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

May 24, 2012

Summary (from the publisher): In 1982, having sold his jazz bar to devote himself to writing, Murakami began running to keep fit. A year later, he’d completed a solo course from Athens to Marathon, and now, after dozens of such races, not to mention triathlons and a dozen critically acclaimed books, he reflects upon the influence the sport has had on his life and—even more important—on his writing.

Equal parts training log, travelogue, and reminiscence, this revealing memoir covers his four-month preparation for the 2005 New York City Marathon and takes us to places ranging from Tokyo’s Jingu Gaien gardens, where he once shared the course with an Olympian, to the Charles River in Boston among young women who outpace him. Through this marvelous lens of sport emerges a panorama of memories and insights: the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer, his greatest triumphs and disappointments, his passion for vintage LPs, and the experience, after fifty, of seeing his race times improve and then fall back.

By turns funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is rich and revelatory, both for fans of this masterful yet guardedly private writer and for the exploding population of athletes who find similar satisfaction in running.

Liked:

  • The parts of the book that focused on running worked the best. For example, when he described his solo journey from Athens to Marathon, it sort of made me want to go there. Similarly, I have this strong urge to run in Boston along the Charles River in autumn.

Disliked:

  • I didn’t realize that so much of this book would be about Murakami’s novel writing, too. Sure, I get that he’s an acclaimed author, so people might be interested in his “process,” but I didn’t quite get the same connection from marathon running and novel writing that he does.
  • Murakami waxes philosophical in many places, but doesn’t really come up with anything substantive. Running makes him feel good. It makes him challenge himself and push his body to its limit. Really??? Come on, that’s what every marathon runner says!
  • The almost stream-of-consciousness style (I didn’t care what he had for dinner in Hawaii or how many cigarettes he smoked) didn’t work for me. There seemed to be lots of filler, lots of fluff, but very little substance.

Rating:

I can’t imagine anyone but the most hardcore Murakami fans would actually enjoy this one. It meanders, it’s dull, and it provides very little insight into the author’s world. I give the book 2 stars out of 5.

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