Review: Daniel Silva’s The New Girl

eagerly awaiting my turn

I was actually going to put this on Goodreads, but then I realized how many Daniel Silva books I’ve reviewed here over the various iterations this blog has gone through in 17 (!!) years and realized it has become a bit of a tradition.

Also a tradition, attending his signings here in New York. Silva and his publishers have an annual “break the embargo” event at the Barnes & Noble Union Square on the eve of the official publication date which is why I often read his in hard copy. I missed the one two years ago when I was in Montreal, but I’ve been at most of the others in the last ten years. Also poignant with his release date: I was in Israel ten years ago this week and Silva’s writing, albeit fiction, was a huge part of why Israel was on my bucket list.

Spoilers below.

My annual visit to the world of Gabriel Allon with #TheNewGirl. Thank you, @DanielSilvaBook for your time & workds Click To Tweet

Continue reading “Review: Daniel Silva’s The New Girl”

Review: Scott Jurek’s North

Amazon tells me I bought Scott & Jenny Jurek’s North on July 3, 2018, shortly after I finished Eat & Run. Oops, didn’t mean to wait this long to read it. Linking up with Kim and Zenaida for Tuesday Topics to discuss this book.

Mom & I, on the AT in Western Mass, August 10, 2014

Let’s start with the ways I am not and will never be Scott Jurek:

  • vegan
  • ultra runner
  • champion ultra runner
  • willing to live out of a van for ~50 days

That said, I really enjoyed this book. Coming off a hike in the Anza Borrego section of PCT and needing a new challenge, Scott and his wife Jenny decided to go for a Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Appalachian Trail. In the interim, this journey took on a lot more significance as he struggled with who he was at a time when he was no longer a competitive ultrarunner and he and his wife struggled to start a family.

The crux of the journey begins with their drive from Boulder, CO to Georgia in the van that would be their home for the next 45+ days as they chased the record. Factoring out a record as that is just not within my ability, I’m not sure which would be harder: hiking or living in a van for two months. They had occasional nights with real beds & showers, but ick. No. Can’t do it.

The photo above is the only segment of the AT that I’ve knowingly walked, although I’ve walked the Long Path near Harriman/Bear Mountain on a number of occasions and probably walked part of where the two intersect. On the Western Mass segment we lasted about twenty minutes and had approximately the same number of mosquito bites. While I love running, I am so not outdoorsy. I have no idea how Jurek dealt with a mystery rash, poison ivy, and smelling like apple cider vinegar as his muscles broke down despite eating 7-9K calories a day.

Both Jureks touched on the contrast between the AT, PCT and Continental Divide Trail being that so much of the US population lives within a day’s drive of a segment of the AT and as result, it has higher hiker (or hicker) volume and all the pluses and minuses that go with that. While they didn’t paint a rosy portrait and acknowledged the possible dangers to Jenny waiting for him or Scott hiking based on the trail’s grim history, they did realize that the access to vegan foods and other staples might not have happened in the past on the AT and/or now on another trail.

While Jenny was his main crew chief, the two of them were joined by other running friends on their 2000 mile journey from Springer Mountain to Katahdin. Horty and Speedgoat were the two who spent the most time, with El Coyote a close second. As Scott and Jenny alternated sections of the book, it was interesting to see both sides of the journey and their individual opinions of the friends who joined them. I smiled when Topher was mentioned as I always enjoyed his antics with Dean Karnazes. I also enjoyed the trail angels they met along the way: the ones who sought them out as well as those who greet all hikers throughout the season. I found it good that Jurek acknowledged others’ opinions on his quest, moving at an overall average of roughly 1.77 mph to set the record, when others took five – six months. For me personally, it was the running angle that made this book interesting – I’ve had no particular desire to read other peoples’ accounts of their trips on any of the hikes. For the same reason I’m intrigued by the Netflix special on Speedgoat’s quest.

I didn’t know going into this whether he was going to set the record, so I’m not going to spoil it for other readers. If you do know the outcome, I still think you’ll enjoy his physical and psychological journey from Georgia to Maine.

  • Did you read this book? If you posted, happy to link to it below
  • What are you reading now/planning to read this summer?
  • Are you a hiker?
  • Have you hiked any of the major trails?

Other Reviews:

Review and a Race Recap: Matt Fitzgerald, Life is a Marathon

For this week’s Tuesday Topics, I’m linking up with Kim and Zenaida to share a race recap and book review.

Tuesday Topics

I was given a copy of this book to read via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

While Matt Fitzgerald is a name I’ve seen in perusing running titles, this is the first one of his books I’ve read. The title piqued my curiosity when I saw it on NetGalley and decided to give it a whirl. That it took me a week+ to read isn’t indicative of its quality, I just had minimal reading time with friends in town.

Reading @mattfitwriter's latest and running @nyrr's #RunToBreathe Click To Tweet

This book begins with Fitzgerald quitting on a high school race out of stage fright and ends some 20+ years later with his eighth marathon in eight weeks. The latter encompassed a road trip that took him from California to Oregon via Scranton, Boston, Toledo and beyond. What a journey. This book isn’t just a chronological look at his running career or a travelog, but rather the eight marathons are interspersed with his autobiography.

Fitzgerald’s roadtrip companions are his dog Queenie and his wife Nataki. Both figure prominently in his life history, in fact one night he almost squashed Queenie when attempting a return to his apartment after fleeing it when fleeing from one of Nataki’s psychotic breaks. To say the three of them have had an eventful life is an understatement, but this book isn’t a tale of woe so much as the tale of the author’s growth as a man, runner and husband. My one quibble with the book is that the chronology wasn’t always clear, making it challenging to determine whether a particular race had a goal time, or just a goal of finishing.

