After Dark

I have found a new favorite author in Haruki Murakami. I stumbled upon him accidentally when the cover of his newest novel was showcased on a graphic design board I follow on Pinterest. The design was nice, but the title is what piqued my curiosity. I have yet to read the novel that first stirred my interest. I’m working up to that one by first reading some of his earlier works. I read a few recommendations around the Internet that I should start with Wild Sheep Chase, so that is where I started. I couldn’t put the book down and I have been greedily reading his books ever since. I do try to put some space in between them. I don’t want to overdose and ruin the effect he has.

Murakami’s writing style evokes such vivid imagery in my mind. I feel like I’ve been drawn into the story every time. He also tackles topics and questions that I ponder myself, but he approaches them in fresh way. The images and thoughts he creates in my mind stick with me long after I’ve finished reading the book. And some of the ideas he presents need time to ruminate – I don’t always know what to do with them at first. They swirl around in my head until they take root and finally connect with something. I like that in a book. I like books that make me think.

And he’s also a distance runner and triathlete. His book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, was a great reflection on running and training and life in general. It was written in such a conversational tone, I felt as if I was sitting down and conversing with him over coffee.

I just finished After Dark. Of course I loved it. It was short novel and a quick read, but it wasn’t lacking in depth and meaning. It also contained some memorable quotes, like this one:

In this world, there are things you can only do alone, and things you can only do with somebody else. It’s important to combine the two in just the right amount.

And this one:

“You know what I think?” she says. “That people’s memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn’t matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They’re all just fuel. Advertising fillers in the newspaper, philosophy books, dirty pictures in a magazine, a bundle of ten-thousand-yen bills: when you feed ’em to the fire, they’re all just paper. The fire isn’t thinking ‘Oh, this is Kant,’ or ‘Oh, this is the Yomiuri evening edition,’ or ‘Nice tits,’ while it burns. To the fire, they’re nothing but scraps of paper. It’s the exact same thing. Important memories, not-so-important memories, totally useless memories: there’s no distinction–they’re all just fuel.”

It’s hard to pick a favorite. I’ve liked them all so far. Every time I read one, I think it is my new favorite. And then I read another one, and it becomes my new favorite. Hopefully it will continue in this fashion for awhile at least.


I’m one book behind on my 2013 reading challenge. The book I’m reading right now, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, is a heavy tome. It’s interesting reading, but there is a lot to read.

So far the reading list goes:

  1. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: A Novel (Vintage International) by Haruki Muriakami
  2. Be Iron Fit, 2nd: Time-Efficient Training Secrets for Ultimate Fitness by Don Fink
  3. Train Like a Mother: How to Get Across Any Finish Line—and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea
  4. Just Kids by Patti Smith
  5. Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory (P.S.) by Peter Hessler
  6. Chi Marathon: The Breakthrough Natural Running Program for a Pain-Free Half Marathon and Marathon by Danny Dreyer
  7. The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
  8. Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids
    by Ken Jennings (Very disappointing book. I liked the idea, and as a fan of Jeopardy, I like the author, but the delivery on this book was off.)
  9. No Passengers Beyond This Point by Gennifer Choldenko (Recommended by my 12 year-old so I had to acquiesce. It actually wasn’t too bad. It had an interesting twist at the end. I picked up on some clues; therefore, I figured out the twist before it was revealed. My son didn’t figure it out, probably because he has no experience in the matter to draw from. He was surprised by the end. I thought it was still a good read.)
  10. The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear by Seth Mnookin (Highly recommend this book. It details the history of vaccines and their opposition. It also definitely puts to rest the vaccine-autism “connection” – at least in my mind.)
  11. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
  12. After Dark (Vintage International) by Haruki Muriakami

February Reading List: Running and Driving

I’m a little late with this post. I have no excuse. My laptop broke and I just didn’t feel like sitting at my desktop to write up the reviews.

I’m still on track with the 2013 GoodReads Challenge.

I did read a non-running book this month – Country Driving by Peter Hessler. It’s his third book on China which chronicles his experiences driving across rural China, living in a village, and getting to know the individuals in a factory town. I have yet to read his first two books, but I am planning on reading them since I really enjoyed this book. Country Driving is divided into three sections that discuss the impact China’s changing economy has on its citizens. He infused history with anecdote and personal stories of the Chinese citizens he got to know while he was there. There is a lot of information packed into this one book, but it was presented well and was a very enjoyable read. Through Hessler, I felt like I really got to know the families and individuals in this book. I only wish he would write a follow-up book, as I would love to find out what happened to everyone.

