First up was the exuberant Christopher McDougall (at right, though he looked a lot more casual than that Tuesday), the correspondent who spurred the barefoot running craze with the publication of his book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Knopf, $24.95).
McDougall had a simple question common to all runners: "Why does my foot hurt?" He found some startling answers amid the reclusive Tarahumara tribe in Mexico's remote Copper Canyons: The tribespeople run hundreds of miles in homemade sandals without injury. Why didn't their feet hurt? Ever?
McDougall came onstage wearing the badge of the barefoot runner, Vibram Five Fingers. They're "rubber foot gloves," he explained to the uninitiated. (If you don't know what they are, Google them and marvel at their ugliness...McDougall's were black and thus somewhat less heinous than the ones pictured here).
McDougall has run all over the world, and he had no trouble running in Miami: "I ran across the bridge, looking at the ocean. It was great!'' Humans are "designed to run," he told the audience in the intimate version of the Chapman Conference Center at Miami Dade College.
But if we're made to run, he wondered, "why do most of us hate it?"
His answers to that question were intriguing, though perhaps less so for companies in the athletic shoe business.
After his entertaining presentation, converts and devotees alike compared notes on the barefoot trend. Karen Shane, who stood in line for McDougall's autograph, is a fan of Five Fingers shoes.
"I like them for shorter distances, like doing the bridge," she said. Especially ‘‘after a long day in heels."
Fair chairperson Mitchell Kaplan was ready to join the movement, too. After the program, he got up on stage in his socks, telling everyone, "We're going to have a sneaker burning here tomorrow."
The atmosphere shifted for the second half of the evening, which was quieter but no less intense. Creating a more somber mood was novelist/memoirist Robert Goolrick, who read from his bestselling novel of lust, treachery and redemption, A Reliable Wife (Algonquin, $14.95 in paper), and from his
searing memoir The End of the World as We Know It: Scenes from a Life (Algonquin, $13.95 in paper). He started with a steamy passage from Wife, the one "people complain about on Amazon, saying there's too much s-e-x." We can't reprint it here, but it contrasted greatly with the poignant passage he read from World, about his father's abuse.
Asked about the themes that recur in his work, be it fiction or nonfiction, Goolrick smiled somewhat ruefully: "Life is hard," he said. "It's hard for everybody."