Tag Archives: books

“What I talk about when I talk about Running” by Haruki Murakami (2007)

I’ll be honest: Although I enjoyed this running/writing memoir by famous author Murakami, I didn’t love it.

The book is not particularly ambitious or enthusiastic or exciting or monumental. But of course most the handiwork of running itself – especially the daily training – IS neither very exciting nor enthusiasm-enducing, nor monumental; I remember quite well from my recent years as a runner. That is why the book does manage to evoke aspects of the experience of BEING A RUNNER quite well. Running is always in the background of a runner’s everyday life – when will I be able to train today? Does my knee only hurt or is it injured? Do I need to rest more? Can I reach the time I aimed at? Should I train more often? Is this shoe too cushioned? – and in this role it plays in the everyday, running IS a pretty sober, uncinematic affair.

What I talk about when I talk about running

And that’s how running comes across in the book. It deals with running as something that fits the author’s uncompetitive nature and pragmatically fulfills his need for an activity that will keep him physically fit enough to do all the writing (and living). The prose is relaxed and sober, kind of like any regular distance runner’s informal log to himself. It does come across that there are elements in running that Murakami does enjoy, but he does not appear to have too much enthusiasm for the activity itself. But maybe that’s a matter of personality / taste because I personally prefer grander, deeper kinds of joy than the sober relationship he is in with running.

The verdict

So this book is a well-done piece on a writing runner’s everyday, but I don’t find it very moving or even that insightful. Well, I am a sucker for the extraordinary, after all 🙂


Have you read the book? How did you like it?

“The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” by David Mitchell (2010)


What it is about

The story follows the struggles and fates of a few central characters on and around the Dutch East Indies Company’s trading post Dejima right off the bay of Nagasaki, starting in 1799. We chiefly follow clerk Jacob de Zoet as he navigates his way around the foreign culture, corruption, homesickness, blossoming friendships, and rivalries.

And in the midst of it all, de Zoet falls in love with Miss Aibagawa, a Japanese midwife studying with a certain Dr Marinus. We follow her as she is sent off against her will the disquieting Lord Abbot Enomoto’s Mount Shiranui Shrine which holds a dark secret, and as she forges a place for herself within her confines.

What it really is about

This book weaves together clashes both at the level of cultures, at the level of groups, at the level of individuals, and at the level of values, goals, ambitions, dreams, and personalities – and captures the never-ending task of every human being to negotiate their own way through all of these struggles.

We see clashes of belief systems, of ambition and veracity, of cultural independence and colonial connectedness, of science and belief, of systems and principles of sovereignty, of the cruelties of slavery and how frighteningly easy one goes along with what counts as normal; of dreams and realities, of one’s personal goals and one’s loyalties, one’s ideals and the dark sides everyone has, of arrogance and humility, of struggling and of acceptance and making a place for oneself.

The verdict

But Mitchell hardly ever suggests any easy answers for these clashes, and I really appreciate that. What I personally love most is the novel’s rich down-to-earth melancholia about the way one’s life turns out with time through all the forces and influences out of one’s control, including incalculable consequences of one’s own actions and inactions; and its depiction of the struggles one goes through in making the choices one has to make (or forever regret) to stay true to oneself. And, finally, the novel beautifully drives home how we can ultimately only ever ascertain and assess some of these things, and in hindsight.


A little postscript: Mitchell’s “The Bone Clocks,” (2014) set in the same universe, should if possible be read before this book as it makes sense of some of the happenings at Mount Shiranui Shrine, at least partly redeeming their otherwise uncomfortably orientalist vibes.

Dark Souls & Gormenghast (review of sorts)

It’s a sort of an end of an era for me recently since I finished the Gormenghast book trilogy and, almost in parallel, the video game Dark Souls 1.

Both works are difficult to navigate, but richly rewarding. Their worlds are uncanny and gothic, but distinct; the eerie characters and their fates as you live through them are intense – that is, if you find within yourself the patience and motivation to finish these difficult masterpieces. I did, and against all odds, I lived to tell you about it.

View from the upper part of fabled Anor Londo, the abandoned city of the gods
Dark Souls (videogame)

That’s because Dark Souls is one big incredible suffer fest journey of an action/adventure/roleplay videogame. Hated and loved universally for its incredible but somehow fair difficulty, it demands the utmost in concentration and in willingness to try, die, learn, and try again (the PC version is aptly named “Prepare to Die Edition”). It is so intense that at times, it feels like what you are doing is learning an area and its enemies’ moves by heart, and only when you have really internalised them will you succeed.

