The New Yorker / Running Novelist

About a week ago, The New Yorker started opening its archives for free reading over the summer. This Slate guide gives a quick list of some of the top stories over the past several years. After this ‘grace period’ these articles will only be available with a paid subscription.

Here is an excerpt from one of these articles – one of my favorite modern writers, Haruki Murakami, on running and being a novelist:

A long time has passed since I started running on an everyday basis. Specifically, it was the fall of 1982. I was thirty-three then.

Not long before that, I was the owner of a small jazz club in Tokyo, near Sendagaya Station. Soon after leaving college—I’d been so busy with side jobs that I was actually a few credits short of graduating and was still officially a student—I had opened a little club near the south entrance of Kokubunji Station. The club had stayed there for about three years; then, when the building it was in closed for renovations, I moved it to a new location, closer to the center of Tokyo. The new venue wasn’t big—we had a grand piano and just barely enough space to squeeze in a quintet. During the day, it was a café; at night, it was a bar. We served decent food, too, and, on weekends, featured live performances. This kind of club was still quite rare in Tokyo back then, so we gained a steady clientele and the place did all right financially.

Most of my friends had predicted that the club would fail. They figured that an establishment that was run as a kind of hobby couldn’t succeed, and that someone like me—I was pretty naïve and, they suspected, didn’t have the slightest aptitude for business—wouldn’t be able to make a go of it. Well, their predictions were totally off. To tell the truth, I didn’t think that I had much aptitude for business, either. I just figured that since failure was not an option, I had to give it everything I had. My strength has always been the fact that I work hard and can handle a lot physically. I’m more of a workhorse than a racehorse. I grew up in a white-collar household, so I didn’t know much about entrepreneurship, but fortunately my wife’s family ran a business and her natural intuition was a great help.

The work itself was hard. I was at the club from morning till night and I left there exhausted. I had all kinds of painful experiences and plenty of disappointments. But, after a while, I began to make enough of a profit to hire other people, and I was finally able to take a breather. To get started, I’d borrowed as much money as I could from every bank that would lend to me, and by now I’d paid a lot of it back. Things were settling down. Up to that point, it had been a question of sheer survival, and I hadn’t had time to think about anything else. Now I felt as though I’d reached the top of a steep staircase and emerged into an open space. I was confident that I’d be able to handle any new problems that might crop up. I took a deep breath, glanced back at the stairs I’d just climbed, then slowly gazed around me and began to contemplate the next stage of my life. I was about to turn thirty. I was reaching the age at which I wouldn’t be considered young anymore. And, pretty much out of the blue, it occurred to me to write a novel.

I can pinpoint the exact moment when it happened. It was at 1:30 P.M., April 1, 1978. I was at Jingu Stadium, alone in the outfield, watching a baseball game. Jingu Stadium was within walking distance of my apartment at the time, and I was a fairly devoted Yakult Swallows fan. It was a beautiful spring day, cloudless, with a warm breeze blowing. There were no benches in the outfield seating area back then, just a grassy slope. I was lying on the grass, sipping a cold beer, gazing up occasionally at the sky, and enjoying the game. As usual, the stadium wasn’t very crowded. It was the season opener, and the Swallows were taking on the Hiroshima Carp. Takeshi Yasuda was pitching for the Swallows. He was a short, stocky pitcher with a wicked curveball. He easily retired the side in the top of the first inning. The lead-off batter for the Swallows was Dave Hilton, a young American player who was new to the team. Hilton got a hit down the left-field line. The crack of bat meeting ball echoed through the stadium. Hilton easily rounded first and pulled up to second. And it was at just that moment that a thought struck me: You know what? I could try writing a novel. I still remember the wide-open sky, the feel of the new grass, the satisfying crack of the bat. Something flew down from the sky at that instant, and, whatever it was, I accepted it.

 

 

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