Wednesday, August 20, 2008

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

Murakami has been a devotee of Raymond Carver and an equally devoted long-distance runner since he began his career as a novelist, which explains both the title of this slim non-fiction book and its subject matter.

It was written, as a series of nine loosely-connected essays, mostly in the summer of 2005, with more roadwork done in 2006 and words both fore and after from August of 2007.

Murakami started running seriously after his first two novels were published and he decided to quit his previous job -- running a jazz club he owned in Tokyo -- to devote himself full-time to writing. The first essay explains that, along with Murakami's general history both as a novelist and a runner.

He's run a marathon nearly every year since 1983, and has run an ultramarathon once and triathlons several times -- he's clearly very devoted to running, and has made it a central part of his life. Still, he describes it as something he does to keep himself healthy to write novels, and mentions pulling back on his training regiment several times when it was threatening to take too much time from his real work. He's not obsessed, just devoted.

And so What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a series of meditations on novel-writing and long-distance running, particularly on their similarities. Along the way, Murakami gives the reader some bits of memoir, but really only those bits that relate to his running life. It's a book, as other reviewers have said, of interest only to fans of Murakami's fiction and to dedicated runners -- and, particularly, to that small subset of people who are both. Those few are likely to clash this book to heart and never let it go; the rest of us find it pleasant but not nearly as compelling as Murakami's other books.

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