Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Running With Murakami

Way back in January, I mentioned that I was waiting for Murakami Haruki's 2007 book 走ることについて語る時に僕の語ること (What I Talk About When I Talk About Running) to be published in paperback. While the English version appeared back in August of this year, and another novel (1Q84; it has something to do with Orwell's 1984, 25 years on) has appeared in Japanese, Bungei Shunju (the publisher) seems to be dragging its feet on this one.

But wait! there's a light at the end of this tunnel. The Western Addition Branch of San Francisco Public Library has a large collection of Japanese language books, and thanks to their excellent web service, I'm able to request books and have them delivered to my very own Mission Branch. So a sunny day last week I walked to 24th Street and picked up my very first SFPL loan.

Murakami started running in 1982, when he was 33 years old. He'd recently completed his third novel, A Wild Sheep Chase, his first work as a full-time writer*. By the time he'd completed the book, he found himself overweight and smoking 3 packs of cigarettes a day. He knew that he had to make a change. To put it briefly, he began running, quit smoking and began eating a more healthy diet. The secondary changes, rather than conscious decisions, seemed to follow naturally from the daily habit of running. He wanted to be able to run longer distances, so he had to quit smoking. And so on.

I found a couple of the ideas he raises in the second chapter to be interesting. First, often when people hear that he runs nearly every day, they applaud him on his strong will and commitment. But that's not how he sees it. Murakami says that he runs because it suits him. No matter how strong your resolution, nobody is going to continue doing something like that for over 20 years without enjoying it. I've been running regularly (except when I'm abroad!) since 2000, and I couldn't agree more.

The second theme has to do with the habit of running. Murakami describes his constitution as such that he puts on weight easily if he's not active. His wife
, on the other hand, is naturally thin and doesn't have to think about what she eats. This doesn't seem fair, that some people have to work to maintain a level of fitness while for others it comes naturally. But in the long run, he's glad that he has had to work to stay in shape. If he didn't, he would not have developed the generally healthy habits and lifestyle that he currently has. How many people do you know who never seemed to have to do any work to stay thin when they're young, only to end up struggling with their weight after reaching middle age?

I'm still only about a third of the way into the book, so expect more on it later!

*Until then he had managed a cafe/jazz bar in Tokyo called Peter Cat. Great name.


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