What I Talk About When I Talk About Haruki Murakami

A while back, I was reading Haruki Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes, a collection of short stories. I have read a few other Murakami books (including his non-fiction Underground, about the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, which I highly recommend. I think sometimes American’s forget that terrorism exists in other countries—what? Other countries?—and this book is a testament to global violence). I would consider myself a fan of his work. But about halfway through the book, I realized something: I didn’t understand about 60% of what I was reading. And that is probably being generous.

For those of you that don’t know, Haruki Murakami is probably the best known Japanese author outside of Japan. He studied at Waseda University, and I only mention that because I made a little pilgrimage, and their literature department has its own library. A library only devoted to works of fiction to be used by writers for reference purposes. I may have peed my pants a little. Got to hand it to the Japanese, they appreciate their art. Here, have some of my pictures, because everyone loves to look at other people’s travel photos.

Anyway, Murakami has won a million awards, including the Franz Kafka Prize, which Wikipedia tells me that to win, your work has to exhibit “humanistic character and contribution to cultural, national, language and religious tolerance, its existential, timeless character, its generally human validity and its ability to hand over a testimony about our times.” Haha, no problem! I bust crap like that out every day! I’m just filled with human validity. Now, excuse me while I partake of some ugly sobbing.

Murakami’s writing is filled with all of those themes, all beautifully crafted in a gloss of post-modern melancholy that I find both appealing and so damned frustrating, because sometimes YOU JUST WANT A HAPPY ENDING! STOP WHINING YOU OVER EDUCATED, OVERSEXED PROTAGONIST! His themes include violence, loss, and the subconscious. He is ridiculously well versed in Western culture, especially music, and interweaves this knowledge without you ever thinking he’s name dropping just cause he can. He plays around with reality and fantasy in ways that will blow your mind. So basically, Haruki Murakami wins. At life. And is better than you could ever hope to be.

Going back to my original point:

I could not make sense of a lot of what was going on in The Elephant Vanishes. But I still enjoyed reading it. I enjoyed what I did understand. I enjoyed the language. I enjoyed the different world view of reading a non-Western author. Murakami is a highly celebrated author, and my permanent “what?” face while reading should have made me feel like my AP English tests should be revoked. But I ended up not caring, and just reading.

What I am trying to say is I think that we are trained from an early age that everything must have some kind of deeper meaning. And if we don’t understand that meaning, we must be uncultured idiots. Even if you didn’t go to college, this idea was hammered in by high school. I still have my 12th grade English teacher’s horrible voice screeching in my brain when I approach a difficult book: “What’s the undergirding, overarching theme?” To which now, in the safe anonymity of the internet, I can finally reply you can take your undergirding and shove it up your overarching. And I say good day, Madame. I said good day!

So we get scared to explore challenging material, because of the fear that we won’t be able to identify and analyze the one sentence that that one character said on page 360, that other people have told us is important. And it probably is. But guess what? It’s not so important to be able to comprehend every microcosm of Heart of Darkness. What is important is whatever you end up getting out of it. Whatever speaks to you personally, as well as going out and finding stuff you may never have read because you thought it would go over your head.

Basically, go read. Read all the things. Try long books and poetry. Try philosophy and science. Hell, try a Murakami. Find what meaning you can and just enjoy the thrill of reading beyond your comprehension. I am someone who believes deeply in the power of books as a medium of learning and growing. So read. And grow. And learn. And don’t ever apologize for what you chose to take away from a book.

Star Wars: A Love Letter

So. This is the first of a series that we are going to have here called Love Letters. Basically, it is our gushing in the direction of things that we love. A lot. Things that have had particular impact on our lives as nerds and in general. Not much more I can say really, just be prepared for a lot of high pitched squeeing. So without further ado:

Star Wars: A Love Letter

Everyone has some idea about Star Wars, whether they like it or not. Even if they have never seen it, the space opera has been so deeply embedded into our cultural psyche it’s impossible to escape. With the release of The Force Awakens, that presence has been stirred up again, and the Star Wars train is at full steam ahead for the foreseeable future. And I plan to ride that train all the way to a pandering blog post. Choo choo!

So Romantic!

My Star Wars story is similar to a lot of other fans’ experiences. I was introduced to the movie by my parents when I was tiny, and it’s one of the earliest movie watching memories I have (along with Beauty and the Beast…I feel like this reveals a lot about my personality). My biggest memory is being scared shitless when Luke comes home to find Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen’s burned bodies (spoiler alert?). But I also remember the sheer enjoyment of the films, as well as the camaraderie I felt with my brother while watching them. We didn’t get along too well back then, but we always seemed able to watch movies together. And Star Wars (and the beloved Ewok movie of course. Ahem.) was a common choice.

On a side note, my Dad recently told me an anecdote about my Grandmother who passed away last year. Apparently she wasn’t that impressed by the movies, but went on and on about how much she loved the opening, how the words scrolling diagonally and disappearing into the distance was the coolest thing ever. I just thought that was sweet, and somehow very her.

