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How Not to Run Is Okay, but Don't Ask These Two How Not to Write a Best-Seller

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The authors’ hero is Calvin (‘I do not choose to run’) Coolidge

They are a pair of “mild and lazy guys,” they say. “I almost don’t exist,” yawns Lewis Grossberger, whose favorite non-activity is to lie in bed and “watch the little dust balls blow across the floor.” His partner in sloth, Vic Ziegel, used to jog. Luckily, he hurt his back (“a million-dollar wound”) and stopped.

Somehow Ziegel and Grossberger summoned the energy to collaborate on a non-book, specifically The Non-Runner’s Book. They were hoping for a walkaway success. Instead they found themselves with a runaway triumph—a fourth printing already, 200,000 copies, even an Australian edition.

Where did they go wrong? First, the numbers all but doomed Non-Runner’s to the best-seller list (paperback, the only form it comes in). The United States may now be a land of 25 million people who jog, but that means a land of 192 million who don’t. These Americans have long yearned for advice in pursuing a non-sport which, as the authors point out, can be “done anywhere, anytime, wholesale.”

Ziegel and Grossberger furthermore did not succeed in writing a non-bestseller because they are incorrigibly funny men. The book advises non-runners to start slowly, at first only a few minutes a day. As they spend more time not running the benefits become obvious—increased body weight, drowsiness and a new willingness to sit through TV game shows. Also included are a chapter on “Sex and the Single Non-Runner” and helpful hints on avoiding the Boston Marathon (take a green-and-white pill and sleep it off).

The authors claim on the book jacket that they are “rich and successful sneaker manufacturers” who want to atone for the damage they’ve done to joggers’ feet. In truth, Ziegel, 41, and Grossberger, 38, are former New York Post reporters. They cranked out their book in 45 days, cushioned by a modest $7,500 advance. “I wrote the adjectives and nouns,” says Grossberger. “Vic did the verbs and we split the conjunctions.” Actually, corrects Ziegel, “Lew did the tops of the pages and I did the bottoms.”

Ziegel, who was one of the writers of the short-lived 1976 Jim Bouton TV series Ball Four, was a sports reporter and columnist for 17 years. Grossberger worked for The Baltimore Sun and Long Island’s Newsday until 1971 when he dropped out for two years. He won the admiration of the nine-to-five crowd once with a piece for The New York Times about not working called “Nothing Doing.” (“I knew that sustaining nothing 24 hours a day wouldn’t be easy, but then nothing worth doing ever is.”)

Although the two men live only a few blocks from each other in Greenwich Village, Ziegel, who has been married almost three years to TV story editor Roberta Becker, has never seen Grossberger’s bachelor digs. In 1977 Grossberger earned only $6,000 free-lancing for newspapers and magazines but is characteristically uncertain about prosperity. “Once you have a best-selling book,” he observes gloomily, “there is no place to go but down. I’m about ready to call it a career.”

Ziegel, a jazz and trivia buff, says he decided to write the non-runner’s bible out of spite over the deluge of jogging books (“I was waiting for one in Yiddish”). Fearlessly he predicts that all running in America will cease this March 23. Rain date is March 29. “We do see it coming back a bit in June,” he grudgingly allows, “for nostalgia’s sake.”