Sunday, June 28, 2009

Book #38: Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Title: Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
Author: Barack Obama

We're about halfway into the year now, and I'm stuck on book #38. I can't remember if this is the third or fourth year I've blogged my books for what started out as a "Fifty Book Challenge" but I'm pretty sure that I've read more than 38 by July 1st. This year the move (and all those hours spent drooling over the This American Life DVDs) have set me back more than I'd like. A decent reading pace is 1.5 books per week, 2 on a good week. It took me three weeks to read Dreams from My Father.

When it takes me a really long time to finish a book, I generally think it must be because the book was bad and didn't really grasp my attention. And it's true that every time I opened Dreams from My Father, I was asleep before finishing a paragraph. But I tend to think that had more to do with the fact that while I was reading it, I was spending my days unpacking boxes, buying all the stuff you need but don't want to buy when you buy a new house, calming my kids' fears about the move, and waiting interminably for repair men to show up and fix wiring and televisions and air conditioners.

So while the book is called Dreams from My Father, it sort of feels like a dream to me too, probably because I was half asleep when I read most of it. It's a memoir from Barack Obama's childhood up to the time when he started law school at Harvard (when he was in his late twenties, I'd guess), and seems to be his attempt to synthesize his heritage as the child of a white American mother and an African father and trying to find his place as an African American. Once again, I'm impressed by his intelligence and his grace as a writer. It's so honest, in fact, that sometimes it made me squirm a little bit, wondering if I knew more about our commander in chief than he wished, in retrospect that he'd shared. It's definitely worth reading, and will add to any reader's knowledge about our president and how where and who he came from shaped the man he is today. I'd just recommend not reading it during a cross-country move.

Book #37: Austenland

Title: Austenland
Author: Shannon Hale

After reading and loving some of Shannon Hale's other books, I was glad I read some of the reviews of Austenland before I found it on the bargain table at Barnes and Noble. Otherwise, I may have been disappointed. As far as books go, it's pretty light, not as substantial as, say, The Goose Girl (ironically her books written for kids seem more meaty than this book written for adults), and somewhat predictable. Most of the time, when I hear that a book I love is being made into a movie, I cringe and fear that it's going to be ruined by its cinematic transformation. Other times, like in the cases of The Devil Wears Prada and Bridget Jones's Diary, the book seems almost better suited to being a movie than a novel from the get go. Austenland is another book that sort of disappoints as a book, but I think it would be ideally suited to a 100-minute romantic comedy. I'd even pay $8 (again) to see it in the theater. Besides, nothing gets my blood pumping like some Regency dresses and men in tights. So my vote is for a movie version of Austenland.

Book #36: The New Kings of Nonfiction

Title: The New Kings of Nonfiction
Editor: Ira Glass

I have a crush on Ira Glass. For years, it was small crush, a radio crush. I just really liked listening to the This American Life podcasts each week and decided Ira was cool. Then Eddie bought me both the This American Life DVDs and New Kings of Nonfiction (which I'd tried unsuccessfully to reserve at the library in Texas) for Mother's Day (because there's nothing better than a husband who appreciates and even encourages his wife's harmless crushes). I watched the DVDs first and they are AMAZING! If you haven't seen them, they are worth a Showtime subscription. Barring that, they're definitely worth the $27 you'd pay for them at amazon (which is just enough to get free shipping! score!). Glass comes across as slightly nerdier than I'd pictured him from his radio voice, but after ten hours of watching him, my crush was reaching dangerous proportions. I was even considering email love notes to Chicago Public Radio (ok, not really, but I was still swooning).

Then I read The New Kings of Nonfiction. You see, for the last year I've been writing and editing for Segullah, so nonfiction is right up my alley. I was looking forward to some new and groundbreaking nonfiction. I'd already read a few of the essays. And the other essays were just so, well, male. I guess it's no coincidence that the book is called The New KINGS of Nonfiction, because 12 of the 14 essays were written by men. And they were about very male topics: poker, trading stocks, being a lunatic soccer fan, bulls, wars, etc... Even the articles written by women were about things guys would like: one was about what an American ten-year-old male looks like and the other was about working as a hostess at an ultracool NYC bar. So I'd built up in my mind over the last few years this image of Glass as a sensitive metrosexual kind of guy, and the macho themes of the book totally blew that image out of the water. And now I'm not sure what I think about him.

I'll say this though, Malcolm Gladwell's essay "Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg" is golden. The book is worth picking up even if you only read that.

