Eat & Run

Eat and Run book coverI had no prior knowledge as to who Scott Jurek was or even that ultramarathons existed before I dove into Eat & Run by Scott Jurek with Steve Friedman. I am not a runner and I do not know anything about the sport except that races exist. I thought marathons were the longest type of race. A marathon is 26.2 miles. An ultramarathon ranges from 50 to 100+ miles. The Spartathlon is a race in Greece that is 152.4 miles (and people run this voluntarily!).

Eat & Run is part memoir, part running, and part nutrition. Altogether, it is a story about Scott Jurek’s life and his experience in the world of ultrarunning while being a vegan. I think, more importantly, this book delves into what drives us as human beings and what is important as we spend our precious time on this earth. As you can imagine, running 100+ miles is a monumental task for the average person and even those who regularly participate in these races often struggle, but part of what entices them to run such distances is the way they push beyond their limits and push through barriers to better understand themselves, physically and mentally, and the world around them.

There is naturally a very small group of individuals who gather around this niche sport, but most of them are minutely aware of their physical needs and capabilities as this is necessary to complete these types of runs. Scott researched and experimented with nutrition to help him become a better athlete, but also to be a healthier individual. His journey into veganism is purposeful despite many fellow runners thinking it wasn’t possible to compete on such a diet. Scott also delves into what drives him to compete in these races and what compels him to continue to push beyond his limits to the edge of what is physically possible.

You will never find me running for 24 hours straight, but what drew me to this book, and how I first learned about it, was the combination of exercise and nutrition. Someone recommended this book to me after a discussion of these topics. I do not plan to become a vegan (each chapter features a vegan recipe FYI), but I am interested in eating more simply to gain the benefits of being healthier and ultimately happier. I’ve begun a journey to improve myself physically through diet and exercise and I already feel better and more energetic. I want to explore this further and fine-tune both areas to maintain a healthy lifestyle so I can enjoy life as best I can but also to spend as much time as I can with my family.

I think we can all improve our eating habits for a better life. Modern foods are not designed to keep us healthy but rather to keep us fed (and often wanting more), and exercise can be difficult to fit into busy schedules and sedentary jobs. Even if you are not interested in running or a vegan diet, you may find Scott Jurek’s journey interesting. At the least, I hope it may inspire you to take a step, especially if it is a first step, toward a healthier and happier you.

Happy Reading.

My Favorite Books This Year (2020)

2020 has been a wild, scary year, but as always, books remain a great way to escape, learn, grow, and find enjoyment. I decided to put a quick “year in review” together of what I read and enjoyed. A few of these items I’m glad to say were on my list of series to read at the beginning of the year. There is just under 3 weeks left of the year, which is plenty of time to read a few more (which I will be doing), but I figured I had plenty to put into a list.

Murderbot Series

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells
I started the year off going through the first several installments of The Murderbot Diaries. The newest released in May this year, Network Effect, and the next comes out this coming April titled Fugitive Telemetry. This series is simply fantastic and I am glad I now have it on my shelf.

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew QuickThe Silver Linings Playbook book cover
One of my more recent reads, I really enjoyed this one and go into detail about my thoughts on book versus movie on my post about the book.

Talking to StrangersTalking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell’s newest book delves into how we perceive those we do not know and how a few recent events escalated the way they did. Touching on some dark material while illuminating on how we interact to others subconsciously, this book is a great insight into how we move through society and, unfortunately, how we fall into situations of miscommunication.

The Inheritance GamesThe Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
The great start to a mystery I happily compare to Knives Out, one of my favorite films of yesteryear. Filled with intrigue and questionable family dynamics, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De ZoetThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
This was one that has been on my shelf for some time. I picked it up after enjoying Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas novel and wanted to read more of his work. I was surprised with this one, but pleasantly so. The story was much different than expected though the prose was beautiful and enticing.

Every Tool's A HammerEvery Tool’s A Hammer by Adam Savage
An enlightening look into the life of a main Mythbuster, this book was a great insight into building and what goes into creating some of the iconic films we all know and many love. I learned a lot about craft and making things and I really enjoyed Adam’s passion for what he does (even when things don’t turn out quite like he wanted). It was great to get to know more about him.

All The Light We Cannot SeeAll The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This book came as a recommendation and it was a beautiful book to read. The story was interesting as it covered some of the magical, invisible experiences of our world while centered around young characters trying to make it through World War II.

