mundane adventures in running
This is my review of Murakami’s book on life, writing and running.
It stands to reason that I should like this book. I like Murakami and I like running.
I don’t speak Japanese; I’ve only read his books in translation. I have always admired the restraint in his writing. There’s a strange potential in his prose, as though he could go further but chooses not too. There’s a humility in his writing. He politely offers his thoughts with a quiet, sad shyness. He never forces his opinion. His writing is without hyperbole. Still, behind this restraint there’s tremendous power and a masterly command that shines through, when it’s needed, when it’s appropriate.
This humble restraint comes out in this book. There’s no sense of bragging, either about his success as an author or his commitment to running and his persistence in running. Still, he discusses both with self satisfaction tempered by self awareness. The result is a beautifully honest, well measured, wonderfully written collection of connected essays.
Murakami focuses on three overt themes: running, writing and his own life. Probably in that order.
What he talks about when he talks about running is just that, running. He doesn’t dramatise it or romanticise it, just talks about it: the experience, the drive, the daily repetition of it. He covers one of the more seemingly significant events in his running career, his first marathon, from Athens to that village of Marathon, with the same muted, descriptive, honest prose that he talks about anything else. Similarly, when it comes to his first (and likely last) ultra marathon, he writes without whooping, without chest thumping, without exaggerating the pain or the effort or the thirst. He doesn’t talk about these events as epiphanies or life changing moments, just as events which happened. Stops along the way. Moments in his life.
As the book progresses, these themes become more and more overt. This isn’t the work of an old man, but it is the work of a man who is aware that he is ageing, and who wants to reflect on what that means. When he talks about running, he talks about death and memories. He talks about getting old and slowing down. He talks about his motivation to keep writing over the years. He talks about his comfort in his own skin, his hope and his resignation.
Parts of this book made me cry. When Murakami describes his relationship with his own personality as like carrying an awkward suitcase I was touched. It’s such a beautiful way to describe the disconnect between who we are and what we aspire to be, and the way we resign ourselves to this and the path we take to coming to terms with who we are. T
This book is one readers with a love of fine, honestly written should read. It is a quiet, thoughtful book about, among other things, running. It’s not an inspirational piece. It’s not like Jurek’s autobiography or Born to Run: It won’t make you start running if you don’t already, or up your weekly mileage if you do. It might make you reflect on why you run, how running fits with the other parts of you life and what running means in our journey from birth to death.
If you like books and running, I recommend it. If you just like running, probably give it a miss.