The coolest writer in the world today has written an unconventional memoir centered on the act of running - now that's really cool!
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a true story about Haruki Murakami's recent experiences with marathons as well as ultrarunning and triathlon. His motive for writing the book is that "otherwise, I'd never known what running means to me... this book does contain a certain amount what might be dubbed life lessons."
Perhaps not everyone will find it easy to appreciate the hard-boiled style (imagine a modern, athletic and witty version of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe). "You can't please everybody", our running novelist admits.
Haruki Murakami is the most popular Japanese living writer in the world. His bestselling novels include Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka On The Shore. He has already finished a new novel IQ84. "I apologize to any of you who are train commuters - it's going to be heavy" he said in a recent interview.
Murakami's daily routine involves getting up at 4AM to write for a few hours, followed by a 10K run, a swim and a healthy meal consisting of vegetables and fish (he avoids rice and meat). He hits the sack by 10PM.
Murakami talked about running's role in his life a few years ago in a Runner's World interview. Also music plays a big part for him. He owns a collection of over 7000 LPs and prefers MiniDisc Walkmans to iPods.
Knowledge of jazz helped Murakami, a former jazz-bar owner, create his writing style. He noted in a talk at University of California in Berkeley: "My style boils down to this: First of all, I never put more meaning into a sentence than is absolutely necessary. Second, the sentences have to have rhythm... In jazz, great rhythm is what makes great improvisation possible. It's all in the footwork. To maintain that rhythm, there must be no extra weight... You have to cut out the fat."
To lose fat is what what made Murakami run long distances in the first place. In 1996 he was fit (or crazy) enough to attempt Lake Saroma 100K ultra run while listening to Mozart's Magic Flute, but gave up on it in the middle of the course. He concluded that rock music suits running better and then went on to finish the race succesfully in 11 hours plus change.
The 60-year-old writer-runner-triathlete has already designed what he'd like to be carved on his gravestone: 'At Least He Never Walked'. However, in one marathon he was forced to walk a couple of miles because of cramps. The exception proves the rule.
Highly recommended. On my Top Three list of running books. The book lacks a table of contents, so I made one:
WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING
(English translation by Philip Gabriel 2008)
- Foreword: Suffering Is Optional (Aug. 2007)
- One: Who's Going to Laugh at Mick Jagger? (Aug. 5, 2005 - Kauai, Hawaii) p.3
- Two: Tips on Becoming a Running Novelist (Aug. 14, 2005 - Kauai, Hawaii) p.24
- Three: Athens in Midsummer - Running 26.2 Miles for the First Time (Sept. 1, 2005 - Kauai, Hawaii) p.48
- Four: Most of What I Know About Writing Fiction I Learned by Running Every Day (Sept. 19, 2005, Tokyo) p.69
- Five: Even If I Had a Long Ponytail Back Then (Oct. 3, 2005 - Cambridge, Massachusetts) p.88
- Six: Nobody Pounded The Table Anymore, Nobody Threw Their Cups (June 23, 1996 - Lake Saroma, Hokkaido) p.103
- Seven: Autumn in New York (Oct. 30, 2005 - Cambridge, Massachusetts) p.123
- Eight: 18 Til I Die (Aug. 26, 2006 - In a seaside town in Kanakawa Prefecture) p.136
- Nine: At Least He Never Walked (Oct. 1, 2006 - Murakami City, Niigata Prefecture) p.152
- Afterword: On Roads All Round the World (Aug. 2007) p. 175