Tag Archives: Haruki Murakami

Reading on the Run: Audiobooks to Inspire You

Scene from a running trail in Portland, Maine

Scene from a running trail in Portland, Maine

Check out five audiobooks that will help you unleash your inner champion.

Since two of my favorite loves are reading and running, I was thrilled to write a piece for Runner’s World Zelle on the intersection of those two subjects, specifically audiobooks that will help fire up your running through their tales of trouncing self-imposed limitations, journeying from everywoman to athlete on the world stage, and more. Of course, I’ve included my beloved What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami. (Incidentally, his first two novels, which were previously impossible to get in English, have been recently released as Wind/Pinball.)

Be sure to check out Five Running-Themed Audiobooks to Inspire for my other recommendations.

Note: The Will Smith quote has been truncated. For the full version, search “Will Smith on running and reading.”


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Beautiful, Strange Passage from Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

So these are not unicorns, but I thought this photo had a dreamy enough quality.

Dreaminess of a different kind.

I’m currently about half-way through Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and seriously loving it. It’s like an American-pop-culture-loving Japanese Kafka wrote a hard-boiled (amateur) detective novel. The book alternates between the Hard Boiled sections and the World’s End narratives. But whereas the Hard Boiled sections have a humorous (though bizarre) note, the End of the World sections are sad, beautiful, strange—almost as if you’re dreaming them rather than reading. Here, I thought I would share one of the passages from the End narrative.


“Is this a skull of one of the Town unicorns?” I ask her.

“Yes. The old dream is sealed inside.”

“I am to read an old dream from this?”

“That is the work of the Dreamreader,” says the Librarian.

“And what do I do with the dreams I read?”

“Nothing. You have only to read them.”

“How can that be?” I say. “I know that I am to read an old dream from this. But then not to do anything with it, I do not understand. What can be the point of that? Work should have a purpose.”

She shakes her head. “I cannot explain. Perhaps the dreamreading will tell you. I can only show you how it is done.”

I set the skull down on the table and lean back to look at it. The skull is enveloped in a profound silence that seems nothingness itself. The silence does not reside on the surface, but is held like smoke within. It is unfathomable, eternal, a disembodied vision cast up on a point in the void.

There is a sadness about it, an inherent pathos. I have no words for it.

“Please show me,” I say. I pick the skull up from the table once again and feel its weight in my hands.

Smiling faintly, she takes the skull from me and painstakingly wipes off the dust. She returns a whiter skull to the table.

“This is how to read old dreams,” the Librarian begins.

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Murakami on Running and Writing

View from near the Charles River, where Murakami often ran while in Cambridge.

View from near the Charles River, where Murakami often ran while in Cambridge.

Some words on writing from Haruki Murakami‘s book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:

The whole process [of writing novels]—sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the right words, one by one, keeping the whole flow of the story on track—requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine. You might not move your body around, but there’s grueling dynamic labor going on….

Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running every day.

These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate—and how much is too much? How far can I take something and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much should I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself?

I know that if I hadn’t become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different.


Filed under Health/Wellness, Inspiration, Running, Writing/Books

A Salon Talk on Reading, and Some Thoughts About A Wild Sheep Chase

A Wild Sheep Chase

“I don’t know, there’s something about you. Say there’s an hourglass: the sand’s about to run out. Someone like you can always be counted on to turn the thing over.”
― Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase


The other day I was in the talking mecca known as the salon. My interest was piqued when I became aware of a conversation about reading that was going on next to me.

“…I’m reading something right now that’s an easy read,” said the woman in the chair to her stylist, who was, it soon became apparent, a personal friend. “It’s called Gone Girl.”

“I think I’ve heard of that,” said the stylist.

“Yeah, my book club picked that. It was like four months ago. I’m just now finishing it. I’ll drop it off at your house on my way to work when I’m done. I won’t need it again. I would have finished sooner, but someone had left a bunch of books in the kitchen at work, and I decided to read The Handmaid’s Tale. I figured I was too old not to have ever read that. But it was hard. I kept at it, because once I start a book, I have to finish it. But it took forever. You know there’s another book you might like, but you probably already saw the movie. The Help?

“No, I didn’t see it,” said the stylist.

“It’s easy too. Also, you might like that series I was reading, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and those books.”

“I saw that,” said the stylist. “Aren’t there…toture scenes?”

“Yes. There’s also a lot of corporation stuff that’s boring and you have to get through, but you can just scan that. For the most part, the books are easy.”


The conversation continued on in that fashion, and I thought, “Wow, it’s a tough time to be an author, if ‘easy’ is the requirement for recommending a book.” And yet, who doesn’t understand that? In between raising kids, work, and whatever else the two woman were doing, reading clearly isn’t a place they’re looking for a challenge. Plus, maybe I had missed the part where the stylist said she was going on a tropical vacation and was just looking for a beach read.

I looked at the book I was reading, Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase, and thought well, he didn’t get that “easy” memo. A short passage:

We can, if we so choose, wander aimlessly over the continent of the arbitrary. Rootless as some singed seed blown about on a serendipitous spring breeze.

