September 22nd, 2021 | Char Binns
“Stories are a communal currency of humanity,” wrote the writer Tahir Shah. In many ways, Shah captures exactly why Bookhounds exist; to share stories that tap into human emotions. Desire, ambition, fear, strength, joy…
When we experience these emotions in the books we read, they are relatable regardless of the situation. We may not all have the drive or inclination to run 200km through the desert, but we can all relate to the emotions behind the adventures and the feelings experienced during the run.
Yet there is more to it. That word “communal” is correct of course, but only in theory. When it comes to stories about running and runners, books help to easily disseminate these tales. Gatekeepers in both publishing and the running industry however, imagine that readers prefer books written by certain types of people, on certain aspects of running. Let’s be honest, the vast majority of sports books are written by able-bodied, slim, White men (we could also add heterosexual and cisgender). Many of these books are fabulous and we’ll be sharing the best of these stories. But at Bookhounds, we’re committed to celebrating and showcasing the full diversity of our running community. From feats of superhuman determination and Olympic conquests, to the accidental athletes and Parkrun plodders.
In 2020, Black Trail Runners launched, with the aim to make trail running more accessible for people of colour. They stated: “Black and minority communities [are] excluded from the narrative of trail running”. And that’s the problem. Our sport, from the books published, to brand marketing images, to podcast hosts, to the sizing of running kit; it all adds to the notion that runner = a very specific type of person. It paints a picture of the running community that excludes, rather than welcomes, a whole range of people.
At Bookhounds, the books we select each month should represent the diversity of our community of runners. But in reality, we’re going to struggle to do this. The diversity of books (rather than a diversity of runners), simply doesn’t exist. When mould-breaking authors have actually been given a chance, they are often self-published or come through small indie publishers, meaning that the standard isn’t as high or they are only published in limited runs, so we can’t source the quantity needed for our subscribers.
Groups like Black Trail Runners are shining the spotlight on issues rarely discussed in the running community. Another important one for us is that we read A LOT of running books, but to date, we’ve not read a single story written by an out LGBTQIA runner. Does it matter? It comes back to representation and relatability, of course. But more so, as society’s approach to gender and sexuality changes, our highly binary sport is struggling to adapt. Debates around the inclusion of intersex and transgender runners are on only going to increase. World Athletics decision to ban lesbian athletes Caster Semenya and Dutee Chand are just the tip of the iceberg. For LGBTQIA runners seeking queer role models, it is easier to find examples of bans and regulations against queer runners, rather than celebration and welcome.
So if we can’t find representation in the books we share, we aim to raise those hidden voices elsewhere, whether on our podcasts, as paid guest bloggers or in our newsletters, we’re here to champion ALL runners. Meanwhile, as we grow, we hope to put pressure on publishers, until someday we have books that include all kinds of runners’ stories.
Want to help? Email email@example.com and let’s chat.