Book Review: The Running Dream

I’ve been reading.  I admit that most of my reading these days involves journal articles for work, but I do occasionally get in some actual books designed for regular reading.

This year our floor where I work decided to contribute to the annual Christmas party held for foster children in our county.  Being the do-gooder that I am, I went ahead and ordered all sorts of craft projects, glow in the dark necklaces and sports equipment for the kids.  I also ordered books.  I particularly wanted some books that might inspire or help kids dream.  So in November, I read a lot of teen literature. Enter The Running Dream  by Wendelin Van Draanen.

Apparently it is based on a true story, which is rather amazing.  The basic premise, 16 year old Jessica is a high school runner who loses her leg in a tragic accident. She works through the grief process (rather rapidly) all the while becoming more sensitive to others disabilities and problems around her, and eventually returns to running–and also picks up the “hot boyfriend” in the end.  Part of me found it all a little too good to be true, and a bit like those After school Specials for the 1980’s .  I now realize that it was based on a true story, so likely this is all true, and it still kind of amazes me at how each piece seems to fall together at the end of the story.


But of course the story ends conveniently there where all the pieces fall together. The reality is that Jessica and folks with disability will continue to face many challenges through their lives that can not be chronicled in one slim volume.

All that said, this book was a tear jerker and a page turner for me. Firstly many of the emotions that the main character describes after her injury remind me of the emotions I felt after my large spine injury. The author has a way of making the reader entirely invested and committed to the outcome.  I could NOT stop reading the book!  My favorite part of the book is how the author describes running through her main character.  Certain phrases have stuck with me as I am out and running again myself.  I sometimes hear them when I am struggling with some particular aspect of a workout- especially if it is on the track.

The Verdict?  Definitely worth the read for adults, and a great read for teens.

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Book Review; Once a Runner

It may be just that  I am sufferring though a week long cold/laryngitis situation, but I actually do not see what all the fuss is about this particular book.

John Parker, the author,  is a Floridian of sorts.  He actually qualifies as a one of the kind we aren’t so fond of, the SnowBirds… But he did attend college here in Florida, so that gives him some dispensation.

The book was originally published in 1978, right around the height of the first running craze, fueled by Frank Shorter and the like.  Frank Shorter is still around, I met him at the Pre Marathon dinner in February, and he still loves to run, though he doesn’t marathon that often.  With the new running craze, it has been reprinted to rave reviews from all sorts of people.

Anyway, the book is set in Florida in a fictional university and follows the rise and fall of one collegiate athlete Quenton Cassidy.  perhaps it is because I have never really been a sprinter, or anything that I found the book to be interesting, but not thrilling as most others have stated.  I also think this is one book that has gathered sort of an aura about it that may be more interesting than the book itself.

Parker chronicles the life of Cassidy who is seeking to possibly qualify for the Olympics and to run a sub 4 minute mile.  4 minute milers today are still quite rare, though many many high schoolers approach it and get very close.

Cassidy is initially the Captain of the team, and Parker describes the varying relationships between different team members to a T.  He describes the practical joking, the camraderie, the rivalries, and the shared disappointments as only someone who has lived this experience can.  Myself, I was never actually on a Track team.  I have never run any race (except as a child on field days) shorter than a 5 K.  So I can only relate to this a little.

After some bad Juju, Cassidy drops out of school, and essentially isolates himself to focus on training.  Parker has got the descriptions of the training and the conversations with people about training again to a T.  I could really relate to this Cassidy, in almost complete isolation with few people understanding his desire to persue an almost impossible result.

In the end Cassidy has a semi triumphant return to run the mile in a school meet and it appears he ends up beaten…for whatever reason.

Parker continues his story in a new novel Again to Carthage.  Where it is 10 years later and  Cassidy takes up Long distance running to persue the Olympic Marathon.  This of course makes sense, as the hey Day of American Track and Field is over as far as I am concerned.  Hardly anyone knows about the Millrose games and such these days.  It is all about running marathons.  (Or walking them as the case may be.)

Parker is a good writer.  He is engaging, and at least for me, my interest was held even when reading rather long descriptions of races.  His character, Cassidy is sufficiently complex without being too complex.  I related well to the characters reasons for running as they are very similar to mine.  My ability on the other hand is quite different.

One reviewer in Runners world states, “The best piece of running fiction around.  beg, Borrow, or buy a copy and you’ll never need another motivator”.

Having never really needed motivation to train, I found that hysterical.  Never once during reading the novel did I get any more interested in training.  So, I definitely do not recommend that you pick this up for motivation.

