Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Born To Run

Tramps like us, baby we were bo-orn to run. Whoa-o-o-oh. Wah-o-o-o-oh-o.

Sorry. Bruce Springsteen flashback. First thing I think of when I hear the words "born to run." Appropriately, the author paid homage to The Boss with an excerpt from the song in one of the chapter headings. (I don't think that's the right thing to call those quotes at the beginning of each chapter. Epigraph doesn't seem right, either. Anyone know?)

Okay. So the book with the really long subtitle. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall. Usually things with titles this long are published in scholarly journals. Anyway, I never would have picked up this book if it hadn't been the pick for April. (Although I just found out that May is National Runner's Month. Should've waited. Oh well.) I probably would have never even seen it, since I loiter in the fiction section of the library. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to read. Not exciting enough to keep me awake late at night (though in all fairness I don't think I have ever found a nonfiction book with that ability) but interesting enough that it wasn't hard to pick up again. I wanted to know what happened next. I did wonder how it could be so long, though. A hundred pages in I was wondering what was left to tell. The author digresses a lot and throws in some of the backstories for his odd ensemble of characters.

Ultradistance running. Distance running. Running. Not really my thing. My body likes the endorphin rush from running, but I'd rather get it by exercising in some other way. And since I'm not willing to go running with kids in tow, nor am I motivated enough to do it in the early morning or late evening hours in order to go by myself - I'd rather be sleeping or reading - I don't do it at all unless I'm playing chase, tag, soccer, etc., with the aforementioned kids. So I don't know how I came to be surrounded by runners. My chiropractor brother likes running. His wife runs half-marathons and is training for full ones. One brother-in-law does triathlons. Another sister-in-law just ran a 200-mile race with a team of several other people. I have several friends who love to run. I don't know how they do it. Running until I puke does not sound like fun to me. But McDougall makes a good case for giving it a shot. I almost believe that running could be a hidden superpower that I possess. Almost.

This post should probably go on my personal blog. It's not much of a book review. But the book is good. Almost like a collection of articles that were combined to make a book. Interesting tidbits about the science of running, shoe companies being the bad guys, diet, and the people who are passionate about ultradistance running. The thing that would have made the book better for me is a section of photographs of these crazy characters. They are so out there that they seem fictional. But I Googled a couple of the names and they are real people. And here's a photograph of Scott Jurek and one of the Tarahumara runners (maybe Arnulfo? There was mention of a photograph like this one in the book). If you're a runner, you should definitely read Born to Run. If you're thinking about becoming a runner, don't waste your money on an expensive pair of shoes.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Peter and the Starcatchers

Alright, I have a confession to make. I've been hooked on another series of books and have been reading them, instead of our book club books. Naughty, I know :) Cory started reading Peter and the Starcatchers (since I was neglecting it, oops!) and he said it was intriguing. I started reading it and bam, was hooked. It's entertaining and the characters were interesting. I wanted to find out what happened, so I kept reading.

And now, can I just say "amen" to Chad's post and call it good? I agree with him. The characters were all well-developed. It was very entertaining (I love Dave Barry... I've always thought he's hilarious). It did move quickly and made for a short, but good, read. It was adventurous. Witty. And I loved how they threw in some other references -- like how the Loch Ness monster was created, or how all the Greek mythology was actually people just hopped up on 'starstuff'.

The ending did feel a little rushed to me, too. Within the space of only a few pages, Peter defeats Black Stache (love that name, by the way), learns he can fly, learns he won't grow old, decides to stay forever on the island, and gets a fairy. I think a little more details would have been good, since the rest was more well-developed. But it was still a thoroughly enjoyable read. I'm definitely going to look into getting the other books in the series from the library.

Friday, March 18, 2011

On sale now...

Just in case somebody hasn't started Peter and the Starcatchers yet, it's on sale at Audible for $5. I've been buying audio books from them for a couple years and like the company a lot. Unfortunately I bought it a couple weeks ago before the sale. This particular book is narrated very well.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Peter and the Starcatchers

As with most books I "read" these days, I listened to the audio version of Peter and the Starcatchers. I started it with my son Kevin, (6 yrs old) but at the pace we were going, it would have taken us a couple months to finish. I ended up reading most of it Friday while working in my shop. Kevin is really in to it, and this is a great book to enjoy with younger kids! Who doesn't like a good pirate story?

