Author Review VIII: Hemingway

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been limiting my author reviews to novels and excluding other work, like short stories. I’ve done it for convenience; it just keeps everything tidier, but it’s a damn shame for the likes of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway was such a prolific short story writer, and so much of his best work was produced in that form, that I’d be doing both him and his potential readers a disservice if I didn’t mention it. You can’t fully experience or evaluate Hemingway’s work without digging into his short stories.

Moving on, it’s easy for me to pick my favourite Hemingway novel: The Sun Also Rises. It’s no contest. This book stands head and shoulders above the rest. I think some of this comes down to Hemingway’s problematic approach to writing about sexual relationships specifically and women in general.

For example, I found just about everything in For Whom the Bell Tolls interesting, besides the development of its awkward romance. I found Across the River and Into the Trees entirely sub-par because its female lead was so poorly and flatly written that she distracted from the rest of the book. And, though True at First Light is problematic for several reasons, which I’ll touch on later, the relationship between the main character and the local woman, Debba, is uncomfortable to read at the very least.

What separates The Sun Also Rises from these other books is quite possibly the main character’s impotence (spoiler alert?). Because there’s no chance for the main characters to consummate their relationship, there’s also no chance for Hemingway to ruin the novel with an unbearably awkward love scene. And because all of the interactions between these characters is soaked with unfulfilled desire, it makes the whole story more dynamic and rich. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s going too far to suggest that these characters’ dissatisfaction is emblematic of their generation, the one that Gertrude Stein so aptly described as ‘Lost’. It’s no coincidence that the male lead is suffering the lingering effects of a war wound and that’s keeping him from moving forward as a productive member of society. In some ways, a whole strata of society was struggling to piece its psyche back together after WWI. All this to say, The Sun also Rises succeeds on multiple levels.

I suppose A Farewell to Arms comes in second on my list of top Hemingway novels, but I don’t remember having anywhere near as strong of a reaction to it. From what I vaguely recall (you’ve gotta cut me a break because it’s been years since I read a lot of these books), I thought it was good, but not amazing. I’d be happy to read it again, but not much of my first reading has stuck with me.

To Have and Have Not is at least half good, by which I mean I like the first half much more than the second half. Islands in the Stream is similar, though it’s the first third of that book that I like the most. But, it brings us into the troubling waters of posthumous publications and unfinished books. Also residing in this strange space is The Garden of Eden and True at First Light, which I touched on earlier. These two books were so heavily edited after Hemingway’s death, it’s questionable as to whether they can even be included on his list of novels. It is a damn shame that The Garden of Eden was never finished, because it showed real promise and was, possibly in some ways, ahead of its time. The way that the female lead experiments with her sexuality is certainly intriguing and would probably resonate a lot more with readers these days than Hem’s bull fighting or lion hunting work. Unfortunately, the real test of whether or not this is a good novel is how it all ties together and, in its unfinished state, you just can’t really evaluate it. True at First Light doesn’t seem to have anywhere near as much potential as The Garden of Eden, but what it does have is similarly unfulfilled.

This leaves two more novels, Hemingway’s first and last: The Torrents of Spring and The Old Man and The Sea. Torrents of Spring isn’t bad, but it’s not a serious novel like the rest. It’s satirical and as a piece of satire, I didn’t get the joke. That’s not Hemingway’s fault, but I can hardly think of the book as a timeless classic. On the other hand, The Old Man and The Sea is definitely considered a timeless classic. It won the Pulitzer Prize and basically landed Hemingway the Nobel Prize in Literature! These prizes are funny things, though. They’re not always awarded when they should be and have a tendency of showing up late to the party. To put it another way, you could argue that The Old Man’s prizes were actually more like lifetime recognition awards for everything that came before. The book itself is, in my opinion, tedious and drawn out.

In conclusion, if you’re going to try Hemingway, please start with The Sun Also Rises. If you don’t make it any further than that, at least your time will have been well spent. But, if you’re willing to invest a little more into Hem, try a few of the others in the top 5 of my list. Beyond that, you’re not missing much, especially if you make time for the short stories.

For my next author review, I think I’ll go for someone completely different: Nick Bantock.

