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Born to Run by Christopher McDougall [Nov. 30th, 2012|12:21 pm]
jenmarya
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This book has already had an impact. This morning I tried to run, like a kid might, deliberately running on random patterns of leaves/ stones /fallen branches, varying my speed, turning, twisting, trying to keep it interesting, all while wearing gardening boots, trying to wake up tiny muscles in my feet and legs. This was after a short jog where my knee started complaining. So I wasn't going for distance, unlike the ultramarathoners in this book, I was just going to see if there was any Joy in running. There was, a bit, but I don't have the drive that's going to take me to the endorphins. Yet, anyway. McDougall makes a startlingly good argument that it's worth getting there, for anyone. McDougall's love for running spills out of the book, with glowing insights like this:
there was some kind of connection between the capacity to love and the capacity to love running. The engineering was certainly the same: both depended on loosening your grip on your own desires, putting aside what you wanted and appreciating what you got, being patient and forgiving and undemanding. 
His stories about ultramarathoners Arnulfo Quimare, Jenn Shelton*, and Scott Jurek in particular, are beyond inspirational; they made me go hop around like an idiot. He also convinced me that running shoes atrophy your feet and lead to further injury. And I believe David Carrier's theory that we were designed to be the running ape (go, nuchal ligament). I also believe the Dipsea Dervish, that "it's not that you stop running cause you get old, you get old cause you stop running."  I don't buy McDougall's claim that cancer is a relatively new disease (mummy from 3000 bc with osteosarcoma, remember?). So I probably should take all his science with a grain of salt, but hey, absolutely great read. Fantastic even. 

*Who is trying to revamp her badgirl image. I wish she wouldn't. She's my heroine. From blurting out, "Help! I'm surrounded by penises!" to drinking burro dung water, all while setting records left and right, this wild woman RULES! 
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Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d'Art and Wild [Nov. 27th, 2012|11:59 am]
jenmarya
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Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d'Art by Christopher Moore starts out witty but devolves into sexual farce. Great premise: The color Blue is a muse (with a pimp) who steals paintings and occasionally kills so she (and he) can live forever. I loved reading about the Montmartre, its Impressionists congregating around a bakery to share stories and score cheap bread from an art-loving, though henpecked, baker. Obviously Moore did his research and I loved that their paintings are interwoven throughout the text.  Moore's handling of a child's viewpoint of his baker parents, their wild artist friends, the deprivations of war, and young love and loss, is gorgeous. When Lucien Lessard grows up, however, he gets boring, Blue's fixation on him is inexplicable, and boring, and so his friend Toulouse-Lautrec's bohemian extravagance takes over the rest of the book, meaning that it's witty and fun, but soulless. Shame.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed is an odd book. It's a memoir of youth that doesn't read like one. Until the last page, it seems the author could have begun writing it a week off the trail. Ok. I get ahead of myself. It's an autobiography of  a woman who decides to hike 1100 miles along the Pacific Coast Trail, alone, having never before hiked anything. She learns about hiking, and herself, the hard way. She winds up losing six toenails, hurling her too-small hiking boot, her heroin habit and her sex addiction off a mountain. Good for her. The wilderness is a good thing....though the star of the book is her fearless honesty, rather than her prose or plotting. I suppose I should read another of her lauded novels for comparison. I wonder how her fearless honesty plays out in fiction.
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Defending Jacob by William Landay [Nov. 23rd, 2012|10:36 am]
jenmarya
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A prominent DA begins work on a heartbreaking case- dead teenager-- only to learn his son is the prime suspect. While fluffier and more courtroom drama than We Need to Talk About Kevin, it shares certain themes: how well can you know your yourself, your family, your neighbors; does technology enable psychotic behavior; what should you do if someone close to you hurts others; what is wrong with society and/ or the judicial system that trial by press makes more impact than an actual courtroom decision? I enjoyed all the dialogue, from the romantic banter between the DA character and his wife, to the tense scenes with the psychologist, to the courtroom transcripts. The DA character is a judgmental pig when it comes to everyone's bodies, but I assume this is how men really are. :) At least he judges himself equally harshly. Actually, couldn't put it down, whereas, strangely, I had to put We Need to Talk About Kevin down every other page, it was so intense. Savoring books isn't something I get to do often. So, back to this one. It's good enough that I'll be looking for more of Landay's books. 
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Readings [Nov. 21st, 2012|10:58 pm]
jenmarya
Readings:
YA : Charlie Bone - Children of the Red King series (8) by Jenny Nimmo. Pretty awful Harry Potter clone. Terrible, evil headmaster and son unbelievably kill and abduct students and it's up to the good kid to save everybody, his horrible, evil relatives notwithstanding. Hey, I was down to the dregs of a YA lit collection.

Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and daughter, Samantha Van Leer.  (How cool it must be to write a book with your teenaged daughter!) Teen romance with a twist. The idea that the prince in a Princess- Bride- type tale might have unguessed-at depth and interest in something other than an "as you wish" type relationship and might look for ways of escaping the written story is pleasant. And while the teenaged girl reading the book is falling in love with him and trying to free him, her mother thinks she's on drugs. Cute.

