What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Murakami is an author I have always associated with the fantastic, the unusual and the magical. I think all Murakami readers have a favourite Murakami plot. The names of his books – Kafka on the Shore, The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, Dance, Dance, Dance always remind me of something exotic, something far, far away from the daily grind. So it was a big surprise when my search for running tips (because the Airtel Delhi marathon was coming up and they did do some good advertising) led me to Murakami’s book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Described as part memoir and part training guide, the book seemed to be in a genre I did not know that the author experimented with. First person, factual, and brief! While the book did not arrive in time for me to perform any miracles at the marathon, it did get me moving into some action. At the beginning we meet Murakami who has made a decision to shut his jazz bar and take up writing full time – a tough call to take and a difficult launching pad as any.

The narrative is peppered with references to his life, the various decisions that he made over time, the process and challenges of his writing, his travel. The common thread to all these elements that make his life, is running. He explains his running, at first as a challenge to himself, then as a habit and then almost a way of life. This is set in the context of the various events he participated in. This includes not only marathons but also triathlons and ultra-marathons, where the author deals with his insecurities, age and at times, unfulfilled ambitions.

The running and his writing are obviously connected – they seem to be the fuel for each other. It isn’t only to stay physically fit but also to be mentally alert and in control, that he pushes his limits and takes to the roads all over the world. His practice lacks little or nothing and yet he finds himself outpaced at times. Each time this happens he is compelled to look beyond the greyness that overcomes him, gaining some insights that most readers will identify with.

Most who are Murakami fans know that this book is startlingly revealing – what is known about the author from his previous writings is his talent, what is revealed here is his thought process, his perspective. It’s like a little part of him is now out there for everyone to look at and learn from – hardly an easy process. For a person so capable in writing, running and so much more, the tone of the book is wry and endearing. Not once does the book sink into the pompousness that could come with his varied achievements.

The best thing about this book for me was the fact that it is upfront and straightforward and it delivers what it promises. You could choose to read it because you are a runner and this is inspirational and honest. You could read it because writing is your passion and this book is a lesson in simple and yet effective writing. Or you could choose to read it because it is the journey of a person, who has made some difficult choices and offers hope to those of us still struggling. But you should definitely read it!

Shruti Saxena

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