Monthly Archives

October 2015

The Sunday Letter

Sunday Sundries | Vol. 18

This week is packed with some good shit. And a giveaway. Can’t beat that.

My quick life update: All my projects are due in the next two weeks. Gotta go do an interview now and write an essay. No time to talk. Must be either sleeping or working! All in all, I think things are going pretty well. We’ll see.

Read This Stuff:

GIVEAWAY!

[white_box]When I subscribed to the Times Insider I received two complimentary subscriptions. I guess this is a promotional thing they’re doing.  If you’d like one, just comment below! I’ll send links to the first two.[/white_box]

Lifestyle

Wind/Pinball by Haruki Murakami

It might seem funny that an author with such a well-known name as Haruki Murakami had two first books that were never widely published in English until this year, but there you have it. The world is a strange place.

“Hear the Wing Sing” and “Pinball: 1973” were Murakami’s first novels. Written at his kitchen table after he finished working, around 3am in the morning.

As he describes in the prelude to the book, he was watching a Yakult Swallows Baseball game in April 1978, when it all of a sudden occurred to him, “I think I can write a novel”. He was 29.

He wrote for an hour every night after finishing work for four months to produce, “Hear the Wind Sing,” his first novel. Murakami got a call from Gunzo shortly after saying his novel had been nominated for their newcomers’ literature prize. Murakami had just turned 30, and as he describes it:

“That’s when it hit me.  I was going to win the prize. And I was going to go on to become a novelist who would enjoy some degree of success.  It was an audacious presumption, but I was sure at that moment that it would happen.  Completely sure.  Not in a theoretical way, but directly and intuitively.” (The Birth of my Kitchen-Table Fiction, p.xvi)

 

Lesson learned: if Haruki Murakami offers to buy you a lottery ticket, say yes.

Pinball is a sequel to Wind, written a year later. A Wild Sheep Chase was his next novel.  It is the sequel to Pinball and what Murakami calls, “the true beginning of my career as a novelist”. The three books form the trilogy of the Rat (so-called for one of the main characters, a young man called the Rat).

I’m a Murakami fan, so I was curious to see what his first two novels were like: Would they be heart breakingly bad? Would they be obviously genius? Would there be wells/cats/spaghetti/weird sex dreams/the usual Murakami signposts?

Here is my impression:

If an unfamiliar reader had to guess: “Which came first? Wind or Pinball?” It would be easy to pick Pinball as the more mature novel.

It’s amazing to actually see the difference in narrative between the two. Wind is well-written prose, but can be very disjointed at times. Some of the chapters could be shuffled around without the reader noticing. Chronological structure is only minorly important to the book, the chapters are more a series of episodic vignettes that take place over the course of 18 days in the summer of 1970.

Pinball’s narrative structure, humour and story arc is much better. It’s less superficial: Wind is all about the narrator and his co-star/good friend, the Rat. They’re surrounded by other character but those characters serve more as cardboard background for the narrator and Rat to act on.

In Pinball, we get more depth from both characters, albeit both have seemed to have lost their zest and are more melancholy. It’s set five years after Wind and they’re in their mid-twenties.

In Wind both characters are more fired up about their alienation from society. In Pinball they’ve sunk deeper into a general melancholy ennui with life. On the bright side, this makes them less self-centered and more able to reflect on their relationships.

For example, in Pinball the Rat has a realization that he actually knows nothing about Chinese immigrant bar owner, Jay, whose bar he’s been patronizing for the last seven years, whom he talks to almost every day.

During Wind, sometimes the philosophical tangents are too obvious. Kant is toted by the narrator in both novels. In Pinball, Murakami gets better at working philosophy into the framework of the story.

Would I recommend them?

Yes. Wind does stand on its own, but shines more as a backgrounder for Pinball, which is a much better read.

Pinball also starts to hint at that magic surrealism that Murakami would later get so damn good at. There’s one scene between a Pinball machine and the narrator in a domestic yet obscene setting (no spoilers) near the end that I’m a big fan of.

Although Wind is harder to read than Pinball, you can see some of Murakami’s themes pop up in their infancy: the influence of western culture, the love and loss cycle of relationships, wells, cultural loss, Japanese and America politics, cooking, alienation, ’60s culture, society in general.

I was interested in the way the Japanese student protests casually snuck in. Murakami mentions it in a roundabout way, and never really goes into the details, but if you read up on the Japanese student movement from the ’60s, those passages become a lot more interesting.

Neither book is very long. The Wind/Pinball edition with preface I read here is less than 250 pages. If you’re fast, you can probably read through the whole thing in a few hours.

Lifestyle

The First Draft of Anything is Shit

There’s no pressure to produce gold on the first try. A relief for any writer.

This quote comes from a book by Arnold Samuelson. He was a fan of Hemingway, and would correspond with him regularly. Legend goes that Hemingway wanted someone to talk to so he hired him on as a cabin boy and sailed him around Key West and Cuba.

Samuelson was an aspiring writer and wrote this down, alleging Hemingway said to him:

“Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.”

 

Samuelson never did much with his writing career, according to this article in the Bismarck Tribune, and the 1984 book, “With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba” was put together by his daughter, Dian Darby.

