Book Review – ‘What I Talk About When I Talk Running’ by Haruki Murakami

This is the first Murakami book that I’ve read, and I will certainly be going out and buying more of his novels now. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. In fact, it’s going to go down as one of my favourite books, and it’s even inspired me to start training for the marathon!
‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ is a collection of memoirs that Murakami put together about his life as a runner. It includes narrative about how he became a novelist and about all of the endless preparations he has done over almost thirty years of competing in marathons and later on in triathlons.
It’s seemingly such a simple idea for a novel but it really is a fascinating read.
And the book flows so effortlessly. For anyone who’s a runner, reading it almost feels like one of those runs where your body is totally in sync, you feel full of life and at the end of the run you feel satisfied, refreshed and you can’t wait till your next run.
Behind the narrative about his running there are also philosophical elements to the book. Below I have written three of my favourite quotes (with page numbers in brackets after each):
-“I’m the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on it, I’m the type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone.” (p.15)
-“I’m struck by how, except when you’re young, you really need to prioritise in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don’t get that sort of system set by a certain age, you’ll lack focus and your life will be out of balance.” (p.37)
-“…one of the privileges given to those who’ve avoided dying young is the blessed right to grow old. The honour of physical decline is waiting, and you have to get used to that reality.” (p.121)
Murakami’s voice is one that is very easy to read, and at the same time as not over-complicating things, he manages to put across all kinds of complex issues. He is so wise but never condescending to his reader.
The book, as his career and running has, takes the reader all over the world, which also adds much interest and excitement. From Hawaii to Boston to New York to Japan, this is multicultural journey where you become fascinated by the places he has visited and you want to jump up and start competing in marathons across the globe yourself.
Murakami hasn’t made characterisation a large part of the novel. In fact the only other person who gets more than one or two mentions is his wife. He doesn’t go into detail about her but from the small interactions he mentions between them you at least get a sense of their relationship.
This lack of other strong characters is not an issue however, as the voice of the novel, Murakami himself, very quickly starts to feel like an old friend, one you are happy to listen to for hours on end. In fact, my only criticism of the book is that I wish it had been a little longer!
There are two standout parts of the novel for me. One is his run from Athens to Marathon for an article in a magazine. And then there is his experience of running an ultra-marathon. Both of these parts were particularly powerful to me as they really conveyed Murakami’s personality and his inner strength.
You almost feel like you are experiencing these gripping moments with him. You become totally engrossed in something that you would assume would actually be rather dull to read about. But Murakami enchants the reader with his openness about what he goes through during these life-changing events and as a reader I felt humbled but also energised.
For someone who has accomplished so much you would assume the narrative to be slightly proud or boastful. But Murakami’s humble approach to life is perhaps what makes you warm to him so much. He’s honest though; when he knows he’s achieved something good, he’s prepared to convey this to the reader, and again, this only makes you warm to him more.
I would highly recommend reading this book; it is uplifting, honest, fresh and thought-provoking. Above all, it is inspiring – not many peices of literature could really make me consider training myself up to run 26.2 miles! Go buy it now, you won’t regret it and it’s a perfect read for the summer.

3 responses to “Book Review – ‘What I Talk About When I Talk Running’ by Haruki Murakami

  1. Pingback: Murakami and the running novelist -- Curious Emotions

  2. Pingback: Murakami and the running novelist : Writing Emotion

  3. Pingback: Having trouble writing? Go for a run

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