Saturday, October 12, 2013

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

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running was an interesting memoir about running and writing from novelist Haruki Murakami.

The book struck me as having some of the elements of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott and Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall and Murakami in the Afterword wrote of his intent...

"I see this book as a kind of memoir. Not something as grand as a personal history, but calling it an essay collection is a bit forced. Through the act of writing I wanted to sort out what kind of life I've led, both as a novelist and as an ordinary person. I so think I can write something substantial."

Murakami's book is a sort if reminiscence on being a writer and a runner, and how the two pursuits enable each other, with him first becoming a runner as a way to keep fit while being a writer. He also describes how his work put into running had parallels with work put into writing.

About running, he wrote of how pain is inherent, but suffering is optional and the benefits to getting the body to do something it didn't know it could do. In terms of schedule, he noted running roughly 6 days a week and not taking too off in a row. Related to this, he makes the point that it's been good for him that he's had to run to stay thin, as people who don't gain weight easily don't have as much impetus to get in shape overall. Murakami also mentioned the social benefit of running for him being a shared experience with those who he runs with in races or simply sees frequently on the trail.

About writing, Murakami covered that when he was young, he had the idea that he wanted to write a novel and finished the book one year between spring and fall, sent it in to a literary magazine's new writers contest and then forgot about it. The next spring he received a call saying he made the contest short list and his book won and was published in the summer. At this time he was managing a bar and continued to do so while writing and publishing his second novel. He then sold the business to write full-time with the idea that if it didn't work out after two years, he could always go back to running a bar again, but published his third novel A Wild Sheep Chase and continued his career as a full-time writer.

Just as Murakami had a schedule for running he also had a schedule for writing, which while he still ran the bar involved writing late at night and then when writing full-time had him going to sleep early and then waking up early to write when he could be most productive. Murakami notes in the book his view of becoming a great novelist requiring talent, focus and endurance... with the first of these being something that can't necessarily be taught, but the second and third both things that can definitely be developed, and make up at least to an extent for any shortcoming in natural talent (with late-blooming writers often people whose focus and endurance paid off for them). Related to this idea of putting in work (just as being a runner requires), he describes the process of writing a novel as being a kind of manual labor.

I haven't previously seen any of Murakami's novels, but would say this really a solid book for anyone interested in either writing or running.