What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
I have just finished reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running for the fifth time. I love this book, and although I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest book ever written, it may be my favorite book ever written.
At the title suggests, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a series of essays and memoirs, mostly centering on running. However, it’s also the story of how Murakami went from running a jazz club in Tokyo to writing novels. Murakami also touches on his love of vinyl albums, his translating the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver into Japanese, and his love of Sam Adams beer. More substantially (for some readers) he shares his ideas about competition, aging, and relationships.
SFF fans may be most interested in the opening chapters, in which Murakami tells the story of how one day, while watching a baseball game, he thought, “I could write a novel.” Rather than dismissing this thought, he did write a novel (Hear the Wind Sing) and another (Pinball, 1973) while running a jazz club in Tokyo. Over time, however, he realized that he had the chance to become a novelist, so he sold his jazz club, moved into a suburb, and transformed his life so that he could write something he felt was more substantial (A Wild Sheep Chase). Murakami does not go into great detail about these works, but he does share what was going through his mind as he wrote them.
One of the things I found most interesting, however, is Murakami’s account of the changes he makes in order to become a novelist. He gives up smoking, goes to bed earlier, changes his diet, and starts running — all so that he can commit himself to writing. Murakami does not become a daily jogger, but instead goes on to run a marathon every year for over two decades.
However, as he writes these essays, running has changed for him. He can no longer improve his performance and he has begun to experience “runner’s blues.” Though he still runs every day, it does not offer him as much as it used to. While attempting to find the source of his runner’s blues, Murakami takes the reader through his life as a runner. He narrates his experience in a few races and how his training has changed over time. Some of the races are undeniably impressive: he explains how he ran the road from Marathon to Athens in the middle of summer, how he ran an ultramarathon, and he also shares his struggles learning to swim and cycle in triathlons. All the while, Murakami is training for new events, trying to solve his runner’s blues and to improve his time.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running may not be for everyone. I have recommended this book to many people, but not everyone loves it. Given its discussions of competition, fitness, and training, some readers take it as a sort of overly conversational self-help book. Other readers have told me this memoir on running should have more technical details. It should be noted that What I Talk About When I Talk About Running will be a false start for some readers, but, for others, it goes the distance.