Haruki Murakami’s Strange Library December 5, 2014 – Posted in: book design, Libraries, Of Interest: Featured Books / Reviews – Tags: Haruki Murakami, surrealism
Haruki Murakami’s surreal library adventure coupled with Chip Kidd’s book design makes for a unforgettable 1-2 punch.
The book itself is a knockout. The front cover is comprised of two panels that emanate from the rear cover, fold over and are held together by a tab, ‘107’.
Each panel is illustrated on its verso. A large animal on one, a smile on the other.
Animal eye illustration on verso of front panel. Note the flip side of the ‘107’ tab at middle
Separate the panels, lift and start reading.
A young boy visits the public library on his way home from school to return a couple of books, one on How to Build a Submarine and one on the Memoirs of a Shepherd, and to ask after some others. The librarian at the circulation desk processes the returned books and sends the boy to Room 107 to find the ones he is looking for.
Down the “long flight of stairs” and “a gloomy corridor” he goes until he gets to Room 107. He knocks, the door opens and into a new world he steps.
He is looking for books on tax collection during the Ottoman Empire a topic he says that just popped into his head on the way home from school.
The librarian fetches three very old books on the subject for him and when he turns to leave he is alerted that the books are for “internal use only”.
And before you can spell Ottoman Empire he is jailed in a “Reading Room” with a ball and chain around his ankle and must memorize the three books in their entirety before he gets released.
From a character dressed in a sheep outfit (think Memoirs of a Shepherd, one of the books the boy returned, and also parchment which originates from sheep skin) to a mysterious young girl who delivers to the boy some of the best prison food one could hope for, to the subterranean maze one must get through to escape (How to Build a Submarine) Murakami’s imagination is on bookish fire.
On coming across the UK edition of The Strange Library Afira Akbar says in his piece in The Independent, Murakami’s The Strange Library shows the e-reading revolution is making books more beautiful
it made me stop and start with its mysterious magenta cover and its library ticket holder on the front. It is an odd and beautiful thing – a thing more than a book, whose design doesn’t just adorn but penetrates the story, melting into it with its dainty, surreal and haunting images that almost, at times, seem to finish Murakami’s sentences.
It had me enthralled, a pretty artefact that was a story of childhood, death and reading, drawn in both words and pictures, like a fairytale, yet there was nothing childish about it. As someone with an avowed aversion to re-reading – life is too short and there are too many good books in it – I will break my own rule with this one, and that is partly down to the alchemy of its illustration.
It is that powerful.
The Strange Library was released in the US on December 2nd coming a little too late for inclusion in our Favorite Books of 2014 but there is no way we can wait until next year to talk about this gem.