I have No Taste: Thoughts on My Less Than Authoritative Book Reviews

There’s something ridiculous about these books reviews. They’re short, for one, and rarely contain any original insights. Indeed, for many of them (especially those dealing with classic works), they tell you next to nothing. My goals in writing them are, first, to force myself to articulate at least some thoughts about the books, even if those thoughts are not particularly original or insightful, and two, to perhaps give you a bit of flavor of what the book is about and whether you should spend your time reading it.

The reviews are all keyed with one of three ratings:

“Recommended” means that I think the book would be of interest to most readers – its something at least a little special.

“Recommended for the Enthusiast” means that if this is your jam (i.e. crime fiction, classical history) it will be of interest, but if this isn’t your section of the library, perhaps you should avoid it.

“Not Recommended”. means you shouldn’t waste your time.

Some caveats:

I have no taste. I read heaps of crime novels, spy novels, and science fiction novels. Some of which are real literature, some of which are page turning mind candy.

I also read widely in subjects in which I am not an expert. For example, I have lately been reading extensively in ancient history, but I have no academic background in classics.  Take everything here with the knowledge that I’m just a white dude from a small town in Connecticut who went to mediocre schools. There is nothing special or authoritative about my opinions.

Posted in Books, Navel Gazing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

A Foundational Text of our Fucked Up World — My Quick Thoughts on Homer’s the Iliad

The Iliad

Homer (trans. Fagles)

It’s hard to believe that the first time I read the Iliad, I didn’t enjoy. I was in my youth more of an Odyssey guy. That seems insane now. Sure, the first time was in undergrad reading under deadline. It was also the Lattimore edition, well loved by many, but in my opinion greatly inferior to this Fagles edition. And I was younger, and perhaps, in my abhorrence of war, failed to appreciate how straight up gorgeous this poem can be.

Whatever the reasons, at the time I thought of the Iliad as a long poem of fighting without much of interest. I was wrong. It incredible and I’d argue today, greater than its companion, the Odyssey.

As with all classics, it seems silly to write a short review on a vanity website about why it is so important, but I’ll forge ahead all the same.

In this translation, the Iliad is a poem of war, no doubt, but its depiction of it is complex. War is celebrated for the honor it can bring its combatants, for how it strips the world down the essentials of life and death, and for how it decides the history of our families, and our communities. It is without doubt, glorified here.

But its horrors are not overlooked. Hector knows his son will soon by fatherless; Hecuba knows her son is to die. Homer, through Fagles, doesn’t shy aware from the physical horror of war either. Throats are torn out, bodies are ripped to pieces, and brave men die horribly. Perhaps one could read this as audience pleasing gore, but I didn’t. To my reading, it’s the opposite, it reminds you that while these men and women believed war brought honor, it was also a bloody, awful, business.

In addition to the battle scenes, there are moments of quiet humanity. Priam begging for Hector’s body, Achilles’ mourning Patroclus (even if like me you’re sick of that overgrown man child). heroes are complex, not likeable, and human.

There is much that is repugnant about the book of course, slaves are traded for honors, women are clearly second class, and average people die so their lords may have glory. All that is reprehensible, but to my mind, grappling with it is part of what makes this book what it is — a foundational text of our fucked up world.

One more quick note on this edition: Fagles is a master. The language is immediate, accessible and gorgeous.  The introduction is informative for a novice like me. If you’re going to read this (and you should), read this translation.

Recommended.

1370445471_dpchka6

 

Posted in Books, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tales from the Hound: Some Memories of Encounters I’ve Had Riding Greyhound Buses

 

1452184174789

I am twenty years old and moving to California by bus. There are four of us going all the way to California — three African American dudes from the city and me. We chat a bit here and there, I share a shot with them on occasion, but generally I stay to myself. Most of the crowd on the bus shifts by the day. We stay constant. Somewhere out west, maybe Nevada? We begin to his the foothills of the Sierras. One of the cross country dudes is sitting behind me, his seat mate is a young hippie girl. He is floored by the mountains and says “Damn, this shit out here is gorgeous.” “Oh this isn’t much”, she says, “there’s much prettier places.” “It’s a hell of a lot prettier than the Bronx” he responds.

***********************************************************************************

I am in my early twenties doing another cross country bus run, starting in San Francisco, ending at my parent’s place in Connecticut. I’ve taken the southern route to visit a friend in Memphis. Somewhere in Arizona, a middle age white dude sits next to me. We comment on scenery and he tells me the story of how he was picked up by aliens out there.

He was all alone on the road when his truck stalled. As he got out to check the car, they appeared above him. I wish I’d pressed for more details, but I was young and little afraid of engaging with him. If this ever happens again, I’ll get the full scoop.

*********************************************************************************

I am 19 years old and heading back to New York City after visiting my parents in Connecticut. I’m reading Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, a thriller of sorts which makes extensive use of various strains of so called Western esoteric and masonic type conspiracies. A young clean cut white guy sits next to me. Probably late twenties. About twenty minutes into the ride, he notices the book I’m reading and engages me on conversation. He tells me he’s a member of a secret society of Catholics who have been fighting the Mason’s for thousands of years. I wish I could remember the name. It was Latin, like the book he was reading. The conversation had a pleasant tone. Two stranger passing the time, chatting. Except the subject was the need to fight the horrors of the masonic lead evil.

