Short Story of the Day, Town of Cats by Haruki Murakami

“I’m tired of living unable to love anyone. I don’t have a single friend – not one. And, worst of all, I can’t even love myself. Why is that? Why can’t I love myself? It’s because I can’t love anyone else. A person learns how to love himself through the simple acts of loving and being loved by someone else. Do you understand what I am saying? A person who is incapable of loving another cannot properly love himself.”
― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

Waco Downtown Farmer’s Market Waco, Texas

My Difficult Reading Book Club has been cranking through Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 at a steady clip – through Book 1 and well into Book2. There was even a mention of our last book, The Brother’s Karamazov.

In today’s chapter Tengo is on a train going to visit his father. He is reading a paperback of short stories and finds one that resonates with him and his story. It’s a strange tale called Town of Cats written by an unnamed Russian author.

I wondered if the story actually existed outside of 1Q84. I did a quick web search and found that it didn’t – that it was made up for the novel.

I did discover, however, that the story was excerpted from the massive novel and published as a stand-alone story in the New Yorker. That’s cool.

So you can read it if you want a taste of 1Q84 without committing to the 900+ page tome.

And today’s Short Story:

Town of Cats by Haruki Murakami

Kinokuniya

“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?”
― Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart

Pomodoro
My Pomodoro timer, Moleskine, and Ivory Pilot Prera fountain pen.

We’re a couple weeks into the Difficult Reads Book Club devouring of Haurki Murakami’s long novvel 1Q84. Tonight, we had our Zoom meeting to discuss chapters 8 through 14.

One cool thing, for me, was when one of the two point-of-view protagonists, Tengo, went into a Tokyo bookstore, Kinokuniya. I liked that because there is a Kinokuniya bookstore in Plano, Texas, not very far from where I live, and it’s one of my favorite places.

I stumbled across the bookstore online and knew I wold love the place. It’s not so much the books… it’s the other stuff. The place is a cornucopia of pens, fountain pens, art supplies, notebooks, paper… all that sort of stuff.

I had a tough time finding it the first time I went up there. It’s actually a big room off of the food court of a big Asian grocery store at Highway 75 and Legacy Drive. It’s packed with cool stuff. I’ve bought a couple pens there, some ink, and, especially, a few packs of fountain pen friendly paper (Tomoe River ).

The place is crowded… chock-a-block with cool stuff. I could look for hours. So what I do is set goals for myself and start setting a little bit of money aside. When I reach my goal, I’ll drive down to Kinokuniya and treat myself to something with the cash I’ve accumulated.

This is truly the best of all possible worlds.

Short Story of the Day, Sleep by Haruki Murakami

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
― Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Sleep
Sleep

I dove in and am reading through Maruki Murakami’s 1Q84 for my Difficult Reading Book Club read.

Here’s a longish short story that we traded around at our last meeting.

Sleep by Haruki Murakami

and from my old online journal:

The Daily Epiphany

Saturday, December 25, 1999

Rending of wrapping

I think I was more excited about Christmas this year than the kids were. Seeing Nick and Lee and knowing how special Christmas is to children makes me so happy. I can still remember almost every Christmas when I was a kid. My sons are so appreciative too; they are spoiled, of course, but they enjoy everything so much and never complain about what they don’t get.

Another nice thing is that the kids are older now and they stuff they get – mostly video games and computer software – doesn’t take a lot of assembly. That makes it a lot easier on Santa; no staying up all night putting together basketball goals or stuff like that.

I woke up about five and couldn’t go back to sleep. I went out in the living room and set the camcorder up on a tripod aimed at the base of the tree and the pile of boxes arranged there. I read the paper, ate some breakfast, and waited for the little ones to get up. They started to stir and I ran out to the living room and started the camcorder going but they fell back asleep.

Finally, about seven thirty (that’s fairly late for my kids) they started to sit up and rub their eyes.
I asked Nick, “Are you getting up?”
“No, I’m tired, let me go back to sleep,” he said groggily and grumpily.
“Nicholas, what day is today?” I asked.
That made him mad at first.
“How do I know what day it… wait… wait….”
Then his face lit up and he snapped fully awake as his sleepy mind realized exactly what day it was.
“Lee! Lee! let’s go, let’s go!” Nick yelled at his groggy brother.
I dashed out ahead of them so I could watch the annual shredding of paper, the squealing and laughing and oohs and aaahs and looks of joy and amazement.

I was worried that we hadn’t bought enough stuff for the kids. As they get older and their toys get more expensive the volume of crap inevitably gets smaller. I shouldn’t have worried, they were beyond thrilled.

DRBC

“If you can love someone with your whole heart, even one person, then there’s salvation in life. Even if you can’t get together with that person.”
― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

Recycled Books Denton, Texas

In January through March of 2019 (that feels like a different age) I went every Wednesday after work clear across town to a bookstore called The Wild Detectives in Oak Cliff. I had stumbled into a reading group there that tackled long, difficult books called The Difficult Reading Book Club. We finished our book, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, then had a celebration. For various reasons I skipped the next book (a set of three tomes by Virginia Woolf – though I wasn’t afraid – who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf) and then COVID hit.

