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What daunts you?

Last July, midway through the month after returning from two weeks in Oregon, I took a plunge into my first lap swim at the CRC. Learning to swim sustained laps earned a place on my Summer Bucket List last year; moreso, I wanted a way to cross train and to try something that, to me, seemed a bit out of my reach. Or, at least, new.

Last year’s blog about that experience showcased my newbie status: I swam my first laps without a cap and goggles. 1000 yards (it’s a yard pool) seemed like quite bit. It was autumn, or close, when I reached 2500 yards—on a “long day.” The 40 to 60 lengths I eked out last summer were challenging. I had never had a circle swim, the thought terrifying me; now they are standard on a busy morning at the pool. I never ventured into the locker room, wanting to sneak in and out as surreptitiously as possible. The thing is, though, when you’re new, you’re new. Part of this whole journey—and the use of social media in reporting about it—has been to be open about the struggle.


To be transparent: it takes an awful amount of work to become what we hardly dared imagine we could be. There are days I don’t want to work. Runs that are not so great. Moments when I am just getting through it. I am the first to say: I am not the strongest, fastest, most naturally inclined at running or swimming. Other than the DNA that evolved to give our bodies some advantage in these areas, I would say most of us start out on a fairly equal playing field. There are some muscle fibers and variables that certainly contribute to sheer talent in some individuals; I don’t think that’s me at all.

But I don’t want to be known for talent alone, anyway; I’d much rather leave to my children the legacy of my work ethic. I’ve always said, with respect to every accomplishment in my life, that what I feel I lack in talent I make up for with really hard work. I may have some proclivities, as we all do, but none of those mean much, or will amount to anything, without these two traits: loving to learn, and not quitting easily. In the past three years, I’ve had to remember that about myself.

So: when at the pool, it’s okay to look the fool. It’s okay ALL of the time, really.


Struggling means work which means effort. I knew a kid in school (more than one, really, as time went on) who was convinced that showing effort meant he would come across as less gifted. He cultivated a myth about himself that he never had to work; years later, I found out that all that time, he went home and spent hours studying. Why do that? Pretend, I mean. There’s honor in putting in crazy effort, which often means putting it all on the line. If we stay where it is easy? I don’t want rewards for that. Better to look like a newbie, working her way through with committed passion.

Anyway, by autumn I would swim about 3.5 miles a week, maybe doing two 1750 yards and a 2500 yard a week. During Thanksgiving break, when Bill was home, I took one morning and went 3500 yards (140 lengths, 2 mi) just to see if I could. For the rest of December, it was back to my normal routine.


I had read that the city aquatics department does an annual 100 Mile Swim challenge from January 1st to December 31st. All of December, I pondered filling out the paperwork and signing up. Did I really want to set that goal? (Because once set, it must be done). Would it be a genuine step for me in the direction of other goals? Would I feel overwhelmed? Could I be patient enough? Could I even finish it?

Mentally, I had to try. Calculating my then-current routine, it seemed mathematically doable. I had a moment of panic thinking about how I would need to miss a few scheduled days for pre-race tapers in March and again miss days while on a road trip (the miles had to be done in a Temecula pool to count toward the 100).

Still, 100 miles seemed FAR away. A reeeeeeeeach. Some estimates put me at October, and that would have been about right if I’d stuck with my autumn routine of swimming three mornings a week at 3.5 miles a week, I think.

I’m the girl who gets the syllabus in college and wants to try to read everything right away. You know?

So those first weeks in January, it was almost torture to watch how slowly my boxes filled up. One small box equals 20 lengths (500 yards). Four small boxes together would be 80 lengths. A “mile” is about 70 lengths. This challenge soon became less about the physicality of it, to a degree, and more about the mental discipline: I had to put myself into an ultra-patient and methodical frame of mind. A whittler. Trust the work. Trust the training schedule to get it done.

Trust myself. Cultivate endurance.

