Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Good Ol’ Days

I was flipping through some recently acquired classics (more on that in another post) when I noticed how much the “About the Author” sections have changed in the last 50 years. When you flip open a book these days to learn a little something about the man or woman who put pen to paper for your enjoyment you’re generally met with something like “So and so lives in Portland (or some other hippy/artist-friendly-town) with his or her 2 kids and/or 2 cats and/or loving husband/wife/partner.  They have/haven’t won an award.” That’s it!

Check out the “About the Author” sections in books of yesteryear though. In Men Without Women (pictured above), Hemingway’s life is summarized in almost a page of size 8 font.  We’re told about his parents careers (his father was a “keen sportsman [and] doctor”) , where his family spent their holidays (“a lakeside hunting lodge […] near Indian settlements”), juvenile delinquencies (“Ernest twice ran away from home”), patriotic duties (“ambulance driver on the Italian front”), countries inhabited (Spain, Cuba), hobbies (bullfighting, of course, hunting, fishing), and people in his social circle (“Gertrude Stein – […] they quarreled – Ezra Pound, and James Joyce”).

So what has changed between Then and Now? Why is so little reported, Now? It can’t be a matter of privacy since anyone could easily Wikipedia an author,  Google image them or probably even find them on LinkedIn or Facebook. Ergo, it certainly isn’t because of a lack of resources. And though I’m sure the average employee at a publishing company has more on their plate today then they did 50 years ago (thank you internet) I’d also bet money there’s some “work for free” intern floating around who could take an hour away from making coffee to write a more deserving bio.

When a book resonates with me – good or bad – I can’t help but be curious about the author’s background. Think about some of the most famous books you know; the back story is almost always relevant:

  • it is likely no coincidence that Margaret Atwood, one of the most respected and seasoned female authors Canada has ever proudly claimed as our own, has tackled gender roles in her writing on several occasions
  • would On the Road be the novel of a generation if it wasn’t known that the author was living his own version of the journey?
  • who doesn’t know that JK Rowling was a single parent while writing the Harry Potter series and that the idea came to her while riding a train?
  • would Kafka have written Metamorphosis if he hadn’t been born a German-speaking Jew in Prague?
  • Harper Lee may never have written her one great novel, To Kill a Mockingbird if she’d been born in a different time or a different place

It seems “back then” the publishers understood that our life experiences mold and shape who we become, how our minds think, how we process the world around us. In some cases they give credence to a fable or provide the colour of lens through which a story is intended to be interpreted. It’s like in A Time to Kill when Carl Lee’s lawyer is presenting his summation and he tells the horrible story of Carl Lee’s daughter’s rape. He draws it out, providing every detail so that the members of the jury can picture the scenes in their mind. At the end, he pauses before finishing with “Now imagine she’s white”. Without the backstory, the story changes completely.

It Has Arrived!!

The simple pleasures in life sometimes astound me:

  • getting snail mail that isn’t a bill
  • coming home to find the new VF in my mailbox
  • finding a 5 spot in last season’s coat pocket
  • ordering something online only to forget about it during the 6-8 week waiting period and getting excited all over again when it finally arrives
  • hearing my favorite song come on the radio (thank goodness for CBC Radio 2)
  • special ordering a book. AT A BOOKSTORE

I read an article in the paper awhile ago that discussed the different ways people choose to spend their disposable income. The author argued that spending your money on travel gets you the best bang for your buck because the experience is three-fold. You get to enjoy planning and anticipating the trip, the trip itself and then reliving the memories. For me, special ordering a book is quite similar.

