Several years ago Lawrence Block, author of over 60 mystery
novels, told me that he could write a cookbook and it would
probably be shelved in the mystery section of bookstores. As a
novelist for the past half-century, Block has created some of the
greatest mystery series of all time --- from the dark stories
involving alcoholic private eye Matt Scudder to the lighter
mysteries featuring burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr to the
stamp-collecting hit man known as Keller.
But now he has written a memoir that deserves to join his
mysteries on the bestseller list, if not the mystery shelf. STEP BY
STEP is a memoir, not of the writing life, but of the walking life.
It is also the story of an intellectually honest and adventurous
man who has struggled to overcome his demons and excel in living.
Unlike many recent memoirs, this is not a book about victimization;
it is about living a life to the fullest.
Both the journalist and novelist have some personal cover while
practicing their craft. The reporter can take refuge behind facts;
the novelist behind his imagination. And readers of the latter can
discover the writer’s voice in his or her style or tone. They
can also strive to get glimpses of the author through his
characters or the settings in which they exist. At the end of the
day, it is, after all, fiction, and any resemblance to those living
or dead is, as they say in the movies, purely coincidental. But
real life is rarely so simple.
STEP BY STEP is written in the same conversational, graceful
style that has made Block the ideal writer to study for those
interested in learning the craft. Indeed, his only nonfiction
titles before this one were four instructional books for writers,
two of them gleaned from his work for many years as the fiction
columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine.
So how do you write a memoir about walking? Well, this
isn’t exactly strolling down to the grocery store for a
six-pack of beer and newspaper, which I have practiced for many
years and am very good at. Much of this book involves racewalking.
That is the rather odd-looking sport that definitely is not
running. It consists of the stiff knee, leg in constant contact
with mother earth, arms swinging at the sides, a sort of rapid
propulsion forward. As the Supreme Court once said of pornography,
you would know it when you see it.
And Block excelled at it. In 2006, at the age of 68, he competed
in 18 races, including six marathons and two 24-hour races,
covering a total of 375 miles. Between 2005 and 2007, he took part
in 52 races, including 11 marathons and seven “ultras.”
We learn that ultras are races that can go for 24 hours or even
days and cover hundreds of miles. Block covered 70 miles in one
Indeed, we meet in these pages many highly motivated athletes
who take part in the sport. If you walk 100 miles in 24 hours, you
become a Centurion. If I did it, I would become a corpse. But to
each his own.
Block traces his enthusiasm for walking back to his early years
growing up in Buffalo, New York, and his inability to learn how to
ride a bike at the age of 10. A boy in Buffalo had to have a b