Wednesday, April 13, 2011


by Drew Martin

A couple of mornings ago I ran to my town's library with The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb in my hand, which I slid into the book drop-off before sunrise.

I read books about running simply because they bolster my will to run and they spice up the marriage of body and mind. That being said, I no longer read any one book on its own: I immerse myself in a couple books at the same time so I can compare and contrast structure and concept. The other book I am (still) reading is Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin.

The Perfect Mile is a well-researched, well-written and spirited retelling of the mid-20th Century obsession of breaking the 4-minute-mile barrier by three talented runners: Roger Bannister from England (who succeeded first), John Landy from Australia (the rival, who bettered Bannister's time) and Wes Santee from the United States (who never dipped under the mark, a fact that plagued him).

The Perfect Mile is a wholesome and inspiring book. Delta of Venus is quite the opposite, in every way. First and foremost, it is a product of Nin's prolific erotica. While the core of The Perfect Mile is about discipline, willpower and improving oneself, Delta of Venus is about seduction, arousal and physical gratification. Consider one of Nin's characters compared to Bascomb's Olympians,

In all but matters of love, Pierre was helpless. He could not nail a nail to a wall, hang up a picture, repair a book, discuss technical matters of any kind. He lived in terror of servants, concierges, plumbers. He could not make a decision, sign a contract of any sort; he did not know what he wanted.

Roger Bannister, by contrast, was not only a superior athlete but was a doctor as well. In fact, most of his training was done in 35 minutes during his lunch break from St. Mary's Hospital in London. Reading both books at the same time creates a stable center of polar opposites: The Perfect Mile is disciplined, Delta of Venus is loose.

Nin wrote a kind of biographical fiction based of her own feelings and experiences and by opening up those around to tell her about their own romps and fantasies. Bascomb relied on extensive interviews and multi-media/multi-sourced documentation of his subjects' feats in order to relay past events.

Delta of Venus, like Little Birds by Nin, is comprised of short stories, which function very much like the sexual encounters they express: there is a kind of foreplay, climax and then a flaccidity in the way they terminate. While Nin suggests that anything and everything can casually happen, Bascomb writes in the realm of nail-biting suspense, which I am typically immune to but found myself on the edge of my seat a couple times.

The 'Perfect Mile' refers to a showdown mile, more commonly known as the 'Miracle Mile', in which Bannister defeats Landy in the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games. It's 'perfect' because Bannister wins through his patient and even pace, which is the manner how Bascomb unfolds his story and makes us aware that we are still on a journey into the unknown, towards an ever-retreating finish line.

While Nin writes of fleshy love, Bascomb expresses the sublime in running,

...this was the moment he loved most in running, the moment when his spirit fused with the physical act of running.

Nin, however, as a more creative writer, soars even higher at times when she transcends the frolicking,

I felt the dilation of the whole universe.