Nevertheless, this is for some reason fun; probably not least because of the genius level design and the incredible feeling of accomplishment upon finally mastering previously unthinkably difficult sections or boss fights (the other day, I actually dreamt reading an article online about the Gaping Dragon unanimously being seen as the objectively hardest boss. That was probably my brain justifying my endless fight with it).

Also, I admit I am a competitive person at times, and I don’t accept defeat. So this explains the 1 1/2 painful but intense years I spent with this game!

I absolutely love the dark atmosphere of ever-shifting mystery shrouding the world; I love the feel of the almost Gormenghast-ishly bizarre inhabitants and of your character’s own cryptic story and part to play in the world. You only ever get bits and pieces of stories to be puzzled together from seldom interactions with in-game characters, events, and item descriptions. I am a detective, I like that.

The overpriced weirdo merchant with the incredible accent; in Oolacile
The verdict

If you appreciate a challenge and are not easily frustrated (and do not have too much stress going on in your life outside the game already), you definitely need to play this classic game – or Bloodborne, which is equally difficult + rewarding, but set in a gorgeous Victorian / Lovecraftian horror setting (there’s actually a great article on the peculiar horror of Bloodborne at The Ontological Geek.)


Gormenghast (book trilogy)

Gormenghast – what an incredible place, and what a wondrous journey of a book trilogy (written 1946, 1950, and 1959).

The books are textbook examples for portraying  surreal characters. In time, the vast Gormenghast castle itself comes to feel like a character with a life entirely of its own – its personality consisting of immemorial, weird rituals meticulously observed by its inhabitants; its physical shape consisting of an unending, untraceable net of tracts, buildings, corridors, and rooms, one more ancient than the next; all of it labyrinthine and most of it long forgotten.

The plot of the first two books follows the madness, ambitions, hopes, and dreams of several inhabitants:

The old depressed Lord Sepulchrave, 76th Earl of Groan, whose only escape from the demands of his office is his library. His son, the 77th Earl Titus Groan who is born into Gormenghast and but an infant for the entire length of the first book, and whose yearning for freedom from the life written for him is a major driver for changes; along with the ambition of Steerpike, the kitchen boy of unknown origin;  Sepulchrave’s loyal servant Mr Flay whose coming is ever accompanied by the persistent cracking of his joints and who takes marvellous pride in his profession; his nemesis, the horroresque cook Swelter; the hopelessly romantic, touchingly impulsive, artistic melancholy sister of Titus, Lady Fuchsia Groan, whose intense childhood and youth we follow; the uncannily mad but eerily ambitious twin sisters of Sepulchrave, Cora and Clarice; the inquisitive Dr. Alfred Prunesquallor and his annoying, vain sister Irma who is in dire need of love; the ever-fussy Nannie Slag; Sourdust, the ancient master of ritual, and his son Barquentine, the school professor Bellgrove, the Bright Carvers, The Thing, Kedra

Fuchsia Groan, as seen by Mervyn Peake himself

The first two books follow the castle inhabitants over several years through many events and developments: the library is burned, central characters die, others fall in love, and out of love; the castle is flooded, some characters manipulate others, some follow their hopes, others kill, yet others find a new life; some meet tragic ends; and Gormenghast castle is always in the background… many things happen, but the book takes its sweet time for them. I think comparisons with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings are not entirely misplaced.

(For me, the third book in the trilogy felt rather odd and off. We leave Gormenghast behind and enter a world that is even stranger and more unpredictable. Maybe that is an accurate depiction of what it feels like to have grown up within the castle and then leave it. Also, the additional layer of Mervyn Peake’s alleged dwindling mental faculties during its writing makes the oddness of the book all the more eerie.)

The verdict

I loved these first two books for their very own distinctive feel – not always smooth or easy to read, but richly rewarding, and always one-of-a-kind. You do need a lot of patience and time to let the picture these books paint develop, and flow, though. Suffice it to say that Mervyn Peake’s trilogy is a grand piece of olde English literature (and that I have probably learnt more new English words from it than during the whole previous year, although I would hazard a guess that Peake’s favourite word might just be “undulating”).

The Nothing // The Neverending Story

>> “The Nothing is spreading,” groaned the first. “It’s growing and growing, there’s more of it every day, if it’s possible to speak of more nothing. All the others fled from Howling Forest in time, but we didn’t want to leave our home. The Nothing caught us in our sleep and this is what it did to us.”

“Is it very painful?” Atreyu asked.

