Top 5 Books About Running

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This past December, I ran my very first marathon. It was so fun and yet so painful at the same time! What I most liked about the race was the support and energy I felt from the other runners and spectators. It really felt like I was doing something meaningful, even though I’m sure a lot of people thought I was crazy for running 26.2 miles in the cold.

There’s definitely a sense of community among runners, and there are several books about running that accurately capture this feeling. Read the list below and click the links to find these books in the library!

 

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

My favorite book about running, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, is short and to the point. Murakami, a marathon runner and a famous novelist, writes with wisdom about his experiences. He compares running to writing and examines the discipline behind long distance running.

 

Running: A Global History by Thor Gotaas

How did we as humans become so fascinated with running? This book explains it all, tracing runners throughout world history.

 

Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel by Matt Fitzgerald

The best elite runners have learned that the key to faster running is to hear what your body is telling you. But are you listening?

 

A Heart In A Body In The World by Deb Caletti

This young adult fiction novel is about a girl on a cross-country run, trying to deal with a traumatic event from her past. Along the way, she becomes a reluctant activist and symbol.

 

The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb

Read all about the true story of how three elite athletes trained to run a mile in under four minutes.

 

All of these books are available at the library- just click the links to find their locations!

Book Review: “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami

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If you’ve read anything by author Haruki Murakami, you’ll have noticed that he likes to write about 3 things:

  • cats
  • people with very specific routines for daily chores
  • men who are visited or contacted by mysterious women

All 3 of these topics pop up within the first 9 pages of his acclaimed 1994 novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. This is the 5th Murakami book that I’ve read, and at this point his writing style and preferred subjects are familiar and comforting, like a warm blanket, even though he also likes to constantly surprise his readers with wild revelations (like, for instance, a villain who is trying to enter another world via the souls of cats or a place where you see two moons in the sky).

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is about an unemployed, passive man who begins searching for his wife’s missing cat (and then his wife) throughout Tokyo. He meets many weird and mystical characters along the way- some of them sinister.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle does right: This book is like a Japanese Twin Peaks with a healthy side helping of The Shining: neurotic characters, long backstories, mysterious disappearances, claustrophobic hotels, struggles between bodies and souls, and a world beyond the regular one we know. I’d love to see David Lynch make a movie out of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Just like in a Lynch film, you never fully know what’s going on in a Murakami book (or at least, I don’t. But that’s part of why I enjoy them so much).

You can tell that Toru Okada (the narrator and protagonist) is up against something big- possibly even something supernatural or paranormal- but, like Toru himself, you’re not really sure of what he’s fighting against or how he has gotten involved in this vague battle of good vs. evil. It’s exciting to try and unravel the mystery as the book continues and more information is slowly revealed.

The book’s climax had me on the edge of my seat. I’ve never read a book that was so dreamlike and yet so gripping. It was stressful, but ultimately I enjoyed the ride.

What The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle gets wrong: It’s a bit of a slow start, but it does keep you wanting to know more about the characters and what’s going to happen next. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is divided into 3 “books” or parts, but I didn’t realize that at first. The structure of the book makes more sense once you know how it is segmented.

There are a few sexual scenes that I found unnecessary, but I knew to expect them going in. Murakami uses sexual expression in his fiction as a gateway to parallel worlds and understanding other people’s souls; it’s rarely used as a means of procreation or recreation.

While I reveled in how the book finally concluded, it took so long to get there. I think parts of the book could have been shortened or streamlined. And while I enjoyed the historical narratives about events in the second Sino-Japanese war, their connection to the main story was only a vague one, and sometimes I wanted to skip ahead.

Who should read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: Readers who are fans of magical realism (i.e. pairing everyday things and settings with characters or events that are out of the ordinary or practically impossible). Nobody does contemporary magical realism like Murakami, in my opinion.

Readers who are interested in Japanese history, especially their involvement in WWII, may also enjoy this book.

Who shouldn’t read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: With any Murakami book, things are going to get really, really weird. If you don’t like bizarre or uncomfortable scenes in books, then don’t pick this one up. There were several scenes that, while pretty brief, were shocking. In particular, the scenes from the war period are disturbingly violent and described in detail.

 

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is not currently available at the library, but you can request it through Interlibrary Loan.

Content note: suggestive scenes, war violence, emotional trauma. If this book were a movie, it would be rated R. Reader discretion is advised.

