Haruki Murakami’s book, What I Talk About when I Talk About Running was first published in 2008. I clipped out a review at the time but it wasn’t until this year, that I happened to buy it.
In those five years ill-health has ended my running and slowed my writing. For a few weeks I hesitated to read a writer who might arouse new yearnings for past capabilities.
Despite its classifications this book, as Murakami says, is not a manual on running or fitness, nor is it a conventional autobiography. The author’s personal history and creative process are revealed only in terms of his preparations for running marathons and triathlons. Essentially this is Murakami’s philosophy on running and writing: the two components which form his essence.
The writer hangs his hat on the Buddhist proverb: ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.’ You feel the fibrous determination in the muscles that he wills into action even when they are failing. It is the same disciplined attitude he applies to his ‘career’ in writing.
Murakami can’t imagine people liking him and perhaps such a dedicated way of living might daunt a new runner or writer but there is still plenty to enjoy. He is funny, his observations are full of heart and he generously exposes his flaws.
When Murakami quotes Maugham’s aphorism, ‘in each shave lies a philosophy’ you understand that this is a man who is patiently carving out his space in life. Most appealing are the intimate moments he shares, those small moments of ceremony: writing in his notebook, buying new training shoes, the counting of miles run.
I worried this book would awaken unwanted emotions. Instead I was gently reminded of the enchantment of daily life. It made me want to sit down, stretch my legs, reach for my notebook and write.