Haruki Murakami: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (book review)
THIS is not really a book about running, but rather about what running has been doing to the author and how the habit of putting on running shoes and committing himself to mastering the miles planned for almost every day for twenty-five years has shaped the prose of the Franz Kafka Prize-winning author Haruki Murakami.
“Most of what I know about writing I have learned through running every day,” writes the Kyoto-born author whose work has been translated into 42 languages and who has now been running for over a quarter of a century.
But a secret mantra is not revealed in the book; nor will the reader find a Murakami-certified manual for how to get in shape for a challenging marathon – though the writer has mastered quite a number of worldwide competitions.
“I know that if I hadn’t become a long distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different,” writes Murakami. “How different? Hard to say. But something would have been definitely different.”
Yet after readers trot along with Murakami at a very comfortable pace through 180 pages, they are likely to trust the author’s opinion that without running his books such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, Sputnik Sweetheart, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World or the Norwegian Wood would have been very different reads.
And what lessons, among others, does Murakami draw from running? “These are practical, physical lessons. How much I can push myself? How much rest is appropriate and how much is too much? How far I can take something and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much should I be aware of the world outside and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities and when should I start to doubt myself?”
Running helps Murakami to not only remain physically fit, but also to train his perseverance – giving some rhythm to the days of immense intellectual pressure that writing always brings, just as it helps him to keep focus, indispensable accompaniments to one’s talent. And just as one’s physical predisposition does not guarantee a completed marathon, talent alone never guarantees a completed work of fiction.
Yet Murakami makes sure the readers understand that he never recommends running to others. His ambition is rather to capture some of the aspects of his life as a novelist through running and through the metaphor of the long-distance runner.
“I see this book as a kind of a memoire,” writes Murakami in the Afterword to the book. “Not something as grand as a personal history, but calling it an essay collection is a bit forced.”
The details, musings, confessions, images, and technical descriptions of the actual runs are all joined together by the theme of running. It is exactly this theme that guides readers through the book, just as though they are following a track or marathon route.
The book also tells us the story of how Murakami “evolved” from a jazz club owner to a writer and long-distance runner after his first novel was well-received. Naturally, Murakami’s writing style here is more relaxed and more conversational than in his other books, but readers who hunger for confessions and want to capture images of the kind of life Murakami has lived not only as a novelist but also as an ordinary person, will certainly appreciate What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.