For a year we didn’t do any reading, but finally momentum built and for a couple months we did a weekly Zoom meeting read of The Brother’s Karamazov. I actually liked not having to make the long trip after work and a reading group is particularly suited for remote computerized interaction.

And today we had our kickoff meeting for our latest difficult (and long) challenge – 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I’ve been avoiding spoilers for the novel, but did learn some useful facts from this meeting.

Murakami is known for including music in his works – and there is, of course, a Spotify Playlist associated with the book (actually a handful of them).

an interesting article:

A Feminist Critique of Murakami Novels, With Murakami Himself

I’m excited – another journey, a challenge, and an opportunity to learn something.

Time to read a bit before I go to bed.

Short Story of the Day, Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey, by Haruki Murakami

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Deep Ellum Texas

In perusing the interwebs I came across a nice list of ten online long(er)-form short stories. So I’ll test the patience and attention span of everyone in this best of all possible worlds and slide away from flash fiction for a while.

I was very glad to find this one – always up for some Murakami.

Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey by Haruki Murakami

from The New Yorker

The Small Things You, Yourself Have

“What’s really important here,” I whispered loudly to myself,”is not the big things other people have thought up, but the small things you, yourself have”
Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart

Mural, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

 

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 20 – Samsa in Love by Haruki Murakami

Untitled (Sprawling Octopus Man), by Thomas Houseago
Nasher Sculpture Center
Dallas, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 20 – Samsa in Love by Haruki Murakami

Read it online here:
Samsa in Love by Haruki Murakami

In any case, he had to learn how to move his body. He couldn’t lie there staring up at the ceiling forever. The posture left him much too vulnerable. He had no chance of surviving an attack—by predatory birds, for example. As a first step, he tried to move his fingers. There were ten of them, long things affixed to his two hands. Each was equipped with a number of joints, which made synchronizing their movements very complicated. To make matters worse, his body felt numb, as though it were immersed in a sticky, heavy liquid, so that it was difficult to send strength to his extremities.

Nevertheless, after repeated attempts and failures, by closing his eyes and focusing his mind he was able to bring his fingers more under control. Little by little, he was learning how to make them work together. As his fingers became operational, the numbness that had enveloped his body withdrew. In its place—like a dark and sinister reef revealed by a retreating tide—came an excruciating pain.

It took Samsa some time to realize that the pain was hunger. This ravenous desire for food was new to him, or at least he had no memory of experiencing anything like it. It was as if he had not had a bite to eat for a week. As if the center of his body were now a cavernous void. His bones creaked; his muscles clenched; his organs twitched.

—-Haruki Murakami, Samsa in Love

I always think about believability in fiction. You don’t have to worry about this in non-fiction… it’s by definition true and believable, even when it is wildly unlikely. But fiction has to be believable.

One important idea is “making a deal with the reader.” This has to be done right away, preferably in the very first sentence. You have to alert the reader, make a deal with the reader, and then keep up your end of the bargain.

The best example is Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Turning into a giant cockroach in the middle of the night for no apparent reason isn’t believable, is it?

But Kafka writes his genius opening line:

When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.

You see, Kafka has made a deal with the reader. If you continue with the story, you have agreed that people can be changed into a giant cockroach (vermin) for no reason. He offers the deal, you accept it, and he keeps it.

Today, I planned on stopping for lunch, by myself. I looked forward to the quiet and the break. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to carry my Kindle or even a book. No problem, the library was right next door and, looking in at the New Fiction display, I saw a copy of Men Without Women, Stories by Haruki Murakami. Bingo.

While I ate, I looked through the table of contents for a brief selection, something I could read during the short sliver of time I was allotted. I found Samsa in Love, and was able to finish before I had to head back to work.

Samsa in Love is Metamorphosis in reverse. It starts out with Gregor Samsa waking up in his bare room, now transformed back into a human. He remembers little of being Gregor Samsa, but even less of the time he spent as a cockroach (except for a strong fear of birds). The story tells of his first few steps in becoming human again, including falling fast in love with a hunchbacked locksmith sporting an ill-fitting brassiere.

The story makes a deal, and sticks with it.

Interview with Haruki Murakami:

Is each book you write fully formed in your mind before you start to write or is it a journey for you as the writer as it is for us as readers?

I don’t have any idea at all, when I start writing, of what is to come. For instance, for The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the first thing I had was the call of the bird, because I heard a bird in my back yard (it was the first time I heard that kind of sound and I never have since then. I felt like it was predicting something. So I wanted to write about it). The next thing was cooking spaghetti – these are things that happen to me! I was cooking spaghetti, and somebody call. So I had just these two things at the start. Two years I kept on writing. It’s fun! I don’t know what’s going to happen next, every day. I get up, go to the desk, switch on the computer, etc. and say to myself: “so what’s going to happen today?” It’s fun!

