Today’s featured book: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
In 1982, having sold his jazz bar to devote himself to writing, Murakami began running to keep fit. A year later, he’d completed a solo course from Athens to Marathon, and now, after dozens of such races, not to mention triathlons and a dozen critically acclaimed books, he reflects upon the influence the sport has had on his life and–even more important–on his writing. Equal parts training log, travelogue, and reminiscence, this revealing memoir covers his four-month preparation for the 2005 New York City Marathon and takes us to places ranging from Tokyo’s Jingu Gaien gardens, where he once shared the course with an Olympian, to the Charles River in Boston among young women who outpace him. Through this marvelous lens of sport emerges a panorama of memories and insights: the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer, his greatest triumphs and disappointments, his passion for vintage LPs, and the experience, after fifty, of seeing his race times improve and then fall back. By turns funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is rich and revelatory, both for fans of this masterful yet guardedly private writer and for the exploding population of athletes who find similar satisfaction in distance running.
Let me start by saying that I have never enjoyed Murakami’s books. His storylines are beyond weird. Cerebral, but nonsensical at the same time, which just doesn’t sit well with me. My friends all love him, but not I! However, I hate Stephen King’s novels and I really enjoyed On Writing, his memoir about his early years as a writer and writing in general.
The same thing applies here. I found What I Talk About When I Talk About Writing TREMENDOUSLY enjoyable. I don’t read Murakami, I don’t write, I most certainly don’t run, and I can’t stay focused on anything long enough for it to become a hobby or a habit, much less devote years and years to something that’s not my job the way Murakami dedicates himself to training for marathons. And yet, I felt I truly understood him and could relate to much of what he was saying. Will I ever get that connection that speaks about that emerges between runners? Nope. But I can envision the calmness that running and routine instill in you and the feeling of triumph you get after completing a run that you trained hard for.
Also, I gotta say that Murakami must have the most supportive/chill wife ever! She hardly appears in the book, but he mentions that he married early and occasionally shares her comments on his activities (though never her comments on his major life decisions).
I’ve never been an artsy fartsy spiritual kind of person, but the first thought that comes to mind when someone brings up this book is water. Murakami really approaches life with a go-with-the-flow, adapt-to-whatever-you-come-across mentality. I’ve always said that my motto is to go with the flow. I don’t like to think about regrets and the past; I prefer to think, “Well, shit. It already happened. What next?” When friends ask me which element I identify with, I always say water. But reading this has made me realize that in reality, I’ve planned out much of my life in great detail. When Plan A doesn’t work, I immediately switch to Plan B or come up with a new plan right then and there. I try out everything and then jump to the next thing when the first one doesn’t work. In my head, I thought that was adapting and going with the flow. It IS adapting to some extent, but my real motto should be “TRIAL AND ERROR”. Murakami did everything in his life on a whim. I’ve done things on a whim before, but usually within the constraints of my current life plans– they were logical whims, impulses that involved thought, which pretty much defeats the purpose. Basically *SPOILER*, I would never have just up and sold my jazz bar to go write books when I had never written a book before and never had any desire to write before the very moment in which I had that thought. But this man did just that and it’s astounding to me.