What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Many moons ago, my friend Sara recommended this book to me. I was doing Couch to 5k and I was also writing more, so it seemed a good fit. I finally picked up What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami a few months ago and I finally started reading it a few weeks ago. It is fantastic. Not only is the writing fantastic, but the way he merges talking about long distance running with writing is really interesting. I don’t run long distance, but just running at all gives me an appreciation for how he speaks of marathons, and the one ultra marathon he did.

I’ve also found that I really enjoy memoirs that are based on an activity. So one of my all time favorite books is My Life in France by Julia Child. She uses the lens of food to talk about her life, which is fantastic. And this book, using running to talk about writing, it’s equally as captivating to me.

I highlighted a lot of passages as I read the paper version of this book, so page numbers are included.

But the river has remained unaltered. The wwater still flows swiftly, and silently, twoard Boston Harbor. The water soaks the shoreline, making the summer grasses grow thick, which help feed the waterflow, and it flow languidly, ceaselessly, under the old bridges, reflecting clouds in summer and bobboing with floes in winter—and silently heads toward the ocean. (p. 13)

As I run I tell myself to think of a river. And clouds. But essentially I’m not thinking of a thing. All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And htis is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says. (p. 23)

I’m struck by how, except when you’re young, you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don’t get that sort of system set up by a certain age, you’ll lack focus and your life will be out of balance. I placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing, not associating with all the people around me. I felt that the indispensable relationship I should build in my life was not with a specific person, but with an unspecified number of readers. (p. 37)

In other words, let’s face it: Life is basically unfair. But even in a situation that’s unfair, I think it’s possible to seek out a kind of fairness. Of course that might take time and effort. And maybe it won’t seem to be worth all that. It’s up to each individual to decide whether or not it is. (p. 43)

The most important thing we ever learn at school is the fact that the most important things can’t be learned at school. (p. 45)

If I used being busy as an excuse not to run, I’d never run again. I have only a few reasons to keep on running, and a truckload of them to quit. All I can do is keep those few reasons nicely polished. (p. 73)

Writing itself is mental labor, but finishing an entire book is closer to manual labor. It doesn’t involve heavy lifting, running fast, or leaping high. Most people, though, only see the surface reality of writing and think of writers as involved in quiet, intellectual work done in their study. If you have the strength to lift a cup of coffee, they figure, you can write a novel. But once you try your hand at it, you soon find that it isn’t as peaceful a job as it seems. (p. 79)

On the other hand, writers who aren’t blessed with much talent—those who barely make the grade—need to build up their strength at their own expense. They have to train themselves to improve their focus, to increase their endurance. To a certain extent they’re forced to make these qualities stand in for talent. And while they’re getting by on these, they may actually discover real, hidden talent within them. They’re sweating, digging out a hole at their feet with a shovel, when they run across a deep secret water vein. It’s a lucky thing, but what made this good fortune possible was lal the training they did that gave them the strength to keep on digging. I imagine that late-blooming writers have all gone through a similar process. (p. 80-81)

Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How mus rest is appropriate—and how mush is too much? How far can I take something and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded adn inflexible? How much should I be awaer of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? I know that if I hadn’t become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different. How different? Hard to say. But something would have definitely been different. (p. 81-82)

No matter where you go, the expressions on the faces of long-distance runners are all the same. They all look like they’re thinking about something as they run. They might not be thinking at all, but they look like they’re intently thinking. (p. 86)

What I mean is, I didn’t start running because somebody asked me to become a runner. Just like I didn’t become a novelist because someone asked me to. One day, out of the blue, I wanted to write a novel. And one day, out of the blue, I started to run—simply because I wanted to. I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing in life. People may tryp to stop me, and convince me I’m wrong, but I won’t change. (p. 150)

For me, the main goal of exercising is to maintain, and improve, my physical condition in order to keep on writing novels, so if races and training cut into the time I need to write, this would be putting the cart before the horse. Which is why I’ve tried to maintain a decent balance. (p. 177-178)