—-from The Guardian

(click to enlarge)
Adam, by Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, plus admirer
Cullen Sculpture Garden
Houston, Texas

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Twelve – Town of Cats

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twelve – Town of Cats, by Haruki Murakami

Read it online here:

Town of Cats

As I go through the stories this year I notice that almost all of them are by some of my favorite writers – people that I have read before. Today is no exception – I’ve been a fan of Haruki Murakami for years. Well, I guess there’s nothing wrong with revisiting what I know is genius – and I have a few more – but I need to work harder to find some new stuff.

Murakami is known for his surreal style and very odd plots. This story is an exception – it’s a prosaic tale of a son visiting his elderly father in a care home. The surreal aspect is supplied by a story within a story – about a mysterious city occupied only by nocturnal cats.

This tale is interwoven into the story of the man and his son. Their relationship has been strained… well, forever. The son is on a quest to find a solution to the mystery of his past, what has happened to him, and where he is really from.

He finds less than he expected and more than he hoped.

Tengo folded his hands in his lap and looked straight into his father’s face. This man is no empty shell, he thought. He is a flesh-and-blood human being with a narrow, stubborn soul, surviving in fits and starts on this patch of land by the sea. He has no choice but to coexist with the vacuum that is slowly spreading inside him. Eventually, that vacuum will swallow up whatever memories are left. It is only a matter of time.

A Rose Embedded in Ice

“No mistake about it. Ice is cold; roses are red; I’m in love. And this love is about to carry me off somewhere. The current’s too overpowering; I don’t have any choice. It may very well be a special place, some place I’ve never seen before. Danger may be lurking there, something that may end up wounding me deeply, fatally. I might end up losing everything. But there’s no turning back. I can only go with the flow. Even if it means I’ll be burned up, gone forever.”
― Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

My old chainsaw quit working a year ago, so we had to go down to the hardware store and buy a new one. I was afraid they would be out of stock – a lot of people around here must be buying them right now – but they had two left. We bought the smallest, least expensive, least powerful, corded electric one. It’s only for trimming and, like now, clearing fallen limbs – not a lumberyard – plus, the smaller the saw… the safer the saw (in my opinion).

It was cold work, but quick work, to cut up the limbs of the red oak in the front yard and move them to the curb. It took a little more time to chop up the thicker pieces into chiminea sized chunks of firewood, but waste not want not.

chimmy

Actually, our old chiminea has bit the dust too, so we need to get down to Amigos Pottery and buy a new one. This is the season of renewal – new chainsaw, new chiminea to burn the old limbs while we wait for the new ones to grow back. It is a shock to see how much wood the weight of the ice tore off the tree – there are still some detached limbs suspended high up, waiting for a thaw and a good breeze to fall – but there are a lot left and the old tree keeps growing.

Short Story day 9 – A 32-Year Old Day Tripper

9. – “A 32-Year Old Day Tripper
Haruki Murakami
http://wednesdayafternoonpicnic.blogspot.com/2010/05/32-year-old-day-tripper_01.html

This is day nine of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

A very short piece – modern, non-plotted. If you want to get a feel for how important translation is, here’s an alternate translation and here’s another.

I have read quite a bit of Haruki Murakami – I think my favorite so far is his somewhat underappreciated Sputnik Sweetheart. His fiction is odd and slippery, sometimes sweet, sometimes horrific – always unpredictable.

If you are interested in his writing, don’t overlook his non-ficiton. I was impressed with Underground, a collection of interviews in the aftermath of the Aum Shinrikyo gas attack.

Today’s work by Murakami is a set of musings by a 32 year old man that has an eighteen year old semi-girlfriend (they meet one Sunday a month). Murakami began writing at age 29 – about the age of the narrator. Maybe the girl could be looked upon as representing his art – or maybe not.

His story of when he decided to write his first novel is amazing… From SPEIGELIn April 1978, I was watching a baseball game in the Jingu Stadium in Tokyo, the sun was shining, I was drinking a beer. And when Dave Hilton of the Yakult Swallows made a perfect hit, at that instant I knew I was going to write a novel. It was a warm sensation. I can still feel it in my heart. Now I am compensating for the old, open life through my new, closed life. I have never appeared on television, I have never been heard on the radio, I hardly ever give readings, I am extremely reluctant to have my photograph taken, I rarely give interviews. I’m a loner.

There is almost always a connection to music in his work – opera or western popular music. He owned a jazz club during the time he began writing. Like a lot of us (like me) he probably marks time with the music that he was listening to then – and certain songs bring back strong memories.

For example, a certain song and (especially) its video had been rattling around in my head from the 80’s. I remembered bits of it, and couldn’t shake it, but until I stumbled across the band mentioned in a Facebook group on an infamous old Dallas Nightclub (the Starck Club) I couldn’t remember what it was.

Here is the video:

Why has that stuck in my head for all these years?

Anyway… back to today’s story – I think it’s best not to try and overthink fiction like this. It’s best to let it sink in, read it a few times (on this one, read the other translations) and view it as a mood, or a crystal bit of emotion, or a wavy window into a specific time.

It’s actually the boringness of the girls that attracts them. They’re just playing a complicated game, a game they honestly enjoy. A game where they wash their faces with buckets full of the young girls’ boredom water, while they don’t let their lady friends have a single drop.
—-from “A 32-Year Old Day Tripper” by Haruki Murakami