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Fiction

Birthday Stories (selected and introduced by Haruki Murakami)

“Have a Good Time”

Yesterday it was my birthday.

I hung one more year on the line.

I should be depressed.

My life’s a mess.

But I’m having a good time.

I’ve been loving and loving and loving.

I’m exhausted from loving so well

I should go to bed.

But a voice in my head says,

“Ah, what the hell.”

– Song lyrics by  Paul Simon, introduced at the beginning of this book

You may have noticed I’m doing my last sprint of reading till 31 December 2011.

It’s my birthday in 2 days and I’ll be stepping into a new decade.

To commemorate a major step-up in my age, I have decided to end my year of reading with Haruki Murakami’s anthology of Birthday stories.

The Anthology is first published in Japan nearly a decade ago when Murakami is 53 (that makes him 63 now this coming birthday in January 2012). The Anthology begins with Murakami’s introduction, continues with 12 short stories by American and Irish authors and ends with a short story written by Murakami himself.

The collection of short stories, of course, all have to do with Birthdays. The process of finding these short stories was not an easy one for Murakami, although the collection is a little American Centric, except William Trevor, it provides a good read.

Following the sequence of stories as it appears in the book, the writers featured are:

Russell Banks, Denis Johnson, William Trevor, Daniel Lyons, Lynda Sexson, David Foster Wallace, Ethan Canin, Andrea Lee, Raymond Carver, Paul Theroux, Claire Keegan, Lewis Robinson and Haruki Murakami.

Out of the many authors mentioned, I have only read book written by Paul Theroux (The Great Railway Bazaar) and the other authors I have heard of but haven’t read any of their books are (and wouldn’t oppose to reading one of their novels): Denis Johnson (Tree of Smoke who won the National Book award in 2007), William Trevor, Raymond Carver and probably remember reading somewhere about David Forster Wallace early death. What about you?

These stories are not necessarily happy. Some of my favourites are:

 “The Birthday Cake” by Daniel Lyons, where a stubborn old lady refuses to give up her daily cake for a mother who needs a cake for a party that is starting in few minutes and a young girl is destined to disappoint. We were left to condemn the old lady’s act until we understands her devotion of insisting in having her daily cake.

Andrea Lee’s unconventional “The Birthday Present” to her husband is another good one. I won’t reveal what the present is but it is one that has to do with the test of fidelity and letting go, and about a woman’s discovery of her secret desire. Quietly shocking but thought provoking.

“Close to the Water’s edge” by Claire Keegan has a sad and warm fuzzy feeling of a grandson reminiscence of his grandmother’s life. A life with limited choices, his grandma was given one hour be her husband to look at the sea before she gets on the truck to go back to inland Tennessee without seeing the coasts again.

Then she climbed in and spent the rest of her life with a man who would have gone home without her. [……] He thinks of his grandmother coming to the ocean. She said if she had her life to live again, she never would have climbed back into the car. She’d stayed behind and turned into a streetwalker sooner than go home. Nine children she bore him. When her grandson asked what made her get back in, her answer was “Those were the times I lived in. That’s what I believed. I thought I didn’t have a choice.” – page 159

So how’s Murakami’s short story piece “The Birthday Girl” like? Well, it’s about a girl who remembers the day of her 20th birthday when she had to wait on tables as usual. She delivers the owner’s dinner and was asked to wish for one wish and never to change her mind. Not that all great but with a “duh?” ending for me. I guess one will have to make up their mind on what to believe with some of these short stories.

Do I remember any of my birthdays? I remember my 13th and 21st birthdays where my friends were with me and we had dinners and a good chat. I remember my23rd birthday as well. I can remember where I was at the turn of millennium but can’t quite remember what I did on my birthday. Interesting how most of my birthdays have come to a blur. I suppose it’s the mind’s natural mechanism to deny the fact that I am, again, getting older. If there is anything that I take away from reading this book, I think I will start take note of how I spent my birthdays in the future and build my own birthday stories. 😀

I suppose at some point I’ll re-read the anthology again as some short stories went over my head and I didn’t get it. It’s only 207 pages long and my birthday is going to come every year, so what the heck. 😉

Rating: 

Anyone has the same birthday as I am? 2 January. As Murakami said:

I couldn’t help but feel a kind of soft, natural bond with the world. It was not a bond that could serve any practical purpose, nor one that had any real impact on a person’s life. It was, I suppose, that special bond that people feel with each other when they know that one of them is celebrating his or her birthday.

Looking back now, however, I have to say in all honesty that these events do not seem to have had any special effect on the way I balance happiness vs. Unhappiness or hope vs despair in my life. However many birthdays I may have counter off, however many important events I may have witnessed or experienced firsthand, I feel I have always remained the same me, I could never have been anything else.

Murakami’s birthday falls on the 12 January, the same day as Jack London.

Paperback. Publisher: Vintage 2004, originally published in Japanese in 2002; Length: 207 pages; Setting: America.  Source: Own. Finished reading at: 31st December 2011.

Other views:

Novroz@Bokunosekai: Overall, I find Birthday Stories as a bit unusual. I like the fact that he didn’t just choose the happiest story because most people think that birthday is one of the happiest days of one’s life…but some of the stories are to boring to read.

Gathering books: I recommend this selection to those who like to be surprised in the midst of the mundane. It’s an interesting selection, one that will make you read up to the last story.

Anyway, go ahead have a good time!

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.

Discussion

8 thoughts on “Birthday Stories (selected and introduced by Haruki Murakami)

  1. Happy Birthday! My computer died so I haven’t been able to respond easily, but I’ve been reading.

    Posted by Ti | January 2, 2012, 2:26 am
  2. Happy belated birthday!

    My dad shares the same birthday as u 🙂

    Posted by Ting | January 5, 2012, 5:08 am
  3. This is one I’ll probably get to eventually (just because the colours will fit in nicely with my Murakami collection!).

    Posted by Tony | January 7, 2012, 12:30 am
  4. Happy belated birthday. Also thanks for the tip about Westminster libraries, I didn’t realise you could join if you had proof of address for ANYWHERE in the UK, I thought you had a proof of address from work. I will be joining up today – I work at different places in WM most of the time.

    Posted by Yvann | January 27, 2012, 7:50 am

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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