I think the final words are:  well written novel, good descriptions of competition and running as it is for many runners.  And that’s about it!

I recommend it, but not strongly.  I do think if the library has Again to Carthage, I might check it out as well.

Book Review The Perfect Mile

The Perfect Mile, written by Neal Bascomb

I want to start by saying I REALLY enjoyed this book!  So much so that I read it in about 2-3 days.

Neal Bascomb, a former journalist, has put together an engaging and, I believe, accurate picture of the fight to break the Four Minute mile in the early 1950’s.

The book delves into the lives of the three most serious known contenders for breaking the 4 minute mile barrier; an American, Wes Santee,  a college student in Kansas, an English Medical Student, Roger Bannister, and an Australian college student, John Landy.

Roger Bannister ==>

The author perhaps through a stroke of luck was able to interview each of these men personally, as well as many of their friends and colleagues.  In addition, he had access to many personal letters.  This gave the book a very genuine feel.  As I  read, I felt as if the true character of each individual was revealed, rather than a string of press releases.

John Landy==>

Bascomb sets the stage for the excitement of breaking the 4 minute mile barrier.  During this time, it was widely believed that no one could actually run a mile any faster than 4:01.  There were people who predicted one’s heart would explode if such a pace were to occur.  It was generally agreed upon that 4:00 min to run one mile was somehow “perfection”.

Wes Santee==>

While these three men were accomplished athletes, each faced rather big disappointments and pressures in relation to their achievements, leading these three men in particular to focus on the goal of breaking the 4 minute barrier.

After setting the stage, Bascomb goes on to introduce each runner personally to the reader.  We are able to learn about each runner’s home life, childhood, and their other interests.  I was fascinated by the fact that Landy and Bannister especially were really and truly amateur athletes, and that their other passions were indeed medicine, and butterfly collecting.  Santee, perhaps due to early childhood difficulties seemed to be the bridge from an amateur athlete to what was to become the more professional olympian athlete today.  He skillfully brings each athletes lives to the point at which they decide to attempt to run the four minute mile and then he brings their lives all together in the way that they must have come together through out the months when each was vying for the record.

I was most fascinated by the varying training regimens used by the three men, all with essentially similar results. I was also inspired by their dedication to running.  Each of these young men had responsibilities outside of running, and each of them found ways to train well despite them.  After reading about John Landy doing almost all of his training runs after midnight while still attending University full time, I think I will have less to complain about once I am allowed to train again.

I was also rather inspired by the absolute “honesty”  these men seemed to have.  There were never any allegations of doping, or attacks on each other in the way that sports personas seem to gain fame these days. While Santee was apparently a bit of a showboater, he never looked down on the accomplishments of others, and was always able to respond in a very civil and congratulatory fashion in public, as were Landy and Bannister.  Due to the private interviews, we learn that these men were not usually thinking very civil thoughts, but despite that, they all had an edit button.  Modern sports personas could learn much from these three men.

While the book has an obvious appeal to runners, it showcases an interesting time in athletics, especially the change in how amateur athletes are now treated, compared to when these men were competing.  It seems that the pressures have remained great, but the rewards for such amateur athletes now are more material in nature than they were in the past.  One wonders if this has not created the situations which cause doping, and worse.

I also found this whole thing a bit amusing, that three skinny white dudes were all competing to break this 4 minute mile barrier, when it was probably being broken daily in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Morocco and numerous other places that were just not “in step” with the Europe and America….. 😀

In conclusion, I’ll say that after reading and learning of these three fellows, I’d put my Money on John Landy any day given his training and determination, despite the fact that Roger Bannister broke the record first and also beat Landy again soundly in the Empire games in Vancouver.  I just think despite one or two races, that Landy was just the better runner of them all.

Clara and Mr. Tiffany (book review!)

I just finished Clara and Mr Tiffany by Susan Vreeland.

It’s quite an enjoyable read.  Of course, as always with historical fiction, I feel somewhat confused!

Based on historical details, and letters saved, Ms. Vreeland creates the story of the adult life of Mrs. Clara Discoll, a “Tiffany Girl” who eventually became the manager of the Tiffany Girls.

