The book is called, "What I talk about when I talk about running," in a nod to the famous short story by Raymond Carver (who, incidentally, is one of my favorite short story authors as well...). The essays loosely follow Murakami's training for the New York City Marathon in 2005, but are mostly reminiscences of his running and writing life.
As he points out in the beginning, the book is not a treatise on how to run better, or how to stay healthy. Murakami concentrates fully on the role running has played in his own life. He's not a particularly fast runner, and those who are interested in reading jaw-dropping tales of athletic feats should look elsewhere. He simply shares some of his running (and writing) experiences. It felt like having coffee with a good friend who said, "Sit. Let me tell you about this running thing and me."
Fans of Murakami's fiction will already know his writing tends to be understated-- no grandiose flowery prose. His essays are perhaps even more spare--Murakami is clearly a private person, and the desire to share this portion of his life despite a tendency towards reticence creates introspective, rather quiet prose. One of my favorite passages comes towards the end, when he is talking about participating in a triathlon:
"Of course it was painful, and there were times when, emotionally, I just wanted to chuck it all. But pain seems to be a precondition for this kind of sport. If pain weren't involved, who in the world would ever go to the trouble of taking part in sports like the triathlon or the marathon, which demand such and investment of time and energy? It's precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive--or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is based not on standards such as time or ranking, but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself. If things go well, that is." (p. 171)
"..awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself." I love that. This captures (for me, at least) the best moments of running I ever have. Murakami's essays made me wish there were other authors (well, I'm sure there are some out there, I just don't know them offhand) who have written with such introspection about their involvement with a sport. We have writers who write about sports, and we have athletes who decide to write books, but not so many writers who decide to write about the role a particular sport has played in their own life. It's too bad, because the combination of personal insight combined with running, all told in prose from a master made for a great read.