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

By Kate George

Perhaps his writing style is too conversational for my taste and his "metaphors" are certainly too literal. Nevertheless, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, is a wonderful book! It's helter-skelter sequencing and repetitive passages are like running itself. Isn't running always the same and always different? Don't runs always seem to meld together yet feel distinctive? I don't think Murakami is deep enough to have intended the book's structure to so closely parallel the experience of running but he accomplished it. It is a book that only a runner could understand.

Murakami's memoir made me reflect on my own running history. When I started seriously running in January of 2009 I wasn't registered for a race or on a team. I had no special clothing and very old shoes. Why did I hit the icy roads morning after morning before dawn? The streets called to me. They did! I would head out and one foot after another I would just lose myself. But at the same time I became more fully aware of myself than ever before- every muscle, every tendon, every heart beat, every breath. My mind emptied but when I returned home that awareness lingered. Sure, I was aware of sore muscles throughout the day especially after a particularly long or hard run. But it was more than that. As I learned to strengthen my muscles and control my breath, things that seemed impossible, like running ten miles, became easy. I was teaching myself control and the courage to press on through difficulties. This idea began to permeate other aspects of my life and things that I'd never noticed began to come into focus. Running taught me to see possibilities I'd never considered.

Murakami spends quite a bit of time talking about what running taught him about writing. It is of special interest to me because I am a runner who enjoys writing, though I am not a writer. The role of talent in an endeavor like writing is a subject that has always intrigued me. How much talent do you need? The question is difficult to answer because talent can't be measured, doled out as we please, saved, or multiplied. Murakami argues that although talent is important it is useless without FOCUS and ENDURANCE. Running taught him both things and made it possible for him to continue a long career as a writer. I agree with the assessment because running has helped me develop my own focus and endurance in writing, reading, problem-solving, and quilting. None of these things are accomplished easily or quickly. Writers have a saying, "Push through the hard parts...and they're all hard parts". Running long distances is the just the same: You run until you can't anymore...and then you run some more.

What I talk about When I talk about Running is a quick read for the season but it will stay with you long after the Summer turns to Fall.