Book Review: “Norwegian Wood”

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Despite your best efforts, people are going to be hurt when it’s time for them to be hurt. Life is like that.

Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood debuted in 1987 with the original title “Noruwei no Mori” or  ノルウェイの森. The tie-in to The Beatles’ song of the same name is immediately obvious, and while the book is not specifically about music, the different songs that pop up throughout the story shape the setting.

Norwegian Wood takes place in 1960s Tokyo, where civil unrest and government protests are daily occurrences at the main character’s college. Toru is a new college student who’s not really sure what he’s doing with his literature/drama degree. When a girl from Toru’s past, Naoko reappears, Toru must come to terms with their mutual friend’s death. Naoko’s struggles with mental illness create conflict in their growing relationship, and Toru tries desperately to be close to her in any way he can while at the same time noticing another girl- one who’s much more available- Midori.

So, where does the music come in? Well, as it is mentioned early on and several times throughout the story, Naoko’s favorite song is “Norwegian Wood.” She likes several other Beatles songs (“Michelle,” “The Fool on the Hill,” “Julia”) and her roommate plays these songs for Naoko on her guitar. Toru can really only play one song on guitar (“Up On The Roof” by The Drifters), but at least he tries!

The song “Norwegian Wood” is played at key points throughout the story. An older Toru begins his tale by reflecting on his relationship with Naoko- every time he hears “Norwegian Wood” in a public place, he still thinks of her. Naoko’s roommate, Reiko, plays the song for Naoko while they are living in a sanatorium; Reiko also plays the song after a major event toward the end of the book.

Reiko gave her fingers a good flexing and then played “Norwegian Wood.” Again she played with real feeling, but never allowed it to become sentimental . . . “That song can make me so sad,” said Naoko. “I don’t know, I guess I imagine myself wandering into a deep wood. I’m all alone and it’s cold and dark, and nobody comes to save me.”

The song is a constant reminder of relationships, sadness, wistfulness, and the 60s- all major themes of Norwegian Wood. It’s an introspective novel, as the main characters are constantly figuring themselves out, but it’s also relatable to a wider audience with its song cues. If you grew up in the 60s, the politics discussed and the way dating works in Norwegian Wood may be familiar to you, just as it is to the older Toru looking back. If you didn’t grow up in the 60s, then let the nostalgia of The Beatles take you to a time you’ve never experienced.

While Norwegian Wood is not available at the library, you can request to receive it through Interlibrary Loan. You can also read 1Q84 and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, both by the same author.

 

Content note: This book contains some explicit scenes, dark themes, and language.

*Quotes taken from Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

**Post originally published (with a few edits) here.

Featured Book: “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”

murakami

Haruki Murakami is a world-renowned Japanese author. He just recently debuted a new book, Killing Commentadore, and is well-known for his previous books such as 1Q84, Sputnik Sweetheart, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, etc. Typically, you’d expect a Murakami book to be strange yet familiar, and to feature characters who experience loneliness, isolation, intrigue, and great epiphanies about love and human understanding. However, if you pick up What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, you’ll get a glimpse at the man behind the famous fiction- a man who is not just a writer, but an avid runner.

Murakami explains that everything he knows about writing, he learned from running. He goes on to encourage writers to nourish two disciplines: focus and endurance. Both of these apply to running as well.

Murakami also reflects on aging and the life lessons he’s picked up along the way. On the art of self-acceptance, he writes:

This is my body, with all its limits and quirks. Just as with my face, even if I don’t like it it’s the only one I get, so I’ve got to make do. As I’ve grown older, I’ve naturally come to terms with this. You open the fridge and can make a nice- actually even a pretty smart- meal with the leftovers. All that’s left is an apple, an onion, cheese, and eggs, but you don’t complain. You make do with what you have. As you age you learn even to be happy with what you have. That’s one of the few good points of growing older.

Even while realizing that his aging body may not be as fast or as sturdy as he may wish, Murakami keeps running throughout, averaging a marathon a year (!). He keeps his eyes on his goals and steadily moves forward. This book documents in particular his goal of running in the New York Marathon, a prestigious race. The reader can keep pace with Murakami as he describes each rung of his journey, along with anecdotes and scattered reflections along the way.

If you’re interested in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, check it out from the library! It’s only 179 pages long, counting the Afterword- it’s a quick read that still accurately describes a long process.