Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book Reviews - Warning, It's Long!

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I've kind of fallen in love with reading non-fiction books related to running, triathlon, sports and inspirational people.  I read a lot as a kid - loving spending summers in the cool a/c at my local library listening to records of stories and music and burying my nose in whatever the latest Boxcar Children, Ramona, or Nancy Drew book that I had gotten ahold of.  But as I advanced in school, I spent more time on books I didn't enjoy and less time on books I did until at one point in my early adult life, I barely read at all - nothing except a few magazines here and there. 

As my children grew, I started missing the relaxation I got from it (especially right before bed).  Now that we were past the EXHAUSTING infant/toddler years, I could find my way back to reading for pleasure.  It started simply enough: a friend told me that she really enjoyed "Marley and Me" (long before it was a movie and really before I'd even heard anything much about it).  I borrowed it from the library and read it straight through in a matter of a few nights (before bed remember) - staying up late one night to finish it.  Oh yes, this is what reading for fun was like!  I remember!  I re-read a few old favorites from the bookshelf.  I bought a couple here and there. 

But I still was busy raising kids and working full time and just with LIFE.  But then, in the fall of 2010 my life changed. I wasn't working 40 hours a week anymore.  And then I started being interested in triathlon and running.   I bought the following two books to start figuring out this crazy sport (my own money at my local Barnes and Noble):

The 12-Week Triathlete - Tom Holland:  Loved the pictures in this one.  Solid practical advice.  Training plans broken down by the race distances.  Pushes strength training more than other books I've read and has the best descriptions on exactly WHAT to do along those lines.  Writing style a little dry.

Triathlon Training in Four Hours a Week - Eric Harr:  Not impressed with lack of pictures, but much easier read.  Funny story on how Eric got into the sport that made me feel like it wasn't insane for my fat, couch potato butt to try to complete a sprint tri.  Lots of practical advice.  Training plans listed based on fitness level - loved that the Level I plan was called "Just a Slice Above a Couch Potato".  This is the plan that I (mostly) followed to get through my first event - note I didn't say how fast, just to the finish line.  Not for the experienced person trying to knock out a crazy fast race, but great for a newbie.  Have re-read parts of this book.

Later this summer, I picked up the following books at the library:

I Beat the Odds - Michael Oher:  Inspirational biography that was an interesting and quick read.  It clarified a lot of the "creative freedom" taken with his story in the movie "The Blind Side".  It was a book that made you think about the fact that no matter your circumstances, the will to succeed and putting in the work to get there can change everything.  While the movie makes it seem like his story was a series of "lucky breaks", the book clearly indicates it was a very deliberate path he was on and when faced with obstacles, he just looked for ways around them.

Slow, Fat Triathlete - Jayne Williams: This book was mildly humorous, but I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more and maybe even been a bit more inspired had I read it in April - before knowing much about triathlons.  It was kind of a day late and dollar short.  Excellent for a heavier set newbie (especially a woman), but I found it just ok for someone with any experience.  And I've since been less than impressed with Ms. Williams' blog.  I think she is a little too comfortable being slow and fat.  I love that she encourages people in the book to be active in their current body, but I think she misses the mark with not pushing for improvement to that body. 

The Everything Running Book - Art Liberman:  To be honest, I tried to get into this book and found it insanely dry.  It is kind of along the lines of the "____ for Dummies" books, but I just couldn't get interested in it.  I never finished it even after renewing it and giving some effort to trying to wade through it.

Then Kovas did a review on another book that sounded interesting.  So I picked up "Run Like a Girl" and "Born to Run" (mostly because I felt left out of the party when people kept referring to it).  Both at my local library:

Run Like a Girl - Mina Samuels:  I wholeheartedly agreed with Kovas that this is a book parents of girls should read.  It really has nothing to do with teaching you how to "run like a girl".  Instead it is a study in the value of sports in building self-esteem in women (young to old).  How feeling strong and powerful can be awesome salve to the self-depricating thoughts and self-destructive behaviors that us women can find ourselves trapped in.  I felt like some of the points were belabored a bit much (the book could have been about 2/3 the length and said about the same thing).  I found it hard to wade through some of the middle of the book.  But I was fired up about raising my girl to be strong and confident. 

Born to Run - Christopher McDougall:  This was a great story.  I enjoyed the character development and the adventurous nature of it.  I got mildly tired of listening to how evil the shoe companies are and how barefoot running is the end-all, be-all.  But this was a good read.  I have yet to go out in my bare feet, but you never know what I might try.  At least now I know what the heck everyone is talking about.

Somewhere along the way, I picked up these two as the pickings got slim at the local library:

Triathlon 101 - John Mora: Kind of skimmed this one.  Nothing really sticks out in my mind about it.  Had a lot of the same basic stuff I had already read in other places.  Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it.