As he traveled the country to run his eight marathons he met up with local runners – either for a shakeout run or at the races themselves. In some cases these were planned and in others they came about as he was approached while walking into a port-a-potty. One of those he met up with is Lisa from Tech Chick Adventures who I’ve come to “know” through the Weekly Run Down and its predecessor, the Weekly Wrap. I look forward to her review of the book.

All in all, a wonderfully written account of a difficult journey.  I would definitely recommend it to most runners. If you have personal experience with bipolar disorder, you might find some sections to be somewhat triggering. I think Fitzgerald portrays his & Nataki’s journey to live with her diagnosis very well.

***

Boomer Esiason

Movement is a privilege. That’s something my colleague often says when we go for a run, and it’s so true. It’s also something I fought to keep in mind during Sunday’s #RunToBreathe -one of NYRR’s regular four milers which doubles as a fundraiser for Team Boomer, Boomer Esiason’s foundation that raises money in honor of his son with Cystic Fibrosis.

9AM start was nice, and I jogged to the start. It was so liberating not to need all the layers! I wore capris but would have been fine in shorts most likely. Who AM I?!? It was a staggered start and Corral K crossed the start about 11:30 minutes after the front runners. They said this race had about 5,000 runners. It felt like everyone wanted to come out and play in support of a good cause.

I didn’t have a race plan. I didn’t really have a goal. I just ran by feel and walked the water stations as they’re too crowded not to. I tossed my long sleeved shirt at the top of Cat Hill. My Achilles was perfect. My hip was chirpy, but not to the point where it impacted me during or after, although I opted to walk rather than run home. Mile one into two, I wanted to peel off and walk home for no good reason other than I wasn’t feeling it. Then I got into a rhythm and three, four seemed to go quickly. As much as I enjoyed 5-7 mile runs, the first two are always mental torture.

As was the case with the Bronx, some distance helped with my look at this race.  The issues:

  • Running three days in a row: tired legs
  • Cat Hill. I’ve run the West Side rollers a few times lately but other than the office run group I’ve been avoiding Cat Hill. Had to deal with the kitty in the first mile. She made me pay for my abandonment

The results weren’t terrible, but they weren’t good. When compared to other 4 milers, it’s better than 2019 Gridiron when I was more broken and 2018 Achilles when I was sick. Oh and much better than my inaugural #RunToBreathe. I realized early on that my legs were tired and decided to focus on the fact that I was healthy & able to run this race while  that isn’t the case for others.

On to the next. And yes, movement is indeed a privilege.

  • What do you do if you just don’t have it during a local weekly race?
  • Any favorite local races that aren’t destinations, just fun for your community

Review: The Plant Based Runner

On Reading

Yay, I can start a Weekly Run Down post with something other than PT, although I am still in and loving PT. This week I wanted to share my review of Jonathan Cairns’ The Plant Based Runner. Note: I received a copy of this book for review, but all opinions are my own.

Running, reading and relaxing in the lead up to the #NYCHalf Click To Tweet

Two main takeaways I loved from this book:

  • Know your why
  • Change the plan, don’t change the goal

Cairns is an overweight, divorced father turned wannabe vegan ultra runner. This book explores his journey between those points.  Although I don’t subscribe to the full extent of his beliefs and dietary choices, I really appreciate the path he took to them. He read a lot and read the information presented with a critical lens to arrive at the place that worked best for him and his progress as an athlete. He’s 100% correct, there’s information out there to support whichever side you wish to follow, you need to know your body and your why. And realize that nothing will change until you do.

I’m still surprised at how I ended up virtually giving up soda almost accidentally. We got more seltzer in the office and I found so long as I had the fizz, I’d drink. You can still pry the diet root beer from my cold, dead hands. I’ve mentioned a couple of times here that what I eat definitely has an impact on how I feel/run, but I’m not yet compelled to give up sugar, dairy and meat. I did love his advantage of Irish (or at least not American-English) slang for this poetry when it comes to refined sugar: white is shite.

Changing the plan vs. goal has been a huge part of this half marathon training cycle for me. I wanted to run three in three months (well really eight weeks!) and while the achilles injury changed the training plan, the goal is on track. The larger goal of the marathon remains on track.

While I have no desire to or interest in running an ultra, I enjoyed following his journey and the interspersed quotes and race recaps. Read more from the author on his blog or enjoy his amazing Instagram photos.

Physical Therapy

When I spoke with my PT about the hip pain on Monday morning, he decided to work on that first and decided it’s not the hip flexor, but rather the TFL. Per google (and LIz who was quicker than I was, “Tensor fascia latae“. Per my PT, it’s common in compensating for stability issues. This whole Achilles issue is similar to when I had a knee injury back in high school. Back, hip. We really are all connected like that old childhood song: leg bone connected to the foot bone. Not to mention all the muscles, ligaments and tendons.

Monday night he gave me the homework of working on breathing, activating my core and pressing my back into the floor. We’re working toward the Dead Bug and since I know I have the coordination of a dead bug, that isn’t going to end well. But we’ll get some laughs in as I try. Monster Walks on my toes are my new favorite.

