I enjoyed Haruki Murakami’s memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, loads more than his novels, Colourless Tsukura Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage or The Strange Library, as good as they were.
What I liked best about What I Talk About When I Talk About Running was that it was real. It was the author’s own story, mostly about his experiences training for and running in marathons and triathlons, and a little about writing and how he lives his life.
Confession – I used to run. I know the world is divided up into people who run and people who don’t, (just like or people who read and people who don’t, people who like chocolate and people who don’t, or even people who go to bed early and people who don’t), but either way, I like running (and reading, chocolate and going to bed early. Don’t get me wrong, I never ran a marathon. (I’m not stupid). I’m not built for long distance running, but I used to manage between five and eight kilometres three or four times a week and I did this for years. When I was running, I felt good. I fit into everything in my wardrobe and I could eat what I liked. I enjoyed the time on my own while I was running too, but the best thing was the sense of satisfaction I felt after a run. (Haruki Murakami also says that sometimes finishing a run is the best part, so there!).
I stopped running because the amount of free time I had changed and for some reason I never started again. This book makes me think about running again though.
In this memoir, which was written about ten years ago when the author was in his late fifties, and splitting his time between Japan, Hawaii and Cambridge. Haruki Murakami is clearly a busy man, strict in his habits and as a man who likes his company, well suited to the solitary natures of writing and running.
Haruki Murakami’s honesty is brutal. For example, when he talks about feeling jaded with running, he describes the sensation as being, “Just like when you lose the initial crazy feeling you have when you fall in love.” Ouch.
He also points out that most writers burn out. “Some writers take their own lives at this point, while others just give up writing and choose another path.”
Haruki Murakami explains that he runs in part for his physical health and partly to extend his creative life, as he believes that writing novels brings out the writer’s emotional toxins, and that being in the best possible physical health helps authors to cope mentally. He stresses over and over that this view and his way of dealing with the mental demands of writing are his opinion only, but that they help him to do his best, or as he describes it, beyond his best.
He also comments that when he doesn’t feel like going out for a run that he tells himself how lucky he is not having to commute to work or to attend meetings. (He does recognise that some people would rather suffer a commute or meeting than go on a run!) He is honest about the pain of running long distances, about ageing and about the benefits of a routine.
The author’s story of how he came to be a writer is interesting too. He says he was sitting outside watching baseball, when the thought came to him he could write a novel. So he did. He sold his jazz bar and started writing, just like that. If he were to write another memoir about music and his former career, I would read it too.
I found What I Talk About When I Talk About Running to be inspiring. The idea of doing your best comes through loud and clear, regardless of how people feel about running, although I think I’m going to find time to run again myself.*
*Since writing this review a few weeks ago, I went on one very short run, which nearly killed me. I have eaten my way through several blocks of chocolate and found that to be much more enjoyable.