Get Fit With Haruki Murakami: Why Mohsin Hamid Exercises, Then Writes

The How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia author adopted Murakami's philosophy of prioritizing physical fitness in order to maximize creativity—and reaped the benefits.

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Doug McLean

By Heart is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature.

Here's how to get a writer's body in seven days (the familiar story goes). Spend hours hunched over a keyboard in low light, exercising nothing but your eyelids and your finger muscles. Subsist on coffee, cigarettes, and the occasional croissant. Drink no water; whiskey's better. Look up at your heroes on the wall: sickly, malnourished, funny-looking people who died of lupus and liver failure on the hot trail of the truth. If you don't look just like them, you're not working hard enough. Sacrifice your body for your art.

When I spoke to Mohsin Hamid, author of Moth Smoke, about a favorite passage from literature, he chose a line by Haruki Murakami that stands in stark contrast to the narrative of the sedentary, decaying writer. Murakami, who transformed himself from nicotine-stained wastrel to marathoning meganovelist, urges writers to prepare for novels like contestants gearing up for the Hunger Games. By uncovering links between physical rigor and creative health, Hamid stays well in both life and work.

Mohsin Hamid's work has been translated into more than 30 languages. His new novel, released today by Riverhead Books, is How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia—a fictional guide to cashing in on east-Asian development written entirely in the instructive second person. (Chapter titles include "Get an Education [However Inadequate]," "Befriending a Bureaucrat," "Be Prepared to Use Violence," and "Have an Exit Plan.") Hamid's novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2007, and his stories appear in The New Yorker, Granta, and The Paris Review.


Mohsin Hamid: When I moved back to Lahore a few years ago, I left my writer friends behind. I had cousins in Lahore, a couple dozen of them, and tight childhood buddies, and aunts and uncles and nephews and nieces. But no writers I was really close to, not at first. No one I could meet for a drink to talk shop. For that, I still needed to visit my former hometowns of New York and London, which didn't happen more than a couple times a year.

I was happy to be away from the noise of publishing: the book launches, the award ceremonies, the cycle of who got reviewed how this week. But I missed the camaraderie. Novel writing is solitary work. In Lahore it became a solitary profession too.

So I started reading novelists to hang out with them. Not their novels, which of course I'd always read, but their memoirs, their essays on their writing, their interviews. I dug out old classics like A Moveable Feast. I asked my neighborhood bookshop to order up Marquez on Marquez, Calvino on Calvino, the multiple volumes of the Paris Review Interviews. Ah, the Paris Review Interviews: orgiastic to a writer who's been on his own awhile, let me tell you.

It was in Volume 4 that I came across one with Haruki Murakami, a writer I'd long admired. And halfway into that interview, I found this quote, which I wound up rereading so often that I copied it out and taped it to my printer:

"writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity."

I liked this. Not that I thought it was true. But I liked it. Yes, Tolstoy did his share of war-fighting, and Hemingway was a tough guy. But I'm not sure Nabokov could bench his weight. And I had the sense Virginia Woolf couldn't either (although her biographical details were sketchy in my mind; maybe Bloomsbury was the Octagon of its era).

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Joe Fassler is a writer based in Brooklyn. His fiction has appeared in The Boston Review, and he regularly interviews authors for The Lit Show. In 2011, his reporting for TheAtlantic.com was a finalist for a James Beard Foundation Award in Journalism.

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