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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction / memoir



What I Talk About
When I Talk About Running


by
Murakami Haruki


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase What I Talk About When I Talk About Running



Title: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Author: Murakami Haruki
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 182 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - US
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - UK
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - Canada
Autoportrait de l'auteur en coureur de fond - France
Wovon ich rede, wenn ich vom Laufen rede - Deutschland
  • Japanese title: 走ることについて語るときに僕の語ること
  • A Memoir
  • Translated by Philip Gabriel

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Our Assessment:

B : unremarkable, but insightful in its own way

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor . 12/9/2008 Marjorie Kehe
The Economist C 24/7/2008 .
Le Figaro . 4/6/2009 Philippe Delerm
Financial Times . 1/9/2008 Angel Gurria-Quintana
The Guardian . 27/7/2008 Alastair Campbell
Independent on Sunday . 17/8/2008 Simon Redfern
Libération . 23/4/2009 Éric Loret
The LA Times C- 27/7/2008 Peter Terzian
NZZ . 12/3/2008 Ludger Lütkehaus
The NY Sun . 13/8/2008 Chloë Schama
The NY Times Book Rev. . 10/8/2008 Geoff Dyer
The Observer . 10/8/2008 Jason Cowley
The Scotsman . 16/8/2008 David Sexton
The Spectator . 17/9/2008 Sebastian Smee
Sunday Times . 3/8/2008 Kevin Jackson
The Telegraph . 9/8/2008 Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
TLS . 11/9/2008 Stefan Collini
Die Zeit F 13/3/2008 Urs Willmann


  From the Reviews:
  • "But you need be neither runner nor writer to find resonance in this slender but lucid meditation. The insights Murakami shares on the way he has determined to best live his life -- interspersed with a vivid physical sense of how it feels to put foot to road in various settings and climes -- transcend either track or page." - Marjorie Kehe, Christian Science Monitor

  • "A self-confessed oddball, Mr Murakami is a peculiar memoirist. Much of his book reads like a fitness magazine, with long descriptions of training schedules and diet. Mr Murakami intersperses these with a laconic sort of philosophising, much of it equally banal" - The Economist

  • "(L)e titre français épouse au plus près le projet, l'ambition du texte. Omniprésente ici, évoquée parfois dans ses détails les plus prosaïques, choix du short ou du maillot, technique de laçage des chaussures, la course à pied n'y est pourtant que l'objet d'une longue métaphore sur l'écriture, et sur la vie." - Philippe Delerm, Le Figaro

  • "For all his soul-searching, Murakami is too often willing to let Hallmark-card wisdom do the speaking (...). The best writing in this book is recycled: old texts written after his first run from Athens to Marathon, in 1983, or after completing a 62-mile ultra-marathon in Hokkaido, in 1996. (...) It is a measure of Murakami’s authorial standing that editors allowed him to produce such a book. Anyone wondering why he became a towering name in contemporary fiction is advised to begin elsewhere." - Angel Gurria-Quintana, Financial Times

  • "So, provided admirers of his novels realise they are reading about him, not just about running, they will enjoy this little book -- too little for me: I wanted more of the running detail. (...) The style is very clipped, many of the sentences short, so you feel the pace of the runner skipping through the text. There are seeming inconsistencies in there, though, about the relationship between running and writing." - Alastair Campbell, The Guardian

  • "He may plod a bit as a runner, but the fluid, conversational style and self-deprecatory tone of his prose show no signs of strain; this charming little book is a winner from start to finish." - Simon Redfern, Independent on Sunday

  • "Ecrire, courir, vieillir : c’est tout un. Murakami fait son autoportrait en stylo vivant, courant sur la page sans autre raison que le point final." - Éric Loret, Libération