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
A series on my list and an author I had yet to read. This series opened me to Wolfe’s work and I am a fan. I enjoyed this four book series and am about to finish a collection of short stories. I wish I would have read him sooner, but I am glad to have found his work regardless. His prose is not for everyone and I liken many of his stories to a veil with an entire universe hiding beneath. I intend to read more, and I will not be surprised if he becomes one of my favorite authors.

Books of the New Sun

12 Memoirs & Biographies

This time I’m listing memoirs and biographies I’ve read these past several years that I enjoyed. Several of them are about authors or actors I like, but some are simply ones I found or heard about and eventually read.

This Boy’s Life & In Pharoah’s Army

This Boy's LifeThese first two are by Tobias Wolff. The first recounts his unexpected childhood while the latter covers much of his time serving during the Vietnam War. I’m a big fan of Tobias Wolff and enjoy all of his fiction, but his memoirs are equally intriguing and entertaining. This Boy’s Life was actually adapted into film and won the Ambassador Book Award.

The Princess Diarist

The Princess DiaristThis memoir by Carrie Fisher covers her time during the filming of the first Star Wars movie and her eventual launch into stardom as the iconic Princess Leia. It includes a section that reprints her original diary entries from her time during filming including her affair with Harrison Ford. What I found most interesting was Carrie’s admission that she did not plan to enter the field of acting, and then her discussion of what it was like interacting with fans who only saw her as Princess Leia. She had to almost live a double life from the time of these events through the end of her life. I know she has several other memoirs and I plan to check them out sometime.

Robin

Robin WilliamsDave Itzkoff’s biography of Robin Williams was released in 2018 and is a great, detailed account of his adult life. Most of the book events discussed are supplemented by accounts from Robin’s friends and family. The book covers his early years briefly, goes into how he became an iconic comedian and actor. It then ends briefly after his death to tell an all-encompassing account that gives us a holistic view into who he was and what he faced. I learned a lot about about him and I am glad I did.

 

Amazing Fantastic Incredible

Stan LeeAmazing Fantastic Incredible is a graphic novel memoir of comic icon Stan Lee. This account is beautifully illustrated and shows a great history of the comic industry. It gives us an overview of Stan’s life (including his real name) but don’t look for any in-depth details of his life here. A full biography would be better if you want to know more about the man. However, this does give a great insight to the man who was behind many of the hugely popular characters in the Marvel Universe, and it is in his own words and his own style.

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

J.R.R. Tolkien BiographyThis biography of J.R.R. Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter is, as far as I am aware, the best biography of the man behind The Lord of the Rings. I at least think it is the only authorized biography. Carpenter actually met Tolkien and had access to many materials and resources surrounding the author’s life prior to his passing in 1973. I, of course, greatly enjoy Tolkien’s works and enjoyed learning more about the man himself. If you read this and want a little more, I suggest watching the recent biopic titled Tolkien starring Nicholas Hoult. It only covers a brief part of his childhood and ends shortly after his time in the war, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

What if Our World is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick

What If Our World Is Their Heaven?This “book” is unique as I’m not sure it would be considered memoir or biography. It is a transcription of the last interview with Philip K. Dick. I randomly came across this book in a used book store and picked it up as I am a fan of PKD’s works. The interview covers a lot of areas, including the unfinished book PKD was working on at the time and his excitement at seeing early footage of the film Blade Runner which is an adaptation of his book Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep? Unfortunately, PKD died of a stroke months after this interview. I haven’t read a full biography of PKD, but I will likely do so in the future. However, I think this interview proves to be a great insight into who he was.

Educated

EducatedThe most recent memoir I’ve read is Educated by Tara Westover and it is captivating. This book details Tara’s childhood through her eventual pursuit of a college education. She grew up without access to school but was always a highly curious child. Her father did not believe in education as he believed it indoctrinated people. He didn’t believe in modern medicine either. Both stem from his religious and personal beliefs. The events of Tara’s life are both shocking and, from an outside view, infuriating at times, but I think this book is important because it highlights more than the importance of knowledge. It highlights the importance of family and doing what is best for yourself.