People who know me know that I have a small obsession with the Gilmore Girls. I won’t go into how fabulous the show is or how just because it focuses on two female characters it doesn’t mean it is a show for girls or how re-watching the series for the 6th or 7th time I still catch new witty lines or references or how so much of my pop culture (re) education comes from this show but I will say I do get a lot of reading suggestions from it. Were it not for GGs I may never have been traumatized and enamored by  Motley Crue: the Dirt! I may never have come to know the despicable Ignatius J. Reilly . Or tried (again) to like the Fountainhead. Most recently, my husband and I paused, rewound, played, and paused again a scene several times in an attempt to read the title of a book that one of the characters, Jess Mariano (sigh… click the link. For the love of God, click the link!), was reading. Pen in hand, I wrote down the title, hopped on my bike and pedaled my little heart out to get to the bookstore before it closed.

So, last week, it finally arrived – We Owe You Nothing: Expanded Edition: Punk Planet: The Collected Interviews. And I tore into it with a vengeance. It’s the perfect book to tear through since you can jump around from interview to interview. I treated it kind of like a ‘choose your own adventure’. I’d start with the interviews with people I knew like Noam Chomsky, Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys) and Ian Mackaye (Fugazi) and then jump to the interview of anyone that had been mentioned in the previously read interview. It’s a curious web I weave…

For those of you who aren’t familiar, Punk Planet was a magazine first published in 1994 that focused on punk subculture and was best known for its interviews and lengthy review sections. The magazine ran until 2007 when the final issue was printed. The cover stated “This is the final issue of Punk Planet, after this the fight is yours”.

Reading this compilation had two major impacts on me. One, I became incredibly nostalgic thinking about my best friend in junior high who introduced me to punk culture. We used to go across the street from her house to watch her friend’s older brother play in a punk band. If we got there early enough we could catch them manicuring their mohawks with brylcream. We’d head home after with renewed vitality, ready to tackle the second hand music stores in search of anything by Sonic Youth, Social Distortion, Rancid or NOFX. Second, I was reminded that beyond the safety pins, anarchy patches, shaved heads and general damn-the-man attitude there was and is so much more behind the leaders of this movement. The people interviewed in this book stand for something, something that generally requires tenacity and courage to pursue and uphold. They are creative and often brilliant minds that chose music as their platform for expression. As a generally-adhering-to-mainstream adult I find it a little tougher to rip off my sleeves and get behind them then I once did but I certainly don’t admire them any less.

~ kate

P.S. I paid close attention to the spacing in this post. All “.” should be followed by a SINGLE space. 😉

Join the anti-Shades of Grey movement

I typically like to stay on top of current trends, especially when it comes to literature. But I cannot bring myself to read Shades of Grey. I have heard enough about it to know that I’m not interested. Probably the biggest reason I don’t feel any desire to read it is that it is reported to have no merit in terms of writing quality and there are plenty of books out there can stimulate the mind and body.

So, in my effort to support the movement to abstain from reading Shades of Grey, here is my list of 5 other books to read in its stead:

  1. Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
  2. Howl – Allen Ginsberg
  3. Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller (or anything else by Henry Miller)
  4. Delta of Venus – Anais Nin (or anything else by Anais Nin, who, coincidentally enjoyed pillow time with author #3)
  5. Women – Charles Bukowski

Does anyone have any other suggestions?

~ kate

Before there was Cormac McCarthy there was Edith Wharton – part deux

So to answer kid Joe’s homework question, yes, Ethan Frome is a tragic hero responsible for his own misery. It is largely through his desire to do the honorable thing that he creates his own demise.

* wikipedia

Written in 1911, the story takes place in a dreary New England where it is apparently always cold and distances between any kinds of settlement are vast – adding to the feeling of detachment. The story is timeless really (hence why this book can be found in the classics section): a man marries a woman out of some sort of duty or honor but quickly becomes unhappy as this decision provides no bond and the characters grow apart. In Ethan Frome, we get the impression that Ethan grows to almost despise his hypochondriac of a wife. He falls in love with another woman (his wife’s cousin, of course) and after a series of pathetic attempts to create or even test intimacy with this woman, he commits them all – the three of them – to be bound together for the rest of their lives.

