Friday, December 30, 2011

Judging a Book By Its Cover

I'm a sucker for a good book design. When done right, a good cover not only gives you a good indication of what the book is about, but emphasizes it's major themes in a subtle way. My favorite example of this point is the huge ampersand in the cover of Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon.Not only did the esoteric design of the ampersand reinforce the antiquated prose stylings of the text, but it also drew attention to the fact that the book was about borders, the line between the "and" and the "or", and also about the relationship between Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon.

I mention this because I've been reading through my backlog of Harpers magazines lately and wanted to share what I thought were some excellent covers. To the left we have some very simple, modern designs from the University of Texas Press. Nice and clean, if perhaps a touch too sterile for my tastes, although I love the understated design of Killer on the Road. More interesting to me are the quirky designs of the DalKey Archive Press books on the right. They remind me of the incredible film poster design work coming out of Poland in their expressiveness. The purple forest and shrinking text of The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am is my favorite of this batch, although the daunting image for Isle of the Dead is also very impressive - it looks like the above ground cousin of Michael Mazur's illustrations for Pinsky's translation of The Inferno.

Not that it's of great importance, but I bet that the collection of the UoT Press books must look good together on the bookshelf, which the DalKey books probably don't look like they're of a piece. Not that it's all that important, but I do love how all of my Vintage editions of Philip K. Dick books look on the shelf together.

I haven't read any of these books, so I can't speak about how accurate they are in their representation of the stories behind the artwork, but I thought they were too good looking not to share.

Any good looking book covers you've seen recently? (Other than 1Q84, of course.)

Related Posts:
Gilded Covers
1Q84: Hardcover
Book Shelves
Book Shelves Part II

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Our Next Closer? Con't

As rumored, the Red Sox finally got their new closer. Yesterday, they picked up Andrew Bailey from the A's. They also received OF Ryan Sweeney in the deal, which cost them Josh Reddick and two prospects: 1B Miles Head, and pitching prospect Raul Alcantara.

This seems like a sweet deal to me. The Sox get a young (27) closer with creds (2009 AL Rookie of the Year) and great stats: "through 174 career innings he’s got a 2.07 ERA and 174/49 K/BB ratio." The bonus: he's under team control through 2014. The only worry in my mind is his injury history, which Peter Abraham breaks down: "Bailey had Tommy John elbow surgery in 2005 while at Wagner College. He also an elbow procedure in September of 2010 and opened the 2011 season on the disabled list with a forearm strain." Yikes! But assuming that his scared arm holds up, we've now got ourselves quite a weapon sitting beneath the Fenway bleachers. I assume Sweeney will be keeping the seat warm for Kalish when he's ready

The price doesn't bother me either: the Sox obviously didn't trust Reddick to grow any more at the plate (although i'll miss stories like this one) and . Don't know much about the prospects but when you have the opportunity to get a young arm for such a relatively low price, IMO you jump on it. Who knows if and when prospects will live up to their hype?

PeteAbe has some good observations about how this affects the Sox. Money quote:
Jonathan Papelbon will get $12.5 million this season from the Phillies. Heath Bell is down for $9 million from the Marlins and Joe Nathan will cost the Rangers $7.3 million.
Papelbon is 31, Bell is 34, and Nathan is 37.
In 27-year-old Andrew Bailey and 26-year-old Mark Melancon, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington landed two young late-inning relievers who will cost the team approximately $4 million in 2012.
Of course, winning the off season and the regular season are two entirely different things, but I like what Cherington's done so far. The fact that he's been able to do it on the cheap as well is the icing on the cake!

Related Posts:
Our Next Closer?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sign of the Times

The Content Wrangler reports that
The publishing industry is reluctant to give out detailed sales figures on eBook sales, but David Roth-Ey from publisher HarperCollins said: “The electronic market is really booming. We are seeing 600% growth year on year in eBooks. That is in a frankly stagnant book selling market.”
On Amazon since April 2011, 242 Kindle eBooks have been sold for every 100 hardcover books, SkyNews HD reports.
Pretty soon i'll be joining this group... just as soon as people stop giving me physical books to read. A nice problem to have!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Favorite Reads of 2011

What are the best books you read in 2011?  Here are my five favorites:

  • The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
  • Train Dreams: A Novella, Denis Johnson
  • The Child in Time, Ian McEwan
  • 1Q84, Haruki Murakami
  • Light Years, James Salter
Related posts:

Recycled Treads

It’s not well publicized that shoes are horrible for the environment. As Grist sez: “Shoes are usually a mix of many materials: 40 materials in a typical shoe, don't you know. Pollutants derived from the making of a shoe could include dioxin, volatile organic compounds, solvents, chromium, hide waste effluent, and isocyanates.” 

