Books read in March 2018

Here’s my belated Books Read in … post. A few good titles, a few so-so ones. Hopefully April will be better.

Let Your Mind Run, by Deena Kastor

Kastor, elite runner and winner of the Chicago and London marathons, almost quit running in college. She had shown a lot of natural talent for the sport, but didn’t understand how to practice to get better, or how to develop the mental toughness necessary to succeed. In this very readable memoir, she describes how she trained her brain, alongside her body, to turn her talents into victories. I enjoyed this book (which will be out April 10) as a runner, but also as a writer always trying to get better at my craft. I think anyone who understands the value of practice will get a lot out of her story. As a side note, I have read a lot of celebrity memoirs in my life that are…not good. This one was good, which is a testament to Deena and her co-author, long-time Runner’s World contributor Michelle Hamilton.

The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben

I picked this up at the same SFO book store where I got the book on octopuses in January (I am becoming quite a patron of their nature section!). While there were some interesting factoids about how trees communicate with each other, I will admit that I found my attention wandering. I started thinking of this as a good book to read when trying to fall asleep at night. (I keep hoping Modern Mrs. Darcy will do a list along those lines! Books that won’t keep you awake.)

Come As You Are, by Emily Nagoski

This book by the famed sex educator was on the Modern Mrs. Darcy list of 50 contemporary books every woman should read. She said it was the most clicked-through title, probably because the subtitle promises that it will “transform your sex life.” I am happy to report that I don’t feel I need such a transformation, so perhaps my biggest take-away from this book is that sometimes other people consider dirty dishes, a burgeoning inbox, and four shrieking offspring to be major brakes on their level of desire. Who knew? Perhaps this explains why I wound up with four children.

You Are A Badass, by Jen Sincero

After reading Come As You Are, I decided to go all in on reading best-selling self-help books. I had seen this one referenced various places, and even mentioned by some serious people as thought-provoking. After reading it, I decided that we must all look for different things in our self-help material. I’m glad other people found it helpful. To me, this came across as basically The Secret with four-letter words thrown in. Maybe I’m jaded about the genre but…Perhaps my reaction also had to do with a particular annoyance: self-help writers who want to buy a luxury car, and do so, but then feel the need to make it be the culmination of a narrative of self-actualization. As opposed to them just wanting a car and buying it, as a normal person might do.

Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons

This was a suggestion from the What Should I Read Next? podcast. It’s a satirical novel (from many decades ago) based on the whole genre of proper London ladies going off into the countryside and trying to make sense of their rural relatives. Generally a fun read.

The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown

I had this on my book shelf for years. According to Marie Kondo, I should have dumped it since the time to read it was the time when I got it. But I did not dump it, and I’m glad I didn’t, because I really enjoyed it. This is the tale of Joe Rantz, a poor boy from rural Washington, who helps lead the University of Washington crew team to collegiate championships, and then the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He (and the team) encounter various hardships along the way, just as the country is falling apart during the Great Depression, but they pull off a victory and greatly annoy Hitler in the process. One fun part of reading this sports story when I did: I was on the plane to Seattle/Tacoma, and then in that region for a few days, and that’s where the bulk of the story takes place. So there was a nice little tie-in there.

Oranges, by John McPhee

Many decades ago, John McPhee began writing a short article for the New Yorker about this every day fruit. He wound up with so much material that he felt the need to write a book. While I don’t drink much orange juice, I definitely learned a lot about concentrate, and the business of citrus farming, and the danger of hard freezes. Quirky and fine for an airplane read.

Now I’m reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. Re-reading, really, as I read it in college. It’s taking a while! I started on March 22 or so and I’m only at page 350 (there are 700-some odd pages). So that’s one reason March’s list is short. Hopefully I’ll finish by April 30.

20 thoughts on “Books read in March 2018

  1. “perhaps my biggest take-away from this book is that sometimes other people consider dirty dishes, a burgeoning inbox, and four shrieking offspring to be major brakes on their level of desire. Who knew?” Eyeroll…congrats Laura on your amazing sex life. I’m sure as a consumer of happiness literature and self-help things in general (and, you know, being a person), you realize that intimacy and sex a) can be an ongoing challenge for married couples and b) is a fraught place of insecurity and self-doubt for a lot of women.

    This is one example of how I find you to be an extremely unempathetic writer (and podcaster). You often seem to have a hard time imagining experiences different from your own and come off as dismissive of people who face challenges you haven’t (or enjoy things that you might not…like fancy planners, for example!).

    PS, no, I am not jealous. I too am very happy with my sex life. But it hasn’t always been that way, and definitely isn’t for some of my friends of a certain age.

      1. Did I say I don’t like her writing or podcast generally? No, I just said I found her unempathetic. I think it’s something she can work on.

        I can think that Laura writes/talks about valuable material without always liking her tone or agreeing with everything she says.

