Today I took a day off work and spent a couple of hours at my local auto dealership. "What book to take with me?" I asked myself, walking out the door.
Come on. I'm not going to sit and watch cable television news channels. I stood transfixed in front of my living room bookshelves; it's not good for a September-born guy to be forced into choice...especially not with 300-plus titles stacked in the living room alone, and definitely not when a five-minute delay can mean the difference between sitting for two hours...or for three hours...in a lounge drinking coffee and eating doughnuts. In the case of this guy, less time is always better.
I chose a book I hadn't read in probably six years.
It was a tight spot which made me think, while traveling to Toyota Town, of another triad of tomes to tranquilize the (temporarily terrifying) tendency to tarry in tranquility near the tube:
Running and Being - Dr. George Sheehan
The late cardiologist and unofficially-but-near-universally-proclaimed philosopher-king of running wrote this book in the late 1970s, and many of his observations in this book were printed (often in toto) in Runners' World magazine. Like most folks who have the temerity to risk talking smack about Steve Prefontaine, reviewing a book like this - especially in the negative - is only going to get you in deep trouble. Reading Sheehan, especially for the young, inexperienced (in life) runner, is like reading the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard or the Brazilian liberation educator Paulo Freire. You aren't going to read great portions of this book, not unless you didn't want to learn anything. I've borrowed portions (the bag) for blog posts, as well as for biomechanical analyses (neuromas) to pass to my athletes.
This book goes best with (at least!) one pot of good coffee.
Ultramarathon Man - Dean Karnazes
I almost ran over Dean Karnazes in the lobby of the Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf during the Road Runners Club of America convention two years ago. I was running to the ballroom to have lunch with my wife; he was running to the bathroom before his lunch presentation in the ballroom. Suffice it to say I am pleased we didn't make contact. Karnazes is probably a solid three inches shorter than I and built like a...well, you've all heard the analogies.
He's also an entertaining speaker and a very good writer. Suzanne raved about him on the trip home; the only presenter other than Frank Shorter she mentioned by name. And when an avowed non-fanatical runner like my wife mentions someone - by name - it truly means something. What strikes me about Karnazes' first work is not so much the screenplay-like way he chronicles his relationship with his family, his painful beginning in ultramarathon (I can smell the rotten cantaloupe!), and his quest to stretch the limits of human endurance...blended in with cell phone ordered pizza delivery, minibuses filled with goldfish crackers, and banana bread. Trust me; you'll never look at banana bread in the same way after this book. Some of my friends have read his follow-up works and proclaimed them as a little less entertaining than the first, but I've already subscribed to the "sequel rarely meets the first work" mindset. This work is well worth acquiring. I may change my mind after I read his 50 marathons/50 states/50 days chronicle, though.
This book goes best with (at least) one cup of Starbucks and a slice of cherry cheesecake.
Every Second Counts - Lance Armstrong (and Sally Jenkins)
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is reported to have said, "you cannot step into the same river twice." And Armstrong (Jenkins) appears to have learned this over the course of the four years covered in book number two. Whether it's Armstrong who read about Dithyrambos - "he who walks through the second door" - or Jenkins saw the parallel, it's hard to say. Considering we are talking about a guy who's repeated a few things (Tour de France victories, relationships, lawsuits) more than once in his time, I'm certain he even appreciated the analogy.
Every Second Counts is a fitting follow-up to It's Not About The Bike, which talked much about what got Lance to the first yellow jersey in 1999. This time, however, we do get to see the rough edges and shortcomings. Armstrong long has considered himself - unlike very many of his yellow wristband-wearing fans - no saint. He provides an honest, almost sensitive assessment of life as man, father, athlete, survivor, businessman, and icon, things which definitely affected his marriage to Kristin. As of late, much has been made in the press and several recent books about doping...and Lance's way of dealing with sources who allege his use.
I read Every Second Counts around the same time as Brad Kearns' fawning How Lance Does It, Floyd Landis' Positively False: How I Won The Tour De France, and David Walsh's From Lance to Landis. The only title which still sits on my bookshelf of the previous three is Walsh. If I had only read It's Not About The Bike I think I would have a negative opinion of the seven-time champion. I have doubts about whether he was completely clean, but it's only a sliver. Yes, a Kierkegaardian one.
This book goes best with a tall, cold Shiner Bock.