Chi Marathon by Danny Dreyer was interesting. The thought of running pain-free appeals to me.  Not that I’m in a lot of pain when I run, but sometimes the sciatic nerve in my right leg complains. It started complaining at the end of my second pregnancy, which was 10 years ago, and running sometimes aggravates it. I was curious to see if there was anything to Chi Running that could help relieve it.

I already run in minimalist shoes, so I’m familiar with some of the techniques in the book, but there were a few new things that I learned. The book was a little woo-filled for me in the beginning. All the talk of blocked Chi and energy flow was a bit off-putting to my logical mind, but it had enough practical advice that I kept reading. For example, after reading the first chapter, I did one of the exercises in the book and realized that my right leg turns out slightly. I used the form focuses to try and correct this and it worked. More importantly, the sciatic pain I’d been having in my right leg lessened significantly. Unfortunately, after working on the form focuses for a couple of weeks, I ended up with lower back pain. I figured out that the “lean” they describe in the book was putting stress on my lower back. When I started running in a more upright position again, the back pain went away. Maybe I was doing something wrong. Maybe I need to be more patient. I might revisit it again after my half-marathon. I don’t think now is the right time to tinker too much with how I run.

The book has gotten me more focused on better posture. It also helped my be more aware of keeping my right foot pointing forward and under my body when I run. If I ever find a Chi Running class locally, I’d be curious to try it out and see if was my error, or maybe this style of running just doesn’t work for me.

I love Runner’s World. Every time I read one of their books, guides, or magazine articles, I feel like I can conquer anything. This book was no different. I didn’t read anything in it that I hadn’t read somewhere else already. But it is a nice collection of information and will make a good reference for this newbie.

I’m not reading any running books right now. They served their purpose in motivating me and it’s time to move on. I’m currently reading The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux and Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids by Ken Jennings.

January Reading List

I didn’t spend a lot of time running in January. However, I did spend a lot of time reading about running – mostly training books. I’m a planner, and I felt I needed some guidance on how to prepare for a longer race. I also needed some motivation to keep going. As I stated in a previous post, this is not my most active time of year. In fact, if I believed in any of that past life stuff, I would hazard a guess I was a hibernating bear in one of mine.

I started off the year reading, Be Iron Fit, 2nd: Time-Efficient Training Secrets for Ultimate Fitness. I have no intention of competing in an Ironman any time soon, I need to learn how to swim for starters, but I’ve always been curious about what it takes to train for one of these competitions. It was in the Kindle monthly deals section and I thought it might offer some motivation and tips I could incorporate into my daily running routine. It was motivational and I definitely picked up on some things I can do now in my own practice, such as running in minutes instead of miles. It’s definitely a lot easier to schedule training on busy days if I know exactly how long it will take me, which will make it harder for me to skip a day.

I also read Train Like a Mother: How to Get Across Any Finish Line – and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity. I stumbled upon the blog, Another Mother Runner one day. I really enjoyed reading it, so I thought I’d give their book a try. I enjoyed reading it as well. It contained practical advice and the anecdotes were great. I have a few fears about running my first 13 mile race, some of the fears I believe only a mother can appreciate, and it’s good to read honest accounts from women who have already experienced these things. I think this is the plan I’m going to follow when I start seriously training. I like the flexibility of the plan, which is necessary when you have kids. I also love their sense of humor and their writing style. They keep things fun, which is how running should be.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: A Novel (Vintage International) isn’t a running book, but the author is a runner. He even wrote a book about running, which is on my wishlist. That is not why I chose this book. I found Haruki Murakami at the end of last year completely by accident and I’m glad I did. This book was even better than the last one. In fact, I would list this book as one of my all time favorites. It was a funny, serious, and thought-provoking story about the interaction between humans and technology, how actions and thoughts connect us to others, and how our dreams and desires help shape our lives and the lives of those we interact with. Each chapter switches between 2 different story lines that gradually interweave and converge at the end. It’s a hard book to explain, you just have to read it. It’s a book that has stuck with me so far. I think it will stick with me for awhile.

I wasn’t as taken with Just Kids as some others were. I like Patti Smith, but I didn’t like this book. I didn’t hate it either, it just wasn’t what I expected. I was expecting a more thoughtful account of her time with Robert Maplethorpe. It lacked emotion and depth in my opinion, especially in the middle where she recounted her time at the Chelsea. I would have loved to hear more detail about hers and Robert’s work and how they found the road to their success. Instead it read more like the diary I kept as a teenager – a bit trite and superficial. Disappointing is the word that keeps coming to mind.

