Daily Trivia : Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami was born in Ashiya City, Japan (1949). His parents both taught Japanese literature, and they talked about it so much that he came to resent it, and he took to reading foreign literature instead.

His favorites were 19th-century European works — stuff by Flaubert, Dickens, Chekhov, Dostoevsky. And then, he started reading American detective stories, science fiction, and later, Richard Brautigan and Kurt Vonnegut — all of which had been translated into Japanese.

He was so fascinated with them that he learned English well enough to read American literature in the original. He once said that “Raymond Carver was without question the most valuable teacher I have ever had, and also the greatest literary comrade.”

He studied drama in college, but didn’t care too much for schoolwork and mostly passed his time in a campus museum reading archived movie screenplays.

He met his wife, worked in a record store, and before graduating he and his wife — each age 22 — had started a bar in a basement at the edge of Tokyo. They called it “Peter Cat.” It served coffee during the day, and at night it transformed into a jazz club.

He was 29 and sitting in the bleachers watching a game between two Japanese baseball teams when an American came to bat. He hit a double, and for some reason that was an epiphany for Murakami.

He said he doesn’t know why, he just knew at that moment that he could write a novel. On his way home from the stadium, he stopped and bought new pens and paper, and that very night he began to write. He worked on it nightly for four months, one hour each night, after he’d finished closing the jazz bar. 

Hear the Bird Sing, his first novel, won the top prize in a story contest and was first published in a prestigious Japanese literary magazine in 1979. The entire action of the novel takes place in August 1970 and is the first book in a series called The Trilogy of the Rat.

He decided to become a full-time writer. He began going to bed early and getting up early, eating homegrown vegetables, and doing serious distance running. He’s run several marathons in under three and a half hours.

His 1987 book, Norwegian Wood, sold millions of copies in Japan and made Murakami a literary sensation. To escape the fame, he and his wife lived abroad for several years, in Europe and in the United States, where Murakami taught at Princeton University.

They returned to Japan in 1995. In 2002, he published Kafka on the Shore, a novel John Updike called “a real page-turner, as well as an insistently metaphysical mind-bender.” It’s about a teenager named Kafka Tamura, a “cool, tall, fifteen-year-old boy lugging a backpack and a bunch of obsessions.”

According to Murakami, when he writes, “it’s kind of a free improvisation. I never plan. I never know what the next page is going to be. Many people don’t believe me. But that’s the fun of writing a novel or a story, because I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

“I’m searching for melody after melody. Sometimes once I start, I can’t stop. It’s just like spring water. It comes out so naturally, so easily.”

“I write weird stories. Myself, I’m a very realistic person … I wake up at six in the morning and go to bed at 10, jogging every day and swimming, eating healthy food. … But when I write, I write weird.”

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