Many readers will recognize Japanese author Haruki Murakami for his astounding, mind-bending body of work. From “Norwegian Wood” to “1Q84,” he’s never been afraid of playing with the unusual when it comes to his writing. What he has been more afraid of was his private life seeping out into the public, which is why he’s gone to great lengths to keep the two as separate as possible. But for the first time, Murakami lets readers into a part of his life, by discussing an activity that may otherwise not dawn on most people for writers to take part of: running.
Originally released in 2007 and translated into English in 2008, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” follows Murakami as he prepares for a few of the many marathons he has partaken in since starting. He talks about how he got started on running back in the early 1980’s, shortly after closing his jazz bar to devote himself full time to his writing. With this decision, he knew he wanted to be in it for the long run (no pun intended) and so with that, he made several changes to his lifestyle, including getting into running as a form of exercise. While never aspiring to become an Olympian, Murakami explained how and why he wanted to improve each time he trained for or ran a race. While doing so, he also showed how running and writing are, to him, not that separate from each other.
I knew that Murakami had a memoir out and I was very interested in reading it. Right away, I thought of how smart it was to focus on a part of his life that may not otherwise be expected from a memoir by a highly praised author. Never mind the lack of discussion about the behind the scenes for his books, he instead directed his attention to what it’s like to run in the various settings he found himself in (including Japan, Hawaii, Greece, etc.). It’s not one of those how-to books to getting fit. It really was a book about his thoughts as a runner. One will be amazed by how far Murakami can run and how fast he can do it, and yet it will not change the fact that he’s always aspiring to do better the next time.
For any Murakami fans out there, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” is a book worth reading, to explore the fraction of his head space he shares in this memoir. I’d recommend it for this audience first, for it mostly makes sense in doing so if you’re familiar with his work already.