Monday, July 11, 2011

HISTORICAL fiction vs. historical FICTION

The White Queen: A Novel (The Cousins' War)
I was over at my aunt's house a couple of weeks ago. She's a prolific reader, and we were downstairs looking at some of her books.  She lent me a few...perfect timing since it was right before we left on vacation.

The first book was The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory.  She has written extensively about the Tudor period in England, and I've read many of her books.  This one was set earlier in England's history during the War of the Roses, a period I don't know much about.  The book is from the perspective of Elizabeth Woodville, a minor noblewoman who changes allegiance from the Lancaster to the York sides when she falls in love with the king.  I really enjoyed the story.  The characters were well-drawn and the plot was really interesting.  I love getting to learn a little while I read, and good historical fiction really makes the past come alive.  Definitely worth reading.

Daughter of York: A Novel
Next, I read Anne Easter Smith's Daughter of York.  Written about the same time period and with many of the same historical figures, this book tells the story of Margaret of York, the king's sister, and her love affair with Anthony Woodville, the queen's brother.  This was also a well-written and interesting book.  I really cared about the characters and was invested in their story.  It was a little confusing sometimes to keep all of the characters straight (lots of similar the fact that King Edward and both of his brothers all had sons named Edward).  I found myself really rooting for Margaret and Anthony and enjoyed their story.

***If all you want is a quick review of both books, stop here.  The next part includes a spoiler about Daughter of York.***

Finally, at the end of Daughter of York, after all kinds of trials and tribulations, Margaret sails off for Burgundy knowing that she and Anthony are going to get to be together.  Yea for the happy ending!  Unfortunately (for my love of happy endings and for history), then I read the author's note, where she basically says 1) there's no historical evidence that there was ever a love affair between Margaret and Anthony and 2) shortly after she left England he married someone else and she endured some tragic losses of loved ones.

As far as I'm concerned, this latter book is a good story, but it's not historical fiction.  It's taking historical characters and using them in a story of your own making.  I'm laughing at myself saying this, but I felt a little betrayed after reading that note.  In my mind, historical fiction takes what really happened and brings it to life.  Yes, of course the author has to make up details that didn't make it into source materials, create minor characters, and imagine conversations, but the heart of the story is true.  In contrast, the heart of Daughter of York was pure conjecture.

What do you think?  Do I need to take a breath, have a drink, and get a life?  Do you like historical fiction?  Would that annoy you?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

This week in books...

Just finished:
Forever: A Novel

Quick and dirty review: Historical fiction, set in New York City (I always think of that commercial when I say New York City), from the point of view of a man who lives forever but can't leave the boundaries of Manhattan.

Interesting fact: The author finished the book on Sept. 10, 2001.  The next day's events led to a significant rewrite of the end.  I'd be interested to read the original ending and see how it was supposed to go.

Verdict: Eh.  Interesting, but not gripping. 

Currently reading (training-related):

Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way To Swim Better, Faster, and Easier

Because, of course, there's no better way to improve one's swimming than read a book about it, right? (rolls eyes)  The book was mentioned by one of the guys at the tri club swim a couple of weeks ago and jumped out at me while I was spending my Barnes & Noble gift card.  Review to come.
Currently reading (non-training related):
The Known World

A manly recommendation.  I'll let you know if his book recommendations are as good as mine when I finish it....which needs to be soon, because after finishing that online class I did this past week (4 months' work in 6 days.  Awesome.  When it was done.) I found out that I can do two more of them.  I need the credits, so I'm going to do it, but it means spending an awful lot of time at the computer and NO recreational reading.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book review: The New Rules of Lifting for Women

Back in January, I blogged about my goals for the year. Number 6 was "Go to the gym/strength workout 1x week."  That's not very often, but usually I do much better by setting low goals that are easily surpassed than by setting more ambitious goals and promptly failing them.  Even with setting the bar very low, though, I think I made it to the gym about 8 times between January and May, and all of those were to use the treadmill. I was on track to completely failing my strength training goal.

Before, any strength training I did was just aimlessly using the Nautilus machines at the gym.  I didn't really know what to do or have money for a personal trainer, and those seemed pretty idiot-proof. Then, I was reading a friend's blog following his family's progress in training for a marathon and in response to one of my comments, he suggested I check out The New Rules of Lifting for Women.  I trust his advice, so I ordered the book, and I'm so glad I did.  I'm one of those people who does better with a plan--somebody else's plan that I can just follow.  For me, this book is that plan.