I was utterly fascinated by the entire novel.  To be fair, I should state that my family does have a strong connection to Tiffany.  My Great-Grandmother worked in the Ecclesiastical Department  as a letterer.  So, I am always quite interested in learning more about how my Great-Grandmother lived.  We are always somewhat confused as it is well known that Mr. Tiffany had a strict policy of employing only single, unmarried ladies.  It would appear from my Grandmother’s recollection that my Great-Grandmother had worked as a letterer, and gotten married and somehow, was still able to continue working here and there, because my Grandmother recalls her bringing home work, and becoming very cross if she were to touch it!   In the Novel, Clara Discoll marries late in life, and this would reflect my Great-grandmother’s situation as well, as she was married later in life, and adopted my Grandmother via a long string of circumstances none of us quite understand.  My Grandmother grew up in Grammercy park and recalls coming and going from the Tiffany Studios, and the famous Mr. Belknap.   Because of the Vague-ness of the history, my Mother and I have both researched it thoroughly, and found that yes, photos of my Great-Grandmother and my Grandmother are present in the Archives at the Morse Museum in Winter Park Florida, but that their records and not much more detailed.  My Grandmother suffered for quite some time with Alzeheimer’s disease, most of her memories were lost.

Beyond the connection to my family, I found the book to be a fascinating read.

While the story is mainly of Clara, and her life, Vreeland is able to have Clara Driscoll describe so many of the challenges and joys of an independent woman at the turn of the century.  Mrs. Driscoll (a widower), describes the happiness of creating beautiful art, and being a successful employee, all the while longing for more recognition that would be given a woman at that time.  Clara describes herself as a “New Woman”, emphasizing her ability to be more than a wife or mother, while at the same time feeling regret regarding her romantic endeavors, and a deep need for recognition of her design talents.

The novel paints quite a picture of class differences at the time, describing in detail how the “Tiffany Girls” were hired from some of the most destitute neighbourhoods.  I was fascinated by the fact that these girls, mostly glasscutters, most often never saw the entire finished work that they worked on.  Can you imagine working to create some of the most lovely art glass pieces and not seeing the final product ever?

In addition, Ms. Vreeland sheds much light on the entire design process at the Tiffany Company, explaining in detail how certain types of special Tiffany glass, such as Favrile Glass.  Although I knew a lot about the studios, I really had never thought about the work of cutting each small piece of glass and then selecting just the correct colors.

It was a charming, and fascinating combination of lessons in history, glass cutting and selecting, and personal emotions.   The only thing that utterly disturbs me is what usually disturbs me in regards to historical fiction.  It is all just conjecture.  While the author had letters and certainly researched the Tiffany Company, she has used her imagination to create characters, and we don’t really know if things were exactly as described.  They are quite endearing, but one has to wonder what REALLY happened.

In addition, I suppose I was hoping to learn more of my Great-grandmother.  No such luck there.  There is one mention of the Ecclesiastical Department in the entire book….Ah well!

I’d recommend this to anyone interested in Tiffany,  Decorative Arts, or just that general “era”.  It could certianly change the way you see Mr. Tiffany!



2 fer one Book Reviews

I’ve been reading.  But I find it hard to review some sorts of books.  In reviewing them I always feel as if I am telling the story and thus I am never sure anyone will then want to read!

Recently I’ve finished a few books but two that I actually liked well enough to review.

Everything Asian by Sung J. Woo.

This book is well written and absorbing.

The main character of the book is David Kim, a 12 year old from Korea.  His father went to the US several years before the rest of his family to establish a business.  The story starts with David, his older sister and Mother coming to America and re-starting their life with their father.  The book of course, touches on many aspects that will be familiar to most immigrants, or children of immigrants.  Woo, however, manages to move beyond the simple issues of problems with language and cultural nuances to also bring forth some very true to life family dynamics, that ring true for all families- not just those of immigrants.

I did really enjoy this book and I found it did keep my attention.  My only criticism is that after one year in America, the story abruptly ends.  When the book ended I sort of felt like there was another chapter or two out there that was missing.  This is Woo’s first novel, and prior to this he has mostly written short stories, so I suppose it is not surprising that the book read more like a short story than a novel.  Still, I do think it is worth a read.

Second one!

Jane Smiley Horse Heaven

I was surprised that I liked this book at all.   I had read Smiley’s A thousand Acres, and returned it back to the library without finishing it.

Horse Heaven, though, was a very interesting read.  Smiley follows the lives of several young thoroughbreds  as they progress through the horse racing world.  Along the way we meet, and enter into the worlds of the Jockeys, Trainers,breeders,  Horse lovers, wealthy owners, and bettors.  It was surprising to me that Smiley  introduced so many characters, both animal and human, and I was able as the reader to pretty much keep track of them. She manages to show the human side of all of these people who are often portrayed in stereotypical ways.