On my first swim in January, I swam 70 lengths. The rules are that you can shade a fraction of a box, so for 70 lengths, I shaded 3 whole boxes (20 x 3) and half of another box.

NOOOOOOPE. My Type A kicked into high gear that morning. The half box tormented me; no, I am not exaggerating. Half a box felt so…incomplete, messy. I couldn’t WAIT to get back to the pool, make up the ten remaining laps and then swim in whole sets of 20 from then on out.

So right away, my swimming changed. The goal mechanism already affected it. I no longer ever swam 1750s (70 lengths) from that day forward; I always had to reach at least 80 in order to keep my neat-freakazoid side content with the box coloring process. (OWN those neuroses, come on people!). Life at the pool operates for me in whole sets of 20. That meant a base line swim was just over a mile.

At some point I realized I could swim (physically and logistically) 2500 yards (100 lengths) every scheduled morning and still make it back before Bill had to start to work if I got up super early to fit my runs in beforehand and got to the pool at 5:30 AM. The boxes started going more quickly.

Shortly before Valentine’s Day, I reached my 25th mile. 50 miles came the Monday following the Carlsbad 5000 in late March; 75 miles right before Mother’s Day.

And today, though it seemed so very far away: 100 miles!!!


It is like swimming from the CRC to the Santa Monica Pier. 400 times around a track. 7,040 lengths of 25 yards each in the pool.

In contrast, since January first, I have put in 840+ miles of running on roads the past 5.5 months.

Here is a sample of last week’s training log:


The 100 mile challenge in the pool has taken hours. I can do 2500 yards in about 54 minutes. 100 miles is 176,000 yards, so we could calculate hours if we want to. It has meant plunging in at 42 degrees or colder outside. Getting up when I don’t feel like it. Running super early and then swimming in the dark of winter. Doubling up one day while Dad watched the kiddos because I had been out of town on the morning of a scheduled swim day. At times when I felt my own personal motivation flagging, the goal chart has been out there as one little extra push. I don’t NEED a chart to do my work, but after being uncertain about how genuine this would be for my training, I can honestly say that this goal has in the end made me a better swimmer and just that much more accountable to myself. How many mornings have I thought, “Well, it’s sure frickin’ freezing and I’m tired as heck….but I have to go color my boxes!”

I never kept track of my swim miles in an organized way from last July to December 31st. But this has made me want to start.

With 6.5 months left before the December 31st deadline, my new goal is to see if I can double my mileage to 200 miles. Eh, it’s a little daunting putting that goal out here, but at the same time, goals are powerful once stated. I know I can keep chipping away. I’ll keep track at home. Hoping Bill makes me a huge chart of boxes…just kidding, honey!

And I received this cool shirt:

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It looks like I am the 13th person to have completed this so far this year. Tom C. had it done in a few weeks; he did it first last year, too. He swims. A lot.

I went a bit wild now that Bill’s home for summer. Last week I did 10, 000 yards over three days (a 2.28 mi, a 2 mi, and a 1.5 mi). It occurred to me a week or so ago that if I ramped up, I could finish this goal before Oregon. Kind of too tempting… Yesterday I did another 2.2 mi (8 boxes worth), which means I had 7 boxes (3500 yards, 2 mi) left today.

After running five base miles early (I do another five or so of speedwork on Tuesday afternoons always), I was at the pool at 5:30 AM. As I started, I reminded myself not to be impatient, just to sit inside the moment of the swim, enjoy it, feel it. The time will pass anyway. I had to get into a zone. I remember feeling a bit like I felt when birthing Eric: wanting the reward of getting to the goal (holding him that day) to the extent that patience was an issue as I labored on his birthday. So I really tried to cultivate a sense of determined, calm patience this morning and let the laps unfold.

By the last 100 yards I got more emotional than I would have thought. I started tearing up in my goggles. Crying while plunging your head in and out of water and inhaling deeply is harder than it sounds, so really it ended up being more of a feeling in my chest. Like, whoa, you couldn’t swim laps hardly at all last year and now you can (fairly easily) do 2+ miles at a time and your big goal is just strokes away.

