I assume I am like many book lovers in one way. The end of the year finds me casting a wistful glance back at the many books I intended to read. Lack of time and discipline, compounded by the overwhelming distractions of daily life, and the constant need to read "forward" -- got in the way of my intentions.
Last month's publication of Transit by Rachel Cusk served as a reminder of one of my novels-never-read in 2015, Outline. Outline and Transit, both from publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux are installments in an intended trilogy by the acclaimed Cusk. The first book in the series, Outline, was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2015 by the New York Times during a year graced by the publication of so many remarkable novels.
Both Outline and Transit are highly unconventional novels. The protagonist, a writing teacher and novelist, serves as our narrator and tour guide through a series of conversations with her students, traveling companions, fellow writers and friends, hairdresser, contractor, the list goes on. A gifted listener and observer who rarely interjects commentary or questions into these conversations, she is a sounding board and mirror for her companions' stories of loss, love, self-awareness, grief and growth. Often, the stories begin innocently as -- in one example -- a breathless explanation for why a friend has arrived late to a dinner. From such innocent beginnings, the thread of each nested story unravels and the conversations serve bit by bit to reveal a larger truth in the overarching outer story of our protagonist. The stories rarely end up where you might imagine they are headed and we are afforded tiny glimpses into the life of our narrator through these largely one-sided conversations.
Rachel Cusk's writing is restrained, elegant, smart and accessible. In a time of careless and chaotic misuse of words, her writing has yielded what one reviewer termed "lethally intelligent" novels. I highly recommend purchasing both books together as you will need to pick up the second immediately after finishing the first. You will recognize the novels by their inviting dust jacket design which unifies them gracefully as a series: a simple page of lined paper lifted at the corner to expose the vivid blue of the Aegean Sea (Outline is set in Athens) and a gilded song bird in flight on the cover of Transit.
Enjoy and happy reading!
Norwegian Wood is a novel I have revisited several times. It's become a tradition to read it every year of my high school career. Each year, the book changes with me. As I gain new insights, this nostalgic story finds new meaning. Originally published in 1987, Norwegian Wood sold 3 million copies across Japan within its first year. It went on to be translated into over 40 different languages. This was the novel that transformed Murakami from a struggling artist into a major commercial success.
The story revolves around Toru, a 19 year old student, and his relationships with the people he meets in his college life. Set in 1970’s Tokyo during the education reform movement, readers share the experience with Toru and other students as they fight for their right to an education. Toru falls in love with a young woman named Naoko, whom he has known since high school. She is stuck in the past but still manages to smile. Around the same time Toru meets Midori, a woman who is the polar opposite of Naoko.
The majority of characters in Murakami’s work are college students and other people in transitional periods in their lives. Murakami is fascinated with the magic of this stage of life, and with recalling his own memories of that time. His stories are fueled by his passion for music (especially jazz). While reading Norwegian Wood, you can feel the rhythm of Murakami’s words and the melody of the story. Beautifully constructed sentences with vivid adjectives will strike your curiosity. Murakami’s ruminations on death are profound, and describe it in such a way so that it does not destroy you, but rather makes it clear. He creates a world that is so easily accessible, even to those of us who know next to nothing about Japanese culture.
Murakami’s ability to authentically capture the feeling of adolescence in this melancholy rights of passage love story has led the book to be dubbed the Japanese Catcher In the Rye. If you are new to the magical and mysterious world of Murakami, I would highly recommend starting with Norwegian Wood.
By Jen Sincero
Yes. Yes. I know. I AM a badass. Well, ok, so I am a 51-year-old suburban woman who wears cardigans, but I am convinced of my ‘bad-assery’ after reading this book. Jen Sincero, author of “You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” thoroughly convinced me of this fact after reading her book. I am more of a memoir/novel/historical fiction reader, but every once in a while, a self-help book will pique my interest. (And by the way, can we come up with a better genre name for “self- help”? Ugh, it sounds so needy and pathetic…perhaps “personal transformation” or “motivational”?...and I can assure you that I am not needy or pathetic…especially after my newfound superhero/rock star/badass status.)
This book has been on the non-fiction bestseller list for a year now. It has caught my eye over and over again while cruising around our fabulous Wellington Square Bookshop, and then I received a copy from a friend for Christmas; so I was thoroughly excited to read it.
Interestingly, Jen Sincero’s basic rules for success already exist in all of us. She outlines:
“Doubt is resistance, faith is surrender. Worry is resistance, joy is surrender. Control is resistance, allowing is surrender. Ridicule is resistance, believing is surrender. Energy needs to flow or it stagnates. Surrender puts you in the flow.” Let it in, and be your best self. Happy 2017.
Staff of Wellington Square Book Shop