(nonfiction) Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Wow. Interesting life. Invented nothing but amalgamated so much.  I guess it takes an asshole ("Apphole" as it quotes in the book) high on his own sense of style to herd cats scientists. I gotta ask my dad if he thinks a company should only focus on 5 products/ developments...

(nonfiction) Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman. Beautifully written story of a woman who breaks free of her stifling religious upbringing. Satmar Hasidic Judaism is one fucked up cult whose post-Holocaust origin was rooted in the goal to help Jews feel in control. Their brilliant leader told them their own transgressions against Jewish law were responsible for bringing about the Holocaust and if they didn't do them again, they had nothing to fear. So women wouldn't be allowed to read anything. No one in the cult was allowed to speak English. They could not flaunt their education or wealth before gentiles. Education of anything other than Jewish scripture was to be shunned. (Atypical judaism indeed.) Sex was not a blessing or a mitzvah (again, atypical judaism), but rather procreative, and even that secondary to whether the woman was "clean"-- there was an obsession around the "impurity" of menstruating. But these people are still people, still smart, still loving... Still spiritual even. You can see it all unfold from this girl sneaking to buy the latest Harry Potter book to lying to her arranged husband to sneak off to classes on poetry at Sarah Lawrence. Interesting resurrection of a soul, here. I wonder what she will write next. 

(nonfiction) Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Lauren Hillebrand. I always suspect that the quiet older guy in the corner has one helluva life story, and in Louis Zamperini's case it is certainly true. This guy raced in the 1936 Olympics--did so well, Hitler shook his hand-- then flew as a bombardier in WWII til he had an airplane accident, then survived on a tiny raft for 43 days as he floated adrift into Japanese waters, then survived 4 years as a POW under the most brutal Japanese camp warden ever.   I didn't dig too much that he got God in the end, but then you don't hear people whine about that in Crime and Punishment (though I did, ha).

(nonfiction-- *cough cough cough*)Heaven is for Real by Burpo. An almost 4 year old almost dies, sees Jesus, freaks his Pastor-dad out by telling him about Heaven being for real. Supposedly not written for laughs, though at one point Pastor's congregation is praying that the little boy farts. I wonder what they'd think of:

Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. Basically, hovering and giving kids too much attention doesn't allow them to develop self-respect or the parents to have a life. Not deep.

Bosypants by Tina Fey. She is one funny chick. Lotsa laughs.

Bittersweet NK Jemisin Short scifi story that makes quite an impact. Must read more of this person.

How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Crowell Very fun kids books. Reading these, not CS Lewis or any other famous writer, made K so rabid to hear more, she asked me to read all day long. 

Fifty Shades of Horrible by E.L. James. I read them for free. Two pathologically jealous people fall for each other and bore readers all over the world. 
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Voter Turnout [Nov. 9th, 2012|12:31 pm]
jenmarya
Where I cast my absentee ballot, out of the 10,523 registered voters in Mariposa County. only 4,940 (46.94%) voted. This is pretty typical for the whole country.  Imagine if each of the 117million eligible voters who didn't bother was charged a $175 fine for not voting, like here in Belgium-- the US government could have raised  $20,475,000,000.00. Not to mention boosted legitimacy.



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My Facebook Page is the Civil War [Nov. 6th, 2012|12:27 pm]
jenmarya
People watching America right now can see that the Civil War isn't dead at all, it's raging on FB pages everywhere. Replace yankees and confederates with democrats and the republicans and reboot. On my page, it's Tea Party vs Traitors: If you don't Like this post about our Troops, or kicking the UN election observers out of the US, or the one about the Pledge of Allegiance, or the one about speaking only English in America, or the one about Welfare recipients need to pass drug testing, then, "Get out of America and I'll help you pack your bag!" Like the Civil War, the fighting crosses family lines: half my FB-linked relatives are Tea Party-ers. Sigh.

You know what? I do care about the Troops. I care about them so much, I don't want to send them on unwinnable wars over imaginary WMD, only to come back, in pieces, to what is laughingly referred to as veteran's "benefits": substandard medical and mental health care. 

As for the UN Observers, I guess it hurts to be told there's as much corruption in America as in any Third World Country, but a broad spectrum of American minorities have asked for impartial observers for just that reason. What are you afraid they will find?

As for the Pledge of Allegiance, your Bush-interpreted Constitution is not the Constitution of my youth (tender though it may be).  I reserve the right to pledge to my own vision of America. 

As for only speaking English in America, you are welcome to ignore your own heritage, the myriads of stories told in other languages that brought you here, and you are welcome to prize your underfunded educational system which can only support the teaching of one language. I know we can do better and be the stronger for it.

As for pee testing for welfare checks, it's grossly unfair to ask mentally ill people who are self-medicating to stop until they have affordable and effective mental health care. And you don't want to pay for that, do you?  I guarantee you it would be a lot more expensive than just those welfare checks. 