Hard work and commitment are EVERYTHING. I promise.

Whatever we think we’re bad at? Nope. We do not have to stay stuck. We can learn. If we make the effort, and keep at it, we can learn.

So I made a conscious effort to study the sky and the way the rising sunlight glittered the water droplets flicking and flecking off my arms. My arms, which used to be so much weaker. My body, which used to carry an excess of 60+ pounds and could do none of this. Could feel none of this.




100 miles.

And everything was gold, gold, gold in the bright blue rise of day.

When my friend and colleague Sandy and I used to teach The Hero’s Journey paradigm to our 9th graders, we lingered on the idea of “helpers”—characters in a  work of art that propel the hero along, perhaps giving him advice, or the talisman. But, we often pointed out, a helper does not necessarily need to be a positive one. Would Odysseus have evolved away from his hubris without Poseidon honoring the curse of Polyphemus? What about those naysayers who propel us along, giving us fodder to prove wrong?

If life is the ultimate work of art, then we are all on epic journeys of our own. Sandy was always wonderful, and I can still hear her gentle and encouraging voice telling our young students that we always get the journey we’re ready for. If we choose not to take it, then it waits for us. Certain parts of our lives we can embrace, or ignore for only so long.

Some people respond to the praise and pleasing of positive helpers, and to be anything less is to crush them into a thousand pieces. There is no doubt that, at least in school, I wanted to please my teachers; those who got the best from me—or rather, those who showed me what else I was capable of doing—often were those who were the most demanding, even to the point of cultivating a disagreeability. I never had a “mean” teacher, surely. I count myself fortunate, indeed, though to have had teachers who didn’t give praise often, who got surly when an assignment wasn’t quite right, and who gave real grades for real work. Yes, AP US History teacher, I’m thinking of you. As well as a couple of others… The real gift of these helpers: teaching you how to WORK as hard as you ever have to help yourself. Setting the bar so incredibly high that there was room enough to amaze yourself in meeting a challenge you did not know you could meet before you began. Keeping it real, rewarding precision, work, and true knowledge (as opposed to just effort).

I love the tough lovers.

We cannot, I don’t believe, reach excellence in a hunky dory world. Okay, maybe some can. Not me. Yes, I need the faraway inspirations: the Deenas, the Shalanes, the Mebs. I find inspiration in the the local friends and rockstars who keep it real and create a climate of active goal setting: the Jen P.s, the Rachel G.s, and more. There are people who were training and posting on social media that inspired me long before I was ready, without even knowing the positive effect: Lori B., doing her stadium stairs early on a  Saturday morning and Naheed, kicking butt and taking names with her daily workouts and meal prep; Tiffany G., who once gave an interview before a fitness competition about being able to resist even holiday cookies in favor of her goals (at the time, years ago, I couldn’t even understand that and now I look back with total respect and understanding); Katie H. M., who stays fit and toned and who can scale a huge rope even after six kids… I could keep the list going. I need the example of my dad, who ran his first half marathon a few years ago after conquering not only his weight but also himself.

These are all heroes in their own right, to me. My daily helpers. My husband/coach, gives full encouragement even on days when I don’t perform as well as I want to. My husband’s role is to make me feel loved and appreciated, and he never fails. As a coach, he is matter-of-fact and keeps our discussions hopeful but realistic. I have to work for him, too.

But I need, too, the Maria Kangs of the world. The “So, what’s your excuse?” people. The people who state the problem plainly. Those people? You can trust them. They do not enable, not a single bit. Those harder helpers, even the naysayers? They are very realistic: anything of real value, you must earn. No sugar coating. No pats on the back when you sabotage yourself. No praise just for breathing.

They are helpers, the nudgers.

And to them, I sing a song of thanks.

