I hope the windshield scraping and driveway shoveling is settling down for most of you Salty Running fans. For those still battling the tail-end (i.e. the big, thrashing, spike-covered dragon tail-end!) of this nasty winter season, I hope you are at least making some fun spring break plans. And yes, plans to crank up the heat, light a piña colada-scented candle, and lounge under a down comforter all day are JUST as valid as plans to jet-set off to Hawaii! There are plenty of ways to escape the harsh reality that was this slow start to spring – one of the least expensive ways is to escape into a good book.
I’ve scraped together 5 running fiction discoveries for you here. It’s unlikely that any of these will end up on your “favorite books of all time” list, but I’d certainly recommend them for a mellow day at the beach (or a day on the couch, with a hot cup of tea, if Hawaii isn’t in the cards this year).
Before we get started, has anyone else noticed that the vast majority of popular running fiction out there has, thus far, been written by men? I’m not hating on male authors, here. I could care less about John L. Parker, Jr.’s chromosomes when I pick up Once a Runner and enjoy for the billionth time. Still, it baffles me when I search for fiction written by women and come up painfully short. Our lovely writer-in-residence, Mace, suggested a fantastic children’s book illustrated by Marjorie Flack a while back. And there are plenty of non-fiction biographies and book written by female runners circulating out there (Cilantro gives us some great suggestions here.) Still, as a fan of fiction, I can’t help but wonder why there aren’t more running novels either written BY females or written about female characters.
Here are the best 5 I’ve found.
1. Naomi Benaron’s Running the Rift is probably my favorite running novel of the whole bunch. It’s the story of a young African sprinter attempting to reach Olympic heights during the Rwandan Genocide of the 1990’s. Benaron won the Bellwether Prize for this page-turner, and although it contains some hearbreakingly true-to-life content, it’s never distractingly graphic (despite the fact that actual events in Rwanda were nothing BUT graphic). I found the whole thing quite believable and engaging, particularly for anyone who has an interest in track. It also made me want to go back and Google a bit about the history behind the Hutu/Tutsi conflict, since I was fairly young when it happened and don’t remember much. Bonus points for historical importance!
2. Anne McCaffrey’s A Gift of Dragons: I’ll go ahead and admit that, for a lot of years, I steered clear of the Fantasy genre. When I DID decide to test the waters a while back, I found that some fantasy is actually pretty fun to read. Occasionally cheezy, but fun. McCaffrey’s small collection of short stories includes a nice little yarn called “The Runner of Pern.” It’s about a clan of Runners–and a young female runner, in particular–born and bred to carry messages back and forth across their mythical world. Think Pony Express, minus the ponies. If you’re already familiar with McCaffrey’s work or her longer books about Pern, you’ll probably appreciate this collection more fully. I sat back and enjoyed it as a first-time reader, plus it was short enough to cruise through in a sitting or two. Nothing mind blowing, but entertaining (and small) enough to throw in a carry-on.
3. Margreet Dietz, From My Mother: For all you ultra fans out there, here’s a short book written by an ultra-lady and Ironman competitor. I got the Kindle version for $3 and spent a rainy morning enjoying the story of Nadia and her first 100k trail race. It weaves back and forth between the race itself and some backstory about Nadia’s family/grandmother. I’ll admit it…I found myself skimming over the family story-line a bit so that I could get back to the race parts, but I almost always do that with books that flip abruptly between plot lines (and this one definitely does). Not a bad read, though, and very familiar territory if you’re into the ultra scene.
4. Cynthia Voigt, The Runner: Because everyone should revisit the literature of their childhood now and then! I used to devour Voigt’s books about the Tillerman family when I was a kid, and I like this one more now that I’m a runner myself. It contains some sightly-more grown up themes (racism, war, etc.) as well as the usual coming-of-age message that Voigt seems to sneak into a lot of her young adult books. Even if you read it as a kid, pick it up again and enjoy!
5. Lionel Shriver: Ok, I’m cheating a bit on this one. Sorry, folks. Shriver hasn’t written a novel about running (yet), but I’m including her because she is my favorite author who is ALSO a runner. Try any of her books and you won’t be disappointed (I’m immersed in Big Brother right now.) I first learned about her in the dentist’s office, when I picked up a ragged issue of Elle magazine where she was featured. After a little more research I found out that she is a “reluctant urban runner.” She logs 8-10 miles every other day, doesn’t seem interested in racing, and nails it when she writes that:
To me, this is runner’s high: punching my stopwatch and slowing to an amble. Shuffling upstairs and taking a criminally long shower. Popping a bowl of popcorn and pouring that glass of wine the size of a swimming pool, just in time for Newsnight. My runner’s high has sod-all to do with endorphins; it’s purely a celebration of the fact that, tonight at least, the run is over.
How about you? What are some of your favorite fiction titles about running? And which writers (male or female) are at the top of your Spring Break list?