So there are some fun facts for you, but despite the vague past of this quote the crux is this:

If you think it needs to be print-worthy on the first draft, you’ll never get anything done, and you’ll lose your flow.

Do the work now; refine it later.

I took this photo at sunset in the summer, on the Coquihalla Highway in British Columbia.

Download the wallpaper.

Lifestyle

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

This was a slow-burning book I started in August in North Dakota and finished last week back home in Nova Scotia.

It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014, and was Tartt’s first new book in 11 years.

I love the characters in this book. I think that’s one of the reason I took so long to read it. Opening the book was like having a friend to go back to. I used to do the same thing with Harry Potter books. A lot of the characters feel like imaginary friends.

The book covers the adolescence and early adulthood of protagonist, Theo, after his mother is killed in a terrorist bombing attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. A shellshocked Theo leaves the museum carrying the namesake goldfinch painting by Carel Fabritius, and the rest of the book (and Theo’s life) deals with the fallout from that event.

The book moves with Theo from New York, to the desert of Las Vegas, to Europe, and more. It navigates the life of an abandoned boy who is adopted by the world of art and has to navigate life as an orphan and also a boy in love with the mysterious redheaded girl he falls in love with minutes before the terrorist attack.

And don’t forget, he’s also stolen a priceless painting.

The relationships in this book are written beautiful. I don’t want to spoil too much, because this is a really special book and I think you should read it for yourself.

The Sunday Letter

Sunday Sundries | Vol. 17

I matriculated this week.

Matriculation is the official process of admission into a school. It might seem funny seeing as I’ve already been studying there for over a month.

The procedure is this: we don academic robes, engage in a little ceremony in the chapel, and the climax of all this excitement is when we sign the matricula (latin for ‘register’), a huge old book that looks like it contains magic spells.

My suspicion as to why the ceremony takes place so late in the year is the university waits until after the date where students can drop out with a tuition refund to make sure no one who’s leaving the school gets to sign the old book.

We borrow our academic robes from the school. We leave our student IDs as collateral for the loaned robes. I forgot my ID in the basement of the building and offered to leave my engagement ring with the register as collateral instead, then I thought better and ran back downstairs to fetch my ID.

We march outside in our gowns and head over to the church where the chaplin greets us outside. He’s an older gentleman with a white beard down to the middle of his chest.

He quirks an eyebrow, “I presume you’ve been told you’ll need to recite some latin?”

No. No one said anything about latin.

“If you get it right,” he says, “The wooden eagle statue at the front of the church will take off and soar around the ceiling three times… I’ll let you know right before we begin the blood sacrifice so that you can close you’re eyes if you’re squeamish.”

We head into the chapel and say our latin:

Ego in Universitate Collegii Regalis discipulus sancte polliceor me legibus pariturum, traditionesque meliores eius culturum, ita ut praeceptis eius convivendi edutitionisque oboediam, necnon ipsius academiae dignitatem atque saluten quantum in me fuerit per reliquam vitam procuraturum.

Then we see the translation below:

*I, a student of the University of King’s College, do solemnly promise that I will obey her regulations and best traditions in order to serve the precepts of communal life and of learning, and that of the rest of my life, so far as in me lies, I will care for the honour and welfare of this College.*

Turns out I’ve sworn a lifetime oath. Sure thing King’s, you got me.

After the ceremony, we retired into the adjoined president’s lodge for some sparkling water and chocolate wafers.

We pretend the wafer sticks are wands and we’re in Harry Potter. That’s why everyone comes to King’s in the first place, right?

Kings_University_Halifax_Harry_Potter_Dining_Hall

Following the signing of the matricula, there’s a formal meal in the dining hall.  It’s pretty Harry Potter in here too.

There are large glass windows and the high ceilings are vaulted. If some industrious arts student used some projection mapping on the ceiling with a starry overlay, it would look pretty bang-on to Hogwarts.

This Week’s Reading:

 

 

Lifestyle

Just Start.

Just_Start_Wallpaper

How many times have we put off doing something because we’re afraid?

We might be afraid it won’t come out as good as we imagine it. We’re afraid people will laugh at it. We’re afraid we’re not as good as we want to be.

What happens if I suck?

I’m all too familiar with what it’s like to procrastinate on an assignment while waiting for divine inspiration/intervention.

Don’t be so precious with your work. Treat it like a job.

When was the last time you spent 20 minutes in front of the photocopier at work because you wanted to make sure you did the best darn photocopy job ever?

Never?

Good!

From my own anecdotal evidence, I’ve seen things usually turn out better for me when I just start doing it.

This means no thinking, no squirming around, just deciding to get it over with and enduring the (perhaps) unpleasant but unavoidable situation (such as homework assignments).

Even knowing this, I still find it hard to drag my fingers across the keyboard sometimes.

Having a hard reminder staring me in the face seems to help.

So, this wallpaper is for you! Fellow procrastinator.

Download the wallpaper.

Remember this: if you’re truly lazy you will work hard to become genius, so that the difficult things will come easier to you. It’s all about the long game.

Ps. I took this photo at Lake Louise in Alberta, on the trail that runs between the Lake Agnes Tea House and the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. That’ll be coming up on Day 16 of our cross-country road trip.