I don't love Obama, but I voted for him anyway. I had to vote against someone worse instead of someone I believed in. I think Tea Party-ers are similarly motivated. I think we're all at the point where "Civil War" is more exciting than the candidates because the system needs to be changed. Out with the electoral collage. In with weighted voting. 
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Me and Mrs Jones [Nov. 5th, 2012|05:15 pm]
jenmarya
 "Me and Mrs Jones" stars Sara Alexander, the blonde from Coupling, and Robert Sheehan, the star what done broke out of Misfits and summarily disappeared after an embarrassing run in Playboy of the Western World at the Old Vic. It's bad. It's supposed to be a romcom between a mature 20's guy and an immature 40's woman with 2 kids, an estranged husband, and a ponce of a suitor. Mr. Sheehan isn't given anything to do but look earnest. Ms. Alexander is supposed to carry the comedy but isn't willing to go over the top like we know funny Ol' Nathan can. It's a real shame. Sheehan deserves a break. The writers need to make Sheehan the single father with two kids, an estranged wife, and a ponce of a suitor. And he needs to be a mess, and totally not together. And we will like it and him anyway. Yeah!  
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His Majesty's Dragon series (1-7/9) by Naomi Novik [Oct. 26th, 2012|12:28 pm]
jenmarya
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I've been reading an alternate history fantasy series in which dragons fight in the Napoleonic wars. All battles, like Trafalgar, are as accurately depicted as possible, but now Improved! With dragons! It's written by Naomi Novik, a strategy-loving nerd (she named her daughter 'Evidence,' ferchrissakes) writing in archaic British. It's a series I would enjoy less without my kindle, as I have to look up nineteenth century Brit slang like "havey-cavey" and 'gaby." The central characters are a navy captain and the dragon that emerges from an egg taken in battle. In such novels, the dragonlet chooses its person. Temeraire decides he wants the navy captain over anyone else, in spite of objections on every side. He turns out to be a Chinese dragon, bred to be the intellectual equal of and companion to Emperors.  Upon learning that dragons are treated like slaves, he demands equal rights, suffrage and payment for military service. The navy-captian-turned-aviator, an abolitionist already, has quite the challenge guiding his "rabble-rousing, sedition-preaching Jacobin " to follow the chain of command, particularly in wartime. In fact, Temeraire has fun debating ethics, period. Meanwhile, the Chinese discover the dragon has been mismatched and demand his return...  Once in China, dragon and man see that dragons can be fully integrated into society to the benefit of all, etc. further igniting Temeraire's passion to improve the world and providing fodder for interesting dialogues about how far a society can be pushed toward change in one fell swoop.  
In seven books, the team visits every continent encountering different societies set up with dragons, in each case promoting believable British foreign policy aims and encountering believable Napoleonic ones. There are plenty of battles, storms, fires, assassinations and abductions to keep it lively. The dragons are interesting enough characters. The world building is well done: I particularly enjoyed the idea of southwestern African dragons being the reincarnation of ancestors who then protect their families--nicely fits with Nigerians I know who believe in reincarnation. And it's thrilling to see the reincarnated dragons rescue their people, who've been transported into slavery, albeit with French assistance. In fact, Napoleon seems just often enough on the right side of civil rights and trade reforms, and Britain, on the wrong, that I sympathize with the dragon's captain's wavering loyalties. Of course, the Captain realizes Napoleon's slime, he just points out what he does right. (Makes me wanna read more about Napoleon.)
I just hope the author ties it all up interestingly in the last two books. I usually prefer a tightly-written plot to a sprawling road trip.
It's good, and I wish I had more, now.
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The Forest of Hands and Teeth YA trilogy [Oct. 19th, 2012|01:45 pm]
jenmarya
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The Forest of Hands and Teeth 
The Dead-Tossed Waves
The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan
I thought I'd read the first few sentences for giggles-- I'm not a zombie or horror fan-- and then I got swept under. The authenticity of the first person narrative sucked me in.  We meet a young woman in a Christian enclave trying to wrest control of her life away from a patriarchal society and losing, losing, losing.  She's been told all her life that their enclave is all that's left of humanity.  Then a stranger shows up. Now there's hope that, as the zombie plague spread, multiple new social contracts evolved, and we wonder-- Can Mary find a better fit? But between her and that dream stands a forest of hands and teeth- zombies as far as the eye can see.

It's all very engaging as long as you don't look at the etiology of the plague or the zombies logically. And it's a little annoying that so much time is spent on the YA romances and forbidden loves, but given the protagonist's age and origin -- the enclave's breeding imperative-- it's forgivable. Plus, I was a teenager once, and the writing is just that good that I can remember all that rawness and what happens when you learn love isn't the sine qua non of existence. Eventually Ryan even questions the metaphysics of zombies. It's cool. Yeah, this Ryan person can write. I seriously never thought I would enjoy a book about zombies. Nor did I ever dream there could be a book about zombies that quotes so much Shakespeare.
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Sleepless While Dad Saves World [Oct. 17th, 2012|11:24 am]
jenmarya
My dad was up til about 4 am last night finalizing grant proposals due at 6 am. The calls to and from cohorts kept jolting me out of dreamland. Luckily I know he's saving the world so I don't mind so much. But tiiiiiired. Even Jayne, aka "the physics muse," is tired. 
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