At WORD’s Haruki Murakami Read-a-Thon

10/26/2011 11:08 AM |

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A crowd of more than 60 Haruki Murakami fans packed into WORD’s basement reading space late on Monday night in order to celebrate the release of the prolific Japanese author’s latest, 1Q84, which officially went on sale yesterday. A few brave guests, all of whom had pre-ordered the book, got up to read their favorite passages from the award-winning writer’s body of work.

“There is something community-building about people reading to other fans, and the Brooklyn literary scene is such a community,” said Jenn Northington, event manager at WORD, noting that there were many familiar faces in the crowd. “So they make it easy.”

This is not the first midnight release party or read-a-thon hosted by WORD, the independent Greenpoint bookstore—Northington describes their read-a-thon and release party for David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King as a huge success. Other popular events have included literary karaoke and a read-a-thon of banned books. Northington said the read-a-thon tends to work for the kinds of authors who attract a cult following.

Stephanie Anderson, a manager at the store, described the crowds at past parties for Mockingjay and Harry Potter (which each drew over 100 people) as being a little “nuttier.”

“This crowd was a little more mature and subdued, as befits Murakami,” she noted.

Jenn Northington reads from IQ84
  • Jenn Northington reads from IQ84

The audience was nonetheless enthused and passionate about the genre-bending author they had come to celebrate. Readings ranged from the lonely, sparse prose recognizable in Sputnik Sweetheart to the grotesque and disturbing. One reader, Alex Highstein, read from a short story called “The Dancing Dwarf,” from the collection The Elephant Vanishes, which describes a girl turning into a corpse mid-embrace with the narrator (because of the dancing dwarf, obviously).

“It’s not all like that,” said Highstein, once he finished.

One reader, Rachel Gibbs, had been traveling in Ireland when she returned to America and learned of the Occupy Wall Street protests. These inspired her choice of passage, a reading from “Folklore for My Generation: A Pre-History of Late-Stage Capitalism.” One line went: “The energy of the times, spark of promise…”

“It resonated with me,” she said.

The event culminated in the midnight on-sale of the book, at which point the basement was a packed house, with latecomers standing in the back. Guests helped themselves to wine and doughnuts offered by the store. Northington began reading from the first chapter a few minutes before midnight to a rapt crowd, which then lined up along the stairs. When the clock struck midnight, the line moved.

Signed copies of the widely anticipated release were interspersed at random throughout the stack. “Did I get a golden ticket?” asked one customer, Michelle Sloan, who came to the event with her friend Serena Shulman (she didn’t, but Shulman did). The two are reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle for their book club and decided to attend the event.

“It’s fun when you’re reading to create a little community,” said Sloan.

The midnight release party was one of several happening around the country for the release of 1Q84. Other New York release parties were hosted by St. Mark’s Bookshop, which extended its regular hours to sell 1Q84 at the stroke of midnight, and Three Lives & Company.

“I feel like this was the epitome of a Brooklyn event,” said Anderson, who told the story of a friend who had been complaining lately that every girl he goes out with on OKCupid lists The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as her favorite book (author’s note: it’s mine, too).

“It’s easy to get jaded when you work in a business that people are constantly telling you will be obsolete,” said Anderson. “But when you hear people squealing outside and coming in at midnight, that’s really special.”

As for the next read-a-thon, Northington says: “We’re waiting for the next potential thing. You know it when you see it.”