When I was about halfway through my pregnancy with Eric, I saw a P.A. at the practice with whom I have had a long, good history. No problems with her at all. Mad respect, especially now.She said the hard thing, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. My gain with Eric was tremendous, more than the tremendous gain with Katie. Even halfway through. My thinking at the time, already not clear on the matter, allowed pregnancy to become a reason for a free-for-all eating fest.

I remember she asked me about my weight. I stayed smiling and polite but inside was self-righteous and indignant! “Do you eat a lot of fast food?” she asked. NO! Who was she talking to? I explained that I just like to cook, French…and almost all the time. Cooking is my hobby, I explained. I’m a foodie. Homecooking for my family.

“Um, could you maybe try cooking things that are a little healthier? Maybe you could like that kind of challenge. Maybe less butter and cream? Maybe more plants?”

She tried.

I smiled politely and was quiet.

It wasn’t like she was totally slender, either, I argued with myself. (Illogical ad hominem counterargument). And I am pregnant. I need to eat for the baby. How can she even SAY this to a pregnant woman?

Oh, I reasoned that one right away. By evening, her entreaties were SO FAR in the back of my mind that I am sure I was plotting my next dessert with cookbooks spread around the couch.

Those words never left, though. She was 100% accurate. She said the hard thing. I’ve had to let go of my food driven hobbies, for the most part. I don’t watch cooking shows (we get drawn to what we surround ourselves with), I don’t often open my old cookbooks, and I really don’t cook anymore as a hobby. I can’t. It would be like a recovering alcoholic going to a bar. But when I do, I allow myself the enjoyment of the challenge: transforming recipes into healthier versions, learning how to cook as an athlete. She said what I did not want to hear, but now I think of it and live it every day. At the time, I was just mad. No one likes excuses called out, right?

To this day, even now that I know by sight so many more people at the 5:30 AM pool session, I cannot identify the man who spoke to me one day in early September.

Bill had just started back at work, which meant that I had to start waking up at 5:00, run, get to the pool for a couple sets, and then come back home. I was still doing between 40 and 60 lengths at the time, SOMETIMES 70. (During the summer, I had worked up to 80 lengths and even 100 lengths once, but with the new school schedule, I was doing what I thought I could). Time was an issue.

It was a Friday. I had come later to the pool and fit in 40 lengths. Go me, I thought, go me!

And then: “You are already getting out?! That wasn’t very long!”

Just like that. No diplomacy of presentation. (And you know what? Sometimes there doesn’t need to be).

Oooh boy, I thought, TALK TO THE HAND! My neck and shoulders and hand almost swiveled and went up in disbelief.

He said what?

Days of insecurity swallowed me. I can’t swim in lanes next to these triathletes. I’m not good enough. They probably ALL think I am a slacker. Yes, I had tried explaining quickly to him that I had run and had only time for a few laps because my husband needed to go to work and and and and…

And then one day, it was clear. He was right: if I wanted more, I had to be willing to WORK for more, to sacrifice for more. 40 lengths isn’t very long, not in the scheme of what most people down there do. It’s just a fact. It represented growth, for me, a new swimmer since July… but if that’s all I gave time for, I would never improve or build endurance.

But I could fit in more laps if I arrived right at 5:30 AM, when it opened. Far more laps.

So I set my alarm for 4:00 AM. Fit the runs in. Arrive at 5:30 AM, or within five minutes of it.

Whoever that man is—and he probably still swims there, but with swim caps and goggles people are somewhat in disguise—he pushed me. I think he meant to. I think I needed it. Hated it at the time, but was he not speaking the truth?

Tough love jolts when we don’t expect it. Tough love, though, can be the best thing that ever happens to us.

Where were you when you first read your favorite book?

