Nobody calls Haruki Murakami "the Japanese Tom Robbins" anymore.
Barring the creator of an improbably popular boy-wizard, how many authors in the world today could coax more than a hundred people into a bookstore at midnight on a humid Monday evening for the publication of a new novel? Earlier this month, dozens of people crammed into Elliott Bay Book Company to buy Haruki Murakami's newest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, on its day of publication. The mood was downright festive. People participated in a black-and-white costume contest. Some unlucky bookseller spent hours cutting the eyes out of a stack of Murakami head shots and then taping the faces to drinking straws so that partyers could goof around with Murakami masks.
In one corner of the store, Elliott Bay event coordinator Rick Simonson looked through the store's photographs of Murakami's visit to Seattle in November 1997 and reminisced about the first time he heard the author's name in 1989 (Kodansha editor Elmer Luke handed Simonson a copy of Wild Sheep Chase and recommended it as the first English translation from "the Japanese Tom Robbins"). Everyone ate snacks from a generous-but-weird spread (an international hodgepodge that included wasabi peas, black licorice, Hershey's Kisses, Brie, and Finnish crackers) and entered a trivia contest for the chance to win an autographed copy of the book. Few authors demand that kind of adulation around the world; in Japan, Tsukuru sold a million copies in its first week of sales.
As much as his fans love him, a certain reticence is sneaking into discussions about Murakami, even among some of those faithful fans at the midnight sale. It's the kind of friction that's borne out of a growing familiarity between reader and author...