Every now and then a memoir comes along that bracingly dispenses with the idea that being a writer involves some alchemical combination of alcohol, cigarettes, a Moleskine, and divine inspiration. Haruki Murakami's new book, What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, is such a memoir: Murakami here treats long-distance running as both a routine that has physically sustained him for more than 20 years, and a metaphor for his workhorse approach to writing.
The book is loosely structured around Murakami's training for the New York City Marathon, but it loops and skips in time, from his early years operating a jazz club through his decision to become a writer and more recent efforts to learn to swim and cycle competitively in order to participate in triathlons. The connection between writing and running is made explicit more than once:
"Most of what I know about writing I've learned through running every day," he tells us. "These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate—and how much is too much? How far can I take something and still keep it decent and consistent?" He goes on: "I know that if I hadn't become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different."
Running is a surprisingly simple, straightforward book, particularly coming from an author whose novels are so notably cryptic. It's full of details about shoes and running times and what songs Murakami listens to while he trains, and while it certainly doesn't explicitly urge the reader to lace up the ol' Nikes and hit the track, it may inspire you to do just that, particularly if you fancy yourself a writer. If it doesn't sell you on running (which it probably will), it at least provides some fascinating insight into the mind and practices of the revered Japanese author.
"Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you're going to while away the years, it's far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: That's the essence of running, and a metaphor for life—and for me, for writing as well. I believe many runners would agree."