To this day, I don’t know if he was pulling my leg, crazy, or sincere.

Note: I’ve shared these stories in various places over the years and I’m sure the details have changed a bit in the telling. Dialogue is recreated and memory is subject to change, but I swear to god this shit happened.

 

 

Posted in Navel Gazing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The BQ(Q) – Diane Berberian

Diane in legally blind. She first qualified for Boston in 1995 before she lost her vision, but she has since qualified again as a blind runner. She’s an incredible inspiration. Check out her story below and be sure to follow her on social media! Thanks Diane for taking the time to share your story.  

Name

Diane Berberian (www.dianeberberian.org or @dianeberberian or irondiane on instagram

Sex:

Female

Age (at the time of first BQ):

38

Height:

5’2″

Weight (at the time of first BQ):

120

At which marathon did you get your first BQ?

Jacksonville Bank in Jacksonville. FL

 

Tell us a little about the race.

Small event in numbers. FLAT. January.

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

5 Years

Did you run in college or high school?

No

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

Not sure? I have always been a low mileage/week due to injury prevention

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

~37 miles per week

Approximately how many races did you run in that year?

30 or more of varied distances but only 1 marathon

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, I had a coach. Speed work was weekly, tempo runs and long runs. Although he tried to get me to do more miles my body kept breaking down. That was the year I became a triathlete. LOL

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

Yes

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

Absolutely. I could not and still do not tolerate high mileage so I did lots of swim and bike. Actually did so much that I did an Iron man triathlon that year.

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

Absolutely. I was a very strong runner both mentally and physically.

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

I need to add that the first year that I qualified was 1995 and chose not to go to Boston since I loved triathlon more. I did not even try again until 2012 when I was legally blind and qualified with the qualifying time being slower. I am no         where near the 3:42 that I was in 1995.

Legally blind endurance athlete Diane Berberian

Posted in Boston Qualifier Questionnaire | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The BQ(Q) – Dan

Name

Dan

Sex:

Male

Age (at the time of first BQ):

28

Height:

5’10”

Weight (at the time of first BQ):

160

At which marathon did you get your first BQ?

St. Gorge

Tell us a little about the race.

Flat first half, fast down, second half

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

5 years

Did you run in college or high school?

No

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

10000

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

3000

Approximately how many races did you run in that year?

3

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?

Did not crosstrain

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

Did not do speed work

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

 

Posted in Boston Qualifier Questionnaire | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The BQ(Q) – Sherry

Name

Sherry

Sex:

Female

Age (at the time of first BQ):

26

Height:

5’3″

Weight (at the time of first BQ):

113lb

At which marathon did you get your first BQ?

2008 San Diego Rock n Roll Marathon

Tell us a little about the race.

It was in 2008, so I don’t remember much from it. I’ve run that course once before, and it was pretty flat. The weather was perfect and it was slightly overcast.

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

4 years

Did you run in college or high school?

No

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

5300

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

1000

Approximately how many races did you run in that year?

3

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, 4 hard work outs/ week: 1 speedwork, 1 tempo, 1 hill, 1 long run, any other runs were easy, slow runs

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

No

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

I did cross train, but I’m not sure if that played a role. I weight trained doing mostly body weight workouts, high reps and low weight.

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

Yes, it’s what got me to learn to run faster.

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

My first BQ was in 2008. Since 2013, since coming back from an injury, I’ve upped my mileage to 60 miles/wk (2000miles/yr), my husband is my coach, I’m on a run team, and I use the Science of Running by Steve Magness to create a marathon plan.

 

Posted in Boston Qualifier Questionnaire | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Review: Harris’s Ten Percent Happier

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story

Dan Harris

This one is on one hand a pretty no-nonsense introduction to “mindfulness” practice and on the other a slightly annoying memoir from a television anchor. I find it a bit ironic that this was the book that finally got me to take meditation seriously. But here we are.

There is something about Harris no bullshit approach, his general skepticism about the whole endeavor, and his clear reportage style that resonated with me. He became interested in meditation because he was struggling, and needed to find grounding somewhere. Then he kept at it because it worked. He struggles with how to stay competitive in his professional life with pursuing a sense of non-attachment. He grapples with what, exactly, Buddhists means when they speak of enlightenment.  And he takes the advice of western hippies and the Dali Lama interrogates it, and takes a real, honest, stab at figuring out if it is bullshit or not. I appreciated the forthrightness, if not always the tone.

I listened to the book mainly while walking back and forth from the hospital where my wife was cooped up, trying to stave off a premature pregnancy. It was a stressful time and this book, and what it taught me, helped. I am sure there are better books out there on mediation and mindfulness, and I intend to find them. But this is the first one I read (at least since a short teenage dalliance with Zen) and for better or worse, it resonated with me. Harris’s can be grating at times, especially when speaking of his reportage coups, or his days as a cub reporter tutored by Peter Jennings, but his struggles with what it means to live mindfully in as unmindful a place as New York City, in as un-reflective a world as TV journalism spoke to this middle age white dude looking for a little peace of mind.

Your mileage may vary.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Posted in Books, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment