Book Review: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Title: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Philip Gabriel
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 9780099532538
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 180
Rating: 3/5

When I picked up Murakami’s What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, I was excited about reading it. I had waited long to get my hands on it, and having heard numerous friends going gaga over it, I had high hopes from it, too. And the book didn’t disappoint me. Well, not entirely.

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running is a very personal and detailed account of Murakami’s running and writing life, about how the activities of running and writing complemented each other for him to continue leading a meaningful, healthy existence. It was Running- an attempt at keeping himself fit physically so as to push his mental limits- that helped Murakami the writer to come out in the open and survive.
The language used in translation is simple, the tone honest.
While reading one can feel the clear distinction of roles there seems to be in Murakami’s head- that of a writer and a reader. The reader-writer relationship is established from the very start of the book, more so because he is writing as himself, as Haruki Murakami the writer. An emphasis on his identity as a writer is necessary here since this is what the book is about: Murakami growing, identifying, and establishing himself as a professional writer.
For the most part, Murakami describes, with meticulous precision, his running routine. This precision, though, is sometimes too detailed and slows up the narrative, making it drab at times. In this routine he describes his training before the races he mentions, the challenges he faces during the race, the mistakes he makes, the external threats that come up, and what he takes away from each race. And that’s when the classic Murakamian insights bob their heads above the water. Insights that make you go, “Yeah! This is what life’s about!” And reading them gives one this amazing feeling of being inside a writer’s head:

The end of the race is just a temporary marker without much significance. It’s the same with our lives. Just because there’s an end doesn’t mean existence has meaning. An end point is simply set up as a temporary marker, or perhaps as an indirect metaphor for the fleeting nature of existence.”

The wondrous quality of Murakami’s fiction is the result of the struggle he has gone through, the process of which is What I Talk about When I Talk about Running. This struggle has made him see the simplicity there is in living, made him simplify the complex, which is why he is reachable to millions of readers worldwide. Though clichéd, Murakami is the flesh and blood example of the maxim “Simple living, high thinking.”
The book is a treat for Murakami’s fans, and an even bigger treat for fans who love to run, and not walk; since he never walked, either.

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