I’m a sucker for books I encounter by happenstance. In the case of the Incomplete Book of Running, my wife bought a copy for a friend, and unwisely left it on the kitchen counter where I could see it (she should know better). I have no interest in running, and I’d never heard of Peter Sagal or his game show, but the cover intrigued me and I picked it up, intending to read a few pages. A few pages became a few chapters, and I finished it in two days.
The book is a though one to categorize. Part memoir, part manifesto, it uses a loose collection of stories from Sagal’s life to reflect on what running means to him, what it’s done for him, and why it is people like to do it. Sagal eschews a linear narrative, instead bouncing around in time and space (an early reference to Billy Pilgrim sets this up nicely) while using the year of 2013 as a touchstone—a pivotal year in Sagal’s life, begun with his witnessing the horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon, and subsumed with a messy divorce that left him a bachelor in his forties. Though not shining from rough subjects, the tone is never maudlin, and Sagal demonstrates a keen wit throughout.
Jokes are hard to pull off on paper. It’s a skill distinct from stand-up comedy, and Sagal has it. Beyond being funny, the prose has a good momentum to it, lyrical without excess imagery or verbiage. It’s surprising to see an autobiography by a non-writer read so smoothly. Though it did say that he was a playwright at one point, which may explain it. In any case, it made me want to listen to his game show.