Thursday, September 22, 2016

what if a hundred cats purr....

What if?
Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions


I loved this and I got tired of it and I still think it's great. Just the idea of answering stupid questions with intelligent answers is a hoot, and the research for the answers takes the reader in places he never dreamed he'd go. What if you sucked all the water off earth and dumped it on Mars? If you dropped a frozen steak from space, would it be cooked when it hit the ground? What would happen if everyone on earth stood close together and jumped in the air?

If you really need to know the answers to those--and many more--questions, read this book.  The only reason I got tired of it was that I was listening to it while trying to speed up my jogging, so I kept losing the thread of the narrative. Don't do that. Better to read it on paper, and then you can take advantage of the drawings and illustrations. Plus, if you get interrupted, you can easily back up.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Farming is not for the weak of will

Hit by a Farm: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Barn
by Catherine Friend

It's rare to find a person rejoicing in a life even while admitting it might not be the life for her. And it's rarer still to see partners working out a joint future of revolving opposites, twisted  together as strands of DNA. They might split from time to time, but curl back closely together when the time comes to return.

So goes this funny little tale of how a farm threatens to take over the hearts, minds, and equanimity of two good-hearted and loving people. They do try, they really do. But sometimes they name their livestock and sometimes wreck their borrowed tools.  Who doesn't?

One thing I learned for sure--I never want to put my hand inside a sheep.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Now I know what to wear to court

The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England
by Ian Mortimer

What a keen idea!  History told from the perspective of a time traveller from modern times, plunked back into Elizabethan England.  Like a time traveling Hitchhiker's--
    Here's what the Encyclopedia Galactica has this to say about alcohol. It says that alcohol is a colorless volatile liquid formed by the fermentation of sugars and also notes its intoxicating effect on certain carbon-based life forms.
    The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy also mentions alcohol. It says that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.  (Also the effect of drinking one, where to get one, and how to make one yourself.)
    The Time Traveller's Guide says that if you drink a gallon of March beer you will not dare to stir from you stool but sit pinking with narrow eyes, as half-sleeping, until the fume of your adversary be digested.

I think he did a pretty good job of keeping up the perspective of a helpful friend traveller, although there were a couple of times when I got dragged down in detail and wanted to skip to the good stuff. But only a couple of times, and there was lots of good stuff. I learned the best place to eat--get invited to Sir Francis at Wollington and dine on two courses of meat, poultry, fish and more meat:
    First course
    Capons stewed in white broth
    A swan in sauce chaudron
    A pig roast
    A double rib of roast beef, with pepper-and-vinegar sauce

    Second course
    Peacock in wine and salt
    Two coneys in a mustard and sugar sauce
    Bustard in a galantine sauce
    A pasty of red deer

Don't look for vegetables, they're "noyful to man." The rich, and even the tradesman class, didn't waste chewing time on vegetables.  But eventually as trade with the newly settled countries to the west took off, carrots and potatoes crept into even the richest peoples' cuisine. Even salad was seen--on fast days.

I learned you can get clean by rubbing your body with clean linen and that when Queen Elizabeth took a bath every month whether she needed it or not, she wasn't being a slob--just a bathing fanatic. Baths were for sick people.

It was surprising to learn about the persecution of Catholics and other heretics, but that provides insight into why our founding fathers insisted on the separation of church and state. They remembered a time when the one and only true religion was backed not only by moral rectitude, but legal clout.  Modern-day protestants should look back to their origins when they try to push church functions into the realm of politics. How'd you like to pay a shilling fine for missing church on Sunday?  How'd you like it if the Southern Baptist Convention came into power and decided Methodists needed to join the other heretics in the torture chambers?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Running AND recipes

Eat and Run
by Scott Jurek

I devoured this book and it made me run faster.

Okay, kidding. I wish it had. But I did devour the book and so I don't have much to say about it, except...Burp!

Scott Jurek seemed to start out running somewhat by accident. He'd been hanging out with a friend (Dusty),  who had just run a fifty mile race and wanted Scott to help him train for next year. He agreed, to get into shape for skiing...but possibly also because he just wanted to be wild and free like Dusty. to . From there, he didn't look back...but the back kept pulling. "Sometimes you just do things" ran through his head when the path became tedious--it's the phrase often repeated by his father as he was struggling to care for kids and a wife slowly succumbing to muscular dystrophy. His running resonates with the discipline learned in a childhood of hard work and missed opportunity. The perserverance is clearly there...but the joy?

