You know, I truly adore Haruki Murakami. Really, I do.
I love his writing style, how you need to “push through” the first 20 or so pages of each of his books, how his characters are so imperfect, how each book, in its own way, tries to touch upon the meaning of life, whether it’s in an imaginary world (“Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World”), a world that exists between the real and the unreal (“1Q84”), or a normal, mundane, modern world (“Norwegian Wood”).
However, many people (I believe) wonder, “Where does Haruki Murakami hides himself in his novels?” This unique man, who doesn’t reveal much about himself. Does he perhaps weave parts of himself into some characters and events of his books, or is he just an objective, passive, silent “observer” of his characters’ adventures?
And then comes “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” (hereinafter: WITAWITAR…nah, I won’t use this abbreviation 🙂…though it sounds straight from “Harry Potter” 😁).
Haruki Murakami has been running for more than a quarter of a century. He started running in his thirties. An interesting decision. Better said, a beautiful (and healthy) decision for him and his readers. Because it’s this running that has allowed us to get to know the person who “hides” behind the name (and surname) Haruki Murakami a little better.
The book, which could most easily be described as a combination of memoirs and intimate notes, covers the period from the summer of 2005 to the fall of 2006 (with a small “excursion” to 1996), when he participated in several races/marathons/triathlons.
Wait, are you saying this is a book about running?
No, this is a book about Haruki Murakami.
A book about an ordinary, real person.
It’s hard to say what the plot of this novel would be… maybe the closest answer is – Haruki Murakami’s “inner state”?
Here we have the opportunity to meet our writer in some new (first? real?) light.
To read his thoughts and reflections that go through his head and heart, both during (un)official races and during his jogging/running sessions. About the environment he runs in, the people and animals he meets, his past and present… what prompted him to open a bar, then close it to become a writer… how his body feels while running… pain, inflammation, pleasures, embarrassments…
All in all, (pseudo)memoirs about running, writing, the body, suffering, and discipline.
I must mention that this book also contains some deep, inspirational thoughts, like…
“Running has been a great exercise for me and at the same time an important metaphor. By running day after day, and accumulating races, I gradually raised the threshold of my criteria for success and, reaching it, elevated myself. At least that’s what I wanted and worked on daily. Of course, I am not a runner. I’m more at the level of average – or better said, mediocre – runner. But, that’s not important at all. What’s more important is whether I managed to surpass the yesterday’s version of myself even a little bit. If there’s someone you need to beat in a long-distance race, it’s yourself as you were before.”
“I am me and not someone else, and that’s my significant advantage. Soul scars are the usual price one has to pay for their autonomy in the world.”
“Since muscles, like animals, want to live as relaxed as possible, if you don’t put a burden on them, they will just relieve themselves and erase it from memory. And to reintroduce a once erased piece of information into memory, you have to go through the same path from the beginning again. Rest is, of course, necessary, but at this crucial moment before the race, we must show them who’s the boss here.”
“Fortunately, these two abilities (concentration and perseverance), unlike talent, can be acquired and strengthened through training. If you regularly train to focus your consciousness on one point, concentration and perseverance naturally develop. It’s similar to the process of training muscles I described earlier. Constantly send your body system the information that it’s necessary for you as a being to work with full concentration writing every day without exception, and it will remember well. Then gradually raise the limit. Move it stealthily, gently, and imperceptibly.”
Deep and wise, yet simple thoughts, aren’t they? 🙂
This Haruki Murakami is like the older (and not very talkative) neighbor from your neighborhood, with all his virtues, flaws, and rituals. But, if you tried to engage him in a short conversation, you would discover that he is (perhaps excessively and overly) modest, reserved, shy, maybe even quite insecure, holding not too high an opinion of himself. You would wonder: “Is he maybe ‘putting on an act’ with this modesty of his? Do you want me to believe that this wealthy and successful author, who has bestsellers under his belt and is a perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, is really as humble as he presents himself in his book?”
Unless he is a master of deception (and if so, hats off to him, he truly is a master), I get the impression that this is the real, authentic Murakami. An ordinary person you’d meet on the street, leading a completely ordinary life.
If you are a sports enthusiast (primarily running), interested in what it’s like to be a writer, or simply a fan of Haruki Murakami (or all three), I think you will enjoy this book.
And that’s enough of a recommendation for the book “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,” isn’t it? 🙂
And perhaps it will even motivate you to dust off your sneakers and start running? 🙂
And you, dear readers, what thoughts run through your head while you’re running (or walking)? 🙂
(Originally reviewed: 02/09/2019)