That said, I still feel like I’m making progress and the Achilles is in a good place for the NYC Half, which is somehow less than two weeks away. It will be a week away by the time this posts. Plan is & remains to have fun and enjoy every step.

NYC Half Goals:

  • Have fun
  • Don’t re injure the Achilles
  • Finish smiling

Yep, that’s literally it. No time goal other than finishing. I may be one and done without some lottery luck, so want to make the most of it.

Weekly Run Down with Deborah and Kim:

  • Monday: snow day PT and a museum press event. The snow was a complete non event, but I’ll take the work from home day to review some documents that are hard to get to in busy open plan office. Capped it off with a lovely sunset walk with Darlene. When we could see the Verrazano Bridge it was surreal to think that in almost eight months exactly we’d be standing on the far side ready to run the city. Fitbit calls this 9.46 miles, I call it: never miss a Monday complete.
  • Tuesday: Darlene and I decided to meet and test our injuries. While it was too cold for a selfie, we got another gorgeous sunset. The weekend’s snow had done a number on the non-paved parts of the park and neither of our legs were doing well with the cold and hills so we took it easy in a three mile run/walk. Slow and steady better than crash and burn ahead of the NYC Half.
  • Wednesday: PT and talk about graduating out after the Half. More work on core and trying to figure out whether I can do Dead Bug. No formal exercise, dinner with friends.
#nevermatch, and proud of it
  • Thursday: as I dressed for our Office Run Group, a friend/colleague mentioned her admiration for my aggressive non-matching. This wasn’t even intentionally bad-I wanted a shirt with thumbholes and the black one is too hard to find sometimes in the dark of my closet and these tights were on top. What’s not pictured as much is the bright orange buff from Liz and neon yellow base layer. Beheaded to get full effect of colors without skin autocorrect. I’m a fan of comfort over matching, but this was some next level nonsense. Alas my coral shoes aren’t running shoes. On the actual run, it was a nice rebound from Tuesday. What I love about running with this group is that it pushes the pace. I know I give up on pace too early when I’m running solo, so this is a nice way to push it. He doesn’t push me beyond what he knows I can do, especially with the injury. Even slowing up as we crossed the pot-holed reservoir track, we had a good time and although I was sore after, I think that was the bitter cold. Post-run was a quick zip to the last open Payless in Manhattan to acquire a backup pair of the Mary Janes I love so much.
  • Friday: plan was to workout before a meeting, but meeting got moved earlier so this was replaced with a quick row and abbreviated PT exercises after work and before seeing a show. Patricia Kalember as Gloria Steinem is amazing and a behind-the-scenes tour of NYPL was pure magic. It’s rare that I see a piece of theater twice in a short window, but this was magic and resonant.
heaven is a place on earth
“A dream is like a river ever changing as it flows and a dreamer’s just a vessel that must follow where it goes.”
  • Saturday: that thing I said about what I eat impacting how I run? Yeah. It was a planned off day but the weather was remarkably decent and I wanted to go out so decided on a riverside shake out. I could not figure out why I had absolutely nothing in the tank. I’ve fueled many a run on cheerios and coffee. Why not this one? Oh self? You had a brownie for dinner last night. Turned this into a walk and some outdoor PT.
Happy drowned rat in Sidewinder Lotta Breeze capris
NYRR goodie bag
present to myself
  • Sunday: NYRR/New Balance hosting a shakeout run ahead of the NYC Half. Also a shakeout for my new capris which I want to wear for the Half. PURPLE! The weather was horrid and we lost an hour of sleep due to the clock change? What do I do? Play hopscotch to avoid puddles and had a blast for ~4.5 miles. It was windy too and sometimes wasn’t clear whether we were being hit with rain or river spray! We set off in 5M increments and I quickly realized the one I set off with wasn’t happening so ran on my own for most of miles two and three before dropping back to run with a duo of coach and runner who had run DC yesterday! and were moving way more my “speed”. Proud of myself for approaching strangers in the group run and we had a fun chat. Could I have finished faster? Absolutely. Was it more fun not to be alone? Yes. The ponchos I bought ahead of FLL were perfect and other than the neck area where rain got in because I couldn’t keep the hood up in the rain, I was dry. Was so glad for dry socks and shoes back at the Run Center though. Also awaiting us there was a free goodie bag that included the mug, fuel above and a 20% off coupon with which I treated myself to a hat. It’s purple! I never thought about a running hat as I so rarely wear ballcaps but the Yankee one I wore for Lebow and FLL is too hot for summer and gets gross, so curious to give this moisture wicking, performance one a go. Especially if I follow my current whim and wack my hair off in a few weeks.

Plan for the Week:

  • Monday: off, dinner with a friend
  • Tuesday: run?
  • Wednesday: PT
  • Thursday: run
  • Friday: volunteer at the Expo, maybe cross train. Finally saw the shirt & medal. I like the medal, and think I like the shirt color. Since I didn’t like the one for Poland Spring and won’t wear it on race day, I likely will not be wearing green for St. Pats.
  • Saturday: off
  • Sunday: NYC Half Marathon

Tuesday Topics: Run Like Duck

We know judging a book by its cover is bad.. but the title is OK, right? When Liz blogged about Run Like Duck, I was immediately intrigued. It just sounded like a fun book.

Tuesday Topics

Linking up with Kim and Zenaida to share whether the book was as good as it’s title was funny.

Spoiler: it is. I’ve read a number of books about running, but this is definitely top five. I was also happy to find the author is a pretty funny read on twitter.