Tesla: Man Out of Time

Tesla Man Out of TimeMargaret Cheney may be the best biographer of Nikola Tesla. She has written a few, but this one is a great resource if you are wanting to know more about the man who rivaled Edison and became an important figure in the development of electricity. Yes, he is also the person the Tesla Company is named after, but Nikola Tesla never had a company all of his own. I’m glad to see that he has not been lost to history since he is an important contributor to much of the technology we have today, and he continues to inspire and influence research into new technology.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

As You WishIf you are a fan of The Princess Bride, you will greatly enjoy this memoir by lead actor Cary Elwes. He recounts his time on the set and the making of the film and tells many stories that only make the fellow actors and the film even more lovable. Especially Andre the Giant. I recommend checking out the audiobook version because Cary narrates it himself and it includes snippets from fellow actors and production crew who give their accounts of events as well. This book adds to the film and will make you likely make you want to rewatch it while you read.

Man’s Search for Meaning

Man's Search for MeaningVictor Frankl’s memoir/psychological novel is small but powerful. This insight into Victor’s time inside a concentration camp during World War II not only gives us a glimpse into history and some of the worst things humans have done to each other, it analyzes the human psyche during such harsh conditions. However, I believe this little book is an insight into the human condition and provides a bit of hope through all the sadness. The first part is the memoir of his time during the war while the second goes into his own psychological theories.

A Moveable Feast

Ernest Hemingway’s book telling of his times in Paris during the 1920’s was fun and insightful. I think it is a great glimpse into a bygone world as we are now almost exactly 100 years removed from the time it took place. I’ll admit my favorite part includes F. Scott Fitzgerald and a broken-down car, but this book gives a look into the life of the iconic author and the world he knew.A Moveable Feast

Educated

EducatedEducated is a memoir by Tara Westover that was first published in early 2018. I believe this is an important book. More important than nearly all the books I have read throughout my life, which I believe cements the emphasis I am placing on it. It is true I read mainly fiction, and I believe fiction can be extremely important. It can show us things that cannot happen in order to show us with a certain level of clarity what it is to be human. It can warn us by showing an exaggerated future we should aim to avoid. Fiction can do a lot of important things that nonfiction cannot, and it can do things similarly but with a bit more fun. However, the world is a much more interesting place than we give it credit. Books like Educated remind us of this. It also reminds us that some true stories can be even more unbelievable than fiction.

Tara Westover gives us a brief history of her life growing up in Idaho with a father who believed, among many unconventional things, that the school system was a means to indoctrinate young minds and turn them away from God. There are many things Tara’s father believes in and many things he doesn’t. Modern medicine is one he does not believe in. Unfortunately, safety isn’t one either. The best thing her father did for her (in my opinion) was to let Tara make her own decision about going to college. She does not attend any formal educational institution prior to college, and her journey from junkyard rat to Cambridge scholar is inspirational, infuriating, and unimaginably filled with hope.

So what makes this book so important? Well, for one, I think it emphasizes many things about our lives and those we choose to keep by our side. It shows the importance of education as well as the hardships we face. Especially the hardships of breaking away from family to have a happier, healthier life. One aspect I applaud Tara for is her ability to tell her story without a bias we would expect of her. She has every right to be angry with her father and others, but that anger is tempered by love for them. We, as a lucky audience, get a wholesome picture because of this.

It is hard to believe people like Tara’s father exist in today’s society. Then again, I believe we all know of someone who may have similarly odd insinuations. What I found infuriating at times were her father’s outright neglect and refusal to do what was best for his family. He actively puts them in danger and anything outside of his control, or any accident caused by his neglect, was then left up to God to heal or make right. I am not a religious person, which is why this particular placing of responsibility in a higher power, when it could be corrected with his own actions, irked me so much. I do not tolerate ignorance well. I cannot tolerate willful ignorance at all.

Several people I have talked to about this book mention it is hard to read. Mainly because of certain events that take place. “Hard” wouldn’t be the word I would choose. Perhaps “difficult” is a better way of putting it. Difficult in a way that you as the reader, having an outside perspective, will easily see the error of decisions being made as Tara recounts the events. You will have to witness the train wreck that occurs knowing full well the cause and how it could have been prevented. But also like a train wreck, you will not be able to look away. This story compels you to witness it.

