I think Murakami is a great author but selling his novel with sachets of customisable stickers (whose designs were conceived by five different illustrators who read the novel and drew out their interpretations of plot points with assigned characters in mind) is a cheapening of his own artistic talent. Does Murakami really need this extra fluff to get people to read his books? The publisher’s saccharine story about her son’s love of stickers and how adults would also appreciate reliving this childlike activity of self-expression and decoration is bogus. It is a nauseating appeal to the kind of hipsters and Japanophiles that buy into that snowflake lifestyle of being self-consciously quirky and lol-so-random and therefore will feel compelled to read unusual books for self-identification, particularly if it comes with such a kooky attachment. An author like Murakami, renowned for his works with offbeat characters and fantastical plots, and revered for his cult status among such chai-drinking fuzzy-scarf pseudo-intellectual alternative readers, is unfortunately able to get away with something so unnecessarily gimmicky to accompany his latest release. This is marketing disguised as art.
In that sense, it’s lamentably brilliant and it will work. What better way to boost sales in the dying print industry than to give a book more than one function? Not only can you read the thing to enjoy and appreciate its story, if you still read books that is, but you can also make your book look pretty by tarting it up with stickers that expresses your own unique personality! You and your friends can show each other your first editions and compare how individual you really are! You can show others how special you are with an accessory that signifies your literary awareness and creative worldview when it’s not on your shelf for everyone to see!
Gérard Genette defines the paratext as all the baggage from editors, publishers and other interferences that accompany a novel such as prefaces, introductions, cover illustrations, and even the author’s name and book title. The paratext arguably informs and shapes how we interpret or how we create our own opinions about a text, often even before we have read it and decided what to think. At a very superficial sweeping level, it is judging a book by its cover, or in my case, for its cover. Stickers as paratext is certainly a new one in my books (hah).
But could this be the start of something to get readers reading again? The fetishisation of books is something that a lot of people are guilty of, myself included, but as well as being a new low that grooms issues of self-image and reading-as-status-symbol, is this a potential tactic to get people reading and cause a lot of buzz over actual books again? If so, then that’s just a bit sad, really. But I guess the literary industry is scarily dependent on such marketing strategies to get its books off the shelves and talents recognised, no matter how appalling they might be.