Books in Summer: part I

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

This book was handed to me on our first night in Victoria by a couple of good friends. The only book about running that I have ever read is Murakami’s What I talk about when I talk about running and although I run pretty much everyday, I have never been that interested in reading about it. I figure, it’s a little like childbirth- the body knows what to do, right?

Right! Part detective story, part personal journey, McDougall takes us on a voyage that begins in the doctor’s office, uttering that ominous question, “Why do my feet hurt?” and concludes with a fifty mile race run alongside the Taharamura an indegenous folk living in Northern Mexico and known for their amazing long-distance running (I have since taken to drinking chia seeds, in the hopes that if I drink what they drink, I might inherit their superpowers- no such luck, but the drink is surprisingly tasty- just add some lime and maple syrup-the Canadian version- and you have a protein-packed, nutritious summer refreshment).

But I digress. Along his journey, McDougall meets all kinds of eccentric characters who live in the ultra-marathon world. If you have never heard of an ultra-marathon, it is like a super-sized marathon-usually twice as long, sometimes more, and for added kicks usually in some pretty hostile terrain. He also gives a scathing indictment of the running shoe industry, which, he claims, has caused more runner’s injuries than prevented. The core idea behind running shoes is that your foot has not evolved enough to run and therefore needs “support”. (Everytime I get new running shoes the clerk at the store makes me walk around to see my stride then looks at me seriously and says, “hhmm. I see you are a bit pronated.” What the hell does that mean, anyway?) But apparently, running long distances is how our ancestors used to survive. We can outrun our prey. Oh not speed-wise, but long-distance wise. The human foot, it seems is perfectly built for running long distances, as long as the extra cushioning isn’t getting in the way.

A fascinating read that mixes a man’s personal journey into rediscovering how to run, the mystery of a reclusive Mexican tribe whose lifestyle is endangered by the brutal drug lords in the area, some evolution of human anatomy and a fascinating look at the world of ultra-marathons. An excellent read, even if you aren’t a runner, though be warned- it will make you want to strap on your shoes and hit the pavement.

The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger

I reviewed the first one in this series in my March installment and gave it five out five G&Ts for Vacation reading. I am happy to say that my rating has not changed for the two sequels. In the second volume of the series, Alexia, now married to her husky, hirsute and handsome werewolf husband Lord Maccon, ends up following the pack to Scotland after an epidemic has caused  the supernatural set in London to lose their supernaturalness. She ends up saving the day, much to her husband’s annoyance, of course, but in the meantime, befriends a lovely, lesbian inventor genius who appreciates Alexia’s curves and who knows before Alexia does the secret that will tear her husband and her apart at the end of the book. Can you guess what it is? Will I be able to write about the third without revealing the big secret? Letme give it a whirl…


In the third volume, Alexia has decided to leave London and visit Italy, the country of her father, in the hopes of finding out more of herself and the predicament she finds herself in. Of course, hijynx ensues, with most of the Continental supernatural set as well as their hunters out for her blood. With the sang-froid, dagger sharp-wit and enormous appetite we have now come to expect from our dear Alexia, she acquits herself with much aplomb as well as effects a reunion with her estranged husband while letting him know the full force of her anger.  I am now about to pick up the fourth volume, as I think a further adventure of The Parasol Protectorate is the perfect tonic for these stressful back-to-school days.

Men in the Off Hours by Anne Carson
(this links to a far more intelligent review than I could ever give it)

Ahh, but back to extremely serious mode. This book of poems actually took me months to read, as I would read one or two only a day. I have to admit, I feel unequal to the task of reviewing such a heady work of poetry. Let me indulge myself for a moment and view these little blurbs not as reviews but as a rather lopsided conversation with the small community of folk who read this blog and who actually care about my opinion. It is the equivalent of thatcharmingly asinine poll we give our friends- “Did you read so and so? yes? What did you think?”
“I enjoyed it, thanks for asking!”

What can I say? I did much more than enjoy it. I savoured it. Her spartan imagery, her hard-ass, no-nonsense view of the world appeals greatly to me. I would love to do with words what she can do. I would also like to one day own such a sharp and biting wit, but I suspect I would have to be a different person for that.  She also seems to have the same preoccupation with Anna Akhmatova that I do (I suspect she read the same wonderful biography of the poet) and wrote about Tolstoy when I am writing about Tolstoy (for fun and kicks and without knowing a damn thing about the man that is how presumptuous I am). Also, the essay at the end about the way the Greeks viewed women was especially fascinating. When I get home I will persue the volume and give a little sample of her poems here, so you don’t have to rely on this inadequate account.

