Tuesday, October 31, 2006

My Favorite Living Japanese Writer's Honored

Haruki Murakami receives Franz Kafka literary prize
PRAGUE (AP) Author Haruki Murakami was in Prague on Monday to receive a prestigious Czech literary prize.

Murakami was chosen in March by an international jury that includes prominent German literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki and British publisher John Calder to win the annual Franz Kafka Prize, the Franz Kafka Society said.

The award, a small statue of Kafka by Czech artist Jaroslav Rona and a cash prize of $ 10,000, was established by the society in 2001. Murakami was to receive it at a ceremony at City Hall.

It is awarded to "authors whose works of exceptional artistic qualities are found to appeal to readers regardless of their origin, nationality and culture, just as the works of Franz Kafka," the society said.

A former jazz bar manager, Murakami burst onto Japan's literary scene in 1987 with a hugely popular experiment with realism, "Norwegian Wood."

Since then, the writer has won acclaim as well as a huge following both in Japan and abroad. His works have been translated into some 35 languages, including Czech.

His "Kafka on the Shore," a fable of magical realism about a 15-year-old runaway, was selected as one of the 10 best books of 2005 by The New York Times.

Murakami has also penned works of nonfiction, including a book based on interviews with victims of the 1995 deadly nerve gas attack in Tokyo, and has translated works by Raymond Carver, Truman Capote, John Irving and J.D. Salinger.

Murakami is the sixth recipient of the award. Past winners include Philip Roth of the U.S., Ivan Klima of the Czech Republic and Peter Nadas of Hungary. In the last two years, Austrian novelist, playwright and poet Elfriede Jelinek and British playwright Harold Pinter were chosen for the prize shortly before they won the Nobel Prize for literature.

-- from The Japan Times.

Now I urge you to read his books. They're jazzy, funny and modern. Start with his short stories in Elephant Vanishes and from there if you like him, try Norwegian Wood or Wild Sheep Chase.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Your Two Cents

If you were selecting books for a book club, what what would you choose for the next 8-10 months?

Comment please.

Soul Mountain

The Nobel Committee knew what it was doing
Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian

This is a marvelous book. The writing mixes folklore with existentialism. I can't recommend it highly enough. I've been reading books on China like Wild Geese, which has a compelling story but the style was mediocre. Here we get literature and a glimpse into life in China. I wish he wrote more novels.

Gao (in North East Asia family names come first) has written many plays and lives in Paris. More of his work has been translated into French than into English.

Soul Mountain focuses on the narrator who learns that he doesn't have lung cancer after all. He then abandon's his life as a cog in a propaganda department to wander through rural China.

Women of the Silk

My friend Kimberley was wondering what book I'd recommend for her book club. They don't want anything too dense or literary and please nothing with a lot of incest, drug use or slices of the bleak side of life. Hmmmm.

They do like historical fiction. The Girl with the Pearl Earring was a winner. With all this in mind I came up with the suggestion of
Women of the Silk, which takes readers to China before the revolution and into the world of the girls whose families sold them off to silk factories. The life parallels Northeastern mill girls. The details were fascinating and I felt I understood this era and social strata better. It's not sentimental like Memoirs of a Geisha is in spots. It's actually the first in a trilogy so you may follow Pei's life for decades more if you like.

Giving credit where credit's due my friend Kasia told me about this book and lent me book 2 which I finished and will return - soon.

At a Crossroads or Just Curious?

The non-fiction book I'm reading right now is What Should I do with My Life? and it's engrossing. The author was at a crossroads in life (which I can relate to and decided to see how people dealt with this question. He interviewed dozens of people from all sorts of backgrounds: dot.com-ers, gurus, college career counselors, investment bankers, ex-investment bankers, White House policy makers, and on and on.

He gets them to probe how they've dealt with this question and not in a superficial way that'll produce a recipe for shallow contentment or big bucks. He really seems to listen and ask tough questions, while carefully challenging and encouraging them to eliminate the b.s. and really look at their lives.

Last night I read about three women who'd all changed careers frequently. One was a "Boom Wrangler," who'd gone from one fast-paced trend-setting enterprise to another, the other worried that she was a "Change Junkie," whose early life of constant moving and a rotation of fathers doomed her to impermanence and a "Phi Beta Slacker," whose ability and expectations for achievement and success led her from one great opportunity to the next (great schools, cool, high-level jobs) but never touched her core.

As someone who's changed a lot more than I ever expected, who's constantly searching for my niche the question fascinates me. We must look at this carefully and honesty and Po Bronson, the author is so good at helping people do that.

He finds others who grapple with the "Where Should I do What I Should Do?" question as well. He tries to get a handle on the need for passion and discovers that lots of people who are passionate about their work have plenty of boring days and dissatisfaction with parts of their job, but the meaning or mission resonates and so they stay.

He sees the conventional success narrative with each "next step" offering more money, more success, while he offers an alternative narrative where each "'next' brings one closer to finding the spot where one's not held back by [lack of] heart, one explodes with talent, where character blossoms, and gifts become apparent."

Is there an HR address for that?

Reading Proust

Finally, I dove into Proust's In Search of Lost Time. Last year I read Alain de Botton's accessible, witty How Proust can Change your Life and rolled my eyes whenever Rory Gilmore'd mention Proust and her mother would get the reference completely. Time to read this myself.

In March and April this year my online book club tackled Swann's Way. I ordered all three volumes and though I was the only person aside from Jack, the club's moderator, to read the book (which actually gave me an extra boost of pride and accomplishment) I've continued and felt well rewarded. I read about 10 pages every other day and am 70% done with Volume 1. I do love the detail and the word choice. It helps to have a good dictionary on hand (I need something better than the paperback Webster I've got).

I just brought the first 1000 page volume to Seoul due to weight constraints on luggage. I'm slowly going through it so I can return in December with it finished and begin Volume 2 in January. I could read the whole thing in a year, but that would mean reading little else. Impossible. Or just not what I want to do.

I'm intrigued that Little Miss Sunshine has a character who's the #1 Proust scholar in the world and he's played by Steven Carrell, whose performance in The Office is brilliant. The movie's website led me to a Proust blog, and that lead me to Proust yahoo! groups and a very cool blogsite on books called Metaxucafe. I love how the internet connects one to a series of cool things and people.

Click here for: One good Proust blog

For My Online Book Club: Oct & Nov.

I love the simplicity of language and the simple, graceful plot. Everything's cut to the bone.

In school I got the idea that I didn't like Steinbeck, but I'm already planning on more.

My only complaint is that Cathy is so evil that she doesn't seem as real. Yes, I think some people are evil. I doubt they're actually born that way, but perhaps they are. I haven't decided for once and for all. Yet I've never run across anyone as bad as Cathy, though I have met calculating opportunists who seek every advantage.