2016: My Year In Books

In 2016, I embarked on a project where I tried to match my reading to the demographics of the U.S.* I set out to read 52 books broken down like this:

  • 10 books (or ~17%) written by Latino writers
  • 7 books (or ~13 %) written by writers from Africa or of African descent
  • 3 books (or roughly 5%) written by writers from Asia or of Asian descent
  • 1 book (or roughly 1%) written by a Native American writer
  • 1 book (or roughly 1%) written by a writer from the pacific islands or of pacific island decent,

The rest of the books could (but certainly did not have to be) written by Caucasian writers.

Half of all books had to be written by women.

So, how’d I do? Pretty well, but not perfectly. I met the racial diversity goals, but, due to some faulty math along the way, I ended up reading slightly less than 50% female authors. I tried to hammer through and ended up reading a bit more than 52 books, but alas, the clock ran out at around 43% female writers.

Oh well, good effort, kid.

When I started this project, I knew it was problematic, but I thought it was worth giving it a try. Here’s what I learned:

The Good

For someone like me, who, when left to his own devices, will overwhelming read white men, setting up these rules forced me out of my comfort zone. I read books I’d never have known about before, seeking out Native American and Pacific Islander writers who would have forever been off my radar.

In seeking out these voices, I learned things I’d never have known otherwise, and that, to me, is one of the reasons for reading in the first place.

The Bad

I knew going into this that the project could tokenistic and limiting, and that really started to come through in the last quarter of the year when I was trying to figure out my reading plan to meet the goal. For example, I wanted to read Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James, a Jamaican writer, but reading another male writer was going to hurt my stats, so I decided to wait until this year.

How does that make sense?

It doesn’t.

For me, reading is about exploring and learning, and I enjoy being improvisational in my choices. Of course, if I’d read less white dudes in the beginning of the year, reading James wouldn’t have been a problem. But I’d back myself into a corner with my stupid rules and they felt, well, silly and counter productive.

Even if I had read less white men, many other voices didn’t make it into my reading. I made no concerted effort to read LGBT writers, for example, or writers with disabilities. I also painted with an absurdly large brush. I conflated the vastly different experiences of a Chilean poet and a Dominican novelist under the umbrella “Latino” which is pretty much the definition of reductionist.

I knew going in that the limitations would create an imperfect tool, and they did.  Still, I think it was worth the effort. I discovered quite a bit in terms of both new writers and the limits of this type of quota system.

What’s next?

I’m glad I did this project, but I won’t be doing it again. In 2017, I’m going to continue to prioritize diversity in my reading choice, but I’m moving away from this sort of quota system. I’m going to make an effort to read more women, and more people of color, and I’ll pay attention to the way things are shaking out, but I’m taking a break from rigid rules. We’ll see how it goes.

The Actual Books

Ok, enough ruminating. Onto what I actually read – 55 books, split pretty evenly between fiction and non-fiction. The books this year were a better than average group — there weren’t many stinkers in the lot.

Indeed, it’s hard to pick favorite, but I’ll try:

Best Nonfiction BookMalcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, Manny Marable.  A tough one. I loved One of Us and Just Mercy and in another year could have picked either of those. But Marable’s book is on another level. The scholarship, the reflection, the magnitude of the project, all of it combined to make an incredibly compelling read. This is not only the best book I read this year, but one of the best biographies I have ever read.

Best Fiction Book. Winter in the Blood. Equally hard to choose a favorite here. I could have chosen from among the many, many wonderful books I read this year including Family Life,  Too Like the Lightning, Distant Star, the Fifth Season  and People in the Trees, but I’m choosing Winter in the Blood, because it resonated with me so long after I closed it. It is beautifully written, and profoundly depressing, but buried among all the despair, there’s a hint of hope. I need hope right now, so it gets the nod.

Below is a complete list of the books with my annotation of whether I recommend it for the general reader, recommend it for the enthusiast interested in the subject matter, or if I think you shouldn’t bother at all.

Remember, I have no taste.

