Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book Blog: My Reading List, Pt I

First of all, thank you again Nicholas Carr, for your wonderful wake up call with The Shallows, which reminded me that reading books is, and always will be, a valuable use of my time.

I went through a long, not-reading-so-much lull. It started in college, when of course, I was reading plenty of books and other materials for my classes - and it was wonderful reading indeed: international novels, political treatises, historically resonant works, compelling nonfiction, poetry, translations, essays about translations, translations of essays about translations...the world of academia was indeed a rich one.

At the same time, it left me little time to peruse books on my own. I'm pleased to say that even though I objectively still don't have the time for huge swaths of leisure reading, I'm carving out the moments for it nonetheless, and it's heavenly. Last night, I went out for drinks with a couple women in my javascript class to celebrate the end of our quarter (or, in my case, mourn...I will miss that javascript class dearly). One of the women mentioned that she has a weakness for high heels, and treats herself with a new pair every month - many of which she admitted just sit in her closet untouched, but the process of buying them is so exciting and rewarding that she can't help herself. I guess I'm like that with books; I buy books and check them out from the library at a rate that far exceeds my ability to read them - and yet I indulge in the pleasure of acquiring them, and am comforted by their presence in my home.

So what exactly have I been reading lately?

ChiRunning, by Danny Dreyer

I've recommended this one to tons of customers at REI looking for a more technical manual on how to adapt their form to more of a midfoot strike (vs. the traditional heavy heel strike), which often helps runners cut down on their injuries...and yet I've never read it myself until now! Man, what a tremendously insightful and valuable read this one's turning out to be. It draws on principles from Tai Chi, and encourages runners to derive their power from their core, rather than their legs. Just keeping some simple principles described in the first few chapters of this book in mind while running has already allowed me to have some tremendously enjoyable and surprisingly effortless-feeling runs lately, including a 17-miler one way run to Kenmore, a 20-miler out-and-back along Lake Washington last weekend, and a few powerful sprint workouts as well. So far, so good...none of those pesky old shin splints flaring up this time around! I'm excited about the possibilities here, and would absolutely recommend this to all runners.

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell

Rachel's mom loaned this one to me when I was 17, and I just couldn't get myself to read it...sci fi? I thought skeptically. So the loaned copy sat on my bookshelf until I graduated and gave it back untouched. Then a couple months ago, I saw the same book on my friend Lauren's bookshelf, recognized it, inquired about it. Once again, the book was pressed into my hands, and it was demanded I read it. What a gem of a novel! In and out of chronological order, it tells the story of a Jesuit mission from Earth to explore an inhabited planet 17 light years away. The characters are spectacularly developed, and the story wonderfully told. Don't wait as long as I did to read it.

Racing Weight, by Matt Fitzgerald

This one's a bit of a guilty admittance, since it is essentially a weight loss book, and weight loss has such a strange stigma in our society. Every doctor I've ever had until now has either (1) told me I'm borderline overweight (because of that silly BMI nonsense, like that number matters more than the fact that I maintain a ridiculously healthy diet and lead a very active lifestyle), or (2) worried that I'm anorexic (because of my obsession with running...surely that level of enthusiasm for exercise must indicate mental illness, right?!) My doctor in Seattle is a triathlete, and for the first time ever, I have a doctor who isn't trying to diagnose imaginary problems with my body. She gets it! (It's kind of a coincidence, but not really, that of the hundreds if not thousands of doctors in this city, my trail running friend Elodie settled on the exact same one as me - both of us entirely independently of one another.) Anyway. With all that said, I do worry about my knees with all the running I do, and I also admit I have a secret pipe dream of being a semi-professional sponsored ultrarunner someday- and dropping a few pounds could certainly help on both those fronts. I am way, way over worrying about what I look like in a bikini or fitting into a certain size of pants...but I AM interested in being the best, most-injury-free runner I can be. This book is for me! Guidelines for weight loss and maintenance for endurance athletes just looking to perform at their best. Vashon 50K, here I come again.

Why We Run: A Natural History, by Bernd Heinrich

This is an interesting one. It used to be called "Racing the Antelope", which always caught my eye in the bookstore, because Seyeon and I have always nicknamed ourselves the Cheetah and the Antelope, respectively, when it comes to our running styles. Seyeon has these crazy muscles when she runs, and she can get into this powerful jet-sprinting mode that's almost scary intense (in an awesome way!) to watch. I tend to prance more, I suppose :P, when I run, light and happy and free like an antelope. Anyway, apparently the author got sued by some Phish fan turned author for supposedly ripping off the Antelope title, so he changed his book's title to "Why We Run." Bernd is both a biologist and an ultrarunner, so he tackles the subject of endurance from a biology standpoint, discussing all the unique qualities of various animals that allow them to be endurance athletes in their own ways - everything from camels to hummingbirds to frogs. It's kind of a meandering narrative, interspersed, too, with the author's own running anecdotes - but overall an enjoyable and educational read, if not a sometimes seemingly aimless one. Not done with it yet, so not sure yet whether I recommend it for sure - but certainly a fun, quirky read.

Poke the Box, by Seth Godin

This is a short read - for me, an impulsive Kindle buy that lasted about the duration of my light rail ride to the airport when I went to Salt Lake City a couple weeks ago - but a great one! I've become a big fan of Seth Godin's blog for daily common sense and business musings about the new information age economy. This book is just the latest in his prodigious list of published writings, but it's a good one - short, to the point, and totally motivating. How do programmers create things, Godin asks? They just write the code and see what happens, and keep tweaking it until it finally works; they poke the box. The world needs more people who start things, not just people who follow directions. We need innovators. We need people who aren't afraid to fail at things. And boy does Seth make me want to be one of them. Highly recommended, too. I shelled out the bucks to buy a print copy of it, too, to give as a gift, because if I've got one big complaint about the Kindle, it's that I can't turn around and immediately share with others what I've just read. Loaning my books to friends is on par pleasure-wise with procuring new ones for myself.

Well, I'm only 50% of the way through the list of books I wanted to write about, and it's definitely sleepytime now. Stay tuned for the other five soon. (And don't worry, they're not all running books...)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Yitka!

    Can you recommend any books for beginning runners, or people who are getting back into the game? I get tons of muscle-training exercise at work (lifting my own body weight and such), and practically no aerobic exercise EVER, and I think I might like to pick it up again (again again again).


    PS: Emma and I started a blog! Come check us out: