Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
by Haruki Murakami

Time and place, this theme recurs a lot with me. And it definitely affected how I viewed this memoir/ode to running by Murakami.

Disclaimer: I've not read any other Murakami. I do mean to, specifically Kafka on the Shore and Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but haven't yet. This just grabbed my attention and my wife got it for me for Christmas. Points for her.

Second disclaimer: On my run this past weekend, I aggravated my IT Band, and so I need to take a couple of weeks off to let it heal and get loose so that I can run without a sharp, shooting pain in my knee. I was very disappointed. I started reading this book right after my, I-don't-want-to-call-it-one-but-for-efficiency-purposes-I-will, injury.

Murakami comes off to me as a little arrogant. He thought one day that he wanted to write a novel. So he did. And now he's very successful. He figured, "Hey, I should go running", and so he did, and now he's completed 26 marathons in as many years, with, as he puts it, no injuries. He doesn't stretch because he doesn't need to, and runs six days a week.

I almost threw up, on my bum knee, from all of this.

Truth be told, it was a great book to read. What I take for Murakami's arrogance at times turns in to a life-affirming book with frequent insights into the way life is, into the choices and sacrifices we make, and how to best deal with those choices. He is uber-passionate about running, and it's nice to go along for the ride with someone so gung-ho for working out. Still, at the end of the day, I found myself wishing Murakami had less time, or I had more, because it seems that he is able to live the life and has been able to for some time because he just does.

There's no pity-party here. Murakami talks about why he loves running, why it has worked for him. It's actually alot like reading a blog about running by a famous author. There is relatively little insight into his life, but he goes to some cool places to run and writes about them fantastically.

The cover's cool, I'm glad I read it, if not just for the inspirational quotes my wife wrote on the inside. Maybe I'll give it another go after my IT Band heals, and we'll see how it strikes me then, huh?

Until then, if you do, keep running.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
by Michael Chabon

I love this book. I love this book.

Fan-freaking-tastic, from start to end, I love this book.

I haven't read another of Chabon's books other than the non-fiction collection of essays Maps and Legends (which I also loved), but now I'm definitely adding a huge amount of his novels to my pile. I have to be honest here. About three or four years ago, I picked up Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay from the library and put it down after the first few pages. I guess I was afraid that a novel about comic books wouldn't be able to hold my attention for the duration of the novel, which (I peeked) was many many pages long. I was afraid of getting bored.

Time and place. I think that should be my motto, because when I picked it up this time I couldn't put it down. It got so bad that I started to wish off sleep and contact with other people just so I could lose myself in the world of Kavalier and Clay. Everything felt so real, and happy, sad, or just being, I wanted to be there, hanging out in 1940s New York with the creators of the best fictional comic book hero I've ever come across: The Escapist.

I don't think I can even do justice to explain the plot. Joe Kavalier escapes from Prague only to find himself trapped in the chains of getting his family out after him, which proves to be a very difficult task given the escalating situation in Germany. Along with Sammy Clay, they begin to create and write several different best-selling comic books, making their bosses rich in the process. And while they make a decent enough living in the process, they aren't able to break free from the tyranny of their jobs and the contracts they've signed. And then there's the beautiful Rosa Saks, who becomes entangled in both Kavalier and Clay's lives in so many ways.

Golems (specifically, their metaphorical relation to the creative process), magic, love, loss, tragedy, adventure. These are only some of the things that stand out as I sit and quickly go over how this novel affected me. Larglely, I was affected by the notion of escaping, and how that plays out in many of the character's lives, in so many ways.

Chabon does so many things with this novel. He entertains, he inspects, he elevates the comic books in the story from something most people view as juvenile to a multi-layered reflection of the main character's lives, worries, and cause of their problems. It's, simply said, just brilliant.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough, I only hope that I can put off reading it again long enough to get through some of the other books on my list. It's one of my all-time favorites, and I look forward to enjoying it again.

Friday, January 09, 2009

by Taras Grescoe

I put off reading Bottomfeeder for the better part of a year. My wife heard the author, Taras Grescoe, explain the book in an interview and recommended the book to me. I bought it, but decided I wasn't ready to read it yet because I wasn't ready to give up the seafood I love so much...

And one day, a couple weeks ago, I decided that the time had come. It was now or never. I must learn the woes of the ocean, and live by the code or rot in fish bowels.

I must say, I was pleasantly surprised. I don't have to give up a lot of the seafood I do like. Crabs, calamari, and lobster are still okay to eat, as long as you know where they're coming from, and there are now several other types of fish I can't wait to try (mackerel, oysters, and mullet). I'm also about to rediscover sardines, a fish I remember well from my childhood, eating out of a can filled with delicous mustard sauce (sardines, anchovettas, and a few other small species of fish are actually one of the few sustainable fisheries still existing in this world).

The book itself took some getting used to. With chapters divided by the places Grescoe traveled to to try a local specialty of fish, the book started off feeling like a gastronomic travel guide written by a pessimist. Nearly every major fish stock in most oceans and seas is overfished, and pollution and human contaminants, along with a major rise in fish farms, are contributing to the dwindling stocks of wild fish (that, obviously, are much better for you than their farmed counterparts). The first half of the book, for me, felt like a depressing novel that I didn't want to read anymore. And then, it just got better. Grescoe continued on his journey and visited some places I have a personal attachment to (British Colombia) and researched and ate some seafood I've also always been interested in: shrimp, salmon, cod, tuna, and now, sardines.

I'd recommend reading parts of this book (the chapters on small fish, shrimp, salmon, and the appendix), but by no stretch of the imagination do you need to read the whole thing unless you love reading about food. I love eating food, and like to spend my time doing that rather than delving into the sensations of said wonders...

If you're a seafood eater and you happen upon this post, I must put this out there because not enough people know it: don't eat farmed salmon. Farmed salmon are spreading disease to wild fish stocks and they're terrribly bad for you, filled with antibiotics, carcinogens, and artificial food coloring to make the meat red like their wild counterparts. Also, be wary of the shrimp you eat. If it's imported, it's probably affecting entire villages of people as well as devastating mangrove forests.

Eat sardines. Sardines purchased at Trader Joe's are sustainably fished (I checked). And if you eat tuna, make sure you get the "chunk light" tuna, which is a type of tuna known as skipjack that is not suffering like the bluefin tuna or high in mercury like regular tuna.

And this website's a great one for seafood choices: www.seafoodwatch.org. I've been using it for a while and it really helps one navigate the fish aisle and menu's at restaurants. There are too many restaurants that pay no attention to the state of our oceans, but if we don't wise up soon, all that may be left, according to Grescoe, are Jellyfish salads.

Happy eating of fish!