Home > 2010, 21st Century, Japanese Literature, Murakami, Haruki, Non Fiction > Novelist as a Vocation by Haruki Murakami

Novelist as a Vocation by Haruki Murakami

January 26, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

Novelist as a Vocation by Murakami Haruki (2015) French title: Profession romancier. Translated by Hélène Morita.

In Novelist as a Vocation, published in 2015, Haruki Murakami writes about his experience as a novelist. The book is composed of eleven chapters, the first six had been previously published in Monkey Business and the five others are new. In French, it is translated as Profession romancier, but I don’t think there’s an English translation of this collection of essays.

I used the title Novelist as a Vocation because it is included in my French copy of the book, under the original title in Japanese, shokugyõ toshite no shōsetsuka.

But Novelist as a Vocation isn’t the same as Profession romancier, which means Novelist as a profession. Between vocation and profession, in my opinion, stands the line between artist and craftsman. The Japanese title means Occupation: Novelist (Thanks Marina Sofia!), closer to the French title. Back to the book.

Murakami evokes several aspects of his life as a writer. How anybody can decide to write a book. How he had an epiphany at a baseball game –hence the cover of the book, I imagine—and how he decided to write a novel. His first success when he was thirty. He talks about literary prizes and says he doesn’t care he never won the Akutagawa prize. He’s still a hugely successful writer.

After these generalities, he dissects his writing life and his vision of talent. For him, being “original”, “new” will only be validated with time. Will a book become a classic? Is it really a revolution in literature the way the Beatles were a revolution in music? Time will tell if the public includes a novel in their modern classic pantheon or forgets it.

He gives recommendation to aspiring writers and describes his disciplined life. Write 400 signs per day. First draft. Re-read and correct. Second draft. Start again the process. His wife is his first reader and critic. He says he gives his best to each book and thus has no regret. He couldn’t have written them better at the time he wrote them. Sounds like a smart way to look at things.

His days are made of early rising, writing five to six hours and running for an hour. He insists on the importance of being fit to be a long-lasting writer. Your body must be an ally and not get in the way of your writing.

He gives us a glimpse at his school years and how he was bored in school. Books were his anchor and his solace.

The pages about his writing and the evolution of his style made me think that a reader should read his books in their order of publication. Each one was a step towards the writer he is now. He explains how, at the beginning of his writing career, he was unable to give names to his characters. He comes back to the first time he thought he could pull off a third person narrative.

He talks about his readers and the imaginary bond he feels between his words and the people who read them and receive them. However, he recommends to write for oneself and not for readers. A sign of success? For him, he’s happy when his books are read by people of different generations.

He also comes back to his moving to the USA, the reasons why he left Japan and his early successes in America. He had a plan to conquer the American market, one that included a good agent, a good translator and a willing publisher.

He’s very humble all the time, as if he weren’t that talented or as if the idea of writing came late and out of the blue.*

But between the lines you can sketch out a personality who stands out and doesn’t conform. He was born in 1949, it must have been hard not to conform in Japan, when he was young. He acknowledges that he didn’t follow standards, go to university, start a job in an office and get married. He got married first, opened a jazz bar with his wife and then got his degree. Then he started to write.

We guess that he’s someone who is an individual, who needs to do what he wants and live according to his own tune. Not a rebel or someone dangerous, more someone closer to the Western vision of individuality than to the Japanese culture of being one in a crowd. He is different and original compared to other Japanese men of his time.

He has a unique personality, backed up by a strong work ethic and a will to be successful, despite his apparent protests. This influences his books and that’s probably why they sound original. He doesn’t feel special but he is and so are his books.

I am not a die-hard Murakami fan. I loved South of the Border, West of the Sun and Kafka on the Shore (pre-blog). I wasn’t too fond of Norwegian Wood and couldn’t finish The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. Incidentally, my billet titles are all related to music: Teen without spirit for Norwegian Wood, She moves him in mysterious ways for South of the Border, West of the Sun and lastly The wind-up bird never sang to me for The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. (obviously)

After reading Profession romancier, I feel like trying another of his books and thanks to Marina’s post about Sputnik Sweetheart, I picked this one as my next Murakami.

This contributes to two blogging events, Japanese Lit Challenge 15 hosted by Meredith and Nonfiction Reader Challenge hosted by Shellyrae.