The Sun Also Rises
A Farewell to Arms
To Have and Have Not
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Islands in the Stream
The Garden of Eden
The Old Man and the Sea
True at First Light
The Torrents of Spring
Across the River and into the Trees

Readings, Past and Future

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of performing my poetry at The Library in central London. This wonderfully relaxed and intimate event was hosted by Friends of Alice (publishers of my collection, Caught Light) and it gave me a chance to read alongside fellow FoA authors, Michael Wyndham and Isabel del Rio. Unfortunately, Wlodek Fenrych was too unwell to attend, but his daughter was kind enough to read from his translations of Fifty Ruba’iyat by Rumi. Despite their brevity, each of these little poems packed an insightful punch. The evening was rounded out by a few open mic performances and the whole thing had an almost familial geniality to it. I’m genuinely looking forward to any and all future events with my FoA cohorts.

On 3rd November, I’ll be back in Teddington at The Adelaide for another night of Poetry Performance. In December of 2017, they were kind enough to feature me and help me promote my debut chapbook, (Reasons for) Moving. So, I’m thrilled that they’re having me back to read from Caught Light. You can get more info about the event at Arts Richmond’s site.

If these two exciting events are the bread of a poetry reading sandwich, I’d be remiss to leave the sandwich without any filling, so I’m hoping to read at The Poetry Cafe’s 4th Friday event on 25th October. It’s been years since I last participated in 4th Friday and I’m eager to see what it’s like these days.

Hopefully, I’ll see you at one of these readings.

 

Friends of Alice Showcase and Other News

When it comes to poetry readings, I’ve been laying low lately. In August, I dropped the ball entirely and didn’t manage to make it out to a single event. In July, I decided to go for workshopping instead of open mic and headed back to the ever-helpful Chiswick/Barnes Stanzas group. Yet again, they provided me with valuable feedback, which I think will make the poem in question stronger (if I can just find the time to sit down and apply their suggestions). But it was all the way back in June when I attended my last real poetry reading: 1000 Monkeys at The Keep in Guildford. It was great to hear Richard Woolmer read from his collection, Speaking to Crows, as well as the other seasoned veterans, but that seems like ages ago.

Fortunately, I’ll be back in the saddle next month. On 9th September, I’ll be taking part in a fabulous showcase put on by Friends of Alice Publishing at the Library in London. I will be reading alongside my fellow Friends of Alice authors, Wlodek Fenrych, Michael Wyndham, and Isabel del Rio, with music provided by Russell Swallow. I’m really looking forward to promoting my book, Caught Light, and I’m sure it will be a rollicking good time, so if you can make it out, please do. It’s a free event, but you need to register on eventbrite in order to provide an accurate headcount.

In other news, Paul Brookes has been kind enough to interview me on his site, The Wombwell Rainbow, so if you want to hear me ramble on about all sorts of things, check that out as well.

Caught Light

Author Review VII: Steinbeck

If you want a great (albeit nerdy) debate, sit down with some die hard Steinbeck fans and try to hash out which novel is his masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden. For a writer to have created just one of these brilliant books in their lifetime is impressive, but for one man to produce both is staggering. Grapes of Wrath seems to get the lion’s share of attention, but in my opinion, East of Eden is a richer text. It’s hard to pin down exactly what gives it the advantage, but if I had to guess, I’d say it has something to do with politics. Grapes of Wrath is a convincing tapestry with deeply human characters artfully woven into it, but the design of the whole is coloured by an agenda. While I sympathise with much of Steinbeck’s political sentiments, they can be distracting at times. It’s one thing to write about workers’ rights, but it’s more ambitious to excavate the fundamentals of the human condition, as East of Eden does.

Now that we’ve (controversially) established which is Steinbeck’s greatest novel, I’d like to move on to my favourite. As much as I appreciate the gravity of Steinbeck’s serious writing, I prefer the levity of his more comedic books and the foremost among these has to be Cannery Row. Though it stands on its own, it’s worth reading Tortilla Flat and Sweet Thursday alongside it if you have time, as they’re all loosely connected. The Short Reign of Pippin IV is another enjoyable read, but it feels almost frivolous in comparison to the others. It also comes across as something of an inside joke if you’re not familiar enough with the history of French politics. I certainly felt like some of the humour was over my head, but I still liked it.

Some novelists manage to stun readers right out of the gate with an amazing debut; I wouldn’t put Steinbeck in this category. His first book, Cup of Gold, is probably among his weakest and I would only recommend it to devoted fans. His next novella, The Red Pony, is a different kettle of fish but it also lacks the strength of his later work. It comprises a series of episodes; this formal experiment is both a pro and a con. On the one hand, it shows Steinbeck’s writing taking on greater sophistication.  On the other hand, it’s jarring and a little off-putting. There is a fine thematic thread connecting the sections, but it’s easy enough to miss.

