19 February 2015

On reading books

Inspired by one of the many blogs I read, I've decided to challenge myself to finish one book every week--I started the week of January 19th and I'm going to try to keep it going until I leave for the JMT (I'll probably have plenty of time to read on the trail... but I think I'll be happier forgoing heavy reading material for a little while :-) ).

I've  always enjoyed reading.  Since moving out of my parents' house I've never been able to justify paying for cable (although I'm still definitely susceptible to the occasional Netflix binge session...), and, especially after college, I've always felt good about filling my down time with reading rather than a lot of watching.  However, lately much of my reading has been in the form of blogs, online news stories, and the occasional magazine.  Although I have a stack of unread books waiting for me (and a long list of books I'd like to read), reading online just felt easier.

There's nothing wrong with reading a lot online--it's pretty amazing that we have so much information so readily available to us--but I think there's some real value in reading in the longer form.  It's a cool experience to be lost in a story for hours or even days--and I think it's uniquely calming in a world where we've become sort of constantly bombarded with random bits of news and information.  I also think there's value to the practice of allotting your singular focus on a book when it can be so easy to be distracted by all the other media available.  For myself, I definitely feel like I've experienced some decline in my general ability to focus.  With so much information to consume (or even to just be entertained by) I've experienced a real desire to try to multitask and capture it all... but of course if I'm trying to listen to the latest NPR story while also reading my email (and checking facebook every few minutes), I'm actually gaining very little from any of those activities.

Plus, having a good book already lined up in the queue makes the decision to not watch that next episode of Ice Road Truckers on Hulu much easier (I'm not proud...) :-).

Also, although like I said, I love reading and love most of the books I read... I've always had trouble remembering much about them.  I'm weird (and broken?).  But rather than getting my brain checked... I thought I'd write little reviews here!  Hopefully it'll help me remember something.

Week 1 (January 19):  The Lipstick Gospel by Stephanie May Wilson

I started with an easy one--I actually read it all in one afternoon on my day off (and I'm certainly not a fast reader!).  There are parts of this story that felt a little shallow--it's definitely a version of the typical coming of age story that I think gets a little old once you've come of age.  Also, after working in the non-profit world, the idea she shares that someone goes away to help the needy, but actually gains more from the experience than they were able to give has started to feel pretty cliche.  However, it's wonderfully well written, and there's definitely a refreshingly raw honesty in the story that you don't experience in the stereotypical Christian world.  I also have to admit that I really related to many of her experiences, and was inspired and encouraged by the story to continue on my perhaps less conventional, but definitely more adventure, love, and gratitude-filled path :-).  I think it could have a similar effect on plenty of other people, so I'll give it a thumbs up and I'd definitely suggest it to anyone interested in a memoir on faith.  Plus I think you can still download it for free on her website.

Week 2 (January 26): Planning Your Thru-Hike of the John Muir Trail by Ray Rippel

I read this one for one pretty obvious reason--I'm planning to hike the John Muir Trail :-). Also, it was recommended on one of the many great blogs I've read about the trail (Trail to Summit), and it was pretty cheap as far as guide books go ($7)!  It was very well written and fun to read (it's pretty crazy how exciting it is to read stories about the trail over and over again!), but regardless of what the title and subtitle might lead you to believe (Everything You Need to Know to Start Planning Your 211 Mile Adventure of a Lifetime!), it's not really much of a guide book.  He even admits on one of the first few pages that it's not actually intended to be a guide book.  Hah.  But, like I said, it's still a great, well written story, and he does provide a few suggestions for planning and even a couple of sample itineraries at the end.  If you're planning a hike on the JMT (or thinking about it, or dreaming about it...), and you're looking for more stuff to read, I'd suggest it!

Week 3 (February 2): Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This book is really great. You should stop reading this blog and go read it instead.  Perhaps the only downside is that it's really long... I actually started reading it in early January sometime and didn't finish it until the first week in February... but it's totally worth it.  I was humbled in so many ways--by how little I know about WWII history, by how cushy and easy my life is in comparison to all the characters experienced (and how many things I can still find to complain about), by the incredibly terrible things human beings can end up doing to each other, and by the incredible healing that's still somehow possible.

I've never liked or understood war, but in general I try to limit my criticism and to keep and open mind--I guess I'm aware enough to understand that I don't really know all the ways war has been justified over the course of human existence, and I certainly don't have the experience to understand what motivates the lives of the men and women who serve their countries in times of war.  They deserve the utmost respect and support.  But this book honestly made me feel disgusted by the fact that war still exists in our world.  It of course describes the horrifying conditions at the Japanese POW camps, but it also details the incredible numbers of non-combat related deaths during WWII in the Pacific because of what felt like recklessness--servicemen with no choice but to embark on near-impossible missions with totally inadequate equipment.  I know there's still plenty that I don't understand, but I finished the book feeling an intense gratitude that I have not had to experience anything like what the characters in Unbroken experienced... and an intense desire for war to be an idea that only exists in history--that no one ever have to experience such terrible things again.  Naive, I know, but I'm entitled to hope I think! :-)

Again, you should go read it.  It's incredibly well researched, well written, and a gripping story that I think probably most people will learn a ton from!

Week 4 (Februrary 9): My Life on the Run by Bart Yasso

This book was just really fun--basically a celebration of an awesomely fun life, and encouragement to add lots of fun adventures to your own life. I saw it on the shelf at the local Goodwill and though it looked interesting so I picked it up for a grand total of $1.20.  And the coolest thing?  When I got home and opened it up to start reading, I discovered that my copy is signed by Bart himself!  Bart Yasso isn't exactly the most famous guy ever... but if you've ever read anything or talked to anyone about running or marathon training you've probably heard of something called "Yasso 800s".  Well Bart Yasso created them--a marathon training/prediction strategy--and is actually kinda famous among runners.  And I have his autograph!  I'm famous!!! It was a neat surprise :-).  Thanks, Goodwill.
My book from Goodwill, signed by Bart Yasso!  Nevermind that it's addressed to Tom... :-)

Anyway, the book is all about the crazy adventures he's had as "Chief Running Officer" at Runners World Magazine, racing all over the world in some of the most challenging and most ridiculous races, and it shares a little of his inspiring journey from addict and alcoholic to runner.  Plus at the end he includes some of his training plans for the 5k, 10k, half, and full marathon, and (perhaps my favorite part) a list of some of his favorite races in the world in all different categories.  My list of "things I want to do in my life" just got considerably longer :-).  I love reading stories of other peoples' adventures--it's inspiring, and reminds me to never forget the joy I've been blessed to experience through all my many adventures.  Bart's story definitely inspires adventure and a deep gratitude for life, and encourages me to continue on my path, attempting to live my life to the fullest.  Who knows, perhaps some day I'll get to be Chief Running (or biking or hiking or adventuring) Officer somewhere :-).

What are you reading?

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