Dear What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami,
Even though I had only read one book by Haruki Murakami before (the short story collection Men Without Women, which I very much enjoyed) I was greatly interested in reading you because of your intriguing title. I love getting a look into the inner workings of how authors think, and have greatly enjoyed books such as On Writing by Stephen King and The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr that act as a sort of window into the author’s mind. However, I think it’s quite rare to read a memoir by a novelist about something other than their writing or a their life story. In our bookworm minds, it’s sometimes easy to think that novelists simply write day and night, but obviously that is not the case. Therefore, when I learned that you were about a novelist’s other passion besides writing, I knew that I would have to pick you up.
As someone who does not enjoy running, I feared that all of your talk of training, competing in races, and running annual marathons would go right over my head. However, Murakami is clearly a masterful writer beyond the realm of fiction as well because I was hooked on your every word. I listened to you (I read the audiobook version) in awe as you described Murakami’s intense training schedule and ability to run and swim and bike mile after mile after mile. Yet while running is obviously an important and central part of this memoir, it shares the spotlight with the more intellectual, mental, emotional aspect of running. Murakami talks about how running is more than just physical exercise for him, how it provides him solitude and solace and a personal challenge and time by himself.
“For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level. I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary – or perhaps more like mediocre – level. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.”Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Personally, this is the aspect of you that most resonated with me: running as a metaphor for something greater, a deeper purpose or personal challenge or state of mind. I think our goals in life should be to find our own versions of Murakami’s metaphor, to find the activity that makes us feel present and lost and alive all at the same time. For me that activity has always been writing. Writing can be anything you need it to be in a given moment–a challenge, an art, catharsis, an organizational tool, a loudspeaker, a helping hand, a bridge. It’s one of the few activities I can truly lose myself in and forget about all of the other things on my to-do list and where I have to rush off to next. Reading you has reminded me that I should probably make more time for writing in my everyday life.
Reading you has also given me an immense, newfound appreciation for Murakami as a prolific writer. How on earth does someone find the time to write so many novels and run so many marathons?! Murakami must have superhuman will power, motivation, and perseverance.
In the title of this post I refer to you as “sticky” because weeks have past since I last read you, yet you are still stuck in my mind like a honey residue that won’t go away. I find myself thinking about you when I get lost in doing those activities that make me feel most like myself. Sometimes I feel like books take on two lives in our minds: when we read them, and when we think about them after they’ve already been put back on the shelf. I have a feeling that you will have a long life in my mind for many months to come.
Even though I’m not a runner myself, you nevertheless have left quite a thoughtful impression on me. I would recommend you to anyone interested in learning more about Haruki Murakami, running, or finding solace in what they’re passionate about. Perhaps we’ll meet again someday, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.