Nonetheless, we can in the same breath deny that there is any such thing as coincidence. What’s done is done, what’s yet to be is clearly yet to be, and so on. In other words, sandwiched as we are between the “everything” that is behind us and the “zero” beyond us, ours is an ephemeral existence in which there is neither coincidence nor possibility.

In actual practice, however, distinctions between the two interpretations amount to precious little. A state of affairs not unlike calling the same food by two different names.

So much for metaphors.

A Wild Sheep Chase, like most of Murakami’s books, is as one GoodReads reviewer put it “like experiencing someone else’s dream.” In this Murakami dream, a 29-year-old nameless narrator is charged with finding a very special sheep. That’s the surface story. It’s also about Japanese identity, about the quest for meaning, and lots of abstract stuff.  That same GoodReads reviewer has what I think is a great “review” of the novel—it’s mostly a bunch of images—an ear, a rat, a clock, a carton of Seven Stars cigarettes, a sheep, and so on. I think that works so well because books like this exist on a deeper level than “this happened, and then this” and it’s hard to articulate what you just read, even if on a deeper level you feel like you kind of get it. In other words, I don’t think the woman in the salon would recommend it.

From the New York Times review of the novel at the time of its U.S. publication:

On the surface, ”A Wild Sheep Chase” is just that: a mystery story with a long chase. A photograph of the wild sheep has appeared accidentally in a newsletter; like Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese falcon, the singular sheep is pursued by clashing interests. Is the sheep a symbol of something beyond the reach of an ordinary man, a devilish temptation? Does this wild sheep represent heroic morality or a Nietzschean superpower? Nietzsche is mentioned in the novel; so is the obsessive quest for Moby-Dick. The answer, if any, is left to the reader’s perception.

A Wild Sheep Chase is the part of Murakami’s Trilogy of the Rat (Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 precede it), though from what I understand it’s not a traditional series in the true sense of the word (I can’t comment as I haven’t read those two). I’ve read many of Murakami’s other works, and think if you haven’t read anything by him, this book is a great place to start—it’s on the short side, is simpler than some of his other works, but is representative of his style and themes. And though it may not exactly be “easy,” I do think it’s worth a read.


Filed under Writing/Books

Book Nerd’s Guide to Mind-Body Multitasking: 4 Ways to Exercise Your Brain and Body

Keira Knightley multitasking her reading and walking in Pride and Prejudice.

Keira Knightley multitasking her reading and walking in Pride and Prejudice.

If you started 2013 with ambitious resolutions around exercising, you may already be feeling frustration. Let’s face it: Sneaking exercise into your day can feel difficult if you have other time commitments (and who doesn’t?), and can feel especially tough if you don’t usually exercise or if you have to brave the icy cold to get outside or to the gym. To ease into things, it can be helpful to simply start incorporating a little exercise here and there. This means try those trite-but-true words of advice such as park far away from the store, take the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a lunch walk, stand up and stretch periodically, and pair a bit of exercise with another activity.

Even better, if you’re a book nerd, you can increase the chances you’ll develop an exercise habit by incorporating it into some of your bookish activities. Here are four ideas to try.

1. Use the time you spend to doing dishes or chopping vegetables to exercise and plan your next story. Hold your stomach in tightly, stand up straight, and do leg lifts (side and back) and pliés for toning, stand on one leg for balance (and to strengthen ankles), and march in place for some extra movement. (Check out these ballet boot camp videos on Youtube to get ideas for moves you can adapt to a more stationary stance.) And two tasks aren’t quite enough for a smarty pants like you, add a third task: Plan your next writing session, think about your characters, or brainstorm your next essay. As Agatha Christie said, “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” Don’t let that precious time go to waste.

2. Read your book on the elliptical or stair climber. Many find these machines incredibly boring, but at least they’re great for working up a sweat. Make them do double duty: Bring your latest book club pick and some ear plugs to drown out the gym music, and the time will pass more quickly. It may be true that you won’t work out as hard, but at least you’re working out. And consistency—which depends on at least a certain amount of pleasure—is key.

3. Listen to audiobooks on the treadmill or on a run. The treadmill can be pretty crucial in these (for some of us, at least) icy winter months. But it’s not nicknamed “dreadmill” for no reason. I’m also no fan of the treadmill/TV-two-inches-from-your-face combos that seem to be popping up everywhere. Of course, great running music can be extremely helpful to pass time on a treadmill, but audiobooks work surprising well too. Though I definitely prefer reading books for myself, audiobooks such as Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (one of my all-time favorite books in all forms) and Dean Karnazes’ 50/50, have helped me clock upwards of six miles on the treadmill and even longer runs outside. Those two books are highly motivational—the first is about writing and running and the relationship between the two, and the second is about pushing oneself. I suspect that motivational aspect may be helpful to stamina, but I think the main thing is to get books (or podcasts) that you think you’ll enjoy.

4. Start a walking book club. I’ve so often found that the best conversations happen with a walking or running partner. Walking or doing another exercise (hiking, running, cycling) with a friend or family member is such a great way to spend time together, and pairing that idea with a book discussion creates such an enjoyable way to marry multiple loves (or at least court some exercise love). And since you can chat on your cell to connect, you can even do this with someone who lives in another part of the country.

Image via Pride & Prejudice Blog


Filed under Health/Wellness, Running, Writing/Books