Running and reading, a perfect pair. My review of @montythemole's Run Like Duck Click To Tweet

Atkinson is a fat British man who was encouraged by a friend to go for a run, and ultimately ended up running ultras and a Quadzilla (four marathons in four days) en route to joining the 100 Marathon Club. That’s not to say this is a book just for those who want to go extremes, I’d say it’s more applicable to the everyday runner than Dean Karnazes’ books. He started where many runners do, running after dark in his neighborhood and gradually increasing his distance. He also balanced his running journey with his family life: his wife crewed for him in his 100M run and occasionally he had to check the finances before signing up. I feel like the latter is something that doesn’t often come up in running books. It’s as if there’s a race fee fairy that pays them.

Atkinson shares race and training recaps, as well as specific tips applicable to the race he ran. I like how he established traditions such as the Milton Keynes Marathon which he made the effort to return to each year as a measure of tracking his own growth. I also like that he makes no claim that he’s perfect – he still enjoys McDonalds and bacon & egg sandwiches as breakfast. A word of advice, don’t read the chapters on ultrarunning if you’re hungry, the aid stations will make you hungrier. I felt for his chafing on one of his ultras.  He still occasionally forgets his race bib in the hotel room and struggles with pacing-there’s no magic in this story. He also acknowledges that not every race is perfectly organized.  Running isn’t perfect and he doesn’t paint it out to be.

Although parkrun hasn’t yet expanded to NYC, I love his tips and information about it as well as other races I will probably never run. The advice is applicable to many other runs. I think I finally understand the role of tail running, though I had to chuckle at the image when he runs to a parkrun, is late and comes up from behind said tail runner probably catching him or her by surprise. One thing to note, I was slightly confused at the timing on some, so make sure to pay attention to the dates/marathon numbers in the chapter heads.

I think there is a lot in this book for both beginners and experienced runners, and many runners will see a bit of themselves in the author. Excited to share this book I enjoyed with you, enter to win a signed copy. I’ll pick a winner on Sunday, January 13.

  • Any favorite running reads?
  • Any books you’re looking forward to reading in 2019?
  • If you need running ideas, The Runners’ Bookshelf on Facebook is one of my favorite sources along with Wendy’s book club.

Travel Tuesday: Mark Mason’s Walk the Lines

aka walking around London.

England book acquisitions

The rule for buying any books in England was as follows: not available for Kindle and/or some specific or unique tie. I think I did pretty well bringing back only 4* (one on the way from Amazon because I was still regretting not buying it at Stonehenge despite the font). The top two were charity shop purchases in Stratford-upon-Avon: love Marian Keyes and she’s not easy to find here, and Liz thrust the second at me as it was set partially on a bus we’d taken. The bottom two were London finds.

Other London Write-Ups:

  • Travel Tuesday: Pre-Roman Britain
  • London’s Churches: St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey
  • London’s Castles and Palaces: Buckingham, Kensington and the Tower of London
  • Walking London
#TravelTuesday Review: @WalkTheLinesLDN walks the entirety of the London Underground, 269 stations Click To Tweet

Only in America is the BBC Correspondent on life in America in the early 2000s, which I found at the South Bank book stalls. I found Mark Mason’s Walk the Lines: The London Underground, Overground while waiting for my train at London Euston to meet Liz. After finding WiFi to ascertain it wasn’t available for the Kindle and was well priced, I bought it. What caught my attention? Walking. Of course. Fittingly, it’s the 80th book I finished in 2018 and I often lament that reading is a casualty of my love of walking. If I took the train more, I’d definitely read more.

I loved this book from its premise but rather than reading it on the train to & from Birmingham, I was staring out the window at the sheep. Yes, sheep. I got the bulk of it read on my flight home last weekend but didn’t want to carry it in my purse, so it took me until Sunday at the beach to finish it. Had Friday turned into beach weather it would have happened then.

Although it felt like I walked all over London, I didn’t hit even a fraction of his 269 Tube stations. As I read about places I was/had been, especially Pimlico early in his walk, I loved those moments of I know that place! That happens often for me in New York, but I think London is the first place it happened for me because of all the walking. I only took the Tube six times in London: to and from Heathrow, to Kings Cross (to do Platform 9 3/4 on the way to Euston), from Marylebone to hotel to drop off my bag and make a mad dash to St. Paul’s for sunset, to the hotel after a late-ish dinner/long day in South Kensington after Stonehenge and home from dinner on the South Bank in the rain. Taking the Tube would have been more time efficient (especially when going from South Bank Festival to the British Museum and/or Buckingham to Kensington Palace) but I really think walking nearly everywhere helped me better get the lay of London and incorporate sightseeing with “commuting”. I did some of this in Amsterdam too, although the weather wasn’t anywhere near as conducive to it.

The days I was fully in the city I averaged about 12 miles. Even the ones with transit were in the 8-10 mile range with the exception of Stonehenge which was full day driving. London is just perfect for a wander or focused walk. What helps is that the stations are so close together – it often didn’t pay to spend ~$3 to get between places A and B when it was just as easy or easier to walk. In doing so I managed to see things I wouldn’t have otherwise including: the book shops on Charing Cross Road, the theaters of Drury Lane, the Cleopatra’s Needle along the Thames, Churchill War Rooms and Downing Street and more. None of those were on my itinerary, but I was so pleased to stumble on them. While most of my walks were in daylight because I was otherwise too tired, the dusk walk from St. Paul’s back to my Tower Hill hotel was great in seeing how the city switched off.