  1. January 26, 2022 at 3:37 pm

    This post was endlessly fascinating to me. I read it ever so slowly, as you explained some things I knew, and some I didn’t. At first I thought, “How could there be a Murakami book I haven’t read?” And then I realized it isn’t in English. Time to brush up on my French! Fortunately, I have read his books in the order he wrote them, except for After Dark which is the first I ever read although not the first he’d written. I even paid an outrageous price for Hear The Wind Sing which I read he didn’t necessary want in the public’s hands. I don’t think I would have the patience to write, rewrite, and do it all again, nor could I run for an hour every day. But then, there is only one Haruki Murakami, and we can be so thankful for that. His books are my earthly solace. Thank you for this lovely, lovely post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 30, 2022 at 11:33 am

      Sorry for the slow answer, I just rescued your comment from the spam section.

      I’m glad you enjoyed my billet, writing about non-fiction isn’t easy, especially when the book was in French and I have to write in English. Son thanks for the feedback.

      The first six chapters were published in Monkey Business, so, these ones are available in English. Then, it’s in French. I imagine that there’s something about the publishing rights, otherwise the whole book would be published in English.

      The beauty of ebooks is that, if you want to get it in French, you can easily have it and you have the instant dictionary to help you with words you don’t know. Trust me, it helps!
      I know that a lot of readers don’t like ebooks but when you want to read in another language, it’s perfect.

      Discipline is often something writers talk about when they are interviewed about their writing. They often set themselves goals and have regular writing hours. What Murakami describes reminded me of interviews Philippe Djian. He says the same of his daily routine. (Not sure he runs but I think he has walks)

      I imagine you’ve read his book about running?

      Like

  2. January 26, 2022 at 3:43 pm

    I liked his book about running and how it helped him with his writing, so I think I might quite like this one. I do wonder if his modesty is entirely real or if it’s for the sake of the Japanese readership, but I really like his comment that he has written the best book he could at the time and that things change (although, not sure how that fits in with the fact that I prefer his earlier books rather than his most recent ones?).

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 29, 2022 at 8:08 am

      He talks about his running in this book too.

      I wondered about his modesty too, thinking he couldn’t act otherwise, could he?

      And yes, I liked his statement about writing the best book possible at the time he wrote it.
      I have the same attitude with past decisions : since you never consciously makes the wrong decision and thinks the one you’re taking is the best, why think you should have acted differently? You couldn’t have anyway, so, it’s better to put energy on something else than wallowing on “what ifs”.

      Liked by 1 person

      • January 29, 2022 at 12:46 pm

        Yes, I agree. Although I do occasionally feel an undercurrent of anger about being born in the wrong country at the wrong time. Still, it could have been worse, right?

        Like

        • January 30, 2022 at 11:54 am

          I don’t think privileged me can really understand what it must have been to grow up in Romania under this dictatorship.
          But I understand your comment.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. January 26, 2022 at 4:40 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this, Emma. I’ve kinda set aside my interest in his fiction (I’ve enjoyed Wind-Up and 1Q84, thought Norwegian Wood was interesting, and I liked some short stories and the novella about the strange little library too) but this volume piques my interest again. It’s a valid point, about needing to keep the body moving if your career is sedentary and think-y, although it’s hard to motivate oneself when sitting is so comfortable. Heheh

    Like

    • January 29, 2022 at 8:13 am

      I don’t think the whole book is available in English but at least the first chapters are.

      Like you, I haven’t read him in a long time and I wonder if I’ll like Sputnik Sweethearts.

      Reading and writing don’t burn a lot of calories, so, yes, we need to find another way to stay fit!

      Like

  4. January 26, 2022 at 7:18 pm

    I’ve always liked Murakami, but didn’t know the baseball story. Thanks for giving me the initiative to look further into this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 29, 2022 at 8:15 am

      Like most Europeans, I don’t understand anything about baseball, so I’m not sure I got all the references but it’s still a nice anecdote.

      Like

  5. January 27, 2022 at 2:37 am

    A lovely review, Emma. This sounds like a book I’d very much like, and have added it to the TBR.

    Like

    • January 29, 2022 at 8:17 am

      It’s a nice book, indeed. I didn’t find an English translation of the whole book, only a mention that the six first chapters were published in Monkey Business.

