August 11th, 2007

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 25

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  1. Davies, Robertson — Tempest-Tost (The Salterton Trilogy) (235 pages)
  2. Davies, Robertson — Leaven of Malice (The Salterton Trilogy) (218 pages)
  3. Davies, Robertson — A Mixture of Frailties (The Salterton Trilogy) (311 pages)
  4. Austen, Jane — Pride and Prejudice (274 pages)
  5. Murakami, Haruki — Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (400 pages)

Page count: 6,266 of targeted 12,500.

I've seen a few Murakami novels lying around the house—HWMBO is a fan—and that began to pique my interest. Then I read some stuff online that praised his novels, especially Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I decided I wanted to give him a go. I asked HWMBO if he has a copy, and he does, which he hasn't read yet.

I spent half the book trying to decide if I liked it or not. The prose was quite readable, despite certain problems that I assume stem from translation, and the premise was interesting. I spent the second half of the book hoping it would take a turn for the better, that I would find some quality that would validate all the positive reviews. (One fellow remarked in a review somewhere online that this was simply the best book he has ever read—poor impoverished soul!)

I really wanted to like this book, but there were too many stumbling blocks to get over. Right off the bat, the author's racism and sexism set a negative tone. It was nothing uncharacteristic of Japanese society—a description of skulls as mongoloid, caucasoid, negroid, etc., and casting all women in subservient roles—but unsettling nonetheless. The dialogue justified the sparsity of dialogue—during one dialogue I actually thought of the line in the "Hotel Royale" episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Troi asks Picard, "I don't believe this dialogue. Did humans really talk like that?" (To which, of course, Picard responds, "Not in real life. Remember, everything that's going on down there is taken from … a second-rate novel.") Murakami spends much too much time describing pointless details, such as listing every item in a menu or every store along a street, and that criticism extends to the endless name dropping: I really don't need to be impressed with every obscure Turgenev or Stendhal novel he's read or black-and-white movie he's seen or performance of classical music or jazz he's listened to. It adds nothing. The interesting ideas Murakami conjures up (alternate worlds with unicorns, shadows being detached from bodies, intricate experiments into how the brain processes information) turn into one large-scale exercise in pointless mental masturbation riddled with faulty pseudoscience and unsatisfying, rambling attempts at explanation.

I'm disappointed. This could have been a fascinating read. There are kernels of good ideas sprinkled throughout that a writer with real skill and imagination could have done something with. Murakami, at least in this case, falls far short of that mark.

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 26

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  1. Davies, Robertson — Tempest-Tost (The Salterton Trilogy) (235 pages)
  2. Davies, Robertson — Leaven of Malice (The Salterton Trilogy) (218 pages)
  3. Davies, Robertson — A Mixture of Frailties (The Salterton Trilogy) (311 pages)
  4. Austen, Jane — Pride and Prejudice (274 pages)
  5. Murakami, Haruki — Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (400 pages)
  6. Burrows, Ruth, O.C.D. — Essence of Prayer (210 pages)

Page count: 6,476 of targeted 12,500.

No, I haven't suddenly become a speed reader, blowing through 210 pages in a couple of hours! For the last several weeks I've been reading three books concurrently. It's just coincidence that I finished two of them on the same day. (I doubt I'll finish the third until December.)

My friend Kevin (he of smuggling fame) and I have been talking about Ruth Burrows' book for some time. I had asked his opinion on religiously-oriented materials to read and mentioned some possibilities. He recommended this book which had recently been recommended to him. He then sent it along as part of his gift to me a few weeks ago.

Essence of Prayer is, as the name implies, about prayer. It aims to clear up misconceptions about prayer, chiefly that prayer is something we do. (Prayer is simply acknowledging our relationship to God, that of child to parent, unworthy person to complete and unconditional Love, and allowing ourselves to receive that Love.) Burrows, a Carmelite nun, refers extensively to the Bible, Old and New Testaments, to the lives and writings of Saints and mystics (principally John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Thérèse of Lisieux), and to the traditions and daily life of Carmelite communities to illustrate her message about prayer. She writes lucidly, elegantly, humbly, and compassionately and is a joy to read.