Since I consider myself both an environmentalist and a runner, so I try to keep my footprint as light as possible in more ways than one. This is easier said than done. However, this month’s Sierra magazine has helped me sleep a little better – they've listed not one but two sites where you can go to recycle your old running shoes:

In the Boston area, both sites pointed you towards the Nike outlet in Wrentham, MA. Nike recycles any brand of sport shoes by grinding them up and turning them into either squishy surfaces for athletic tracks or new shoes. They've recycled 25 million pairs since 1993, which is admirable, but Sierra reminds us that is but only a fraction of the 40 million pairs of athletic shoes that are recycled every year, so there's a way to go.

Fall Running Fragment

I recently found a fragment I wrote about running during the fall that I was going to use as a springboard for a longer post, but now that that the window has passed, i'll simply present it here without any fluff. Enjoy!
Fall has arrived, and as the leaves pile up on the ground, the sounds of far-away trains and motorways travel farther through the skeletal trees, bringing otherworldly mechanical hoots and dull hisses that fight for prominence with my breath as I run down suburban roads. I say suburban, and there are certainly traditional suburbs on my running routes – too many houses on streets named for the trees that were cut down to make way for them. But one of the reasons that I love New England is the small scale of everything, and so my runs are punctuated with small portions of wilderness as nature fights her way through the structured settlements. Hence the scene as I run through southern Framingham, and as I transition from one suburb to another I find myself, if only for a quarter mile, on a country road, a small spit of pavement between two ponds, fall colors on the trees and also mirrored back to me on the still water, with only a few ripples coming from a shockingly white swan drifting about in the first light. Or jogging up a slow hill that divides a golf course, pale light floating down all around me through the early morning mist, not a car or person in sight.

Cross Posted on Thought Ambience

Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011: A Year of Running in Review

Today, I ran my last run of 2011.   I accomplished far more than I expected this year, and for that I am grateful for my health, for my friends who have challenged me, and for my supportive wife.

To review what I managed in 2011:
  • Number of runs: 105
  • Total miles: 644
  • Average distance: 6.13 miles
  • Runs longer than 10 miles: 21
  • Longest distance: 31.1 miles
  • Number of races: 1 
  • Number of running magazine subscriptions: 3
  • Number of shoes purchased: 3 pairs
  • Number of times I tripped and fell on my face: 1
  • Number of times I felt like quitting: 0
So what will 2012 bring?  I'd like to run about 10% more, so my goal is 720 miles.  I also have a goal of completing three races: most likely the National Half Marathon, the Burlington Marathon, and the New River Trail 50K, but we shall see what life brings.

Happy holidays to all!  

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review: Patagonia Merino 3 midweight hoody

As I've mentioned before, I have a couple of pieces of Patagonia gear made from their Capilene synthetic, and while it works fine, it's never felt perfect to me.  It doesn't breathe quite as well as some other technical fibers, and when it gets wet, it sticks to the skin and feels clammy.

On the other hand, I absolutely love Patagonia's merino wool socks.  So, I've been pretty interested in trying out their merino base layers.

Happily, Santa (actually, Mrs. Santa) came early this year.  In fact, she was just in time for last weekend's cold snap.  So, I got try out my new Merino 3 midweight hoodie over the course of a two-hour run in sub-freezing weather.

The Merino 3 fabric is 80% merino wool, blended with 20% polyester to increase the fabric's durability.  And boy, did it work wonderfully.  I stayed warm and dry throughout the run.  When zipped up, it even covers the neck nicely.  And when the sun came out and I started feeling a little too warm, a quick pull of the zipper released the extra heat and brought my body temperature just where I wanted it.

But the best feature is the hood.  I had doubts whether it would be able to replace the beanie that I usually wear.  But this hood did the job and then some.  It stays on around my head even when I'm running fast (well, sort of fast), keeps my head warm without overheating, and again, when the sun comes out, its easy to pull back the hood.  Unlike with a hat, you don't have to worry about stashing anything in a pocket.

Which is good because the one thing this top is missing is pockets!  I get the fact that this is a base layer, so it is not meant to have pockets like a top layer.  But on most DC winter days, this hoodie is perfect without a vest or additional layering.  A zip pocket to stash a few things would make this even more perfect.

But, I'm not complaining!  While running, I almost never had occasion to think about the temperature outside, which is the best compliment I can give a piece of winter gear.  Plus, not only does it look sharp, it fits beautifully.  You might just find me wearing it out and about when I'm not running...

Related posts:
Cold Weather Gear
Review: Patagonia

I Want Pancakes

Taken from   

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The New Horror in Short Stories

...I was beat. Arguing with the children, a trip to the dentist, then endless shopping for invisible things--toilet paper, glue, salt. Things no one ever knows are there until they're gone and are then needed desperately. An invisible day where you exhaust yourself running around, doing thankless errands that are necessary but meaningless: the housewife's oxymoron.
Jonathan Carroll, "The Sadness of Detail", page 207 of Poe's Children.

Poe's Children is a compilation of what editor Peter Straub labels the "New Horror" - authors that strive to escape the ghettos of typical horror fiction in favor of "literature" (or at least genre mixing). Like all short story anthologies, not all of the stories are successful, even if they all are variations of a theme. So far, the ones that  work for me are the ones that provoke a visceral reaction - either of horror, disgust, or wonder. To me, that's what horror as a genre is all about - lifting you out of he mundane world Carroll describes so aptly above. For example, Kelly Link's “Louise’s Ghost” is a story that's certainly interesting and has a fun conceit - the entire story is about two women both named Louise so it's difficult to tell who is doing or saying what for a while - but it didn't present any wow moments to me (unlike the other stories she presented in Stranger Things Happen). No, the strongest stories here either shock like Dan Chaon's “The Bees” (a truly disturbing tale of supernatural redemption) or present a situation to you in an entirely new way like Carroll's story or Elizabeth Hand's “Cleopatra Brimstone” (the best story i've read in 2001, hands down).

Still only halfway through the book, but so far it's half hits, half misses. A pretty good showing in my book. Hey, hitting .500 would win you the batting title and $250 million dollars, so Straub did something right!

Related Posts:
Defending the Short Story

Cross Posted at Thought Ambience

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Race Report: Winter Classic 5K

Eric and I ran the Winter Classic 5K a week ago. It might have the coldest race that I’ve ever ran. I’ve run a few cold races in my day – the New England High School XC championship in 1991 was run in a cold rain, and a turkey trot back in 05 was pretty chilly – but the problem here was threefold: the temps were low 30s all morning long, the shadows thrown by the tall Cambridge buildings kept the starting line in shadow, and we had nobody to take our warm up gear at the starting line, forcing us to wear just our race gear all morning long. You can see the effect of the cold and the crowd in the pace picture at the starting line where it took a while to get moving. Eric will testify – it was a hard race to warm up for; it was very hard to get the muscles loosened in that cold. What was amazing was the outfits of some of the other runners – there were a number of “sexy elves” wearing shirt skirts, and the dude in front of us stripped down to a bikini brief that he really shouldn’t have been wearing. The image of the potbellied thong got me moving, but I did have to weave pretty aggressively between people in order to get up to speed. Once we turned on to Mass Avenue I hit a pretty good groove—there was a good competition so that I could focus my efforts at steadily passing people; it was a much different environment than my last race.

To be honest with you, most of the race went by in a haze. I was playing  music in the hopes to keep my energy level up, but I had problems with not only my selection but also the levels of the songs that were playing. I had to tear off my hat and gloves pretty quickly, and ended up losing a glove during the race (I was able to find it afterwards thank goodness). But I did have my phone reporting my pace every half-mile, and that kept me focused enough to finish in 19:38.4, giving me a 6:16 pace per mile. I was hoping to finish a tad faster, but I’m still really happy with the effort. This will be my last 5K for a while; now it's time to stretch out the mileage for the Burlington Marathon next May!

