Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is part memoir, part essay collection. As of 2006 (the initial publication date), Murakami had successfully run twenty-six marathons and published eleven novels, making him an authority on writing and running. But this is not a How-To guide; from the offset, the humble writer stresses that his only intention is to share his accumulated wisdom and experience. And that’s precisely how this book should be taken. Murakami candidly and casually details his philosophies on writing, running and growing old. I didn’t learn a whole lot from this, but I don’t think I expected to.
Although this is billed as a sort of memoir, the biographical components of the book are the lightest. Murakami shares plenty about his running history, but comparatively little about his early life or fiction. I found this somewhat disappointing. Before I picked this up, I’d heard that the book equally explored Murakami’s writing and running lives, and that there were parallels between them. In reality, only about fifteen percent of this book deals with Murakami’s fiction, and the parallels drawn between novel-writing and marathon-running are pretty superficial. Make no mistakes: this book is for runners, not Murakami fans.
Fortunately, running’s my new favourite pastime, so I found plenty to enjoy. Murakami pens his thoughts as they come to him, giving us great insight into the mind of someone preparing for a long distance event. Events are jumped between with abandon and, when combined with a stream of consciousness approach, left the book feeling structurally disjointed. This was something I was unable to get past. It all feels a bit haphazardly thrown together, and the later portions (where Murakami digresses into discussing triathlons) drag. I can’t really pinpoint what would’ve made this a better-rounded read. It’s a little repetitive (Murakami trains for a marathon, completes it, does not meet his own unrealistic expectations, trains more, tries again), but then it’s only a short book so I’m not sure how much could conceivably be cut.
Regardless, the actual content of the book is (mostly) very good. Murakami has a unique way of seeing the world. He’s a modest guy, and his unpretentious views are wonderful. We’re so used to reading things that are laced in irony, so when someone as sincere and earnest as Murakami comes along, we have to stand and pay attention. Murakami views running as some transcendental act – although he’s careful not to get all metaphysical. It’s impossible not to absorb some of Murakami’s passion. I would genuinely call this an inspiring read, and that’s not a descriptor I’d use lightly.
Reading <i>Running</i>, one could think Murakami is foolish, doggedly stubborn. He is, in a sense, but has a remarkable spirit. His story really demonstrates how much we’re capable of achieving with just a strong work ethic and the right attitude. All the rest (bar luck and talent) is superfluous; Murakami teaches us to believe that anything is possible. Reading this, I may just believe it.