On a summer lawn with August sunflowers towering above the wooden fence? (J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace)

Swinging in the hammock in your parent’s backyard? (Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the second time)

Resting on the playroom couch with your son growing inside of you? (Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the fourth time)

Bound and riveted to the huge yellow cozy chair in the family room from early morning until past midnight, getting up only to urinate and grab quick portable snacks, many months pregnant with your daughter? (J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the day I heard the delivery drop thud on the doorstep)

On the side of the 1 in a school bus in Big Sur, during a relay marathon with your family? (Steinbeck’s Cannery Row)

In bed, tucked in against the cold December air and the even colder thoughts after a miscarriage, glad you put up the decorations after all, looking for escape into a time and world nowhere here? (Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind)

Reading saves us, shapes us, makes us. Books contain their own narratives, yet how and where we read become narratives of their own. The experience of reading forms a dialectic with the text. We as readers manifest the world of the book around us; the text forever changes us. To what degree may depend upon how well the words connect to us, but even our least favorite books alter us a slight degree. We engage with the thought-life of the author, making it our own through interpretation and questioning. We live whole worlds in hours; we bring the author’s world into our own. I love the experience of reading almost as much as I love the words themselves.

I experienced three page-turners this month, out of eight books for May. Don’t you love that feeling? The call of a book. Nothing like it in the world. Those books might be deep, they might be light, they might be a combination of the two: the call of words to come play, to find out, to submerge. For some, the reading experience became its own story, part of a larger memory and narrative.

Others were informational, and I will start with one of those:

1. Should We Eat Meat?: Evolution and Consequences of Modern Carnivory (Vaclav Smil, nonfiction, 2013)

“In a rational world, consumers in the rich countries should be willing to pay more for a food in order to lower the environmental impacts of its production, especially when that higher cost and the resulting lower consumption would also improve agriculture’s long-term prospects and benefit the health of the affected population.”

The writing style is as dry as an arid desert in Hell, and I paid an arm and a leg to read it (even digitally). BUT! Smil, a polymath prof at U of Manitoba (details in comments), presents a dispassionate offering of statistics and data in order to treat the subject of meat consumption highly rationally. In some ways, as laborious as this text truly is—informational to the extreme, filled with data sets—it is extremely important, I think, as a means of understanding the consequences of decisions we make and taking responsibility for the world as consumers. Punchline: he concludes that we might be best off with a highly vegetarian diet with very occasional and rational meat consumption. That is the conclusion Bill and I have come to on our own, but without the sheer data crunching to back it up.

No matter your view of vegetarianism (I certainly get plenty of flack about it from some of the die-hard carnivores in my life—and I even do eat chicken and fish once in awhile!), this book is worth the read. Shouldn’t we know what we’re doing and why? If we’re eating without taking the time to study, I just don’t think that cuts it in the modern world with the environmental concerns we’re facing and the data to back it up. If you are conservative minded, I am sure even that statement sounds like I am a happy hippy. The fact is, we have an ethical imperative to understand what we do and why (not just with respect to eating), and how our decisions affect everyone else, as well as our planet. We don’t just get to go stomping around acting like kids on benders, taking or doing whatever we want without assessing the ramifications.

The good news is that, as demanding as Smil is as a reading project, this is not an ideological tract: refreshing, since we live in a world where the norm is to make passionate arguments for the sake of arguing  without working toward a reasoned middle ground. This book appeals to the Vulcan in me. And to the numbers girl. My consumption still may not be perfect, but I consider myself an ongoing student—of everything. The more we take the time to learn, the better we can be.

Smil, by the way, is Bill Gates’ favorite author. There was a work-up on him in WIRED a couple of years ago.

2. Thinking, Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman, science, neuroscience, psychology, nonfiction, 2013)

“The difficulties of statistical thinking contribute to…a puzzling limitation of our mind: our excessive overconfidence in what we believe we know, and our apparent inability to acknowledge the full extent of our ignorance and the uncertainty of the world we live in. We are prone to overestimate how much we understand about the world and to underestimate the role of chance in events. Overconfidence is fed by the illusory certainty of hindsight.”