When I was in university I remember reading a lot of Freud (as you do). I loved his idea that the human psyche could be divided into three neat sections – the id, the ego and the superego. Throughout my life I have, oddly, found ways in which this can be applied to the interpretation of stories. The first was in Kafka’s Metamorphosis; most recently in Ethan Frome. Edith’s story focuses on three characters: Mattie (Ethan’s wife’s cousin), Ethan Frome and Zeena (Ethan’s wife). These characters can be interpreted as representations of the id, the ego and the superego. Mattie is the thing Ethan wants, the person that would give him instant gratification and thus representative of the Id. When Ethan’s mother became so ill that he was no longer able to take care of her, Zeena comes to tend to her and provide him some relief. Her presence “restored his shaken balance and magnified his sense of what he owed her.” Immediately after his mother’s death, the two are married out of an obligation to his moral compass (superego), we are to believe. When Mattie comes to town to look after the now ailing Zeena, Ethan struggles to exact a balance between what he wants (Mattie) and who he has obligated himself to (Zeena). Thus he personifies the ego as it attempts to communicate between the id and superego.

Even without my dear high school student’s notes on the inside cover, the tone of this book sort of smacks you in the face – it is a cold, sombre, barren field on which the story plays out – a little like a Cormac McCarthy book where the tone is almost paramount to the story. With his lack of punctuation, McCarthy’s stories can be hard to follow sometimes, but the general message is never lost because of his effective use of tone. Similarly in Ethan Frome, I sometimes found the use of imagery to be unaccessible, but the tone was so effective that this didn’t seem to take away from the story.

I’ve heard before that it is hard to write a funny story than it is to write a sad one. There is no humour in Ethan Frome but I can’t imagine it was an easy task to remain so morose for so long. I can say this though: I sure am glad Edith Wharton uses punctuation.

Have a good weekend!

~ kate

Before there was Cormac McCarthy there was Edith Wharton – part une

There are so many different paths I could take with the last book I finished: I could talk about how I acquire so many of these well-aged/gently-loved paperbacks, I could talk about the fun of finding notes in the margin (like Mark Twain!) or, I guess I could just review it. I’ve never been good at narrowing down my options so how about all three?

Unless I want this post to be my magnum opus, I’m going to have to release it in two parts.

Part 1 begins now!

Most Readers are one step away from being hoarders. Generally speaking, we

Just a few of the stacks of weathered books around my house

love to collect and display books. I presume that all Readers have a weakness, a kind of book they find nearly impossible to walk past in a bookstore. Coffee table books, for example. The shiny (or more likely matte these days) pages beckon to you with their ghostly pictures of identical Weimaraners or magically floating slightly nautical-looking staircases or colourful markets in Marrakech. Oprah Book Club books might be another (I feel like I’m dating myself saying this tho.. she doesn’t even do that anymore, does she?). Or, perhaps history or self help. Well, for me it’s anything that could be considered a classic as long as it’s in used condition. There are two reasons for this – one, who wants a brand-spanking new copy of Wuthering Heights or Cannibals and Christians when you could have a copy published in the 1960’s. And two, the odds of me ever getting around to reading all the “classics” are slim so I wouldn’t want to have to pay “brand-spanking new” prices.

So, this niche addiction led me to pick up my last read for just $1 at the last used book sale I attended. That’s less than 50% of the list price back in 1987 when the copy I have was published but probably a hell of a lot more than it cost when it was first published in 1911. The book, already, is Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. I knew of Wharton for her Pulitzer Prize winning Age of Innocence but knew nothing about Edith Frome. But I had to have it for my collection!

Reading this was a bit of a different experience than I’m used to because some nice fellow (we’ll call him Joe) decided to make notes in the margins. Not just notes, actually, but questions on the inside cover. I’m assuming it was a ‘he’ based on the printing style though perhaps this is grossly erroneous – I had atrocious handwriting when I was a kid, “for a girl”.  I’m also assuming the previous owner was not a Mark Twain type but rather Ethan Frome was likely assigned reading for a class.