Book #35: What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained

Title: What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained
Author: Robert L. Wolke

Strictly speaking, What Einstein Told His Cook is more of a reference book than anything else. Wolke divides the book into sections like "Sweet Talk" (all about sugar) and "Salt of the Earth" and goes on to answer common questions about the topic at large. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I'm all about a good food book. And this is one, so even though I probably should have used it as a reference, I read it like a novel, from cover to cover. It was entertaining, and I learned a lot about why foods act the way they do. I've recommended it to a bunch of my friends with science backgrounds, and I haven't heard back to see if they enjoyed the book (or managed to read it yet), but I've wondered since if it might be a better book for a non-science layperson like me for whom all of the information is new (an acid and a base counteract each other when mixed? who knew!) than for someone who already knows all that stuff. This book was published about a decade ago (I think) and Wolke has gone on to write another book in the same series (which I currently have on reserve at the library) and a couple of other "What Einstein Told..." books that are about science but not about cooking.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

In Memoriam: Black Horizon Treadmill

AP- Salt Lake City, Utah

Little more than a year after being cleared on homicide charges in the untimely death of White Sony Television, Black Horizon Treadmill died of an apparent cardiac arrest yesterday morning. She was six years old.

Treadmill started her working years in Rochester, Minnesota in the home of Edward and Shelah Miner. Ed bought Treadmill to help his wife survive the long, dark Minnesota winters and initially thought Treadmill would live out a conventional existence, mainly serving the family as an expensive, oversized clothes hanger. But Shelah found a kindred spirit in Treadmill, visiting her on an almost daily basis for stress-relief and therapy. "It's like I lost a best friend," Shelah said tearfully at her home in Salt Lake City.

Over the last half-decade, Treadmill served Shelah well, getting her through Minnesota winters, Texas summers, and spica-cast-induced exile. The pair trained for four marathons and countless other races together. Since White Sony Television's death, the pair had been accompanied on their daily meetings by Orange iPod. In a prepared statement, iPod said, "While Treadmill's early death is lamentable, it's not exactly a surprise. Shelah has been steadily increasing my volume over the last year in order to hear her favorite podcasts over Treadmill's noise. And neighbors always knew when Shelah and Treadmill were working together because the whole house would shake. It's wasn't a question of if Treadmill would give out, just a question of when."

Although Shelah loved Treadmill, others couldn't understand the attraction. Many wondered why she punished herself on Treadmill every morning. Still others found Black Horizon Treadmill even more punishing than her Treadmill peers. Friends who came over to run on Treadmill often decided that a single run was enough. Similarly, both Ed and Shelah's mother, who visited often, refused to run on Treadmill, citing various bodily complaints after using her.

Treadmill's death came less than two weeks after the family moved from Texas to Salt Lake City. Shelah was excited to give Treadmill her own room in the basement (where they'd be less likely to shake the house) and spent the last few weeks increasing the intensity of their workouts together. Shelah said, "I'd spent our years in Texas holding onto Treadmill's handrails, but once we moved and Treadmill was located in a quieter spot, I wanted to break myself of the habit. Maybe Treadmill felt distanced from me in the last weeks of her life? If so, that was not my intent. I saw the change as a new, better phase in our relationship."

According to sources close to the family. Shelah had been running on Treadmill for approximately 34 minutes, at speeds varying between 8.5 and 10 mph, when she was called away to answer the telephone. She noticed a slight burning smell as she left the room, and when she returned, Treadmill wouldn't start. After several attempts at recusitation, Treadmill remained unresponsive. She was pronounced dead at 7:15pm MDT.

"I can't even think about replacing her right now," Shelah said. "I'm glad it's not 80 degrees at 5am like it is in Texas." The family plans to keep Treadmill in the basement for the time being, and will start looking for a replacement in the coming months. However, sources close to the situation wonder if Shelah can handle another piece of expensive electronic equipment: "White Sony Television's death could have been seen as an accident, but now Black Horizon Treadmill is gone too? I think I'd warn any Treadmill thinking of joining the family in the future that Shelah may be an electronics serial killer."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wasatch Back Race Report!

I picked up Lyn and Amy at the airport around noon. We came back to my house, where my mom had made us lunch, and hung out for a while. It was the end of our first week in the new house, and while Lyn and Amy were here, we had someone over adding a phone jack in the basement and two other people outside fixing our air conditioning. I was leaving my mom at home in charge of the kids, and she was expecting at least three more service calls while I was gone. Moving is so much fun!