Would I recommend my walk sightseeing of London to another visitor? It depends. There’s a lot of “lost” time so if you only have a short time, I might say hop the Tube. But if it’s someone like me who enjoys the journey and the unexpected finds along the way? Absolutely. I’d love to do a walk like Mason’s in New York, although I can’t imagine it would be anywhere near as feasible, especially in the boroughs. Manhattan though might be a bucket list when/if I ever finish the bridges.

Some moments that lined up well with my London sightseeing:

  • the “government buildings” on the south side of Vauxhall Bridge. I had a feeling when I ran that way on Tuesday that it was either MI6 or some other not so secret entity based on the number of armed men and CCTV. Haven’t seen much James Bond, but I do read Daniel Silva and Gabriel Allon frequents Vauxhall.
  • “one almighty temple to Travel known as VIctoria” yep. Aside from my last day when I got super turned around near Borough Market, the only time I came even close to that was walking back to the hotel from the V&A via Harrods. All the roads seemed to go kablooey around Victoria, which is a behemoth.
  • I loved his walk down Piccadilly from Green Park toward Hyde Park Corner and beyond. This was my first real exploration of London on Sunday morning (more, TK, when I post the London Palaces writeup) when I walked from Horseguards to Kensington Palace along Piccadilly because I wanted to find the Hard Rock Cafe. I don’t eat or shop there, but this tradition with a friend goes back to when we lived in Osaka and would use it for American food. Also, I started “collecting” Hard Rocks as a kid after my first in Toronto in 1993, and sometimes you have to. Besides, why not take the longer and more scenic route between two places when possible. You see so much. I saw the Ritz, which he mentioned but did not know about Burlington’s prohibition against whistling. It was also fascinating to learn why the line went so far south of Harrod’s — plague pits! Part of what made this book even more interesting is the people he interviewed: the city planner, the voice of Mind the Gap on the Piccadilly line. It added so much more to an already interesting book.
  • “The tourists at Tower Hill stand on the same ground where huge crowds used to gather for executions…” creepy! OK, maybe I’m glad I didn’t read this part as I stood there.
  • The Waterloo and City Line was super confusing. How is that even a line?  That said, I was glad to have it when I needed to get home from Waterloo in the rain. Although the connection from Bank to Monument is long, it was great to do it below ground so as not to get more wet.

Other moments I enjoyed:

  • I loved his idea of a personal Tube  line for the places and moments that are significant. For me in NY, it’s the Upper East Side and on  a running note, Central Park.

“Preferring Dickens to Disney is all very well, until you come face to face with Bill Sykes. Besides, to wish that London was immune from boom-and-bust economics is to wish away the city’s entire history. A few miles south of here they’ve turned boom and bust into an art form”

Part of what I loved the most about London – especially in The City where this description is from – is the layers upon layers of history. Discoveries like The Great Conduit when building One Poultry, and items extant from before The Great Fire are all over and it’s really only possible to find them when wandering. Or even walking with purpose like Mason did.

  • It’s sad, but also perfect, to realize that there was one part he couldn’t walk, the tunnel at Heathrow which has been closed to pedestrians. If there’s any place more non-pedestrian friendly than airports, I’m not sure what it is. Like earlier when he wrote of Wembley and other city icons not actually being in the city due to space constraints, airports are meant to be traveled to, before serving as the start or end of another trip. It’s eerie, and kind of interesting
  • One of the places on my ginormous google map that I didn’t get to was Olympic Park – it was just too far out. While I rarely watch the Olympics, I love visiting their “remains”. Mason’s walk was in the lead up to the Olympics where many sights were still being constructed and I enjoyed how he imagined their use. I did visit a couple spots where Olympic events took place, including Greenwich and part of the route of the marathon, which made me think of Becky Wade’s book as she was there for the games.
  • Loved his realization that the issue with the view from Tower 42 and Barnet church was that it was still man’s eye view. I never thought of maps that way and while I’m not a maps person, I liked how he used them throughout. Not just the literal journey planning, but to explain the city. To truly know the lines.
  • I agree with him that it is people, and stories that bring the cities, buildings and lines to life. London has a history, but we tell its story

The book? It’s traveling again now, back to Liz who mentioned she had it on her wishlist.

Review: Daniel Silva’s The Other Woman

rockstar!

How did I spend Prime Day?

Feeling like a rock star because somehow book signings have become a place that require wristbands. Epitome of nerd cool. Because I knew I had a long train ride to and from  our staff outing on Wednesday, I made the decision not to get Allon for my Kindle and as a consequence I had to wait until I headed down to the Union Square Barnes & Noble to get my grubby hands on a copy 😮 I’m glad I headed down there early as it was more crowded than I expected.

in my grubby hands!

I usually go to both Silva & Linda Fairstein’s book signings at Barnes & Noble (and shamefully, probably the only visits to Barnes & Noble), but I’m pretty sure this is my first “Exclusive Edition” and I can’t honestly say I noticed anything different to prior titles. I quickly started to read and wasn’t too sad when Daniel Silva’s social media person mentioned he was on his way but running late.

After an introduction to the book and its relationship to the current state of affairs, Silva took questions from the audience. This is almost always the first stop on his book tour for each new release and it was a sea of friendly and mostly familiar faces who asked him questions about the series, the book, the eventual movie and more. They then quickly re-set the stage for him to sign the books. I was behind someone in line who brought a few from the backlist. Although I’m not much of a hard cover (or even hard copy) person, there’s something magic about the smell of books.

the great Gabriel Allon..err.. Daniel Silva

It was soon my turn and I’m still amused that he told me to “say cheese”. The great Gabriel Allon should not say “cheese”.  I thanked him for his time and the creation of Allon and headed home to read.

