Summer Internship: Haruki Murakami

As I mentioned in lecture on Tuesday, one of my favorite authors in Haruki Murakami. I first encountered Murakami in my AP Lit. class, and since then I have been making may way through his long list of books. Each is challenging, complex, and at times frustrating, but every one of Murakami’s texts I’ve read has been a pleasure to wade through.

Most of Murakami’s books circle around fictional worlds that are occupied by strange people and places. They are a bit sic-fi, a bit mystery, and a bit theoretical all at once. I find the stories really exciting and thoughtful. I’m also really drawn to the book covers–they’re beautiful.

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Photo courtesy of Google Images

In terms of quantitative book history, I think that Murakami’s collection is really apt to utilize some of this field’s methods.

  • First, each of Murakami’s texts is a translation from an original Japanese publication. As translations, quantitative book history could be used to tell an interesting story of this process. During my internship we could explore when each book was translated, where it was distributed, and the relationships of Japan with each of these countries at the time. Or we could look at where the book sold best as a translation, possibly to draw some sort of correlation between country of sale and popularity or profit. Did it sell better in one place or another? Because each text has audiences globally, quantitative methods could be really helpful in understanding patterns in why Murakami has become such a phenomenon world-wide. Not every author can say the same, so maybe there is something important to learn in how Murakami’s books are marketed and distributed.
  • And second, quantitative book history methods could be used to track trends within Murakami’s entire collection. Although each book is a separate story, most, if not all, maintain common characters, places, and ideas. For example, a lot of the books have sheep in them–strange yes, but important to the stories. Trying to piece together these common threads is something I’m always looking to do while reading Murakami, but often it’s hard to decide which ones to look for/pay the most attention to. The books are complex, so you can’t really focus on all of them. I personally think it would be really interesting to track these reoccurring themes throughout all of Murakami’s books, and then use variations on mean, median, and mode to figure out which occur most often. It’s not exactly math per-say, but using these measures of frequency to monitor reoccurrences could help guide a new reader’s experience with Murakami’s complicated writing style.

I hope in giving examples like these that I would be able to persuade my internship scholar to use quantitative methods for lit. study. And even looking at our classes’ final presentations, I think that a number of the topics explored could also be looked at in Murakami’s works. Like fantasy and thrillers, each of Murakami’s books varies in page length. Some are shorter, while his most recent book 1Q84 is around 1,000 pages. As a case study, it could be interesting to look at his collection and see how page length has varied over time. Or like the texts of John Robert Seeley and Virginia Woolf, it could be fruitful to look at Murakami’s writing in terms of social and political spheres. Murakami’s books are often political/historical, and could interact with the phenomenology of reading in unique ways. And maybe it would be worth looking at word choices in Murakami’s writing. As translations, certain words may have been altered or kept in Japanese. Tracking the history of these specific words could be a cool tool in better understanding how translation has evolved throughout the history of books.

Maybe some of these projects would be a bit of stretch, but the more I’ve learned about quantitative book history, the more excited I am about its many outlets and possibilities. Books are massive, and it seems that the study of them is exponentially huge as well. Congrats on finishing up this semester everyone! It’s been a pleasure.

-Jeff

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One thought on “Summer Internship: Haruki Murakami

  1. I think your two ideas about how to study Murakami’s works are terrific! The first is really interesting–a sort of distribution study, like that of Robert Darnton. The second idea is also really interesting–more of a content analysis, but still could make use of quantitative methods, a sort of “distant reading” approach a la Moretti, perhaps?

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