Kahneman, Nobel Memorial Prize winner in Economic Sciences, as well as psychologist focuses on human rationality in Thinking, Fast and Slow. This book is on my “If I ran the world, this would be required reading” list. His premise? We all fool ourselves all of the time, and he gives several mechanisms by which we can understand and assess for this. On the chopping block? How we continually construct fallacious narratives. How we make economic decisions. The role of luck in business and how the most successful CEOs look at the long range picture and not the success of individuals. Topics: regression to the mean, prospect theory, endowment effect, risk policies, heuristics and biases, rare events, and so much more. How do we assess what we don’t know? How might training ourselves to view the world and human interaction/events with a more probabilistic eye help us to better understand reality?

This book is for anyone who wants to know herself, especially her limitations as a thinker and free agent. All kinds of mechanisms influence what we think we know. In fact, what’s jolting is how susceptible we are to brain worms.

Makes a person remember: 1) A position of humble fact-finding socratic inquiry is probably the most stable  one to take with respect to any topic; 2) It is possible to use reason to conduct self-assessments of rationalization and delusion, but we have to take even a step beyond that to guard the guardian; 3) A gentler treatment of all human beings, especially when we err, is a high expression of empathy

3. Inferno (Dan Brown, fiction, 2013)

“…consider this. It took the earth’s population thousand of years-from the early dawn of man all the way to the early 1800s-to reach one billion people. Then astoundingly, it took only about a hundred years to double the population to two billion in the 1920s. After that, it took a mere fifty years for the population to double again to four billion in the 1970s. As you can imagine, we’re well on track to reach eight billion very soon. Just today, the human race added another quarter-billion people to planet Earth. A quarter million. And this happens ever day-rain or shine. Currently every year we’re adding the equivalent of the entire country of Germany.”

I don’t read Dan Brown for the mellifluous prose. Brown receives a great deal of heat—deservedly—for his writing style. But hey, he’s a best-selling author, and I’ve written nothing published, so there you go. I do not find any joy or verve in his prose and pretend to myself that I am, essentially, reading a work up of a film script. With that in mind, it all becomes bearable. Even so, Bill had to promise—promise!—that the philosophical pay off would be big enough to justify dealing with the style.

Some of our discussion themes this year (in an ongoing e-mail convo with Bill and two of his brothers) have been extinction, care of the planet, technology, transhumanism, and more. We’re also in the middle of a vaccination debate in California—well, not really a debate but more of a rebellion back toward science as a determiner of public policy. It’s heated, if you judge by Facebook. Interestingly, two of the books I read this month make the argument that, actually, our planet might be better off in the long run if a virus or two DOES reduce the population. That’s pretty wild to read about, being an ardent pro-vaxxer.

And, of course, we had this article a few days ago: Bill Gates warning that we might well face a virus more decimating than Ebola.

Whatever your view, Brown’s book adds to the discussion. I finished this on this cozy, rainy afternoon by the fire.  Much more ethically complex, this one, than I would give Brown credit for normally. Topics: Transhumanism, overpopulation, bioethics…and of course, all that juicy and delicious history/art history/literature business for which Brown is known. I loved reliving my personal travels with his descriptions of Venice and Istanbul. I am left pondering the ethics of the ending, with no resolution soon. 465 pages, and an absolute page turner.

Fiction can be an entry point into complex philosophical topics best augmented with science. Brown’s work accomplishes that, and no doubt he is a master at plot. Worth the pleasure.

4. Holes (Louis Sachar, fiction, 1998)

“When the shoes first fell from the sky,he remembered thinking that destiny had struck him. Now he thought so again. It was more than a coincidence. It had to be destiny.”

I am in love with this book for eternity. One of my favorite books EVER. I read this with Katie and Eric, mostly cuddled in one of their beds. It was a rainy time of month, and we had the warmth of each other and book we could hardly put down.

