And the year’s not over yet. I did not think that I would reach my goal of 30 books for the year so quickly! But then I hadn’t taken into account that Kris would be away for nearly 6 months in 2011, or foreseen that I would do almost nothing when home, alone, in the evenings, but read.
I’m not going to review each and every one of these 39 books! And some I’ve already written about in a previous post. But I’ll tell you which ones were my favorites:
Kafka On The Shore
Of all Murakami’s books (that I have read) I must say that Kafka On The Shore is my new favorite. Why? Murakami often makes references to cats in his work…he’s a cat person (and that means I like him already, before reading a word); in Kafka… cats play the biggest role yet. Murakami gives them voices and characters that are so spot-on catlike that every once in a while I wanted to drop the book and pick Dude up, and give him a squeeze, just to let him know that although he doesn’t talk to me, I know that if he did, he would be the most brilliant cat in the Sadgroves Creek. After all, there are no other cats up Sadgroves Creek.
Kafka On The Shore is classical Murakami. Weird and rich, a hybrid creature of pop culture and modern urban living with ancient mythology, battles of magic, and otherworldly fantasy…the world has its own internal rules and (il)logic, and Murakami doesn’t always spell it out for you. You are treated like an adult…some things you must figure out for yourself, some things have more than one answer, and some things are unknowable. Murakami is famous for following a wabi-sabi aesthetic in his writing—sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”—and this is a perfect example of that aesthetic at work.
Also (in my eyes another big plus) I have noticed that in Murakami’s later works the sex is more explicit; there is an urgency, an unabashed eroticism in South of The Border, West of The Sun, Norwegian Wood, and here, in Kafka On The Shore… that he used to only delicately hint at in the early titles like Dance, Dance, Dance. I love the young, buff, 14-year-old Kafka Tamura in this book…he’s almost unbelievable, this boy —let’s face it, barely a teenager—being so cool, so mature, so deeply philosophical, so well-read, and so, so sexually precocious. I think the only reason I happily suspended my disbelief in Kafka Tamura’s character was because I wanted to believe that such 14-year-olds might exist. How exciting for women everywhere. (Unfortunately, most 14-year-old boys in the real world remind me more of that boy in Joyce Carol Oates sickeningly sad story (I forget the title) where a teacher decides to take her leering student’s sexual advances seriously, drags the boy to a motel, where he dissolves into a scared, whimpering, crying child, and she has to comfort him like a mother while loathing herself *sigh* Oh, Kafka Tamura, wherefore art thou?)
This is the last, possibly the best, book of the Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, before the protagonist (Henry Miller) leaves his crazy, pathological, cunning wife, Mona, and heads for Paris to become a writer at last.
I loved both Nexus and Plexus because they read like the desperate, introspective diaries of this brilliant but blocked artist. Too, too familiar, those feverish monologues where, sometimes, he knows without a doubt that he was born to write, that the books lying within him are grand, magnificent works of passion and genius…and at other times where he questions his talents, his own existence as a writer, as an artist, as a human being. The agony and hope that sing in these pages was both terrible and comforting to me. Knowing, with the reader’s privilege of hindsight, that Miller did go on to pen books that rocked the world, is a great inspiration. Sometimes it can take a long time before the dam bursts, but when you finally find your voice…
“What I really hoped for, no doubt, was to come upon one of those lives which begin nowhere, which lead us through marshes and salt flats, trickling away, seemingly without plan, purpose or goal, and suddenly emerge, gushing like geysers, and never cease gushing, even in death.”
― Henry Miller, Nexus
This quote sums up his trilogy, actually…starting a bit slowly, but gathering momentum, until you’re rushing full-tilt through a world of love, art and life lived to the full. And the power so tremendous that people everywhere continue to read and to love Miller, long after the man himself has gone.
Full of amazing lines about life, love, and the act of creation, there’s more than enough fuel in its genius to stoke the fires of artists for decades more, and, as one Goodreads reader put it, “Henry Miller still pretty much owns your face.”
The Wrong Place
The Wrong Place is a graphic novel by Belgian artist Brecht Evens. As soon as I started reading it, I could sense that strange otherness that many European novels—graphi or otherwise—convey so well.
The story is pretty simple…The Wrong Place revolves around the charismatic Robbie—a kind of Pied Piper of people—who often isn’t present, but tirelessly talked about by denizens of that twilight world of nightclubs and booze halls. He’s sexy, funny, kind-hearted, generous, with a touch of the reckless that makes him irresistible to both the men and women who know him. Everybody wants to be Robbie’s special friend, the one he hangs out with or gives his phone number to. And he’s such a great guy, he seems to have time for all of them, fulfills their little needs, boosts their failing spirits, sees the good and beautiful inside every one of them. Then he’s off again, leading a conga line of colorful characters through the club, leaving you feel special and warm all over. We all know a Robbie, don’t we?
But what makes this book special is Brecht Evens superlative watercolors. Patterns coalesce, overlap and then swim apart again. The colors are jewel-like: vivid and subtly puddled here and there, fading to the lightest wash, and then gathering to the strength of helium balloons through which the sun strikes. There is so much joy in his paintings. But one also catches hints of melancholy—the grey-blue shadows in the corners not lit by twinkling lights— and possibly, a taste of the masked isolation often felt by individuals adrift among the noisy throngs of cocktail-fueled urban nightlife and modern, hit-and-run love.
I would buy this book for the art alone.
Evens has a blog, where his newest graphic novel, The Amateurs (no idea if there is an English version yet)is being talked about at the moment. It looks to be as beautiful as The Wrong Place, if the cover is any indication. Please check it out! Evens deserves an international audience for his work.