I've been reading some great things lately, and I keep meaning to post about them. What's finally spurred me to do so was coming across this, this morning:
"Narrow minds devoid of imagination. Intolerance, theories cut off from reality, empty terminology, usurped ideals, inflexible systems. Those are the things that really frighten me. What I absolutely fear and loathe. Of course it's important to know what's right and what's wrong. Individual errors in judgement can usually be corrected. As long as you have the courage to admit mistakes, things can be turned around. But intolerant, narrow minds with no imagination are like parasites that transform the host, change form, and continue to thrive. They're a lost cause, and I don't want anyone like that coming in here."
- Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore (originally published in Japan in 2002)
Sing it, Haruki.
I'm about halfway through Kafka on the Shore
now, and it's excellent, like everything else I've read by this author. Murakami is a strange, strange man (admittedly, I haven't read many other Japanese writers, so it's hard for me to evaluate what's the culture and what's just him), but he's a brilliant novelist. As per usual, this one mixes realism with magical-realism, and blurs the lines between the real and the weird, and the present and the past, and it's hard to tell where it's all going. It's also effectively impossible to summarize the plot. But it's fantastic so far.
Last week I read The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
, which was devastating. The first McCarthy I'd read, and I'd been warned that he was bleak and depressing. In fact he makes "bleak and depressing" seem like a funfair, comparatively. But there's this very thin thread of hope woven through his incredibly dark post-apocalypse story of a man and his son walking through a wasted country, looking for something better and trying to survive. The writing is spare and massively powerful, and even though it was bleak enough to literally frighten me, I recommend it highly.
In Italy, I read Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman
, which also blew me away. It's a long novel in seven sections, each one narrated by a different character, each one offering a different perspective on the central plot-point: a disturbed young man has kidnapped his ex-girlfriend's young son. Everybody has different ideas as to why, and what it all means. Comparisons to "Rashoman" are inevitable, but the book absolutely stands on its own -- it's a total page-turner, even while it's delving into all kinds of meta about how people relate to each other, and how we construe meaning from our own lives, and how language and narrative can create or obscure meaning, etc.
And finally, a while ago I re-read Flaubert's Parrot, by Julian Barnes
. I first read this back in grad school, and hadn't revisited it for a while. It's as awesome as it ever was. An amateur Flaubert scholar, giving himself a little tour of scenes from his favorite author's life, finds two different museums that each claim to have the stuffed parrot that once sat on Flaubert's desk, inspiring him. As he tries to figure out which is the real parrot, he reads more and more deeply into Flaubert, along the way all-but-inadvertently revealing his own sad story. I have no idea how much of this book constitutes real Flaubert scholarship and how much Barnes just invented, and not knowing where that line is makes the novel a lot of fun. Also, Barnes is just a very witty, clever guy. Take, for example, this passage, where his narrator discusses an apparent discrepancy in Madame Bovary
regarding the color of Emma's eyes:
"Eyes of brown, eyes of blue. Does it matter? Not, does it matter if the writer contradicts himself; but, does it matter what colour they are anyway? I feel sorry for novelists when they have to mention women's eyes: there's so little choice, and whatever colouring is decided upon inevitably carries banal implications. Her eyes are blue: innocence and honesty. Her eyes are black: passion and depth. Her eyes are green: wildness and jealousy. Her eyes are brown: reliability and common sense. Her eyes are violet: the novel is by Raymond Chandler."
How could I not love this guy?
But anyway, having finally gotten all of that down, it's now time for me to return to work on my own (considerably more problematic) book.