Thursday, February 4, 2016

Book Review: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Acclaimed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami's engrossing memoir on his passion for running and writing is one of the best books I've read on both topics.  In his late 50s when he wrote the book, Murakami writes of highlights from his life as a runner and his struggles to keep competing in marathons and triathlons. For Murakami the act of writing is a sort meditation activity, not unlike the act of writing.

Murakami pinpoints the exact moment he decided to become a writer.  On April 1, 1978 he attended a baseball game shortly before he turned 30.  He witnessed a player hit a perfect double down the left field line and experienced a Eureka moment:

And it was at that exact moment a thought struck me: You know what: I could try writing a novel. I can still remember the wide open sky, the feel of the new grass, the satisfying crack of the bat.  Something flew down from the sky at that moment, and whatever it was, I accepted it (29).

And so he went to on to write several novels.  What I liked is that he doesn't fill the book with pretentious musings on his "creative process."  For Murakami, writing is all about determination and persistence.  That's where running comes into the picture.  Running consistently and well takes determination. It is painful and grueling. 

Murakami admits the same goes for writing novels: writing them is not a healthy activity. It means being anti-social and devoting long hours to minute details.  Naturally, writing over long periods of time can trigger anxiety, but also a unique sense of accomplishment. The same goes for running, pushing yourself to the limits is painful and confidence building, more mental then physical at times.

Two specific episodes from his running life stand out: his decision to run the historical marathon route in Greece and ultra-marathon 62 mile race he ran in Japan.  After completing the 62 miles, Murakami writes of a mental change that happened inside him, the moment he reached his plateau:

I'd lost my enthusiasm for the act of running itself.  Fatigue was a factor, but that wasnt the only reason.  The desire to run wasn't as clear before. I don't know why, but it was undeniable: something had happened to me.  Afterward, the amount of running I did, not to mention the distances I ran, noticeably declined (116-117).

Murakami's tone is easygoing and unassuming throughout. 

Admittedly, I have not read any of Mr. Murakami's fiction.  I certainly plan to now!  And for anyone that runs, the book's an awesome motivator to get out there.