Reading these questions before reading the book was a little unfair; a little like reading the

Some kid’s homework

introduction before the story itself. The first question asks, “Is it a tragedy? Is Ethan a tragic hero with a flaw who is responsible for the catastrophe?”. So without reading the book I can assume the answer bears some semblance to “Yes, it is a tragedy” and I know there is some impending catastrophe. However, the questions also help me to look further into details of the story. For example, the second question asks what impact imagery has on our interpretation of the characters. When’s the last time you thought about what you were reading in that way? I used to hate when teachers made you look for certain things in a book when reading it. For one, I was a rebel without a cause so “Damn the man” but two, I felt my own interpretation of the story should be good enough. Who cares if I didn’t notice the prevalence of the colour blue.

Flash forward ten years and it was actually quite refreshing to be challenged to look at a book from a different perspective than I normally would have. So, to whatever high school student (again, I assume) wrote his homework in the front cover of his book instead of a notebook, I thank you and hope you aced your English class!

~ kate

P.S. A Reader friend of mine kindly notified me that Pages in Toronto closed a couple of years ago… so I guess I’ll have to find a different store to add to my top 10 list. Any suggestions?

Long Live the Independent Bookstore

Despite the towering pile of books next to my bed, I stopped in at my favorite bookstore, Shelf Life , yesterday to order an out of print book (I’ll wait until it arrives to divulge the name) and of course picked up a couple other titles while I was there. Walking around SL makes me so happy. I could spend hours in there and I am constantly finding titles I’ve never even heard of that sound right up my alley – The Beats: A Graphic History, anyone?? So I thought I’d dedicate a post to the independent bookstore – may they never go the way of HMV (which now carries more books than CDs it seems???).

My earliest memory of a bookstore is from when I was about four or five years old. My family had a cottage near Kingston, Ontario so we used to go into town to visit the Novel Bookstore every once and awhile. According to my mom, as soon as we got into the store I would tear off my coat and run to the back where the children’s section is always located and dive into a pile of books.  Honestly, if my husband’s at a bookstore today, the scene doesn’t look all that different.

People – generally those who are not “Readers” – sometimes ask me what makes a bookstore “good”. I know they’re thinking, “Wouldn’t Chapters or Amazon just be easier, wouldn’t they have the most inventory?”. They are right. And wrong. Amazon, of course, is an amazing resource: books at your fingertips, often they are available in used condition and you can find out of print titles there too. However, the selection at Chapters is terrible when you compare it to their square footage. Not to mention, I’m kind of over “Heather’s picks”. I’d rather read a book recommended by “Steve” the kind-of-nerdy-hipster in the back who spends most of his time knee-deep in the Sci-Fi or graphic novel sections but wades out every once in awhile to put something like Maus in the Staff Picks (if you haven’t read Art Spiegelman’s Maus, go get it NOW).  I don’t usually entertain these non-Readers when they ask me why a bookstore is good because I figure they won’t get it.  Maybe I should start using some analogies: it’s like getting your coffee at Beano instead of Tim Hortons, or like buying a bike at Pedalhead instead of Sport Chek or buying your vegetables at the Farmer’s Market instead of Safeway. The people who work at independent bookstores love to read. They love books so this naturally translates into higher quality products. Pedalhead  may carry fewer bikes than Sportchek but they’re higher quality and the salespeople actually know what they’re talking about.

Here’s a top-ten of my favorite independent bookstores from around the globe:

1. Audrey’s Bookstore – Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

  • Weekend visits to Audrey’s bookstore was about the closest I got to a routine as a kid. I was dying to be acknowledged as an adult so I loved that the young adult’s section was positioned just outside the children’s area. Audrey’s is THE place to go in Edmonton for hard to find or rare prints. Try the Commodore next door for breakfast and make an outing of it – full breakfast plus coffee for under $5!

