I turn to him and warmly applaud him

“It’s the first thing I always say at our new employee training seminars. I gaze around the room, pick one person, and have him stand up. And this is what I say: I have some good news for you, and some bad news. The bad news first. We’re going to have to rip off either your fingernails or your toenails with pliers. I’m sorry, but it’s already decided. It can’t be changed. I pull out a huge, scary pair of pliers from my briefcase and show them to everybody. Slowly, making sure everybody gets a good look. And then I say: Here’s the good news. You have the freedom to choose which it’s going to be—your fingernails, or your toenails. So, which will it be? You have ten seconds to make up your mind. If you’re unable to decide, we’ll rip off both your fingernails and your toenails. I start the count. At about eight seconds most people say, ‘The toes.’ Okay, I say, toenails it is. I’ll use these pliers to rip them off. But before I do, I’d like you to tell me something. Why did you choose your toes and not your fingers? The person usually says, ‘I don’t know. I think they probably hurt the same. But since I had to choose one, I went with the toes.’ I turn to him and warmly applaud him. And I say, Welcome to the real world.”

From Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

favorite opening sentences of books

The Atlantic features some writers’ favorite opening sentences of books.

Here’s mine:

“When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.”

Quotations from Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Memory is a funny thing. When I was in the scene, I hardly paid it any mind. I never stopped to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression, certainly never imagined that eighteen years later I would recall it in such detail. I didn’t give a damn about the scenery that day. I was thinking about myself. I was thinking about the beautiful girl walking next to me. I was thinking about the two of us together, and then about myself again. It was the age, that time of life when every sight, every feeling, every thought came back, like a boomerang, to me. And worse, I was in love. Love with complications. Scenery was the last thing on my mind.

She put her hands on my shoulders and peered into my eyes. Deep within her own pupils a heavy, black liquid swirled in a strange whirlpool pattern. Those beautiful eyes of hers were looking inside me for a long, long time. Then she stretched to her full height and touched her cheek to mine. It was a marvelous, warm gesture that stopped my heart for a moment.

Relax your body, and the rest of you will lighten up.

What if I’ve forgotten the most important thing? What if somewhere inside me there is a dark limbo where all the truly important memories are heaped and slowly turning into mud?

In terms of everyday life, it made no practical difference to me whether the place was right wing or left wing or anything else.

The national flag does not fly at night.

I did not know why the flag had to be taken down at night. The nation continued to exist after dark, and plenty of people worked the whole night through—track construction crews and taxi drivers and bar hostesses and firemen and night watchmen: it seemed unfair to me that such people were denied the protection of the flag.

Death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life.

In July, somebody in the dorm had taken down Storm Trooper’s Amsterdam canal scene and put up a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge instead. He told me he wanted to know if Storm Trooper could masturbate to the Golden Gate Bridge. “He loved it,” I “reported” later, which prompted someone else to put up an iceberg. Each time the photo changed in his absence, Storm Trooper became upset. “Who-who-who the hell is doing this?” he asked.

My arm was not the one she needed, but the arm of someone else. My warmth was not what she needed, but the warmth of someone else. I felt almost guilty being me.

Urging others to read F. Scott Fitzgerald, if not a reactionary act, was not something one could do in 1968.

“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.”

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. That’s the world of hicks and slobs. Real people would be ashamed of themselves doing that. Haven’t you noticed, Watanabe? You and I are the only real ones in the dorm. The other guys are crap.”

He was both a spirit of amazing loftiness and an irredeemable man of the gutter.

I would have preferred not to spend the whole night with them, but you can’t worry about a midnight curfew while you’re seducing women…

There is absolutely nothing to be gained from sleeping with one strange woman after another. It just tires you out and makes you disgusted with yourself.

Something inside me had dropped away, and nothing came in to fill the cavern.

What I need now is to rest my nerves in a quiet place cut off from the world.

Let the wind change direction a little bit, and their cries turned to whispers.

What’s this thing that guys have for girls with long hair? Fascists, the whole bunch of them!

“Nobody likes being alone that much. I don’t go out of my way to make friends, that’s all. It just leads to disappointment.”