  • "(D)espite its brevity, the volume feels padded. Two old magazine articles are planted in the text. There are repetitions, sometimes from one sentence to the next (.....) The flat, colloquial style that serves to heighten the magical qualities of Murakami's fiction makes this work of straightforward nonfiction sound pedestrian. Clichés abound (.....) For a book by such a gifted writer, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running reads as though it could have been written by anyone." - Peter Terzian, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Gleichwohl hat er kein Sachbuch über das Langstreckenlaufen geschrieben. Und er hat gut daran getan. Denn bei aller Information einerseits, aller Neigung zur Leere andererseits, möchte man doch auch gerne von ihm wissen, warum sein Laufen mit seinem Schreiben für ihn so eng zusammenhängt, dass er beides fast parallel führt. Murakami-Fans, die vor allem von der unbändigen Phantasie seiner Romane und Erzählungen beeindruckt sind, wird es vielleicht überraschen, wie sehr er die körperliche Seite des Schreibens und die charakteristischen Aspekte der Selbstdisziplinierung, Konzentration, Ausdauer neben der Fähigkeit zum Alleinsein, der Lust am Alleinsein betont." - Ludger Lütkehaus, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "If, in equating running and writing, Mr. Murakami takes away some of the glitz of literary creation, he satisfies the desire for writerly eccentricity in a different way. Mr. Murakami might not be a hard-living, psychologically unstable artist, but his life is filled with a different sort of insanity. (...) It is not just these perversely impressive physical feats that sharpen what might otherwise be a dull treatise on a healthful habit; Mr. Murakami's work has always combined the ordinary and the extraordinary, and this memoir is no exception." - Chloë Schama, The New York Sun

  • "Some of the nicest touches derive from stuff he notices out of the corner of his eye, on the hoof, as it were. (...) Apparently, it took quite some time to "carefully polish and rework" the book, and he "needed to revisit the manuscript many times over a period of time." So it’s a straight choice: either he’s the kind of writer who’s a pretty poor editor of his own stuff or this kind of lazy repetition is deliberate. But if it is deliberate, what conceivable purpose is being served ? (...) Now, I don’t know how representative this book is of Murakami’s novelistic style, but I wonder: Is this low-maintenance, attention-deficit prose part of Murakami’s attraction, especially among the young ?" - Geoff Dyer, The New York Times Book Review

  • "There's a wandering, digressive, free-form quality to the writing -- like improvised jazz -- familiar to anyone who has read the novels, with their labyrinthine plots, perplexed, solitary male protagonists, meaningful coincidences and dream-like sequences. The narrative voice here is as persuasive as in any of the novels, candid and jaunty, and you finish the book charmed by the simple, unaffected grace of Murakami." - Jason Cowley, The Observer

  • "Part of the fascination of this book is having a writer as good as Murakami tell us what it feels like for anybody to train and run like this. There are plenty of better runners who presumably have had similar experiences but then are completely unable to talk about them interestingly, let alone write about them well. (...) There can never have been a book quite like this memoir of running and writing, taken together, before. It's nothing less than an inspiration." - David Sexton, The Scotsman

  • "There’s nothing tremendous, startling, or even revelatory about Haruki Murakami’s latest book. The whole exercise is too pointedly modest for that. But it’s a likeable and often rewarding excursion into the writer’s experiences as a runner." - Sebastian Smee, The Spectator

  • "Much of the book is written in this fairly plain, chatty style: there’s little "fine writing" on show, which may disappoint his aesthete readers but will no doubt be a relief to the hearties. Its most memorable passages, though, describe the wonderful refreshment that he seeks at the end of each marathon. When I closed the book, I found myself fantasising not about athletic feats, but that more readily available satisfaction that Murakami evokes so tellingly: the stinging joy of a very, very cold beer." - Kevin Jackson, Sunday Times

  • "Prose of such staggering banality is not helped by a translation that collapses into bathos ("The amount I can exercise is going downhill"), as if hoping that clichés might compensate for the essential loneliness of running by making it sound as familiar as a pair of old shoes. Much more interesting are the moments when Murakami tacitly acknowledges that he is not the same as others -- he is more talented than most of his readers, for a start, which is why they are his readers, and not the other way round -- and explores the links between running and writing." - Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, The Telegraph

