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Editor’s Note: How Reading Murakami Can Make Us Better Humans

I have a lifelong habit of reading before I turn out the light at night. Whether I read for 10 minutes or an hour, it must happen. In this way, I go through a surprising number of books. 

Often I read nonfiction, but at times, I’ll read a handful of novels in a row. I appear to be on one of those novel-reading jags, perhaps because it’s beach-reading season – shorthand for something light that doesn’t compete for brain space while we’re relaxing. 

That’s not, however, where my brain seems to want to go this season. I finished Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled this week and immediately started Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

This means I’m ending my days with unreliable narrators who negotiate dreamworlds that have solid walls and completely familiar settings, but no boundaries.

The characters aren’t real, of course, and that’s the most amazing part and why I’m so drawn to these authors. How do they think like this? Their nonlinear, unreliable way of living is how my dreams go, but my real life? No way.

At least I like to think so. And that, I’m reminded, is what it’s all about: Our perception of the world, how we frame it, is our personal construct. How I see things is not how you do. I may consider my behavior rational, my ways of thinking logical, the things I value and protect both reasonable and important. You may not agree, not with any of it, nor I with you.

If we interacted as if one of us were a character in a novel, we may not agree, but we’d certainly give it a go. We’d follow along because we’re not real (and actually, how can any of us be “real” to each other anyway, given our unplumbable depths). We wouldn’t judge, we’d relinquish control, there would be no stakes. In that way, we’d be opened to endless possibilities, other ways of being, alternate states of mind, greater possibilities for the world and the interactions of people within it.

This can’t be a bad thing.