I know why the wind-up bird sings.

I admit it, I’m a big Murakami nerd. I know, I can hear your eyes rolling from here, but I promise I’m not the pretentious type that only reads it in public with the cover prominently displayed. I don’t dramatically adjust my glasses (much) and start talking about the symbolism of wells and water and how everything in the book has meaning even if it doesn’t seem to make sense. I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of Murakami’s more obscure reference and allusions go over my rural public school head.

But I still love Murakami.

I had been putting off reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle for a year or so, for reasons I don’t really recall anymore. I added it to my Definitely Read These in 2020 shelf on Goodreads, and decided to read it over the quarantine period, mostly because everyone in my book club Discord server told me how good it was. I’m very glad I listened.

At its core, the book’s message is about avoiding stagnation in your life. The main character (whose name is mentioned repeatedly but is still forgettable, by design I think) leads a mundane, aimless life. He’s jobless, without goals or ambitions, and doesn’t seem very keen on changing that. He’s not lazy exactly, maybe adrift is a better word? He’s married too, but his marriage seems passionless and emotionless. A phonecall (one of several, Murakami uses the telephone as a literary device) sets him on a new course, and most of the book is devoted to him being put into increasingly uncomfortable and bizarre circumstances as he tries to hold on desperately to his stagnant life. The book’s climax comes when he realizes that he *has* to move forward, and to do that he has to confront all the things that had been threatening him up to that point. It’s only then that his life, stagnant and unmoving up until then, finally starts moving on.

Of course, Murakami does what Murakami does and frosts that core message with beautiful imagery, themes, allusions, and a whole host of characters that really double as something (or someone) else in his life. There’s a lot to unpack in his books, and he is one of the only writers that I would willingly re-read (I never re-read books, truth). His writing style is super unique, and I find it super compelling as well. Either you really click with it, or you really don’t.

This ended up on my list of favorites for this year. 5 stars, would definitely read again.

Not exactly wuxia, not exactly unwelcome.

What up book nerds! I realize I’ve been quiet for a week or more now, but we had a hot water heater breathe its last breath (gurgle its last….gurgle?) and I’ve been helping my husband with the fallout projects. I’m getting a new laundry area out of the deal, so it felt appropriate to pitch in.

Unfortunately because I’ve been doing that, I haven’t had as much time to read as I normally do, and I’ve been reading some truly monster-sized books, so my forward progress on my book goals for the year is basically nil. I did, however, have an ARC opportunity fall in my lap for Zen Cho’s The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water thanks to NetGalley and MacMillan Tor/Forge publishing, and I couldn’t pass up a cover like that. It’s gorgeous. Fortunately it was also a short novella (I think it came in at 160 pages or something like that), so I was able to knock it out in a few days.

The book blurb claimed it was for wuxia fans, but I found very little wuxia in the actual book. For people who are unaware of what the wuxia genre is, it’s a Chinese word literally translated as “martial heroes” and encompasses martial arts adventures. Think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or any other movie/book you’ve read where the weapons and moves are all named, the action is exaggerated and fantastical, and sometimes there’s some humor involved. This novella had very little of any of that, but despite not getting what I was expecting, I greatly enjoyed my time with this book. Where I expected fantastical fight scenes, I got a quiet and thoughtful story about motives, relationships, theology, and what makes a family. The author also includes some LGBT themes which I think were handled well. I’m taking great care to not leave spoilers here, but I will say that I found the ending touching and a satisfying conclusion to this short novella.

In terms of shortcomings, I will say that this book was light on descriptions and details. Places, actions, and characters are all very minimally introduced and described, which sometimes made it difficult for me to “see” how things were playing out. Things also (by novella necessity, I guess) play out rather quickly, and some character developments and motives take place more rapidly than maybe is believable. I found it easy to overlook a lot of these flaws, though, because I was enjoying the novella so much.

I rated this 4 stars on Goodreads for how much I enjoyed it despite not finding the wuxia elements I expected based on the blurb. I took a star off for those missing elements, and also the minor shortcomings I pointed out above. If anything I’ve said here sounds interesting to you (even if it’s the cover art alone), I recommend giving this novella a try. Let me know what you think!

What I’ve been reading this week.

I haven’t forgotten about this already, I swear. I was feeling under the weather this weekend, and didn’t have the energy to post. We’re back to our regularly unscheduled program now, or should be anyway.

Just to touch on briefly what I’ve been reading, here’s a weekly(ish) roundup! I’ll try and do this weekly, but we’ll see how things go. I have post ideas lined up, I just have to actually, y’know, do the thing about writing them.

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas (pg. 343/1276)

I’m making good time through this book, despite it being so long and taking some time off the last few days to rest. It’s a surprisingly easy read for it being both a classic book and so long, but I suppose if it were boring and dense I wouldn’t be bothering with it. The plot lagged a little in the beginning while the author set the stage, but now that Dantes is well on his path of benevolence and revenge it’s moving fairly quickly. I’m super interested to see how he deals with the people who wronged him, as up until now he’s just been visiting kindness on his friends and benefactors. I also am very unfamiliar with the plot past this point, so I’m excited to fill in this huge book-shaped hole in my classics knowledge.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami (pg. 146/607)

On the other side of the coin, I’m slowly making my way through this book. It’s a good book, but deep, and requires my two brain cells to do more than they’re accustomed to in order to really get meaning out of what I’m reading. Because I was sick I put this one on the back burner a little bit, but I’m eager to put some serious time into it. I’ll be up front and say that it isn’t grabbing me as much as other Murakami books have, but someone on my Instagram post (@eric.in.words) pointed out that it’s a book that you don’t realize you like it so much until you’re done with it. I pondered that for a minute and realized that that’s my feelings for a lot of his works. They aren’t in-the-moment grabbers, but books you think a lot about when you’re done. It was encouraging to hear, and I’m planning on enjoying the ride and assessing my feelings about it when I’m done.

And that’s really all I made progress on this week. I also have an audiobook on hold, but because I haven’t really gone anywhere (thanks COVID-19!) I haven’t really had an opportunity to finish it off.

Thanks to my cat Cleo for being such a patient book prop.