So far, I am ahead on my 2013 reading challenge progress. I think that is pretty good way to start the year off.

Right now I’m reading Chi Marathon and Country Driving. So far I’m enjoying both. And I plan on doing more running and less reading about running in the coming weeks and months. Now if only the weather will cooperate…. So far this week it has. I got out this morning for a rainy 4.27 mile run.  I ran without Chuck this morning. He hates the rain. He can’t tolerate his paws getting wet. He loves the snow though, which is on the way according to the forecast, so maybe I’ll take him on a snowy run this weekend.

My phone must have sensed the rain today as well. The song it played for me on the home stretch was Rain Street by The Pogues, which I know has nothing to do with rain, but it was still a fun song to end on as I splashed through puddles on the way home.

2012: A Year in Books

Yay! I completed the 2012 Goodreads challenge. Although, I think some of these books, like White House Diary, should have counted for 2 books at least.

I was getting a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish. I completely dropped the ball on my written reviews of each book. But you know what they say….the best laid plans…..

Instead, I decided to just make a list with mini reviews of each book. Here are the books I read in 2012:

HTML5 For Web Designers – 4 stars – It was a good overview of HTML5 and what sets it apart from other mark-up languages. It was short, concise, and actually fun to read. Although, I’m not too sure that anyone other than fellow web designers would enjoy it as much.

Digging Into WordPress – 4 stars – Good introduction to WP development. I have a hard time learning from books, as I’m more of a visual learner, but this book was helpful and easy to understand.

Anna Karenina – 3 stars – I didn’t enjoy this book that much. It was long and tedious in parts. I am looking forward to the movie version that is coming out soon though. I wrote a full review here.

A Life in Stitches – 2 stars – It was ok, but a bit lacking in depth. This book will probably only interest other knitters, but even then I’m not so sure. Full review here.

The White’s of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History – 4 stars – I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the current state of American politics, specifically the rise and dwindling of the Tea Party movement. It offers a well-researched perspective on events past and present without a preachy or condescending tone. Full review here.

Three Men in a Boat – 4 stars – Short, funny, and light Victorian travelogue interspersed with funny anecdotes about packing, camping, ladies fashions, among other things. Full review here.

The Handmaid’s Tale – 4 stars – An unsettling tale that became oddly prescient in the 2012 GOP Presidential primaries. Full review here.

House of Theives – 3 stars – A collection of short stories about dysfunctional, upper-class, Hawaiian families. Not all the stories were great, but enough were that I kept reading. Full review here.

The Wordy Shipmates – 3 stars – Sarah Vowell’s account of the Puritan’s of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and their effect on church/state separation. It was entertaining and informative in parts, but tended to ramble and wander down long, somewhat distracting tangents in the middle of the book. Full review here.

Bite Me – 3 stars – The third book in Moore’s Love Story trilogy, where a large gang of vampire cats are threatening San Fransisco. Funny and entertaining read if you like this sort of thing.

The Godless Constitution – 4 stars – A well-researched book about the U.S. Constitution and why our founding fathers left God out of it. It solidly puts to rest any notion that America is a Christian nation. I know it gets criticized for not having footnotes, but it is written for a layperson, so footnotes aren’t necessary. However, there is a thorough bibliography at the end of the book for further reading.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – 4 stars – It was a charming and though-provoking love story about a 68 year-old retired military officer and a younger Pakistani shop-keeper who share a love of good literature and tea. Their friends, families, and some of the townspeople disapprove of their relationship. It is full of quirky characters that I got quite attached to by the end of the novel.

Fly Away Home – 1 star – I did not like this book. I’ve read one of Jennifer Weiner’s other books and it was entertaining. This one was not. I bought it to read purely as guilty-pleasure, light, beach reading. It was not light or entertaining, and I’m almost embarrassed to admit I read it.

Liars For Jesus – 4 stars – I really hate the title of this book because I think it is too off-putting and confrontational. It ends up preaching to the choir. The book is thoroughly researched and spells out some of the more pervasive lies of the Religious Right pseudo-historians, and then effectively destroys them. It is a little slow in parts, I think because it is so thorough, but it is an excellent resource to have on your shelf to arm yourself against the liars.

The Phantom Tollbooth – 5 stars – So this is a kids book. I still love reading it. My son read it, and I kept hearing him giggle, so I wanted to read it again. I love the puns, the adventure, and all the quirky characters. It makes me smile. I think I appreciated it more as an adult than I did as a kid.

