Filed under: A Wild Sheep Chase, The New Yorker | Tags: A Wild Sheep Chase, Haruki Murakami, Kat Dennings, The New Yorker, The New Yorker Book Club
The people over at The New Yorker must frequent Kat Dennings’ blog as well.
Filed under: A Wild Sheep Chase | Tags: A Wild Sheep Chase, Haruki Murakami, Kat Dennings, MFA in Writing
I usually just sit around the house watching TV on DVD (Northern Exposure, Six Feet Under, King of the Hill, et al.), eating quesadillas, while my boyfriend is in the other room watching football (or baseball or basketball, depending on the season) and don’t ever find myself in the kind of social situations where books are being recommended to me. Not since I finished grad school several months ago have I heard anyone discuss books or writing at length. In a way, I’m totally thrilled by this. I was so thoroughly swamped with reading during my two years at USF that I’d actually begun to despise the very thing that had brought me to the MFA program. Actually, it wasn’t the obscene amount of reading that caused all of that disdain it was really the fact that I wasn’t allowed to choose what I was reading. Now that I’m finished with school (hopefully: my thesis is still being reviewed) and still toiling away, two days a week, at my IQ draining minimum wage job, I have a lot of free time on my hands, a lot of time that I’d like to devote to reading. A writer is a reader, or so I’ve been told, and I foresee my writing making all sorts of tremendous leaps and bounds by the end of 2010 if I am able to fill this time with books and books and books (I imagine myself sitting in front of my laptop and having all of these clever and unexpected metaphors appear instantaneously on the screen—something akin to divine inspiration).
I’m running into a ton of problems on this journey. The joys of napping and TV on DVD are tough to deny but the biggest roadblock is book selection. Although, I have several stacks of unread and half-read books on my shelves and bedroom floor, it’s hard to commit to reading any of them. Most of these books are at least 400 pages and will take me, roughly, a week and a half to finish. I want that week and a half to be enjoyable. So enjoyable that I’ll be upset when I read that final page because I’ve become so invested in the plot and characters. This makes choosing a book pretty impossible. The anxiety and apprehension surrounding the book selection process is similar, I think, to the anxiety and apprehension that I feel in my life in general—wanting to start on this next phase in my life but not sure of where to begin. Excuses and excuses, piling up.
The most obvious place to turn to is the bestsellers list. I’m not really one to read those sorts of books but I have purchased a few recently, desperate to find the book that will consume me. I don’t have anything against bestsellers but I’m more drawn to genre fiction and those books don’t usually rate with the American public unless the author is J.K. Rowling (I’ve already read all of her books and I’m not ashamed to say it) or Stephen King (as prolific and rich as he is, I don’t believe that he’s a very good writer). My favorite book is Douglas Adams’ classic piece of British, Sci-Fi humor, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (my love for this incredible book has sparked tattoo consideration—maybe a “42” or the words “Don’t Panic” emblazoned across my wrist for forever?) But I don’t know that I’ll be writing Sci-Fi/Fantasy when I finally begin to write-write and I’m not sure that my beloved Adams or authors like Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, as entertaining as they might be, are going to push my work forward. I started Good Omens a couple of months ago and despite its humor I didn’t feel like I was learning anything (I abandoned the book 70 pages in, but hope to return to it if only for the sake of finishing-something-that-I’ve-started). One of the down sides to studying literature in an MFA environment is that it makes it hard to enjoy fluff. I have this Bruce Campbell book on my nightstand that I was dying to read last year but the writing is obviously not on par with that of Virginia Woolf or Russell Banks, something that’s difficult to ignore. I’m fully aware of how pretentious that sounds but it’s the plain, stupid truth.
Trying to find a book that challenged me and also incorporated the surrealism/fantasy that I tend to prefer, I started reading Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase. One lazy day, early this summer, I went on a Google bender. You know, where you Google something random out of boredom or devotion to idleness like “how many calories are there in a bacon-ultimate-cheeseburger?” This triggers a thought that is paradoxically entirely related and unrelated to the initial Google search and leads you to Google something else. This goes on and on for hours, maybe even the entire day, until you’ve somehow wound up singing along to a karaoke version of “Killer Queen” on YouTube.
On this particular day though, my mindless googling brought me to Kat Dennings’ blog. Now, Kat Dennings is an actress, I think most famous for playing the titular Norah in the teen comedy Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. It was clear from the small portion of the blog that I read that this girl was intelligent and had a quirky sense of humor not unlike her character in the aforementioned film, although I can’t recall what specifically led me to believe this about her. She made a few music recommendations and then a few book recommendations, one of which was A Wild Sheep Chase—she’d described it as her favorite. I wouldn’t say that I’m a fan of Ms. Dennings’—I wasn’t even compelled to search her site’s archives and I don’t think that I’ve ever said her name aloud—but I suppose there is something slightly exciting about reading a book that someone (moderately) famous has recommended (this may be some of the appeal of Oprah’s book club). It makes the world feel a little smaller, like the distance between myself and the actors and actresses I see on TV or in the movies isn’t so great. Here Kat Dennings and I are, reading the same book.
After finishing A Wild Sheep Chase, it was painfully obvious to me that Kat Dennings (who Google tells me is three years my junior) is smarter than me. It was a difficult read, to say the least. Strangely though, it was also fascinating. I know that I understood maybe 20% of it (if that) but at no point did I consider abandoning it. It was unlike anything that I’ve ever read and perhaps it was that novelty that kept me going. Or maybe it was like a piece of abstract art—totally impenetrable but you can’t help but think that if you stare at it long enough you’ll finally “get it.”
Simply put the book is about a man who must find a sheep, a special one that has the power to insinuate itself into a person’s body. There are long-winded descriptions and histories that seem completely irrelevant. But, given the title, I think that was Murakami’s goal—the reader’s journey through this insane book is supposed to be mimetic of the unnamed protagonist’s quest for the elusive sheep. I want to say that it’s a book that I’ll understand better when I’m older. But I’m already older and I’m not sure that I’m going to get more intelligent. If anything, I’ll probably become dumber and the book will make even less sense to me. I wish that I would have discovered it when I was in elementary school. I could have written a book report on it that would have terrified my teacher. I wouldn’t have been able to grasp any of the book’s philosophical themes, of course, but the summary would have made her look at me a little differently.
In A Wild Sheep Chase a Japanese man and his girlfriend, who has the most beautiful ears in the world, look for a sheep with a star on its back. If they don’t find the sheep the man will be in big trouble. Along the way they eat at different restaurants, have intercourse, meet an old man who was once possessed by the sheep with the triangle on its back and another man who is sort of half human, half sheep and maybe dead. My favorite part was the chapter about the large, depressed whale penis.
Really, I can’t do the book’s weirdness any justice. I would recommend it, though. I never fell in love with the characters—Murakami purposely makes them distant and unknowable—but I felt like I’d truly accomplished something after I’d finished reading. For a girl who’s seen her post-college ennui mutate into an alternative lifestyle choice, feeling as though I’ve persevered or actually done something—as insignificant as that something may be—is wonderful.