticed that I was thinking a lot more of my audience. I can’t even say this with certainty, but I’m quite sure that I used to just write whatever I wanted without a thought to who would read it; but now I have an idea of who my regular(-ish) readers are, and I care about writing posts that these readers would enjoy. (Yes, I’m talking about you.)

And, you know what, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this change in the way I blog.

The truth is, regardless of whether I have 2 readers or 2000 readers, I would still continue to write and publish posts on this blog. But I value my readers. In its own way, it’s encouraging and validating to know that there are people out there – perfect strangers, even – who would read what I’m writing – and some who even like or comment on my posts. It’s human nature to seek the approval of others, right?

These days, however, I avoid looking at the stats page. Correction: I resist looking at my blog stats as much as possible until curiosity gets the better of me. Does it help? Maybe.

In his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (one day I might stop referring to and mentioning this book, but I’m afraid that’s probably not going to be any time soon), Murakami also writes about his experiences owning and running a bar in Japan. What I found rather humbling was his “one-in-ten repeaters” philosophy. It revolves around the fact that you just can’t please everyone:

“If one out of ten was a repeat customer, then the business would survive … it didn’t matter if nine out of ten didn’t like my bar.” (p.38)

He applied this mentality to his writing as well, saying that having a number of devoted readers (the one-in-ten repeaters) made him happier than having a huge number of readers. He was not concerned about writing top-selling epics or being “literature’s top runner”. He just wrote what he wanted, how he wanted.

Although I suspect that my fraction is a bit smaller, maybe it is true that the “one-in-ten” is all I really need. And maybe I just need to keep writing what I want because I suppose that’s how I developed my readership in the first place. After all, I’m sure this blog wouldn’t be sustainable for me if I didn’t write whatever the heck I felt like writing.

what I think about when I run

At the end of last year, coming into the start of this year, I read Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running; and I’ve left the book sitting by my computer since then, both for inspiration and also because there are a number of things I’d like to talk about from the book.

Within the first chapter, Murakami mentions that he’s often asked what he thinks about when he runs, being a long distance (i.e. marathon) runner. Since I’m not famous, and no one really asks me anything about my running except to ask where and/or for how long I run, I don’t think I’ve been asked this before. I have, however, pondered the question in my own time, and it seems that my answer is more or less the same as Murakami’s:

On cold days I guess I think a little about how cold it is. And about the heat on hot days. … But really as I run, I don’t think much of anything worth mentioning.

He then goes on to talk about running in a void, or running to create a void, and that, I think, is one of the truly marvellous things about running.

This afternoon*, however, I went for a run, and I tried to make mental notes about what I thought about, just for interest’s sake. It’s still nothing really “worth mentioning”, but this is my blog, and it’s already filled with plenty of pointless ramblings, so one more surely wouldn’t hurt…   Continue reading

hit the ground running

I can hear the NYE fireworks from my home. We’re not close enough or in a good enough position to be able to see them too, but that’s alright.

There seems to be an increasing trend of people not wanting to go out for NYE. Either that, or it’s just the people I know “getting old”. It seems that people just don’t care as much about New Year’s as they care about Christmas. Not that people stay out late for Christmas, but there’s more of an inclination to make some sort of effort to be around loved ones and celebrate. For NYE, however, a lot of people kind of just shrug it off as “just another night”.

I still like NYE. I might not go to parties or go out drinking or watch the fireworks, but I still like NYE. It’s the general vibe, and all the symbolism, you know?

It’s kind of interesting, though, that if there was some global (or even just national) consensus that the New Year would start on, say, the 1st of May, then April 30 would suddenly be a hundred times more significant. Yeah, I know, that’s kind of stating the obvious, but what if we decided to extend the length of one “year” to 24 months? Let the Earth do two laps of the Sun before we change calendars. The significance is not in the day itself, but in what it’s signposting.

Ok, enough waffling, let’s get serious (kind of).

I’ve been reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running this last month. It’s not really an autobiography, but a “running memoir” of sorts (or just a collection of his thoughts). I’m really enjoying it because, although he mostly writes about running, he also talks a bit about writing (in relation to running), and the whole thing reads like a blog, so it’s essentially combined three of my favourite things – running, writing, blogging.

I also like that it’s inspirational. Murakami kind of made it clear from the outset that he wasn’t aiming to teach others or inspire them, but I’m sure he’s achieved that anyway. At the very least, he’s inspired me. I’ve still got about 15 more pages to read before finishing it, but I feel like it was a good book to end 2015 on, and perfect for greeting 2016 with.

In this book (which I’m just going to refer to as Running because the actual name is too long), Murakami also talks about his training and preparation for running marathons and triathlons. When he talks about this part of running, he talks about pushing his body to the limits – to its limits. He also talks about his own character and how it suits running. And although he never talks about NYE (unless it’s in the last 15 pages that I haven’t read yet), Running inspired my choice of NYE activity: running.

