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“Born to Run” from the Notables List

I’m continuing my reading of the American Library Association Notable Books List.

I’m delighted to say that “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Great Race the World Has Never Seen” by Chrisopher McDougall exemplifies why I love the Notables list–I find titles like this that I haven’t heard of, and that I enjoy immensely.

McDougall has done a good deal of writing about outdoor sports for periodicals such as “Men’s Health” and “Outside.” In this book, he tells his own story of becoming obsessed with a group of people called the Tarahumara, a tribe of people in Mexico’s Copper Canyons. He’s heard that they can run hundreds of miles, that they can chase down animals such as deer, and that (the most amazing thing) they enjoy it.

In the course of the story, he travels to Mexico in search of these people, then gets to know athletes in the United States who are ultramarathon runners, covering up to 100 miles through day and night. Eventually, this all comes together in a race in the Copper Canyons, with a mix of Tarhumara runners and US elite athletes. It’s quite a story, full of personalities, with a few interesting background sections on topics such as the effectiveness of running shoes and whether it makes any sense to think that a person could run down a deer.

I know that I’m a sucker for this kind of nonfiction that picks up the thread of a story about an interesting subculture that I know nearing nothing about, and then weaves a fabric that seems to get stronger as the story progresses. It can be a real challenge for an author to insert himself far enough into the story for interest, and to explore certain emotional aspects, without making the story about HIM. McDougall succeeds on this count.

I’ll embrace this title when I choose which books from this year’s Notable List to highlight. I’m recommending it to runners, to people who love to read about extreme behavior, and those who are happy to read a story that’s quite outside of their own experience.

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