A Brief Review of
WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING.
Paperback: Vintage, 2009.
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Reviewed by Chris Smith.
When I first heard about Haruki Murakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, I was excited about the prospect of the acclaimed Japanese writer taking on one of my favorite subjects: running. And Murakami did not disappoint; even in its English translation, his writing here is clear and well-crafted. As is true of the best books on running, What I Talk About… eloquently conveys the internal struggle that the runner faces as he or she trains and then races. Murakami is at his best in describing the parallels between the disciplines of writing and running:
Right now I’m aiming at increasing the distance I run, so speed is less of an issue. As long as I can run a certain distance, that’s all I care about. Sometimes I run fast when I feel like it, but if I increase the pace I shorten the amount of time I run, the point being to let the exhilaration I feel at the end of each run carry over to the next day. This is the same sort of tack I find necessary when writing a novel. I stop every day right at the point where I feel I can write more. Do that, and the next day’s work goes surprisingly smoothly. I think Ernest Hemingway did something like that. To keep on going, you have to keep up the rhythm. This is the important thing for long-term projects. Once you set the pace, the rest will follow. The problem is getting the flywheel to spin at a set speed—and to get to that point takes as much concentration and effort as you can manage (4-5).
There was one small facet of the book, however, that I found a little unsettling: namely, that Murakami’s running, and his reflections thereon, come from a place of significant privilege. Over the course of this collection, Murakami circles the globe, running in exotic locations like Hawaii and the course of the original marathon in Greece, and also less exotic places like Boston and New York. I do not begrudge or dismiss the diligent labor that Murakami has done to become a world-renowned writer and a committed runner, but his world is not the same one that I live in. Maybe I would be a better runner – or at least more consistent – if I lived the relatively unfettered life that Murakami does, but I suppose I’ll never know because I don’t really want to live that in that world.