What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Haruki Murakami is arguably the most popular Asian writer in the world because of such novels as Nejimaki-dori kuronikuru (1995; The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, 1997) and Umibe no Kafuka (2002; Kafka on the Shore, 2005). His often whimsical accounts of the struggles of ordinary, usually young people to understand the vicissitudes of daily life have moved international readers. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is ostensibly an account of his twenty-five years as a serious distance runner, yet it reveals much more. The leisurely, free-association book is as much about Murakami the artist and, in his words, the difficult individual as about his athletic exploits. While runners may find something of interest here, the book is primarily for Murakami’s fans seeking more insight into his character and creative process.
Murakami got the idea for the book from an International Herald Tribune article about what marathoners said they thought about while running. It took him ten years to decide upon a suitable approach. Writing the book during 2005-2006, he quickly discovered that writing about running was the same as writing about himself, so the project took the form of a memoir, alternating accounts of running with what he calls “life lessons,” what he has “learned through actually putting my own body in motion, and thereby discovering that suffering is optional.” Running is essential for his mental well-being, clearing his mind of the pressures of creating. He claims not to think of anything while running.
Murakami describes how he had an epiphany during a 1978 baseball game between the Yakult Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp and decided he could be a novelist. Ironically, the idea came to him when an American player, Dave Hilton, got a hit. It is perhaps understandable that Murakami has been criticized in Japan for letting American culture have too great an influence on his writing. After publishing his first two novels, Kaze no Uta o Kike (1979; Hear the Wind Sing, 1987) and 1973-nen no Pinboru (1980; Pinball 1973, 1985), Murakami decided to close the jazz club he and his wife had been operating and write full time. Realizing good health would be essential to a long career as a novelist, he quit his sixty-cigarettes-a-day habit and took up running.
He began running seriously in 1982, running almost every day and competing in at least one marathon a year with occasional other long-distance races. Although he played baseball and soccer as a young man, he never felt comfortable with team sports or with the competitive nature of one-on-one sports such as squash, but he found peace with the solitude of running. He competed in his first road race, a five-kilometer event, in 1983 and gradually built up his endurance to try marathons. Training for long-distance events resembles his approach to writing, which involves driving himself physically and devoting considerable time and effort. When “a mental gap” began to develop between him and running, he accepted the challenge of the triathlon, adding swimming and cycling to his routine. Contemplating this challenge made him think that his entire life up this point had been “a total waste.”
Murakami’s normal routine is to run an hour a day, six days a week, while listening to rock by such performers as the Beach Boys, Beck, Credence Clearwater Revival, Gorillaz, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and Red Hot Chili Peppers and occasionally to jazz. Of running to the songs from Eric Clapton’s album Reptile (2001), he writes, “It’s not too brash or contrived. It has this steady rhythm and entirely natural melody. My mind gets quietly swept into the music, and my feet run in time to the beat.”
Music figures prominently in Murakami’s fiction, with his characters constantly listening to and discussing jazz, rock, and classical music, and several of his titles are drawn from pop music, as with Dansu dansu dansu (1988; Dance Dance Dance, 1994) and Noruwei no mori (1987; Norwegian Wood, 2000). Hearing popular music from the 1960’s brings back memories of his youth, though he admits there is nothing special about them. Throughout What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami is...
(The entire section is 1769 words.)