Though I cannot believe I missed this book for all these years (it came out just as I was about to go to college), I believe that our favorite books find us in their own time. When the time is right. Even  last year, I saw it at the UCLA bookstore and almost bought it for Katie and me to read, but I thought, “No, not yet…it just doesn’t feel right yet.”

And now, it was right. I am not talking about the reading level or topics (she has been grappling with substance for some time). I mean: the book itself. Books come to us. They have a perfect moment.

For us, Holes will always be one of those special memories. Katie can, does, and often does, read chapter books on her own, but goodness, I hope we are still reading together even when she is 17. Those shared reading memories are precious. Eric liked this one, too.

The morning we finished, we made Kissin’ Kate Barlow’s spiced peaches and streamed the (excellent!!!!!!!) film version on Netflix.


5. Meb for Mortals: How to Run, Think, and Eat Like a Champion Marathoner (Meb Keflezighi, nonfiction, 2015)

“After church is social time, with coffee and doughnuts. I’ll look around and see everybody—small, medium, large—having a doughnut. I think, ‘None of these people ran 10 miles this morning. And I still have an ElliptiGO ride this afternoon. But I’m almost the only one here not eating a doughnut. How sad is that?’ When I tell this to my buddy Rich Levy, he’ll say, ‘Well, that’s why you won the Boston Marathon.'”

Meb works HARD. He is one of the most accomplished runners in the world, and he doesn’t let up. He is a technician, one ascertains, and he is all about form and form drills (which I should start incorporating). He says he is not the most talented runner, but he will work it and work it and work it. He embraces the running lifestyle, a lifestyle which, for me, has become a philosophy beyond just the exercise.

I consider myself an eternal student of my sport. I think reading books about our sport is part of becoming a rigorous and accomplished athlete, part of our mental training. Meb’s book was highly readable, very quick. The most useful parts, I felt, were all the graphics and details about his various drills. I have much to discuss with my coach as we revise training plans for next year before October.

Pick it up? Sure, if you run seriously with a dedication to making improvement and full commitment to the runner lifestyle. There are others I would read first (many of which I have mentioned in my booklists), and Meb does often state the obvious (as in the quote above…I totally relate!). Still, it’s a good little read.

My memory with this book remains special: I was up early on Saturday morning in San Francisco a couple weeks ago. I didn’t run Saturday before Bay to Breakers, but my body still woke up at 4:00 AM. So: I read the whole book in nearly one go, starting in our hotel room finishing over Blue Bottle Coffee at the Ferry Building at breakfast. An inspiring read the day before a big race and in an amazing city on a special trip with my husband!

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Picking up a couple of treats for Katie and Eric (who did not come with us on this trip) at Miette; then, settling down to a Blue Bottle capuccino in the Ferry Building in San Francisco to finish up Meb’s book

6. Waiting (Frank M. Robinson, science fiction, 1999)

“You should read your morning paper more often, Artie. Your species is monstrous when it comes to hypocrisy: you keep telling yourselves how much you prize human life when it’s obvious there’s nothing you value less. You love violence, you adore it…”

Could. Not. Put. This. Down.

This one takes place in San Francisco, the home base for Robinson himself. Imagine another species of human beings hiding on the planet for 35,000 years and waiting to take over the planet. This one was recommendation from my husband, who has impeccable taste in reading material. A good summer/beach read, Waiting explores the topic of the 6th extinction and probes themes of illusion and reality. Both suspenseful and intellectual, this page-turner is pure pleasure.

I read a paperback copy, too. As much as I have come to love the Kindle, feeling a book in my hands and smelling its scent are pleasures that I will never want to miss.

Put it on your list? YES. Especially if you are a sci fi fan and know San Francisco. It zips along.

7. The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate, fiction, 2013 Newberry Medal)

“Gorillas are not complainers. We’re dreamers, poets, philosophers, nap takers.” 

“It’s not so bad, I wanted to tell the little boy. With enough time, you can get used to almost anything.”

Read this one with Katie and Eric.

