Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Geography of Discipline: Murakami on Running, Writing, Living

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir by Haruki Murakami (Vintage Canada, 2009) viii, 180pp.

The geography of discipline found in these reminiscences is perhaps both complex and simple. In talking about running, Murakami talks about writing. In talking about writing, he talks about running. In talking about living Murakami naturally talks about running and writing. This book is a very revealing glimpse of an individual, an introvert in many ways, who, with a strongly developed direction in life, has exercised his talents with composure, self-assurance and a confidence in hard work.

His style is casual, matter of fact. Everyday phrases, idioms and occasional clichés make reading this memoir feel like you are having an easy going dinner with the author, and he has started to answer your question of how he got into running after all. The reference to Raymond Carver in the title is a telling homage.

The memoir provides a peek into his past, his having run a jazz club for many years, and the day, while watching a baseball game, the thought of writing books took hold of him and never let him go. We also have his day to day existence: travel, business meetings, lectures abroad, apartment problems, which is the colourful backcloth to his more central routines and foci of this book, running and writing. He travels a fair deal, often for marathons or triathlons. Japan, Greece, Hawaii, New York and Boston all important locations for these tests of physical endurance, and also, for everyday life, for he lives in many of these locations. His description of how he developed as a runner is accompanied by his description of how he became an efficient swimmer and bicyclist, skills required for his new interest in taking part in triathlons. We learn of his training for big races and here we can find some good practical techniques from an experienced runner. He discusses the qualities necessary for a good writer and these qualities apply to running as well. In fact, they probably apply to most things. We discover why he runs, the fond memories involved and what he finds in the actual pain of such physical expression.

And of course there are references to music.

An enjoyable read and one that any reader of Murakami's novels will want to have nestled up against his works of fiction on their Murakami shelf.

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