It’s in Steinbeck’s 3rd novel, To a God Unknown, that his writing really begins to mature. I don’t know what it is about this odd familial saga, but the whole thing has a haunting quality that sticks with you. The Wayward Bus is another entertaining novel and a great character study. It certainly has prominent comedic leanings, but one harrowing scene in particular keeps me from putting it in the comedic category.

In Dubious Battle is a compelling bit of propaganda, but its political agenda is even more blatant than Grapes of Wrath’s and it loses more of its literary potency because of it. The Moon is Down certainly has a political agenda as well, but its delivery is smoother, more subtle. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as to say that it’s better than Dubious Battle. They’re pretty evenly matched.

If you’re anything like me, you’re first encounter with Steinbeck was probably in an academic setting where you were forced to read Of Mice and Men. And, if you’re anything like me, you were too immature to appreciate it at the time. Unfortunately, I still haven’t revisited the book since, so my impressions of it are still negative. I know now how great of an author he is, but I look at his best work and think, “It’s a damn shame that there isn’t time to have kids read some of that stuff in school instead of Mice and Men.” Of course, they might not appreciate any of that either. Who knows?

The last three novels on the list have settled down to the bottom because they’re outliers, hard to categorise. The Pearl is so thickly allegorical and two dimensional, it seems impossible to rate against the others. Burning Bright is probably the most experimental of Steinbeck’s novels and, like Red Pony, the form distracts from the content. Last but not least, The Winter of Our Discontent just doesn’t feel like a true Steinbeck. With so much of his work rooted in California, this New England novel seems thoroughly dislocated. It may not be his worst, but it certainly isn’t among his best either.

To conclude, if you’ve only got time for one Steinbeck novel and you want something fun, go with Cannery Row. If you want something you can really sink your teeth into, then read East of Eden. I’d also highly recommend several more of his books and just plain recommend a few others, but when it comes to the bottom of the list, you can probably afford to miss the last four.

For my next instalment of Author Review, I’ll try another literary giant: Hemingway.

Cannery Row
East of Eden
The Grapes of Wrath
Tortilla Flat
Sweet Thursday
To a God Unknown
The Wayward Bus
In Dubious Battle
The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication
The Moon Is Down
Of Mice and Men
The Winter of Our Discontent
The Red Pony
The Pearl
Burning Bright
Cup of Gold

Music/Friends/Words

Most of my posts are about writing or art, but that leaves out a huge part of my life: music. Throughout high school and college, I played in bands like Hammers to Fences, The Flaming Wheel of Destruction, and my first: Vinnies Address. Though it’s been over a decade since I’ve played with them or any other band, the members of Vinnies Address went on to make great music with Hans Gruber and the Die Hards and a unique project called Air for Effect.

For the most recent Air for Effect album, Thalassa, the genius behind the music, Austin Joy, asked me if I could say a few words on his behalf. I didn’t really know how/where to begin, so I started by tackling ambient music in general and then zooming in on his music specifically. I was honoured to be able to help my friend and see the most relevant portion of what I wrote appear on his site. Whether you gravitate towards ambient music or not, Thalassa genuinely deserves all the attention you can give it. Once you’ve listened to it closely, put it on again in the background and go about your business. To get the full experience, you’ll need to try both of these approaches. And, if you’re interested in the full text of what I wrote about the album, I’ve included it below. Disclaimer: these were off-the-cuff idle musings and should be read as such. Any serious abstract artist or instrumental musician could probably tear my ideas to shreds, but I’d appreciate it if they spared me the indignity.

*

I suspect that some people find instrumental music unapproachable for the same reason that they’re put off by abstract art. Namely, they misunderstand its function. And because they don’t know what it’s meant to do, they don’t know what they’re meant to do with it. In other words, they don’t know how to use it and, on some level, that makes them feel insecure.

When they’re faced with a piece of representational art, they treat it like a window. They know that they can look into it and see a dog, a ship, a landscape – something identifiable. But when it comes to the abstract, they don’t know what they’re looking at or looking for. The subject seems to be missing. People often treat songs the same way, as if their music is just a frame for presenting their ‘subject’ i.e. lyrics. Take away the words, and the meaning becomes too ambiguous. 