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

The short one walked up to the professor and said, with a degree of politeness, that they would like to use the second half of his period for political debate and hoped that he would cooperate, adding, “The world is full of problems far more urgent and relevant than Greek tragedy.” This was more an announcement than a request. The professor replied, “I rather doubt that the world has problems far more urgent and relevant than Greek tragedy, but you’re not going to listen to anything I have to say, so do what you like.”

When I went inside her, she dug her nails into my back, and as her orgasm approached she called out another man’s name exactly sixteen times. I concentrated on counting them as a way to delay my own orgasm. Then the two of us fell asleep.

That’s what distinguishes us from the outside world: most people go about their lives there unconscious of their deformities, while in this little world of ours the deformities themselves are a precondition.

And we live quietly so as not to hurt one another.

The world was at peace and filled with laughter as long as stories of Storm Trooper were being told.

“The dead will always be dead, but we have to go on living.”

I’m a far more flawed human being than you realize. My sickness is a lot worse than you think: it has far deeper roots.

“I see you’re from Tokyo… I went there once. Just once. They serve great pork.”

Yes, of course, I told myself, feeling sad: I was in the outside world now.

“Sometimes, when the world gets hard to live in, I come here for a vodka and tonic.”

“That’s how people live in the real world: forcing stuff on each other.”

“Fresh, simple, smells like life. Really good cucumbers. A far more sensible food than kiwifruit.”

How many Sundays—how many hundreds of Sundays like this—lay ahead of me? “Quiet, peaceful, and lonely,” I said aloud to myself. On Sundays, I didn’t wind my spring.

“That’s not hard work. It’s just manual labor… The ‘hard work’ I’m talking about is more self-directed and purposeful.”

“In any case… I’ve decided to make myself strong. As far as I can tell, that’s all I can do.”

“How much do you love me?” Midori asked. “Enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter,” I said.

Despite your best efforts, people are going to be hurt when it’s time for them to be hurt.

As he stood to go, he took a folded five-thousand-yen note from his pocket and shoved it into the pocket of my shirt. “Here,” he said, “get yourself some healthy food. You look awful.” I said he had done more than enough for me and that I couldn’t accept money on top of everything else, but he refused to take it back. “It’s not money,” he said, “it’s my feelings. Don’t think about it too much, just take it.” All I could do was thank him and accept the money.

“I once read Haruki Murakami’s ‘Norwegian Wood,’ and my only comment is it can be summarized as ‘eat, drink and have sex,’ I heard this book sells 400,000 copies in China and young people love it. This is just too bad; I think we should give students some guidance. I read it in one day, 10 hours, and was done with it.”

Wen Jieruo

she is not too far off, but eating, drinking and having sex are important, for young people and old ones, including her.

a Difficult avocado

Britannica, Year in Review 2011:

Among the remarkable literary works of 2011 were another book by Tsumura, Kobai (“Red Blossomed Plum Tree”), about her last days with Yoshimura; Teru Miyamoto’s family chronicle Jiu no oto (“The Sound of a Blessed Rain”); and two collections of essays by Haruki Murakami, Zatsubunshu (“Miscellaneous Writings”) and Okina kabu muzukashii abokado (“A Big Turnip, a Difficult Avocado”).

1Q84 – Volume 1

“We might as well resign ourselves to the fact that we’re not going anywhere soon. All I’m saying is that there are emergency measures you can take if you have urgent business.”

“please remember: things are not what they seem.”

“And after you do something like that, the everyday look of things might seem to change a little. Things may look different to you than they did before. I’ve had that experience myself. But don’t let appearances fool you. There’s always only one reality.”

“There is always, as I said, only one reality,” the driver repeated slowly, as if underlining an important passage in a book.

“As far as I can tell, you don’t cut corners. You’re very modest when it comes to the act of writing. And why? Because you like to write. I value that in you. It’s the single most important quality for somebody who wants to be a writer.”

All he needed to satisfy him was his Mont Blanc pen, his blue ink, and standard manuscript sheets, each page lined with four hundred empty squares ready to accept four hundred characters.

I can wait another minute. The greater the rush, the more care one should take with the job.

If only her breasts were a little bigger, she thought with a twinge, she might have been truly perfect. A partial frown. But hell, you’ve gotta work with what you’ve got.

“In this whole, wide world, the only thing that treats me so kindly is math.”

