If you’ve been following my blog or have read more than a few articles on here, then you may know that I’m not one for biographies or memoirs. The number of biographies/memoirs I’ve read to date is probably less than five. However, sometimes, I come across a memoir or autobiography so intriguing that I can’t resist, such as the one by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Living to Tell the Tale), 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. As a writer and runner, he often gets asked what he thinks about while 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 writing. In the novel, he presently writes about his preparation and training for an upcoming New York Marathon while recounting early events of his life, such as 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 ran a total of 25 marathons (one every year) and done six 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 with long-distance running or training for a marathon. He feels that the qualities needed to be a successful writer and long-distance runner are quite similar: 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 do so – a certain level of talent is needed as well.
As a long-distance runner for a quarter of a decade, Murakami recounts in his memoir the hard work and training he endures to be able to run marathons but 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 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, then it will be a good thing. However, 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. However, he does share with the readers his strange obsession with long-distance running and its benefits 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