Weekend Shorts: The Obligatory Running Post

What I Talk About When I Talk About RunningIf you’re a friend of mine, on Facebook or IRL, you’ve probably heard that I’ve taken up that dread sport called running. Well, jogging, really, or as my husband’s uncle recently said, “fast walking,” which I don’t think is entirely fair but uncles weren’t made to boost your ego.

Anyway, regardless of how fast I’m moving, running is my new thing. I sort of half-heartedly started up in the spring with some very short jogs that could probably fairly be called fast walking, then I made a point of doing said jogs on a regular schedule, and then in September I found the Hogwarts Running Club and things got super serious.

In May, if you had told me I would run a 5k by the end of the year, I would have been like, “Sweet! Good job, me!” It’s absolutely baffling to me that I’ve run 10 5k or greater distances in the last two months, I ran 5 miles last Sunday, and I’m planning to run 6.2442 miles on Thanksgiving for a Hogwarts Running Club virtual race. And that 6+ miles isn’t even daunting. I’m looking forward to it!

To bring this back to books, I’ve been meaning to pick up another Murakami book since I liked that novel of his I read for book club, and it turns out that he wrote a whole memoir about running! And I needed a new nonfiction/memoir audiobook to listen to! It was kismet, obviously.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami
Of course, it turns out that this book has almost nothing in common with his novels, which, why would it, as far as I can tell he writes nothing but bonkers fiction and this is a relatively straightforward memoir/travelogue. Blast.

Also, I’ve been spoiled by great audiobook narrators lately and this guy’s flat affect and snooze-inducing tone just did not make me super interested in what Murakami had to say. So it’s possible this book is absolutely fascinating, but I just missed out on it?

Unfortunately, my own takeaways from this memoir are basically, like, do your best and then do better but if you fail at least you tried and you can try harder next time or you can try something new and get better at that, whatever, you do you. Which does not a 5-hour audiobook make. The rest of the space is filled with Murakami’s training for various marathons (spoiler: he runs a lot and then runs some more), his insecurity over losing his speed as he ages, and his newfound interest in triathlons to make up for said loss.

It’s… I mean, it’s not terrible, but it’s not unlike anyone you know talking to you for five hours about anything. He repeats himself a bit, he says things that don’t seem terribly important, and he lacks a focus that could have kept me more interested.

If you’re into running, I feel like this is one of those things you have to read just to check it off your list. But I’ll be sticking to my funny people memoirs in the future, I think.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the WorldI think I say this all the time, but I do love my book clubs. I love having a reason to finally read a really good book or to trash a really terrible book with like-minded people. I especially love finding books like this one that I probably would never have heard of in my entire life except that my friend wasn’t allowed to make us read one of Murakami’s 800-page books and so she chose this one.

At first I was like, what the heck is this. There are two stories, both referenced in the title, that alternate back and forth and are both very weird in their own special ways. In the first story, we have a nameless protagonist (everyone’s nameless, actually, in this book) who is something called a Calcutec who is basically a one-man Enigma machine and earns his living encoding things without really knowing how… Murakami’s explanations basically exploded my brain here, but once I decided to just go with it everything was much better! Anyway, he gets called on this assignment to encode some information for a rather eccentric old man who works in an office that is… difficult to get to, let’s say, and once our protagonist takes said job even weirder things start happening with dudes stalking him and unicorn skulls making weird sounds and it’s all just… weird.

The other story should be weirder but actually makes more sense — in this one another unnamed protagonist is living in a strange town where people have to shed their shadows before entering and then get assigned jobs (what is this, The Giver?) like, in our guy’s case, reading dreams from skulls. The idea, I guess, is to let your shadow die off and then you live a happy shadow-less life, but our friend’s shadow may have other plans when it comes to that.

So… it’s weird. It’s very weird, in that Japanese way that so much Death Note has more or less prepared me for. But it’s also pretty fantastic. You know I’m a sucker for a good back-and-forth narrative, and it’s even better when the two stories start to show their interconnectedness, and it’s even more better (just… whatever) when things in one story start making you question things in the other story as well as your own existence. It’s one of those, and I love those.

I really don’t know what else to say about this book… I suppose if you wanted to you could dissect this book in all sorts of different ways and come up with Grand Thoughts About The Universe, but really I just enjoyed letting the story do its thing. Maybe you will, too?

Recommendation: For people who like a good punch to the brain every once in a while and are due for one.

Rating: 8/10