Confessions Of A Murakami Virgin

At the time, no one knew what was coming
For years I have tried to convince Paul to work collaboratively with me on a project, so when he agreed to do a his and hers reading map of 1Q84 I was elated. And then. I got stuck. I had no idea where to start. [Forgive me exalted librarians for I have sinned…] I haven’t read 1Q84 or any other books by Haruki Murakami. I haven’t even read any reviews and to make matters worse I’m not a fan of the mega-novel. I tend to favour psychological thrillers with a bit of Jodi Picoult, foodie fiction and airport paperbacks thrown in for variety. Not exactly the same league in reading preferences is it? So what was my plan? (I am a project manager after all.)

It’s not something I can openly advise you to do
I thought about the easiest option. Could I do this project solely by reading reviews? Three volumes amassing 1100+ pages will take a significant amount of time to digest, and I’d rather not if I don’t have to. Do I need to read 1Q84 in order to do a reading map justice? Surely the plethora and diversity of online reviews would provide a well-rounded perspective that I could decipher for reading map clues. So I quickly scanned LibraryThing, GoodReads and Amazon and found the majority of book reviews enigmatic; often comparing 1Q84 to previous works by Haruki Murakami (not very helpful in my case). There were a number of references to themes such as magical realism (whatever that means), alienation and alternate realities that I could use to build a reading map, but would it be a true reflection of the book? Maybe. Or maybe not. I’d never know.

To cast further doubt on my proposed solution, I recalled a flurry of articles I had read last year on the proliferation of fake book reviews (herehere and here). Bugger. Relying solely on book reviews may be the easiest option and it might work for others or other books, but it is not something I’d be proud to put my name to. Plus how does this approach differentiate a librarian’s knowledge and expertise in readers’ advisory from that of an everyday reader or an algorithm?  

Amused by the illusion of that which is never meant to be
So my next thought (whilst still avoiding the monumental tome) was that there must be some professional literature on how to keep up with collection knowledge and provide excellent reader’s advisory services without the need to read everything in the collection. And yes folks there is. The Readers’ Advisory Handbook (pdf) includes a chapter titled ‘How to read a book in ten minutes‘ by Jessica E. Moyer. Ten minutes! I’ll give that a go. Twenty minutes later I had worked through the eight step process and with practice I think it will be a very effective way to have some knowledge of the many titles in our collection. Here’s what I deduced about 1Q84 in 20 minutes.

Two characters – one a female assassin with a grudge against domestic violence offenders and the other a male ghostwriter and maths teacher – begin to notice that the world they live in is not quite as it seems. Chapters alternate between their different stories which are slowly drawn together like moths to a light.

Aimed at sophisticated intellectual readers who have eclectic reading interests and prefer detailed observations and reflections over fast-paced drama.

I think this brief overview would suffice as a 30-second plot summary and I could make some recommendations based on this (Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and Keigo Higashano’s The Devotion of Suspect X spring to mind) but I don’t think it’s going to work for the deep dive that a reading map requires. What do you think? If you have read 1Q84, is this a fair reflection of the book?

So, it seems I’m all out of easy options. But I have figured out the best place to start when developing a reading map. The best place to start when developing a reading map is to read the book. *sigh*

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7 Comments

  1. I’ve tried that ten minute summary and thought it was a good idea. Probably still is if you’re just wanting to get into conversation starters with people. But to know the story to be able to really build a reading map… In any reading map of IQ84 I would jump quickly to 1984 and move on! I didn’t believe in the characters or their motivations (big appeal characteristic for me in fiction). For Japanese fiction featuring lovers or relationships, I’d add Kazuo Ishiguro’s titles as much more in- depth and profound. The only promising part of IQ84 for me was the taxi driver’s enigmatic warning and then Aomame’s journey into a parallel world. And for that kind of travelling between worlds I’d recommend Charles de Lint’s Onion Girl (one of his Newford stories).
    I’d like to read the taxi driver’s story. I wonder if he comes back in volume 3? There could be a whole genre of taxi driver fiction.. 🙂

    1. Sally says:

      Al, Paul and I were talking about taxi driver fiction just the other night! Perhaps you could write the taxi driver’s story as a fanfic so I can add it to the reading map 🙂

      I haven’t read any of your suggested titles so am adding them to my ‘to explore further’ list. My ‘next’ reading map will be easy peasy Japanese-y.

  2. megingle says:

    It’s going to be a challenge to get through all 1100+ pages isn’t it?

    I think the 20 min precis you came up with is a good “tease” for the book, and a possible guide for who might potential readers be, but am not sure it’ll work for a detailed reading map. What a bother eh?

    1. Sally says:

      It is definitely a challenge but as I have just started reading the third book I’ve learnt a couple of things:
      1. I’m nearly there – 66% complete!
      2. A reading map doesn’t require me to like what I’m reading. It definitely helps, but a reading map is about providing suggestions and other avenues to explore for people who enjoyed reading the book. And so I’m attempting to analyse the book from a 1Q84 lover’s perspective. Crazy? Probably!

      1. lis marrow says:

        oh dear! Hopefully you will see it as less of a task once it has completed. Some of it doesn’t really come togehter till the last few pages…Look for the plant, and the tiger as well as the taxi!

  3. oh dear, on the surface 1Q84 may be sort of what you said but not at all as well. Murukami has created a world that is based upon our perception of what our world is….When Aomame does something out of character she changes her perception of her world. Running parallel is K (?name) and the story of th eair chrysalis where small beings construct copies of our selves which continue to exist as us, leaving our otherselves to roam at will. The idea of parallel versions of our own lives – one world where there are two moons etc is profound and will keep you thinking. There are subplots re domestic violence, and cults as well as childhood influences and parental love. It wasn’t till I reread the novel last holidays that I began to understand soem more and saw more parallels between the worlds…..your precis does not do it…sorry!

    1. Sally says:

      Don’t be sorry Elisabeth. It reinforces the fact that neither reviews nor quick twenty minute snapshots will replace the depth and nuances gained from reading the book. I look forward to your contributions towards the reading map. Now, back the book…

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