Here there be spoilers. Dragons maybe, but mostly spoilers.

Continue reading “Review: Daniel Silva’s The Other Woman”

Review: Alyssa Mastromonaco’s Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?

I don’t consider myself a political person, in fact I generally don’t enjoy discussing politics. Somehow, this has translated into reading three political books this year with one more on #20BooksOfSummer. That said, if you’re looking for a discussion of the 2016 election cycle, or an in-depth look at the Obama presidency, this book isn’t either of those.

Alyssa Mastromonaco’s Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?

I first spotted Alyssa Mastromonaco’s Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? at the physical Amazon Books store on E. 34th Street last summer. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover as it seemed funny and intriguing, but I didn’t buy it at the time. I was headed somewhere and didn’t have room to carry a book with me, but I added it to my wishlist. I was happy when it came up on a Kindle Deal of the day in November and jumped on it, after which it sat on my digital Mt. TBR for six months.

It’s not that I suddenly thought I wouldn’t enjoy it; I was just utterly burnt out on anything related to US politics. Then I read Joe Biden’s Promises to Keep and absolutely loved it. His second book, and the book I intended to read, Promise Me Dad, is the fourth one still to come. I followed that up some months later with Beck Dorey-Stein’s From the Corner of the Oval from NetGalley. That was a fun memoir, and I found myself mostly surprised by a woman younger than me working as a stenographer during the years of the Obama administration. I truly thought that was a dead profession. Spurred on by my enjoyment of those two, I put this on #20Books figuring that was as good an incentive as any to push it to the top of Mt. TBR. When I finished Rise Up! I wasn’t sure what I was in the mood for, and this finally seemed as intriguing as when I first saw it. I proceeded to finish it in four days, and would have been less given more reading time. ETA September 8: followed this up with Dan Pfeiffer’s book, which his a wonderful complement to this book.

While on the surface this is the memoirs of a woman working on the Kerry and Obama campaigns, as well as in Obama’s administration, and attaining high level positions in both while under 35, it’s much more than that. There are a lot of life lessons here for professional women working in any field. Among my favorites:

  • you can’t completely sacrifice yourself for your job, you have to find a way to prioritize yourself. While going prematurely gray can be treated easily with hair dye; Mastromonaco suffered from IBS and at one point was so sleep deprived she feared she was suffering from a brain tumor due to the side effects. It is possible to excel professionally, and rise to the level of being the President’s Deputy Chief of Staff while still taking care of yourself.
  • Fear of raising an opinion, despite being qualified. While working to be re-elected, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast. In a senior staff meeting, she wondered whether anyone had considered recording a PSA to offer advice on how to contact FEMA. After (over) thinking it, she raised the question and it was unanimously agreed that it was a great idea and they did it.
  • There is no bigger compliment than being intellectually curious about what someone else spends his or her days doing” YES. So many people fear it will be perceived as nosy or threatening, but it isn’t. And by the same token, you shouldn’t feel offended if someone asks about your job.

What wasn’t as prevalent in Dorey-Stein’s book that I enjoyed reading about in Mastromonaco’s was the “softer” side of Obama and the administration:

  • The lack of tampons in the West Wing bathrooms due to the relative lack of women of child-bearing age working in the White House
  • Obama arranging for the author to join him at Buckingham Palace before they flew out because he knew how much she admired the royals; and the important lesson to always carry a pair of dress pants on you.
  • Jack Lew, the White House Chief of Staff, arranging a hello from Bruce Springsteen because she’d been unable to attend the performance.
  • Obama calling from Air Force One after she’d left the White House to express his condolences on the loss of her beloved cat.

And of course where the book itself drew its title from, Obama asking this of his staff when they had a plan he wasn’t sure he was on board with.

There’s also the side you don’t know; such as:

  • if you’re an administration staffer looking to get married but without time or inclination to plan a wedding due to the stress of your jobs, you can get married by a Supreme Court Justice.
  • When traveling to a war zone, all is synchronized including when cell phones can be turned on so as not to create the opportunity for someone to interfere with POTUS’ travels or sabotage them in some way.
  • When traveling for a state function or other meeting with foreign dignitaries, the guests aren’t just a who’s who of American glitterati. In the case of the 2011 trip for Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, they wanted “ a group of dynamic Americans the queen might enjoy meeting”, which came to include Kristin Chenoweth once they learned she enjoyed Broadway musicals.

All in all a really enjoying book that read more like a novel than a non-fiction book of the self-help/memoir variety. This was way less of a political book than I expected, and I’d actually say it’s of interest to most professional women regardless of your political leanings unless you’re someone who just cannot tolerate Obama at all. In the early chapters I didn’t care for Mastromonaco as much and found her an underwhelming narrator, until I better realized the purpose of this book: it wasn’t a memoir of working in the White House, it was a memoir of personal and professional growth while working there. And then I really began to click with her.

My only real struggle with the book was the author’s choice to use a lot of nicknames, which didn’t appear to be out of a need for anonymization.  She mentioned a lot of friends, colleagues and others she met in the course of her job, and it was sometimes hard to remember whether Moose, Shrummie and Possum were family members, pets or colleagues.

