What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami

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Three and a half stars, read in September 2016.

Do you sometimes have books that get stuck to whatever the circumstances were when you read them? Like, if you were in a particular place, then every time you go to that place you think of that book, and you almost feel as though you’re reading it again? That happened to me with this book, which I listened to on audio while I was repairing books in the workroom of the library. And since it was at work, that means I get to think of it often.

Both fortunately and unfortunately, it’s a book that makes me want to be a runner. I hated running growing up, and could never have imagined myself as the type of person who did it for any reason, much less for fun. But I think this may partially have been the effect of living in Texas, a place with a climate I really do not enjoy. There is just no good time of day to be outside most of the year, whether it’s because of heat or humidity or crickets or june bugs. In junior high school, when we had to run for whatever national standards thing there was, I remember distinctly that I walked most of the mile with a group of friends—and when we saw a Blue Bell ice cream truck parked near the entrance to the cafeteria, we snuck in the back to cool off.

Almost twenty years later, when Mike and I were living in Utah, I got into the habit of running on the outdoor track of a nearby school—and I loved it. I would listen to music, or to the Harry Potter books on audio, and it wasn’t long before I could run two miles at a time. This, for me, was earth-shattering.

The unfortunate part is that now I live in Texas again, and as much as I always want to be the kind of person who gets up early, has a healthy routine, eats well, and exercises regularly, I never have been. My body isn’t in good shape for running, either. I get headaches incredibly easily, especially doing anything in the sun. When I ran in Utah, I got shin splints. Now, for the past year or so, I’ve been having a lot of pain in my feet—possibly plantar fasciitis. It’s really, really hard to run when your legs and feet aren’t holding up.

Not that Murakami is attempting to persuade anyone to be a runner in this book—he’s specifically not. It just happens to be something I do wish I could do, and the fact that he is one of my favorite writers certainly adds to the feeling, especially because of how deeply running influences him (which is what most of the book is about). I can’t say how interesting this would be to someone who isn’t already a devoted fan, like I am. But even in his nonfiction, Murakami has that same lovely way of describing things that’s so common in his novels.

I realized I’d been splashing around in the water until just a minute before and now was whizzing by at twenty miles an hour on a bike. No matter how many times I experience this, the sudden transition feels odd. It’s a different feeling of weight, speed, and motor reflexes, and you use completely different muscles. You feel like a salamander that’s evolved overnight into an ostrich.

I loved this because it happens to me sometimes, and I could imagine exactly how he felt—it’s almost like a sudden heightened awareness of your existence, your exact location in the world, your precise surroundings—like, just a second ago I was in water, a substance other than air that almost completely surrounded me—and now I am not only on land, I’m sitting on this thing with wheels that are spinning and moving me faster than a human body can move on its own. It’s almost disorienting.

Seeing a lot of water like that every day is probably an important thing for human beings. “For human beings” might be a bit of a generalization—but I do know it’s important for one person: me. If I go for a time without seeing water, I feel like something’s slowly draining out of me. It’s probably like the feeling a music lover has when, for whatever reason, he’s separated from music for a long time.

This is something that, until a couple years ago, I wouldn’t even have known I connected with. I have always been particularly drawn to trees and mountains, and never had any strong feelings about the ocean.

But I think that’s because I haven’t been to the ocean since my childhood, and then it was only once or twice, on vacation from the landlocked state of Arizona. The ocean isn’t really something you can experience through a photo; you have to be there, even if you don’t get in the water—to hear the dull roar and see the vastness stretching out in front of you, and breathe the air that just feels better somehow. The magnificence of mountains and trees is easy to capture visually, but the ocean is something you have to feel.

These are pictures I took last year in San Francisco (the one on the left is actually Santa Cruz). And while they are beautiful, they don’t capture what it was really like to be standing there. Now, I do feel that same draw to the water, and I understand what he means about feeling something drain out of you when you’re away too long.

What I’m left with now, besides wanting to start running and wishing I could go to the ocean, is a desire to read more Murakami (is it funny for one little book to make me want so many things? But I guess that’s pretty normal for me). The last one I read was Wind/Pinball in the fall of 2015, and I think it’s time for another. For me, Haruki Murakami is like the ocean in that sense—I start to feel it if I’m too long away from his books. Luckily, he’s much easier than the ocean to get back to.

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