        Also I love SHU on the podcast!

        1. “If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all”

          – wise mothers all around the globe

          1. I actually agreed with what you’re saying but the tone of the comment was inappropriate and I’m glad Laura is ignoring it.
            (Meanwhile I’m focused on being grateful that even though Laura was dismissive about it, it at least this blog brought this book to my attention)

  2. I highly recommend the 1995 movie “Cold Comfort Farm,” based on the 1932 book. The movie is hilarious and highly entertaining.

  3. I loved Boys on the Boat! I read it a few years ago, and I still think about it sometimes. I cannot say that about most books I read.

    1. @CNM – it was definitely something. There were some similarities to the Deena Kastor book (which you may also enjoy) in that you see what goes into the highest levels of success is often figuring out small tweaks and then rolling all the way with them. And I’m always impressed with people drawn to sports that require you to be really good at suffering (rowing being definitely one of those sports!)

  4. As a runner and a memoir lover, I am looking forward to Deena’s book. My favorite memoir is – Personal History by Katharine Graham. Do you have any memoirs you loved and would recommend?

  5. I really enjoyed reading The Boys in the Boat. My son had to read it for summer reading upon entering his sophomore year of high school. I generally read what he reads since it gives me choices of books to read that I may not normally pick up. And, it’s fun to talk about with him. After we both read it, we watched footage of the boys at the Olympics. It was pretty neat to see.

  6. I am laughing at your luxury car comment. Sometimes we have to be honest with ourselves! I try to pretend that buying new clothes is being true to my identity as a well-dresses person…..but actually I just like new clothes like everyone else .
    I appreciate that you don’t find dirty dishes a deterrent to intimacy! I have been constantly pushing back on this idea that being a “good woman” means having a tidy house/life. It’s incredibly oppressive and asserts that we are all supposed to put happiness and fun last once we become women. If that’s the truth, I don’t want to be good and I don’t want my daughter to be either!

    1. I’m glad you raised this because I didn’t understand Laura’s point about the luxury car. Laura/Virginia, please help me understand, what did the author say? Virginia’s point about the identity of being a well dressed person is interesting. I definitely do know people like that – I’m not one who sees myself as fashionable so I don’t place much priority on it (despite liking new clothes).

      1. @June – the author of that book has a story toward the end about needing to purchase a car. She was debating between (let’s say) a Honda and an Audi. The Honda was practical and cheaper. She loved the Audi – though she didn’t think she could afford it. But she decided to buy it anyway! And then had a moment of clarity about how she could hustle to earn the money to pay for it. Which is great for her, though I think it’s questionable advice to hold this out as broadly applicable – buy a car you can’t currently afford because the idea for how to pay for it will come to you.
        There’s a story in Dave Ramsey’s book (one of them) about a luxury car too – in his case, he had a Jaguar when he was young and irresponsible, and then it got repossessed. Later in life he was on the hunt for a car that he could get a good deal on and one of the dealers he’d worked with contacted him about a Jaguar that he could get for a very reasonable price. Ramsey says something along the lines of after he’d been humbled, God allowed a Jaguar back into his life.
        This is the sort of narrative that winds up in a lot of these books. Car as part of the evolution narrative. As opposed to car as car.

        1. I thought I was well-versed in self-help literature, but obviously not. Wow, your Dave Ramsey example made me a little ill. Plus, you can’t be a self-help book while suggesting people purchase a car you can’t currently afford. Sounds like you went easy on the book.

  7. I’m way more impressed that you are re-reading Ulysses than I am about the fact that you don’t have the usual mid-marriage sex slump caused by errands and kids! 😉 I am a pretty voracious reader and really just HATED that book. I mean, I couldn’t finish it, and that was back in the day when I used to force myself to finish pretty much every book in case it had a great ending. So kudos!

  8. ah, the comments!
    I love your honesty, Laura. You and I are very different, and it is that difference that makes me appreciate your voice so much. Bless you for sharing little personal quips. I love that you read Come as You Are, bc if you hadn’t I never would have heard of it.. and now I am putting it on my to be read list… bc, yeah, I need some help in that area… anyway. Also your perspective on You Are A Badass. Loved your takeaway. Personally, I loved this book because it challenged me to think a different way. ( I am not surprised this book didnt really speak to you, as you really are a bad ass but you don’t need anyone to tell you how to get anything done, again, this is why I love your writing and your perspective).
    I haven’t read The Secret, and I have no intention of reading it, but I really, really loved the Jen Sincero book. I also bought her book You Are A Badass At Making Money.
    I am sitting here wondering if I should have a desire to read the Odyssey… but I think I will wait and see what you have to say about it before I put it on my list.

    1. @Angela – thanks so much, I’m glad you enjoy my perspective. I will be sure to post the full Ulysses review here when I finish! Hopefully I finish in time to include it on the April list!

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