I learned several interesting things about horse racing, and amazing things about horse travel! Smiley is a good writer, and she does have the credentials from Iowa State to prove it.  It makes reading her novel easy and enjoyable.  I would definitely recommend this book, though I am not sure I can totally recommend Smiley as a novelist, since I really found her A thousand Acres to really drag…..

So there are two book reviews….of sorts.

Leaving Atlanta-Book Review

I picked this book up at my local library.  Written by Tayari Jones, it is a fiction work that focuses on The Atlanta Child Murders.

Ms. Jones tells the story of the Atlanta child murders from the perspective of 3 separate students in the 5th grade at the beginning of the period that the murders occurred.

I found this book very interesting as I never actually had any clue that this had occurred.  I was a kid about the same age as the kids in the book when this happened, and I know it would have been on the news, but I guess my parents kept it from me.   It sort of bothered me that I did not know about this 2 year “murder spree”.


What Tayari Jone does that is fascinating is that she is able to completely capture the nuances that go with being in School, especially in the 5th grade.  She describes in great detail the 5th grade angst of who to sit with at lunch,  or who will be invited to the sleep-over party.  She manages to show that even though some very serious and frightening things were occurring, the regular issues with growing up were also poking through the edges.

One thing that struck me was how young people understand things so totally differently than adults.  In one section of the book, Jones describes a Father/Son talk in which the Father is trying to impart some actual wisdom to his son.  WHile I understood exactly what the Father was saying, the child actually did not understand any of it and decided that since Dad had been so serious, he must be in some sort of trouble.  I think I will have different sorts of conversations with my nephews from now on.  As Adults, we tend to forget that 10 year olds really often have no real memories of events like we do, so that things we think we can leave unspoken really need to be spoken.

The one thing I rather disliked about this book was that there was no closure.  The three children tell their stories and then fade out without anyone knowing what the final outcome would be.  I suppose that this is the hallmark of a good writer, though as she left me wanting to know more.

I did look up the murder case.  A man was convicted.  The Murders stopped.  At this point, this man is still trying to overturn the conviction, and there is some question as to wether all of them were committed by the same person.  Apparently there is no new evidence.  I find it satisfying that the murders stopped with the arrest, but…I can’t say as I know if they got the right man…so many advances in forensics that were not there in the 70’s.

So yes, I recommend this book.  I learned a bit more about event in my country (shameful that I knew nothing of this!)  and I also learned, I think, a lot about children.

Book Review: The Kings Last Song by Gregory Ryman

In preparing to write this book review, I actually looked at a few plot summaries.  I was surprised to find that it did not get great reviews from the pundits.

Ah well.  I enjoyed the book.

Gregory Ryman, better known for writing science fiction, takes on a complex tale of several different generations of Cambodia and Cambodians in this book.

He intertwines stories from 3 different eras of the country’s history.  Initially drawing one in with the story of  King Jayavarman  VII, Ryman then skillfully switches to a story of modern day Cambodia and then a story of Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge period.   Each of the tales really could stand on it’s own, and the connections are “just enough” that you do want to keep reading to see how things will further evolve.

The main connecting piece is the Kraing Meas, a book printed on Gold Leaf, discovered by a Expatriated Archeologist who is more Cambodian than many Cambodians, having grown up in the country, and finding he did not fit in any other place.

The Kraing Meas,  loosely translated into the “Golden Treasure” is looked upon by the Modern day Cambodians as a piece of what is truly unique and good and true about their culture.  The Archeologist, Luc, takes it upon himself to transport this book to the place where the damage done upon discovery will be repaired.  Predictably, something worth that much in a third world economy has attracted the interest of many different parties.   And beginning the transport, Luc is Kidnapped.  Two generations of Cambodians then race to his rescue, William, representing the younger modern generation untouched by the war, and Map, representing perhaps, the worst of the survivors of the Khmer Rouge era. Intertwined into the main story is the actual story of the Kraing Meas- the story of King Jayavarman, and also the recollections of Map, as he attempts to relate to a variety of people, including William.

In conclusion, each man works tirelessly in many ways to ensure that the Golden Treasure can be shared with the Cambodian people.  How it is shared, however, is unusual and creative and gives the book a very satisfying ending.

While some of the characters are indeed flattened, and seem to not have an independent point of view, I think frankly adding in many more points of view would simply clutter the book up.

So, I do recommend it, especially if you have an interest in South East Asia.