My copy of Again to Carthage arrived this week, so I gave it a read through. It is a very different book than Once a Runner. You can read and enjoy Carthage without having read the first book, (which is good as it still costs in the hundreds of dollars,) and fans of the first book will certainly appreciate all of the references that are made. The sequel is much less about running and living, and instead concentrates on an older protagonist going through a mid-life crisis. The running seems secondary rather than central to the sequel, and does not take a central role in the book until more than halfway through it.
A lot of people die in this book, and it seems to be a central theme that propels Quentin Cassidy into his quest for the Olympic Marathon. Not all of the deaths seemed necessary, either.
Not quite as much time is spent on his actual training in Carthage; an entire year is skipped from the end of one chapter to the beginning of the next. There is a more serious but just as comical “court” scene in the book, and it was interesting to find the different stories woven throughout that John Parker had told about his own life when he spoke at Maine Running Company this Summer.
Again to Carthage includes real people in it, unlike Once a Runner which only had fictional versions of real people. I have read in a few reviews that it could be a bit disconcerting as people were taken out of their proper eras and mixed and matched, but I was not given that same sense of discombobulation. First, the real people that appear in the novel are only very minor characters. They do not really impact the story very much.
Second, the peak of their careers were all before my time. I was born in 1980, and the book takes place in the late 1970s. I have only read about or watched taped footage of the people that appear in the book, and those that I have met in person are much older than they were in their prime.
The final race in the novel was a mix of the comical and knowing exactly what it felt like. John Parker has a knack for describing what means to be a runner, and while I’ve never had a race quite like the one in the book I have had individual experiences from it in different races.
The outcome was a little predictable, but I enjoyed the end of the race where he was running from his own ghost. I have had many runs where I thought that somebody was behind me, only to discover that I was running away from my own shadow or footsteps.
I am still looking forward to purchasing a 3rd copy of Once a Runner, and I think that it is the better book of the two. When I first read it, I was living the life that was being described for Quentin Cassidy. I was a college runner with a college runner’s lifestyle. At the time that I first read Once a Runner, I could envision myself running on the team with Cassidy.
Perhaps in a few years my perspective will have changed and I will be able to relate a little better to Cassidy in Carthage. I haven’t quite reached the same point in my life, but I can certainly imagine it. Fans of the first book are going to enjoy reading Again to Carthage, and I think that it has enough mass market appeal that most people would be able to pick the book up and give it a read through.
I enjoyed reading it, and will certainly read it again. I do not think that I would consider purchasing a 3rd copy after the first two went walking, though, or that I will read it as many times as I have read Once A Runner. Again to Carthage will make a great holiday gift for any runners that you might know, if they have not already picked a copy of it up.