North

My Reading Project has slowed with me bouncing around between a couple books. The first book, Being a Boy (1877) by Charles Dudley Warner, is about a boy growing up on a New England farm in the mid-19th century. I had high hopes for this book. I selected it because I was interested in how a 19th century writer would write about boyhood and how these insights would differ from someone writing today. Unfortunately, it was a dud.

I, then, turned to the great ultrarunner Scott Jurek’s North. North is the tale of Jurek’s record-breaking South-to-North thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I picked up the book because I liked his last book, Eat and Run, and have been searching for an adventurous endurance challenge for myself for later this fall or early winter. Maybe a 24 hour running race. Maybe running the full Patriots Path trail here in northern New Jersey. Maybe thru-running/hiking the New Jersey section of the AT. Maybe training for the Mt. Washington Road Race. I figured the book would inspire to pick something to do and start training with real purpose.

North describes Jurek’s 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes 2,189-mile trip from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine in 2015. Although the record has since been broken by two other great ultrarunners, Karl Meltzer (45 day 22 hours and 38 minutes) and even more shockingly Joe McConaughy‘s unsupported AT trip in 45 days 12 hours and 15 minutes, the book is a tale of an incredible and physically debilitating athletic feat.

North is less interesting and inspiring that you would expect. It may well be that writing about walking and slow jogging two thousand miles just isn’t that illuminating or informative. It would have been more informative if it discussed the physical and logistical challenges involved in tackling the AT in more depth and detail. It would have been more illuminating if the lessons Jurek drew from his feat didn’t sounds as if they had been plagiarized from a motivational poster.

I have been a long time Malcolm Gladwell naysayer, but reading North made me appreciate what an incredible writer and storyteller he is. Gladwell can take the undramatic and turn it into a cliffhanger. He can transform an abstract and obscure philosophical debate into an engaging mystery that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

North does the opposite. It transforms the potentially dramatic into the mundane. And, in those instances where the Jureks attempt to create suspense and drama it feels ham-fisted and pathetic. The dramatic and “frightening” tales of running into mysterious poor rural Southern folks is infuriating. “Oh no, someone in a rundown truck parked in the trailhead parking lot at dusk near us.” It isn’t drama that is revealed in most of the dramatic scenes in North so much as prejudice and stereotyping.

Hopefully, I will have more luck with my next reading selection.

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