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Davis, California

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Variations on a theme

Besides pretending to be left-handed or drafting new versions of my signature, I’ve spent many boring lectures compiling a mental list of famous people that I’d like to meet. High on this list includes fascinating characters such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jenny Lewis, Slug from Atmosphere and Ann Curry from “The Today Show.

Of course, I’ve always accepted the fact thatmeetwould probably meanbe in the same vicinity,at best. And even if it turned out to be more than simply being in the same city, how was I supposed to react to seeing someone on my list? Ask for a picture and their autograph? Gush over their fame, good looks and success, or play it cool?

On Oct. 11, I was able to cross off one important person from my list: author Haruki Murakami. Thanks to my sister, I saw Murakami give a lecture and reading at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley.

I was surprised at the full crowd the event brought in, but I should have expected it: Murakami is the best-selling non-English speaking author in the world, and his works have been translated in over 35 languages.

Even from my seat in what could be deemed the nosebleed section (row Xmy sympathies go out to the suckers stuck in the two rows behind me), I felt a sense of familiarity when Murakami walked on stage, despite the fact that I’ve only seen his pictures in book sleeves by the author’s biography.

For such an internationally renowned writer, he looked slightly out of place as he took his place behind the podium. He tried to assure audiences that he was unexciting and mundanea difficult persona to accept when you think of the characteristically complex elements and surreal, disjointed storylines present in books like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore.

After a brief introduction, he gave a reading in Japanese of his short storyThe Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes,a dark parable that touched on how his works have been received in his homeland. Though some have hailed him as thenew voice of Japan,critics in Japan have deemed him apunkand aswindlerbecause of his individualistic, decidedly Western tendencies.

However, Murakami made his goal clear. During the discussion, he said that he doesn’t write for his country, he writes for his people. As the audience made evident, his people is a diverse group: Japanese, non-Japanese, old, young, men, women, blondes, brunettes, redheads, you name it.

Murakami also provided the audience with an abstract look into his writing process, calling his books as a product of observation as opposed to creation. Over the years, he has gained a cult following. His balance of mundane details and fantastical, dream-like sequences has struck a chord with readers from around the world. Murakami loyalists have learned to expect and embrace his idiosyncrasies, such as his love for cats, ears and runningstrange inspirations that have found their ways into his books.

The discussion was followed by a Q&A session. Hoping to get some sort of shout out from the man himself, I had eagerly filled out a question card with my name on the back before I took my seat. Sadly, my question (“Are you afraid of things in your books being lost in translation from Japanese to other languages?”) wasn’t selected, and I was crushed when a similar (albeit slightly better worded) question was.

The day after his appearance in Berkeley, Murakami appeared for a book signing at Books Inc. in San Francisco. I wasn’t able to attend, but I can imagine that the encounter would have played out something like this:Hello, Mr. Murakami. How are you? I’m a big fan, let’s be friends.


If you also spend time creating pointless mental lists in class or would like to make a book recommendation of your own, send them to RACHEL FILIPINAS at rmfilipinas@ucdavis.edu. 


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