by Kleitia Vaso

I picked Haruki Murakami’s completely average book, What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, as a beach read because personal essays are my favorite genre and I also wanted to know more about a writer who has only recently become popular in Tirana. I vaguely remember reading The Wind-up Bird Chronicle for one of my literature classes a long time ago, in the U.S. I even wrote a paper about it and, while I read the novel, I experienced a significant amount of curiosity as I recall it was a mysterious book; yet, now I remember nothing except a big void at its center which perhaps was even the point of the book…but, needless to say, it did not greatly impact me. I decided to give the author another chance with the “lightest” material I could find: a relatively short book using his favorite activity (running) to reveal something personal, a confession through a mask so to speak, my favorite kind. The book has some interesting points but the most slightly-above-average-intelligence man could come up with Murakami’s conclusions; for a close, direct look at an author, read Nabokov’s Strong Opinions and, though you may dislike his snobbishness and arrogance, you will be in awe of his multi-layered prismatic mind; or, read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and the combination of mind, emotion, and openness to the world, will make you want to cry…a being ready to absorb and be absorbed in his surroundings. But I digress…

I read some of Murakami’s long essay, got distracted, and looked for an interview of the writer to see if I perhaps found him more interesting in another version. I finally found a quote I liked in which Murakami expresses that he isn’t interested in critiquing others but only in observing them and creating his own work (“But I don’t do any reviews or critiques; I don’t want to be involved in that… I think that my job is to observe people and the world, and not to judge them. I always hope to position myself away from so-called conclusions. I would like to leave everything wide open to all the possibilities in the world.” Paris Review, The Art of Fiction, No.182.). The writer mentions the same lack of competitive spirit in the above-mentioned work (What I talk about when I talk about running) in which he explains that he prefers long-distance running because its goal is the fulfillment of a promise to himself, not a competition with others. And, at this point in the book, he became more interesting.

I admire two aspects in the thoughts expressed above: the focus on creating and not tearing apart, and the idea of self-fulfillment as opposed to not only competing with others, which seems irrelevant, but also to using anyone else as a reference point, which can only be misleading.

I admire the creative power in the individual, not the ability to tear down. Analyzing and criticizing devotes too much thought to another and that as a starting point is doomed to failure. Hence, I come again to one of my favorite expressions, which I might have translated entirely to fit my own aims: “I shall look away; that will henceforth be my sole negation,” here referring to the creation of something as both a casual negation of something that doesn’t serve one and the fulfillment of a spoken or silent promise to oneself.

by Kleitia Vaso