Jazz, cats, baseball, running and the Beatles: fans of Haruki Murakami (First Person Singular; Wind/Pinball; Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage) won't be shocked to discover that all of them make appearances in Novelist as a Vocation, a lively collection of 11 essays, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen. Also appearing are opinions on the art of writing, all of them shared in Murakami's casual style. He calls the essays, first published in Japan in 2015, "records of undelivered speeches" about life as a novelist. That approach is evident in such lines as: "Next, I think I'd like to move on to talk about literary prizes." He discusses that and much more, with viewpoints likely to provoke debate, as when he states: "There is no need to study literature at the university level."
Amidst these challenges to prevailing wisdom, Murakami describes the path that led him to become a novelist, and offers plentiful insights into his craft, including his three requirements on what constitutes originality, the habits aspiring writers should follow, the factors he considers when determining the length and form of each work, and more. And he's cautiously hopeful: Only 5% of the populace reads literature, he guesses, but as long as "one in twenty is like us, I refuse to get overly worried about the future of the novel and the written word." Of his fellow novelists Murakami writes: "In a way, we are out of our minds." This genial collection offers one writer's perspective on how they got that way. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer