Books

The Lost Girls

While I mentioned eBooks in the last post, I have yet to actually rate the book I was reading ON my iPad.  So here we are.  No better time than a snow day to catch up on the blog 🙂

The Lost Girls was recommended to me by a friend who has always dreamed of spending a year traveling the world, and this book is about three girls who did just that.

A true story, these three twenty-something women were living in New York City, and ended up giving up everything to pack a bag and take off.  Of course when you take off on an adventure like that, it only makes sense to write a book for all those left behind who can only live vicariously through you.

And live through them I did.  I’ll admit my perspective probably added to the experience, as I’m 26 and love to travel.  While I’ve never seriously flirted with the idea of an around-the-world trip before this read, I always have an ever-growing and changing list of ‘Must Go To’ places, as well as ‘Must Return To’ locales.  Therefore I could easily relate to all three of the girls, and LOVED that the book was told by each, switching off every chapter.  While similar jobs and places in life, they are all very different, with different stories to tell.

They traveled around South America, Africa, India, Australia, Asia and some islands in between.  They mixed up pleasure with a month-long service trip in Africa (possibly my favorite part of the book).  The stories range from self-reflection, crazy adventures, relationship struggles back home, potentially new relationships on the road, and the consistent story of one really strong friendship.

I made notes throughout the book about places I wanted to go, things to think about before leaving, and what I would need to make it happen.  On top of that, they’ve also now created a website with a ton of resources to answer many of the questions I generated while reading.  Check it out at thelostgirlsworld.com.

It’s a rather long book, but oddly I didn’t know this until after I finished, due to the fact I read it on my iPad.  The page numbers change frequently, depending on what size text you choose, so I had no concept of real book length.  And based on how long it took me to read it, I would never have guessed it was over 500 pages long.  Good sign about what an easy read it is 🙂  Not to mention, if you spend a year traveling the globe, I’d like to see how well people do editing down their photo albums, let alone the stories to go along with them.

TOTAL SCORE: 8

Loved the book, but points off for the following:

-1- They never touched Europe.  Everyone’s trip has a different purpose, but when I travel the world Europe will be a part of it.  So while in many cases I used this book as a travel guide of where I should go, I received zero insight on Europe.

-1- Length could be a deterrent for someone who isn’t a teacher and doesn’t have a solid 2 weeks off for Christmas to read through it.

However, I’m adding a point back for the following:

After reading the book I went onto facebook because the friend who recommended the book happens to know Holly Corbett (one of the authors).  I friend requested all three girls, hoping to check in about some travel advice as I begin thinking about planning my own trip around the world.  Not only did all three accept, but two responded with sweet messages and offered to chat at any point.

Considering how much I love great people, you can’t help but love a book even more when you know the people who wrote it are genuinely good people.

Trust that I will be taking them up on their offer.

NEW TOTAL SCORE: 9!

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eBooks

I’ve had mixed feelings about these for awhile, but this Christmas it seemed like the thing to get.  So while everyone around me enjoyed their Nooks and Kindles, I decided to jump in and purchase my first eBook for my iPad.

In all honesty, it wasn’t really my desire to jump on the eReader bandwagon as much as it was my impatience with having to order the book online (EVERY bookstore in the surrounding area was sold out).  So, I went on the iBook store and purchased it in about 30 seconds.  Huge points for the convenience factor.  HOWEVER, you’re not able to purchase used, so you have no choice but to purchase full price.  I’m not sure I’ve ever purchased a full price book online…

When I began reading I definitely wasn’t sold.  I have enough trouble staring at a computer screen for long periods of time, and staring at my iPad was no different.  Plus, reading in bed was a bit more difficult.  The iPad is heavier than most eReaders, so this is definitely not a statement that applies to all.  And while it looks small and light, it actually does get heavy after some serious reading.  Either that or I need to hit the gym more often…

I will say, however, the built in light is kinda nice.  Then when I’m about to fall asleep I don’t have to get up (or more realistically roll about 3 inches to my right) and turn the light off.  I can just drop the iPad next to me and pass out.  PERFECT.

It’s also awfully convenient, especially when taking a road trip in a car with 4 people, 3 dogs and a whole bunch of Christmas gifts.  The book I bought was over 500 pages long, and something we DEFINITELY did not have room for.  Unless we wanted to sit on each other’s laps, that is.

I was also pretty pleased with iBooks ability to highlight, write notes, AND bookmark pages.  All of which appear on one nice page at the beginning of the book for easy reference.  That means no falling asleep with highlighters in the bed leading to awful (and permanent) stains.  Another plus.

The biggest downside I’ve found so far (along with the staring at a screen part) is the inability to share, display and hold.  There’s something to be said for having a bookshelf full of all your favorites, ready to pull off and hand to a friend anytime they stop by.  This one will stay permanently on my iPad however, living only on the virtual bookshelf found in my iBook app.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5

-2: lack of physical book and ability to share (and of course, the risk of losing it due to technical difficulties, which I suppose could be compared to theft, house fire or just general misplacement)

-1: the quality of my vision goes down per page

-.5: the cheapskate in me hates the idea of paying only full price for a book I can’t even resell after I’m done

Be curious to hear what others think based on their experience… any other ratings out there?

Turkey Day 2010

HAVING THREE DOGS IN ONE HOUSE: 6

If there were two, and they were Murphy and Dakota, or even Maggie and Dakota, this rating would be several points higher.  However, when you’ve got these three all together in one house, it’s CRAZY.

First, you’ve got Murphy and Maggie chasing each other around, with Maggie’s high pitched puppy yelping, literally one yelp per step (so imagine her sprinting, taking about 3 steps a second).

Then, add food in the mix and you’ve got two puggles, with killer instincts when it comes to food, about to draw blood.

Luckily Maggie and Dakota continue their love affair, which is both adorable and convenient.  Except when Maggie insists on following Dakota around everywhere and humping his legs.  Nice one Maggie.

However, the rating is still above a five, as I love dogs, I love my dogs even more, and I LOVE the motivator to walk 6 miles every day (yes, my parents are insane- one 3 mile walk, or even 2 1.5 mile walks are just not enough.  We took TWO 3 mile walks every day I was home).


RETURNING HOME WITH TWO THOROUGHLY POOPED PUPPIES: 10

SCRATCH BEGINNINGS: 9

Another reason I love holidays is the free time to actually read a book or two.  While I headed home with Manhunt in tow, a recommendation of a student as it follows the entire story of John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln assassination, I ended up reading a new book I recently discovered called Scratch Beginnings.  The concept is interesting, and I must admit I went into the read with mixed feelings, yet open minded to what I would find.

The author, Adam Shepard, decides to take off from Raleigh NC and head to Charleston SC with $25, a train ticket and a sleeping bag.  His goal is to prove that the American dream is still alive and well by making $2,500, furnishing an apartment and buying a car by the end of a year.

The book is mostly spent telling the stories of those he encounters along the way, and how he ended up making it happen within 8 months.  The epilogue talks a bit about the bigger issues of poverty in America, and what this social experiment means for the American dream and how we begin to address the problems that are preventing some from getting there and causing others to stand still where they are.

While I’m not sure I agree (yet) with all issues and opinions presented, it was a pretty great instigator for Thanksgiving conversation among my family, and has given me a much needed reason to reflect on my own thoughts.  I find I spend so much time thinking about day-to-day survival in the world of teaching that I forget about the things that brought me here (and back) in the first place.  I’m going back to reread Nickel and Dimed now, which was part of the inspiration for Scratch Beginnings, and I think I’ll have a more solid grasp of my thoughts at the end.  In the meantime, it comes as a highly recommended read 🙂

THANKSGIVING DINNER: 9

I’m pretty lucky to have a mom who supports whatever my eating habits are (as they’ve grown progressively more restrictive over time).  This year she had the added challenge of creating a vegan Thanksgiving dinner.  I will note that this is a challenge created by her, as I insisted that PB & J was good enough for this vegan.

Despite that, I must admit I’m grateful for the effort as I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner as much as everyone else 🙂  Mashed potatoes (with fake butter and soy milk), corn, pumpkin rolls and stuffing not actually stuffed inside the turkey… A. MA. ZING.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that a point must be subtracted for the sickness I caused by eating too much.  Not unusual, not unfamiliar, but nonetheless pretty miserable.

This year was a small Thanksgiving, as it was just the immediate family and Ned, a blind man my mom met through the Blind Association and has now become a family friend over the past 7 (?) years.

2010 CHRISTMAS CARD PHOTO: 8

Posing with 3 dogs is not easy.  Why we insist on including all three, I’m not quite sure.  It does, however, provide some entertainment.

So considering the fact that we had to get all three dogs to look at the camera, while also catching all of us with our eyes open, I’d say we did pretty good 🙂

-2 for my decision (or lack of awareness really) to wear a shirt with reflective tape on it.  Oops… turns out it’s nothing a little iPhoto editing can’t fix 🙂

CELL PHONE HEADSETS: 8

While a 5 hour drive is definitely not bad, and I actually really appreciate the alone time to listen to incredible music, sing along, and brainstorm brilliant ideas for the classroom (or atleast ideas I think are brilliant :)), it’s also nice to use the time to catch up with people I don’t talk to nearly enough.  And people I already spend too much time talking to.  Either way, the “company” is great, and without a headset I’d be way more of a hazard on the road.

-1 for the difficulty it can sometimes cause hearing, or making me sound like I’m in a wind tunnel.

-1 for the hazard of attempting to plug in the headset, and get each ear piece in the right ear, during the 15 seconds I have while my phone is ringing.  Why don’t I just leave it plugged in, you wonder?  Sadly my phone doesn’t actually ring if I leave it in, meaning I have to unplug and replug each time.  Not cool…

RETURNING TO GASTON: 5

This rating is not an indication of my love of my kids, or my love for teaching, but instead my extroverted self sad at leaving people again.  Sometimes I love living alone, don’t get me wrong, but it’s always an adjustment for me to leave a house full of people and animals for my house in Gaston where it’s just me and the pups.  Thank goodness for the pups 🙂

The GREAT news is that these next three weeks may possibly be my favorite three weeks of the year.  I love holiday season more than anything, and tonight I’m planning to put on Elf and put up the tree… followed by three weeks of good friends, great holiday parties (including the first ever hosted at my Gaston house!) and Secret Santa wonderfulness at school.  I CANNOT WAIT!  I’m even thinking of attempting Christmas lights on my house (and/or fence) this year…

Until next time, just living for the tens 🙂

Born to Run

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I’ve finished the book.  I struggle to even know where to begin with this rating.  Here’s the thing.  Every now and then you find a book that ropes you in so quickly you find yourself carrying larger bags everywhere so you never have to leave it at home.  That way if you have a couple extra minutes waiting for the metro, sitting at the doctor’s office, stuck in traffic, at a boring staff meeting, you can immediately whip it out.  You never want to leave the wonderful imaginary world you’re a part of, and when you finish you’re sad because you’ve been forced to leave.  You can do nothing but pray for a sequel.

It’s been awhile since I’ve found one of those.  The last was Eat, Pray, Love (if you haven’t read it, you should immediately), and I’m so thankful to have found a new one.  But I want to be clear, when I give this book a 10, it is not just a 10 for incredible writing and one of the best stories I’ve ever read.

I’m rating it a 10 because of what I’ve learned from the people in the book, and the stories they had to tell.

I had a conversation with someone pretty incredible recently, discussing the intensity and the enigma of the human spirit (bear with me).  How do we begin to define it, how do we explain it, more importantly, how do we learn from those people who’ve truly found the meaning of joy and are able to embrace it in all situations.  It’s one of those things that you know and feel when you find it, but can’t always explain how, or why, you know.

While these don’t seem like issues that would be tackled in a running book, this is just one of the many reasons why this has quickly climbed to the top of my list of favorite books ever (even made it onto my Facebook profile that I haven’t changed in YEARS.  That’s saying something).

The stories told in this book range from Czech Olympians, to the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico, to a pair of college hippies, and there is something inspiring to be found in each of them.  These people have a spirit that’s different from many that I’ve met on a daily basis, and I’m not quite sure yet if it’s the extreme running that creates this, or that these are the only people crazy enough to run 100 miles in a day, across a desert.  Regardless, you’ll fall in love with them.

Perhaps I should give some context as I gush, and admit openly that I am the person who cries at every incredible sporting event ever.  Ranging from Colorado’s incredible comeback against Nebraska over Thanksgiving about 10 years ago, pretty much every Ironman ever (how can you not cry when they tell such incredible stories of perseverance and success along the way?) to the Penn State women’s volleyball team taking the national title, I’m happy if they’re happy.  So this book left me a mess.  Perhaps it won’t have the same effect on you, but be prepared and open to the possibility.

The overall story of the book is of the ‘greatest race the world has never seen’.  Christopher McDougall, a runner and writer for Runner’s World, discovers a tribe of Mexicans called the Tarahumara, who are known as being some of the fastest humans in the world.  They are known for wearing only sandals on their feet, and for living in the caves of Mexico, making them virtually impossible to find.  Yet this book tells their story, as well as the stories of many other ultrarunners.  While they seem crazy, running extreme long distances in completely unbearable circumstances, they all find a joy in running that is fascinating to me.  In the process of telling their stories, he also examines the history of long distance running, and what has gone wrong here in the US leading to such a large number of injuries.  He presents some fascinating theories, as well as solutions (I’ll be blogging about this shortly), that will absolutely revolutionize the way you look at running and advertising. I promise you will never look at it the same again.

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WARNING!  This book is not just for runners.  While I ran a marathon back in college, I’ve been mostly out of commision since, and would not at all consider myself a runner.  This book is for EVERYONE.  In fact, I almost recommend it more highly for those that aren’t.

My new goal= to somehow get in contact with Christopher McDougall (who lives in rural Pennsylvania, not far from home) and convince him to go for a run with me over Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Wish me luck, and READ THE BOOK!

Born to Run

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This book was passed along to me by Jay, after a high recommendation from Glenn.  The gist of the book is as follows:

Full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and, most of all, pure inspiration, Born to Run is an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.

While the book is incredible so far, I’m not yet finished, so this rating is actually of an individual story told in the book.  This story of a famous Czech runner earns a 10 in my book.  This excerpt is long, but 100% worth it.  I promise.

*              *             *

There was this Czech soldier, a gawky dweeb who ran with such horrendous form that he looked “as if he’d just been stabbed through the heart,” as one sportswriter put it.  But Emil Zatopek loved running so much that even when he was still a grunt in army boot camp, he used to grab a flashlight and go off on twenty-mile runs through the woods at night.

In his combat boots.

In winter.

AFTER a fully day of infantry drills.

When the snow was too deep, Zatopek would jog in the tub on top of his dirty laundry, getting a resistance workout along with clean tighty whities.  As sson as it thawed enough for him to get outside, he’d go nuts; he’d run four hundred meters as fast as he could, over and over, for ninety repetitions, resting in between by jogging two hundred meters.  By the time he was finished, he’d done more than thirty-three miles of speedwork.  One of Zatopek’s favorite workouts combined all his loves at once: he’d jog through the woods in his army boots with his ever-loving wife riding on his back.

It was all a waste of time, of course.  The Czechs were like the Zimbabwean bobsled team; they had no tradition, no coaching, no native talent, no chance of winning.  But being counted out was liberating; having nothing to lose left Zatopek free to try any way to win.  Take his first marathon: everyone knows the best way to build up to 26.2 miles is by running long, slow distances.  Everyone, that is, except Emil Zatopek; he did hundred-yard dashes instead.

And dear God, was he a Chatty Cathy!  Zatopek treated competition like it was speed dating.  Even in the middle of a race, he liked to natter with other runners and try out his smattering of French and English and German, causing one grouchy Brit to complain about Zatopek’s “incessant talking.”  At away meets, he’d sometmes have so many new friends in his hotel room that he’d have to give up his bed and sleep outside under a tree.  Once, right before an international race, he became pals with an Australian runner who was hoping to break the Australian 5,000-meter record.  Zatopek was only entered in the 10,000-meter race, but he came up with a plan; he told the Aussie to drop out of his race and line up next to Zatopek instead.  Zatopek spent the first half of the 10,000-meter race pacing his new buddy to the record, then sped off to attend to his own business and win.

That was pure Zatopek, though; races for him were like a pub crawl.  He loved competing so much that instead of tapering and peaking, he jumped into as many meets as he could find.  During a manic stretch in the late ’40’s, Zatopek raced nearly every other week for three years AND NEVER LOST, going 69-0.  Even on a schedule like that, he still averaged up to 165 miles a week in training.

Zatopek was a bald, self-coached thirty-year-old apartment-dweller from a decrepit Eastern European backwater when he arrived for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.  Since the Czech team was so thin, Zatopek had his choice of distance events, so he chose them all.  He lined up for the 5,000 meters, and won with a new Olympic record.  He then lined up for the 10,000 meters, and won his second gold with another new record.  He’d never run a marathon before, but what the hell; with two golds already around his neck, he had nothing to lose, so why not finish the job and give it a bash?

Zatopek’s inexperience quickly became obvious.  It was a hot day, so England’s Jim Peters, then the world-record holder, decided to use the heat to make Zatopek suffer.  By the ten-mile mark, Peters was already ten minutes under his own world-record pace and pulling away from the field.  Zatopek wasn’t sure if anyone could really sustain such a blistering pace.  “Excuse me,” he said, pulling alongside Peters. “This is my first marathon.  Are we going too fast?”

“No,” Peters replied. “Too slow.”  If Zatopek was dumb enough to ask, he was dumb enough to deserve any answer he got.

Zatopek was surprised. “You say too slow,” he asked again. “Are you sure the pace is too slow?”

“Yes,” Peters said.  Then he got a surprise of his own.

“Okay. Thanks.” Zatopek took Peters at his word, and took off.

When he burst out of the tunnel and into the stadium, he was met with a roar: not only from the fans, but from athletes of every nation who thronged the track to cheer him in.  Zatopek snapped the tape with his third Olympic record, but when his teammates charged over to congratulate him, they were too late: the Jamaican sprinters had already hoisted him on their shoulders and were parading him around the infield.  “Let us live so that when we come to die, even the undertaker will be sorry,” Mark Twain used to say.  Zatopek found a way to run so that when he won, even other teams were delighted.

*              *             *

When the Red Army marched into Prague in 1968 to crush the pro-Democracy movement, Zatopek was given a choice: he could get on board with the Soviets and serve as a sports amabassador, or he could spend the rest of his life cleaning toilets in a uranium mine.  Zatopek chose the toilets.

At the same time, coincidentally, his rival for the title of world’s greatest distance runner was also taking a beating.  Ron Clarke, a phenomenally talented Australian, was exactly the kind of guy that Zatopek, by all rights, should hate.  While Zatopek had to teach himself to run in the snow at night after sentry duty, the Australian pretty boy was enjoying sunny morning jogs along the beaches of Mornington Peninsula and expert coaching.  Everything Zatopek could wish for, Clarke had to spare:  Freedom.  Money.  Elegance.  Hair.

Ron Clarke was a star- but still a loser in the eyes of his nation.  Despite breaking nineteen records in every distance from the half-mile to six miles, “the bloke who choked” never managed to win the big ones.  In the summer of ’68, he blew his final chance: in the 10,000-meter finals at the Mexico City Games, Clarke was knocked out by altitude sickness.  Anticipating a barrage of abuse back home, Clarke delayed his return by stopping off in Prague to pay a courtesy call to the bloke who never lost.  Toward the end of their visit, Clarke glimpsed Zatopek sneaking something into his suitcase.

“I thought I was smuggling some message to the outside world for him, so I did not dare to open the parcel until the plane was well away,” Clarke would say.  Zatopek sent him off with a strong embrace.  “Because you deserved it,” he said, which Clarke found cute and very touching; the old master had far worse problems of his own to deal with, but was still playful enough to grant a victory-stand hug to the young punk who’d missed his chance to mount one.

Only later would he discover that Zatopek wasn’t talking about the hug at all: in his suitcase, Clarke found Zatopek’s 1952 Olympic 10,000-meters gold medal.  For Zatopek to give it to the man who’s replaced his name in the record books was extraordinarily noble; to give it away at precisely the moment in his life when he was losing everything else was an act of almost unimaginable compassion.

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To read more, you can buy the book here.  It comes highly recommended from many places, so if you’re looking for a new good read, this might be it!