The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess
The full title is The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess.  That sounds pretty good to me.  It basically has three parts:
  • Dispelling the myth that if you lift heavy weights you'll end up looking like a musclebound man and building a case for lifting heavier free weights.
  • Rationale behind fueling for muscle building (hint: you'll probably eat more)
  • Detailed strength training plan
  • "Diet" plan (I put "diet" in quotation marks because it isn't a diet as we typically think of the word)
I've read the book all of the way through once, most of the way through again, and I continually refer back to it.  I've bought into the program, for sure.  I like the way that he built evidence for the type of exercise and for the way that you should be eating.  I love the strength training.  I need something very detailed.  Do this, this is how.  Next, do this and this.  That's just how the book is set up.  It focuses strongly on free weights and calls for strength workouts 2-3 times a week. Other than one week where I only got in two workouts because my shoulder was sore from volleyball, I've been consistently at the gym 3x week for the past month or so. 

The one part I don't love is the chapter on the diet plan.  It has charts to help you figure out how many calories you should be eating (for a lot of women, probably more than you think), information on the amount of protein you should be eating (for me, WAY more than I typically eat...this has been a real challenge), and some sample recipes.  Remember how I said I need specifics?  This isn't specific enough for me.  Now, that's mostly my failing rather than the book's.  For someone who doesn't need their information spoon-fed to them, it would probably be sufficient.

Like I said, I've been consistently following the strength plan for a few weeks.  I haven't yet seen much difference on my body, but I'm definitely seeing an improvement in the amount of weight that I can lift.  For example, I started out doing squats with just the 45 pound bar, and now I'm up to 105 pounds (on purpose...I did do two sets of 115 pounds because of a math error, but that was pretty uncomfortable.  By the end of the week, though, I should be back to 115 for real).   It's quite a process...there are a total of 7 stages--18 total workouts in the first stage, and then between 8-10 workouts in the subsequent stages. (If you buy the book, do a google search of the title and you'll find several websites where people have made up training logs.  You'll have to have some info from the book in order to access the logs, but they're pretty handy.)

I've started following the eating part a little bit, and I'm planning to really look at what I'm eating a little better so that I'm full-on "on the plan".  Then, when I'm finished with all of the stages, I'll show you my progress. I have some atrocious pictures of me in my shorts and sports bra to serve as "before" pictures.  Hopefully I have some thin good after pictures so that I can show them side by side when I'm finished with the program.  Stay tuned...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Book review: Little Bee, by Chris Cleave

Conventional wisdom warns us not to judge a book by it's cover, but that's typically exactly how I choose my reading material. A visually arresting cover or a good blurb on the back are a must. Luckily, Little Bee had the former and just enough of the latter to catch my interest.

The back basically tells you "we aren't going to tell you much about this book because we don't want to spoil the surprise, but trust us that you'll like it". That, to me, is a dangerous sales tactic because it sets you up for disappointment if the story isn't up to the hype, but in this case they were absolutely right.

All I knew was that the book deals with the repercussions of a chance meeting in Nigeria between an English woman and a Nigerian girl. I had a guess at their relationship before I started reading, and I was dead wrong. The story was much more--and much more powerful--than i had imagined. Like the back cover of the book, I'm left with telling you that I don't want to spoil it by giving out too much information about the plot.

Working first back in time and then forwards, the story is told in chapters that alternate between the two women's voices. The male author did a pitch-perfect job writing for his female characters. It's probably the best I've read of a male writer narrating through his female characters since Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone. It's a powerful story with well-written characters and a very engaging plot. I bought the book Wednesday night and finished it Thursday morning. I just couldn't put it down. Even now, several days later, the characters are still with me. Definitely worth reading.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Book review: This is Where I Leave You

I read this book last year and then reread it so that I could blog about it.  I was starting to notice that most of the books I review here are books I wasn't crazy about.  I think that's because it's so much easier to talk about what you don't like than what you do...but I'm going to try with this one.

This Is Where I Leave You

Judd Foxman is still reeling from his wife's affair with his Howard Stern-ish boss when his father passes away from cancer.  Despite the fact that his father was a dedicated atheist, his last wish was that the family would sit shiva for 7 days.  This is no small request of a family that tolerates each other best in small doses, and issues most certainly arise.  In the midst of the Foxmans' typical -- and atypical -- sibling drama, Judd's soon-to-be-ex-wife arrives with an announcement that further throws him for a loop.