What is this song about? What is this picture of? These questions overlook the possibility of something with a different job. By refusing to give viewers a subject, an abstract picture ceases to be a window, and becomes a mirror. You do not simply observe; you also observe the ways in which you observe. Think about a Rorschach inkblot test. Because the images are not, strictly speaking, of anything, the process of observation leaves room for the observer to discover things about themselves. The viewer is transformed into the subject.

The same could be said about instrumental music. It creates a space for discovering things about yourself. So, when it comes down to evaluating the quality of instrumental music, you need to investigate the quality of that space. Is it a good fit? Is there room inside to grow and explore?

When it comes to Thalassa, the answer is an emphatic YES. Right from the beginning, this album embodies an expansiveness that draws you in and carries you along like a current. Track by track, Thalassa’s intriguing shifts in tone help to propel the listener forward, out into deeper water. From the airy Bay of Kotor to the moody Pavilions, from the cerebral Isle to the pensive Mynah and on to the sultry Pearl, this music continually twists and turns, gaining momentum without committing to a single direction. Finally, Thalassa takes this unpredictable sonic journey to another level with the three-fold epic that is Okeanos.

It’s difficult to convey the richness and complexity of this trilogy without outlining the associations it triggered in my own listening experience, so I’ll share them with you:

  1. A late night cab ride through downtown Tokyo, looking up at lit windows; on the way to or from something, maybe an airport. A shift – entering the airport, getting onto the plane, flying away over the city you were just riding through.
  2. Deep underwater, moving in slow motion, soothing/lulling but a typewriter beat creeps in – efficient, driven. Like watching something lackadaisical passed by something on a mission, possibly even a nefarious one.
  3. Floating in the dark on the surface of a completely calm subterranean lake, but birds and crashing surf transform it into sitting on a beach in the dark, watching the dawn slowly reveal something dead that’s washed up on shore.

Of course, these are reactions, not interpretations. If they indicate anything at all about Air for Effect’s Thalassa, it’s the album’s scope for turning listening into a creative act all its own.

Other track by track first impressions:

  1. Expansiveness, ideal for headphones, taut, tight beat, upbeat, 
  2. A little darker, more digital, less airy, 
  3. The soundtrack to someone solving a puzzle on a computer
  4. On the edge of a hopeful tone, as if approaching the realisation of a potential while facing the risk of it remaining unfulfilled; pensive
  5. Sort of seductive sounding, a hot close dance on a tropical night; concentration, focus, but also fluidity

Author Review VI: Tom Robbins

Like Rushdie, Tom Robbins has a flair for the fantastic. Like Murakami, he has a flair for the strange. But unlike both of the aforementioned, Robbins’s distinguishing characteristic is his flair for the zany. He deals with deep philosophical issues and makes ancient mythology relevant to modern readers, all with a tremendous sense of humour. Whether you’re reading about magical enemas, mischievous redheads, or Airstream campers turned into giant metal chickens, it’s pure comedic gold all the way. From the long lost corpse of Jesus Christ to the enormous scrotum of Tanuki, I can’t emphasise enough the sheer uniqueness of this man’s creative vision. Which brings me to the tricky part of my review: ranking his work.

All I can say with any certainty is that I was least impressed with his last novel, Villa Incognito. That’s not to say it’s bad. It’s good, but it’s probably the least compelling of the lot. When it comes to selecting the best, things get much more complicated. Have you ever felt like the first thing you read by an author retains a special place in your heart? That’s how I feel about Still Life with Woodpecker. When I discovered it in a charity shop, I had no idea who its author was, but I liked the look of it and the blurb got my attention. I literally judged the book by its cover. And I wasn’t disappointed. That novel is a classic. Sure, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates is right up there among my favourites, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas made me want to go to Timbuktu more than I thought possible, and Another Roadside Attraction is staggeringly good, especially for a debut novel. But, there’s something special about Still Life with Woodpecker. Maybe it’s just the perfect introduction to Robbins’ work, maybe I’m still thrilled that it was an accidental discovery, or maybe I just read it at the perfect time in my life. Regardless, I’d put it at the top of my list.

