What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a brief memoir by Haruki Murakami, written in pieces between 2005-2006. Whenever something came to his mind, something he felt he needed to talk about, Murakami would write it down. He has this balance and zen about life and the lessons he’s learned so far, and that’s what he shares in this book, in his charming, humble way.
I’ve watched interviews and talks on YouTube enough that I can hear Murakami’s own voice in my mind. So when Ray Porter started narrating, it was a little jarring…kind of like watching a foreign film with the subtitles on (which I never do, I’m a snoot, ha!). But really, Porter’s narration was great. Very smooth, clear, not too fast, and more importantly, not too slow.
Some random, scattered topics of interest for me in this book were:
- The importance of private, silent time, without the need to talk to other people.
- After years of having the perspective of a younger person, not being able to imagine growing old, how odd it feels to realize you’re growing older.
- Murakami says most learning for him happened after school, and that learning, because it was self-motivated, is what stuck with him. “The most important thing we ever learn at school is the fact that the most important things can’t be learned at school.”
- Thoughts on how he moved away from an open life to a simple, closed life, prioritizing his time and energy in order to be happy.
- Don’t judge your life by how “efficient” you are.
- In Japan there’s a view that writing novels is an unhealthy activity. Murakami is often asked why he writes when, as a runner, he’s such a healthy person? He explains that running is essential: an unhealthy soul (literary burnout being a toxin) requires a healthy body.
- The entire chapter on running an ultra-marathon. 62 miles. Whoa. Running became painful, then after a certain point, metaphysical. This led my mind down a rabbit trail thinking about how people endure horrifically long periods of physical activity (such as Feivel Wininger playing violin for German soldiers for more than 24 hours straight; Violins of Hope, page 228).
- The most important qualities for a novelist, in order of importance: Talent. Then Focus. Then Endurance. I found this insight applicable to my own field as well.
- I thought it was interesting that he says it’s easier for him to speak in English or another language because he is limited in what he can say. He finds the endless possibilities in his native language overwhelming, because as a writer he wants to state everything perfectly.
- Murakami’s thoughts on translating The Great Gatsby into more natural Japanese, which he calls “the kind of literature that nourishes you.”
- “To be able to grasp something of value, sometimes you have to perform seemingly inefficient acts. But even activities that appear fruitless don’t necessarily end up so.”
If you’re a runner, you’ll enjoy the “training log” aspect of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, hearing about Murakami’s preparation for the 2005 New York City Marathon. If you’re a writer, you’ll enjoy hearing his thoughts on what it takes to be a writer. The rest of us will find that the connections Murakami makes aren’t exclusive to running and writing; they apply to all sorts of challenges we face in our lives, and the things we choose to do to build our own character.