A few years ago, I picked up a copy of After Dark by Haruki Murakami in a library book sale. Five for a dollar! I peeled the duraseal off, scrubbed away the patches of glue it left behind, and put it away for later. (See: tsundoku.)
Flash forward four years, and I finally got around to reading it last week as part of my 2017 Only Reading Books From Years Ending in Seven project (the English translation was published in 2007). The book is slight, a diversion, although – in typical Murakami style – it does hint at an opaque world of unsolvable, half-drawn mysteries.
One such mystery particularly caught my imagination, and it comes not from the mind of Murakami but from a previous reader. Library books are supposed to have many readers, after all; you can usually only guess at how many, and who they were, and what impression the book left on them. This reader, however, made three notes over the course of After Dark’s 200-odd pages. Each is in the same black ballpoint pen.
Here’s the first, from page 47:
There’s plenty of overwriting in After Dark. Murakami quite indulges himself by giving his omniscient, disembodied narrator full licence to describe the least consequential aspects of a scene and wax rhapsodical about these tiny moments of city life and what it all means. This technique is effective in building a small world of rich detail, but it can make for dull reading.
This previous reader, though, got hung up on Murakami’s (and translator Jay Rubin’s) decision to modify the motorcyclist’s ‘kick’ with the adjective ‘strong’. Now, I’m no line-by-line editor, but this choice seems quite reasonable to me; it draws attention to the motorcyclist’s physical presence, and to the machine’s weight. I feel like underlining their ‘Why?’ and writing the same thing alongside it.
Later, on page 79:
Now the kick is ‘big’, and that’s caught the reader’s eye. There’s no annotation in the margin this time. I can appreciate that ‘big’ is not as descriptive as ‘strong’, but is its inferiority as an adjective the reason for its underlining? Perhaps the reader thought ‘strong’ was too much, where ‘big’ is just right. Perhaps the reader is a motorcyclist and takes issue with Murakami’s representation of ignition. We can only speculate, because the reader isn’t giving us any more.
Finally, on page 172:
Now there’s an image worth underlining, an image with real feeling. (!)
(See also: Inside David Foster Wallace’s Private Self-Help Library, a great piece in The Awl by Maria Bustillos. Now there’s a person who could write a good annotation.)