Adventures in Reading


Nonfiction: Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, 2008

If you’re interested in running, or interested in writing, or interested in Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running* is “a kind of memoir centered on the act of running” that’s both an enjoyable and thoughtful read. Through this collection of essays and comprehensive journal entries, Murakami reflects on his start at running and novel writing, and how running has affected his life as a novelist.

I wouldn’t say What I Talk About… is one of Murakami’s most enlightening or brilliant works and it doesn’t have a mass appeal, but it does offer a curious insight into his life as an author. With the odd philosophical asides, this was a book I enjoyed and that inspired me to run (despite the cold!) and has re-interested me in reading more of Murakami’s works.

*A play on a Raymond Carver’s short story collection entitled What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.



Fiction: More Best American Short Stories 2008

Best: x American: ? Short: 12 Story: ?
From The New Yorker, Daniyal Mueenuddin’s “Nawabdin Electrician” is a biographical tale of Nawab, a Pakastani electrician trying to make a living for his large family in the 1970s. Through imaginative cajoling, Nawab talks his employer into giving him a motorcycle, which leads Nawab into both trouble and danger.

Is this American? Is this a story? As it was originally published in The New Yorker, Rushdie counts this as American, which I think is completely appropriate. But more interesting this is the first piece that I had to wonder whether or not it was a “story.” The tale is based off of a family friend of the author, and is based on real happenings. In that sense it’s biographical and nonfiction; it’s also worth considering how much of an author’s own life flourishes in his work. What is fiction if not a reinterpretation of reality?

Best: x American: ? Short: ? Story: x
From Harper’s Magazine, Alice Munro’s “Child’s Play” is an enthralling story of Canadian childhood, children’s experience with disability and otherness, and the dark cruelty that children are capable of.

Dear Alice Munro: Where have you been all of my life? Though this is my first experience with Munro, she is a prolific writer, which I’m looking forward to reading. “Child’s Play” was one of the longer pieces in the collection and deviates from the standard 20ish pages of the rest of the book. In contrast though, Munro had the shortest snippet of commentary out of all the author’s comments.

Best: x American: x Short: 12 Story: x
From The Southern Review, Miroslav Penkov’s “Buying Lenin” is a multi-generational story of an Eastern European grandson moving to the U.S.A. for school and leaving his grandfather behind. What unfolds is a beautiful and amusing dialog between grandfather and grandson, communism and capitalism.

Penkov is a young writer in both age and experience, (Seriously, Munro is a tough one to follow!) but “Buying Lenin” is such a brilliant story and I had one of those lovely and embarrassing moments while reading it as I laughed out loud in a room full of quiet people.



Nonfiction: The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende

“In the second week of December, 1992, almost as soon as the rain let up, we went as a family to scatter your ashes, Paula, following the instructions you had left in a letter written long before you fell ill.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende is actually the narrative style of the autobiography: all 301 pages are written as if it were a letter to her dead daughter Paula. In small experience with autobiographies, they are often written as interviews (e.g. Barbara Walter’s) or tabloids. Allende, however, has infused The Sum of Our Days with the same polish and passion her fictional works receive.

Paula, Allende’s first autobiography (which I have not read), covers what easily is scene as the more interesting aspects of Allende’s life: her parents, life in Chile, escaping Pinochet, her first marriage and raising her children, moving to the U.S.A. and marrying the love of her life, and finally the death of her oldest child Paula. In contrast, The Sum of Our Days more or less is a collection of retrospective essays on Allende’s “tribe” or family and their growth, heartbreaks, and enjoyments.

Though this second book is more home based and family centered, it’s passionately written with inflections of Allende’s political and metaphysical beliefs. The collection covers estrangement, karma, travel, sexuality, and so much more. I confess that I now have a new appreciation for Allende (Dare I say I even have a bit of a crush on her?) and her novels.