Sounds like a laugh a minute, right?  And yet, this book is hilarious.  I was reading sections aloud to my husband in the first five pages.  From Judd's discovery of his wife's adultery to their mother's wildly inappropriate conversational topics to his efforts to defuse the good-intentioned matchmaking of shiva callers with eligible daughters to the family's attendance at temple, there are some laugh out loud moments.  At the same time, it's really a touching book and a great look at their complicated family dynamics.  I won't tell you how it ends, but I can tell you that, like in real life, there's always more to the story than the characters see from their side of the conflict.

Well worth reading.  And of course, if you do read it, come back and tell me what you thought.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"I'm easy" giveaway

I recently reviewed The Extra Mile, by Pam Reed, on my book blog.  I don't think I'll be reading it again, and I'm trying to keep the amount of stuff in our house to a minimum, so I thought I'd give it away.  Yes, perhaps I should have learned my lesson about giving it away in college, but apparently I haven't.  Lucky you. :)

To enter into the giveaway, here's what you do:
  • * Comment and let me know you want it. 
See? Easy.

In a week or so, I'll randomly choose a winner, and eventually I'll get the book sent to you.  ("Eventually" because, in addition to being easy, I'm lazy.)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Book review: The Extra Mile by Pam Reed

I think I had peripherally heard of Pam Reed, possibly in Born to Run, but I wouldn't have thought to read about her if I hadn't gotten this book as a Valentine's Day present from my husband.  If he'd really thought about what he was doing, he would never have picked it up because the more I read about longer races the more I think, Maybe.....

In this memoir, Reed touches on her upbringing and competitive history, including cheerleading and college tennis.  She doesn't shy away from the more controversial aspects of her life.  She talks matter-of-factly about her struggle with anorexia, although in the book it isn't presented so much as a struggle as it is a quirk, and she is upfront about the way that he second (current) marriage started as an affair. 

Of course, the meat of the book recounts Reed's emergence as a top ultrarunner, notably her surprising first win at Badwater in 2002.  Much of the book recounts her participation in marathons, ultramarathons, and 24- and 48-hour races, but she also takes the time to talk in depth about the sacrifices of her crew and just what it means to crew for an ultra.  She writes about balancing a family and a running career, and she seems very passionate about increasing women's participation in endurance sports.

While Pam Reed's story is one of amazing accomplishments, her book is not a particularly compelling one.  In school, my teachers always emphasized Show, don't tell, and I think this is one of the book's failings. As I said above, it seems very honest and matter-of-fact, but it's just her telling you about her life.  The experience of reading the book wasn't one of being there.  I can't help but compare it to Born to Run (granted, a very different book), which was fascinating.  I felt like I was there.  Moreover, it made me want to throw away my running shoes and run barefoot to Mexico.   Reed's book, on the other hand, didn't inspire me to do anything more than finish so I could move on to something more interesting.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Flashback book review: The Pillars of the Earth

I actually read and reviewed this back in October of 2008, but I'm still in the middle of a couple of books. Not having anything new to post, here's one that's highly recommended reading. I loved this book. Read. Enjoy. Come back to talk about it. :)

The Pillars of the Earth (The Pillars of the Earth, #1)The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has it all. History, architecture, mystery, characters you care about, an interesting plot, and characters you love to hate! And, in almost 1,000 pages, Ken Follett has plenty of space to develop all of the above.

Pillars of the Earth is a sweeping epic, covering decades of English history as it follows several characters and their efforts to build--or stop the building of--a church at Kingsbridge Priory, a monastary in England during the Civil Wars of the 1100s. It's an interesting look at why and how great churches were build in those times, a peek into ways of life very different from most of ours (a monastary, the poor family of a master builder, a king fighting to keep his throne, and a nobleman who'll do anything to increase his power and standing), and a frightening glimpse at what life could be like for ordinary citizens when the powerful people around them were limited only by their own consciences (or, often, lack thereof).

The book may be long, but it is very readable...and you won't want to put it down until you get to the resolution.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thoughts on Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

I will confess that I picked up this book with preconceived notions and the knowledge that it would infuriate me.  I fully expected to spend the entire book arguing with the author because her parenting strategy is very different from mine.  On the first page, Chua writes, "This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones."  And I planned to beg to differ.