      I’m always looking for a way to ensure whether a book is translated or not, so, if you know a good website where I can check this out, let me know. At the moment, I use Wikipedia and Goodreads.

      Liked by 1 person

      • January 30, 2022 at 4:24 am

        I use Goodreads too, but often just resort to a general browser search to try and find more info. The thing that can really throw me is when publishers use different titles on UK/American or Canadian/American versions of the same book. So annoying.

        Like

        • January 30, 2022 at 11:51 am

          Goodreads is a great source for that.

          That’s annoying that they change the title of books between UK/USA/Canada. It’s only for translated fiction, isn’t it?
          I don’t think they do it between different version of books in French.

          Like

          • January 30, 2022 at 12:04 pm

            Australian books sometimes have different titles in the US. The only one I can think of right now is Christina Stead’s Cotter’s England whose US name is Dark Places of the Heart

            Like

            • January 30, 2022 at 11:33 pm

              Why do they do that? And this one is not even a translation. I don’t understand. Does it mean that the author doesn’t choose the title of their book?

              Like

          • January 31, 2022 at 2:17 am

            Yes, I’ve found Goodreads really useful for that. No, believe it or not it happens with non-translated books too. Sometimes because a term is used differently or because the title is too close to another well-known book. And probably for other reasons too.

            Like

            • January 31, 2022 at 10:49 am

              So writers aren’t in charge of the title of their own work. Unbelievable.

              Like

  6. January 27, 2022 at 4:22 am

    Interesting that it’s a mix of already published and new chapters. I have Monkey Business, so it does sound familiar.
    I suggest you read Killing Commandatore: https://wordsandpeace.com/2018/10/23/book-review-killing-commendatore/

    Like

    • January 29, 2022 at 8:18 am

      Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll look it up.

      PS: recommendation / recommandation: I tend to mix the two spellings between French and English now.

      Like

  7. January 27, 2022 at 4:22 am

    oops typo: Killing Commendatore of course

    Like

  8. January 27, 2022 at 8:55 am

    I’ve read that story of his first days, the bar, the baseball game, before so maybe it’s in What I talk about when I talk about Running. I came to him late, but I’ve read quite a few now. 1Q84 is amazing and I think I’ve listened to it 3 times. There’s even a children’s book The Strange Library.
    During my one week or so in France the AirBNB house we were staying in had a book collection including Murakami’s surreal After Dark which I read and reviewed on the spot.

    Like

    • January 29, 2022 at 8:23 am

      It would make sense that his beginnings were in his book about running too. After, he wasn’t running when he wrote his first books.

      1Q84 is a three volumes book. Given my track record with Murakami, I didn’t try to read it.

      You were in an AirBnB in France that had books in English? Useful but it’s not a real feel of the country. 🙂

      Like

  9. January 27, 2022 at 7:59 pm

    I also enjoyed What I Talk About When I Talk About Running so also think I would like this one! Interesting regarding the title and vocation vs profession!

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 29, 2022 at 8:25 am

      His book about running had a lot of readers, I see. I’ll check it out and I already know I’ll buy as a gift for runners I know.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. January 29, 2022 at 11:46 pm

    I detested Sputnik My Love so much I’ll never read more fiction by him, but this I wouldn’t mind reading. Writers talking shoptalk is seldom dull.

    Like

    • January 30, 2022 at 11:52 am

      That’s a strong reaction to his book. They are different from one another, though. I’m not an absolute fan but I’m willing to try this one.

      Like

  11. January 30, 2022 at 4:44 pm

    I haven’t read anything by him, although I was given Saules aveugles. Now I’ll have to check where it fits in his writing timeline.

    Like

    • January 30, 2022 at 11:38 pm

      This one is a collection of short stories, I see. I’ve never read short stories by him.

      Like

  12. January 30, 2022 at 8:14 pm

    This sounds a real insight into the writing life of such an individual man. It’s interesting that you found parts of his personality that perhaps he was trying to downplay still came through. I’m surprised this hasn’t been translated as he’s such a popular author in the English-speaking world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 30, 2022 at 11:39 pm

      He’s like all these talented and successful actors who say that they were just lucky. (when in fact, they worked very hard, had a lot of determination and a big ambition.)

      Liked by 1 person

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