Our columnist’s mea culpa: he and many others lambasted Japanese author for ‘ageist’ Twitter comment he never made

Michael TaubeWe all know the purpose of social media is to be “social” with others. The problem is that a high number of online users have a compulsion to share anything and everything under the sun with perfect strangers. It’s an odd concoction of a witches’ brew with main ingredients like seeking attention, desiring praise and, in several recipes, craving controversy.

The latter ingredient, in fact, can also be used for nefarious purposes. That’s how a fake account created real controversy on social media the past few days.

Here’s what happened.

The Japanese writer/author Haruki Murakami made this strange post on X (the social media platform formerly known as Twitter) on Sept. 15, “As a writer, you can write as much as you want until 40 or so, while youth is on your side. But after that, it’s common for people to lose energy, and their writing suffers as a result. Generally speaking.”

Haruki Murakami twitter

Haruki Murakami

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Why were the last two words in bold? Partially for dramatic effect and partially for protection when the angry online mob brought their virtual pitchforks. There would surely be people over 40 whose writing hadn’t suffered due to aging.

Based on the reactions of readers and professional writers, the response was near-universal in this regard.

“Dear @harukimurakami_ Writing is hard enough without this negative bullshit. Beyond that there are hundreds of great authors (and some of the best books) that prove this BS theory wrong. People have their dreams and no one needs you telling them when their dream ends. F off,” American novelist Don Winslow posted on Sept. 18.

“First novel published at age 49. More than 20 since,” crime novelist and former Toronto Star columnist Linwood Barclay posted that same day. So did university professor, author and former National Post editor-in-chief Matthew Fraser, who correctly noted, “George Eliot published her first novel at 40.”

Meanwhile, a Dublin, Ireland-based freelance arts journalist, Sophie Grenham, attempted to ask Murakami, “I’m nearly 40 and haven’t published a book yet. Am I too late?” Winslow responded, “NO. Keep going.” Most others felt the same way.

I also contributed to this discussion.

On Sept. 18, I reposted Murakami’s analysis and wrote, “Complete rubbish.” Author/lawyer Mark Bourrie responded, “I can’t imagine how anyone that stupid can remember to breathe,” to which I replied, “Indeed. I regret praising his book that focused on conversations with the great conductor Seiji Ozawa … which he apparently wrote at age 67.” (My review was published in the Claremont Review of Books on Jan. 29, 2017.)

More than 1.7 million X users have commented about Marukami’s post as of this writing. Virtually all of them have been negative.

Imagine their surprise when they learn what others have gradually discovered – it’s not him. According to several users, including Jane, a self-described Birmingham, England-based “library assistant,” Murakami isn’t on X. Doesn’t care much for social media, and appears to avoid it.

Fair enough. I and others made a mistake in assuming it really was Murakami. It’s rare for me to do this. In my defence, it’s hard to imagine someone would want to impersonate the award-winning Japanese author – and pay for a blue checkmark, to boot. (Even though it doesn’t mean what it used to before Elon Musk bought Twitter last year.)

Hang on. According to this anonymous X user’s handle, “‘I’m a Japanese writer.’ All post here are ‘quot.’” If this is a true fan account, then Murakami’s quote should at least be accurate, if nothing else.

Afraid not.

Murakami’s analysis of energy and writing was part of a Spring & Summer 2021 interview with Uniqlo’s LifeWear Magazine. More specifically, it was directly associated with running and exercise. Here’s the full quote:

“I’m not sure if I can offer proof, but it feels like it does. I also think I would have written different books if running hadn’t been a part of my life. I didn’t start running until I was in my 30s. This was a few years after I closed down my jazz bar and started working full-time as a writer. Managing a bar is lots of work, which helped me keep the flab at bay, but when I started sitting at a desk I gained weight automatically. That freaked me out, so I started running. Pretty soon, I came to realize that I wouldn’t have the energy I needed unless I ran. As a writer, you can write as much as you want until 40 or so, while youth is on your side. But after that, it’s common for people to lose energy, and their writing suffers as a result. Generally speaking. It takes a lot of energy to sit in front of a desk all day and put together sentences. You can’t really make yourself more talented, but you can get physically fit.”

This additional context makes Murakami’s original comment far more palatable. We can still agree or disagree with him, but the analysis wasn’t as loopy as most of us originally thought.

Another important lesson in social media has been learned the hard way. My apologies to Murakami, and I take back my short-lived regret in reviewing his excellent book.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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Click here for books by Haruki Murakami.

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