Audrey’s Books

2. Greenwoods – Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

  • I think Greenwoods was having a rough go financially when I was a kid – the stores kept moving and splitting off then changing ownership – so they weren’t high on my stalwart-bookstore list but when the Harry Potter books hit the scene in the 90’s (yes, 90’s, can you believe it!) Greenwoods offered to buy back these books at 50% of the list price. This is pretty unheard of for a trade-in so I became a fast friend.

3. Wee Book Inn – Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

  • The Wee Book Inn was my first exposure to a used bookstore. When I was about 8 or 9 years old I used to ride my bike down to the Stony Plain Road location to load up on Archie comics for $0.25-$0.50 a copy. When I got a little older, I would stuff my knap-sac full of books from around the house (probably not all belonging to me) in an effort to finance my blooming book addiction.

4. Shelf Life – Calgary, Alberta, Canada

  • For the longest time I thought this bookstore was a Christian Bookstore. I don’t know why, something to do with the unassuming signage but when I walked by one day and saw a veritable homage to Kerouac in the window I popped in and have been a loyal customer ever since. Every time I go in there I feel like the selection has been handpicked just for me.

5. Pages – Toronto, Ontario, Canada

  • I haven’t been here in years but every time I make a visit back to T-dot I pop in. Located on Queenstreet W the trip there is part of the experience: there’s so much energy in that area and it definitely carries over into the bookstore. I believe I bought my first Moleskin at Pages way back before they were EVERYWHERE.

6. The Strand – New York, New York, USA

  • OMG what can I say about the Strand?!?! My heart beat quickens just thinking about it. I actually stumbled upon the Strand the first time I was there, perhaps making the experience more magical. It’s huge, filled with effortlessly cool people, there are tons of cheap books for sale out front and they even have a little satellite shop in Central Park just in case you’re stuck in Midtown. Oh yeah, and Patti Smith worked there once upon a time – NBD!

7. Elliot Bay Book Co – Seattle, Washington, USA

  • Of course there are amazing bookstores in Seattle. With that much rain you have to provide safe havens for people. I visited (and blogged about) my experience at this bookshop a couple years ago. We were there right before it moved out of the original location but, should I return to Seattle, I would make the pilgrimage again simply for the solid “Staff Picks” section.

8. City Lights Bookstore – San Francisco, California, USA

  • Maybe it’s the three cups of coffee I’ve already had this morning but, I mean, come on! The history surrounding this bookstore is awesome. In case anyone out there doesn’t know – this is the famed bookstore that published Allen Ginsberg’s controversial Howl and other Poems as part of the Pocket Book Series in 1956. Shortly after publication, the store manager was arrested and the store owner and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti was put on trial on charges of obscenity. After a long trial, City Lights was exonerated and the doors were opened for American publication of previously censored Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Tropic of Cancer (Shades of Grey what?). If you’re in the area, you should also check out the nearby Vesuvio where Kerouac himself used to imbibe.

City Lights bookstore San Francisco, CA

9. Shakespeare and Co. – Paris, France

  • Shakespeare and Co. is so much more than a bookstore. It’s a live music venue, prominent literary event scene, tourist magnet and friendly ex-pat employer. When I was last in Paris, I visited this shop no less than three times in five days. Twice to buy books (once with a glass of wine in hand, no questions asked) and once to watch Lisa Hannigan put on a free show. IN A BOOKSTORE!

The crowd waiting to see Irish singer Lisa Hannigan perform.

