Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summer Reading.

There are few things I like more than watching kids run on the beach.

Last week when we were at Isle of Palms with Jay's family, I spotted a lizard as I was hauling Thomas and Patrick over the dunes. I pointed him out to Thomas, who immediately jumped out of the wagon and started running towards it. When he didn't catch him, he just kept running...and running...and running...until eventually he hit the surf, where he commenced swimming. Instinct propelled him to start, to chase, and inside that bony little chest of his I could just see his heart opening up, stretching its little legs out, pumping blood to all the far points of his skinny little limbs. Watching him run is like watching him breathe-it just seems natural for him to break into a gallop, stopping and starting on a dime with little to no alteration of breath, with seemingly no effort at all.

On the contrary, the momentum it takes to get my body moving is significant, and loping after a lizard is the last thing on my to-do list. But watching my kids run reminds of a time when doing so didn't require a Garmin and a schedule to motivate me, when the mere suggestion of an open shoreline or the prize of a lizard caught could propel my feet to action. Such is the argument of Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run.

Peter Larson, professor of biology at St. Anselm college and author of the blog This View of Life, aptly describes the book as

...much more than a book about running shoes. In fact, the bulk of McDougall's diatribe against the shoe industry occurs in just one chapter (Chapter 25 to be exact). Born to Run is more a book about the love of running - it is a book about regaining the joy that running can bring to your life, and about why running is more than just a way to keep your weight down and your muscles toned. It is a book about why we all should run, and why those of us who enjoy running what many consider to be insane distances love doing so. It is a book about why running is a part of our history as a species, and why running is truly a gift that was bestowed upon us as human beings....

What makes this book such a thoroughly enjoyable read is that McDougall is a fantastic storyteller and a great researcher. He shifts with ease from recounting his harrowing adventures in the Copper Canyons, to the antics and life stories of his running companions, to discussing the perils of running shoes and the evolution of running in humans (which, as an evolutionary biologist, is one of my favorite parts of the book).

I do think runners and non-runners (Cathy) alike would enjoy this book, as the tale McDougall tells is one where fact is stranger than fiction. He's not overly didactic in the promotion of running (he's only written a whole book about it, after all), but I'm reading it from the perspective of one who does (mostly) love to run, so I'd be curious to hear from someone who doesn't. Does this book make you want to get off the sofa? Maybe. Does it make you want to run barefooted through the canyons of Mexico? Maybe. Does it make you want to run a 50-miler in scorching, maddening heat? Possibly.

At the very least it makes me appreciate my kids' love of running, at least for now, and makes me want to get back to that feeling of running towards something beautiful, whether it's a shoreline or enlightenment or the finish line of the New York marathon.

Unrelated to anything running but apropos of reading, I finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak last night and it is without a doubt one of the best books I've read in a long time--I don't think I've cried like that since I read Where the Red Fern Grows back in 1986. It's not particularly a beach read, mind you, as Death is the narrator, the setting is Nazi Germany from 1939-1941, roughly, and our protagonist is an 11 year-old foster child. But it's beautifully and descriptively written, and I couldn't pass up an opportunity to tell you about it.

So, there it is. Born to Run and The Book Thief for your summer reading queue.

Now. Tell me what's on your list this summer.


Sandy said...

Good post Kelly. I am running a 2 mile race at Jockey's Ridge (big sand dunes) next week. Hopefully I can muster some of Thomas' energy. Have you ever read Murakami's bood on running - What I talk about When I talk about Running - ? I have heard good things about it. My summer reading is mostly books for my fall world literature class so I have - Orhan Pamuk's Snow, Keri Hulme's The Bone People, and Jose Saramago's Death with Interruptions on my desk at the moment.

Pete said...


Thanks for the mention from my review - I didn't even realize that was posted on McDougall's site! Very cool! Murakami's book mentioned by the 1st commenter is a good one, and for a quick read I'd also recommend Amby Burfoot's Runner's Guide to the Meaning of Life. If you are science oriented, Bernd Heinrich's book Why We Run is also great, and touches on many similar topics to Born to Run.


Soul4Peace said...

Beautiful writing Kell! I'm not particularly a runner (unless I'm being chased by a Bhardt Boy), but that description of Thomas...that was dang good! xo, d

tommyday said...

I will pick up almost anything related to running when it comes to literature-it's what keeps me in the game. I will however have to humbly disagree with Pete's assessment of Murakami's book. Disjointed and stiff, I thought it was rather like reading someone else's grocery list. That's just me. I am currently reading Jeremy Schapp's historical account of Jesse Owens as it relates to the 1936 (Hitler) Olympics. More factual than moving, it does have it's high points and provides a different perspective on life in Germany at that time. My personal favorites (and Kelley already knows this)are those by John L. Parker Jr. "Once a Runner" and "Again to Carthage." "Born to Run" is burning a hole through my bedside table as I am dying to read it-up next.