What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
by Haruki Murakami
I'm a huge fan of Haruki Murakami. My first encounter with his work was The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and I loved it. It's a complex, strange, sometimes disturbing story. That's also how I'd describe Kafka on the Shore. I'm scared to attempt reviewing Murakami's books, because they're so indescribable for me.
I just finished listening to the audio version of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and it seems easier to talk about this book because it's non-fiction and a memoir. In it, Murakami talks about the long-distance running that he's done for much of his adult life, from his daily routines to memories of some of the marathons and triathlons he's done over the years. His reflections also turn inward, noting that focus and endurance are required of both a runner and a novelist, and drawing parallels again and again between the two disciplines. The book also acts as a travelogue, as the author recalls trips in Cambridge, Hawaii, New York City, and his native Japan. Written in a series of meandering journal entries – they don't follow a chronological or thematic order – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a distillation of Murakami's life philosophy.
I wasn't sure I would like this book, because I don't care for running at all. But while the book is certainly about running, it's not really about running. That is, while he's writing about environments he's run in and how his body reacts to changes in his routine, the reader's attention is really drawn to his reactions to the aging process, or the effect his running has on how he writes his novels. I would be so bored if the book cataloged the exercises best used when training for a marathon, or a list of Murakami's best running times, but this more psychological approach to the sport, and how it affects one man, is very interesting.
Would I find this entertaining if I was not a fan of Murakami's fiction? I'm not sure. Maybe not. One reason I want to know Murakami's thoughts is because I am such a fan of his novels; what would I care about a random Japanese man's philosophy about a sport I loathe? In one chapter, Murakami talks about his career before becoming a full-time writer, when he ran a jazz bar in Tokyo. If music didn't play such a prominent role in many of his stories, this wouldn't have interested me particularly, but because it does I was glad to read about it. So I have to admit I have trouble seeing this book as one with mass appeal to those outside of Murakami's preexisting fan base. If any of you have read this, I'd love to hear what you thought of it, and if you were familiar with Murakami's work before you read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
4 out of 5 stars