Last night I went to The Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green to celebrate the publication of Haruki Murakami’s latest novel “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Year of Pilgrimage.” The night had the feeling of a pub lock-in with bookish folk all gathered together to bond over a shared appreciation of Murakami’s genius. The book couldn’t officially be released until midnight so the shop created a series of events centred on the author to last us until after the clock struck twelve when the book was given out. The shop was colourfully decked out with a fine spread of sushi and wine on offer. I frequently enjoy going to book events at the South Bank, but no one other than independent book shops can better convey such a warm passionate engagement with a new book’s release. This is an environment that can bring readers together and make them feel like family.
The Friday Project publisher and blogger (I love his blog Me And My Big Mouth), Scott Pack came on first to read the opening of the novel. Immediately we meet the central character who is a characteristically quirky Murakami outsider whose awkward standing in life is delineated by the author with savage grace. Pack went on to describe his relationship with Murakami, first as a passionate reader and leading on to the personal/professional relationship he’s had with the author after having interviewed him. His overriding pleasure in Murakami’s writing and respect for the man himself was palpable and set the tone beautifully for all the readers in the room who equally admire this writer. Pack also gave interesting background information about Murakami’s life and the reason why English translations appear so long after the original Japanese publication.
Next, the writer Stuart Evers gave a “light hearted homage to the great man” in the form of a lecture about themes in his work. He gave a really insightful critique on Murakami’s style of writing and his theories as to why he constructs his stories in the manner he does. He pointed out how in English fiction there is often an extraordinary protagonist in an ordinary situation - whereas other world literature often portrays an ordinary protagonist in an extraordinary situation. Then he insightfully described how in many of Murkami’s books the protagonist makes himself out to be ordinary, but through his/her actions and thoughts emerges as someone quite extraordinary. I really appreciated how Evers challenged us to think more dynamically about how intelligently Murakami writes and why we respond to his writing in the way we do. Evers read Murakami’s near-perfect short story ‘On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April morning.’ He also planted a series of envelops in the audience which he had people open at random – each containing a major theme found in Murakami’s work including “animals”, “brands”, “non-fiction” and “ears” which he then expounded upon. Evers also wasn’t shy on being critical about certain Murkami publications which he doesn’t find as successful. This had a nice sobering effect – before everyone started to gush too much.
The evening ended with a screening of the film ‘I Hired a Contract Killer’ by one of Murakami’s favourite directors. However, I ducked out before it started. I had flown back in from a trip to Spain the night before which didn’t get in till 1AM and I was up in the morning to open my office early so it had been a long day for me and I was fading. But it was a really special bookshop event and I was glad to have made it there. This is the kind of event that reminds you reading can be a communal activity – not just the solitary experience we often feel it to be.
I had quite an active holiday in Spain taking a kind of road trip across the north of it enjoying sophisticated Bilbao, fun-loving San Sebastian and seedy Sitges, but I got some good reading time in. Now I feel a little out of touch so I’m catching up on what people have been up to and what’s been happening here in London.
What have you been reading?
Have you ever been to a book event that has stood out as really special to you?