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8/30 Day Book Meme: Overrated Books

In which I reflect upon a couple books whose fame I don’t comprehend.

Day 8: A Book That Is Most Overrated

I tend to avoid books that make bestsellers lists and/or pop up all over critics’ radars. That said, books that top national or local bestsellers aren’t necessarily bad or poor written, the popularity with the general public is simply a gauge by which I judge whether I should pick up a book. An eccentric and eclectic reading taste just doesn’t get along with popularity.

Growth of the Soil by Nobel prize winner Knut Hamsun is about man and nature, blood and soil–specifically how a man named Isak cultivates a patch of land and builds a gigantic farm that is eventually subjected to state tax and regulation. Laborious and industrious, Isak builds up his farm from scratch, with help from the later-arrived Inger, with whom he starts a family. The story is rich in obscure symbolism, but lacks dramatic force, begging for very tedious reading. The subject matter is weighty and complex (i.e. social justice), with strong undertones of political liberalism. Coverage on trial for infanticide is disturbing. The overall reading pace is slow and ponderous. While it’s book worth reading, the wisdom as proclaimed by those who sing praises that the book exudes doesn’t impress enough to register in my mind. I struggled to finish this one. I’m still underwhelmed thinking of the book now.

While Norwegian Wood lives up to its hype, the equally famed (and acclaimed) The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a puzzle. The many realities and “unrealities” that slip into the narrative demand some rumination of thoughts long after the last page is turned. The meandering novel, probably Murakami’s most ambitious to date, doesn’t seem to offer a clear-cut plot—more a labyrinth with national and historical details. The novel is a walk around the main character, Okada’s brain. The people and incidents he encounters during a disintegrating marriage provoke some dormant, undefinable anxiety that has been the run of his life. I understand it’s an exploration of the so-called “extraordinary reality”, but the strange turn of events that which invokes no significant meaning is way too off the kilter to me. After this book I have grown leery of Murakami’s works.

7 Responses

  1. Trying to convince someone of the merits of a book they didn’t like is like trying to convince someone to like ballet or to believe in God.

    I believe in God but don’t believe in trying to make you believe. (I’m not so big on ballet, in case you were curious.)

    For what it’s worth, I think Wind-Up is a wonderful book, it was Murakami’s first time getting beyond his usual whimsical tales (Norwegian Wood the notable exception – and one of my all-time favourite novels) and delving into something much deeper, exhibiting, for the first time, his ability to truly take on responsibility as an artist. In other words, this book is really saying something.

    But what is it saying? That’s the tricky part.

    What I would hate to read is that undergraduate second year essay on the merits of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. This essay exists, I’m sure. But I wouldn’t like it. And I’m not here to attempt it.

    I find Faulkner difficult. I don’t love Dickens. I I did no enjoy Infinite Jest and have yet to fall in love with the work of Zadie Smith. I know, however, that all these novelists have no small measure of merit. But just as that really nice person you work with and really do actually like but never somehow end up hanging out with outside of the office, sometimes we just don’t connect with people. Or books.

    Jon M

    • Thank you for the thoughtful comment, so full of insights. I admit the deeper I was into The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the more I was weirded out. I feel like reading Alice in Wonderland, in which she got into all kinds of adventures and bizarre episodes but without any justified cause. Murakami’s writing is fine-tuned and whimsical. Recently I went to the Picasso show at de Young Museum, courtesy of the Picasso Museum in Paris. Looking at some of Picasso’s works, whose mind-boggling and complicated form, reminds me of Murakami’s work, especially the novel in question. It’s an art form. I resonate more with his shorter works, and absolutely love After Dark. Maybe I need more time to “stare” at The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I do want to read Kafka on the Other Shore, but I am intimidated at this moment. I feel I’m not ready for go further with this author.

  2. I agree with you vehemently! I don’t much like The Wind-up Chronicle and don’t quite know what the hype is all about. It has no clear cut plot and at the end of it, one feel as if it’s a waste of time meandering through the well, Manchuria and all. It is my least favourite but don’t let that stop you from reading all his other novels. They are great.

    • Thanks for your vehement agreement. lol The lost cat, the runaway wife, the fashion consignment woman, the well, the Manchurian war and they don’t add up. Maybe they aren’t supposed to connect, just like some random islands of thoughts and extraordinary realities mixing together like lumps in a pot of porridge.

  3. […] 8: A book that is most overrated Growth of the Soil by Knut […]

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