Quote of the Day

Don't know much about Nick Punto, whom the Sox just signed to a two-year deal, but I got a kick out of this at the Joy of Sox:
"He gives you a good at-bat" is what you say when a player stays up there for eight pitches or so but finally makes an out. He saw some pitches, and maybe the pitcher worked a touch more than usual, but Punto has no power, so he's not gonna dong ... and anyway, it's still an out. It's the baseball equivalent of "She's got a nice personality".
it's not a popular signing on the blogs I read.

There's also some good quotes at the link about Bard's becoming a closer.

Related Posts:
Our Next Closer?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Per Petterson: It's Fine by Me

On December 1, a new -- or rather, a newly translated -- novel by Per Petterson arrived on stores' shelves.

Since the success of Out Stealing Horses, translations of Petterson's novels have been published at a rapid pace.  Perhaps too rapidly for this wonderful author to build a lasting readership in English.  But this one sounds great.  In reviewing It's Fine By Me, the Telegraph notes that the main character, Audun:
reads, smokes, broods, drinks coffee and listens to Jimi Hendrix. He and [his friend] Arvid talk of Jack London and Hemingway, symbols of masculinity whose writing Audun yearns to emulate. An ugly coil of anger manifests itself repeatedly through fights and opposition to authority. One stunning passage describes the 13-year-old Audun’s formative, stolen summer week on a farm, abruptly terminated by his father.
May I have it on Kindle, please?

Related posts:
Quote from Out Stealing Horses

Friday, December 16, 2011

Book Shelves, Part III

Here's a picture of my hardcover bookshelf, featuring 1Q84.
See anything you like?

Related Posts:

NPR's Top Ten Novels of 2011

Here's NPR's top ten novels of 2011:
  1. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
  2. Open City by Teju Cole
  3. The Submission by Amy Waldman
  4. The Art Of Fielding by Chad Harbach
  5. The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
  6. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
  7. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
  8. State Of Wonder by Ann Patchett
  9. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
  10. The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel by David Foster Wallace
We're starting to see some themes emerge in that Train Dreams, Swamplandia!, The Art of Fielding, and The Marriage Plot have all appeared in different "best of" lists. Personally, i'm intrigued by The Leftovers; the premise and my experiences with previous Perrotta novels put it on my to-read list, and now i'm pondering moving it up to the top.

Related Posts:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Running and Listening to Music

When I first began running, the idea of running without a pair of headphones was unthinkable.  At first, music -- fast, simple beats -- was necessary to keep my adrenaline up.  Plus, with music blaring, it was easy to ignore my body's protests that it was tired.  Later, as my runs grew longer, the music was a way of helping me conquer the boredom of long, slow runs along the same path.

Then, a strange thing happened to me while I was running a 50K this summer.  The same tracks that had kept me company for the past year sickened me.  So I pulled out the headphones, and tuned in to the sounds of the river and the trees and the birds.  And suddenly, I felt alive.

While the rules of that 50K allow runners to run with music, so long as they stay aware of their surroundings, many more crowded races do not (though the degree of enforcement varies). The argument is that, in a crowded race, you need to be aware if someone is trying to pass you, or if race staff gives directions.

But even on my daily runs, along empty routes, I'm discovering the joy of running without music.  Without music I can focus on my breathing, my form, my heart rate, and the many other facets that make up the act of running.

Which isn't to say that music has no place for serious runners.  In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami describes the relationship of music to his daily runs in this way:
Sometimes when I run, I listen to jazz, but usually it's rock, since its beat is the best accompaniement to the rhythm of running.  I prefer the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gorillaz, and Beck, and oldies like Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Beach Boys.  Music with as simple a rhythm as possible.  A lot of runners now use iPods, but I prefer the MD player I'm used to.  It's a little bigger than an iPod and can't hold nearly as much data, but it works for me.
Where do you stand?

Related posts:
Race Report: 2011 New River Trail 50K

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Second Impressions of Bobby Valentine

Being co-author of a Red Sox blog has been challenging for me. As someone that really only paid attention to the Sox and not the rest of the league, it’s difficult for me to speak knowledgeably about some of the moves the Sox make just because I don’t have context for them. Take Bobby Valentine, for example. Was signing him as the Sox manager a good move? Bad move? A time-will-tell move?

