Wednesday, August 5, 2009

RJ Review: Mexican Food, "Mexican" Food, and Brief Thoughts on Christopher McDougall's Book "Born to Run"

I spent the late 1980s and most of the 1990's on the East Coast - first in DC, then in Boston - and one of the things I missed most from my native West was authentic, great Mexican food. It was just hard, or downright impossible, to find. But deprivation often brings acquiescence, and when I really wanted Mexican food bad enough, I'd find myself sitting down at a mediocre "Mexican" place for some mediocre "Mexican" food and find my gustatory needs sated, to a degree.

This describes to a "T" the experience of reading Christopher McDougall's book, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, (Knopf; $24.95). The book chronicles, with a few diversions, the trip made by the author and some big name ultrarunners (Jurek, Escobar, Shelton) to a 47 mile race in the Copper Canyons of Mexico against the fabled distance-running Tarahumara Indians. And while the book contains a handful of interesting passages, many ultrarunners who know a bit about the sport will come away feeling that the book depicts a sensationalized facsimile of the sport: "ultrarunning" as it were, rather than just, ultrarunning.

The writing itself is OK, and sometimes sings, but McDougall can at times come across like a convert who doesn't quite comprehend the nature of the sport he's writing about. Of course, the book can't be written for ultrarunners alone, all 413 of us worldwide, so maybe I'm being a tad unfair, but at the end I was left wondering what a great essayist like Adam Gopnik could have done with the same material. There are enough amazing elements in each ultrarunner's experiences that there's no need to sensationalize, just aptly describe.

That said, I read the book with verve from start to finish, being so starved for printed matter on the sport, and it was a satisfying experience, to a degree.


Luis Escobar's photo essay of the Cooper Canyon race in Born to Run

1 comment:

robert.blair said...

I would have to agree spot on with the feelings and thoughts you came away with after reading this book.

A few other ultrarunner blogs have given rave reviews, but my reaction was like yours. So similar it is uncanny.

Maybe it is because my first degree in college was English Literature and have read so widely.

Maybe it is because I was am an ex high school English teacher. I do not know. But I found this book to be good in sections and mediocre in many places.

Give the author credit, anyone who succeeds in writing and publishing a book has accomplished much more in that area than many of us have and may ever.

I wish the author the best, and would recomend the book to others simply because there is such a scarcity of books out there on ultrarunning.