A Race Like No Other - Liz Robbins:  I really enjoyed this book.  It made you feel like you could really see the various sites along the NYC Marathon route.  It touched on the quirky characters that have been spectating and cheering the runners for years.  It described the terrain.  It highlighted stories from the 2007 race (some of the pros and some inspirational folks who ran following bouts with addiction and cancer).  I liked some of the character development surrounding these stories and how it was interspersed with the course description.  

My problem was now that I had just about exhausted the running/triathlon books at my local library.  Hmm...I go to Columbia often enough - how about their library?  Turns out, they have a HUGE collection of books I was interested in reading.  Can I get a card?  Web site said no, but turns out my library has an agreement with them so I could!  Yay!  First round:

Run Like a Mother - Shea/McDowell:  This book would have been better if I was fighting to run as a mother of small children.  It seemed more geared to that stage of motherhood.  Not that there weren't still interesting stories and hints to all mothers, but I found several points where I was just past that as my kids are nearly 8 and 11.  I liked the little side notes that were basically like reading comments to a blog except that the placement of these little grey boxes could be kind of interrupting to the flow of the book.  Oh, and I liked the nod to the 0.2 (there are 26.2 chapters in the book and a little blurb 0.2 at the end of each chapter) - the blurbs were quick to read and generally interesting.

Trizophrenia - Jef Mallet:  Somebody seriously has to do a footnote intervention with this guy.  Sometimes half the page would be footnotes.  And if the little grey boxes in the previous book were disruptive to flow, the footnotes were 10x worse.  The drawings were cute.  The writing left a lot to be desired.  Some entertaining stories, but not enough for the amount of footnotes I had to wade through.  Best section was the end.  There were several pages that were a great guide to spectating.  Great hints at how to do it right.  Thought about copying for my husband though he did the best he could given not ever having done it before last summer.

Iron Heart - Brian Boyle:  Incredibly inspirational.  Read it in a day.  All told as a first person account by Brian as he wakes up from 2 month coma and tries to figure out what has happened, comes to figure out they aren't sure if he is ever going to talk, walk, or really do ANYTHING ever again and how trapped he feels in this broken body (slammed in a T-bone car accident sending his heart - that the nurses described as tough as iron from being a competitive swimmer and discus thrower - across his chest).  You read of his first words, first food/drink, first steps - of how he FOUGHT his way back to life.  And then, just 2 years after his accident and with just weeks of training, finishing his first half-ironman and going on a media slot to Kona and finishing in a beyond respectable time.  Just awesome!

My Life on the Run - Bart Yasso: This book was divided into two parts.  About the first 70% of the book is a very entertaining account of Bart Yasso's life.  The adventures he's been on (usually that someone else signed him up for and he just had the good spirit to go along with it).  It was very humbly written and he just seemed like a super decent guy.  The last part of the book was his thoughts on training and racing and had a lot of training plans.  I kind of skimmed over this, but will keep it in mind if I ever really get to doing much running.  It wasn't so much "text to read", but reference material from a guy who's spent a lot of time running.  Read the "Life" part in a day.  Hard to put down.

Second round from Daniel Boone Regional Library:

Unthinkable: Maybe I just like biographies of really inspirational people.  This is the story of Scott Rigsby, the first double amputee to cross the Kona finishline.  Another young man, struck down in his youth by someone else's poor driving.  Truthfully, it is kind of hard to read about how "not together" his life was for a long time.  And it is definitely a story about a man finding God in his darkest hour and embracing his faith to set an unthinkable goal and go after it.  If you aren't interesting in someone's Christian testimony, this isn't a book for you because this is the common thread to a good part of the book.  But if you think that God has a purpose on earth for all of us and sometimes we are just too blind to it for our own good, this is an amazing story.  I also was totally psyched when he talked about his good friend Carole Sharpless!!  I totally follow her blog!!  That was crazy to read about how she helped and inspired him.  Read most of this in a day too.  Have like 10 pages left.

Waiting in the wings is Dean Karnazes' 50/50 and another accident victim turned crazy athlete story called "Running on Faith".  Stay tuned.  Sorry I saved them up for so long and made this crazy long.


  1. Interesting list - I read a lot and haven't read most of these books. You are so right about Jef's obsession with footnotes!

    1. The pure randomness of the list probably has a lot to do with the fact that it was what was available at the library when I went.

  2. ahhhhhhhhhhh.... Scott Rigsby ...... I miss my little Hobbit! :)

  3. I liked the 12 Week Triathlete and Born to Run. I also read Slow, Fat Triathlete just as I toyed with the idea to do a triathlon so it was a good read for me. I am currently reading Iron War The Greatest Race Ever Run. Its about Dave Scott and Mark Allen, by Matt Fiztgerald.

    1. I'd really like to hear your opinion on the Iron War book. At first I wasn't going to read it because both guys came out publicly against it, but even if some liberties were taken - I think it sounds like an interesting story.

  4. I only read when traveling and now that I have Angry Birds on my phone, I might stop reading all together :-).

  5. You've been doing some reading! I enjoyed slow fat triathlete - definitely funny. I also like Yasso's book. Thanks for the recommendation on Scott Rigsby's book, I will have to check that one out!