My background of Peter Pan is mostly limited to a few plays and a condensed version on vinyl I listened to as a kid. I don't even recall seeing the Disney movie before, although I've watched Robin Williams in Hook, and perhaps a couple others. In another post Never Fairy mentioned this book doesn't follow the original storyline very well, but due to my ignorance, I was able to thoroughly enjoy it anyway.

Reading Starcatchers reminded me a lot of Treasure Island, but better. I found the pace moved quickly, the characters entertaining, and the production (Audible version) outstanding. Aside from Peter and Molly, I liked other characters such as Tubby Ted, (we share similar priorities) Black Stache and his "ladies", and the token big dumb sidekick, Little Richard.

My only complaint is the ending felt a little rushed while tying this in to the original Peter Pan story. The future Captain Hook and his nemesis Mr Grin were developed well, but other elements like the realization of Peter's flight, his inability to age, and creation of Tinkerbell all seemed to be jammed in at the last minute. All things considered, this was a fun light read, and Dave Barry's humorous undertones kept me smiling. I'm sure I'll check out the next three books in this series!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March and April Books

March's book: Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry. (Did anyone else know that Barry wrote books, not just columns?! I just found out and am excited to read this book... I've heard good things!) It's the 1st in a series of 3 books. It's supposed to be like a prequel to Peter Pan.

April's book: Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall.


Ok so I know everyone isn't done with February's book (and by that, I mean me :) Should we pick a new one for March? Or just extend The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society into March? Thoughts? I've got an idea of something that would be fun to read... plus, I think all you peeps with kids (who are old enough to read) would enjoy sharing it with your kids...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Greets from the Frozen North!

Hi everybody, figured it's about time I introduce myself.

I know Sarah through her husband Cory, whom I grew up with in Utah. Newly married in 1998, I joined the Air Force and received orders to Anchorage, Alaska where we instantly fell in love with the state. To remain here, I eventually transferred to the Alaska Air National Guard, and also took a job with the FAA as an electronic tech. Much of my time is spent traveling around Alaska maintaining navigational aids, radio and satellite communication sites, and weather stations. About once a year I take a temporary duty assignment or deployment with the Air Force, and have enjoyed the opportunity to travel throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa.

My lovely wife hails from Hong Kong, and we have two children. Kevin is 6, in 1st grade, and developing into quite the reader as we tackle Harry Potter together. Alexa will be 3 soon and still working on her ABC's. Our family loves living in Alaska and take advantage of the many recreational activities here. Reading everyone's introductions, it's interesting to see several others with ties to this beautiful state!

Although I've loved reading all my life, audio books have spurred my interest in the last couple years. A good deal of my day is spent driving, and I've found the time is well spent listening to books I wouldn't otherwise have time to read. I've tried to revisit some classics I missed like The Count of Monte Cristo, (which I now love)but my main focus lies with history, science, and adventure biographies. Look me up on Goodreads if you'd like to see what I've been reading.

I've never belonged to a book club before, but I really enjoy discussing what I've read. I look forward to getting to know everyone and perhaps expanding my horizons a bit. While I don't see myself getting sucked into Twilight anytime soon, I'm sure there are plenty other great books we will share a common interest in!

Chad's take

I better review this while it's still fresh in my memory... Although I don't consider myself well-read on WWII, I have enjoyed a dozen books or so (mostly non-fiction) that take place during this most significant period in recent history. Nearly everything I've read takes the perspective of American and Allied troops in the midst of battle, and only mentions civilian life of those left behind in passing.

What I enjoyed most about this book, were the descriptions of how a community far removed from the front lines lived through Nazi occupation, the threat of air raids, and other horrors of war by forming social networks like their literary society. It illustrates that people must learn to cope with the tragic circumstances they find themselves in. Survivors strive to find constructive distractions to demoralizing chaos. In a way, I could draw parallels to the aftermath of 9/11 in our own time.

Several letters, Eben Ramsey's account of the pig roast in particular, were very poignant and interesting to read. I imagine that his description of a farmer forced to provide food to an enemy army was very realistic. I also appreciated Dawsey Adams insight and introspection which were in stark contrast to the effeminate Clovis Fossey blathering on about women's purses and heels or dim-witted Isola Pribby's forensic skills.

