What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel
Published July 29th 2008 by Knopf (first published 2007)
I believe that some books find you at the right time. This was what I thought when I started reading Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running“. I did not know anything about Haruki Murakami or his other books at the time. I was merely looking for books about running because I wanted to start the habit after reading the benefits. Running seems simple enough, but boy was I wrong. This sport or hobby needs discipline and commitment. In a way this book made me respect all the runners out there. Did it inspire me to run then? Yes. But it did more than that.
Before I go on, be warned that you will not find any technique, a list of appropriate exercises before running, or anything that may help you improve your pace in this book. If your aim is to learn about these things, this is not the book for you. I think it’s sad that some people missed the whole point of this book and gave bad reviews. This book isn’t about techniques. It’s about reflections and thoughts about the sport/hobby.
With that aside, let’s talk about the book now, shall we?
Murakami poured out his raw and introspective thoughts about running and writing on the pages of this book. In Murakami’s straight-forward writing style, he describes how writing and running intertwine – the dedication, discipline and hard work one must put in. And as all the readers of this book will conclude, Mr. Murakami is indeed a man of discipline and a man of no excuses. You really have to admire this man’s commitment to being the best he can be.
Running for Murakami is some sort of lifeline. Murakami began running seriously in 1982. No amount of excuses or busy schedules can stop this man from running everyday. Again, that dedication and commitment stuns you. It’s funny though… I thought about how I compare to him as a runner. That is, I can’t compare to him. Not now. Not ever. That man can run a marathon when I can barely run a 5K!
Like any Murakami book, nuggets of wisdom abound. Take for example his attitude towards solitude. He values this and is appreciative of the way running has given that to him. When I run early in the morning, I can’t stand the silence. You will expect me to have my phone with me, playing songs that correspond to a certain beat that will help me with my pace. But listening to music while running is more than that, at least for me. It provides me with solitude. It creates this pocket of self-awareness… a certain shield from the distractions of the world. His preference for being alone is identifiable. Like Murakami, I appreciate the times that I can be alone with my thoughts – to be by myself. I find that it is essential for one to have the gift of solitude. However, he also sees solitude as a “double-edged sword”. Too much of it can’t be beneficial. He talked about how important it is for him to give his best for anything worth doing, which in turn gives someone a sense of pride once goals are achieved. He discussed the vitality of youth and the changes when one grows old, adding how essential it is for a person to create a sense of balance in his life at a young age. Despite all these, he never comes across as preachy. Murakami is brilliant but he is also humble. That was evident in his words. His writing makes you reflect on your own beliefs and life in general without him nagging or showing superiority. I love it when books I read stimulate my mind.
One thing that really touched me though, was his thoughts about coming to terms with reality. At certain point in our lives, we will taste defeat and we must learn to accept this. Nobody wins all the time. Nothing is always perfect. What’s important is moving on, never giving up and always doing your best. For someone who sees defeat as almost always the end, this was a wonderful and timely message to me.
Maybe this is somewhat too profound for a book that talks about running, but as I said, this book offers so much more than that. It’s about life. We may never understand it but we can try accepting it.
I was honestly struck by his simple yet profound way of writing. It was spontaneous, but not careless. It was profound and introspective, yet his humor shows too. I love the honesty in the way he writes. He has gained my respect and affection. I was left wanting to know more about him. In a way, I find that this book was the perfect introduction to Murakami for me. Not Norwegian Wood. Not 1Q84.
Reading “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” was a contemplative experience. Being privy to the thoughts of a man like Haruki Murakami definitely transformed my views about certain things. His thoughts about life resonates in a big way with me and I’m glad I found him.
- In Japanese, the title of this book is Hashiru Koto ni Tsuite Kataru Toki ni Boku no Kataru Koto.
- The book’s title was based on Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love“, a collection of short stories. Haruki Murakami considers Raymond Carver as one of his biggest influences.
- Haruki Murakami mentioned how he likes listening to music while running. One song he mentioned in the book was Beggar’s Banquet by The Rolling Stones. He also likes listening to Eric Clapton’s album, “Reptile“.
- Haruki Murakami owned a jazz bar named Peter Cat in Kokobunji, Tokyo.
- The book was published in Japan in 2007. The English translation was released in the UK and US a year after.