So, I’ve got my bookends, so to speak, with Woodpecker at the front and Villa Incognito at the back. In the middle, everything gets a little fuzzy. As I said, I remember deeply enjoying Fierce Invalids and I was very impressed by Another Roadside Attraction. I read Even Cowgirls Get the Blues some time after Woodpecker, and sincerely appreciated it, but not as much as the latter. Friends let me borrow Skinny Legs and All and Jitterbug Perfume around the same time, and while they were both strong novels, I recall thinking one was much better than the other. I just can’t 100% remember which was which (this was about 10 years ago). I’m putting my money on Skinny Legs as the winner with Jitterbug coming in a close second. I also tackled Frog Pajamas around that time. I found it in a hotel and spent several hours reading furiously just so I could finish it before I had to check out, which indicates that it was pretty good. How good exactly? Hard to say. The moral of the story is, they’re all great (except Villa Incognito) and if you only have time to read one of his books, try Still Life with Woodpecker.

I’ve got some other non-book related topics to post about next, but when I get back to my author reviews, I think I’ll set my sights on a literary behemoth: Steinbeck.

Still Life with Woodpecker
Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates
Skinny Legs and All
Another Roadside Attraction
Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
Jitterbug Perfume
Villa Incognito

I Love Maps

That’s right, I love maps. You heard it here first. I’m a nerd for them. Whether I’m day dreaming about potential trips or remembering my favourite journeys, I like to stare at maps and let my mind wander.  Throughout my years of travel, plenty of places have inspired my poetry, but after living in England for nearly 7 years, those places are more and more likely to be British. So, when I found out about Places of Poetry, I just had to get involved. Places of Poetry gave me the perfect opportunity to set some of my favourite British poems in their proper geographical context. This extra dimension of setting is a great gift to readers and poets alike, especially when you consider how often people ask questions like “what is this poem about?” Now, on some level, they can get a concrete answer. I also love the classic 400 year old feel of the map itself and the story behind it’s origins.

I’ve added four poems to this brilliant interactive poetry map, two from my first collection and two from my second. Because it’s not possible to explain their publication histories on Places of Poetry, I just wanted to make a note of them here. What Begins and Ends With Water or June 2015 first appeared online at Seethingography and then again with On Leoni Bridge in my chapbook, (Reasons for) Moving [Structo Press]. In Brighton first appeared in Issue 14 of Structo and then again with Silent Appliances in my full length collection, Caught Light [Friends of Alice].

In Brighton has a self-explanatory title, but to help you find the rest of my poems on the map, you should know that On Leoni Bridge deals with Carshalton, Silent Appliances is about Arundel, and the last stanza of What Begins and Ends With Water is set in Kingston, so that’s where I pinned it on the map. But, if you’re curious, the first stanza is set in Surbiton, the second is set outside Birmingham, and the third is set nearer to London.

Recent Readings

Sorry to say, I spent so much time dithering over my last author review that I haven’t had a chance to mention what else I’ve been up to. Since Friends of Alice published Caught Light, I’ve been trying to get out and promote my new book. Back in early March, I returned to the Adelaide in Teddington for their monthly poetry evening. Eddie Chauncy was the featured poet and he cemented himself in my mind as one of the most talented writers in our area. This was my first time at the Adelaide’s open mic in far too long, but they were gracious enough to offer me a chance to come back soon as a featured poet. That date’s not set yet, so stay tuned for updates.

A long time ago, a friend told me about something called Stanzas. But it took me until April to finally try my local branch of this wonderful writing group. For the first time in ages, I had a new poem drafted and I was eager to get it workshopped. Fortunately, the Chiswick/Barnes Stanzas group was very helpful and they suggested some great revisions.

Later in April, I was back with the Write Out Loud crew for the Woking Literary Festival at the Lightbox Gallery. This 4 hour marathon event featured Robert Granham, Annum Salman, and a tremendous amount of great open mic poetry.

Moving into May, I tried an event at Sutton Central Library called Words Aloud. This was put on by the writer in residence there, Rachel Sambrook. There was a good crowd and a entertaining featured reader, Jasmine Gardosi, who even managed to win over the rowdy nearby teens cramming for their exams. Between the horrific traffic and getting lost in Sutton while trying to find some parking, the trip there was a nightmare and I was sorry to turn up 20 minutes late, but I’m still glad I went.

In May, I also had the privilege of participating in the Chiswick/Barnes Stanzas SpringBack at The Ship in Mortlake. They were kind enough to let me join in with their annual public reading, even though I had only just joined the group. It was a great opportunity to read alongside everyone from both of the group’s segments. Of course there was the unfortunate noise pollution from riveted football viewers, the understandably drunk stragglers from the recent wake, and the disruptive youths making rude gestures through the windows, but it was a fabulous night nonetheless.

