July 05, 1982 12:00 PM

by James E. Shapiro

Why would anyone want to run 3,027 miles across this country, from the Pacific Ocean to New York’s Central Park? The author, a pastry chef, a runner of ultramarathons and a student of Zen Buddhism, did it so he could ask himself that question. As he covered 40 to 50 miles a day, Shapiro’s life was all but lost in the highways of America: “Each day seemed an immensity in itself, a vast epoch of change and emotion, hell and paradise both that obliterated the memory of all previous days.” The details become obsessive to the reader too: the ordering of a “superlightweight” sleeping bag and pack, the cost of the trip ($3,000), the ingestion of huge quantities of liquid and food. Throughout, the author tries to supply answers to his original question. When he makes it across the first state, he observes: “Maybe I think I’m running into happiness, running to some spot in the future of my life where I will always be happy.” A wise physician once suggested members of that profession secretly expect that by learning about saving lives they can avoid dying. Shapiro suggests that many runners believe they can simply outrun death. (Random House, $12.50)

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