Yes, I’m reviewing another book by Haruki Murakami. This time it’s one of his non-fiction books, Novelist as a Vocation. It’s no secret I’m a fan of his fiction, but this is the first of his non-fiction books I’ve taken the time to read. I picked up this copy from StrandBook.com, a bookstore based in New York City.
(Note: Lately, I’ve been buying books from vendors other than Amazon and B&N in an attempt to support the smaller businesses. So far, I’ve found the prices and shipping to be comparable.)
Now, the thing about this book is that it’s not a how-to guide for writers. I looked at online reviews after I finished reading it and found a lot of complaints about this fact. The thing is, if these reviewers had bothered to read the description of the book they would have discovered it’s more about Murakami, how he got into writing, what inspires him, and “..the role of the novel in our society.”
This is a collection of essays he wrote over the past 10 to 15 years prior to publication date. He explains that he wrote them more as a way to express some of his thoughts and ideas with no intention of publishing them. And that’s how they read. Murakami muses on his life before writing, the “Ah-ha!” moment when he decided to become a writer, and some of his daily routines.
But he also writes about his experience with the publishing industry, both in Japan and abroad. He also discusses his thoughts on inspiration and creativity, as well as how creative groups interact with their peers.
Being a very private individual, Murakami comes across as somewhat disconnected from the writing world as a whole. He doesn’t like going to parties or book signings and giving talks and lectures is always an uncomfortable experience for him. However, one of the things I found endearing is that he always tries to take the time to respond to young writers to offer encouragement. He’s more comfortable with correspondence than face-to-face interactions.
As a writer, I appreciate his take on the craft. He looks at it as a job, as something he enjoys doing, and he has a hard time understanding the “struggling artist” trope. As he says, why do something that you hate to do? If writing is a struggle, then find something to do that you’ll enjoy. Of course, he admits that he’s not your ordinary writer.
One of the more endearing things I learned in one of the early essays was how he came to be a writer. Not to spoil it (it’s apparently fairly common knowledge to his fans), but he was at a baseball game in Japan, enjoying the beer and the sunny day when one of the players hit a pop fly ball, and in that moment he realized he wanted to be a writer. Serendipity? Perhaps. But also a memorable moment the way he describes it.
While this isn’t a guidebook for writers, he does talk about inspiration and his routines. The one thing I found interesting, and it’s something I’ve never read or heard another writer mention, is the importance of good health. Murakami runs for an hour a day, every day, and takes care of himself.
I think that’s good advice. Since the COVID lockdown began a few years ago, I’ve been working out five days a week – a little cardio, some strength training, and a bit of yoga – and I’ve found that it’s helped me to be more productive creatively. I think that keeping my body active in turn charges up my imagination. Plus, when I’m exercising, I use the time to think about creative projects I have in progress. Multitasking in action!
If you’re looking for a guide on writing, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re interested in a peek inside the mind of a fantastic writer, then pick up a copy. Murakami has interesting perspectives, ideas, and a dry sense of humor that keep the essays fresh and engaging.