10. Bookworm – Hanoi, Vietnam

  • My husband and I spent almost as much time searching for this bookstore in Hanoi as we did looking for the Russian Circus which is also, allegedly in Hanoi. Important lesson here: things change quickly in Vietnam – a restaurant/bookstore/circus that was there last week may be relocated or gone entirely the next. I found three different addresses for the Bookworm before finding the right one. Traipsing around the city was exhausting and the new location is pretty far off the beaten track  but it was worth it. First of all it’s located off a little courtyard behind a cooking school and when you walk in you are immediately enveloped by quiet – a much-needed/refreshing change in the bustling city of Hanoi. The shop is two stories with a mix of new and used books, mostly in English. It’s tough to compare the Bookworm to bookstores in the rest of the world but in Vietnam where English books are hard to find and the government still keeps one eye on everything it was certainly a diamond in the rough. I love the bookstore’s logo too: two Asian/Russian looking men holding a flag declaring “Bookworm”. It’s an obvious Communist reference but ironic since it’s kind of proclaiming freedom of speech/press etc…

Well that’s my top ten. I know I’m forgetting some/haven’t visited them all yet. What are your favorite bookstores?

~ kate

On the nightstand: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

I knew they were around here somewhere…

Rice fields near Da Lat

My dutiful followers may remember that a couple of weeks ago I woefully mentioned that I had misplaced some scraps of paper containing vital blogging notes.  Well, this morning in one of my shining OCD/life-is-getting-a-little-chaotic-I-better-keep-my-house-clean-so-I-know-at-least-something’s-working moments I found these papers! Guess where they were? Neatly filed in a folder labelled “my hopes and dreams” and safely placed in the top drawer of my desk. I hate when I do that – put something somewhere safe and then totally forget about it. It would make way more sense to me if the pages had been tucked in a book or carelessly scattered on my nightstand or something.

Anyway, they’re found, that’s all that really matters. Truth be told though, there aren’t nearly as many as I remembered (sad considering the title of the folder…) and they’re all written on napkins, not paper. One isn’t even on a napkin but rather a piece of that brown scratchy paper towel you get in public washrooms…

Pedestrian and Scooter, Saigon

I had this grand idea to write a post about all the books I read while on a vacation in Vietnam – we were gone for nearly a month and I think I read a record 13 books! I dutifully recorded every book I read on a napkin from a street vendor. At the time, writing on a napkin felt very poetic or rock and roll or maybe even Hunter S Thompson-esque.  But there is a real downside – they fade very quickly. So, the particular napkin I was looking for is now almost entirely illegible.  I’d like to think all the books I read were great but off the top of my head I can only remember four so perhaps they weren’t that good?

Severely Abridged Vietnam Reading List:

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson: I picked this book up in Hoi An. I had run out of books by this point (yes, an e-reader would have solved this problem) and I was getting pretty desperate. All the bookstores/hawkers were selling the same books – One Day, Papillion, various Bill Bryson and The Beach – so when I found this in the lobby of our hotel I snatched it up. I’m not going to try to review the entire book but I’ll say this – when I finished it I wondered what all the fuss had been about. And yet, as soon as I got home I watched the American and Swedish movies and bought the next two books…                                3.25 stars

Friday Night Knitting Club – Kate Jacobs: Yup, in print I’m admitting to having read this. I actually bought it at a used book sale before my trip thinking it would be a good beach read. That’s pretty much all I have to say about it.               2 stars

Zeitoun – Dave Eggers: I loved a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, What is the What and The Wild Things all by Eggers so I was pretty thrilled when I stumbled upon this gem in the lobby in Mui Ne on Christmas morning (no word of a lie). This book tells the story of a Syrian-American who is wrongfully arrested in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It definitely made me look differently at all media related to Katrina and especially the authorities in involved in the cleanup. I can add this to the list of books by Eggers that I thoroughly enjoyed.                                                                                                           4 stars

The Beauty of Humanity Movement – Camilla Gibb: Another repeat author for me, I read Sweetness in the Belly when it first came out five or six years ago, I actually came across this book while researching Vietnam before my trip. I learned long ago that you get more out of a trip when you have some background or context so I’ve taken to consuming pertinent movies and books anytime I’m preparing to head off on another adventure. The Beauty of Humanity Movement did just what I was hoping – told a beautiful story, gave me relevant and accurate historical background in a contemporary setting and made me extremely excited to visit Vietnam (especially for the pho!).                        4 stars

Ordering Pho on the Mekong River

Four out of 13’s pretty abysmal; I’ll try to keep a better list next time. Do you ever wonder how many books you’ve read and completely forgotten about?

