I have this strange, immutable urge as a reader: If I begin reading a book by one author, I tend to want to read everything he or she has ever written—which, of course, is not possible. On their end, most authors are one-hit wonders, or cookie-cutter genre writers who tend to recycle plots and characters to churn out their usual mediocre fare—which makes the idea repugnant. On my part, it’s simply imprudent to stick to one author for too long a time; it so dulls the mind. Reading, after all, means immersing yourself in that writer’s world view. Being exposed to it again and again simplifies the way you look at the world.
But there is some internal logic to wanting to read more from the same writer, I guess. When I read, I lead multiple lives: the life I lead in this physical world, the lives of my book’s characters, and the author’s in the in-betweens. I live them out, often all at once, and once the book ends I am left with only myself and that of the author, whose life still breathes in another literary work.
Then I find myself wanting to find out more about him, the writer whose own life he had sneaked into certain monologues, certain pages of his work. Does he write this way, always? Does he mean what he says? If I read something else of his, will he make me feel the same?
I write this because I began to read Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood” some nights ago, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” the following night, and then “Sputnik Sweetheart” the next. Right now I am reading “Kafka on the Shore.”
You must think, ah, well, here’s a late bloomer, everyone’s read Murakami by now. You would have been right, of course. There had been a two-, maybe three-year lull in my reading in college, where I was overwhelmed with so much reading and studying that the thought of voluntarily reading a book truly sickened me to my stomach. Of course, that sense of contempt began to wane, and soon enough I was back to picking up books faster than I could finish them.
But I digress. Back to Murakami and my weird reading urges. Even before I touched his work I already had a sense of him, of what to expect. But the gravitas of “Norwegian Wood” hit me like a wave from the very first page. I know what it’s like to be lonely, but the loneliness Murakami conveyed through Toru Watanabe was so visceral, so crushingly palpable.
Anyone who’s ever read the book would notice it right off the bat: the surreal, near-mechanical way by which Toru was living his life, his near-otherworldly indifference to other people. It couldn’t have been possible to be that alone, right?
To operate so distinctly from the world that you only know two, three friends.
Oh, but why get so worked up? Aren’t these all mere plot points? Yes, but I’ve lived his life momentarily—felt what he felt, saw what he saw. And in each break I get a glimpse of how Murakami himself sees the world: a lonely place, where people and shadows meld into indiscernible figures, where solitude seems to be the norm, and even the most seemingly untouchable things in life are vulnerable to the world’s whims. But hey, at least the music against which life plays out always seems to be of impeccable taste, right? (Murakami’s novels always have songs integrated into them; he said in an interview that he could never write without rhythm.)
So now I’m curious to know if he’s always been this way, Murakami. Was this melancholia contrived for that book, or is it an organic part of his work? The Murakami in “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” was more inspiring than sad. Was it a fluke? They say any writer is a product of his or her environment, that his or her own life is the wellspring of what moves him or her. What is Murakami’s life like, that he is able to conjure sorrow like an old friend?
To be clear, I could have picked up any other book from any other author—Arundhati Roy, Isabel Allende, Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro—and I would still ask these questions. And I would have inevitably picked up another book from their body of work to prove my point. It’s this immutable part of me, the need to understand other people, even writers, and why they operate this way.
Of course, there’s always the less poetic, more clinical theory: the need to feed my cognitive biases. Why else would this and that author become my preference if it weren’t for the simple fact that they share my world view, only that they already have down pat the words to what I think and feel? I read more of them so I can understand how they came to the same answers I have and why they’ve done so. Through borrowed words I could come to understand myself and the things I believe in. You’d think I’d be jealous that they’re able to express what I want to say, but I’m more relieved. It’s the feeling of vindication after finally grasping the elusive word at the tip of your tongue.
But, like I said, expose yourself too long to similar minds—no matter how much more eloquent and articulate and brilliant they may be—and it blunts your ability to think critically. Sure, Murakami may be an excellent read, and I can go on reading eight more novels by him, but there’s only so many ways by which he can express what he knows. Even if I make my way through his bibliography, looking for new nuggets of wisdom, at their core they would all be the same. At some point I would have learned everything I can from him, and it would be time to move on.
But right now is not yet the time, so excuse me while I read more of him.
Kaye Mancilla, 21, is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman. She says she’s into the sciences now, but still wants to become a professional novelist someday.
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