Category: Haruki Murakami

book review – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running


Years ago, when getting ready for my wedding, I started to run in an effort to lose weight. It worked for the time I did it but then I let it slip and have ever since been a lapsed runner but one keen to get back out there when they can shake off the procrastination.

When I was plodding the streets all I could think of was when the pain would end, why it always rained on a Monday night and how to run with a battered old Walkman. Had I read this book by Haruki Murakami then I might well have pounded the streets in a much more philosophical mood.

On one level this book is a bit like a greatest hits from a runner’s diary with the longest and best races of a 26-year running career reviewed and enjoyed. There are the first marathons, the run from Athens to Marathon and the 64-mile ultra marathon in Japan. They all tell a tale of a determined individual running in most cases against himself and his own targets.

But as he talks about running and his motivation for it he reveals that he is not only a loner at heart but happy being that way and as a person is ideally suited to long distance running.

That sense of discipline and focus that he holds when running are also the guiding disciplines for him as a novelist and the message for anyone planning a career writing, which can be lonely and isolated, is that they need to prepare for it just as Haruki gets ready for his races.

Go into it under prepared or without the discipline of regular training and injury and failure await. But he also believes that some are made to work harder than others with the creative stream being something most have to mine deep for and there is always the threat it could run dry.

Although there were passages, particularly about the triathlon races that verged on being too introspective, appealing to a small audience of similarly ambitious athletes overall this book did reach out and make you think.

In a sense it made me wonder what sort of runner I would be if it was related to personality. After the most obvious thoughts that I would be the runner lying on the couch dreaming rather than running races I came to the conclusion I would be a short to middle distance person. Not because I couldn’t do a long race but because I need other people, can be alone but not for long stretches, and know my limits.

book review – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running


Years ago, when getting ready for my wedding, I started to run in an effort to lose weight. It worked for the time I did it but then I let it slip and have ever since been a lapsed runner but one keen to get back out there when they can shake off the procrastination.

When I was plodding the streets all I could think of was when the pain would end, why it always rained on a Monday night and how to run with a battered old Walkman. Had I read this book by Haruki Murakami then I might well have pounded the streets in a much more philosophical mood.

On one level this book is a bit like a greatest hits from a runner’s diary with the longest and best races of a 26-year running career reviewed and enjoyed. There are the first marathons, the run from Athens to Marathon and the 64-mile ultra marathon in Japan. They all tell a tale of a determined individual running in most cases against himself and his own targets.

But as he talks about running and his motivation for it he reveals that he is not only a loner at heart but happy being that way and as a person is ideally suited to long distance running.

That sense of discipline and focus that he holds when running are also the guiding disciplines for him as a novelist and the message for anyone planning a career writing, which can be lonely and isolated, is that they need to prepare for it just as Haruki gets ready for his races.

Go into it under prepared or without the discipline of regular training and injury and failure await. But he also believes that some are made to work harder than others with the creative stream being something most have to mine deep for and there is always the threat it could run dry.

Although there were passages, particularly about the triathlon races that verged on being too introspective, appealing to a small audience of similarly ambitious athletes overall this book did reach out and make you think.

In a sense it made me wonder what sort of runner I would be if it was related to personality. After the most obvious thoughts that I would be the runner lying on the couch dreaming rather than running races I came to the conclusion I would be a short to middle distance person. Not because I couldn’t do a long race but because I need other people, can be alone but not for long stretches, and know my limits.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – post IV

The book ends with a reminder of the human fragility of ambition as he misses out on the time he was hoping for in the marathon. He muses on the increasingly high barrier that is being raised all the time as a result of old age and concludes that he will run until he can do so no more.

That then raises the question of what motivates him and ultimately the goal he is aiming for is something that only he can decide. It is clear that he is a tough critic on himself and his own targets are very high. But as he gets overtaken on the race course he starts to revaluate those goals.

At the end he underlines how long distance running has helped shape his life and his mind helping him as a novelist. The link between his craft as a writer and his running is strong and he argues until the end that the discipline needed for one reinforces the other.

But he also end reminding us of the joy that running provides, something that is lost when he focuses on times and performance issues. If you can live your life to goals and make yourself try to reach them no matter how bad you feel then the rewards can be there.

That makes this a very good book to pick up while the resolutions of the New Year are still fresh in the mind.

A review will follow soon…

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – post II

Murakami draws distinct parallels between running and writing novels. Both are done with an individual testing themselves and developing their training over months and years to reach their goal.