I think it's there, too.  Anyway he was only in his early-to-mid 30s when the book ended. Maybe the joy comes later.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Catching up on writing about running

What I talk about when I talk about running

I wrote that word for all you people who only read the first word of an article.  Sums it up. I didn't write 'meh' or 'blah', nor did I write 'superb' or 'deep and thought-provoking'. But I really did want to write 'deep and thought-provoking', and therein lies my problem.

See, I'd read the title and thought it was going to be about the odd and crazy thoughts that flowed through a runner's head in the twelfth mile of a twenty-mile run, when your brain begins thinking thoughts that go beyond the instructions for putting one foot down and lifting the other. I wanted it to be about insights he's discovered in talking with buddies about how they run--and then realized at some late hour they were really talking about why they run.  I built up my expectations based on a title--

And I found out, in the afterword, that the title was borrowed from a book of short stories called, What we talk about when we talk about love. There appears to be no corollary between the two, just an author's to do homage to a book that meant a lot to him.

With all that build-up--self-induced, darn me!--I couldn't help but be disappointed. This is a simple memoir with a touch of how-to. It's good. It's pretty honest. It has some great insights and some highly quotable quotes. Read it--especially if you like to read about running and writing.

There are a couple of things that bugged me and I want to talk them through, just to figure out what I'm bugging about. One is his use of absolutes. I know that as a fiction writer, he's learned that people don't want to read fuzziness. A fiction writer doesn't write things like, "a lot of people feel", or "sometimes muscles need". He doesn't write, "If you're from the Midwest farming region, you might say the moon rose out of the pumpkin patch like a faded orange demon."  No way!  You write: "the moon demon rose as a fading pumpkin dies from the patch."

But he's writing about sports training, not demons. He says things about training that flatly contradict recommendations of experienced sports trainers. He says, "you must run every day" and then later admits that he, himself doesn't run every day.

That's my other beef--contradictions. Pretty much anything (notice my use of qualifiers?) he says in one part of the book is contradicted in other parts.  The worst one is his insistence early on that he is not a competitive person--he doesn't measure himself against others, but rather, his own previous performance.  I was intrigued. A truly, non-competitive runner? I wanted to hear this.

But later he describes races where he clearly is, and does, exhibit competitive behavior.  Nothing wrong with that--it's normal. It's human. But why insist you're not competitive when you have just as much of a place on the scale of competitive nature as any other human being?

And my last beef is that I really couldn't figure out why he ran races at all. Why does he run? He eventually says that it's to stay fit for writing. But if that's the only reason...why run marathons or do triathlons?  If he wants a motivation to keep running, he can surely find an easier one. Why bother with the racing? What are you getting from this torture? You say it's torture yet you say you like it. Why?

I haven't a clue.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Good tale of a horrid time

Between Shades of Gray
by Ruta Sepetys

I so much want to go back and read the reviews of this before I write anything down, but I won't. My mission is not to echo other people's opinions or even refute them--my mission is absolute honesty.

Absolutely honestly, I don't see what the big deal was about.  I loved the book. I'm sure it was dead-on accurate--it's the kind of historical fiction I'd love to write. Historical fiction can tell history in a way that non-fiction stuggles to achieve--living, breathing, hurting and surviving history. This being a tale of good people caught in an awful time, the simple facts wouldn't have made the picture real in a way that this excellent story did.

So what I'm wondering about is, why did I get the notion this was something literary? People raved and ah'ed over this book like it was a contender for The Morning News Tournament of Books.

Whatever my mistake, I was still pleased with the book although the content was a complete bummer.  As the cover says, the nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia disappeared from maps in 1941 and did not reappear until 1990. In this book, the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee gives a voice to the hundreds of thousands who lost their lives during Stalin's cleansing of the Baltic region.  I hope high schools read books like this, and then discuss places in the world where right now this stuff is happening--Sudan, Syria, Congo, Ethiopia, Burma. Probably others, see

Monday, September 5, 2016

Miss those fractured fairy tales!

Ash and Bramble
by Sarah Prineas

What a charming, clever little book!  She took a fairy tale--a lot of fairy tales--and turned it into a controlling monster. Her people--Pin, Shoe, and many others--have only to escape the all-compelling story...if they're ever to have a life.

I hope this isn't telling too much, but it's pretty obvious from the get-go. The book isn't obvious, though--not in the slightest. It's subtle, understated, even a little bit vague...but so compelling that once you pick it up you won't put it down again till it's done.

(At least I didn't)