With still two months left in 2019, I nonetheless think it is safe to say I have
read mainly two authors this year, the contemporary Japanese Haruki Murakami,
and Budd Schulberg, an American Jew who passed away in 2009.
I learnt about Murakami first through running and over time posts on WXC and
came to like his fictional characters and admire the person in real life. Some
critics thought his novels lack content, a lot of pages about nothing exciting.
To some extent, that was true. A typical Murakami character, e.g., a student,
artist, teacher or engineer, led an otherwise un-eventful existence. But
it also felt a more realistic painting of pretty much everybody's life these days.
They shared one trait, however, that they "do not envy anybody," for no reason,
and were able to handle the blandness remarkably well. Deep insights could be
uncovered under the humdrum, however, once one paid attention. I told my
friend L the sheep's pecking-order story from "A Wild Sheep Chase" and we
had a good laugh.
I went through most of his novels, translated into English, at a rate of 100 pages
a day on average. Two non-fictions, "身為職業小說家," a series of
auto-biographical essays translated into Chinese, and "What I talk about when I
talk about running" gave details of this author's routines and thoughts, things
one can immitate, e.g., running six miles every day, if tempted.
Two novels from Schulberg were recommended by Ryan Holiday. With this author,
excitments were packed in pithy Saxon English and sometimes Yiddish lingos
and I had to slow down quite a bit. I loved every book so far including both novels
and the short story collection "Some Faces in the Crowd." "The Harder They Fall"
acquainted me with boxing and the boxing business and I enjoyed twice "What
Makes Sammy Run," which portrayed an American heel in the movie industry, and
labeled a coffee cup with the quote "Going through life with a conscience is like
driving with the brakes on." The typical Schulberg hero narrated and described
with accuracy and humor but yielded the main stage to the other colorful characters.
Reading Schulberg was educational, inspiring, entertaining, and in the end felt
intimidating for me. It would require great imagination to make analogies like
he did and it must be a lot of work to command his kind of vocabulary.
Both authors appeal to me because they write about common people. One can
argue about what "common" really means but to give an example, I could not
enjoy, not yet at least, "The Great Gatsby" for the simple reason that it describes
lives alien to me, although it does a wonderul expose of the rich and corrupt.
Schulberg's life covered an exciting era and he had a lot to draw from,
including his elite upbringing and Hollywood background, and did a great job
relaying his observations to me. In contrast, a student and bar-owner to boot,
young Murakami had no luxury, had one wife and no children, (the other had
multiples of both), and yet could go on and on about nothing without losing
readers for decades. Amazing guys.