Review: Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run and #20BooksOfSummer

I’ve succumbed to #20BooksOfSummer, more on that later, and the first is Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run which Liz posted to me after she read it. Is there any better kind of friend than the fellow bookworm?

Never say never and all that, but there are two things in life I probably will never do: go vegan or run 100 miles in one day.  (For scale, I just crossed the 300 mile mark for miles, in 2018!) I absolutely never would run an ultra on a sprained or broken ankle, which he did at least twice. That said, Jurek made both seem very interesting. Much like Dean Karnazes’ escapades, I devoured this book and likely would have finished it even sooner given more reading time. In another similarity to Karno’s books, both men have great sidekicks in their crews: I see a lot of Dean’s Topher in Jurek’s Dusty, his former competition turned pacer. If you’re going to do insane things, you might as well have excellent company in doing so.

Eat & Run is part memoir, part recipe book and part look at the insane world of ultrarunning. Jurek transformed from a poor “Minnesota redneck” into a vegan ultrarunner under an oft-repeated quote from his father: sometimes you just do things. I wondered before reading this if Jurek was a child of hippies, hence the veganism, but no he grew up catching & eating his own fish in Proctor, a small town near Duluth. A hand-me-down set of skis lead to his discovering his talents as a Nordic skier and his running career came from a place of cross training for skiing. Even once he left his childhood home, rocky relationship with his father and small Minnesota town, it wasn’t a smooth path as he & his then-wife Leah faced significant debt due to his travel costs. At one point he even made his own gels due to losing a sponsor (wonder if that was before or after he criticized Dean K in part due to his sponsorships?) and camped at the finish line of Western States as he couldn’t afford a hotel.

Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run makes an appearance in this book as Jurek joined him to race the Tarahumara on their own turf after handily beating them in the Angeles Crest race. I really need to read that book. I think what made this such a compelling read is that Jurek didn’t use it to proselytize veganism. He explains why it works for him and the benefits he attributes to it without going over the top. This was somewhat how he weaved in the story of the Tarahumara and their efficiencies in running and living. As someone who has seen improved blood work in the time I’ve been running, I found myself wondering at several points whether the improvements he saw were related to veganism or simply the insane amount of mileage he ran regularly.

I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading his newest, North, when I have a chance.

Other reviews:

  • Neel at Blog on Passionate Running
  • Wendy at Taking the Long Way Home, a wonderful running book club

***

I’ve read about this challenge on Liz’s blog over the last few years and her introductory post this year finally made me realize how wonderful & freeing this challenge is. 746 Books is the host, and there’s a linkup there. I’m really bad about reading books I’m “supposed to”, so we’ll see how this goes. I’ll link here when I review them, and I’m using the hashtag as a Goodreads shelf. In no particular order other than the first

  1. Scott Jurek – Eat & Run
  2. Joe Biden – Promise Me Dad
  3. Chris Jones –Rise Up!: Broadway and American Society
  4. Bart Yasso – My Life on the Run, June 16-17
  5. Amby Burfoot – Run Forever
  6. Kevin Boyle – Braving the Waves, June 8-9
  7. Rick Steves – Travel as a Political Act
  8. Nobu Matsuhisa – Nobu: A Memoir
  9. Craig Childs – House of Rain
  10. Mike Pesca – Upon Further Review
  11. Terry Waite – Solitude
  12. Chas Newkey-Burden – Running: Cheaper Than Therapy
  13. Mirna Valerio – A Beautiful Work in Progress
  14. William Atkins – The Immeasureable World
  15. Michael Lombardi – Gridiron Genius
  16. Alyssa Mastromonaco – Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?
  17. Daniel Silva – The Other Woman
  18. AJ Mass – Yes It’s Hot in Here
  19. Melissa Milgrom – Still Life
  20. Adharanand Finn – The Way of the Runner

Alternates

  • Will Gompertz – What Are You Looking At?
  • Don Thompson -The Supermodel and the Brillo Box
  • Sarai Walker – Dietland
  • Scott Sherman – Patience & Fortitude
  • Camryn Manheim – Wake Up, I’m Fat
  • Kati Stevens – Fake
  • Andrew Bomback –Doctor

This encompasses some, but not all of the NetGalley titles I have, and is a mix of print & ebooks as I’ve most definitely failed BookCrossing lately. Time for some of these books to move while I’m occasionally carrying a beach tote. Alas, I just got a $47 Amazon gift card from a class action so it’s likely Mt. TBR is going up and not down. I’m making progress with #BeatTheBacklist, I swear! I’ve actually read 49 books so far on the year and am ahead of pace for my 2018 goal.

Review: Finders Keepers

was: #AAM2018, You’re on Sacred Land AKA the conference blog that was never finished ***.

I think Craig Childs first crossed my radar during my New Mexico trip in 2015. I’ve certainly had House of Rain on my Kindle for some time and as I was sifting through a box of books I got from BookCloseouts in advance of a Memorial Day trip I happened upon Finders Keepers. Since AAM rekindled an interest in the people of the Colorado Plateau, I decided to take it with me. Alas it was a super busy weekend trip and I didn’t get the chance to start it until sitting at LAX for my return flight home. Once I started, I could barely put it down.

What’s the difference between a pothunter and an archaeologist, or a museum curator? That seems to be a primary tenet of Childs’ book, which operates under the question of To whom does the past belong? The book is now somewhat dated (2010) but still extremely relevant and resonant as more and more countries begin to ask for the return of their cultural heritage.