I was 12 when The Phantom Menace came out. I preface the next part of this story with that fact because I would like to say that as a 12 year old I might have had questionable tastes. Meaning, I liked the movie when it came out. I saw it several times in the theater, bought a lot of the merchandise, hung posters on my wall. Basically, I was the target audience for that movie. I am not (that) ashamed of liking the first prequel because I think that while there are probably plenty of 12 year olds with great taste, taste is something that can change dramatically as you grow. While The Phantom Menace holds a special place in my heart, I don’t think of it as a movie that I love, and I have the vocabulary to back up why. But we all know why the prequels are weak. Maybe a blog post for another time.

But the real reason I am not ashamed of my Phantom Menace period is because it shaped me as a fan. I began to create art seriously for the first time, from tracing magazine photoshoots featuring Queen Amidala’s fabulous wardrobe, to drawing my own Jedi characters. I began writing and reading fan fiction. While I had been dabbling in writing since about age eight, fan fiction was actually an important step in the process of my original writing. I was engaged creatively in the Star Wars universe, and I grudgingly have to thank George Lucas for that.

Another, probably more important byproduct of this mania (a mania that would re-emerge with subsequent fandoms, but maybe never to the same extent) was that I found my people. Before the movie even came out, I connected with two girls at my school who already loved Star Wars like me. And we were excited. We would talk about the details excessively. We would make up cooperative stories. We would geek out about the expanded universe and about how cool Mara Jade was, and how Luke was so whiny, and oh my gosh they actually get married? (as I have gotten older I have grown to love Luke a lot more than I used to). It was my first experience of how loving something could be so exciting, and how you could share that excitement with other people, and make real friends.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Star Wars allowed me to be the kind of girl that I think is not encouraged in mainstream society. That is, I could be a girl, but still kick ass. I could like spaceships and lightsaber fights, but still think Ewan McGregor was so dreamy. I could want Princess Leia’s hair, but still think it was so totally awesome how she took charge and just ruled everything. While Star Wars still has some representation problems (something being beautifully addressed in the Force Awakens), I think it’s a good place for girl nerds to start realizing that they can be a girl and a nerd, whatever that means for them.

I realize all of this is very idealistic and maybe ignores some of the major problems with the franchise. I plan on writing some other blog posts about that, but this was really an exercise for me to understand how fandom fits into my life, especially a fandom that has affected so many other people.

So yes. I plan on doing a couple more blog posts on Star Wars, but in the meantime, thus endeth the inaugural love letter.


The Inaugural Post (Drum roll, please)

Welcome to Cardigans & Capes! If you’re new here, don’t worry — so are we. Here are a few thoughts on why we’re here and what we’re doing:

What are we doing here?

Rachel: After looking over our ambitions for this blog, I think the real question is what aren’t we doing? This is basically going to be a place to review awesomeness, to discuss things that we think are important, to take a look at the nerdy and bookish world that we like to inhabit.

Rebecca: In a nutshell… We watch film and television, read novels and comics, and write reviews. However, this blog is a labor of love and excitement. A fangasm for our favorite authors, artists, actors, and activists. An ode, if you will, to that thrill you experience upon seeing a new volume of comics or the latest novel in a wonderful series.

Why are we doing this?

Rachel: I know for me, I have always been the most blissful when geeking out. The nerd gods chose me to be one of their disciples and I have never wanted any other kind of existence. That being said, sometimes it feels like all of that good geeky energy exists in a vacuum, and a blog seems like the best idea to get all of those brilliant (and humble!) ideas that have been percolating in our heads for so long out into the ether.

Rebecca: For me, this blog is a love letter to all of our interests (and perhaps to each other, too, as we’ve been friends for seven years at this point). There are few other areas in my life where I get to revel and celebrate in the ability to read and/or watch good literature, comics, films, television, and various other enthusiasms. Therefore, I’m here to practice unabashed enthusiasm for my interests.

What do we hope to accomplish?

Rachel: Freedom! Justice! Revolution! And lots of awesomesauce content about my favorite stuff. I want to have fun, first and foremost, but I also want to engage in a community of likeminded people, who want to talk not only about the stuff they love, but also the stuff they don’t love—and especially talking about these things in the light of social justice and intellectual freedom. I feel like nerds have a real opportunity of knowing what it feels like to be a marginalized group, but also have a lot of power in terms of moving the market (hello, Marvel movies!), and we can use that to make a real change in the content we want to see. I want to have these kinds of conversations, in addition to the OH MY GOD READ THIS BOOK IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIIIIIIIFFFFEE ones.


In no particular order of importance, I want…
  • to have fun,
  • to have a thinly veiled justification for the costs associated with my comics and nerd-related habits (i.e., if I have a blog that features reviews, I need to purchase this comic…and that one…and maybe all of them),
  • and share my enthusiasm for these pursuits.

Welcome to Cardigans & Capes!