I will say that I had my doubts only because I hated what I saw of him on ESPN – namely, an over tanned, overconfident blowhard (they’re ALL blowhards on those ESPN shows), and the thought of dealing with that rather than the humble, soft-spoken Tito rubs me the wrong way. And then I read Alex Speer’s article on

It’s a long, well researched article that dives into every aspect of the Bobby V. signing. And it’s filled with enough revelations about the man that I’ll now give him the benefit of the doubt. He obviously knows his baseball shit, and the fact that some of our coddled players didn’t want to play for him makes me wonder if this type of personality is just what this team needs. Regardless, the signing is only for two years, so if it doesn’t work out, we’ll be able to cut ties with him relatively painlessly.

No, now that enough time has passed, I find myself obsessing over how the deal went down, not the deal itself. My original impression was that the Front Office (read: Luccino) forced this signing upon Charrington after sabotaging the Sveum deal. Reading Speer’s article does put some of these fears to rest. I can see why some people feel that it’s an FO apploigia fueled by their relentless spinning of the truth (like most of the reporting at the Globe), but the very detailed timeline that Speer presents make me think that Cherington may not have been overruled after all. Speer spells out the reasons why Sveum wasn't hired, most of which don't involve the FO. Do some of these sound like excuses and rewriting history? Hell yes!  But it’s possible that things transpired just the way that they are depicted here. The reality is that the truth is probably somewhere in between, as acknowledged by Speer when he writes that "There may have been some truth to the portrayal of the idea that the team’s owners were the ones driving the Bobby V. bandwagon."

In short,  the article remains the best thing I’ve read about the Bobby V. signing. And while parts of it do read like a PR release concerned with spinning a tale of a well-oiled hiring process, most of it feels honest to me. Part of that might be the excellent writing in the article. Part of it might be my ignorance about how managers are typically hired. But I'm more willing to give  Bobby V. a shot than I did a month ago - after all, he's certainly saying all of the right things. But i'm still going to remain vigilant about falling for FO spin.

Now that things have settled down, what do you think of the Bobby Valentine signing? 

Related Posts:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Daisuke Matsuzaka and Bobby Valentine

When Bobby Valentine was hired as the Red Sox skipper, a lot of folks speculated that he just might be able to rehabilitate Daisuke Matsuzaka.  Apparently, the logic is that because Valentine spent time in Japan, he understands the "Japanese mindset" and can thus fix a Japanese player.

Which strikes me as a little bit racist.  When Venezuelan players struggle, noone suggests that they all think alike so they just need to spend some time with Ozzie Guillen.  Nor did Lackey and his American mindset benefit from Francona's best efforts.

Ultimately, if Matsuzaka is going to make a comeback, it is on his shoulders.  And according to the Boston Herald, he sure is trying:
Matsuzaka has been throwing three times a week in Boston, and according to a source, is in excellent shape.  He looks like someone "on a mission" to re-prove himself after losing most of 2011 to injury.
Well, he sure doesn't look like the old Matsuzaka, that's for sure.  Check out the new look Matsuzaka in the below video, courtesy of NESN.  I'd say he's lost some weight, but maybe I'm just distracted by his hair.

If your time is short, skip ahead to about 4:30 in the video, when he is asked what he thinks about Bobby Valentine as a manager.  After his screwing up his face into a number of oddball expressions, the nicest thing he can come up with about his new manager is that he is, "really interesting to watch."

Related posts: What Can You Buy for $103 million?

Red Sox tender offers

The Red Sox roster is starting to take shape.   Last night, the team signed reliever Matt Albers to a one-year contract, and tendered contract offers to pitchers Alfredo Aceves, Daniel Bard, and Franklin Morales, as well as position players Mike Aviles, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

"Tendered" contracts offers?  Does that mean these players now have signed contracts?  Well, not exactly. 

Many of the players on the Red Sox have signed contracts that through 2012 or beyond.  You know the names:  Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, John Lackey. 

But others don't.  And if the team doesn't make (or "tender") an offer to them before the tender deadline (generally in the second week of December), they become free agents.

