Tag: Matthew Carl Strecher

Top 5 Non-Fiction Reads of 2015

These are my favourite non-fiction titles read or reviewed (not necessarily published) in 2015. Click the title for a link to the full review. See the previous post for my top five fiction reads of the year.

Between the World and Me

ISBN 978-0-8129-9354-7

Cover image for Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi CoatesBorrowing the conceit that James Baldwin used in his 1963 best-seller The Fire Next Time, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ meditation on what it means to be black in America takes the form of a letter to his fifteen-year-old son. This technique allows the work to feel at once deeply personal and widely applicable. Coates shares how his own awareness of his place in society developed, and then contrasts that with how different his son’s upbringing has been. He rejoices in having been able to give his son a better life, and also shares the painful ways in which he has not been able to make his child’s life different, the ways in which he has felt powerless to save or protect his son from the assumptions that always shroud young black men. The best sections include Coates’ thoughts on the role education, formal and informal, has played in his life, and his reflections on what it is like to be a secular black man in a community that has traditionally leaned on religion.

Categories: Memoir

The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami 

ISBN 978-0-8166-9198-2

Cover image for The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami by Matthew Carl StrecherWinona State University professor of Japanese literature Matthew Carl Strecher undertakes an extensive examination of two of the most fascinating stylistic elements present in the works of Haruki Murakami: magic realism, and parallel narratives. The Other World is present from Murakami’s earliest works, right through to his most recent novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, and The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami traces its evolution. Strecher explains Japanese literary traditions and techniques the Western reader might be unaware of, while also examining Murakami’s works through the lens of European literary theory, including Baudrillard, Derrida, and Barthes. He also contextualizes Murakami’s place within the Japanese literary tradition, even as he characterizes him as a global writer. For those who have read a large portion of Murakami’s work, and want to gain a greater understanding of its significance, Strecher offers a readable scholarly overview.

Categories: Criticsm 

The Inconvenient Indian

ISBN 978-1-4529-4031-1

the-inconvenient-indianIn this sweeping and unconventional history–which was one of the 2015 Canada Reads selections–Thomas King draws examples from the United States and Canada to illustrate the fate of the native peoples of North America since the arrival of European colonizers. King’s work is an informal account rather than an academic history, and his approach involves a healthy dose of humour, which may be off-putting to some readers given the serious nature of the topics he is dealing with. For King, humour is part of how he copes with the darkness of the history he is addressing, and this may help make a difficult topic more accessible. During the Canada Reads event, Craig Kielburger compared it to the humourous approaches used by Rick Mercer and Jon Stewart for raising awareness of current events. The litany of abuses King covers provides a very clear idea of why First Nations and Native Americans might be distrustful of government efforts to improve their current situation. While King is primarily looking back at what has already happened, understanding these issues is also crucial to moving forward.

Categories: Canadian, History

The New Jim Crow

ISBN 978-1-59558-643-8

Cover image for The New Jim Crow by Michelle AlexanderLaw professor and civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander argues that mass incarceration is the most important racial justice issue in America today. Alexander’s rhetorical device is to make a metaphorical comparison between the impacts Jim Crow once had on the lives of black people, and the disproportionate effects of mass incarceration on the African American population today. However, Alexander is careful to acknowledge and point out important differences between Jim Crow and mass incarceration. Although she sees significant similarities, she is by no means saying that the two are the same, or should be approached in the same way. Rather, her bold assertion seems designed to illustrate how a system that is intended to be colorblind can, through the conscious or unconscious biased application of discretion, have an outcome that is similar to that of an overtly racist system of control like Jim Crow. The New Jim Crow is also important because it breaks down the differences between the racial hostility and open bigotry that most Americans recognize as racism, and the quieter, more insidious forms of racial bias that are now that primary form of discrimination faced by American minorities.