In June, I’ve got my eyes set on Guildford. I’ve been missing those 1000 Monkeys. In the meantime, I’ll try to get my next author review up ASAP.

Author Reviews V: Haruki Murakami

Reviewing Murakami right after Rushdie feels right to me for several reasons. If you’ll forgive a violin analogy, both of these brilliant authors rub the bow of the fantastic against the strings of the mundane and make them sing. But each does it in their own distinctive way. While Rushdie takes an embarrassed blush and amplifies it into something that can scald, Murakami takes something surreal like a talking cat and treats it like a sip of beer. Also like Rushdie, Murakami has written a masterpiece which isn’t my favourite.

In my humble opinion, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is Haruki Murakami’s greatest achievement. It digs deep, both into the depths of history and the individual psyche, perhaps even going so far as to suggest where these tunnels intersect. Most novelists can only hope to produce something like this in their lifetime.

Despite how much Wind-Up Bird Chronicle has to offer, I still enjoy Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World more. This long-titled gem is, you guessed it, simply more fun. Though not exactly a beach read, it’s much more of a page turner than Wind-Up. It’s got more adventure (on the run from subterranean monsters), more mystery (what’s the deal with those unicorn skulls), and much much more glorious weirdness.

It’s the weirdness in Murakami’s work that I love so much, which is why I prefer books like A Wild Sheep Chase, After Dark, Kafka on the Shore, and Sputnik Sweetheart. Whether you’re talking about a nefarious super sheep, a creepy figure emerging from a television, fish raining from the sky, or a woman who encounters her own doppelganger, these stories hook you with their utter strangeness and don’t let go.

On the other hand, when I look at Norwegian Wood, South of the Border, or Hear the Wind Sing, I enjoy them but can’t get past the feeling that something enormous is missing. What, no giant frogs? No portals to other worlds? Nothing?

Unfortunately, not all of Murakami’s signature strangeness is welcome. There are three undeniable facets of life that Murakami tackles head on: food, sex, and death. I used to appreciate his unflinching frankness, but a little while back, I listened to a YouTuber complaining about his depictions of sexual violence. I dismissed it at the time, but after reading his last few books, my opinion started to shift. Now, looking back at his work through a critical lens, much more of it seems disturbing than it did before. Certain problematic motifs seem to pop up again and again. 1. Relationships between older men and adolescent girls that border on inappropriate 2. Dreams of sexual violence that are somehow both real and unreal 3. A fixation on breasts. His latest novel, Killing Commendatore, suffers from all three and it would be a much stronger novel without any of them. It has that trademark weirdness, with the forces of good and evil ambiguously manifested as strange men in diners and pint-sized figures lifted from paintings, but even all of this glorious oddity barely holds your attention when the main character keeps prattling on about every woman’s breast size.

Similarly, 1Q84 had the potential to be Murakami’s masterpiece – something even greater than Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, but a couple of key points drove it right off the rails. One of those points was the introduction of a distracting 3rd narrator in the 3rd volume, but the other was the (spoiler alert) disturbing sexual interaction between two of the main characters (I won’t go into details). I could cite other examples of how Murakami’s sexual content weakens his work, but this review is already getting too long.

Before I wrap this up though, it’s worth mentioning one other thing. 4 of Murakami’s books link together in an unusual way. Hear the Wind Sing; Pinball, 1973; and A Wild Sheep Chase form what’s called the Trilogy of the Rat. Dance Dance Dance is a sort of sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, but not technically part of the trilogy that precedes it. So, in a sense, if you’re going to read any of these, you might as well read all of them and do it in order. The first two were Murakami’s first attempts at novel writing and it shows. Even Murakami was reluctant to release them in English (which only happened recently). But, for all of their weaknesses, they’re still worth a look. On the other hand, Sheep Chase is basically Murakami at the top of his game. It’s the best of the four and if you’re in a hurry and don’t mind not knowing who this Rat character really is, then it stands on its own.

I feel like this whole thing has taken on a negative tone, which wasn’t my intention, so just to recap, I’d say that at least the top three books on this list are unmissable. Make time and eat them up. Beyond that, pick and choose according to your tastes. Next up in my author review series: Tom Robbins.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
A Wild Sheep Chase
After Dark
Dance Dance Dance
Kafka on the Shore
Sputnik Sweetheart
1Q84
Killing Commendatore
Hear the Wind Sing
Pinball, 1973
South of the Border, West of the Sun
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Norwegian Wood