Okay, let’s get this out of the way right now. I do not like running. I especially do not like running long distances. I might, every now and then, break into a run to get my heart rate up if I’m out fitness walking, but one minute of running and I’m done. However, liking to run is not a prerequisite for liking to read about running, particularly when the book is not so much about running as it is about committing to something you enjoy and doing it to the fullest. That’s what Haruki Murakami is talking about when he talks about running in this short memoir.
Murakami took up long-distance running largely to stay fit after beginning a full-time career as a novelist. Previously, he had owned and run and jazz club, and there was enough physical activity involved in that job to keep him from gaining weight, but writing was a different matter. He chose to run because it was something he could do anywhere and because it suits his personality. Murakami is very clear that running—especially long-distance running—isn’t for everyone, not because it’s extra difficult but because body types and temperaments differ, and some people are better suited to other forms of exercise. Murakami doesn’t like competitive sports, and he considers himself terrible at sprinting, but long-distance running works for him.
In this audiobook, read by Ray Porter, Murakami talks about why and how running works for him. He discusses his training and his experiences in numerous marathons and triathlons. The book did nothing whatsoever to convince me to take up running, but that’s not the point of the book. Murakami says so early on. What the book does offer to the nonrunner are thoughts about taking pleasure in our pleasures, pushing through difficulties, learning the small steps that can help us improve, and accepting our limitations and our selves. Murakami couches all of this in thoughts about his own life, never in didactic instructions to the reader.
One of the things I enjoyed about the audiobook is how Murakami is clear about who he is and accepts who he is. He doesn’t see himself as a perfect person; in fact, he says he’s surprised that anyone would like him. But he also doesn’t seem interested in becoming someone else. Instead, he’s focused on making the most of his strengths and personality in all his endeavors. I liked that about him. It’s true that he does sometimes come across as too intense a person for me to want to hang out with, but I appreciate people who know who they are and aren’t apologetic about it.
Overall, though, this book didn’t set my world on fire. I liked it well enough. It more than exceeded my rather low audiobook standard of being better than drive-time radio. It held my interest, even if it was repetitive at times, and it left me with a few things to think about. I imagine a runner or a serious Murakami fan would get more out of it than I did, but I got enough pleasures out of it to say that it might also be worthwhile for someone who’s not a particular enthusiast for running or for Murakami.