After a couple of hours, Leilani arrived. Then our chariot (Linsey's Yukon) appeared. We somehow stuffed eight women, food for 30, at least ten bags and a whole bunch of sleeping bags into the van. A couple of hours later, we showed up at the Olive Garden in Logan, where everyone chatted for dinner, and against my better judgment I ordered Alfredo Sauce on my pizza. I know I can't eat cheese or ice cream the night before I run, so why do I always do it? I'm just dumb, I guess.

That evening we had a team meeting (where I only got called out a couple of times to put out fires at home) and decorated the cars. I was worried about falling asleep at the hotel, but miraculously I fell asleep quickly and managed to stay asleep all night (or at least until our wake up call came at 5:30). We went downstairs, got the vans loaded (ours felt much less squishy than last year, which was nice) and went to the finish line.

Last year I was runner 1, so I was the one who kicked off the race. It was a little strange to be the last runner in the van. I watched Lyn, then Arlynda, then Marinda, Marie and Megan all hop out of the van and rock their legs before I got my chance. A little aside: our van got along really well, which made all of the hours fun and Cara was a great driver. So huge thanks to Cara! My first leg was about a mile up to the top of Avon Pass, then about six more down the other side of the mountain. Last year I had a similar leg as runner 1, and I felt the familiar dry mouth feeling as I began my ascent. But I just tried to turn my head from the dust of the passing cars and soon found myself at the summit. The rest of the leg was amazing-- I felt like I was flying. It was a serious adrenalin rush to go down the side of a mountain on a dirt path as fast as I possibly could. I finished that leg in around 49 minutes, I think, and it was 6.9 miles. Alfredo's revenge hit after that leg of the race, and I was happy to get some immodium in my system. Ugh.

Then we had some time up at Solitude. We staked out a quiet spot and I think I dozed. I know I drooled on a leather bench. Marinda farted a lot. But we love her anyway. By the time we got on the road again I was sunburned. I brought the sunblock (heck, I bought the sunblock) but I did not put it on. Now I'm peeling in an oh-so-lovely way.

As the evening wore on, I watched Lyn rock the leg that kicked my butt last year, Arlynda meander through the twilight, and the rest of the girls make their way through the darkness. I was most nervous about my second leg, an 8.1 mile climb that started at 11pm. Actually, it turned out to be a fantastic leg. It was dark enough that I couldn't anticipate the hills that were coming up, and I've never seen such bright stars. I had promised myself that I would walk when the hills got hard, but I found that I didn't walk at all until after mile 6, and then only a couple of times to catch my breath. When I reached the exchange, I was feeling a little giddy-- the hard part was done!

After that, we returned to Morgan where Arlynda had arranged for us to sleep in her aunt's basement. I'm not sure if I actually ever slept, I was still feeling high from my last run, and I had decided not to take off my clothes and sweated all night. When I woke up at 4am, I decided I'd rather take a shower than sleep for an extra 15 minutes, and I think a shower was at least as refreshing as the night's sleep. Pretty soon we were on the road again.

By the time we started our last legs, we were pretty punchy. We started playing the "hide the dollar" game where our van would hide a dollar along the route and our runner would try to find it. At one point, Marinda, Lyn and I had led the van to hell by playing dirty SNL songs on my phone and coming up with risque names for future WB teams, and we turned on Primary music to return the spirit of reverence to the car. Actually, we blasted it. And I think we caught a bird from a fellow runner for our efforts. Like I said, pretty much anything seemed hysterical by that point.

My last leg was 3.1 miles (actually 3.26) through Heber. It was an easy leg, great except that I had to stop for a RED LIGHT (grrrr!) for at least a minute to cross Heber Main. I finished in 22:06 and was pretty happy with that time considering that it was about half a mile longer than I originally thought it would be (it was listed as 2.8 on the spreadsheet). It's probably bragging to say this, but I'm going to do it anyway: I didn't keep track of how many people I passed, but I only got passed once. By a fast, fast man. Yay.

After my last leg was over our van went over to Granny's, where we met up with a team who had already finished. We were very jealous! My mom and kids showed up, and it was back to being a mom for me. We drove back to my house, showered, and had a (very) little bit of down time before heading back to Park City to meet our team at the finish. Like the others said, by the time we crossed the finish line, there was a torrential downpour with hail, and it was 46 degrees. Eddie (who had been finishing up his job in Texas) arrived in Salt Lake just about the same time we crossed the finish line, and I was eager to get home and reunite my family.

It was a great race. A crazy race. And it came at a crazy point in my life, but I'm so glad I did it again and can't wait for next year.