Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Novelist

As a runner, a writer, and a fan of Haruki Murakami, I was pleased to find an essay he wrote for The New Yorker. I've only read a smattering of Murakami's work -- The Elephant Vanishes and perhaps a couple stray stories from other collections. One of the things I like about his characters is that they come across as people I can relate to despite my being an American; Murakami is Japanese. I don't know if that means the image of the average middle-class, suburban male is universal or that I naturally gravitate to such characters. Not every personality trait needs to be over analyzed.

But even in this essay, I find myself rooting for the guy, as though Murakami is one of his own invented characters (though, aren't we all...).

As a casual Murakami reader, I wasn't aware of his personal history. For example, I didn't know he just kind of fell into writing one day, literally at the moment a baseball player hit a shot down the line. (Again, something I can relate to.) I had no idea that he used to run a jazz club, nor that he became a runner. He describes himself as a natural runner, despite not really being much of an athlete. It came relatively easy to him, though he had to give up smoking and build his endurance; he's since completed several marathons.

One of the points he made that struck a particular chord was his observation that, when he was running a bar, his goal was that 10 percent of a night's customers should be or become regulars -- an approach he took to his writing as well. Such a simple model, yet probably a difficult goal to attain. Do stock investors expect a 10 percent return? I don't know. Maybe that's why I'm not much of an investor.

I hope I can generate that type of return -- and not feel guilty or like failure for the 90 percent of readers who think I'm full of crap. I think Murakami's model provides the proper perspective to writing, and to running.

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