Year of Wonders – 3 stars – I love historical fiction, and this novel was pretty good until the end. It is set in 1666 England during the Bubonic plague. I know that sounds morbid and depressing, but the story was told beautifully, even if it was a slightly idealistic view of how our modern selves would view that time period . The end however, was strange and odd. It didn’t totally kill it for me, but I might have given it one extra star if the ending had been better.

Small Wonder – 4 stars – Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorites. This collection of essays was beautifully written and very thoughtful on a wide variety of topics. I will probably read this one again.

The New Organic Grower – I wasn’t sure quite how to rate this. I read it because we have grand dreams of starting a hobby farm someday. This book was very thorough. It had a lot of information and gave me a lot to think about before we start our farm. I’ll definitely be referring to it many more times I’m sure.

Purple Hibiscus – 4 stars – Not a book I would have normally chosen, but a friend recommended it and I’m glad she did. It takes place in Nigeria, which I have almost no knowledge of. It had well-developed characters I could identify with, but some of the writing felt a little flat and stilted. I would still recommend it. It’s a book that has stuck with me, and I think it will for awhile.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mocking Jay – 3 stars for all three – I read these with my 11 year-old son. He loved them. I thought they were o.k. They got better, instead of worse as most series go. Although, as dystopian fiction, they had some serious flaws. I still had fun reading them.

The Sirens of Titan – 3 stars – Not my favorite Vonnegut novel, but still an entertaining read.

White House Diary – 4 stars – A personal account of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. I was pretty young when he was president, so I don’t remember much. I do remember him not being very popular. I was still interested in reading his diary because I was curious to learn about the day-to-day life in the White House. Not a page-turner, but it was very insightful and I appreciate his decisions as president (and any other presidents’ decisions for that matter) much more now having read this.

Yarnbombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Grafitti – 5 stars – Full of inspiration. Technically not much to read in this book, but I need something lighter. (Especially after Jimmy Carter’s diary.) It was full of pictures, interviews, and some patterns at the end I might try.

Reading Lolita in Tehran – 2 stars – I really wanted to like this book. The premise should have made for an interesting read, but this book was very disappointing. It lacked heart in my opinion. And the lack of quotation marks made for confusing reading. I like books that make me think, but not about who is talking when.

What We Keep – 4 stars – A quick, thoughtful novel about families, misconceptions, forgiveness, and the stories we carry with us throughout our life.

American Gods – 3 stars – I liked this book, but after the first half of the book it started to annoy me in a non-distinct sort of way. The premise is interesting, and the writing is done well enough, but I felt it meandered a bit in the middle, the point of the book got a bit muddled, and the end was anti-climatic. I like Neil Gaiman, but this book is not one of my favorites by him.

I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity – 4 stars – I actually would give the message of this book 5 stars, but the writing quality 4 stars. It’s a book that has stuck with me long after I read it. I think it will always stick with me. It’s a truly inspirational memoir of a man who refuses to be led by hate.

You Can’t Stay Neutral on a Moving Train – 5 stars – I usually find Howard Zinn’s books inspiring, motivational, and educational. Yes, he writes from a progressive viewpoint, but he always tells the stories of those often overlooked by traditional history books. This short autobiography tells stories from his own life as an activist and teacher. It also stresses the importance of ordinary people, performing sometimes seemingly small acts, that result in positive change. Even small change can be important in the grand scheme of things.

Transparent Things – 4 stars – A short novel that I read in an afternoon, but it is full of layers. There was so much in it, I have a feeling further readings will show new layers and dimensions I hadn’t considered before. I’m not entirely sure I will re-read it again soon, but maybe sometime in my future.

A Wild Sheep Chase – 4 stars – I debated between 4 and 5 stars on this one. I settled on 4 because I slow to warm up to the main character. They say never judge a book by it’s cover, but that is exactly why I chose this book. This is the first novel I’ve read by Haruki Murakami. I chose if for an odd reason, but I’m glad I did. It was an odd mixture of mystery, fantasy, philosopy, and religion. It’s a hard book to discuss and I don’t know what else to say about it other than I really liked it, so much so that I ordered more of his books to read for the 2013 challenge.

Frankenstein – 3 stars – This is a classic that I have always wanted to read, but never got around to until now. I can’t say that I loved it. I like the idea of the story, but the telling of it quite literally put me to sleep at times. Not quite what I would expect from a horror novel.

