Saturday, January 17, 2015

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami

When I told my son I had downloaded this book from Audible, his immediate response was "Why? You're not interested in running." I admitted this was true, but said I had read that it was actually about writing, which might be interesting--and I had a $10 credit on Audible and the book was less than $10.

In truth, the book was partly about writing, partly about Murakami's life and personality--but in great part about running. The parts about running did start to bore me, although the two sections that had been published in magazines--pieces on an ultra-marathon and running the original marathon route in Greece in the midsummer heat--were well done and engaging. The parts about Murakami's life revealed him to be a rather anti-social and rigid guy obsessed with getting older (the book was written around the time that he realized that no amount of training was going to allow him to improve his performance any more).  It was, however, interesting to read about how he decided to become a writer--while sitting in the outfield at a baseball game, he suddenly had the thought, "I could write a novel." And he did.

The parts about writing were interesting. Murakami sees three things as essential to successful writing: talent, endurance, and focus.  He sees running as a means of both developing his endurance and focus and somehow flushing out the toxins that a writer encounters in the process of plumbing the depths of human character. Working to become a better runner or triathlete allows him to become a better writer as well. Although he does not state it in the same way, he seems to share Jonathan Franzen's notion that before you can write your next novel, you have to become a better person because you've already written the best novel you can write in your previous state of being.

Murakami doesn't seem like a guy who would be much fun to hang out with. He seems to have no sense of humor about himself and is forthcoming about the fact that he is essentially a lone wolf who'd rather follow his own pursuits than worry about building or maintaining social connections (though he's been married for decades). The only relationship I see between his writing in this book and his rather surreal fiction is his frequent use of the well metaphor, which clearly holds deep meaning for him.

I was happy What I Talk About When I Talk About Running was relatively brief but it was interesting enough to keep me listening.

Favorite passage:
Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that's the essence of running, and a metaphor for life--and for me, for writing as a whole.

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