Some (myself included) compare reading a book to the art of portraiture, never have I found a book more fitting of that comparison. I am perhaps biased due to my recent explorations into running, but What I Talk About When I Talk About Running has quickly become one of my all-time favourite books. Reading this memoir felt a more visceral experience than intellectual one.
I didn’t know what to expect from the running focus of the book, but it transforms into a beautiful metaphor for living. Running, like writing, forms part of the core of his identity hence the apt nickname he has garnered as the running novelist. It is beautiful in the way that running requires our full focus and attention, at least physically. It leaves our mind free to wander or settle in a sort of meditative state. I have had inklings of this conceptualisation of running, but not until I read Murakami’s thoughts was I able to articulate it. If running is yin, then yang is writing. It exacts no toll on us physically but requires our minds’ undivided focus. The symmetry there is rather elegant, Murakami has stumbled onto a generative and sustainable lifestyle, one where the outcomes don’t matter as much as the process.
Murakami’s tone, structure, and honesty made the exercise of reading feel like listening to an old friend over some afternoon tea. The sporadic nature of the entries combined with the almost stream-of-consciousness style of writing lends evokes an undeniable sense of intimacy. Unlike writing his novels which involved three to fours hours daily sessions, each entry was written on his own accord, and on his terms. It makes ever more palatable the vivid images and scenes he paints through.
I happened to read this sitting by a window, feeling the warmth of the sun, with a little light jazz playing in the background – it was bliss. Hands down the most “fun” I have had reading a book, an out-of-body experience for a traditionally intellectual pursuit. With Murakami littering in life learnings through the work, it felt like I was communing with his consciousness, trying to internalise his words of wisdom.
Highly, highly recommended. Even if you consider yourself the most casual or runners, this is a must-read.