As he recalls getting ready for his first marathon and building up to his latest attempt in New York he expands on the idea that ultimately the only think, apart from time, challenging a long distance runner is themselves.

Likewise with writing a novel the writer must dig deep for the creative seam and then train themselves how best to keep the mind focused and the brain exercised.

I’m not sure I could ever do a marathon a year and stick to a punishing running regime but putting those reservations to one side this is inspirational stuff. It also provides you with a glimpse inside the mind of a writer without the traditional stuff about how and why they write.

More tomorrow…

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – post III

As he gets nearer to his latest challenge of running the New York marathon Murakami looks back over some of his more extreme moments running.

One of them was a 64 mile race that took it out of him both physically and mentally and pushed him into a depression he tagged the ‘runner’s blues’. That downturn lasted for a long time and he indicates that it only really started to shift as he geared up for the NYC marathon.

In between the reminiscing about marathons and training sessions of the past he talks some more about the novelists craft and the parallels between the disciplines of running everyday and writing – focus and stamina.

Although this is interesting stuff it is hard not to be envious of his lifestyle, which clearly has time to allow him to trot off for hours on end running as well as having the space to sit down and think. I don’t seem to have any time to do anything and certainly don’t have a ‘creative space’ that would help me focus.

But still that is just harping on and the reply I guess Murakami would give is that each of us has to find their way. I haven’t found mine yet and he has clearly found his. If that is the lesson from this book then it has been worth reading it this week.

Last chunk tomorrow…

What I Talk Aboout When I Talk About Running – post I

Reading Norwegian Wood there is a question, which is tackled in the introduction, over how much the main character is autobiographical. Murakami apparently plays it down but having started this there are clear similarities.

The first is the acceptance and ability to survive without much human contact. The loneliness that runners often have to put up with is something that Murakami embraces. He accepts that he has the sort of character that is able to cope alone quite happily. The same was true to some extent with Toru in Norwegian Wood.

Then there is the other personality trait of not heeding conventional wisdom. When others told him not to sell his jazz club and maybe some would have shied away from running heavily into their late 40s he did both. Again that strong headed mentality is a feature of the loner.

But, and it is a substantial but, you can’t help liking him and the simplicity with which he describes the joy of running is something that is attractive to even the most hardened couch potatoes.

Maybe that’s the reason why this works because ultimately he is not setting out to convert people to become runners but instead is sharing the thoughts that not only go through his head as he runs but his history and philosophy of life.

More tomorrow…

book review – Norwegian Wood

This was the last book I managed to squeeze in last year and as a result it ends this marathon run of reviews.

Haruki Murakami is one of those authors that occasionally flits across the radar screen because he is still alive and producing novels and as a result pops up as a topic for discussion on literary review shows. So as a result you know of him before you pick a book up but it was still unknown territory reading Norwegian Wood.

If you were to boil it down to themes it would include loneliness, despair, suicide and would be in there. But that would leave you with the impression that this is about

This book is reasonably old and has the feeling of being even older as it is set in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It follows the progress of Toru Wantabe who is a student who moves to Tokyo after his best friend commits suicide at the age of 17. Toru falls in love with his dead friend’s girlfriend Naoko but she is always slightly out of his grasp.

After they make love she disappears into a sanatorium and then slowly disappears from mainstream life and finally fails to stop her problems from over coming her.

In between that process Toru, who remains in college getting on with a lonely but relatively regulated life, meets Midori who is complex and challenging but the opposite from Naoko. He seems to face a choice between the two women who become the past and the future.

Part of that decision is taken out of his hands when Naoko takes a decision to disappear forever but he still cannot bring himself to embrace the future. For a while he is also in the balance and he could have easily followed his friends and taken the suicide option but he comes back to life and chooses to live and ultimately whether or not it involves Midori it is on his own terms he opts to live.

The character of Toru is a lonely but admirably determined student who is wiser than his years and as a result of having death introduced into his life at a young age has an inner strength. But he cannot live alone and the women in his life remind him of his need not so much for sexual satisfaction, he gets that from one night stands.

He requires relationships that involve love not so he can receive it but more importantly so he can give it. There is a yearning from him to be able to give love and that also comes through.

In some moments of the book it felt like a poor attempt at an erotic romance but there is a story that you stick with that is slightly autobiographical no doubt. You can only conclude that the reason it spoke to so many people is because it described the way they felt.

Choosing to live is as hard if not harder than choosing to die and that is the message that after the memories of the exact details fade will be what you take forward from this novel.