Saturday, October 18, 2008

Run Haruki Run

When I attended Haruki Murakami's appearance/lecture/reading at Berkeley, I was already partway into his latest book, a delightful little memoir called "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running".  Like the lecture, this book gives a rare intimate glimpse into the interior life of this shy author.

The framing device, as should be obvious from the title, is Murakami's passion for running.  He uses it to touch on almost every aspect of his career: his transition from a nightclub owner into a writer; his search for discipline and focus; his passionate drive for self-improvement; his humility; his concern at the prospect of aging.  He's an excellent writer, and I think the book can be enjoyed from either or both angles: the memoirs of a writer or of a runner.  Whichever direction you approach it from, you'll come away with some more appreciation of the other.

I was personally intrigued by a section near the end of the book when he describes training for a triathlon.  He naturally loves running and swimming, but dislikes cycling.  He describes all the things he doesn't like about cycling (fear of tipping over, isolation, repetitiveness) and says that, for him, cycling seems like torture.  I, on the other hand, have exactly the opposite feeling: I love cycling, and think that running feels like torture.  But both are okay - he explicitly says that he isn't writing this book in the hopes that people will decide to become runners; rather, his great hope would be for people to find what gives them the most joy, and to pursue it.  Like me he hated the competitive structure of school gym classes; also like me, he only began to enjoy exercising later in life when he could pursue the forms that felt natural to him and gave pleasure.

Oh, and I was happy to see that he explicitly gave props to Raymond Carver in the book.   It is now a pretty popular construction, and I'm pleased to see him give credit.

This book isn't a must-read, but it is wonderful, and I would especially recommend it to fans of Haruki or to long-distance runners.

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