Most of the book, a fictional look at a real silverback kept alone in base captivity at a mall circus for years before rescue, rendered our heart into pieces. It’s narrated by Ivan the gorilla who is also an artist, and discussion opportunities are rich indeed. Eric liked Holes much better, but Katie responded viscerally to the strong elegaic feel of the syntax and structure. It’s a story about how we make art and why, kindness, and selfhood. Definitely recommend for the library.

Find out more about the premise here.

So much wisdom and insight in this book. I could quote it all day. Applegate based this text on a real gorilla (there really was an Ivan!). So compelling, especially as we consider travesties like keeping majestic orcas in too-small spaces just to make a buck. There is a definite agenda with this book—you will like it better if you are more animal-conscious—though it is an agenda with which I very much agree.

Caretakers. We human beings, with our evolved intelligence, have a responsibility to be good stewards here on planet Earth. This has been a theme in much of my reading this year. It’s not just about us, though all through history we have wanted it to be, as a species. (Everything in space revolving around Earth, right? The heresy of Galileo!). We have invented narratives to make us the center of all existence, and we live with the inheritance of this hubris. I think it is time for a new way… To see ourselves as we really are, part of a long chain and not the end of the chain, either. Maybe we will become a gentler species if we do think about this perspective.

8. A Hitchcock Reader (ed. Marshall Deutelbaum and Leland Poague, 1986)

“A central characteristic of Expressionism (as a cinematic movement) is the distortion of the “reality” the camera records or the creation of a world phenomenologically remote from the reality recognized by our senses; a central concept of montage theory is the creation of concepts that have no necessary phenomenological equivalents in what was actually presented before the camera…”

Okay, this one is for the nerdiest nerds. The Hitchcock oeuvre is a pet project of mine. Around the time Katie was born, I had watched most of all of his films (even the old ones, yes). Some are difficult to find. I read as much criticism as I can find, as well, though I recognize Hitchcock is only on the edge of the canon. I am noot sure he, as yet, would command enough heft as a thesis topic at a major university, though I think scholarship has been heading in that direction.

Regardless, he is one of my favorite directors, and through this project I have learned much more about film theory than I once knew. At the same time, I will never be a true film theorist; my fascination with Hitchcock stems much more from his themes and imagery and social commentary.

So this book here. I scoped it out years ago and realized a copy could be obtained at Berkeley—it is a textbook, essentially, of 25 incredibly detailed analysis essays compiled for the first time into one volume. This book was being used for a film class, and at the time, my brother was still finishing up his degree at Cal. My mom and brother coordinated to bring this book home and give it to me for Christmas.

In fact, I did read many parts of it right away, particularly using it as a reference for the films I was involved with at the time. A perfect gift. This month, though, I re-read it, focusing more time on essays I had not covered as thoroughly originally; this book is a way back into my hobby. I don’t prioritize much time for films these days, unfortunately in this case. Still, I got to thinking that I should try to see some of the films I haven’t viewed yet… But whether I do or don’t, or wait until the children are grown and no longer homeschooling, I really loved letting my mind dwell in some old-school critical theory and art analysis. Lots of Freud stuff in this one—very pre-90s!—but that didn’t detract from the sheer pleasure it is to read and write criticism/analysis about any work of art. This was probably the most esoteric and niche-specific of books I read this month. I wouldn’t recommend it at all, unless you have very particular interests.


And that was May! Happy JUNE everybody. A couple different titles being released in June for which I have been eagerly waiting. And I just got a recommendation from a friend for a new Neil Gaiman (a favorite author) release of short stories, which I bought this morning at 4:30 AM before my swim training. (I skipped ahead after reading the introduction to one of her favorites, and it was GOOOOOOOOD)! Also, the kids and I are in the middle of The Mysterious Benedict Society—already on pace to be another favorite of ours this year. June is shaping up to be a good month of reading! Excited, definitely.

Happy reading, everyone!

Sarah McGaugh

Sarah McGaugh


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