In my recent blog post on Shelf Awareness, I suggested that Haruki Murakami’s “mesmerizing fantasies offer a tonic to a culture overly enmeshed in the realities of the day to day.” In this and subsequent posts I’ll explore the many ways in which Murakami’s unique qualities make his writing such a tonic not just to the culture but to each of us as well.
A curious facet of Murakami’s life story is how he came to his breakthrough realization that he could be a novelist. One day in April, 1978, while he drank a beer and watched a baseball game between his favorite team, the Yakult Swallows, and the Hiroshima Carps, the Swallows leadoff batter in the bottom of the first inning hit a double to left field. At that moment Murakami knew that he could write a novel. After the game, he purchased a fountain pen and paper and every day after work he would drink beer and write.
I’ve played baseball and coached baseball, so I can say with certainty that baseball exists outside of day to day realities. Every fan knows the joy of being utterly absorbed in the outcome of the game, the heroics of the players, the championship race. Watching a game, or playing in one, we forget the realities of mortgage payments, home repairs, domestic crises, and international tensions. A baseball ticket (and perhaps a beer) transport us to an alternative universe where human striving, heroism, and failure all play a role in the drama.
The unusual source of Murakami’s belief that he could write a novel, that moment when the batter hit a double to left field, remains an aspect of so much of his writing. He isn’t wed to the realities of the day to day, but he lives in the world of the imagination, the drama of the life game. Here he is as free as anyone with a beer and a baseball game to watch to let an imagined sequence of events unfold (last inning, bases loaded, full count, two outs, the batter representing the winning run standing at the plate). He is relieved from accountability to the world outside the baseball stadium. He doesn’t have to pay the bills, feed the pet, or vote for a politician. And, when we read his fiction, we too are freed to linger awhile in the realm of the imagination, in a heightened and deepened experience of our inner realities.
This photograph of Tsubakuro, mascot of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, at Meiji Jingu Stadium is by ぽこ太郎 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons