I recently finished the memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. I have been a big fan of his dream-like novels for almost fifteen years now, having first discovered The Wild Sheep Chase at a yard sale in Cambridge, MA. I was with a friend who declared the back cover synopsis to be the worst summary ever. Something about it intrigued me though and I bought the copy for about 50 cents. It was worth every penny. I went through his other novels rapidly and a few of them are among my all-time favorite books (Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and Wind Up Bird Chronicle). Not only are they among my favorites, but they are also among the most lent out (and least returned) books in my personal library. I think I've purchased no less than four copies of the Wind Up Bird Chronicle alone, and that's not counting gifts I've bought for other people!
I received the memoir as a Christmas present in December and was excited not only to read a beloved author, but also because I began running for exercise about eight months ago. The author is a more dedicated and ambitious athlete than I am; he's a long distance runner and competes yearly in marathons and triathlons. Murakami even proposes as his epitaph, "Writer (and Runner), At least he never walked." Meanwhile, I am proud of myself for upping my distance to six miles so obviously I'm a long way off from that. Nevertheless, I was excited to see what he had to say about our shared pastime.
What I Talk About... is not a traditional memoir in that it aims only to document the author's running life nor is it particularly similar to the writing style in his novels. Murakami's childhood and marriage are not covered, and any personal details not directly related to running or writing are also omitted. It focuses mainly on his training and participation in specific marathons and triathlons including a solo run from Athens to Marathon in Greece, an "ultra" marathon of 62 miles in Hokkaido, Japan and the New York marathon. The prose has a very simple, reflective and almost Zen-like quality of detailing his observations about why he became a writer and a runner and why they both occupy a central role in his life. The relationship of running and writing is a close one, he explains, "if I hadn’t become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different." As he details his life from age 33, when he first started running and writing, to the present, he also comes to terms with aging and his physical limits in a practical and accepting manner.
I would highly recommend this book to other Murakami fans, runners and writers and anyone seeking inspiration for a creative (or athletic) endeavour. For those curious about the title, its a reference to the Raymond Carver short story collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Murakami has translated a lot of Carver's work and refers to him in the memoir as well. Please feel free to share any comments you have about the book or the author.