Mother Night – 5 stars – I think this may be my favorite Vonnegut novel so far. It was short but engaging and thought provoking. It is a novel about a Nazi war criminal that was really and American spy or maybe a double agent. He says in the beginning that the moral of the story is, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” I think that sums up things nicely.

Voodoo Histories: The Role of Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History – 3 stars – I’ve always been fascinated by conspiracy theories – how they get started, shape history, and why people believe them to be true. This one explores many different types of conspiracy theories that have been prevalent throughout modern history, and he made a convincing argument about why some believe, how they effect history, and how and why these theories get treated as fact. However, the author gets a little bogged down in the details. I found myself skimming a lot. It was still an interesting and timely read.

I’ve learned with this challenge that I don’t have nearly as much time to read as I would like! And to make sure that I keep making time to read, I’ve signed up for the 2013 challenge. This time I’ve upped the number of books to 40.

Reading Challenge Update

I’ve fallen behind in my reading challenge for the same reason I haven’t been updating the blog much lately – life got really busy. It’s starting to slow down again to a less frantic pace, so hopefully I can catch up on my reading, knitting, and sewing. I seriously need to catch up on my sewing – there is a growing stack of clothing and toys that need repair, half-finished projects, and fabric that has been cut and needs to be sewn into wearable pieces of clothing.

But back to the books…..

I’m going to do quick little reviews again of the books I’ve read since the last reading challenge post.

A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: I don’t even know where to start with this review. Every time I sit down to write something short and concise to sum up the plot and my thoughts on it, I get so many thoughts rushing to the front of my brain that I can’t think of a coherent one to write down. To me that’s a good sign though. This book made me think a lot. Some of it I am still processing.

The story is about a woman named OfFred. She’s typical of a modern American woman – has a family, career, friends, bank account and all the other rights and privileges that we all assume we should receive. Then the religious extremists take over and strip women of all their rights and possessions and even their names. (The handmaids are named Of + the name of the male they belong to.)  Atwood explores what our country would look like if religious extremism is taken to it’s logical conclusion. I thought it was very well done. There was a lot of confusion in the book that left me wondering what exactly was going on and how it happened. Tt helped create a sense of urgency that kept the story moving forward. As the story unfolds, Atwood reveals the how’s and the what’s in a way that kept me engaged in the story and made me completely identify with the main character.

It’s an unsettling story, especially given all the events lately regarding women’s healthcare. I think I would have found this book unsettling if I had read it when it was first published in 1986, but on a much different level. What I took away from the book is that rights are fleeting and we should not take them for granted or be too complacent in life.

It was a book that will stick with me for a long time. Those are the best kind of books.

House of Thieves by Kaui Hart Hemmings: I chose this book because it was a Kindle “deal of the day” and it contains the story Minor Wars, which inspired the movie and book The Descendants. I’ve not seen the movie or read the book yet, but the trailer intrigued me enough to be curious about the story behind it. I enjoyed this book. It is a collection of short stories about dysfunctional, upper-class, Hawaiian families. Not all the stories were great, but enough were that I kept reading. The characters are all complex and none of them had any real resolution to their stories – a lot like life. It offered a reminder of how complicated modern life can be. The stories made me uncomfortable, and they were a bit dark and unsettling, but most of them stuck with me and I had a hard time putting the book down. I am definitely looking forward to reading more of her work.

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell: I have to admit, I was a little disappointed in this book. It is about the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and it draws parallels to modern day evangelicals and some current events. I was so excited to read it because this time period in our history fascinates me.  I was also hoping that this would be a good book to bring some factual light to the mythological creatures that the Puritans have become in America in a way that I could recommend it to friends and family that normally find history boring.

It is well researched, and there are a lot of interesting historical bits presented that most people probably don’t know about, but about half-way through the book it slowed down to an almost unreadable pace. She went off on so many tangents, and added so much detail about some of the figures, that I honestly got bored and lost in a few places. (And this is coming from someone who loves to read history books.) The end picked up again though, and I was able to finish it. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as some of her other books that I’ve read. I’m also not sure that I will be recommending it to too many others as I had originally hoped.

Bite Me by Christopher Moore: The third book in Moore’s Love Story trilogy, where a large gang of vampire cats are threatening San Fransisco. It didn’t disappoint – it was funny, but not as good as the first two in the series. It was a great way to waste a lazy Sunday afternoon, though.

Right now I am reading: Liars for Jesus by Chris Rodda, The New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman so I can learn how to start up our future hobby farm, and Purple Hibiscus by Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie.