“But who can say what’s best? That’s why you need to grab whatever chance you have of happiness where you find it, and not worry about other people too much. My experience tells me that we get no more than two or three such chances in a life time, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives.”
Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

If you have yet to dive into a good Murakami read, I am here to be your tour guide as you start that mind-altering adventure. I have devoured almost everything that has been translated into English and consider myself one of his biggest fans.

10 years ago, I sank my mind into my very first Haruki Murakami novel, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I read it over the summer knowing it was assigned in the Contemporary Literature course I was taking that fall.

I get asked all the time which of his works to read first, and I always suggest this one. This book contains all of the common Murakami experiences (alternating chapters, alternate worlds, mysterious protagonist, mysterious circumstances, awkward sex, cooking, music, and more.) If you like this one, then you’ll likely enjoy his others. They only get weirder.

Timing is everything when reading, which is why some of us hated the novels we were force fed in high school and others rave about the same books. Well, Murakami and I began a very beautiful friendship back when I was 20. I went on to write my M.A. thesis about this book and will be teaching it for the first time this spring.

For the past 3 semesters, I taught Norwegian Wood, which works really well because this generation of readers are accustomed to choosing teams by voting for a love interest. Half my students are typically Team Midori while the other half are Team Naoko. Nonetheless, I’m ready to switch it up and explore some new themes with my students.

Here is what Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World will teach you and hopefully my students this spring:

1. Dichotomies are never what they seem.

2. The unconscious life is productive.

3. “Everyone may be ordinary, but they’re not normal.”

This novel is lovely and will challenge you to think new thoughts about the mind, consciousness, and awareness. Let me know which Murakami novel you recommend to friends first and definitely tell me if you share my love for this one.

Happy Reading!

New to Haruki Murakami? Start Here.

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35 Responses

  1. The only Murakami book I’ve read is “Kafka on the Shore” (I just picked it up randomly from the library one day). It’s the kind of book that I want to recommend to people, but I’m not sure who will actually like it. I am quite interested in reading more of his works though. I might try “Hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world” next

    1. That is so funny. I am constantly recommending Murakami but never really sure if I should. I think Kafka might be his weirdest work yet, so congrats on starting there. Let me know if you pick up HBW&EotW. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  2. Personally, I would say any book of Murakami is good enough to start with. My first Murakami novel was South of the Border and the West of the Sun. Upon reading it, I wanted to read more Murakami. However, perhaps one of the early novels such as A Wild Sheep Chase, Dance Dance Dance or Hard Boiled Wonderland to get a better sense of his style and themes would be a good idea 🙂

  3. ‘Timing is everything when reading, which is why some of us hated the novels we were force fed in high school while others of us rave about the same reads.’
    That is so true, tho’ in my experience the ‘ravers’ were very few indeed.
    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on Murakami; I’m just about to embark on ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki’.

  4. Thanks for coming across my blog. I really appreciate the “eclecticity” of your writing, and look forward to reading more of your posts. I’ve been considering taking on the challenge of a Murkami and appreciate the guidance. Blessings to you and your husband and much joy to you with your latest addition!

    1. Thank you so much for your well wishes. We are having an amazing time watching our son grow. Please let me know if you pick up Murakami; he’s pretty remarkable. I’m looking forward to reading more of your words as well! Happy New Year!

  5. Only the other day someone asked me who my favourite writer was. I said Haruki Murakami (they hadn’t heard of him) and then asked which book I would suggest of his. This was a very hard question to answer. My favourite is Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but I’m not sure that would make a good recommendation. I ended up going with Norwegian Wood as I think it might be the most accessible. It was the first of his full length works I read, and it led me into the weirder stuff, so maybe it would work that way for others too. Thanks for writing your thoughts on this question so coincidentally close to me having to choose one of his books to recommend. 🙂

    1. I think Wind-Up is his best. I love the narrative style of Wind-Up, HBW, Kafka, and 1Q84. Norwegian Wood is a great choice to start with, but some of my students couldn’t see past the sex. I wanted to try something different. We’ll see how it goes. Anyway, it is a hard question. Every reader is different. Have you read The Strange Library yet? Oddly enough, it’s strange 🙂

  6. Well, you sure know how to get my attention: Murakami has been one of my Top10 favourite authors since I tucked into ‘Windup Bird Chronicles’ about fifteen years ago, and I was lucky enough to meet the man himself a few months ago…


    My go-to recommendation for Murakami newbies, not too long and with all the delicious weirdness of his best works, is A Wild Sheep Chase, but Hardboiled is probably my second recommendation!!

