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

Pain in inevitable. Suffering is optional.

It’s been a busy reading week here at Messenger Central, with three books knocked over already (albeit short ones). I’m now suddenly two reviews behind. Lucky I am also a runner so that endurance piece of the puzzle isn’t too daunting.
Readers of this blog would certainly heard of Haruki Murakami, in fact his 1,318 page tome “1Q84” is sitting on my shelf as part of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Shortlist, unread at this stage as that is the definition of endurance. It will probably accompany me on a long holiday. Readers of my charity driven blog (www.messcharityrun.blogspot.com) will have probably heard of this book and not know a lot about Murakami’s other writings.
This book is subtitled “A memoir” and it is basically a nine chapter diary style entry where Murakami talks about how running is intricately linked to the other parts of his life, including his giving up running a jazz club to pursue a career as a novelist.  Murakami is a very private man and is rigorous about his rules for writing each day and as we learn also about his need to run every day. He runs at least one marathon per year – of course all the famous New York, Boston, Tokyo style ones. However Murakami may be revered as some sort of super human when it comes to writing, he clearly points out in this memoir that he is simply blood, flesh and bones like us mere mortals when it comes to running. He is never going to win a marathon, to him it is a race against himself, not against others, it is to conquer himself. AT one stage just short of the New York marathon he believes that he has injured his knee:
Still, I feel a bit uneasy. Has the dark shadow really disappeared? Or is it inside me, concealed, waiting for its chance to reappear? Like a clever thief hidden inside a house, breathing quietly, waiting until everyone’s asleep. I have looked deep inside myself, trying to detect something that might be there. But just as our consciousness is a maze, so too is our body. Everywhere you turn there’s darkness, and a blind spot. Everywhere you find silent hints, everywhere a surprise is waiting for you.
As you can probably gather this memoir is also a complex musing on Murakami’s philosophy on life, it includes all the mantras he uses whilst running, side anecdotes about amusing sights along his journey, as well as an attempt at explaining why he lost his passion for running and took up triathlons for a while. It also includes his fears and failures. For a deeply private man this is quite a revealing read. I personally found myself nodding in agreement at a number of sections (even if I take about 1 hour 45 mins longer to finish a marathon compared to Murakami – I still suffer similar pains). The metaphor of running and completing the impossible event is drawn on time and time again.
But in real life things don’t go smoothly. At certain points in our lives, when we really need a clear-cut solution, the person who knocks at our door is, more likely than not, a messenger bearing bad news. It isn’t always the case, but from experience I’d say the gloomy reports far outnumber the others. The messenger touches his hand to his cap and looks apologetic, but that does nothing to improve the contents of the message. It isn’t the messenger’s fault. No good to blame him, no good to grab him by the collar and shake him. The messenger is just conscientiously doing the job his boss assigned him. And this boss? That would be none other than our old friend Reality.
If you are a fan of Murakami, you have probably already read this book, if you haven’t it’s a quick (my edition is 180 pages long) easy read, and gives you a great insight into the regime Murakami puts in place to write his novels and the struggle he has with his creativity. If you’re a fan of long distance (marathons, ultras, triathlons) events then this is also for you as you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement at Murakami’s thoughts and how these events mirror reality.
As he says “Suffering is optional”.

I’ll be back over the weekend with a review of “All Dogs Are Blue” by Rodrigo De Souze Leao a translation from the Portuguese, a short novel written by a schizophrenic about his stay in an asylum. Another wonderful release from the independent publisher & Other Stories.

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide


One thought on “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami

  1. The very first quote reminds me of the quote on my son's water bottle for the United States Marine Corps: Pain is weakness leaving the body.

    I love how both phrases refuse to succumb to our frailty.


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