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What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir (Vintage International) Paperback – August 11, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Murakami's latest is a nonfiction work mostly concerned with his thoughts on the long-distance running he has engaged in for much of his adult life. Through a mix of adapted diary entries, old essays, reminiscences and life advice, Murakami crafts a charming little volume notable for its good-natured and intimate tone. While the subject matter is radically different from the fabulous and surreal fiction that Murakami (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle) most often produces, longtime readers will recognize the source of the isolated, journeying protagonists of the author's novels in the formative running experiences recounted. Murakami's insistence on focusing almost exclusively on running can grow somewhat tedious over the course of the book, but discrete, absorbing episodes, such as a will-breaking 62-mile ultramarathon and a solo re-creation of the historic first marathon in Greece serve as dynamic and well-rendered highlights. Murakami offers precious little insight into much of his life as a writer, but what he does provide should be of value to those trying to understand the author's long and fruitful career. An early section recounting Murakami's transition from nightclub owner to novelist offers a particularly vivid picture of an artist soaring into flight for the first time. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Haruki Murakami has established himself as one of the most interesting and innovative novelists of the last two decades, combining pop culture with a magic-realistic sensibility that has garnered the author a faithful following. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running couldn’t differ more from the rest of Murakami’s work. This slender volume catalogs the author’s love for that most solitary of athletic endeavors, though even Murakami’s prodigious talent as a writer can’t quite bridge the gap between the cultish world of hard-core running and a broader audience. This hit-and-miss effort—with something, literally, lost in the translation and some lazy writing—will be welcomed by a small (probably athletic) audience, but may not reach readers who aren’t already on board with Murakami or running.
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
In "What I Talk about when I Talk About Running", Murakami shares his philosophy of running and life! Something while I was reading his book turned me on to the culture of running in Japan, and I have since read and reveled The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei. I think these two book are great readers for the runner who is gearing up for marathons or looking to maintain their stride. Murakami fans will especially appreciate the deeper insight into his true self.
Murakami is humble, candid and straightforward exposing his mistakes, flaws and shortcomings - - one passage: "But this wretched story of feeling I had as I stood in front of the mirror at sixteen, listing all of my physical shortcomings, is still sort of touchstone for me even now. The sad spreadsheet of my life reveals how my debts outweigh my assets."
You get into his mind and his incredible determination to complete marathons and triathlons - feeling the sun baking his skin and the water filling his lungs - yet he keeps his feet and arms moving despite his mind and body telling him to stop.
You also learn about the impact that advancing middle age has on his performance times and that they are no longer improving despite a rigorous training regimen - "even if, seen from the outside, or from some higher vantage point, this sort of life looks pointless or futile, or even extremely efficient, it doesn't bother me. Maybe it's a pointless act like as I've said before, pouring water into an old pan that has a hole in the bottom, but at least the effort you put into it remains. Whether it's good for anything or not, cool or totally uncool, in the final analysis what's most important is what you can't see but can feel in your heart."
The book is described by Murakami as a collection of essays he wrote between 2005 and 2007 and then pieced together and edited for this book. I felt that the book often read like a loosely edited diary - - in contrast to his visually beautiful, smooth, multi-layered, dreamy fictional works. While I found flashes of the profile of his prior novels in a few passages, I found this book to be choppy and informal in comparison.
Early on in the book, Murakami discusses his strategy in running a Jazz bar in Tokyo - he wasn't out "to please everybody" - "it didn't matter if 9 out of 10" didn't like his bar but that "if one in ten was a repeat customer" his business would survive. My sense is that this book will narrowly appeal to the "one in ten repeaters" of devoted Murakami's fans (me being one of them) - - readers who wish to learn more about his life, his experiences, what makes him "tick" - and more specifically, the role that running, biking, swimming and training for marathons and triathlons had on his writing and his life.
The book is 1/3 travelogue, 1/3 self-help, and 1/3 runners guide. We read about the running environments and typical weather patterns where Murakami has trained: New York, Boston, Japan, Greece. We read about the mental discipline and courage it takes to be a long-distance runner. But, most of all, subtly emerging on each page, we read about Murakami the philosopher. His favorite topic is the merciless and stubborn passage of time and its effects on the body and mind. He writes candidly about his thoughts on training as he grows older (Murakami was in his late 50s when he wrote much of the book). He writes about what he thinks about as he runs (ususally nothing); he writes about discipline. To paraphrase one of Murakami's favorite quotes (I forget the source): "...pain is inevitable; suffering is optional."
Murakami tells us that he was neither a natural novelist nor runner. He has had to work hard at both, but both are things which require a steady effort, skills with which Murakami prides himself. As we read along, we learn about Murakami's start as a novelist, his love for baseball, his strong character, and how he applied his strong character to defy his friends and relatives and open a restaurant, become a writer, and eventually, a marathon runner (even once running a 62-mile ultra-marathon). He had opened a restaurant before he became a writer, but one day, after the success of his first novel, he decided to close the restaurant and become a professional writer. It was at this time when he also decided to start running and quit smoking (in that order).
Although the chronology of the book might be a little out of order (the book is not structured chronologically), and this might throw a few more traditional readers, this wasn't a problem. The translation seemed genuine (although I can't read Japanese!), as the translator kept all of the little Murakami-isms one would expect: little phrases such as "...as I mentioned before," or little tangents into the second person. The style remains informal throughout.
Despite its ostensible subject matter (running), this is a book for everyone, because its real subject matter is not about running -- it's about how Murakami gathers meaning from life. Using a master's touch, he shows us how this meaning derives from his simple act of running each day. I, for one, became inspired.