February 21st, 2006

Reading List: Kafka on the Shore

Read: Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami.

I guess it’s a bad thing that I’m still writing about books from January when it’s mid-February, but the past two weeks haven’t precisely been conducive to any writing except the mandatory sort. Fortunately I’ve been reading a lot of silly thrillers that don’t really deserve their own reviews.

Kafka on the Shore, on the other hand, most certainly deserves a review of its own, and likely a more insightful one than I can give it. I’m a big Murakami fan; I love his particular brand of magic realism, which leaps across genres to give ears, sheep, detectives, cats, or truck drivers a mystical significance. This particular book features an old man who can’t read, but can talk to cats, and a young boy whose mother and sister disappeared long ago and who has run away from home to look for them. Over the course of the book, the two characters never meet, but their stories intertwine through plot incident as well as metaphor.

My favorite parts of the novel were also, unfortunately, the ones that were least successfully carried through to the end of the book. The scene with Johnnie Walker was genuinely chilling, for example, but I’m not sure that the Johnnie Walker/Colonel Sanders thread was ever really resolved. Then again, Murakami doesn’t seem to entirely believe in resolving his plots in any of his novels, so for him, the redemptive experiences of each of the characters at the end of the novel are pretty good closure. As long as you don’t expect the plot to make more than allegorical sense, the book is just wonderful - the writing, the characters, the well-drawn incidents and the flights of fancy will keep you with Murakami all the way to the end.

If nothing else, I’m going to read this book a few more times because someday, I want to be able to talk to cats and live in a library.

Reading List: An Unquiet Mind

Read: An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison.

This mostly-memoir tells the story of Jamison’s lifelong struggle with manic-depression, interleaved with the story of her own research and that of others on the same topic. She’s made her own illness her life’s work, and the story of how and why she found her passion is moving for me, as I strive to figure out how to follow my own. The tales from the depth of her illness - both the manic and depressive stages - are the most powerful parts of the book, though.  These are states of mind that I can understand, but not comprehend.  Seeing what it’s like, and what Jamison was able to do with her life nevertheless, was moving and inspiring at the same time.  I’m not suicidally depressed, or spending thousands of dollars in a manic spree, or on heavy doses of psychoactive drugs.  She was able to live her life with courage and passion despite her difficulties, and it’s a challenge to me to do the same.