What he writes about when he writes about running

I have read hundreds of books about running. Only one starts the first sentence of chapter one on Kauai.

“I’m on Kauai, in Hawaii today, Friday, August 5, 2005. It’s unbelievably clear and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. As if the concept clouds doesn’t even exist. I came here at the end of July and, as always, we rented a condo. During the mornings, when it’s cool, I sit at my desk, writing all sorts of things. Like now: I’m writing this, a piece on running that I can pretty much compose as I wish. It’s summer, so naturally it’s hot.”

Good stuff.

It’s that forward, concise style of writing that could also describe the running style of Haruki Murakami, who wrote the 2008 bestseller, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir.”

What kind of title is that? What I talk about when I talk about running?

Runners understand this well, as we love to talk about running. Not really so much the running (well, if it’s a good run, we’ll talk about it all day if anyone will listen), but the places, the people, the feelings, the experiences, that come with each run. That’s what we love to talk about. That’s what Murakami talks about so well. You see, he makes a running book interesting to those who don’t run. Don’t care to run. Don’t like to run. Don’t have any interest in running.

His narratives in this 180-page book pull them along:

• “I finally reach the end. Strangely, I have no feeling of accomplishment. The only thing I feel is utter relief that I don’t have to run anymore. I use a spigot at a gas station to cool off my overheated body and wash away the salt stuck to me.”

• “Today as I was running I saw a plump Canada goose lying dead by the shore of the Charles. A dead squirrel, too, lying next to a tree. They both looked like they were fast asleep, but they were dead. Their expressions were calm, as if they’d accepted the end of life, as if they were finally liberated.”

• “As I ran, different parts of my body, one after another, began to hurt. First my right thigh hurt like crazy, then that pain migrated over to my right knee, then to my left thigh, and on and on. All the parts of my body had their chance to take center stage and scream out their complaints. They screamed, complained, yelled in distress, and warned me that they weren’t going to take it anymore.”

• “I don’t care about the time I run. I can try all I want, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to run the way I used to. I’m ready to accept that. It’s not one of your happier realities, but that’s what happens when you get older. Just as I have my own role to play, so does time.”

Murakami is more than a runner and author.

Last year he announced that he is working to set up a library that will showcase his works and also serve as a meeting place for research and international exchanges.

The library would archive his books, various stages of drafts of his novels, materials he used to write his books, and his translation work, as well as his massive collection of music, which plays a key role in his stories, he said in an Associated Press report.

The library is planned at Waseda University, his alma mater in Tokyo.

“I’m more than happy if those materials can contribute any way for those who want to study my works,” the 69-year-old Murakami said at a joint news conference with school officials at Waseda. “I hope it would be a place for cultural exchanges with positive and open atmosphere.”

A perennial contender for the Nobel literature prize, Murakami began writing while running a jazz bar in Tokyo before graduating from Waseda in 1975. His debut novel, “Hear the Wind Sing,” came out in 1979, and the 1987 romantic novel “Norwegian Wood” was his first best-seller, establishing him as a young literary star. His latest novel, “Killing Commendatore,” hit U.S. bookstores last year.

Perhaps some day, I’ll go running with Murakami when he visits Kauai. Yes, I would love to talk to him about running when we’re running.

But perhaps we would just run, in silence. Perhaps we would just glide along, breathing easily, taking in the sounds, the sights, and feeling the sting of the sweat in our eyes that comes with a morning run on Kauai.

Just running when we’re running.

We could talk about running later.


Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.


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