12 Books, The Literature of Running: An Interactive Timeline/Reading List

To accompany Roger Robinson's web exclusive piece "Marathons of Memory, Marathons of Life" and his essay "Filling the Unforgiveble Minute: The Literature of Running" in the print edition of WLT, intern Kaitlin Hawkins takes us through Robinson's timeline of running literature.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Author unknown

“It all goes back to the Sumerian myth of Gilgamesh, who runs ‘faster’ than the wind’ for twelve hours through the deep darkness of the underworld.”


The Holy Bible

The Bible

Various Authors

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

“The saintliness starts with St. Paul, who uses analogies from training and racing so often and so knowledgeably in his epistles that he was surely a runner, or a coach, or a fan.... ‘Every athlete goes into strict training. They do it for a fading wreath; we, a wreath that never fades. For my part, I run with a goal in front of me.’”

1 Timothy 4:7, Acts 20:24, 2 Timothy 4:7

“Paul the coach challenges you: ‘Keep yourself in training for the practices of religion,’ ‘finish the race and complete the task,’ so that at the last you can say, ‘I have run the great race. I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.’”



Takeshi Kimoto

The Iliad


“[Homer] also catches the excitement of the crowd, leaning close in as the runners go by, and the sense of seeming to slip free from gravity that can lift the winning runner to the sprint.”


Nick Lake


John Milton

Amazon Buy

“‘I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immportal garland is to be run for not without dust and heat.’”


Suzanne Fisher Staples


Robert Louis Stevenson

“In Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, Dabie Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart, after many hours of running through the Highlands to escape the redcoats, become ‘really wearied ... toiling, stumbling ... and white as dead folks.’”


Charles Sorley

“Song of the Ungirt Runners”

Charles Sorley


“Seemingly so simple, the poem is infused with the deep disorientation of that anxious generation (‘We know not whom we trust’), as well as affirmation that some things, like running, are not done ‘for cause’ or ‘for prize,’ but simply because they give us contact with the natural world, and a bond with one another that goes deeper than any social or military hierarchy.”


A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

James Joyce

“Little Stephen Dedalus gets his glasses broken by a bicyclist while he’s running on the school cinder track, but the association stays so positively in his memory that he later describes a speeding train at night as flinging ‘the little glimmering stations ... behind her ... like fiery grains flung backwards by a runner.’”


Qiu Xiaolong

“The Racer”

John Masefield

Representative Poetry Online

“But most often running is something intense, an every-second-counts commitment, ‘the racer ... staring with fiery eyeballs,’ a rush of thumping blood that makes the ‘soul kindle’...”


Death Comes For The Archbishop

Death Comes for the Archbishop

Willa Cather

“Willa Cather has an exquisite image for Native American (Zuni) runners, who ‘coursed over the sand with the fleetness of young antelopes, their bodies disappearing and reappearing among the sand dunes, like the shadows that eagles cast in their strong, unhurried flight.’”


A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

The Last Battle

C.S. Lewis

“The Christian allegorist C. S. Lewis identified a pleasure in the sheer movement of running that dedicated runners will understand: ‘If one could run without getting tired, I don’t think one would often want to do anything else.’”


A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Forty Lashes Less One

Elmer Leonard

“Elmore Leonard writes of runners who ‘become lost in the monotonous stride of their pace ... thinking of nothing at all ... not feeling the agony of running.’”


Death Comes For The Archbishop

Dubin's Lives

Bernard Malamud

“For Bernard Malamud’s sexually declining Dubin, his daily run is a ‘creation’ for which he is ‘insatiable.... He had fitted himself for the task.’”