Archives For Humanity

I don’t read enough fiction, and my guess is that most people don’t either.

Fiction enables people to empathize with others, embrace new ideas, and envision the future. NASA credits science fiction as being the foundation for many of humanity’s biggest technological advances over the past several decades. The iPad seems to have been heavily influenced by Star Trek.

If enjoying fiction isn’t enough of a reason to pick up a good novel, reference Harvard Business Review or Berkeley Greater Good for more benefits of reading fiction.

Haruki Murakami is my favorite novelist at the moment, and I hope to read all of his books. I just finished The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and cannot give this work enough praise. Murakami has a way of weaving stories to bring you into his world.

In this novel he deals with Japan’s blackened image during World War II and the attempt of an elderly man to come to terms with the horrors of that War, love and its fleeting nature, a man’s solitude in Tokyo, and the attempt of a man to save his wife. Like many of his works they are hard to describe, they’re surreal and mysterious – something quite out of this world. Murakami fans will know what I mean.

To give you some insight into the works of Murakami, I have enclosed an excerpt from  The Wind Up Bird Chronicle which I found to be quite gripping. This takes place while the protagonist, Toru Okada, is in a strange town on business. It’s a dreary night, raining heavily, and he stops in a bar for a drink. The musician finishes his performance by shutting off the lights in the bar and lighting a single candle:

     “The reason that people sing songs for other people is because they want to have the power to arouse empathy, to break free of the narrow shell of the self and share their pain and joy with others. This is not an easy thing to do, of course. And so tonight, as a kind of experiment, I want you to experience a simpler, and more physical kind of empathy.”
     Everyone in the place was hushed now, all eyes fixed on the stage. Amid the silence, the man stared off into space, as if to insert a pause or to reach a state of mental concentration. Then, without a word, he held his left hand up over the lighted candle. Little by little, he brought the palm closer and closer to the flame. Someone in the audience made a sound like a sigh or a moan. You could see the tip of the flame burning the man’s palm. Someone in the audience made a sound like a sigh or a moan. You could almost hear the sizzle of the flesh. A woman released a hard little scream. Everyone else just watched in frozen horror. The man endured the pain. his face distorted in agony. What the hell was this? Why did he have to do such a stupid, senseless thing? I felt my mouth was going dry. After five or six seconds of this, he slowly removed his hand from the flame and set the dish with the candle in it on the floor. Then he clasped his hands together, the right and left palms pressed against each other.
     “As you have seen tonight, ladies and gentlemen, pain can actually burn a person’s flesh,” said the man. His voice sounded exactly as it had earlier: quiet, steady, cool. No trace of suffering remained on his face. Indeed, it had been replaced by a faint smile. “And the pain that must have been there, you have been able to feel as if it were your own. That is the power of empathy.”

Murakami, pg. 239

I hope this little taste of Murakami might encourage you to read one of his novels, and challenge your mind in new ways.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel