I am a runner in only the loosest sense of the word. Occasionally, I fire up my Couch to 5K app and nurse dreams of becoming the next winner of the Boston Marathon. But mostly I realize how much I hate running and how much I enjoy having something like Haruki Murakami‘s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running to take my mind off of the cardio drudgery.
Murakami is a runner. He loves it. He does it every day, and he even participates in events. He and I are on completely different ends of that spectrum. So, to a certain extent, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running isn’t a good book of choice for me. I don’t know what it’s like to feel the burn of marathon-mile 23, because my calves are tight after walking a single mile on the Life Fitness treadmill at my gym.
But What I Talk About isn’t so much a book about running as it is a memoir of Murakami’s crafts: writing and athleticism. Being somewhat of a latecomer to both professions, Murakami often compares the two. There are some similarities, of course. Both activities require daily attention, as neither novel writing nor marathon running is a pick-up-and-play sport.
Though he seldom mentions it, Murakami touches on the role of luck in his success. What could have been a disastrous midlife crisis — Giving up one’s business to write? Taking up a new, potentially risky sport when you aren’t fit in the first place? — turns into a boon for Murakami, propelling him to international stardom. He doesn’t sustain an injury or melt down his keyboard in disgust, and he isn’t forced to file bankruptcy as a result of his career shift. So, yes, Murakami is lucky. But he’s also terrifically dedicated to his work, and that has paid off in spades.
If you’re neither writer, nor runner, you’re unlikely to find any analogs to your life in What I Talk About. Murakami’s book is a memoir of both passions, after all. But if, perhaps, you are a writer with a secondary love of bowling, or the clarinet, or antiquing — or, likewise, if you are a runner who paints, or builds, or repairs things — you’ll have no trouble relating to the interwoven narrative of this loud little volume.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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