Pretty much the only thing I deadset wanted to do for NYE was go for a run. In effect, reading about Murakami preparing for and running marathons really made me want to run. And to push myself to my limits.

The run was completed in the early evening (up and down one of my favourite routes along the river), and now I’m completely exhausted. But,  you know what, I feel fantastic. It’s a deep sort of satisfaction.

Ok, I’m probably way too exhausted to keep writing this right now. Can’t wait to write a post on Running when I finish reading it, though. Might even give it multiple posts.

on the edge

Imagine, if you will, a line on a page that starts at point A …and then goes all over the page in random directions – sharp corners and smooth curves, unexpected twists and sudden turns. A line that moves unpredictably, even moving off the page, in three dimensions, like the most extreme and most impossible rollercoaster you can imagine. And, like a rollercoaster, the line eventually returns to point A, where it started. And you enjoyed the ride for the most part, but the journey was almost beyond belief.

That’s pretty much how I feel after reading Haruki Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore’. I thought I’d read some pretty weird and random novels in the past (e.g. ‘The World According to Garp’) but this was on another level altogether.

I was initially quite excited to find a copy of KOTS at the library, and even more excited to start reading it. I’m not really sure why, but I just felt like this was going to be an important book – a significant and meaningful story. Well, I certainly can’t say that I was disappointed. It’s definitely a rather deep, philosophical and thought-provoking read.

At times, when I was most immersed in the book, it felt like it was slowly, subtlely changing my way of thinking, making me look at things differently, so that I see significance in minor details, while realising the unnecessary attention and emphasis given to things of little import (in the grand scheme of things). It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s almost like the surreality (not sure if that’s actually a proper, accepted word) of KOTS seeped into the real world.

But, being honest (and I’m always honest here), I’m not entirely sure of what I’ve taken away, or what I’ve learnt, from reading KOTS. I actually don’t really fully understand the point of Kafka’s journey (as I said, it was like a crazy rollercoaster that finished where it started). And then there’s the other characters – Nakata, Hoshino, Oshima, Miss Saeki – and the interplay between them all. They sometimes seem too convenient to the story, especially how Oshima and Miss Saeki take Kafka in, and how Hoshino randomly decides to tag along with Nakata to help him out just because he reminds him of his grandpa.

I feel like maybe I could decipher it all if I went back through the book and really thought about it and deconstructed everything, but I also feel like part of the profoundness of the book arises from this confusion and mystery. I’m also thinking that perhaps the story feels important because it always seemed like Kafka was doing important things. But it’s not that straight-forward (KOTS is most definitely not a straight-forward book) because, as I said, he just returns to point A in the end. So was it really that important?

I’m not even sure that this post is making much sense. I reckon the books I read influence how I write (whether these effects are far-reaching or short-lived is another matter) and maybe KOTS has left my mind a bit disjointed.

While I was still reading KOTS, I wrote down some words to describe the story: abstract, bizarre, “interesting”, thought-provoking, etc. I think “thought-provoking” is the best descriptor – not just because it has made me think about life, but because I spent a lot of time wondering what the heck was going on. It was one WTF moment after another. There were also some unanswered questions at the end, so if you like having all loose ends neatly tied up at the conclusion of a story, then you might not be too fond of KOTS.

This was my first Murakami novel and, I think, the first novel I’ve read that’s been translated from Japanese. I reckon I’ll always have reservations about reading translated texts, but until I have the mental and temporal capacity to learn Japanese, French, Spanish, etc (or re-learn for Japanese), I’m afraid I have to trust in other people’s interpretations (or otherwise miss out on incredible stories like this one). I consider Japanese to be quite an eloquent and beautiful language, and I think that this preconception made me feel like the English translation didn’t do the story justice. There were several occasions when I paused during my reading and wondered if some of the nuances had been lost because, despite the scope of the English language, there are still feelings and concepts that we don’t have words for.

I did try to ignore the fact that it was a translated version but it wasn’t as easy to do as with other translated novels I’ve read (e.g. ‘The Angel’s Game’). Nevertheless, in the end, I almost feel like the juxtaposition between the simple – well, not simple per se, but not-as-nuanced language – the contrast between that and the complex nature of the subject matter actually kind of worked out well. But, you know, who am I to say that the translation wasn’t wholly accurate?

I reckon ‘Kafka on the Shore’ is one of those novels that could be discussed for hours on end – if only I knew people who have read it. As with ‘The World According to Garp’, I wish I could recommend KOTS to everyone, but I’m not sure if many of my friends would actually enjoy it. I suppose if you like to be challenged by what you read, then try ‘Kafka on the Shore’, or try any Murakami novels. I’m definitely keen to read more of his works.