"The best novel ever written about running," screams the blurb on the cover, attributed to no less an authority than Runner's World. Impressive. That is, until you start to think about the running-novel genre, fail to come up with another title, and begin to wonder if this isn't damning by faint praise. It's not. Parker's tale, about a collegiate miler named Quenton Cassidy whose Olympic ambitions are derailed by the controversial campus politics of the sixties, treads over ground that is both inspiring and endearingly familiar to anyone who's ever laced up a pair of track shoes. The cultural references can seem datedParker name-checks Peter Snell (an Olympian; I Googled him) and Adidas Gazelles (as workout devices, not trendy footwear)and the training techniques will sound antiquated to runners steeped in lactate-threshold data crunching. These are forgivable sins when you consider that Parker, a former collegiate miler, self-published Once a Runner in 1978. Since then, the book has gained a hand-me-down following among the waffle-sole crowd, but until Scribner rewarded its cult status this year with a 25,500 first run, it was nearly impossible to find a copy. And in this narrative, the battered publishing industry might have planted the seed for a new business paradigm. Discard giant advances; instead, reward artists who develop their audiences organically. Will it work? Who knows. Read Once a Runner because it's a great story told greatly; buy it because you'll be giving this publishing model a shot.
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