First, Chua notes that a "Chinese mother" need not necessarily be Chinese or a mother: "I recently met a supersuccessful white guy from South Dakota...and after comparing notes we decided that his working-class father had definitely been a Chinese mother....Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers."  She also posits that Western parents are a very diverse group and that the term isn't to refer to every parent of non-Chinese descent but just as a generalization. (4)

Here are some of the things that Chua attributes to her ability to raise "stereotypically successful kids".  Here children were never allowed to "attend a sleepover, have a playdate, be in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than piano or violin, not play the piano or violin" (3-4).  Despite the fact that some might compare the "typical American sports parent" and their sometimes blind pursuit of their child's athletic success with Chinese parents, Chua says they are completely different:
Unlike your typical Western overscheduling soccer mom, the Chinese mother believes that (1) schoolwork always comes first; (2) an A-minus is a bad grade; (3) your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math; (4) you must never compliment your children in public; (5) if your child ever disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the teacher or coach; (6) the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal; and (7) that medal must be gold. (5)

To which I say, seriously?? We like to think that we put schoolwork first, and my first instinct is always to side with the teacher/coach.  As far as the others, though, that's not me.  I have one son who's very successful academically and one who's very successful in athletics.  My youngest is seven, and school comes easily to him as well.  On Chua's "never" list, however, we hit every single mark.  My kids have had sleepovers and playdates; my oldest is heavily involved in his high school's drama and chorus clubs, they are huge fans of TV/video games, and they choose their own activities.  One of my children is, unfortunately, well acquainted with the lower ranges of the grading scale. 

Now, I'm not happy about that last item, and I'm not thrilled about the TV/video game thing, either, but I have a hard time seeing that as the end of the world.  As far as the grades, my standpoint has always been a) I know he's a smart kid, but he's disorganized.  His low grades typically come from missing assignments rather than poor test grades; b) once you are a certain age, I really can't hold your hand and make you do your work; c) it's virtually impossible to find out exactly what assignments my high school children have; d) when/(if!) you go to college, I won't be there to help you so you'd better figure out how to get your work done now. 

Unfortunately, Chua pops some holes in my balloon.  In response to a friend's question of rather she pushes her daughters for them or for herself, she responds,
...I'm pretty sure that everything I do is unequivocally 100% for my daughters.  My main evidence is that so much of what I do with Sophia and Lulu is miserable, exhausting, and not remotely fun for me.  It's not easy to make your kids work when they don't want to, to put in grueling hours when your own youth is slipping away, to convince your kids that they can do something when they (and maybe even you) are fearful that they can't.

To be honest, I sometimes wonder if the question...should be asked of Western parents.  Sometimes I wake up in the morning dreading what I have to do and thinking how easy it would be to say, "Sure, Lulu, we can skip a day of violin practice." Unlike my Western friends, I can never say, "As much as it kills me, I just have to let my kids make their choices and follow their hearts. It's the hardest thing in the world, but I'm doing my best to hold back."  Then they get to have a glass of wine and go to a yoga class, whereas I have to stay home and scream and have my kids hate me. (148)

Ouch.  I see so much of myself in that. 

Make no mistake: her children did put in grueling hours.  Her oldest daughter knew her alphabet at 18 months and excelled in math.  "While the other kids were learning to count from 1 to 10 the creative American way--with rods, beads, and cones--I taught Sophia addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and decimals the rote Chinese way." (7)  At three, Sophia began taking piano lessons using the Suzuki method and began excelling.  As the parent was required to be at the lesson, Chua was there each time and then practiced with her daughter ninety minutes a day...unless it was a lesson day, when they practiced twice that long.
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.  To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.  This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.  But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America.  Once the child starts to excel at something--whether it's math, piano, pitching, or ballet--he or she gets praise, admiration, and satisfaction. (29)

Chua's participation is something I noted, too.  She expected more of herself than of her children.  This is a big difference from how I was with my older boys.  She was there at the lesson; I dropped one off at soccer practice, brought the other to practice, studied til practice was over, and then picked them up.  She was there as her older daughter practiced piano and, later, as her younger daughter practiced violin; I told my kids to go practice, and if they didn't, it was on them.  In addition to her career as a Yale law professor and author, she put in a full day's work attending lessons and being right there as her daughters practiced.  And getting them to practice wasn't always an easy task.  She admits that a lot of screaming and threatening went on in their house ("If the next time's not PERFECT, I'm going to TAKE ALL YOUR STUFFED ANIMALS AND BURN THEM!" "Oh, my God, you're just getting worse and worse.")

