three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
37-Nov-Dec-2008
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A-What I Talk AboutHaruki Murakami, international best-selling author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Norwegian Wood, Kafka on the Shore ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection Mar/Apr 2005), and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman ( 4 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2006), among other books, sets his sights on running.

The Topic: In the early 1980s, Haruki Murakami, a former jazz club owner who became one of the world’s most saleable literary writers almost by accident, realized that a sedentary lifestyle and a three-pack-a-day smoking habit would be the end of him. Over the past three decades, the daily running that began as a lifestyle choice has become an obsession. Since then, Murakami has run in more than two dozen marathons, a handful of triathlons, and a 62-mile ultramarathon. "Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day," Murakami writes. In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running—a play on the title of Raymond Carver’s much-anthologized story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love"—the author views his role as writer through the eyes of a runner.
Knopf. 175 pages. $21. ISBN: 0307269191

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"This charming, sober little book tells the story of how, shortly after Murakami embarked on a career as a novelist, he was blindsided by an even unlikelier idea: to go for a run. … Runners will find a kindred soul on these pages." John Freeman

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is full of clear, straightforward sentences that describe Murakami’s life as a runner and explore how running shaped his character and his fiction. It is an open, welcoming book, deeper than it first seems and devoid of the playful trickery that streaks through many of his novels and stories." Jeff Baker

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"The clean, easily accessible style with inclinations toward profundity that marks Murakami’s novels is evident here—as is the interest in American pop culture that has earned him a devoted audience of Western readers and a teaching job at Harvard, conveniently located near the banks of the runner-friendly Charles River and the 26.2-mile course of the Boston Marathon. … [What I Talk About is] no juicy tell-all memoir, but something much more intriguing: a tightly focused window into a defining avocation of one of the world’s great novelists." Dan DeLuca

Hartford Courant 3 of 5 Stars
"The book seems slight at times, an offering for hard-core fans or a certain cadre of hyper-literary joggers. … When Murakami follows the twin and intersecting pursuits of running and writing, the book is fascinating, offering a glimpse into the creative process of the one of the world’s great writers." Dan Pope

St. Petersburg Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"What I Talk About is worth reading, and, taken in bits, its lessons are worth heeding—many of us do tend to ascribe importance to items better met with a wry shrug. But besides the author, What I Talk About introduces no other significant character, and that indicates the fateful flaw of its message." Liam Julian

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"The flat, colloquial style that serves to heighten the magical qualities of Murakami’s fiction makes this work of straightforward nonfiction sound pedestrian. … 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

Rocky Mountain News 2 of 5 Stars
"If you’re a dedicated runner, you might find Murakami’s reflections resonating with your own experiences. … At worst, it is the self-absorbed musings of someone who thinks others should care about what’s written in his training logs, or about what he had for dinner on a given night." Rebecca Jones

NY Times Book Review 1.5 of 5 Stars
"I’m guessing that the potential readership … is 70 percent Murakami nuts, 10 percent running enthusiasts and an overlapping 20 percent who will be on the brink of orgasm before they’ve even sprinted to the cash register. … Running is ‘sort of a vague theme’ (i.e., not just vague but vaguely vague), and the book is ‘a kind of memoir.’" Geoff Dyer

Critical Summary

Haruki Murakami has established himself as one of the most interesting and innovative novelists of the last two decades, combining pop culture with a magic-realistic sensibility that has garnered the author a faithful following. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running couldn’t differ more from the rest of Murakami’s work. This slender volume catalogs the author’s love for that most solitary of athletic endeavors, though even Murakami’s prodigious talent as a writer can’t quite bridge the gap between the cultish world of hard-core running and a broader audience. This hit-and-miss effort—with something, literally, lost in the translation and some lazy writing—will be welcomed by a small (probably athletic) audience, but may not reach readers who aren’t already on board with Murakami or running.