(I am home now and just opened the book. This is what I found…)

Caeli Lesbia Nostra Lesbia Illa (Our Lesbia that Lesbia)
Catullus finds his own love gone to others


Nuns coated in silver were not so naked
As our night interviews.
Now what plum is your tongue
In?

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Phew. Back to frivolity! I feel so much more comfortable here…

If you put Narnia, Harry Potter, and Catcher in the Rye in a big pot and started mashing them together like over-boiled potatoes, the result would be Grossman’s The Magicians. When we meet Quentin Coldwater, he is a seventeen-year old smart ass, in love with his best friend’s girlfriend, secretly obsessed with a series of children’s fantasy books and miserable because reality doesn’t ever seem to live up to the world described in those books. But then he is accepted to Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. Quentin is a gifted magician, able to skip a year and graduate faster than his entering cohort. During his years at Brakebills he studies, makes friends, falls in love is introduced to sex, drugs, alcohol. When he graduates, Brakebills has enough funds to set each magician up for a while on school money. Of course, a meaningless string of parties and debauchery are the consequence. Quentin makes some bad choices and ends up feeling as empty and disillusioned about the world until a strange, old school companion of his shows up and proves that Fillory, the world in the children’s fantasy novel does exist.

Although I enjoyed this book, I did not love it and it is one of those things that I cannot explain. You would think I would love it, having loved each aspect of it in previous books, but I can’t say it left a great impression on me. I was intrigued by the notion of an avid reader of children’s fantasy wanting reality to be more than it is (I mean, I’ve been there- who didn’t want to be one of the Pevensies going to Narnia?). I also liked the added adolescent angst of Quentin and the more realistic portrayal of young love than, say the Harry Potter books. The part I did not like however, was how when they graduate, they are not expected to do anything, not expected to use their gifts for the good of humanity. Woe. I sound like such a righteous ass. But it’s true. It bugged me that these young people were given this very extensive magical education and yet were given an out when it came to the rest of the world in the form of unlimited funds from their alma mater. (It could be the funds would run out- but I can’t remember).What is that about?

Still, an enjoyable read for all those adult Harry Potter/Narnia/ Fantasy fans. I will definitely pick up the sequel, the Magician King.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

I picked this one of the shelf of my sister-in-law, finally in the mood to give it a whirl.  I have very little knowledge of the restaurant business, and I am probably the opposite of a foodie. In fact, I was given a lot of flack this summer from my sister’s boyfriend, who does own a very good restaurant in Victoria, about never having tried an oyster, and about never wanting to try one. This makes me in his eyes, as well as Bourdain’s it turns out, the biggest cretin on earth. Oh well. So be it. There is something about sliding something that looks like a squashed slug down my throat that I can’t stomach.

The quote I remember the most from this book is “Your body is not a temple. It is an amusement park.” Or something of the sort. He had his first food revelation on a trip to France with his parents, where, yes, he tried his first oyster, while fishing with an old man. The rest of his life was spent treating his body like a death-defying rollercoaster: substance abuse, alcohol and of course, the best food. There is some interesting commentary on the restaurant business (why you should never buy fish on a Monday) as well as a glimpse into some of the kitchens of New York’s finest.

A fun, fast read, that also conveniently served as a handy conversation piece with both my sister’s boyfriends who work in the industry as well as a good friend of mine who is a chef, all of whom visited this summer.

The Irrationalist by Suzanne Buffam 

This book of poetry fell into my lap (not literally people, don’t you got no metaphor to you?) during our camping trip on Thetis Island. My brother-in-law brought it and picked it up while it was sitting on the picnic table.

A slim volume full of smart, witty little poems, I remember enjoying them immensely, even laughing at loud at some of them (how often does that happen with poetry?) . However, I read the volume in one sitting and then promptly gave it back, so do not even have an excerpt to share with you.

Here is a good review of it though if you are interested in reading more.

Phew…Half way there! It is not that I haven’t been writing on this blog, it is that this blog took me so freakin’ long to finish.  Let us hope that the second installment doesn’t take me into October…

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2 Responses to Books in Summer: part I

  1. Alice Zorn says:

    Then I, too, am a cretin, and I'm sure we're not the only ones.

  2. Tom Weston says:

    I started experimenting with oysters back in university.

    Smoked oysters out of a can in the middle of nowhere sitting next to a forest fire while smoking a Drum rolled cigarette are one of my favourite things.

    It is a very specific favourite thing.

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