I read this with a six-year-old Korean this afternoon. I've heard of the book, of course, but it was never a part of my childhood, so I believe today...moreI read this with a six-year-old Korean this afternoon. I've heard of the book, of course, but it was never a part of my childhood, so I believe today was my first day reading it. I had a lot of trouble explaining the presence of the "bowl of mush" and the narrator's need to say "good night," not at the end but right in the middle, to "nobody." Not sure why this book is a classic.(less)
What a bizarre book. I read lots of children's books these days (it's my job), but this one really takes the cake. I've seen the movie Tangled, on whi...moreWhat a bizarre book. I read lots of children's books these days (it's my job), but this one really takes the cake. I've seen the movie Tangled, on which this is based, and I know that in Tangled the plot doesn't involve a wide-eyed simpleton going on an epic quest... to look at colors. In this book that's all that happens. She bumbles around and gets amazed by pretty colors. There are actual stills from the movie, stills which evoke the movie's plot, but the words are reduced to merely listing all the colors on the page. In the climax she sees, like, seven colors at once! Scintillating! I felt like I was in a mental institution while reading this, and my kids were rendered speechless.(less)
This is perhaps the greatest long con that's ever been pulled in literary history. Murakami tempts the reader in with a title that purports to offer s...moreThis is perhaps the greatest long con that's ever been pulled in literary history. Murakami tempts the reader in with a title that purports to offer some modern response to Orwell's classic. He reassures such thinking by having characters early in his novel specifically cite the book in reference to events in their own world. In this world, however, there is no Big Brother but instead a group of Little People; what statement will this make about Orwell's themes of totalitarianism? There's the mysterious NHK corporation, which is cited early and frequently, a state-controlled media conglomerate that hires thugs (more or less) to extort "subscription fees" from the populace, since those radio waves aren't just floating out there for free. (I assumed that NHK was one of Murakami's inventions. It's not.)
And while you're trying to figure out what this massive novel has to say about fascism, propaganda, brainwashing, and invasion of privacy, you begin to realize that there's another, more exciting literary promise that's being offered to you. How will the dual narratives, which begin so far apart, intersect? As the lives of these two separate characters begin to crisscross, and as the storytelling tempo begins to increase, will Murakami pull off some jaw-dropping stunt of metafictional wizardry? Is Tengo writing Aomame's story while Aomame writes Tengo's story? Is this some inverse poioumenon, post-modernism crashing into string theory, where the work itself is actually writing reality? How else could the author justify nearly 900 pages of repetition, of characters preparing lunch, of conversations that begin two pages before they need to and end five pages after they should, of real-time internal monologues covering personal dilemmas that have already been covered twice before? Surely Murakami must have something masterful up his sleeve to justify all this... tedium? I mean, one doesn't get talked about as being the frontrunner for a Nobel Prize for nothing, right?
And then the threads become more numerous. There's some metaphysical terminology that's likely relevant to reality at large--the maza, the dohta, the two moons, the air chrysalis. Surely this will all have something to say or suggest about the real world, since simply making up science fiction terms and then never really explaining them is something that a middle schooler can easily accomplish. There are Proust references. There are lengthy excerpts from Chekhov. There's an imagined short story about a town full of cats. And then there's a third narrative strain! One that's riddled with genre cliches and defies all logic! Man, the payoff is going to be AMAZING....
No. No, it's not. You've been conned. The book has the profundity of an episode of "Law and Order," only you've spent untold hours reading it. If it had been submitted as the manuscript of a first-time novelist, at least four hundred pages of it would have been edited away. It would not have been an enormous international bestseller. It would have been recognized for what it is: a second-rate thriller with a couple passages of superb tension, a book which promises many things but follows through on very few of them. Several important subplots are simply discarded, and all plot holes are tidied up with the convenience excuse, "Oh, this takes place in 1Q84, not 1984, so it doesn't matter. It's a different reality." No, Murakami. No. It does matter.
And the most humiliating part of it, like any effective con job, is that some defensive part of me keeps trying to rationalize and justify having been duped. "Maybe I'm not thinking about it hard enough... maybe I'm not reading between the lines... maybe I need to read it a second time." Fool me once....(less)
This book is an instant classic. The kids in my class loved it, and I loved it, too. The drawings are charming and full of personality, and the text i...moreThis book is an instant classic. The kids in my class loved it, and I loved it, too. The drawings are charming and full of personality, and the text is simple but effective, packing a rhythmic punch. PENGUIN is the story of an outgoing boy who is given a reticent penguin as a present. The penguin may be a man of few words, but he proves to be a loyal friend and not the least timid. The story works nicely as either a fantasy (the penguin is a real animal) or as a realistic portrait of Ben's imagination (the penguin is just a doll), and on the latter level it is a heartwarming depiction of the bond between children and their toys. Some of the reviews--and the plot synopsis, as well--paint Ben as being a bad or a "bossy" kid, and one of the reviews even suggests that he should receive his "comeuppance" in the end. I don't see it that way at all. Ben's a good kid, a realistic kid, who just wants this new "person" in his life to be his friend and to acknowledge said friendship by, say, laughing at his funny faces. There's nothing rotten about that. The story is more about a personality clash between an oddball bird and a gregarious little boy. The boy is willing to accept a stranger's idiosyncrasies, and vice versa. I loved it, and my kids wanted me to read it to them again and again, which--as is rarely the case--I actually did. (less)