Books : reviews

Haruki Murakami.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: a memoir.
Vintage. 2008

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 29 June 2009

Most of the stuff Amazon recommends makes sense: more of the kind of stuff I usually read, and some skewed by the presents I buy. But occasionally it pops up something bizarre, presumably because I bought obscure X, and the the only other person who bought X also bought completely unrelated Y, I get recommended Y. Usually Y is not for me, but very occasionally, it does pique my interest. Like this one.

Haruki Murakami is a Japanese novelist who also runs, ostensibly to keep fit. I say ostensibly, because as well as running a good distance every day, he also runs a few marathons each year, and does triathlons, and once ran a 60-mile ultramarathon. These all require serious training (he employed a swimming coach when he started triathlons), rather than just being some simple keep-fit exercises. This is a memoir, covering a year of running, and lots of other stuff.

It's a gentle, interesting read, even if, like me, the only time you run is to catch a train. (I did like the part where he criticises schools for making everyone do the same sports, whether they are right for them or not.) It's not just running: there is the music he listens to while he runs, the speeches he practices, and other autobiographical events. I was left feeling sorry for his wife.

His descriptions of his state of mind during and after running are fascinating: he never (or at least his translator never) uses the word "Zen", but it seems to be hovering there. Related to that, a most interesting line, in the foreword, is: Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. He is referring to the voluntary pain and suffering of running, or, by extension, of any other voluntary task one undertakes. A useful distinction to remember.