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

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

This part travelogue, part training log, and telling memoir revolves around Murakami's four-month long preparation for the New York City Marathon.

Haruki Murakami and I have one thing in common. Both of us believe writing is an extremely difficult job. Sometimes it comes naturally, at other times, it could take months to write even a single line! There are several writers, who, I am sure, would agree with this. Murakami, in his part travelogue, part training log, and telling memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, writes, “Writing novels, to me is basically a kind of manual labor. Writing itself is mental labor, but finishing an entire book is closer to manual labor.” He relates this labour to the daily grind of running and even admits that, “Most of what I know about writing, I have learned through running every day.”

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running revolves around Murakami’s four-month-long preparation for the New York City Marathon. Each phase of his preparation reveals something new about the act of writing and its resemblance with the act of running. For Murakami, running is a way to keep himself mentally fit, if he aspires to excel in the creative space in the long run. It also provides Murakami an outlet to vent his negative emotions. In the book, the author has shared a few instances where he is criticised unjustly or misunderstood by people he trusted, which motivated him to “go running for a little longer than usual. By running longer, it’s like I can physically exhaust that portion of my discontent… If I am angry, I direct the anger toward myself. If I have a frustrating experience, I use that to improve myself. That’s the way I have always lived.” He reveals that these emotions also exposed his vulnerabilities and limitations as a human and as a writer.

In the book, Murakami calls himself “a writer with limits—an imperfect person, living an imperfect, limited life….” Come to think of it, aren’t we all imperfect, with less than perfect lives and limited talent? So, how can we achieve our goals despite our limitations? In the memoir, Murakami writes, “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.” That’s why he labours at writing.

As disclosed in What I Talk About…, the author would sit at his desk for three to four hours every morning to focus entirely on what he’s writing. He would remain undistracted by everything else. Just like Murakami, in life, we too should exert ourselves at our work. Sometimes, we may not like what we do, but if we can focus on the job at hand, we can excel at it. “No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative act,” he says.

From that moment onwards, he painstakingly laboured at writing, churning out one masterpiece after another for three decades.

Such an attitude towards life helps the author to remain unaffected even when people sneer at the act of writing as an “unhealthy type of work”. Instead, he agrees with them. Murakami explains, when writers create a narrative, they actually confront the “toxin that lies deep down in all humanity,” because without facing the dangers and finding ways to deal with it, “no creative activity in the real sense can take place.” He also writes that those who are long-distance runners, that means, authors who are in it for the long term, need to develop an autoimmune system to deal with such toxins. I believe, the same goes with life. Only when we are faced with uncertainties, challenges we exert ourselves, discover ways to survive, achieve the impossible and enjoy the fruit of hard work. To sustain this zest for life, we need to fortify ourselves physically and mentally—a secret to happiness, as we learn from the book.

In the memoir, Murakami reveals that it was 1982 when he sold his jazz bar to solely focus on becoming a full-time writer. From that moment onwards, he painstakingly laboured at writing, churning out one masterpiece after another for three decades! Every page, every sentence he wrote, reads like he is in a regular conversation with his readers. That’s how commonplace his writing is, yet in each novel, fiction and non-fiction, in the prosaic, one encounters a philosophical depth that is far from ordinary.

What I Talk About…sometimes seems too casual to be a novel. His detailing of each phase of his marathon preparations becomes tedious after a point. The nonchalant littering of vague expressions diminishes the significance of his deep philosophy of life. A life he leads completely on his own terms, as he writes: “One day, out of the blue, I wanted to write a novel. And one day, out of the blue, I started to run—simply because I wanted to. I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing in life.”

Murakami, as an ordinary person, demonstrates how through the act of running, he gave his everything, with single-minded focus, endured what he had to in the process to achieve his goals. He learned valuable life lessons from each of his failures and achievements and hopes to continue running to keep himself happy.




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