1. H is for Hawk, Helen McDonald – Recommended

 

2. One of Us: the Story of Anders Brevik and the Massacre in Norway, Asen Seierstad – Recommended

 

3. A Life Without Limits, Chrissie Wellington – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

4. Black Flags: The rise of Isis, Joby Warrick – Recommended

 

5. Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Re-invest Money, Nathaniel Popper – Recommended

 

6. Mythology, Edith Hamilton – Recommended

 

7. The Greek Way, Edith Hamilton – Not Recommended

 

8. Stesichorus: Complete Works (Loeb edition), Stesichorus – Not Recommended

 

9. Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson – Recommended

 

10. Family Life, Akhil Sharma – Recommended

 

11. Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz – Recommended

 

12. Living With A Seal: 31 Days with the Toughest Man on the Planet, Jesse Itzler – Recommended

 

13. Red Doc >, Anne Carson – Recommended for the enthusiast

 

14. Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler– Recommended

 

15. The Trojan War: A Very Short Introduction, Eric Cline – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

16. Shadow Divers: The True Story of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One Of the Last Mysteries of WWII, Robert Kurson – Recommended for the enthusiast

 

17. A Beautiful Mind, Sylvia Nasar – Recommended for the Enthusiast.

 

18. The Iliad, Homer (trans. Fagles) – Recommended

 

19. 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge and Found Self-Help That Actually Works, Dan Harris – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

20. The Odyssey, Homer (trans. Fagles) – Recommended

 

21. The Aeneid, Virgil (trans. Fagels) – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

22. Find A Way, Diane Nyad – Recommended

 

23. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson – Recommended

 

24. Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, Sonia Shah – Recommended

 

25. A Cold Day in Paradise, Steve Hamilton – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

26. The Trojan Women, Hecuba, Andromache, Euripides (trans. Moorwood) – Recommended

 

27. The World of Odysseus, M.I. Finley – Recommended

 

28. The Beautiful Struggle, Ta-Nehisi Coates – Recommended

 

29. The Second Life of Nick Mason, Steve Hamilton – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

30. Infomacracy, Malka Older – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

31. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, Manny Marable – Recommended

 

32. The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin – Recommended

 

33. Too Like the Lightning, Ada Palmer – Recommended

 

34. Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance, Matt Fitzgerald – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

35. 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower, Matt Fitzgerald – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

36. The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana In A Female Punk Band, Michelle Cruz Gonzales – Recommended

 

37. Loquela, Carlos Labbe – Not Recommended

 

38. Winter In the Blood, James Walsh – Recommended

 

39. Straits of Mesinna, Samuel Delany – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

40. History of Buddhism, Robert Lopez – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

41. War and the Iliad, Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff – Recommended

 

42. Lost City Radio, Daniel Alarcon – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

43. Inferno, Patricia Mello – Not Recommended

 

44. Run or Die, Killian Jornet – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

45. Hillbilly Elegy: A Story of a Family and Culture in Crisis J.D. Vance – Recommended

 

46. Distant Star, Roberto Bolano – Recommended

 

47. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, Pablo Neruda – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

48. Sudden Death, Alvaro Enrique – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

49. The Vegetarian, Han Kang – Recommended

 

50. The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin – Recommended

 

51. Shiner, Maggie Nelson – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

52. Bluets, Maggie Nelson – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

53. Pond, Claire Louise Bennett _ Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

54. The People in the Trees, Hanya Yanagihara – Recommended

 

55. By Night in Chile, Roberto Bolano – Recommended

*You can see my orginal post on what I planned to read in 2016 here. 

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The BQ(Q) Brad Lindeberg

Name

Brad Lindeberg

Sex:

Male

Age (at the time of first BQ):

28

Height:

5’5″

Weight (at the time of first BQ):

135 ish

At which marathon did you get your first BQ?

Lincoln, NE

Tell us a little about the race.

It was my second “born again” marathon after a long running hiatus from High School. I had run the San Francisco Marathon in July 2010 and was only a few minutes from a BQ. I targeted Lincoln, per a recommendation from my Uncle who ran Boston in the 80s. I arrived well prepared and the weather was perfect: high 40s with sun and little breeze. First half split was a bit fast but I ended with 03:05:47 – good enough for 2012 but 47 seconds too slow for ’13 and beyond. I hoped to re-qualify in Boston but 2012 was a hot year. I re-qualified in fall of 2014 and ran Boston again in 2016.

How long had you been running when you ran your first BQ?

About 2 years semi-structured

Did you run in college or high school?

Yes

What was your approximate lifetime mileage at the time of your first BQ?

No idea. Probably around 1-2,000

How many miles did you run in the year before your first BQ?

1000

Approximately how many races did you run in that year?

