Haruki Murakami’s novella-sized memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is part passive-aggressive self-help, part stream of consciousness journal-writing. Plotwise, he writes about training for the 2005 New York City Marathon and struggling with the limitations of his body as he gets older. He throws in occassional memories of how he started running at age 33 and the day he was simply a bar owner sitting at a baseball game and decided he wanted to write a novel.
The whole thing is really simple, common sensey and above all else charming. [I was only halfway into the book and in the course of a single conversation, quoted his ideas at least six times.] It’s a book that could only be writen by someone who already has a strong fanbase, though. Like he concedes during the anti-climax: “Turn it into a screenplay, and the Hollywood producer would just glance at the last page and toss it back.”
What he says about running and writing applies to everything: It starts with a dose of talent, but needs focus and endurance to work. Train your muscles so they know what is expected of them. Set goals. Seek help and extra training when necessary. Know your breaking point. He toes the line of self-help writing, although it is more like self-suggestion. He writes about what works for him, without ever saying: Do this or you will fail!
This is a book that is obviously geared toward runners or those interested in running, which is unfortunate because he is saying in a simple way smart things that apply to anyone who loves to do anything. As I read, I kept thinking of all the people who won’t read this — because of the running vehicle — and what a bummer that is. Then I realized that if it was called What I Talk About When I Talk About Fishing and had the same structure and content, I wouldn’t read it either.