“When I’m writing a story, I use words to transform the surrounding scene into something more natural for me. In other words, I reconstruct it. That way, I can confirm without a doubt that this person known as ‘me’ exists in the world.”

“Look, nobody’s asking you how many kids you’ve got. Do I look like a census taker? Keep the details to yourself. All I’m asking is whether you can get it up when you’re in bed with a woman. Nothing else.”

“… everybody feels safe belonging not to the excluded minority but to the excluding majority. You think, Oh, I’m glad that’s not me. It’s basically the same in all periods in all societies. If you belong to the majority, you can avoid thinking about lots of troubling things.”

“Maybe I can look at it this way—the problem is not with me but with the world around me. It’s not that my consciousness or mind has given rise to some abnormality, but rather that some kind of incomprehensible power has caused the world around me to change.”

And so she carried this hypothesis forward:

It’s not me but the world that’s deranged.

Yes, that settles it.

“Establishment, antiestablishment: I didn’t care. Ultimately, it was just a clash of organizations, and I simply didn’t trust any kind of organization, big or small.”

“I’m sure you realize that there are plenty of people who are looking for exactly that kind of brain death. It makes life a lot easier. You don’t have to think about difficult things, just shut up and do what your superiors tell you to do.”

“There’s nothing odd about me. I’m just honest about my own feelings.”

“Everybody needs some kind of fantasy to go on living, don’t you think?”

“Forget about counting calories… Once you develop a knack for choosing the proper ingredients and eating in moderation, you don’t have to pay attention to numbers.”

“I am quite aware that your actions have been prompted by your pure feelings, and I understand perfectly well that, for that very reason, you do not wish to receive money for what you have done. But pure, unadulterated feelings are dangerous in their own way. It is no easy feat for a flesh-and-blood human being to go on living with such feelings. That is why it is necessary for you to fasten your feelings to the earth—firmly, like attaching an anchor to a balloon. The money is for that. To prevent you from feeling that you can do anything you want as long as it’s the right thing and your feelings are pure.”

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

“Yes, it may sound irresponsible of me, but ‘I have no idea’ is the gist of this story. You throw a stone into a deep pond. Splash. The sound is big, and it reverberates throughout the surrounding area. What comes out of the pond after that? All we can do is stare at the pond, holding our breath.”

“Our prospects are not very bright, I would say. But there’s no turning back now, is there?”

If, as the dowager had said, we are nothing but gene carriers, why do so many of us have to lead such strangely shaped lives? Wouldn’t our genetic purpose—to transmit DNA—be served just as well if we lived simple lives, not bothering our heads with a lot of extraneous thoughts, devoted entirely to preserving life and procreating? Did it benefit the genes in any way for us to lead such intricately warped, even bizarre, lives?

“Married sex is something else… It’s charged to a separate account.”

“You don’t understand a woman’s feelings, do you? And you call yourself a novelist!”

The concept of duty always made Tengo cringe. He had lived his life thus far skillfully avoiding any position that entailed responsibility, and to do so, he was prepared to endure most forms of deprivation.

“Robbing people of their actual history is the same as robbing them of part of themselves. It’s a crime.”

Tengo simply did as she directed, hardly thinking, making neither choices nor judgments. She demanded only two things of him: good erections and well-timed ejaculations. “Don’t come yet,” she would command. “Hold on a little longer.” And he would pour all his energy into holding on. “Okay, now! Come now!” she would whisper by his ear, and he would let go at precisely that point with as intense an ejaculation as he could manage. Then she would praise him, caressing his cheek: “Oh, Tengo! You’re wonderful!” Tengo had an innate knack for precision in all realms, including correct punctuation and discovering the simplest possible formula necessary to solve a math problem.

“It’s like the Tibetan Wheel of the Passions. As the wheel turns, the values and feelings on the outer rim rise and fall, shining or sinking into darkness. But true love stays fastened to the axle and doesn’t move.”

1Q84

“Our prospects are not very bright, I would say. But there’s no turning back now, is there?”

murakami told me with obvious delight

NYT:

People have published cookbooks based on the meals described in his novels and assembled endless online playlists of the music his characters listen to. Murakami told me, with obvious delight, that a company in Korea has organized “Kafka on the Shore” tour groups in Western Japan, and that his Polish translator is putting together a “1Q84”-themed travel guide to Tokyo.