Somerset Maugham once wrote that in each shave lies a philosophy. I couldn’t agree more. No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative act.
In this pretty short (126 pages) memoir, Haruki Murakami explores the relation between running and writing and how much alike they are. He compares the pacing and the determination that it takes to run a marathon to the similar process required to write a novel.
In 1982, having sold his jazz bar to devote himself to writing, Murakami began running to keep fit.
Running has a lot of advantages. First of all, you don’t need anybody else to do it, and no need for special equipment. You don’t have to go to any special place to do it. As long as you have running shoes and a good road you can run to your heart’s content.
A year later, he’d completed a solo course from Athens to Marathon, and now, after dozens of such races, not to mention triathlons and a dozen critically acclaimed books, he reflects upon the influence the sport has had on his life and–even more important–on his writing.
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.
Equal parts training log, travelogue, and reminiscence, this revealing memoir covers his four-month preparation for the 2005 New York City Marathon and takes us to places ranging from Tokyo’s Jingu Gaien gardens, where he once shared the course with an Olympian, to the Charles River in Boston among young women who outpace him.
Through this marvellous lens of sport emerges a panorama of memories and insights: the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer, his greatest triumphs and disappointments, his passion for vintage LPs, and the experience, after fifty, of seeing his race times improve and then fall back.
As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve gradually come to the realization that this kind of pain and hurt is a necessary part of life. If you think about it, it’s precisely because people are different from others that they’re able to create their own independent selves. Take me as an example. It’s precisely my ability to detect some aspects of a scene that other people can’t, to feel differently than others and choose words that differ from theirs, that’s allowed me to write stories that are mine alone. And because of this we have the extraordinary situation in which quite a few people read what I’ve written. So the fact that I’m me and no one else is one of my greatest assets. Emotional hurt is the price a person has to pay in order to be independent.
By turns funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is rich and revelatory, both for fans of this masterful yet guardedly private writer and for the exploding population of athletes who find similar satisfaction in distance running.”
Note: I think that part of his novel South of the Border, West of the Sun was based from his actual experience in running a Jazz Club.
Every day for three years I ran my jazz club—keeping accounts, checking inventory, scheduling my staff, standing behind the counter myself mixing up cocktails and cooking, closing up in the wee hours of the morning—and only then writing at home at the kitchen table until I got sleepy. I felt like I was living enough for two people’s lives. Physically, every day was tough, and writing novels and running a business at the same time made for all sorts of other problems. Running a service-oriented business means you have to accept whoever comes through the door. No matter who comes in, unless they’re really awful, you have to greet them with a friendly smile on your face. Thanks to this, though, I met all kinds of offbeat people and had some unusual encounters. Before I began writing, I dutifully, even enthusiastically, absorbed a variety of experiences. For the most part I think I enjoyed these and all the stimuli that they brought.
Final opinions: This book should never have been written. It does not offer any “magical” insight into the world of narrative writing nor does it offer any tips on running either. I think that you have to be a pretty good writer to pull off an autobiography and make it interesting enough for the reader. This was a fail.
I actually feel that “The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee – Sarah Silverman” has more anecdotes and even some crass humour to make it enjoyable to the reader.
This book was mostly stats about his marathon run times, him whining over not being able to pull the 5 minute / 1 mile times when he turned 50 and about him gaining weight when his wife ate as much but didn’t even put an ounce of fat on.
The book should have been called “The importance of Murakami running” and it would have made more sense.
1/5 Burn pile