“No,” said the second bark troll, the one with the hole in his chest. “You don’t feel a thing. There’s just something missing. And once it gets hold of you, something more is missing every day. Soon there won’t be anything left of us.” <<

– Michael Ende: The Neverending Story (1979)

____

Let us not let it happen in the real world.

“If you have never spent whole afternoons with burning ears and rumpled hair, forgetting the world around you over a book, forgetting cold and hunger–

If you have never read secretly under the bedclothes with a flashlight, because your father or mother or some other well-meaning person has switched off the lamp on the plausible ground that it was time to sleep because you had to get up so early–

If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whose company life seems empty and meaningless–

If such things have not been part of your own experience, you probably won’t understand what Bastian did next.”

– Michael Ende: The Neverending Story (1979)

A secret life, part II

Inger and Kjartan and me were sitting on a little hill and drinking some beer. We, like, know who every one of us is, but we cannot know if we know each other for sure, said Inger. I didn’t know what I should answer to that, I think it’s uncomfortable when people say such things and I wish they wouldn’t. Kjartan suddenly remembered something he should have done that he had forgotten, it was important, he had to go. I remained sitting alone with Inger, in fear and silence. The sun hung low, it only just hid behind a cloud, but you could well see that it was there. That is what is so fascinating, said Inger.

From: “Du kan ikke svikte din beste venn og bli god til å synge samtidig” by Kim Hiorthøy. Translated by me.

A secret life, part I

Minutes, maybe hours
of your own existence
that you have forgotten
but that I remember.
You live a secret life
in someone else’s memories.

by Tor Ulven. In: Etterlatte dikt (1996)
Translated by me

___

[The Norwegian Original:]

Minutter, kanskje timer
av din egen eksistens
som du har glemt
men som jeg
husker. Du lever
et hemmelig liv
i en annens minne

– Concerning the translation:

I am not entirely ultimately satisfied with it.

For one, I was unsure whether I should take “live” or “are living” – on the one hand, there simply is no “are living” in Norwegian (afaik, my main Scandinavian language is Swedish) so the original could have meant either. On the other hand, it does sound like a very current “du lever”, on the other other hand, it’s more of a general, always “du lever”, so “live” might be a better translation. I went with it.

Also, the layout – I haven’t seen the original in printed form, only on the internet. So I don’t know for sure if the unusual breaks in the lines are intended; and if they are, then I’d rather turn around the English translation a bit too to fit it. It does give the whole poem a different feeling.

The word “minne” – memory – is singular in Norwegian. Yet I thought the image that “memories” creates rather than “memory” fits the feeling here better. I see a lot of glass-painted images floating around that show short instances of one’s life, like words one has written somewhere, something one has said in a conversation, the way one unconsciously looked while daydreaming.

Whenever I translate something I hope to do it justice. Any opinions / suggestions for this one?

“Humans are complex, she said.”

You are so pretty, I said. But that’s not that what is important, she said. No, of course not, I said. I don’t think you’re so pretty, but I like you very much as a person, she said. That’s nice of you to say, that, I said. Arne is pretty, she said. Do you remember him? He is really unbelievably handsome. He is one of the prettiest men I know of, she said. Yes, I said. He is quite pretty, that’s true that. Humans are complex, she said. They have different features.

From: “Du kan ikke svikte din beste venn og bli god til å synge samtidig” by Kim Hiorthøy. Translated by me.

“Disappointments, defeats. They never end.”

So when I visited some internet friends in Oslo, Norway in February this year, H. gave me this little book. It’s called “Du kan ikke svikte din beste venn og bli god til ĂĄ synge samtidig” (“You can’t fail your best friend and become good at singing at the same time”) by Norwegian author Kim Hiorthøy. It is full of precious little stories, weird moments, pretty sentences, and a few minimalistic, sober drawings by the author. If you like the style and know any Norwegian at all you should definitely consider buying it.

___

Late one afternoon, as I was sitting and letting my thoughts drift, the doorbell rang. I opened and there stood Henriette, she was naked and looked as though she had run. Hi, I said. Hi, she said. Can I come in? Sure that, I said, do you want some coffee? I’d rather kiss you all over your entire body, she said. That’s fine with me, that, I said. After all, we could drink coffee later. But afterwards, I naturally discovered that I didn’t have any coffee. That had been something I had just proposed in the heat of the moment, you could perhaps say, without being aware of the consequences. Disappointments, defeats. They never end.

From: “Du kan ikke svikte din beste venn og bli god til ĂĄ synge samtidig” by Kim Hiorthøy. Translated by me.