She admits,
In retrospect, these coaching suggestions seem a bit extreme.  On the other hand, they were highly effective.  Sophia and I were a great mother-daughter fit.  I had the conviction and the tunnel vision drive.  Sophia had the maturity, patience, and empathy I should have had, but didn't.  She accepted my premise that I knew and wanted what was best for her--and she cut me a break when I was bad-tempered and said hurtful things.  (28)

In fact, Sophia later remarks in the book, "Everyone's going to think I was SUBJECTED  to Chinese parenting, but I wasn't.  I went along with it, by my choice (226).  It worked for Sophia, both in the sense that it led to success and that it was a good fit for her.  Lulu, on the other hand, didn't thrive in the system.  Even as a little girl she rebelled against her mother's authoritarian regime.  While Sophia bought into the parental authority, Chua had to bribe, cajole, and threaten her younger daughter on a regular basis.  She writes of telling her that she was a terrible daughter and comparing the two girls to each other.  While that makes me blanch, her point of view is:
Western parents worry a lot about their child's self-esteem.  But, as a parent, one of the worse things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up.  On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't. (62)

Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment.  By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away. (63)

"As I watched American parents slathering praise on their kids for the lowest of tasks--drawing a squiggle or waving a stick--I came to see that Chinese parents have two things over their Western counterparts: (1) higher dreams for their children, and (2) higher regard for their children in knowing how much they can take." (8) 

While I don't necessarily agree with the way that she went about it, I can see a lot of truth in all of these statements.  How many times do you hear an adult say that they'd stuck with piano lessons? Is it really a matter of honoring your child's choice or is it because you're tired of the fight?  That's why we let (made) N quit trombone; he wouldn't practice, I wouldn't lie for him to tell the teacher he did, he got in trouble for not practicing, repeat circle.  And probably what it would have taken is for me to sit in there with him and insist that he practiced. 

I can see a lot of truth in this, too, as it relates to my running.  I say all of the time that if I quit when it started feeling bad I'd never run past the end of my block.  Most of the time, running is work.  Most of the time, I'm thinking hard about how much longer I "have" to run.  Especially on my early morning training runs, we aren't talking about pretty scenery or enjoyable weather (not when it's 20 degrees out with an 8 degree wind chill!).  But occasionally, it's wonderful, and when I ran my half marathon, I was able to meet my highest goal for myself.  That was an amazing feeling.

On the other hand, my motivation to run is internal.  If anyone tried to make me run, it wouldn't go well (just ask my brother).  And that's just the situation Chua ran into with Lulu.  While Sophia might have protested and fought the system at times, she bought into it.  Lulu did not.  As a parent, once your children get to a certain age and physical state, the only way we can "make" them do something is when they honor our authority.  There is no way for me to physically force my 6'3", 215 pound, linebacker-looking son to clean his room if he doesn't want to; I can tell him, bribe him, or threaten him with some kind of punishment, but I can't make him do it.  What do you do, though, when those methods don't work anymore? That's the situation Chua reached with Lulu, and the resolution is interesting, funny, and somewhat satisfying to someone who doesn't subscribe to Chua's methods.

There are so many great quotes in this book and so much more to it than what I wrote here.  It really made me think about the decisions I've made as a parent, and while I don't agree with everything she wrote (by a long shot), it's good to examine what you do and why you do it.  I think that there's a lot that any parent could take away from reading this book.    It's a very quick read...I started it the first evening of N's volleyball tournament and finished it the next afternoon.  If you have read it or read it, come back and let me know what you thought.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book review: The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story

I picked up The Zookeeper's Wife at Target as an impulse buy since I needed something to kill the time between matches at N's volleyball tournament a couple weeks ago. The blurb on the back bills it as the amazing story of how two Gentile Polish zookeepers "managed to save over three hundred people from the Nazis by hiding refugees in the empty animal cages".

While the title centers on Jan and Antonina Zabinski, the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, the book is really the story of how many Polish citizens risked their lives to save their Jewish friends and neighbors. While in the past I've read a lot about WWII and the Nazis, I don't remember ever reading much about the occupation of Poland or the Polish resistance. It's really an incredible story, and the people described are so much whom I would want to be if I was ever in such a situation. It's hard to imagine the courage necessary the courage it must have taken to defy the Nazis, at risk of not only their own lives but their children's. One scene, in particular, where Jan and Antonina's son is threatened by Nazi soldiers, is absolutely chilling.