Other than published diaries, I've never run across a book that uses a written letter format exclusively to tell the story. After reading this, I can see why. Without a narrator or outside voice to tie up loose ends, the author is forced to fill in details using mundane telegrams and other short bantering correspondence which made parts of the book seem like eavesdropping on someone's private text message session. I'm sure some of that is necessary to move the story along when the authors commit to this style of writing, but it really highlights the weakness and tediousness of the format.

I had a hard time connecting with the characters and therefore never developed a reason to care much about them or become emotionally attached. Something about the way that these different personalities came together and bonded around Elizabeth just didn't ring true to me. Similarly, Juliet's passion to devote her life to her Guernsey pen pals seemed a bit overzealous didn't it?

In the end, there were parts I really enjoyed, especially the powerful and emotional observations of war through civilian eyes. Unfortunately, these moments were fleeting and far between. I realize that I'm not exactly the target audience the authors had in mind, but I honestly did try to put my biases aside and read this objectively. I believe the author's chosen format was the biggest drawback for me, but that aside, I just couldn't find much to appreciate about this story.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I have to say that this was my second time reading this book and I found it just as delightful as the first time. I hope some of you other readers liked it also.

I remember being a little apprehensive at the outset the first time when I saw that the book was written in the format of letters. I wasn't sure how that would go. Then I thought, "well, I've read books written entirely in the form of emails and text messages, so I can probably handle letters." Once I really got started, the letter format turned out to be great. The voices of the different characters were very evident and I really started to feel like I knew these people. There is something so personal about writing letters. Except for missionaries writing home (and who knows if they write letters anymore now that they can email?) and the occasional thank-you note, letter-writing seems to be a lost art.

I think the characters are so wonderful and vivid. I love Juliet's spirit and how she seems to be so hopelessly prone to trouble: throwing books and teapots at people, somehow breaking Sidney's leg, breaking china... Isola, Amelia, Eben, and even Elizabeth, who we never met but is such a central figure in the book - they're all great. I'm adding Dawsey Adams to my list of literary crushes. Quiet, hardworking, loves to read, saves mementos, unfailingly loyal...it all adds up. I think his reluctance to tell Juliet of his feelings has less to do with his own insecurities and lack of experience with relationships and more to do with a misunderstanding of her feelings. I think he sees Juliet with Mark or Sidney and doesn't want to get in the way of her happiness, thinking that she may be in love with either of those men. Very considerate of him to not want to burden her more or possibly keep her from her desires, even though he is miserable.

I was also impressed with the portrayal of Christian's character. It's so easy to paint a picture of any World War II-era German in a negative light. Hitler was a monster. He made his followers do terrible things. That does not necessarily mean that everyone who was a soldier then was a bad person or even that they believed in Hitler's cause. Without having proof (I bet it's out there somewhere though), I can only speculate that there were men and women who were simply following orders, doing so in fear of repercussions for disobedience. (Actually, there is a man in our church ward here who was a member of Hitler's youth program, simply because he had no other choice. Very interesting story. But I digress.) Much like the young women mentioned in the novel who took up with soldiers as a means to an end, a way to provide for their families when times were so desperate. Anyway, I liked how some of the Islanders developed relationships, even friendships, with some of the occupying soldiers. Christian in particular is portrayed as being kind, thoughtful, and willing to help the ordinary Guernsey citizens when he was able to do so. The cemetery groundskeeper, when talking to Juliet, shared accounts not only of Christian being kind and helpful but also of other soldiers dropping potatoes, oranges, and coal off the backs of trucks and even procuring medicine for the sick. It's nice to read accounts that the German soldiers weren't just machines, but human beings with feelings and families and the like.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. Can't wait to hear what you thought of it.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Book for February

For the month of February, we're reading:

"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

Cheers! (Thanks Carly for the suggestion)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Anyone Out There?

Hey all.

I know we have all been on a hiatus for a while. I'm just wondering if anyone is still interested in participating in this reading group. There are so many great books we can read and discuss! I realize that we all are busy; perhaps we could find a way to share the burden (if that's what it is) and each take a turn in selecting the books we read, so that the decision isn't always on Sarah. Just a thought.

Does anyone even ever check this blog anymore?