If you’ve been following my blog, or have read more than a few articles on here, then you may already know that I’m not one for biographies or memoirs. The number of biographies / memoirs I’ve read to date, probably total less than 5. Sometimes, though, I come across a memoir or autobiography so intriguing that I can’t resist – like the one by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Living to Tell the Tale), or Jose Saramago’s Small Memories, and Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis.
In 2008, Haruki Murakami published What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which is a sort of collection of short essays about his running habits. Being a writer, and a runner, he often gets asked what he thinks about while he’s running. This novel is a sort of response to that question. Despite the central theme on his love for long-distance running, Murakami calls his novel a memoir, because it also contains a lot about his personal life, including his early careers and his writing. In the novel, he presently writes about his preparation and training for an upcoming New York Marathon, while recounting earlier events of his life, like how and when he first took up long-distance running. Murakami started running marathons when he was in his early 30’s and he’s been doing it every year since. While he was writing the novel, which was in 2005, he had run a total of 25 marathons (one every year), and done 6 triathlons – there’s a short essay at the end of the book about his (mis)adventures doing triathlons, which, anyone who does triathlons, or knows someone who does, can easily relate to.
Throughout the novel, Murakami often compares the act of writing a novel to long-distance running, or training for a marathon. He feels that the qualities needed to be a successful writer, and a successful long-distance runner are quite similar – one needs focus, commitment, and a lot of hard work. He feels that similar to being a writer, it takes talent to be a runner; one does not become a successful runner (or writer), simply because one has the desire to – a certain level of talent is needed as well.
In being a long-distance runner for a quarter of a decade, Murakami recounts in his memoir the hard work and training he endures in order to be able to run marathons, but he also gives away a lot of insights on the kind of person he is, and the type of life he leads. He says early on in the novel that his goal isn’t to encourage everyone to go out and run because of all its obvious health benefits – he feels that people either like running, or they don’t. But if someone reads his book and gets inspired to go out and run, it will be a good thing; but if running is not for you, you are better off finding something else to do.
Anyone who runs or has ever run, either for pleasure or for
torture health reasons can easily relate to this book. Murakami doesn’t glamorize running or cover up the difficulties, challenges, and disappointments that come with joining long-distance running events, nor does he pretend that it’s absolutely fun or pain free. He does, however, share with the readers his strange obsession with long-distance running and the benefits it has had on his health, writing, and peace of mind. As he states early on in the novel, in running, as in life, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (2008) – Haruki Murakami
Vintage; 180 pages (paperback)
Personal rating: 4/5