Friday, April 02, 2010

Small Thoughts on Running Books

I'm not quite sure what I want to call this new old feature here. Once upon a time I called it "Quick Takes", but I like the "Small Thoughts" part of the title. We'll see. Regardless, I've been lax in posting full length reviews and I want to get out a bit more of what I've been reading.

Once a Runner, by John L. Parker: I wonder how much anyone who was not a runner would enjoy this book. Once a Runner is perhaps the seminal book about running, a novel that has been praised by many an elite runner as being the most realistic depiction of what it takes to run and compete at the highest level. If I think too much about the prose, Once a Runner has flaws and the opening chapters were a bit rough. Parker settles in, though, and tells a thrilling story about an elite college athlete, some of his personal travails, and gets into his training for what is, without hyperbole, the race of his life. For runners, even those of us who couldn’t sniff high level competition, Once a Runner is a thrilling novel and it truly is the best fictional depiction of running I have come across (or expect to encounter).

The Runner’s Rule Book, by Mark Remy: The Runner’s Rule Book focuses on the unwritten “rules” of running. The courtesies. Mark Remy has put together a slim volume of semi-humorous examples of what to do and what not to do during races, training runs, and general behavior and attitude. It reads quick, but it isn’t the sort of book you read from cover to cover. It’s a book to pick up, read a few, put down, and go on with your day. Decent enough, I suppose.

Strides, by Benjamin Cheever: This one was a real disappointment. Cheever mixes some of the history of running with his own running history, and one would think this would be right up my alley. I put it down after just a few chapters. Dull.

Personal Record, by Rachel Toor: This book is a series of essays (26.2 in all) from Running Times writer Rachel Toor. Many are personal, as this is ultimately Toor’s journey through life and running, but the essays occasionally come across a touch distant and impersonal (the one about her pacing a guy through the Western States 100 notwithstanding – that one was quite moving). The essay format of Personal Record created a choppy feel to the book and what might have otherwise been a volume to recommend, was just mostly decent. A few essays were highlights (the two pacing ones, and the high school coaching experience), but as a collected whole, Personal Record didn’t thrill. One the other hand, Personal Record is worlds better than Haruki Murakami’s tedious running memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

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