Haruki Murakami wrote this book between 2005 and 2006, and published it in 2007 in Japan with the title Hashiru Koto Ni Tsuite Kataru Toki Ni Boku No Kataru Koto.
It is a memoir and a collection of musings that ping-pongs between Murakami’s training for the 2005 New York Marathon and episodes of his younger days. For example, becoming a writer, becoming a runner, deciding to write his first novel, running from Athens to Marathon (his first marathon).
Is this book for runners? or writers?
No. Being a runner or a writer is not a prerequisite to reading What I Talk About. I think most people would greatly enjoy this book because the memoir transcends the realms of running and writing. Murakami talks about time and what time does to people and what people hope to do with time.
Perhaps a few passages here and there can be better grasped by runners. For example, the concept of void:
“I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void. But as you might expect, an occasional thought will slip into this void. People’s minds can’t be a complete blank. Human beings’ emotions are not strong or consistent enough to sustain a vacuum. What I mean is, the kinds of thoughts and ideas that invade my emotions as I run remain subordinate to that void.”
Maybe difficult to grasp, but easy enough to imagine. Running is a form of meditation. In any case, no need to be a runner.
Is the book about something else?
My read of the book showed me a beautiful depiction of aging. Our bodies weaken, our minds become more contemplative. At first, we try to reverse the makings of time. We then hope to avoid them, but it’s a futile enterprise. Our running pace declines and no matter what we change in our training regime, our sleep and eating habits, there’s no going back to that younger pace (but it was only yesterday…). It’s just like looking at vacation photographs from five years ago.
We only age once and therefore we feel lost. We don’t know how to react to what is happening to us. A sort of melancholy or “runner’s blues” comes and stays with us. We eventually (I hope) learn to accept the makings of time, as Murakami writes:
“Just as I have my own role to play, so does time. And time does its job much more faithfully… And one of the privileges given to those who’ve avoided dying young is the blessed right to grow old.”
At some point we pass our peak but continue running, and no matter how fast or slow, or long or short we run, we never reach our destination.