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

August 8, 2009 § 9 Comments


This book is, technically speaking, my true first Murakami book. I *found* this book quite some time ago as I was browsing the local bookstore while waiting for a friend. I read the first chapter there and then, and decided that I will hunt it down in the libraries to read the rest of it.

Since then, I’ve read Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance, and it’s only now, after about one month or so, that I am finally able to sit down quietly to enjoy this book. Because that’s exactly what this book calls for; quiet, alone time to slowly take in the words and phrases that are contained within.

This book is not about running.

In my opinion, a quote found early in this book sums up quite nicely what I think the book is about. In Murakami’s own words:

I’m often asked what I think about as I run. Usually the people who ask this have never run long distances themselves. I always ponder this question. What exactly do I think about when I’m running? I don’t have a clue.

This book reads like a conversation. I felt it so strongly throughout the book: Murakami sitting in front of me on a wooden, average-height stool, me on a cushioned chair; Murakami leaning forward at times, and at others gesturing rather wildly with his hands to drive home a point. I felt like he was talking to me.

The details in this memoir did not necessarily have to be hidden secrets now revealed for the whole world to know. But it had an intimacy that I appreciated much throughout the narrative. He was telling me about his thoughts, about how he found his motivation, about his ups and downs. He was telling me about his life in general, with all the mundane bits that make the narrative even more engaging.

I don’t imagine that everyone would like this kind of book. In fact, I can even see in my head some people I know who would fall asleep on the book not even a quarter way through.

But here’s the thing. That Murakami can write a memoir on such a mundane topic (ie. running), run off in all directions to talk about all things under the sun in between running stints, and still keep the flow of the narrative so natural speaks volumes of this man’s writing skills.

He mentioned that as a marathon, long-distance runner, which is what he is, keeping the pace and rhythm is everything. I reckon it shines out in his writing too.

Postscript: Somewhere in the middle of this book, I suddenly became aware of how the structure of the sentences and paragraphs had such a Japanese feel to them, that I could almost hear Japanese speech jumping right out of the pages. (I watch a lot of Japanese anime, and so naturally, I listen to a lot of Japanese speech, though I understand only a small fraction of it)

I think we don’t nearly appreciate the translators enough, or as often as we should. Philip Gabriel did a fantastic job.


§ 9 Responses to What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami

  • Bellezza says:

    Being absolutely passionate about Murakami, your wonderful review has convinced me to pick this up. It’s the only book of his I don’t own, having gone through eBay to buy every paperback he ever published. I’d been staying away from it because I loathe running, but because you said it allows more to see what he’s thinking, and to feel we’re actually conversing with him, I now want it. Thanks, Michelle!

  • I read this book a few months back, when the London Marathon was the hot topic. While I enjoyed the book, I thought it got a little repetitive and boring in the middle. I love Murakami’s style of writing though, and thought he managed to capture some of the emotions and frustrations incredibly.

    I agree with your last statement about not appreciating translators enough. However, many-a-time, when I read a translated book, I do wonder how much has been lost in translation.

  • su says:

    @ Bellezza: Oh, you have ALL his books? That’s so cool.. I feel like I’m going to buy all of them too!

    @ anothercookiecrumbles: I know what you mean about things being lost in translation. That’s how I feel sometimes too. But it’s a rare day that I would find this thought prominent enough when I’m reading translated books. If I do, it probably means I’m not enjoying it much. 🙂

  • Mark David says:

    Oh you’ve got me craving for the book right now! Such an evocative review Michelle… I most specially love this line where you said: “The details in this memoir did not necessarily have to be hidden secrets now revealed for the whole world to know. But it had an intimacy that I appreciated much throughout the narrative.” — Isn’t that one of the things we absolutely love about writers like Murakami? They can make otherwise-mundane stories sound so captivating and worthwhile 🙂

    Translators really are amazing people. I really respect Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin for being able to translate these magnificent writings while somehow still managing to preserve the unique tone of the Japanese language… Jay Rubin, by the way, wrote a sort of biography for Murakami entitle Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words. Ain’t the title just perfect? Murakami does make mere sentences sound like music! I plan to read that book sometime 🙂

  • Carl V. says:

    Fantastic review of a very enjoyable book. I listened to the audio version a few months ago and loved it. It is, as you say, very conversational and intimate and allows you to make a real personal connection with the author. I was very impressed with it, as I am with all of his writing, and am glad I didn’t let any preconceived ideas about what the book was about stop me from picking it up. It is well worth reading/listening to.

    I obviously cannot tell how well Murakami’s books are translated, but the fact that every one of them I’ve read I find lovely is a good reflection on the work the translators do.

  • su says:

    @ Mark David: You’re right, it is how some authors can make mundane things not mundane that makes them special. And you’ve actually introduced me to a new book now! I’m going to check and see if I can find Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words in any library nearby. Sounds like an interesting one!

    @ Carl: I’ve never listened to audio versions of books before. I’m quite curious as to how I would find it actually. 🙂

  • claire says:

    Lovely review, Michelle! I had a hunch this wasn’t really about running, but as you now confirm, I’m going out to get me a copy. I’m also intrigued about the book David mentioned, and look for that as well.

  • Suzanne says:

    What a wonderful review! I was reading thru this book at the bookstore this weekend. As I was exploring other Murakami books to add to my TBR pile! I had no idea how he could write about this subject and it be a interesting read for non- runners. But it seemed so much more than a book on running and your review did a great job of describing it. I think I also read that after Murakami wrote this book, he decided to start writing fiction….

  • su says:

    Hi Suzanne.

    Yup, it’s definitely a great book to read. But this book is actually fairly new. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Murakami started out by writing fiction. His first couple of works are not in print in English, I think, but his first published English translated work was “The Wild Sheep Chase”. I’m sure I’ve read about this somewhere.

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