Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

To Acquire a Void: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir by Haruki Murakami

Though running marathons and writing novels require a similar skill set, people respond very differently when you tell them you do one or the other. Tell people you've written a novel, and they will likely be impressed, as it's something that a good number of people wish they could do themselves. Tell them you run marathons, and they will also be impressed; however, it will be as though you've told them that you hold the Guinness World Record for being covered in bees. They may think your accomplishment impressive, but also slightly insane and pointless.

As Murakami writes, "I've never recommended running to others... a person doesn't become a runner because someone recommends it. People basically become runners because they're meant to."

For over twenty years, Murakami has run for an hour nearly every day, more if he's training for a marathon, which he does once a year. In recent years, he's added triathlons to his repertoire. And on top of that, he's also one of Japan's most celebrated and inventive authors, his work translated into 42 languages.

The book is less a collection of essays than journal entries, in which Murakami describes how he got into distance running at around the same time he decided to become a novelist. In some sections, he's talking about writing, in others, he's talking about running, but really, he's always talking about both -- and in doing so, he's talking about the kind of life that he's chosen to live.

Some things have fallen by the wayside, like the late night social life he enjoyed as the owner of a Tokyo jazz bar in the early 80s. It's a solitary, contemplative life, but he's found that it suits him.

Writing takes talent, which he acknowledges, cannot be acquired; however, it also takes focus and endurance, which can be. You can't run without these things, and you can't write without them either. In fact, he says, "Most of what I know about writing I've learned through running every day."

As a distance runner (and a modestly unsuccessful writer), I found Murakami's observations both immediately familiar and reassuring. People often ask me what I think about when I'm running, how I keep myself from getting bored. I've always had trouble answering this question, because although running keeps my mind occupied and focused, I'm never quite sure what it's focused towards.

Murakami writes about this, saying,

"But really as I run, I don't think much of anything worth mentioning. I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void... As I run I tell myself to think of a river. And clouds. But essentially I'm not thinking of a thing. All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says."

It is a pretty wonderful thing, and a pretty wonderful way of talking about it.

If you liked...: On Writing by Stephen King, and/or if you're a distance runner, this book is for you.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

I recently added this to my wishlist at paperbackswap. I am not a runner (or a writer) but I wish I WERE (a runner, that is.) I love the mindlessness of your feed pounding the pavement. Its too bad my joints don't agree! I think I'll read the book anyway, thanks for the review.