- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

 

Happy birthday, Haruki Murakami! 71, today! Here are some quotes from the writer:

 

“All words I use to narrate my feeling of the moment fail incessantly to describe what I wish to, and then they begin to betray me.”

 

“Painful is the stress when one cannot reproduce or convey vividly to others, however hard he tries, what he’s experienced so intensely.”

 

“Mediocrity is like a spot on your shirt, it never comes off.”

 

“Narrow minds devoid of imagination. Intolerance, theories cut off from reality, empty terminology, usurped ideals, inflexible systems. Those are the things that really frighten me. What I absolutely fear and loathe.”

 

“From now on, little by little, you must prepare yourself to face death. If you devote all of your future energy to living, you will not be able to die well. You must begin to shift gears, a little at a time. Living and dying are, in a sense, of equal value.”

 

“People’s memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn’t matter as far the maintenance of life is concerned. They are all just fuel. Advertising filler in the news paper, philosophy books, dirty pictures in a magazine, a bundle of ten-thousand-yen bills; when you feed them to fire, they are just paper. […] To the fire, they are nothing but scraps of paper. It is the exact same thing. Important memories , not-so-important memories, totally useless memories: there is no distinction—they are all just fuel.”

 

“I think the first task for the aspiring novelist is to read tons of novels. Sorry to start with such a commonplace observation, but no training is more crucial. To write a novel, you must first understand at a physical level how one is put together . . . It is especially important to plow through as many novels as you can while you are still young. Everything you can get your hands on—great novels, not-so-great novels, crappy novels, it doesn’t matter (at all!) as long as you keep reading. Absorb as many stories as you physically can. Introduce yourself to lots of great writing. To lots of mediocre writing too. This is your most important task.”

 

“Ever since time began (when was that, I wonder?), it’s been moving ever forward without a moment’s rest. And one of the privileges given to those who’ve avoided dying young is the blessed right to grow old. The honour of physical decline is waiting, and you have to get used to that reality.”

 

“If your confusion leads you in the right direction, the results can be uncommonly rewarding.”

 

“You said that the mind is like the wind, but perhaps it is we who are like the wind. Knowing nothing, simply blowing through. Never aging, never dying.”

 

“Unclose your mind. You are not a prisoner. You are a bird in fight, searching the skies for dreams.”

 

“It is the inherent right of all writers to experiment with the possibilities of language in every way they can imagine—without that adventurous spirit, nothing new can ever be born.”

 

“Reflect on what you see. Remember, though, that to reflect is not to rush to determine the rights and wrongs or merits and demerits of what and whom you are observing. Try to consciously refrain from value judgments—don’t rush to conclusions. What’s important is not arriving at clear conclusions but retaining the specifics of a certain situation . . . I strive to retain as complete an image as possible of the scene I have observed, the person I have met, the experience I have undergone, regarding it as a singular ‘sample,’ a kind of test case as it were. I can go back and look at it again later, when my feelings have settled down and there is less urgency, this time inspecting it from a variety of angles. Finally, if and when it seems called for, I can draw my own conclusions.”

 

“One of my all-time favorite jazz pianists is Thelonious Monk. Once, when someone asked him how he managed to get a certain special sound out of the piano, Monk pointed to the keyboard and said: ‘It can’t be any new note. When you look at the keyboard, all the notes are there already. But if you mean a note enough, it will sound different. You got to pick the notes you really mean!’

I often recall these words when I am writing, and I think to myself, ‘It’s true. There aren’t any new words. Our job is to give new meanings and special overtones to absolutely ordinary words.’ I find the thought reassuring. It means that vast, unknown stretches still lie before us, fertile territories just waiting for us to cultivate them.”

 

“[When I write,] I get some images and I connect one piece to another. That’s the story line. Then I explain the story line to the reader. You should be very kind when you explain something. If you think, It’s okay; I know that, it’s a very arrogant thing. Easy words and good metaphors; good allegory. So that’s what I do. I explain very carefully and clearly.”

 

“Dreaming is the day job of novelists, but sharing our dreams is a still more important task for us. We cannot be novelists without this sense of sharing something.”

 

“I myself, as I’m writing, don’t know who did it. The readers and I are on the same ground. When I start to write a story, I don’t know the conclusion at all and I don’t know what’s going to happen next. If there is a murder case as the first thing, I don’t know who the killer is. I write the book because I would like to find out. If I know who the killer is, there’s no purpose to writing the story.”

 

“The most important thing is confidence. You have to believe you have the ability to tell the story, to strike the vein of water, to make the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Without that confidence, you can’t go anywhere. It’s like boxing. Once you climb into the ring, you can’t back out. You have to fight until the match is over.”

 

“Remember that scene in Steven Spielberg’s film E.T. where E.T. assembles a transmitting device from the junk he pulls out of his garage? There’s an umbrella, a floor lamp, pots and pans, a record player─it’s been a long time since I saw the movie, so I can’t recall everything, but he manages to throw all those household items together in such a way that the contraption works well enough to communicate with his home planet thousands of light years away. I got a big kick out of that scene when I saw it in a movie theater, but it strikes me now that putting together a good novel is much the same thing. The key component is not the quality of the materials─what’s needed is magic. If that magic is present, the most basic daily matters and the plainest language can be turned into a device of surprising sophistication.

First and foremost, though, is what’s packed away in your garage. Magic can’t work if your garage is empty. You’ve got to stash away a lot of junk to use if and when E.T. comes calling!”

 

“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.”

