Friday, August 5, 2011

What I Talk About When I Talk about What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

This morning I finished reading Haruki Murakami's semi-mem, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Yes, it really is a book about talking about running, but occasionally (and I do mean occasionally) Murakami also talks about writing in a way that I found valuable. I'd recommend the book. Runners will probably like it. Writers will probably appreciate it. And there's a certain sadness to it, that I found beautiful.

Here is a little bit of what he talks about in regard to writing :

Basically I agree with the view that writing novels is an unhealthy type of work. When we set off to write a novel, when we use writing to create a story, like it or not a kind of toxin that lies deep down in all humanity rises to the surface. All writers have to come face-to-face with this toxin and, aware of the danger involved, discover a way to deal with it...There's more, but really you should read the book.

Scott, Michelle, and I have sometimes talked about darkness in our stories. I think what Murakami's talking about touches on that same subject, though not necessarily directly. Nevets and Yat-Yee have also touched on the topics on their blogs. As I've been getting feedback from people about Wild Grass, I've had people tell me that some of the stories made them feel upset or uneasy. It's strange, because I don't necessarily set out to make people feel this way, but at the same time I do feel like it's somehow necessary to help the world in that vague way I try to help the world. I know Scott feels the same way.

Murakami goes on to talk about developing an immune system so that we can still write without injuring ourselves emotionally. I also think that's a necessary part of my writing process. Really, it's a fascinating book. Happy Friday Filler!


  1. This is not filler; this is a post with actual content! But it's good content.

    I really like the image of a writer handling toxic materials. How brave or reckless or careless will you be with them? Are they virii or vaccines?

    Jonathan Franzen said, of writing Freedom, that some days "the material was so hot it deformed the page." He was bragging, but I also think he was subconsciously alluding to what Murakami's saying.

    I don't know about an immune system. I just try to hold my breath while I'm in a particularly toxic atmosphere. Which is a metaphor, but when, for example, I was writing about a guy whose horror of violence leads him to seek out and join hate groups, I really felt like I was holding my breath while working on the story. I was scared for a week and a half.

  2. I interpreted the immune system as any sort of coping mechanism, so my guess would be that your holding your breath is the same thing. But maybe I'm wrong. I'll have to wait for Murakami to comment. My concern with his language is that I wouldn't to ever be insensitive to the toxin, and so maybe holding one's breath is better.

  3. Yeah, I don't think we want to be left unchanged by the materials any more than we want our readers to be left unchanged. I'm always annoyed at the stereotype of artists as fey, sensitive people who can be damaged by the emotions they're channeling or whatever. I'm not sure if Murakami's quite pedaling that stereotype, though. And this book's been on my "read someday" list for a while. And hey, I have a birthday coming up!

  4. Thanks for the tip, I just ordered a copy for my Kindle.

    I can understand the toxicity of creative thought, that's a good way to put it if you are dealing with dark subjects. To make characters hurt each other and act in ways that we would not act we have to assume the mind of that character for a brief time when writing, and it's not always comfortable.

    What the casual reader probably does not grasp is that for a passage that takes 10-30 minutes to read (with a white-knuckle grip) there can be, as Scott said, weeks of torment for the writer. And that can be worse considering the words that end up getting cut or don't make it all the way to the page to begin with.

  5. I have just read Murakami's Kafka on the Shore for the second time this year. He is the type of writer that one savors across multiple readings and still is wanting for more. His is layered, beautiful writing that also does not shy away from grappling with the darker, seamier aspects of life.

  6. Thanks for the link to my blog, Domey. It is a subject that continues to occupy my mind. Funny, I read that book a couple of years ago and this idea didn't make an impression on me. Something else did because I was thinking of that other topic then.

    This is an example of readiness that someone mentioned about reading difficult books. If I had unlimited time, I'd go back to re-read random books to see how differently I perceive them the second time around.

    (My Murakami-inspired post is here:

    if anyone is interested. Subject matter totally unrelated though.)

  7. Rick, that's a good point. If only readers could enjoy a book for as long as it takes writers to write them. Maybe that's true for some really good books.

    Judith, what I also love about Murakami is how he builds up his stories. I go through them for a long time not understanding what's going on and then suddenly things come together for me and the book works as a whole. It's very interesting to me.

  8. Yat-Yee, thanks for the link. I just read it. It's interesting how different elements of a book appear to us at different times in our lives. I love that, actually.

  9. Davin, that book sounds intense and intriguing. It's something I need to get my hands on because that toxic atmosphere we live in is something that a lot of people don't experience (maybe they should) and I'd like to understand it just a little bit better. Like you, though, I'm not sure I really want to build up an immunity to it. A part of me thinks that's why writing is so dangerously exciting for me.


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