Murakami and Me

I worked at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in the early/mid 1990s. My first job there was loading and unloading the trucks that brought the books from the shipping and receiving warehouse to the store. One nice thing about that job is that all kinds of books passed through my hands as I made up carts to take to the store.

Out of all those books, there is only one where I really remember specifically and distinctly the first time I held it and looked at it.

The book was Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

I was predisposed to be interested in it because it was part of the Vintage International imprint. Even before I’d started working in bookstores I was a bit of a book jerk, noticing things like publishers, imprints, formats, and so on. Vintage International was publishing new work by people like Julian Barnes and A.S. Byatt, and reprinting interesting stuff by authors like Nabokov, Hrabl, Camus, and many others. The books were nice trade paperbacks and I felt the imprint was a promise of quality and worth.

Then of course there was the title. He had me at “hard-boiled wonderland,” but once you add “and the end of the world,” it sounded exactly like the kind of thing I might like. A bit noir, a bit science fiction, but bailed out of the gutter by the postmodern mash-up of multiple derided genres.

I hadn’t heard of Haruki Murakami at that point, and I think few American readers had. He was already a huge success in Japan by the early 1990s, but Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was only the second book of his to appear in the US. I don’t recall if his Japanese name was a draw to me at the time or not. Since then I have read several other Japanese authors, but it’s possible that Murakami was my first.

After Hard-Boiled Wonderland I got a copy of Wild Sheep Chase and then tracked down some English translations of earlier works that were only published in Japan. After that, I started buying his books as soon as they were published in the US, amassing by default a more-or-less complete collection of Murakami US first editions.

Anyway, I remember holding that copy of Hard-Boiled Wonderland in the Tattered Cover warehouse back in the fall of 1994 very clearly, but I’m afraid I don’t remember the substance of the book hardly at all. Despite the fact that I have read it more than once. At least I think I have; I don’t quite remember.

This occurred to me because I was re-reading Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball 1973, which were recently published in the US for the first time. And once again, I couldn’t really remember reading them for the first time. So I thought I’d write about them a bit, kind of in the vein of the re-reads that they regularly do on tor.com. And then I thought I had kind of wanted to re-read Norwegian Wood, the novel that made Murakami a star in Japan. And then I thought, maybe I should just slowly and methodically re-read all his works.

And then I thought, I should start a blog for this. Because that’s a perfectly normal thing to do in 2016.