I believe this book is important because it sheds light on the way some people think and live while believing modern medicine is the work of the devil and whatever else you think you can imagine. The second reason I believe this book is important is because it shows how education allows us to grow. It shows how important education is and how we can sometimes take simple things for granted. I’m not referring to just a formal education but any type of education. You don’t have to go to school to learn. You learn everywhere and can learn many things outside of school. Perhaps even more than what you receive attending classes. Tara’s decision and devotion to her studies is inspiring, yes, but that devotion stemmed from a yearning to better understand the world she lived in. She wanted to know about history and the lives of those who came before her. The more she learned the more she became appalled at her ignorance. She sought to learn everything that she had missed by not attending school earlier. Education allows us to shed prejudices and and better understand each other. Tara’s journey leads her to better understand herself. Both fortunately and unfortunately, it also leads her to better understand her family, and that is where her true battle lies.

There are many times in Tara’s story where you will not be certain of which choices she will make. Will she do what she believes to be right? Or do what she thinks is right by her family? If this were a fictional story, we would be able to predict how the story would end because fiction almost always leaves our character in a better place than where they began. There are often happy endings. Would I consider Tara’s “ending” a happy one? I don’t think so. Bittersweet maybe.

I encourage you to journey alongside Tara as she grows up and begins her journey into the realm of academia. I would love to hear your thoughts about her experiences. Most of all, I hope you learn something from her story.

Happy Reading.

On Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff AuthorTobias Wolff is one of my favorite writers. Specifically, he is one of my favorite short story writers. I consider him one of the greatest American short story writers of all time. I of course would be more than happy to hear who your favorite shorty story writers are since I love discovering new writers. If this post is the first time you’ve heard of Tobias Wolff, then I hope you read some of his work and come to enjoy it as I do.

I first discovered Tobias Wolff in a college course. If I remember correctly, the first story I read of his was “Bullet in the Brain.” I recently discovered that this story was made into a short film, and there is a recording online of it being read by Tobias himself. This story remains one of my favorites and it is a great introduction to his work. It may also be the best known of his short stories because it is often used in classrooms alongside several others he has written such as “Powder,” “Say Yes,” or “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs.” There is something about Wolff’s stories that capture what I like to refer to as human moments. He is able to weave a story together that could seemingly be about nothing in particular, but then can also be read as a revelation about a core element of human nature. Enveloping an entire species and capturing it within a single moment. His stories often linger with you afterwards and prompt an introspection of our own lives. He often pinpoints moments that define, in a that single moment, the entirety of a character. It is this aspect that I admire to great degree, and I aspire to write stories that have similar moments the readers keep with them. I think any fellow writers can learn a lot about the craft from reading his work as well.

Wolff’s works include several collections of short stories, a novel (Old School), a novella (The Barracks Thief), and two memoirs. I’ve written book recommendations about several of these. His memoir, This Boy’s Life, reveals much about himself through the lens of his childhood. It was made into a movie not long after it was first published. His second memoir, In Pharaoh’s Army, provides a description of his time in Vietnam during his military service. I found the man himself as interesting as his writing. I even built up enough courage to write to him. It was my first and only time (as of this writing) that I’ve written to a writer who I admire. This was about three years ago now. I wasn’t sure what to say, so all I ended up saying was a general thank you for his work and an offer to buy him a drink if was ever in my area. To my surprise, he responded with equally kind words.

There are several interviews with Wolff that you can find online. I recently found one by The Creative Process that I found really interesting. They have interviews with other artists as well. I learned a few things on this site as well, like Tobias Wolff taught George Saunders and was rewarded the National Medal of the Arts from President Obama.

I don’t have any fun stories about gong to see him or things that have happened to me while reading his works. I haven’t really found many people who have read his works or at least have talked to me about them. I know short stories aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but every so often I can convince someone to try one and I usually recommend one by Tobias Wolff. I do remember one occasion where I did have a coworker/friend read “Bullet in the Brain.” The story itself is quite short but has incredible impact. He loved it and agreed with my initial comments I used to try and “sell” the story to him. Those comments being that Wolff’s stories have an unclear but substantial human moment. It’s hard to describe but easy to understand once you’ve read the story. If you want ever want to pick up a collection of his, I definitely recommend Our Story Begins. It has 31 short stories including several I have mentioned above.

I would love for the chance to meet Tobias Wolff one day. But if that never comes around, I know I can always pick up a collection of his stories, flip to any title, and be reminded once again what any amazing, intricate, and simple thing it is to be human.