 

“If I’m asked what the next most important quality is for a novelist [after talent], that’s easy too: focus—the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that you can’t accomplish anything of value, while, if you can focus effectively, you’ll be able to compensate for an erratic talent or even a shortage of it. . . Even a novelist who has a lot of talent and a mind full of great new ideas probably can’t write a thing if, for instance, he’s suffering a lot of pain from a cavity.”

 

“Although I compose essays as well as works of fiction, unless circumstances dictate otherwise, I avoid working on anything else when I am writing a novel…Of course, there is no rule that says that the same material can’t be used in an essay and a story, but I have found that doubling up like that somehow weakens my fiction.”

 

“After focus, the next most important thing for a novelist is, hands down, endurance. If you concentrate on writing three or four hours a day and feel tired after a week of this, you’re not going to be able to write a long work. What’s needed for a writer of fiction—at least one who hopes to write a novel—is the energy to focus every day for half a year, or a year, or two years. You can compare it to breathing.”

 

“[This] is something that I always keep in mind while I am writing fiction. I have never gone so far as to write it on a piece of paper and paste it to the wall: Rather, it is carved into the wall of my mind, and it goes something like this:

‘Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.’

Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide. If there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?”

 

“I keep in mind to ‘not have the pen get too mighty’ when I write. I choose my words so the least amount of people get hurt, but that’s also hard to achieve. No matter what is written, there is a chance of someone getting hurt or offending someone. Keeping all that in mind, I try as much as I can to write something that will not hurt anyone. This is a moral every writer should follow.”

 

“I have only one reason to write novels, and that is to bring the dignity of the individual soul to the surface and shine a light upon it. The purpose of a story is to sound an alarm, to keep a light trained on The System in order to prevent it from tangling our souls in its web and demeaning them. I fully believe it is the novelist’s job to keep trying to clarify the uniqueness of each individual soul by writing stories—stories of life and death, stories of love, stories that make people cry and quake with fear and shake with laughter. This is why we go on, day after day, concocting fictions with utter seriousness.”

 

“Writers who are blessed with inborn talent can write easily, no matter what they do—or don’t do. Like water from a natural spring, the sentences just well up, and with little or no effort these writers can complete a work. Unfortunately, I don’t fall into that category. I have to pound away at a rock with a chisel and dig out a deep hole before I can locate the source of my creativity. Every time I begin a new novel, I have to dredge out another hole. But, as I’ve sustained this kind of life over many years, I’ve become quite efficient, both technically and physically, at opening those holes in the rock and locating new water veins. As soon as I notice one source drying up, I move on to another. If people who rely on a natural spring of talent suddenly find they’ve exhausted their source, they’re in trouble.

 

In other words, let’s face it: life is basically unfair. But, even in a situation that’s unfair, I think it’s possible to seek out a kind of fairness.”

 

“Once again, life had a lesson to teach me: It takes years to build up, it takes moments to destroy.”

 

“You are not lost. It’s just that your own thoughts are being kept from you, or hidden away. But the mind is strong. It survives even without thought. Even with everything taken away, it holds a seed-your self. You must believe in your powers.”

 

“Only where there is disillusionment and depression and sorrow does happiness arise; without the despair of loss, there is no hope.”

 

“Genius or fool, you don’t live in the world alone. You can hide underground or you can build a wall around yourself, but somebody’s going to come along and screw up the works.”

 

“Life doesn’t require ideals. It requires standards of action.”

 

“If you’re in pitch blackness, all you can do is sit tight until your eyes get used to the dark.”

 

“But who can say what’s best? That’s why you need to grab whatever chance you have of happiness where you find it, and not worry about other people too much. My experience tells me that we get no more than two or three such chances in a life time, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives.”

 

“If you can love someone with your whole heart, even one person, then there’s salvation in life.”.

 

“I can bear any pain as long as it has meaning.”

 

“That’s what the world is, after all: an endless battle of contrasting memories.”

 

“I’m a very ordinary human being; I just happen to like reading books.”

 

“It’s not that I don’t believe in contemporary literature, but I don’t want to waste valuable time reading any book that has not had the baptism of time. Life is too short.”

 

“It is not that the meaning cannot be explained. But there are certain meanings that are lost forever the moment they are explained in words.”

 

“I am nothing. I’m like someone who’s been thrown into the ocean at night, floating all alone. I reach out, but no one is there. I call out, but no one answers. I have no connection to anything.”

 

“You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them.”

 

“Death exists […] and we go on living and breathing it into our lungs like fine dust.”

 

“And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others. And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

 

“Where does your responsibility begin here? Wiping away the nebula from your sight, you struggle to find where you really are. You’re trying to find the direction of the flow, struggling to hold on to the axis of time. But you can’t locate the borderline separating dream and reality. Or even the boundary between what’s real and what’s possible. All you’re sure of is that you’re in a delicate position. Delicate-and dangerous. You’re pulled along, a part of it, unable to pin down the principles of prophecy, or of logic. Like when a river overflows, washing over a town, all road signs have sunk beneath the waves. And all you can see are the anonymous roofs of the sunken houses.”

 

“In everybody’s life there’s a point of no return. And in a very few cases, a point where you can’t go forward anymore. And when we reach that point, all we can do is quietly accept the fact. That’s how we survive.”

 

“Closing your eyes isn’t going to change anything. Nothing’s going to disappear just because you can’t see what’s going on. In fact, things will even be worse the next time you open your eyes. That’s the kind of world we live in. Keep your eyes wide open. Only a coward closes his eyes. Closing your eyes and plugging up your ears won’t make time stand still.”

 

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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