Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Review of My Book Review

I was recently informed by one of the creators of website Letsrun.com that my book, See Dane Run, had been reviewed on his website.

He then went on to say that the review wasn’t exactly favorable. To be honest, I relished reading it even more because of that. Why? Am I masochistic? Nope. As much as I thoroughly enjoy hearing how much people have enjoyed my book or have used it for their own inspiration, I am always wishing to improve myself and my writing. Granted there is nothing I can do to "fix" a book already in print but I can most assuredly learn from constructive criticism.

So, below is the review in its entirety (in italics) with not only my responses to some of the critiques but also some of the responses my fellow readers gave as well, after reading his review.

There are probably not a lot of people who could run a marathon a week—or frankly would even want to, supposing they were physically up to the task. (My response: Who cares if they would want to? Not at all the purpose of the book.) How many pasta dinners, cups of Gatorade and blackened toenails can a person handle, anyway? (Well, since a gentleman participated in 105 Marathons last year, apparently double plus one what I wanted to deal with is handleable!) But there are plenty of us who could benefit from the motto of someone who did lace up for 26.2 miles every weekend for a year. “There are many things in this world you cannot do,” says Dane Rauschenberg, author of See Dane Run (The Experience Publishers, 245 pages, $19.90). “Trying is not one of them.” (I agree!)

Rauschenberg conceives of his 2006 odyssey after getting hooked on the marathon distance but realizing he probably won’t ever run fast at that distance (an arguable point, given the steady stream of near three-hour races he produces). (My response: those "steady stream" of three hour races were done DURING the Fifty-two in one year. Unless the reviewer is referring to the few marathons I ran prior to embarking on that journey, in which case, he has a point but it is not really "arguable". I made that exact point myself in the book.) Looking for another goal, he decides to run a race a week. Looking for a cause to support, he connects with L’Arche Mobile, an international organization that works with the disabled. (Actually, the cause found me serendipitously, when I was planning the entire excursion. I was not really looking for a cause to support, per se. Big difference. I most assuredly did not need to add to my difficulties and trouble that year to validate the running.)

With the discipline of a general preparing for war, Rauschenberg undertakes the task of finding enough marathons to run—it has to be each weekend, no cheating with two races over two days—booking flights, arranging schedules and promoting his charity. He dubs his venture “Fiddy2” (after a mispronunciation of “52”) and gets underway with the Walt Disney World Marathon. He concludes, twelve months and 1,362 miles later (1362 POINT FOUR, thank you very much!), with the Run for the Ranch Marathon in Springfield, Missouri. In-between he takes readers on a tour of some of America’s most famous marathons—Marine Corps and New York—and some of the most obscure: the Frank Maier Marathon in Juneau, Alaska, anyone? Rauschenberg concludes with summaries of the questions he got over the year. My favorite: “Are you going to do all 52 states?”
(A question I still get, even this past weekend. Swear to God.)

So far, so good. The problem with Rauschenberg’s book, as with similar personal accounts of running achievements, is it becomes an insider’s journal that sets much of the experience off limits to the average runner, let alone non-athletic readers. (Here is where I add some other’s comments from readers, both runners and non: Jenn R – “If you would have written the book the way he said you should have I would personally not have made it past chapter 3. I am not a runner and so the style of your writing is what kept me entertained till the last page.”)

His prose reads like a cross between a long, breezy e-mail to friends and a gossipy Christmas letter to family—not exactly inviting styles. (Neither was Hemingway's. I hear people liked him.) His frequent use of mild profanities like “damn” and “crap” is off-putting. (Corey says: “Gee, if this reviewer gets this upset about profanity, I don't think he should read any modern literature period past the late 1800s. I'm sure that Henry Miller, Hunter S. Thompson, D.H. Lawrence, Toni Morrison, et al, would make him REALLY blush.”)

His sexist comments about attractive women he sees during races are offensive. (From Robin M. – “I just realized I am sexist and petty. I hate delayed flights and I enjoy running with fit men. Jeez. What kind of human am I anyway?”

Corey I. “You, sexist?! Say what?! Me thinks this critic has some misdirected hypersensitivity & is totally uptight about anything real. For one, appreciating physical beauty of fellow athletes is hardly sexist. We athletes are in touch with their physicality & notice it in others; that's how we're built.”

And Sam F. "Considering we're sharing a room in Mobile in January, I'm glad you find attractive women more attractive than ugly guys.”)

His complaints about air travel—late departures, crying babies—are annoying in the least: it’s not as if anyone is forcing him to do this. (From Jason R“The entertaining comments about flights, people pissing you off and the like, are what made your book fun to read.”)
More troubling, we get little of the local color of the marathons that Rauschenberg runs and a lot—a whole lot—about him: how many times he stopped to use the bathroom, how many times he needed a gel pack, how many times he felt good or crummy. (Jason R again: “I wonder if he actually read your book when he said you didn't talk much about the places you ran. What part of 'you barely got there to get a little sleep, got up, ran a race, and were racing to get back on a plane', did he not get?”)

Enough already. It would also have been nice to hear more about the training he did between marathons, and how he managed to squeeze his career as a lawyer into what feels like a full-time job of running and travel. (In one sentence I am being told the book talks too much about myself and my experiences and elicits a "Enough already" response. Then in the next I am told I did not talk about what I did during the week enough. Choose one! Believe me, I had no desire to delve into my life outside of running and how difficult it was to maintain a normal lifestyle while doing what I did. If I listed the long work hours, the travel planning, the press releases sent out, the fundraising that was nearly-constant as well as everything else, the book would have been dulled down and been over 1,000 pages.)

He makes it clear he paid for everything himself, but that doesn’t help the average person trying to figure out a way to do something similar. (I thought the reviewer said that, frankly, very few would ever want to do this. Plus, it is easy actually. Don't waste money on eating out all the time. Don't spend money on things you don't need (extemporaneous clothing, movies, furniture etc.) Make it a priority to accomplish what you want to do and then just do the damn thing. Whoops. that might have been off-putting. Or as Catie says “The book isn't called "See Dane Run - A Training Manual.”)

To add a final insult to injury, the poorly edited book mangles the name of Czechoslovakian running legend Emil Zatopek. It’s a mistake a three-second Google search could have fixed. (The reviewer is 100% correct and this bothered me WAY more than it did him. Unfortunately, once it has gone to print it is not a simple correction. Not sure how the misspelling of Emil's surname happened but it is regrettable. That said, I hardly think this is "final insult to injury" or that the book is "poorly edited". These are both extraordinarily opinionated claims without much evidence to back up either.)

Next time someone tells your that your running style is bad, point to ol Emil.

All of this is a shame. Rauschenberg’s heart is in the right place. (Aw shucks. Thanks so much, Uncle Reviewer. If he knows the placement of my heart perhaps he also knew I meant to make sure to spell "Zatopek" right, as well.) His accomplishment is remarkable. His mantra about trying is inspirational. Unfortunately, the flaws of See Dane Run obscure his feat and limit his ability to spread a message all of us could benefit from: the only way to test our limits is to try.

Well, with thousands of books sold and a stack of letters on my kitchen table from those who have taken time out of their day to tell me my message has
indeed spread, I am going to have to politely disagree.

So does Sharon“ I am running because of you.”

Now, let me be clear. Is See Dane Run a perfect book? Hardly. There are things I wish I could add or delete, especially as time goes on and I read it over and over again. However, for the most part, I respectfully disagree with the review on many of his points.

I wonder if my review of his book review will get reviewed?


PunkRockRunner said...

Well, at least you know he read your book and let's hope he had to buy a copy and did not borrow it.

And for those "slow" runners out there (like me)? I find that applying whiteout over Dane's finish times helped me to cope with my lack of a sub 4-hour marathon.

I've read several books by people who have run a lot of Marathons and have never expected a training manual or financial advice. I just find it refreshing that even the fast runners suffer like us slowpokes and we all get the same finishers medal.

Keep running Dane!

Dane said...


No, the real insult to injury is that this was a free copy I sent to him out of my own pocket!

At least it gave me something to write about today. My brain was too exhausted to think of anything brand-new. :)

KayVee said...

Meh. What do book reviewers know? High falutin' lit majors who couldn't get a real job, probably. Anyway, it was a pleasure to meet you on Sunday...so much so you earned an "honorable mention" in my own blog. I hope that we'll get a chance to say hi when you return to the Magnolia state in January for MS Blues...even if it's when you pass me during the race. :-)

Dane said...

KayVee, What is the URL of our blog?

George said...

To quote you Dane:
"Am I masochistic? Nope."

This I have to disagree with. To run 52 marathons in a year and put yourself through that grind you have to be a little masochistic. But aren't all runners a bit masochistic? We love pushing ourselves mentally and physically. And we get pleasure from doing it.

As for my review of the review of the review, it was entertaining. I love how people try to point out imperfections only to contradict themselves.

KayVee said...

http://kvtri.blogspot.com. Don't laugh too hard. ;-)

choala yummy said...

Hi Dane!

My husband and I met you during your book signing @ the Long Beach Marathon Expo. I just finished reading your book and LOVED it! I really enjoyed how honest you were about the thoughts that went through your head during each race. I found myself laughing out loud at the comments that went through your head anytime somebody passed you. Every runner can totally relate to that!

I love that you were not afraid to put your candid thoughts in print. It made the book more personal than some of the other marathon adventure books. I felt that you were telling your stories the way a close friend would.

Thanks for providing a great read and inspiration!

Esther & Ken

big daddy G said...

I'll still take him out...say the word

Valerie said...

I enjoyed your book. I was inspired by your accomplishment, and interested about how you did it on the low budget (i.e. on your own dollar without sponsorship). It is amazing that you were able to do it all while working as an attorney!

I don't agree with the book reviewer, and don't understand why he feels it necessary to be so negative! The book was inspirational and entertaining. That guy can go pound sand (not pavement as in running)!

Elizabeth said...

Interesting. I agree that the reviewer was too harsh at times. The "sexist" comments about women-- it's what all guys are thinking, probably including the reviewer himself. It's what makes you human and accessible. The same is true for flight delays and babies screaming on planes. As runners (and as travelers) we have to deal with this, and it makes your story more "real". Too often you hear about the fantasy race where the weather is perfect and nothing goes wrong logistically. Logistics are a HUGE part of running marathons- especially if you are doing them every week. So I think that stuff is relevant to your message. It's part of the challenge.

I think he makes a valid point about there being too much talk of taking gels and going to the bathroom and how you felt at each one. I know that the basis for this book were the blogs/race reports and in that context, talking about this is very appropriate. But in "bulk" it looses its significance, so maybe editing some of that out would have been the way to go.

Overall, I think the book is very inspirational. Not in a sense that it will make someone want to do a marathon every weekend, but it provides a good example of someone doing something "extraordinary" because he put his mind and heart to it.

I don't like how the reviewer implied that you teamed up with L'Arche just to validate what you are doing. And even if that WAS the case.. . heck- you raised so much money for that charity!!!!

Sue said...

Your book is a great read and an inspiration to many. After reading your posts, meeting you in Pittsburgh, and reading your book - you inspired me to push myself harder. Just recently finished my first ultramarathon!