Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-up Bird Chronicle kicks off this year’s second reading list. At 607 pages, the latter was not the easiest but I persevered and got to the finish line. Chronicle has elements of magical realism, postmodernism, and even some slight surrealism. There is a heavy mobilisation of dreaming as a plot device. This marked a return to form for me. Another Murakami novel followed. Kafka on the Shore is one of his most famous works. It did not disappoint, having metaphysical themes. I found it more accessible than Chronicle. Finally, Jeff Benedict’s LeBron is this list’s obligatory nonfiction crest. The book is a very detailed look into the current century’s most famous sportsman.
1. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Murakami). This read marks my fourth foray into Murakami. I started off with Norwegian Wood. I have since consumed Elephant Vanishes and Sputnik Sweetheart. As usual, this text is set in his native Japan. I have to admit that there’s a lot going on, hence the word chronicle in the title. Toru Okada’s feline has gone missing. Shame, as he recently quit his job. His six year marriage with Kumiko is disintegrating. He hangs out with a teenager, who calls him Mr Wind-Up bird. He then frequents this well in an abandoned house. On top of this, he’s receiving weird messages from an eager lady. She sounds very familiar.
The plot alternates between several viewpoints. There’s Toru, the resourceful and pragmatic protagonist. He uses his wits and a bit of fate to get out of sticky situations. He frequents this magical well, giving him a powerful mark on his right cheek. He views this as the bridge between the unknown and the physical world. There’s Kumiko, who retains her shell and mysterious aura. At one point, the couple even communicates through online chat. This is notable since the plot takes place in the early eighties. In addition, there’s May Kasahara, their neighbour. She reminds me a bit of Midori in Norwegian Wood. They’re both youthful, vain, and outgoing. Both also opted to write letters. The sisters, Malta and Creta Kano, adds some allure to the narrative. The latter calls herself, ‘a prostitute of the mind’. Creta’s proposal to elope with Toru to Crete gave my heart a flutter. Lieutenant Mamiya’s letters are likewise foregrounded. Though seemingly an anachronism, he has a good heart. I had to skip some of his words as they could be boring. Indeed, some of the book was too descriptive.
For your information, I first perused the ebook. However, after six weeks, I only read a quarter of the book. I then tried the hard copy. There was a time when I gave up on the book as the author’s prose seemed a tad full-on. Little by little, I whittled the book until I reached the very end. Having finally gone through this text, this was one of the most rewarding reads I’ve crested in a while. Concluding any book is an accomplishment. This one was originally written in Japanese, from a different time period, and a beloved author. Among my Murakami reads, I would rank this above the norm.
2. Kafka on the Shore (Murakami). This isn’t a recent release, having been published two decades ago. However, the title is ahead of its time. Kafka confronts issues and themes that weren’t the deal twenty years past. For starters, Kafka tackles such issues as LGBT rights and emancipation. When should we leave school? When to leave home? Is killing a cat considered murder? Should we look down on the uneducated? Should we help a well meaning stranger?
The book’s title is typical Murakami. It is a homage to a fictional song that features heavily in the narrative. Norwegian Wood is a Beatles song. Dance dance dance was serenaded by the Dells, and so on. As with his other works, there are surrealist tropes. A secluded forest is a bridge to another realm.p, complete with undead soldiers and ghosts. Cats likewise make a sighting. This time, an old geezer named Nakata talks to these critters. Otherwise, he’s kind of dull but goodhearted. In a parallel narrative, Kafka escapees from his dad and ends up working at a library. Though only fifteen, he is wise beyond his years. Being a fitness nut, he looks older than his age. He searches for his lost mother and elder sister. He mostly functions as a lone wolf.
Kafka and Nakata’s paths would intersect, as the latter ends up in Nakata’s workplace. In between, there’s a lot to love here. Compared to Wind up, the language is much smoother. Although at times descriptive, I had to skip a lower amount of pages as compared to Bird. There are no meticulous chapters on WWII. I also noticed that the latter had about a hundred pages on Kafka. The inimitable way that Nakata speaks add a dose of humour to the plot. The inclusion of newspaper clippings likewise supplies colour. Only Murakami could come up with the Colonel and the stone. Upon researching further, I discovered that the book won some awards, which was rather well deserved. After Norwegian Wood, this is my next favourite Murakami title.
3. LeBron (Jeff Benedict). Before browsing Apple Books, I had neither heard of this author, nor this book on the hoops great. Apparently, Benedict is the current crème de La crème of sports biographers. Previously, he has profiled Tiger Woods, the New England Patriots, and penned a book about the NBA culture. LeBron’s premise immediately caught my attention. That it was a NY Times bestseller added bonus points. In the title, Benedict dedicated about 150 pages to LeBron’s early years in Akron, Ohio. His biological dad never bothered and he was raised by his single mother. His stepdad, who was essentially his father, was incarcerated at one point.
‘What he didn’t see were the dollar signs in her eyes.’
LeBron though did not allow these hurdles to stop him. Initially, American football was his first love. He showed his mettle as a high school freshman. He was relegated to the bench for the whole year. However, he shone when his moment came. Too bad, it was the year’s final game. He chose a private prep school, St Vincent St Mary, over other programs. He seemed out of place in a sea of white kids. By his sophomore year, he was an all state selection. By the end of his junior year, he was being touted as a possible number one NBA draft pick. He had to deal with the usual temptations such as money, women, and drugs. His laser-liked focus never wavered. He only lost three games in high school. As a senior, he was consistently the best player on the floor.
The Cavs drafted him with the top pick in 2004. Unable to break through with a mediocre supporting cast, James departed Cleveland in turmoil and quickly became the sport’s villain. Indeed a book on LBJ was titled ‘The Whore of Akron’. In four years with Miami, he brought them to the Finals each season, teaming up with two Hall of Famers. He then returned to Cleveland, delivering a title as his biggest mission. There, he spearheaded the greatest comeback in league history. With his majestic play, he rallied the Cavs from 3-1 down to topple the Warriors. Cleveland fans have endured such heartbreakers as The Fumble and The Shot. LeBron’s signature moment was a Game 7 chasedown swat on Igoudala that would be remembered as The Block.
In spite of his fame, LeBron has a tight group of friends. They go way back from his high school years. This includes Rich Paul,who would set up his own agency. Likewise, Maverick would build his entertainment company. The latter was his high school teammate. Like Jordan, King James chose to endorse Nike. Both legends have an uncanny business acumen. Time and again, LeBron invested thru the right way. Thus, his being the first active billionaire sportsman comes as no surprise.
As mentioned, there’s a lot of detail here and yet it’s easy to follow. Unlike Murakami, I never had to skip large sections. Benedict probes into racial tensions and LeBron’s activism. He highlights LeBron’s missing biological father. He delves into James’s relationship with rapper Jay-Z. He tackles LeBron’s family, including his wife, Savannah Brinson. He unpacks the legend’s great work ethic. Finally, he analyses James’s incomparable basketball IQ. He can see the floor and predict the action way before others can. That said, Benedict glosses over full seasons in one paragraph. Ergo, this is much more than a basketball read; it’s a sociopolitical treatise, a riveting, multifaceted portrait of a basketball demigod. Easy to read, this reminded me of other excellent hoops biographies: Giannis, the Fab Five, and The Sixth Man.
To be honest, I tried to read more than these three listed books. I’ve attempted other biographies and classics. Among them were Chatwin and Hemingway. Make no mistake: this trio are the reads that have enthralled me.