8

Did you follow a canned program? If so, which one? If not, can you give us an idea of what your training philosophy was?

no

Did you run with a running club or utilize a coach?

No

Did cross training play a role in your training? If so, how?

Yes. I was weight training my upper body and core. I also enjoy playing golf – walking 18 holes while carrying a bag.

Did speed work play a role or specific workouts play a role in your training? If so, how?

Yes. I ran some shorter distances fast and tune up races fast. I didn’t run too many long runs close to my goal pace.

Any other thoughts you would like to share with those of working towards a BQ?

Find a reputable plan/coach to keep you honest. Do plenty of cross training, strength training, and things that make you happy to avoid injury and burnout. Lastly, sleep as much as you can.

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Implementing Lessons from the Blue Zones, Inconveniencing Myself, and Other Things I’m Focusing On In 2017

So-called “Blue Zones” are areas of the world in which people have significantly longer, healthier lives than the world-wide average. Blue Zones have been researched and written about pretty extensively and in a popular book about them, Dan Buettner extrapolated these basic themes:

  • Moderate, regular physical activity.
  • Life purpose.
  • Stress reduction.
  • Moderate calories intake.
  • Plant-based diet.
  • Moderate alcohol intake, especially wine.
  • Engagement in spirituality or religion.
  • Engagement in family life.
  • Engagement in social life.

vendiagram

Since I read Blue Zones, I’ve been obsessed with implementing these ideas in my life. Here’s some things this urban, desk bound, lawyer is doing this year to be healthier:

More plants. I’ve recommitted to the vegan till six thing, though more as a guideline than a rule. I’m already seeing results in my waist line. I was, for many years, a vegan/vegetarian, but I don’t think I’ll ever go back to that restrictive a diet. But study after study says, more plants is better. Meat once or twice a week is where we’re at right now and where I’d like to stay.

Take the stairs, carry the kids, wash the dishes. Constantly, we are presented with the choice between the easy and the hard road. In a world of physical convenience, it’s often best to take the hard road. One thing blue zone communities have in common is regular, low level exercise. Another thing most have in common is they’re semi-rural. Brooklyn is not semi rural. I do not chop wood. I do not garden. But my home and office have stairs. My kids can be carried instead of put in the stroller. I can do the dishes by hand.

I try to ask myself  if there’s a way to inconvenience a task without drastically increasing its time.  If I can make it just a bit harder, without sacrificing too much expediency, I’ll do it. It helps.

 

Meditate. When E and A were in the hospital, I meditated everyday. It helped. Since then, I’ve fallen off, but am eager to get after it. Meditation, per se, isn’t one of the factors that Buettner calls out, but a regular spiritual practice is. I’m not a particularly spiritual person, but when I am engaging in a regular meditation practice, I see benefits throughout my life. In my focus, in my mood, and in my sleep. Ten minutes a day isn’t too much to give to being quiet.

Unplug, hang out. I, like many, spent too much of 2016 refreshing twitter. I’m trying to do less of that this year. So far, it’s been harder than I thought. Getting into bed and checking my phone one last time is so ingrained in me, it’s muscle memory. It’ll take time, and probably some more hard and fast rules, to break the habit.

But I want to focus less on what the orange monster is saying and more on casual time with the family and friends. The other night, for instance, I was casually invited to a neighbor’s house to play a board game. I was hesitant to go at first, my uptight Yankee coming through. But I went, and it was fun.  More of that, 2017.

In fact, more of all of this.

More time invested in our synagogue, more time doing art projects with our kids, more time exploring the park, more time drinking wine with friends.

Less of that other shit. 

Less time on swiping at the goddamn phone. Less time in pointless meetings, less time fretting over the things I cannot control. More time working on the things I can.

*The concept of “Blue Zones” has been ceaselessly merchandised with books, websites and more. For people like me, that level of commodification can seem distasteful. Ok, fine. But that doesn’t mean the research isn’t valid and compelling.

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The BQ(Q) – Andrew Ng

Very cool that Andrew thought to recommend we check out his Strava page to see up close what it took to get his BQ. Thanks, Andrew!

Name

Andrew Ng

Sex:

Male

Age (at the time of first BQ):

35

Height:

5’8

Weight (at the time of first BQ):

135lb

At which marathon did you get your first BQ?

Grandma’s

Tell us a little about the race.

You can read my race report on my blog here. 

How long had you been running when you ran your first BQ?