This is a book that inspires you and renews your faith in humanity. It's a great story...but it isn't a great story. That is, it's a non-fiction work. Because it's written as history, the narration leads to a certain distance from the events of the book. That probably made it easier to read, but it also kept me from feeling the kind of connection I would have had with the characters if it had been written from a closer point of view. I bought the book under the impression that it was based on history; that is, I expected it to read more like a work of fiction. I found the style (for example, reporting what Antonina wrote about something in her diary rather than having the character Antonina tell something) very distracting until, towards the end off the book, I happened to finally notice the back of the book where it said, plain as day, "HISTORY/WWII". D'oh.

Pick this one up. You'll be amazed, inspired, and probably want to dig deeper into her sources to read more about these incredible people. I know I do.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Books and challenge and distance, oh my!

I've been reading The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime for about two years now.  It's not such a long book, and it's not uninteresting; it just keeps getting set aside for other things.  Just as Born to Run was a story about running that ranged across real-life characters and countries, The Island of Lost Maps tells not just the story of one, very prolific, map thief, but of maps and history and people across the world.  So, yes, it's a good book, but that's not why I bring it up.

Last night, some quotes from the book struck me.

Harvey discusses the impact and importance of maps throughout history and the way that they helped lead to the discovery of the New World.  During the Age of Discovery, the world seemed such a big place.  There were so many many blank spots on the map.  And then, Harvey writes,

The world started getting smaller again.  In The Human Condition, Arendt described "the shrinkage of space and the abolition of distance through railroads, steamships, and airplanes." (129)
And isn't that true? Sometimes I am amazed now at the thought that my drive to work, 35 minutes or so every day, would have been a journey during earlier days.  My class talked about that as we read Little House in the Big Wood; the Ingalls girls rarely saw anyone else, a trip to town was a once a year treat, while we think little of taking a plane across the country.

In addition to transportation, technology has managed to shrink the distances between us as well.  Harvey quotes The Death of Distance:

Geography, borders, time zones--all are rapidly becoming irrelevant...courtesy of the communications revolution.
How many friends do you have outside of your town? If you're like me, more than the number in your town. My kids barely even know what long-distance telephone rates are. We can video chat on our cell phones (well, we can't, but people do). This has been such a huge change just in my lifetime. A cousin of my husband served in the first Gulf War and had very limited communication with his family back home. My brother has been to Iraq twice, and we regularly heard from him.

He goes on to say
As I was reading [this], it occurred to me that there are now two types of adventurers.  The old breed--the kind who once slogged forth into the great unknown, back when there was enough unknown left to accurately describe it as "great"--is an endangered species, and not a happy one, either.  The old breed does not want to be part of the main.  It years for islands.  It feels grounded in the global village.  As the mountain climber Gaston Rebuffat once put it, "In this modern age, very little remains that is real: night has been banished, so have the cold, the wind, and the stars." And so the old breed finds itself jammed into the last fragments of true man versus nature wilderness, adventure ghettos like Mount Everest.

The new breed talks much the same game as the old, appropriating Age of Discovery language to describe Age of Information concepts (Netscape Navigator [clearly this edition is from 2001 since there's not much talk of Netscape Navigator these days], Microsoft Explorer). But the similarities end there.  The new breed has no need for physical wilderness.  It celebrates the fact that, as Rebuffat puts it, very little remains that is real.  The new breed dances on the grave of poor old Distance, believing that in cyberspace all vistas are endless.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, Theodore Roosevelt, one of the last great icons of the old breed, argued that the adventurer's heart "must thrill for the saddle and not the hearthstone." At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the new breed of adventurer must thrill only for the placid glow of a computer screen.

I thought the whole passage was interesting, but I think endurance athletes are reclaiming Distance from the grave.  The world may feel smaller until you run that mile instead of driving it.  One hundred miles isn't a big deal in a car, but it's a pretty significant number on a bike...and it's really something when you're running it.  Referencing the Rebuffet quote above, night and cold and wind can be banished, but many of us choose to go out and experience them.  There are many places I'd love to visit, but I can certainly find adventure and challenge right around where I live.  And as I realize once again that the world is bigger and more impressive than it might seem from the seat of a car, I'm learning that I am, too.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Feeling stylish

I am pleased to announce that I am the recipient of a Major Award.

