I first saw the title "What I Talk About When I Talk About
Running" by Haruki Murakami four years ago, in the
recommended reading list at the BBS MIT running board.
At the time I was pursuing my first marathon. I had enough
sources of inspiration ("Born To Run" certainly sounded more
grand) and didn't pay much attention to the Japanese writer.
Early 2019, I returned to running after three and a half years
and, around the same time, got interested in fiction.
Since then, I noticed the author's name a few times
at WXC and learnt about his political views. In the past
couple of months, in addition to his memoir on running which
is inspiring in its own way, I have read a few novels from
Murakami, including "Killing Commendatore," "Men Without
Women," "Norwegian Wood," and "After Dark."
Among these, "Norwegian Wood" was a love story, many say,
and maybe that's what it was made out to be. Only the love
parts failed to grab me. The maturity that the young hero
Watanabe showed, however, was impressive. He could laugh
at his new college roommate's quirks without resorting to
enmity and violence (I could not), and his attitudes toward
"You could let a lot of things bother you if you wanted
to--the rules, the jerks who think they're hot shit, the
roommates doing Radio Calisthenics at six-thirty in the
morning. But if you figure it's pretty much the same
anywhere you go, you can manage." (Only recently I
started to see things this way.)
His insight on the local student movement at the end of his
first year was
"... And in fact those students who had sealed the
campus had not wanted to dismantle the university
either. All they had really wanted was to shift the
balance of power within the university structure,..."
These ideas in an 18-year-old felt unreal to me but it's
fiction and no holds barred.
In these novels, the author refers frequently to Western
music, literature, foods, and places, and gives the
impression that the Japanese have collectively shed the
tribal past and morphed into Western individuals. His
characters attend Greek Drama lectures and effortlessly
embrace liberal ideals. All these might have made his works
popular in the West.
I plan to read more Murakami and, in fact, I'm in the middle
of "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki." Tazaki typically "didn't mind
sport but never was interested enough to join a team." This
sounds like the author himself who said in his memoir that
he didn't mind being alone. Likewise, again in "Norwegian
Wood," Watanabe (and the artist in "Killing ...") is said that he "doesn't envy anybody,"
which could also be a trait of the author or his idealized self.
When reading his works, I felt I was learning about the man.