Regularly for about 9 years, but only seriously for about 2

Did you run in college or high school?

No

What was your approximate lifetime mileage at the time of your first BQ?

5000 miles

How many miles did you run in the year before your first BQ?

maybe 1200 miles, feel free to check my Strava

Approximately how many races did you run in that year?

4

Did you follow a canned program? If so, which one? If not, can you give us an idea of what your training philosophy was?

no

Did you run with a running club or utilize a coach?

Yes

Did cross training play a role in your training? If so, how?

Mainly just yoga.

Did speed work play a role or specific workouts play a role in your training? If so, how?

Not for this first BQ.

Any other thoughts you would like to share with those of working towards a BQ?

Running with people faster than me helped a lot, local running groups worked great for my first BQ.

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Review: Jemisin’s The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemisin

The first volume in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. The story of a world beset by earth quakes and other natural phenomenon, which can be kept at bay (or instigated) by a group of people with the power to control the forces of the earth. Called Orogenes, these people are hated, and feared. But why? Because they’re dangerous? Because they’re different? Because they’re strong? The story of some o these Orogenes and their shifting place in society is the center of this book. Their adventures and misfortunes are what move the plot. This book won a Hugo this year, and you see why. The writing is light years better than the average fantasy novel.  Jemisin is a gifted writer of real subtly, who introduces her characters, and her world, gradually, and carefully, revealing a bit more here and there to flesh out her heroes, and villains, and the world in which they live.

There’s plot twists and reveals here that in the hands of a lesser author would feel contrived. But Jemisin knows what she’s doing. While I may have uttered a “holy shit” once or twice when a revelation about the nature of the story finally dawned on me, I never felt conned like I sometimes do with books that have this sort of reveal-as-they-go structure. Yeah, this book is “fantasy” and I know that label alone may turn some off. But I suggest you get out of you comfort zone here and give it a try. It’s a great ride.

Recommended.

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Your Occasional Stoic: A Hierarchy of Bad Acts

Theophrastus, in his comparison of bad acts says ones committed out of desire are worse than those which are committed through anger. For he who is excited by anger seems to turn away from reason with a certain pain and unconscious contraction; but he who offends through desire, being overpowered by pleasure, seems to be in a manner more intemperate and less manly in his offences. Rightly then, he said that the offence which is committed with pleasure is more blamable than that which is committed with pain; and on the whole the one is more like a person who has been first wronged and through pain is compelled to be angry; but the other is moved by his own impulse to do wrong, being carried towards doing something by desire.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.10

  • Wow, “less manly”? A helpful reminder that Marcus’s world is not our, and his goals should not be our goals. There’s much to learn here, but keep it in the context of the misogynistic, slave owning society from which it comes.

 

  • Theophrastus, by the way, was a leader of the Peripatetic school, a student and friend of Aristotle who wrote widely on a number of subjects and isn’t much studied. Today.

 

  • According to the notes in the Hays translation, this sort of hierarchy of “bad acts” is at odds with stoic doctrine, which finds all wrongs equal. But that’s Marcus, going his own way.marcus-aurelius
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Review: Delany’s Straits of Messina

Straits of Messina

Samuel Delany

A now out of print and dearly priced collection of Samuel Delany* writing about his own works, including detailed essays on Dhalgren, the controversial (and at the time of publication of this book, unpublished) Hogg, Nova, the Tales of Nevryon series, and more.

If you’re a fan of Delany, (and I most definitely am) this is well worth tracking down. While Delany is a wildly prolific author, he doesn’t tend to write much in the way of self-criticism. Straight up memoir, sure, but sustained self-assessments of his work are rare and this book, while it is almost entirely made up of pieces of self-assessment, barely scratches the surface of Delany’s major works. Yes, we get some insight into Delany’s process. He also discusses the works that influence him — Delany’s deep interest in continental philosophy is well know, I however wasn’t aware of how serious he follows poetry. All of which is informative.

But at times, especially when he is writing about my favorite, Dhalgren, I get the sense that Delany is either being coy about what he was up to, or he himself may not understand the magic he was working.

Still, some of the insights here are illuminating, and some of the vignettes (including that time Auden came over for dinner at the tiny lower east side apartment Delany shared with his then wife, Marilyn Hacker) are wonderful.

Well worth the effort of tracking down if you’re a fan, less so if Delany isn’t your thing.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

*Often under the nom de plume K. Leslie Steiner

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