Literary Deal Breakers; Marathon Reads


Ask The Paris Review

It’s official. Former managing editor Caitlin Roper is leaving New York for San Francisco, where she’ll be an editor at Wired. We thought it’d be nice to let her pinch hit for team Paris Review before she leaves for the West Coast. This week, she answers our advice column. —Thessaly La Force

Is literary taste—or a lack thereof—a deal breaker? I’m dating a lovely man, but he has one major flaw: He doesn’t read. I’ve thrown everything from early Tom Wolfe to Cormac McCarthy at him, and he’s simply not interested. He’s not uneducated—he would just rather be “doing things.” Do you have any recommendations for the nonreader, or should I give him up as a lost cause? —Hopeless

I spent four years with a nonreader. I like “doing things,” too, so we had that in common. It took me about a year to stop giving him books I was sure would grab his attention (I also tried Cormac McCarthy). There was one writer he enjoyed: Eric Bogosian, especially Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead. I read it for insight into my boyfriend’s elusive literary taste. It was funny and angry—more of a rant than a story—and it finally made me give up my futile book suggestions. I’d say it’s absolutely a lost cause to turn your man into a reader, you’re going to have to let that go and ask yourself the real question: Can you be with someone who doesn’t read?

I ran the New York marathon! Well, I ran five miles of the New York marathon. I guess I didn’t have the fortitude to finish. You know, I recently read Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Inspiring, contemplative—just terrific stuff. Now I’m wondering whether there might be some books out there that will help me finish the marathon the next time around. Any ideas? —Tom

Wait, you started the race on Staten Island, ran across the Verrazano, basked in the glory of the cheering fans, but gave up in Bay Ridge, and … took the subway home? I’m surprised the endorphins alone didn’t get you further. But congrats on those five miles; it’s a start. Sounds like Murakami inspired you, but you need a significant dose of determination.

If you want another running book, the best novel I know of is Once a Runner by John L. Parker. But when I was training for the NYC marathon in 2008, I read Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer by Lynne Cox. Cox has twice set a world record for the fastest crossing of the English Channel. She swam around the Cape of Good Hope (sharks!) and was the first person to swim across the Straits of Magellan. In 1987, she crossed the Bering Strait from Alaska to the Soviet Union and got a shout-out from both Reagan and Gorbachev. Cox is incredible, her determination so fierce she is unstoppable. She swam more than a mile in Antarctica, dodging icebergs. I promise you’ll find motivation in her book.

In 1976, Dick Traum was the first amputee to complete the NYC marathon. A few years later, he founded the Achilles Track Club to help other athletes with disabilities train and race. It’s inspiring to see disabled runners kick ass. I’ll never forget getting dusted by a blind guy and his training partner during my first NYC triathlon. I’d been feeling sorry for myself as I headed up a steep hill in Central Park, when he blew by me and was out of sight before I could complete my whine. Able-bodied runners can volunteer with Achilles during workouts or on race days. I did my first triathlon and marathon as a volunteer with Team in Training, raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, while TNT coached me into race-ready condition. I can’t recommend a better way to get from five miles to 26.2.

Watching Running on the Sun: The Badwater 135 will make a marathon look like a morning jog. Warning: It may also terrify you about the potential loss of your toenails. Speaking of potential losses and determination, have you seen 127 Hours?

Have a question for The Paris Review? E-mail us.