Oh, no...not the leg lamp.  Anyone could win a leg lamp.  But Kovas and Amanda and Craig have deemed me (cue fanfare) a stylish blogger.  Blush.  Thank you, Kovas. And Amanda. And Craig

Now, others may tell you differently (about Kovas anyway), but clearly Kovas and Amanda and Craig are people of taste and distinction.  Because I was tagged by three (count 'em, three) people, I'll offer three photographs as evidence of my stylishness.

Fashion Disaster Day
Adventurous use of color and texture

Able to accessorize with flair

Granted, I don't dress up as much as my brother for a race...

...but black is pretty formal.
Of course, certain duties accompany my new role as fashion icon.  In order to accept this award, one must:

1. Thank and link back to the person who awarded this to you.  Now, I already thanked Kovas and Amanda and Craig but I'm not yet too big to show some love to the "little people" who've helped me get where I am today.  So, thank you, Kovas and Amanda and Craig for showing such faith in me.

2. Share 7 things about yourself.  This is difficult because I just did a 30 things about me post, and I feel like I need to share something different...and while I may be (according to Kovas and Amanda and Craig) fabulous, I'm just not that interesting.  Hmmm.

  • I've lived in Illinois my entire life, mostly in the St. Louis region.  I did live in Rockford (second biggest city in IL) for a few years, but not long enough to consider everywhere south of Chicago "Downstate" (not that Kovas would do that).
  • I think it's pretty ironic that my students believe I know everything and my children (even the one who's the same age as my students) believe I don't know anything.
  • My husband is currently mad at me for dream cheating on him (his dream, not mine).  Hardly fair.
  • I spend my fall/winter/spring watching my son's volleyball tournaments but skip (arguably) the biggest one in California to go on a week-long bike trip.
  • I have three brothers and three sons and that pretty much guarantees that I'm comfortable with loud and obnoxious.  And, um...I'm not much of a lady.
  • My driver's side window doesn't work anymore, but I'd rather save the money for a pair of trail running shoes than fix it.
  • I have a new set of clipless pedals (thanks, Craig!), so now all I need is a pair of bike shoes and some courage and I'll be all set.  If you look at the item above, you'll note that I've got a little bit of time to develop the courage.
3.  Pay it forward to 15 great blogs - consider yourselves tagged!
4. Contact those bloggers and let them know about their award. If you follow me already (further proof of your stylish nature), consider yourself notified.  If not (I forgive you), I'll post to them.

    Sunday, January 9, 2011

    Book review: The Non-Runner's Marathon Trainer

    My husband picked this book up for me at a thrift store, and though I'm not (any more) a non-runner, I am training for a marathon, so I was interested in what it had to say.

    The book shares the lessons taught in a popular marathon class taught at the University of Northern Iowa. According to the book jacket of my 1998 edition, "The class has been offered five times over 10 years, and all but one student finished the marathon. That is approximately 200 students - all first-time marathoners and many with absolutely no running background." While it says "non-runners" on the cover, the actual marathon plan assumes that you can jog for 30 minutes without stopping; if you can't, it includes a 10 week preliminary (couch to 5k style) program to get you to that point.

    The marathon plan itself is a 16 week program. Participants run four days a week, increasing their mileage by no more than 10% a week. The goal of this program is to finish a marathon, not to finish at a particular time or to finish without walking. In addition to the assigned runs, the book also offers nutritional guidelines and a variety of mental strategies to help cope with the emotional demands of marathon training and participation. Each chapter has sections addressing physical and psychological components of training, as well as quotes from class participants.

    While I haven't yet completed a marathon, the basic training plan looked very similar to training plans I've seen. Some of the mental strategies seemed a little silly (though others were things I already do), but I can see where they would be helpful in developing a positive attitude towards the challenge of running a marathon. The authors are very big on positive self talk.

    I am certainly no expert or trainer, but the only inaccurate thing I noticed was a recommendation to strike with the heel or midfoot; everything I've read cautions against heel strike. Also, this edition being 23 years old, I'd be cautious about the guidelines given regarding nutritional intake, particularly percentages of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Note: the repeated reference to carbohydrates as "carbos" made me grit my teeth.

    I was going to pass this on to a friend who I know wants to run a marathon, but in the course of looking up this book to review it, I came across two different Amazon links offering it for $74+. I may explore why before passing it on.