Dean Karnazes, et al: Chicken Soup for the Soul - Runners

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Karnazes, Dean, et al. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners: 101 Inspirational Stories of Energy, Endurance, and Endorphins (Cos Cob, CT: Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, 2010)

I know, I know...you're probably wondering why I picked up one of those tacky-kitschy-treacly Chicken Soup books; I was wondering the same thing as I stood there in the bookstore, thumbing through it and asking myself if I really going to buy it. My argument--that it's a book about runners, and I wasn't about to judge it by its cover--was more of a rationalization than an explanation, as I learned when I was mocked (not just once, but twice) by family and friends for buying it.

There are a few names in here that well-read runners will recognize--Matt Fitzgerald, Dean Karnazes, Mark Remy--but most of the authors are the unknown everyman/everywoman runners that are just like the rest of us. In fact, that's the problem with the book--too much familiarity, too little drama. However important the authors' stories are to them, reading a few dozen tends to blur them together into a mass of getting off the couch, losing some weight, and running a first 5K. That said, there are still some intriguing pieces--particularly a story about the Hash House Harriers (pp. 81-83) and another about the first post-9/11 NYC Marathon (pp. 109-112). One of the pieces--Amanda Southall's "Moving Forward" (pp. 43-45) about running in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre--was immediately familiar, and I recognized it as a reprint from The Ultimate Runner (pp. 99-102). Not that I mind the duplication--it's one of the better pieces in either book--but I was surprised that the publishers didn't demand exclusive printing rights. While I'm discussing good writing, here is a pair of quotes that I particularly enjoyed:

"We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon." (p. 216, Emil Zatopek)

"...the real test of a runner is not running for just 26.2 miles. It is running for a lifetime." (p. 266, P.R. O'Leary, "A Lesson in Running")

The religiosity for which the Chicken Soup series is known didn't surface until about halfway through the book. Gil Hannon's "Initially I Was Alone" (pp. 178-179) made me want to puke with its "This was a day the Lord had made...My training partner is always by my side" saccharine sentiments. Later essayists proclaimed "Jesus is the center of my life," talked about singing hymns and praying, and even hearing the voice of god (p. 234) and listening to what "God told me over and over again" (p. 256). What purpose this sort of faith fluff has in a running book is not at all clear to me, except to demonstrate the extent to which religion has a pervasive--although not pernicious--presence.

Even if you're desperate to read a book about running, there are far better options than Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on July 18, 2010 10:25 PM.

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