What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Title: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Japanese Title: 走ることについて語るときに僕の語ること
Author: Murakami Haruki (村上春樹)
Translator: Philip Gabriel
Publication Year: 2008 (America); 2007 (Japan)
Publisher: Vintage International
Pages: 180

Yay! Another Murakami book has come out in paperback! Yay! It’s translated by Philip Gabriel (the author of Spirit Matters: The Translucent in Modern Japanese Literature and veteran Murakami translator)!

Some critics say that people would read Stephen King’s grocery list if he published it. Although I’m not sure I would go that far, I certainly enjoyed King’s essay On Writing. Although I was disappointed that the newest Murakami translation isn’t one of his earlier novels (Hear the Wind Sing, for example, or Pinball, 1973) or his latest novel (1Q84) but a memoir-length essay on running, I decided to go ahead and read it. Because some writers, yes, I will read anything they publish. Even a log of miles run per month.

Over the course of my career as a student of Japanese, I have come to realize that the essay is still a thriving form of literature in Japan. It sometimes seems like every popular writer from Yoshimoto Banana to Murakami Ryū has at some point published at least one collection of essays. Instead of taking the form of concentrated inquiries into a single subject in the style of John McPhee, however, most of these essays are personal in nature and written in a light-hearted tone. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is much the same. The memoir is conversational rather than educational and a pleasure to read.

In short, Murakami is preparing to run in the 2005 New York City Marathon. He has found that, as he gets older, it becomes harder to train and to run marathons in the amount of time that he would like to. Therefore, partly as refection, and partly as inspiration, he writtes a series of essays as he prepares to run in New York. These essays take him from Hawaii to Japan to Cambridge, Massachusetts, from summer into fall, and years into the past. He writes about running in Tokyo, running in Greece, running in triathlons, running in ultra-marathons, running next to Olympic runners, running next to John Updike, running next to Harvard freshmen, and running next to rivers. He talks about his decision to start running and his decision to become a writer. Everything is equally interesting.

The tone of the book is honest and self-effacing. Although it’s quiet, Murakami has a definite sense of humor that balances out his more contemplative passages. Aside from the fact that I don’t think he mentions drinking whiskey or cooking spaghetti even once, Murakami could very well be one of his infinitely personable narrators. Even though I have almost zero interest in running (or writing novels) myself, I was fascinated by these essays. I’m glad they were translated and published in America.

Dance Dance Dance

dance-dance-dance

Title: Dance Dance Dance
Japanese Title: ダンス・ダンス・ダンス
Author: Murakami Haruki (村上春樹)
Translator: Alfred Birnbaum
Publication Year: 1994 (America); 1988 (Japan)
Publisher: Vintage International
Pages: 393

One of my favorite passages in Dance Dance Dance is the ending of one of the last chapters in the novel:

When I was little, I had this science book. There was a section on “What would happen to the world if there was no friction?” Answer: “Everything on earth would fly into space from the centrifugal force of revolution.” That was my mood.

Indeed, that is the mood of this entire novel, which is perhaps the strangest, most nihilistic, and most off-center Murakami novel I’ve read.

Dance Dance Dance is the sequel to Murakami’s popular 1982 novel A Wild Sheep Chase (羊をめぐる冒険). It concerns the unnamed narrator’s quest to return to the Dolphin Hotel and rescue his former girlfriend Kiki, who had disappeared at the end of A Wild Sheep Chase. Upon returning to Sapporo, the narrator finds that the old, run-down, mystery-haunted Dolphin Hotel of his memory has disappeared, and the Sheep Professor is nowhere to be found. A large, modern, high-class resort hotel, also called “The Dolphin Hotel,” has gone up in the same neighborhood, but the managers and staff claim to know nothing of the former hotel. One receptionist, however, responds the inquiries of narrator by telling him about a cold, pitch-black phantom floor at which the hotel’s elevator sometimes stops. In order to recover Kiki, and, in doing so, save the part of himself that had been damaged by the events in A Wild Sheep Chase, Murakami’s protagonist attempts to pursue these mysteries, albeit in a somewhat half-hearted way.

Of course, this being Murakami, there are many side stories that need to be explored along the way. The narrator catches a glimpse of Kiki acting in a bit part in a high-school romance movie alongside an actor named Gotanda, who had been an acquaintance of the narrator in high school. This connection leads our protagonist to a series of misadventures with his former classmate, who has been accused of killing a call girl rented out by a mysterious organization. Also, during his first stay at the new Dolphin Hotel, the narrator encounters and befriends a thirteen-year-old girl named Yuki, who has for all intents and purposes been abandoned by her famous artist mother and her famous novelist father, who have their own ties to shady organizations. Yuki is charmingly cynical, one of her best lines being, “I don’t give a damn what people say. They can be reptile food for all I care,” and she leads the narrator all over Tokyo, Yokohama, Enoshima, and Hawaii.

Do these plot points ever come together? Are the mysteries presented by the novel ever solved? If you’re familiar with Murakami’s fiction, you can probably guess the answer.

Even though this novel is dark and rambling and bears very little thematic resemblance to A Wild Sheep Chase, it should be an interesting and enjoyable read for Murakami fans. Although Dance Dance Dance is only a loose sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, there are many things that don’t make sense without knowledge of the events of the previous novel. That being said, I also don’t think Dance Dance Dance should be read immediately after A Wild Sheep Chase, as it isn’t so much a sequel as an appropriation of characters and places for the purpose of creating an entirely different story. Alfred Birnbaum is, as always, a fantastic translator, and his rendition of Murakami’s prose makes this novel a fun, if somewhat gloomy, read.