Shallow, Selfish, and Self-Absorbed

ISBN 978-1-250-05293-3

Cover image for Selfish, Shallow, and Self-AbsboredEdited and selected by novelist and essayist Megan Daum, Shallow, Selfish, and Self-Absorbed is a collection of essays by writers about the decision not to have children. Each writer has their own journey to making this choice; some knew this fact about themselves all along, and others came to it more gradually. The essays vary greatly in tone. Some are quiet and introspective, while others are angry or angst-ridden. As a whole, this collection neither disparages parenthood, nor advocates the child-free life, but simply seeks to ease some of the stigma that surrounds the decision by offering a window into the minds of those who have made it, and found it to be the right choice for them. Once inside, it shows that the variety within the group is at least as great as that between those who choose children, and those who chose not to procreate. Within its scope—predominantly female, American writers—the collection offers a varied look at a personal decision loaded down with a great deal of cultural baggage.

Categories: Essays

That’s it for me! What were your favourite non-fiction reads of 2015?

The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami

Cover image for The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami by Matthew Carl Strecherby Matthew Carl Strecher

ISBN 978-0-8166-9198-2

 “From the beginning it was clear that two principal elements informed Murakami’s fiction: a focus on some internal being or consciousness that worked with the conscious self, sometimes in concert, other times antagonistically; and the nearly constant presence of a magical “other world” in which this internal being operated. As such, there was always a tension between the metaphysical—indeed, the magical—and the psychological in his work.”

When I first encountered the work of Haruki Murakami in 2012, I was drawn into his novels through my love of two of his primary tools: magic realism and parallel narratives. In The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami, Winona State University professor of Japanese literature Matthew Carl Strecher has turned his attention to examining these elements as manifested by Murakami’s use of the Other World within his narratives. Strecher’s exploration gives the reader a clear idea of how the Other World functions and evolves through Murakami’s body of work, including his most recent novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

Murakami is easily the most famous Japanese writer in North America, and probably the only Japanese writer many of his North American fans have read. As such, Strecher’s deeper knowledge of the culture and language proves invaluable, as he deftly contextualizes Murakami’s position within the larger Japanese literary world. Indeed, though he characterizes Murakami as a global writer, he is more concerned with how Murakami fits—or doesn’t—into the Japanese literary tradition, than with his place amongst other writers of magic realism. Strecher also highlights Japanese literary techniques at play in Murakami’s work that most Western readers will be unfamiliar with, such as michiyuki, a passage or transition in preparation for death. Similarly, the Japanese tradition of perceiving the presence of kami in the world through the sense of hearing can easily be confused for the madness associated with hearing voices by the Western reader.

In addition to acquainting the Western reader with Japanese literary conventions, Strecher also uses the familiar tools, drawing widely from literary theory, ranging from Baudrillard to Barthes to Derrida. Strecher utilizes the psychological theories of Freud and Jung to assist his interpretations, while acknowledging that they are over simple to explain Murakami’s fictions. The Other World is a manifestation of the metaphysical as well as the psychological, and to reduce it to either one is to strip the nuance from Murakami’s explorations of identity.

Given that this is a scholarly monograph and a work of academic criticism, Strecher is not concerned with spoilers, and ranges widely over Murakami’s body of published work. However, this range allows him to identify patterns and progressions in Murakami’s style and themes over the course of his career in a way that a more narrowly focused work would not. For example, Strecher is able to demonstrate how the Other World, an individual space in Murakami’s early works, begins to open up to the collective, and even have consequences for the real world, beginning with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1994). For Strecher, this seems to be an outgrowth of Murakami’s development from an individualist in a collectivist society into someone who is increasingly concerned with the problems of the society that produced him.

Sweeping and insightful, and distinctly scholarly in tone, The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami is most recommended for fans of Murakami who have read most of his work, and perhaps also have some background studying literature and literary theory.


By Haruki Murakami:

Cover image for Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

 The Strange Library

 What I Talk About When I Talk About Running