TGR: Murakami’s ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’

I’m re-reading ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running‘ (henceforth referred to in this post as WITAWITAR), and it’s lovely as usual. This is the 3rd time or so that I’m reading it, and believe it or not that’s actually a small number of re-reads for my Murakami collection. I’ve read 1Q84 at least 4 times, Norwegian Wood around 4 or 5, and I desperately want to re-read my Kafka, but for all my hopes and prayers it isn’t turning up anywhere. Anyway, with this 3rd reading of WITAWITAR I’m re-discovering all sorts of nice bits that I didn’t notice before.

For anyone of you who have read a Murakami novel and been both wondrously enchanted and simultaneously terrified of it’s bizzareness, much too terrified to try another one, maybe WITAWITAR is the book for you. It’s a non-fiction piece, written in real-time over 1 and a half years, about Haruki Murakami’s passion – obsession, even – about running. As the title might, y’know, suggest. It’s casual, funny, lighthearted and yet profound in its study of everyday life. A real good read, in other words. If you’re a Murakami fan, it’s also so wonderful to be able to read Murakami speaking as himself, and you feel like this is a little window opened into the life and mind of a very admirable man and novelist.

I’m still early on in the book, and am at the chapter where Murakami writes, simply, yet evocatively and beautifully – the usual – about how he became a novelist. He recalls the afternoon of April 1, 1978, where, watching a baseball match at Jingu stadium, the thought suddenly hits him – ‘You know what? I could try writing a novel‘. He goes on to write Hear the Wind Sing (handwritten on 200 pages of manuscript paper)(!!!), and noncommittally sends it off to a new writer’s prize. Despite this being his very first literary attempt, he wins, of course, because he is amazing. Pinball comes next, written, as with the first novella, at the same time as he juggles the responsibilities of running a jazz bar. After these both get shortlisted for the prestigious Akutagawa prize, he begins to seriously consider a life as a novelist, and takes the massive risk of closing the bar to focus on writing. Of this venture is borne A Wild Sheep’s Chase, his first full novel and, coincidentally,the first Murakami I ever read, the one that pulled me head-first into his wierd, twisted and wonderfully macabre world, and I’ve been falling deeper into this fascination ever since. The rest of the story, well, you’ll know how it went once you’ve been into a bookstore and seen the number of titles in his name.

You may wonder, what has all this have to do with running? Well, as Murakami writes at the beginning, running is such a big part of his life that it’s almost inextricable from every other aspect of it – whether it be the novels, his relationships, or the banalities of his daily grind. He continues on to write about running, but also provides substantial coverage of his work and life.

Anyway, the point I want to make here is that this chapter made me think of how silly Murakami is. How silly a man must be, to not be able to see his own genius; to not identify the extraordinary talent involved in writing something led by little more than instinct, and yet produce from that literary masterpieces! From the book it is apparent he does not think much of his talent; not in a condescending or self-bashing manner, or, worse, in a manner that is meant to evoke sympathy or assuring compliments. Simply in a manner that thinks, hey, I write novels, they’re pretty good, ah, great! Perhaps I speak only for myself, but his novels have become such a big part of my life that I simply cannot consider his writing any small feat, or dismiss it as ordinary. Never have I come across anyone who could, with a configuration of the simplest words and phrases, write as powerfully and compellingly as he does. Every single time I’ve turned the last page of any of his books, my mind has been so completely reoriented that it feels like I’ve been physically moved. His words breaks the perfectly smooth cube of my mind into 27 pieces and proceeds to shift them about like a rubik’s cube. For this reason I can read them over and over again, never tiring of any. And my mind has never returned into the initial perfect state of the completed rubik’s cube, which is not bad, not bad at all – in fact, I’m thankful for it! I am endlessly grateful for all the many ways Murakami’s stories have changed my life.

Me thinksWITAWITAR is a work of subtle brilliance, but then again, most, if not all, of Haruki Murakami’s books are. If you’ve never tried any, I urge you to do so. If you don’t like his enigmatic style, you can always put the book down and never return to his world of writing again. But if the opposite happens, and you fall in deeply in love as I do, then I’m sure Murakami’s works will change your life too, shaking it up and tossing it around.

Cheers (to lines read and distances treaded!) x

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