Quick Review: MURAKAMI T:THE T-SHIRTS I LOVE by Haruki Murakami (Knopf)

MurakamiH-MurakamiTUSHCAn engaging, enjoyable trip through Murakami’s t-shirt collection

The international literary icon opens his eclectic closet: Here are photographs of Murakami’s extensive and personal T-shirt collection, accompanied by essays that reveal a side of the writer rarely seen by the public. 

Considered “the world’s most popular cult novelist” (The Guardian), Haruki Murakami has written books that have galvanized millions around the world. Many of his fans know about his 10,000-vinyl-record collection, and his obsession with running, but few have heard about a more intimate, and perhaps more unique, passion: his T-shirt-collecting habit.

In Murakami T, the famously reclusive novelist shows us his T-shirts — including gems from the Springsteen on Broadway show in NYC, to the Beach Boys concert in Honolulu, to the shirt that inspired the beloved short story “Tony Takitani.” Accompanied by short, frank essays that have been translated into English for the first time, these photographs reveal much about Murakami’s multifaceted and wonderfully eccentric persona.

This is, strangely, the first of Haruki Murakami’s books that I’ve read. However, I find that he and I have very similar thoughts when it comes to t-shirts and what they mean for us/people in general. In this slim volume, Murakami collects the short essays he wrote for a Japanese fashion magazine about some of his (many, many) t-shirts. They are grouped by theme, and offer some interesting and endearing digressions on various topics. I really enjoyed it.

Murakami T isn’t just about t-shirts, of course. It is, in a way, a collection about memory, nostalgia, reading, passions, consumerism, and more. Murakami uses his t-shirts as a jumping-off point to examine various topics that are important to him. Sometimes, the t-shirts in question have a very tenuous or not-obvious connection to the topic he ultimately discusses. Each essay, however, is interesting, engaging, and often endearing.

“… despite my basic indifference, objects just seem to collect around me, of their own volition. Stacks and stacks of LP records — so many I’ll never listen to them all; books I’ve already read and will probably never open again; a ragtag assemblage of magazine clippings; dinky little pencils so worn down they don’t fit into a pencil sharpener anymore — all kinds of things just keep on piling up.”

Murakami is famous for his love of vinyl and jazz records, which make an appearance in the book — through the window created by his t-shirts featuring record-player motifs and images. It’s not just t-shirts that he hunts for in Goodwill or thrift stores:

The long and short of it is that I love record stores. Ever since I can remember, whenever I managed to save some money, I’d go record hunting. If I ran across one that I wanted, I’d skip lunches until I could afford to buy it. And now, more than a half century later, I can still be found out there, scouring for records. Rummaging around in a used-record store for an hour or so is, for me, one of the greatest pleasures life affords. Just gazing at a record I purchased, inhaling its smell, gives me a lot of joy.

Reading, of course, features in the essays, and Murakami touches upon not only his own books (the releases of which often come along with special t-shirts produced by his publishers, which he can never bring himself to wear). He writes about his love for reading, and more:

In Japan we have the phrase dokusho no aki, meaning “Autumn is the best season for reading,” but leisurely reading in the shade on a bright, sunny summer afternoon isn’t bad either. Autumn isn’t at all the only season for reading. People who love reading are going to read no matter what — whether it’s snowing or the summer cicadas are screeching outside, or even if the police command them, “Don’t read!” (Check out Fahrenheit 451.)

The book ranges across a diverse range of topics, from beer and whisky, to the author’s “terrible experiences with crows”, to movies, and more. There’s a real granular attention to detail, at times, including Murakami’s sweet-spot when it comes to t-shirts: “I like plain T-shirts where the neckline is a bit worn. It’s kind of tricky to get it just right. Hanes and Fruit of the Loom shirts wear out just right, but this optimum condition doesn’t last long.” Every essay includes some pearls of wisdom or insight that had me reflecting on my own relationship with and thoughts on the topic or general thrust of the essay in question.

I think the only time I disagreed with the author is when he says he can’t bring himself to wear a Ramones shirt outside: “There are some limits when you get to be seventy,” he says (it’s in an interview included at the end of the book). To each their own, of course, but I will be wearing my In Flames, Rolling Stones, Nothing More, and Five Finger Death Punch t-shirts until I die! (Ok, that’s unlikely, because they’ll all have faded and worn down to nothing by then, but still…)

I’ve always considered t-shirts (and records) to be a form of aide memoire: they mark a particular time or event (concert, trip, etc.), and each of them comes attached with memories. I have tried to buy a concert shirt from every gig I’ve attended, for example. Murakami is a bit of a t-shirt junkie, who often spends time hunting for interesting and unusual t-shirts in thrift stores (he says he doesn’t like spending more than about $1.99 for each). Mine have not been this cheap, I must confess. (I remember when tour t-shirts used to be only about £10-15, or $20, rather than the $50+ I’ve seen since moving to Toronto. Still, I’m happy to contribute to/support the bands.) But the impulse is similar.

Given my own thoughts on t-shirts, and collections — which were never as organized, nor as eloquently put as Murakami’s are — this book has stuck with me, and it’s made me think a bit more about my own collection, and indulge in some reminiscing. A really great read. I was very pleasantly surprised. I’m sure fans of Murakami will enjoy this, and anyone interested in books about memory and observations about life might also find something to enjoy in here.

Definitely recommended.

*

Haruki Murakami’s Murakami T: The T-Shirts I Love is due to be published by Knopf in North America and Harvill Secker in the UK, on November 16th.

Review copy received via Edelweiss

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