  • "The oddest feature of this book is what I can only describe as the affectless narrating of affect. Many of the episodes the author describes involve extremes of effort and suffering, of joy and disappointment, but they are all retailed in the same flat well-there-you-are tone. Perhaps Murakami’s huge following in the world has something to do with this carefully sustained voice. His prose has an artless, stripped-down, talking-to-myself quality, which every so often breaks out into cracker-barrel wisdom. He doesn’t sound writerly; there’s nothing to frighten the horses." - Stefan Collini, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Interessieren dürfte diese Schrift zwei Bevölkerungsgruppen: die Läufer und die Leser von Murakami-Romanen. Nun verrät das Buch über die zwei Leidenschaften des 59-Jährigen aber den einen zu wenig und den anderen zu viel. (...) Armer Autor. Hier verrät ein Buch zu viel über ihn. Wie konnte es dazu kommen, dass Tagebuchprosa eines Erfolgsschriftstellers so schwach lektoriert durch ein Leck entweichen konnte ?" - Urs Willmann, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Murakami Haruki took up jogging when he became a writer, and has taken it pretty seriously since, even competing in some two dozen marathons (one a year), as well as a few triathlons. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a meandering memoir of his running. A bit cobbled together -- the book includes pieces devoted to specific events, such as a shortened version of an article he wrote more than two decades ago about running from Athens to Marathon (his first time covering the marathon-distance) -- it nevertheless progresses at a steady pace, sort of like many of the runs he describes.
       After his first literary successes Murakami decided to take up writing full-time, which meant a major change in his lifestyle. Previously he had run a jazz club, but he gave that up to (try to) devote himself to writing, completely changing his routine. Running seemed an ideal way of staying in shape, and it suited him -- and it is in these small descriptions of why he turned to running instead of picking some other form of exercise, a team sport or going to the gym, that this memoir is of interest. It's all very casual, but even in its occasional near-banality turns out to be quite revealing.
       Murakami does devote some space to his writing career, including a description of the very moment when he first decided to try his hand at a novel, and he manages to connect his running with his writing well. Far from any romantic view of the life of the writer, Murakami describes a working routine that is much like his running routine, an almost bland, devoted sameness that nevertheless gives him a great deal (even as it is hard to convey to others). For him the physical and psychological demands are similar, too, including a willingness to push on regardless, day after day.
       Along the way in the book, a good deal of information gets slipped in -- and there are also some very Murakamiesque moments. From the carnage on the Greek streets as he runs to Marathon (he counts three dead dogs and eleven cats on his route) to his descriptions of life in Hawaii and Cambridge it's all quite engaging. And some of the descriptions are particularly interesting, such as when he describes preparing for and giving a lecture at MIT and notes how it is much easier for him to speak publicly in his:

far-from-perfect English than Japanese. I think this is because when I have to speak seriously about something in Japanese I'm overcome with the feeling of being swallowed up in a sea of words. There's an infinite number of choices for me, infinite possibilities. As a writer, Japanese and I have a tight relationship. So if I'm going to speak in front of an undefined large group of people, I grow confused and frustrated when faced by that teeming ocean of words.
       Murakami focusses on a few specific events -- preparing for the New York city marathon, for example -- but he almost deflects any narrative tension. In this way What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is very much a typical work for him, shifting between observations and thoughts and a few action (of sorts)-filled episodes, and even as it doesn't seem to necessarily get anywhere it leaves the reader at a very different point than at the outset -- much as one might feel after a long, solitary run.
       What I Talk About When I Talk About Running only provides a few autobiographical details, but in the way Murakami reveals himself in his day-to-day (running-)routines and concerns proves quite satisfying as a small memoir. There's really not that much to it, and yet it gives a good sense of the man.

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Links:

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: Reviews: Murakami Haruki: Other books by Murakami Haruki under review: Books about Murakami Haruki under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Japanese literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Murakami Haruki (村上春樹) was born January 12, 1949. He attended Waseda University. He has written several internationally acclaimed bestsellers and is among the best-known contemporary Japanese writers.

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© 2008-2010 the complete review

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