After years of being aware of this story, I finally got to read it. (Translation: after years of being too lazy to order an imported book from amazon.co.uk or go to the library, I finally found a copy online that I could read on my kindle.)
I liked it. I really liked it. You should read it, too. It's short; it won't take you long. Don't be lazy like me about getting it.
It's not a running book, per se. It's not Born to Run, it's not What I Talk about when I Talk about Running. Instead it's a short story about a young, blue collar kid in the 1950s. He's poor and sees no way out of his neighborhood, so he and a friend turn to petty theft. When he's caught and sentenced to time in Borstal (British juvie), the prison authorities notice his talent at cross-country running. The book then shows his struggle as he balances his love of running and the freedom he feels while doing it against his contempt for being used as a racing pawn by the prison authorities. Despite knowing that it will cost him a potential early release, he stops a few meters before the finish of the big race and allows another to win - one of the only expressions of his free will he is capable of within the system and the ultimate act of defiance.
Yes, I just ruined the plot for you. But it's not the plot of the story that makes it worth reading; it's the vivid description of the narrator's life and his helplessness and the glory of running. I don't care that I'm not an elite or even very good for that matter; reading this story, I felt how running is something personal that we as individuals do for us, for our own reasons, for our own benefit alone.
Might I also recommend the Belle and Sebastian song "Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner"? Yes, I have a soft spot for those twee Glasgowegians. I also have a soft spot for my former governor, Rod Blagojevich (you can tell I'm an Illinoisan: I can spell his name without looking it up). He cited the Sillitoe story as an analogy to his impeachment. One thing you've got to give the dude credit for: he runs and he's well versed in running. And literature. Sadly he's also corrupt, but it's Illinois, you know?
MY QUEST TO QUALIFY NOT JUST FOR THE OLYMPIC TRIALS BUT FOR THE 2016 OLYMPICS IN THE MARATHON (to do this I will need to halve my marathon time)
On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe
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Read the book a couple of months ago. Loved it. :) Also love your review. :)ReplyDelete
Thanks for the recommendation, it sounds great! i just finished What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and honestly, i really didn't like it. the author was so arrogant and the narration was so boring. not what i wanted in a book about running. i need to pick up Born to Run, i've heard good things about it.ReplyDelete
You know, I actually haven't read What I Talk About... yet. I bought it recently, but I've been kind of afraid I wouldn't like it for exactly the reasons you mentioned!ReplyDelete
You should try Born to Run, though. On one hand, I'm mixed on the barefoot running trend/movement. On the other hand, it's impossible not to be inspired by the book.
What I thought was most fascinating in the What I talk about.. book is how the writer was so routine-bound and methodical. Even the running, it didn't seem like it was a passion, it was what he did. It is such a different approach from my life and who I am.ReplyDelete
It actually made me wonder if it's cultural or if the translation had something to do with it.
I'd like to read the book; I saw the movie in jr. high & liked it (long before I was a runner). Haven't read Born to Run or any other running books. In a way, I like running, but not necessarily reading about it, writing about it, or tweeting about it.ReplyDelete
I'll have to read "Loneliness" & see the movie & see what I think of it as a runner.
--Dave B (@BuckyKatt)
Hey, Dave! Nice of you to drop by my running blog to say that you don't like reading about running, eh? ;)ReplyDelete
I haven't seen the movie, but I should probably check it out as I liked the book (obvs). I go back and forth about reading/writing/tweeting about running. I like the accountability involved in writing about it, and often I like reading about it, too. Just not all the time. And I'm certainly not going to pick up a book or read a blog just because it's about running unless it's also interesting. I want to be able to turn it off now and then. That's why I keep my blog absolutely all about running - you know what you're getting into if you read it.
And don't get me started on twitter. Let's just say that November 8 will be a very happy day in my twitter feed when I'm no longer getting everyone's every dailymile update and my friends can go back to being interesting, multi-dimensional people.