On the nightstand: Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan

~kate

A Runner’s Voice

Way back in July a friend of mine lent me a book that I’ve been meaning to read for some time: ever since my first encounter with it in a backpacker’s bookstore in Thailand. The book was called Shantaram. I guess it’s fitting that this book was well displayed at traveler’s bookstores as it is definitely a road-less-traveled kind of story; something sure to appeal to an 18-year-old spending their Gap year in Asia.

After borrowing this mammoth book, I carried it around with me everywhere I went for a solid five weeks, opening it at any chance I got only to put it down a couple pages later. I hardly made a dent it – it wasn’t for lack of want or effort or poor writing – I just couldn’t get into it.

In the interest of maintaining this blog, I finally put Shanataram down for a break.  I had to start something else where more progress could be made. I’m never short on supply when it comes to books so I simply grabbed a couple from the (ever-growing) stack next to my bed. The first one that caught my eye was Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Most people who are familiar with Murakami know him for his surrealist kind of writing. I wasn’t really in the mood for that but I snuggled under the covers and turned to the first page anyway. In what seemed like seconds, I was almost 20 pages in. I stopped, turned the book over and kind of stared at the cover visualizing or processing what I had just read. What was so different about this book that I was innervated by the words rather than, dare I say, bored by them?

In many previous posts I’ve discussed reasons why I, and others, read – for entertainment, education, inspiration, stimulation, etc. – but something I haven’t talked about before is the voice of a book. There are certain topics that appeal to me more than others – generally I’m always up for tales of self-discovery (not to be confused with self-help) and anything to do with a good adventure (I’d say the same could be applied to my proclivity in daily activities) – but it is the author’s voice that makes a book accessible and truly enjoyable for me.

The voice is different from the tone or mood of the book, it’s literally what the person sounds like in my head. If the book has a strong voice, it’s almost as though I’m not reading but rather I’m being read to.  When I can’t find the voice, I find myself tripping over words, having to start sentences over again and again and generally not processing what I’ve read. In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, the voice felt effortless, like I was having a (albeit a one-sided) conversation with Murakami himself.

Murakami calls this book a memoir though really we’re only given small glimpses of his life: how much he runs, how he started running, his races and even how he became a writer in the first place. It doesn’t read like a memoir because it doesn’t feel like Murakami’s looking backwards per se. Everything he says feels very in-the-moment, as though a lesson he learned five years ago has just been  relearned as he puts pen to paper. An epiphany experienced in the past remains enlightening for him.

As such, this book gave me much more in the way of “words of wisdom” than The Tao of RZA ever did and that wasn’t even Murakami’s intention (I don’t think).  I found myself highlighting almost entire pages as sentence after sentence seemed poignant or relevant. For about a page Murakami discusses individuality and the importance of the existence of different types of people. He does all of this as though he’s sitting in an armchair, just thinking out loud. It’s neither profound (to him) nor pompous when he declares “Emotional hurt is the price a person has to pay in order to be independent”. These dozen or so words almost jumped off the page for me as my mind immediately began wondering what pain the people in my life who are independent, some fiercely so, have suffered. As for Murakami, the only life pain we’re privy to is that endured while pounding the pavement towards his annual marathons.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running was a timely read following the disappointment of the Tao of RZA. It was also a peaceful read where my own life experiences were able to weave in and out of Murakami’s parables. Suffice it to say I enjoyed this book, but the clincher for me in my appreciation was quite early on when Murakami described how he became a writer: “Turning thirty was just around the corner. I was reaching the age when I couldn’t be considered young anymore. And pretty much out of the blue I got the idea to write a novel.” Perhaps that’s another ingredient often present in a book I hungrily devour – having something tantalizingly in common with the book’s author. 😉

~ kate