    Thanks for dropping by my blog, and keep up the writing!

  7. Just finished “Sputnik Sweetheart”– my first Murakami– and enjoyed it! Thought it would be a nice way to ease into his work. “Kafka” came highly recommended, and “Hardboiled” immediately peaks my interest as a disciple of Chandler and Hammett. I found “Wind Up Bird” at the bookstore and have that on deck, tentatively. Thoughts?

    1. I think Wind-Up is his best work. It is complicated and beautiful and even violent. I hope you love it. Sputnik is a delight; you just ate dessert before a seven course meal. If you have it, read it. I am working on a post about what order to read them all in, but it’s just one opinion. You can’t mess it up.

    2. Time flies but I have circled back to Murakami and am through 60 pages of Hard Boiled Wonderland. Interesting so far in that it is very abstract and metaphorical. I want to savor the experience but don’t want to get lost in analogies that fly over my head. Can you give me some tips or notables to keep in mind as I progress through? I read the other article as well and will keep those tips in mind. Happy Reading!

    3. I have a YouTube video that is a Power Point without sound. It introduces some themes to keep in mind for just the first two chapters. It was sort of a fluke because I was just learning how to add audio to a Power Point and the experiment went south when I tried to upload it to YouTube. You can read the themes though. I hope you are enjoying it so far. I’m sorry I didn’t respond sooner. Let me know what you think when you finish. Here is the video: Beginning Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

    4. Thanks for the response! I did take a look at some of the themes. I also finished the novel that week. It was frustrating at times because I knew I was not getting everything, but once I finished I found myself continuing to think about the story.

      I have been re-reading certain scenes from End of the World looking for clues, subtleties and hints, and really like the dream-like style of his narration through those chapters. The hard-boiled sections, in my opinion, are not deserving of the comparison to Chandler, and were very misleading.

      However, I did enjoy the book! Great concept, and once I understood the relationship between the two sections, I was able to approach everything from a new perspective. No shame in not taking it all in during the first read, and I would bet it will reveal something new each time I re-read it. Tough to get through the first time without a bit of guidance, but luckily your posts helped frame it, and I was able to press through.

      Wind-Up Bird is on my December reading list, and I will have to track down a copy of Kafka as well.

    5. That sounds great. I think you’ll find both Wind-Up and Kafka more enjoyable. HBW is a great foundational work for understanding some concepts Murakami visits and revisits through each of his works. I wouldn’t compare him to Chandler, although I have only read The Big Sleep. Knowing Murakami claims to be influenced by Chandler, I wanted to see what he was about. The only connection I find is ending the chapter on a cliff hanger to make the reader want to see what happens next, but that’s hardly exclusive to any one author. Please let me know what you think of Murakami’s other works.

  8. I think ‘Wind Up’ is my favourite. Murakami has such a unique voice. He seems to gloss the surfaces of things – actions, conversations, relationships -and yet that surreal undertow draws you in and doesn’t let you go. I still have 1Q84 to read – I’m saving it up as a treat!

    1. I know what you mean, Sarah. I still have A Wild Sheep Chase to read and I don’t want to start it for the same reason. I agree with you in part- I think Wind-Up is his best, but Hard-Boiled Wonderland has a special place in my heart.

  9. Very cool topic! Wind-up Bird Chronicles is our bookcase and the only one I’ve read, but it blew my mind from like the first scene, with that surreal sex/phone encounter thing. I loved it. Now you’ve got me wanting to read more, and I’ve got a stack in my back-log already! Thanks Jessica. Have a great weekend. – Bill

    1. If you liked Wind-Up, then you’ll love Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Kafka on the Shore and 1Q84. They all deal with a similar theme. He subtly touches on it in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage in a less absurd way. I’d love to chat with you after each Murakami meal.

  10. Murakamis books were on my radar…picked up IQ84 as an audio book…thought I would listen to a couple of chapters, and bam! I was hooked…fabulous! Listening to After Dark, at the moment, and I am transported! He is an incredible writer…glad to be a fan and to have a bevy of books to look forward to this year…

    1. I think I need to re-read After Dark. It is the only book of his I didn’t enjoy. I would probably appreciate it if I tried again. I can’t seem to get enough of him.

  11. Hi Jessica,

    Thank you so much for this article and “The Best Way to Read Haruki Murakami.” I have wanted to read Murakami for over a year now and was not sure what to read first. This article inspired me to order Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I look forward to reading more of your articles and book recommendations.

    On a side note thank you for stopping by my little blog!