Although it draws significantly from the Native American populations in the southwest due to Childs’ extensive travels in the area, the book also identifies other sources of issues: from well-documented situations such as Marion True and the Getty to the Elgin Marbles and the looting of the museums & other cultural heritage sites in Iraq to lesser known areas such as Guatemala’s Peten. One thing that he didn’t touch on, that I found myself wishing he would was other cultural heritage destruction such as the Bamiyan Buddhas. While that was less archaeology and more acts of war, it isn’t completely dissimilar to the question of what happened in Tibet after Chinese invasion, which he did touch on.

The book is a mix of Childs’ own travels as a younger man where he lived at the intersection of archaeologist and pothunter, historical looks at cases that covered the world, and meetings with members of Native American tribes, museum staff and private collectors.

The Four Corners region was of particular interest to me, as it was really my first interaction with the Native American tribes of the southwest. From the Navajo at Four Corners to the Anasazi I “met” at Mesa Verde.  I didn’t recognize the name San Juan County, but that’s the location of Salmon Ruins, my first introduction to the pueblo people. As horrific as a character he was, I really enjoyed the way Childs recounted the story of Earl Shumway as a lens into pothunters and private collectors. Do they really have a lesser claim because they weren’t working officially on behalf of a museum?

The book doesn’t answer that question, but it leads the reader down the paths to consider the question through the various lenses. As George Johnson noted, and Andrew Vasicek further explored, Childs wasn’t perfect in his own actions and that I believe allowed him to see the good and bad in all the actors involved in dealing with artifacts. Among the high profile and complicated figures he explored was Thomas Hoving, former director of the Met. Hoving admitted his actions weren’t always clean:

“My collecting style was pure piracy, and I got a reputation as a shark,” he wrote, adding that his little black book of “dealers and private collectors, smugglers and fixers” was bigger than anyone else’s. ~ Randy Kennedy

Yet he also shaped the way the Met and many other museums look today. Does the good outweigh the bad, or vice versa? Does anyone know the answer, or will it forever be open for debate?

“Navajo traditions are rife with death taboos and rumors of sorcery-makes sense in the Southwest, where bones are constantly weathering from the ground. The Navajo have learned you don’t touch dead people’s things. They aren’t yours. They just bring trouble. This is the Indiana Jones side of archaeology, the curses and chilling adventure. But in the real world, archaeologists do not believe in curses. They do their jobs.”

Sounds like we could learn a lot from the Navajo.

***

What made me start thinking about the anasazi and other pueblo people?

The Museum of Northern Arizona‘s new installation Native Peoples of the Colorado Plateau, which we stopped at en route to the Grand Canyon on the first day of AAM.

This newly-renovated, long-awaited permanent exhibition displays the story of ten tribes of the Colorado Plateau: Zuni, Acoma, Southern Ute, Southern Paiute, Hopi, Havasupai, Hualapai, Yavapai and Dilzhe’e Apache, and Diné (Navajo). Through over 350 objects selected by 42 tribal consultants, this exhibition reflects tribal histories, values, and cultures.

The museum’s bookstore was wonderful “trouble”.

I loved that they incorporated so much tribal input, which really set the tone for the conference which highlighted in many ways how we were on sacred, native lands. It’s a difference in perception from the East Coast where we (or at least I?) think of native lands as the contemporary reservations. I really need to adjust that. The Hohoham were honored and mentioned throughout the program, including a moment of silence before one keynote address. I need to read more on them

That was amazing in a conference whose official theme was Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion where the tone was set early with the code of conduct and reinforced on arrival with pronouns available for badge holders. I will-eventually-write up the conference. It was amazing to meet MuseumQueer and many other new friends.

Ball court, Pueblo Grande

The ending of the conference was just as amazing as the beginning as I lucked out and got a ticket for the excursion to the Pueblo Grande Ruin and Mesa Grande Cultural Park. I knew this was a somewhat crazy decision as it was 100+, but I felt like this was a trip I needed to do: much like Mesa Verde, it’s amazing to see the Native American history in situ vs. in a museum.

We stopped first at Pueblo Grande where our tour included a walk around the ruins, ball courts, kiva and other pre-Columbian architecture (and amazing desert plants!) I found their canals to be amazing and was wowed that they still contained water whereas the Salt River is mostly dry. Planning for the Phoenix Metro uncovered some of the Hohokam architecture and while Childs didn’t specifically speak of the Hohokam in this book, he talked about the vital role of salvage archaeology as cities evolve and grow. I’m amazed Pueblo Grande is extant in the shadow of Sky Harbor Airport.

finding shade, Mesa Grande

Compared to Pueblo Grande, which is also home to a small museum, Mesa Grande is much less developed. It’s operated as a site of the Arizona Museum of Natural History and due to the lack of indoor space, it’s only open from October to May. It opened in 2013 after a century-long quest to preserve and interpret the mound which was believed to be a religious center for the Hohokam people. We walked around and over the mound (which felt slightly wrong, to be honest) and while we had an amazing guide, I didn’t take in as much as I did at Pueblo Grande as it was just too hot. I understand why it isn’t open in the Arizona summer.

I look forward to returning to the world of the Hohokam and people of the Colorado Plateau either in person or in another book. Besides Childs’ other books, this is definitely sending me down a rabbit hole of more to read on this topic. Just ordered Hoving’s Making the Mummies Dance, which has been on my wishlist for some time. And I need to read David RobertsLost World of the Old Ones and In Search of the Old Ones.