With regard to some players, it is a no-brainer to offer them contracts.  For instance, playes with fewer than three years of service (with certain exceptions) generally don't have options other than to accept a low contract offer.

But then there are other players who have previously had low contracts, but have now become eligible for arbitration.  The way arbitration works is like this.  The team and the player each submit a one-year salary offer to the arbitrator.  The arbitrator then chooses one of two salary offers, based on which one is closes to the salaries of other players with similar abilities and playing time.  That means, the team can't afford to lowball their offer too much, or the arbitrator will pick the player's salary offer instead (which likely will be for more than what the player is worth.)

Almost certainly, players like Jacoby Ellsbury and Daniel Bard are going to see huge bumps in their salaries through the salary arbitration process -- and rightly so.  The Red Sox won't know how much until the arbitration process is complete, but for now, the Sox have committed to keep them around.

The one player who (probably) won't be around is reliever Rich Hill.  He wasn't tendered an offer, and so will became a free agent.  Apparently, the Sox were not confident that he would be able to come back from his Tommy John surgery on June 9.

Now, it's time for the Red Sox to look around for players from other teams who weren't tendered offers, and have become free agents.  Joe Saunders, anyone?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Review: Cold Weather Gear

Lately, my co-bloggers have been dashing off 9-10 mile runs on the weekdays, and then heading out on the weekend to run serious races. Not wanting to be left too far in their dust at Burlington, I figured I'd better get onto the street and knock off a run of 2+ hours.

 The only challenge? This weekend turned out to be the coldest weekend of the winter so far. Which meant digging out my winter running gear.

Now if there's anyone who knows about running in the cold, it is the Swedes, and that means I trust my winter needs to Craft Performance Apparel.  In particular, gloves.  Once the temperature dips below forty degrees or so, my hands get uncomfortably cold while running.  These gloves are the solution: lightweight, thin, easy to grip a watch or a water bottle, but oh so warm.

And, if the temperature rises, its easy to stuff them into the pockets of my running vest.  This vest is perfect over a lightweight, long-sleeved, technical shirt.  (Or a heavier shirt if the temperature drops.)  Just zip or unzip to regulate temperature.  My only complaint is that it is a little tight.  I have 42" chest, and with any other running brand, a size "L" is almost baggy.  I guess Swedish men are svelte!

Craft has pretty good clearance sales from time to time on their website, and you usually don't have wait until spring to save on some cold weather gear.  You can also find their stuff at the usual online retailers, such as Running Warehouse.

Beyond the above, I have a random collection of odds and ends -- wool socks, a beanie cap, and the like.  I haven't broken down and bought tights yet, because it hasn't gotten that cold.

What is your must-wear winter gear?

Review: The Angel Esmeralda (Don DeLillo)

The Angel Esmeralda is Don DeDeLillo’s first book of short stories in his forty-year career. Flipping through the nine chronologically-arranged stories, the reader is bound to wonder, is that all there is?  Or has he honed his output down to this slim volume for a reason?

A slim collection is more easily justified if it deals with a single character or theme.*  Numerous professional reviewers have referred to these as stories about terror, but that seems to me to be a rather limited point of view.  While there is terror in some of these stories, most, if viewed through that lens, are failures. 

Well, there are a few stories that seemed, to me, to be failures at any level.  Which is not unusual for a short story collection.  One of them, a 1983 story involving spaceships and laser beams, may have been readable once, but now is simply a victim of time.  On the other hand, there were two other stories that struck me as being excellent, and one – the title story – that was transcendent.  Consider the scene of two nuns, visiting a Bronx flophouse:
Watch the needles, sidestep the needles, such deft instruments of self-disregard.  Gracie couldn’t understand why an addict would not be sure to use clean needles.  This failure made her pop her cheeks in anger.  But Edgar thought about the lure of damnation, the little love bit of that dragonfly dagger.  If you know you’re worth nothing, only a gamble with death can gratify your vanity. 
The story succeeds because in it DeLillo squarely addresses the human condition: what it is like to suffer, and to confront suffering, and what it is to hope.  He does so without condescension or romanticization, but in the process, he finds art. 

If only all the stories here were so powerful!  Certainly, the potential was there, particularly in one story dealing with a European earthquake, and in another set in a jailhouse of white collar criminals.  Too often, though, these stories read like miniature versions of his novels.  As I’ve observed, DeLillo’s novels are often built on the worlds that are just so slightly askew from ours.  To effectively craft such a space requires room, and DeLillo does not have that luxury in the short story form. 

And yet.  With his mastery of the sentence, all but a few of the stories are well worth reading, even if most are unlikely to linger in the mind for more than an hour or two.

*See The Lemon Table, by Julian Barnes, or Nocturnes, by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Related posts:
Michiko Kakutani's Top Ten for 2011
First Lines of "The Runner"
DeLillo's Short Stories

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Economist's Books of the Year (2011)

The Economist's "Books of the Year" appears beginning on page 91 of the December 10th-16th issue.

I won't go over the many non-fiction books, which are sorted into various categories such as "Politics and Current Affairs" and "Science and Technology."  However, here's the fiction list:

  • 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami
  • Other People's Money, by Justin Cartwright
  • Open City, by Teju Cole
  • The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson
  • The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht
  • The Cat's Table, by Michael Ondaatje
  • The Afrika Reich, by Guy Seville
I've reviewed Open City on this blog, and 1Q84 reviews should soon be on their way.  And of course, we've talked a good bit about Michael Ondaatje.

If you're keeping track of books that appear on multiple lists, here is the score from the lists we've blogged about so far:

The Tiger's Wife (3)
1Q84 (2)
The Art of Fielding (2)

No other novels have gotten more than one mention.

What other lists are out there that you think accurately reflect 2011's crop of books?

Related posts:

N.Y. Times Book Review: 10 Best Books of 2011

The season of book lists is now in full swing!

The New York Times Book Review has published its list of the ten best books of 2011.  My co-blogger, Eric, has previously reviewed two of these books, The Art of Fielding and Ten Thousand Saints.  I'd let him post about the list, but he's out racing this morning.

Interestingly, only two of the books (The Art of Fielding and The Tiger's Wife) on this list also appear on book critic Michiko Kakutani's list, suggesting that there hasn't been a lot of consensus about what has been good this year.

Here is the complete list:


  • The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
  • 11/22/63, by Stephen King
  • Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell
  • Ten Thousand Saints, by Eleanor Henderson
  • The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht
  • Arguably, by Christopher Hitchens
  • The Boy in the Moon, by Christopher Hitchens
  • Malcolm X, by Manning Marable
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
  • A World on Fire, by Amanda Foreman
Which of these have you read?

Related posts:

Friday, December 9, 2011

Who is Worth $100 Million Dollars?

Not Albert Pujols, according to Brian Kenny, the host of the MLB Network program “Clubhouse Confidential." According to this Boston Globe article, Kenny:
"...we looked at the $100 million contracts, and ... found that of the 16 $100 million free agent contracts, four were what you could consider good contracts for the team. ...Why? And we found that the why is usually a misevaluation of the player’s skills, ignoring the evidence of the trends, or age."
Interestingly enough, Kenny identified the eight-year, $160 million deal Manny Ramirez signed with the Red Sox before the 2001 season as one of the contracts that worked out. The timing was perfect in that Manny was in his prime for the whole duration of the contract.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Terry Francona to Write a Book

Kids, this is going to get juicy.  Terry Francona has struck a deal to write a memoir of his time with the Red Sox. 

As far as I can tell, Francona has never said a bad word about a single member of the organization - not even when he was escorted to the door.  But what has ESPN's newest analyst been holding back, and what are the chances that he will go all Joe Torre on his former team?

All we need now is for Houghton Mifflin to release this as an audiobook so we can listen to it while running!  It will be a blogging trifecta!

Related posts:
Where Have You Gone, Tito?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

1Q84: Bad Sex Award

This year, 1Q84 was shortlisted for a dubious honor: The Literary Review's Bad Sex Award. 

Now, there's plenty of sex in 1Q84, but it was one particular scene that got the Review's attention.  To avoid spoilers, I won't say which characters it involved, but it included such lines as:
A freshly made ear and a freshly made vagina look very much alike, [he] thought. Both appeared to be turned outward, trying to listen closely to something – something like a distant bell.
Of course, the overall weirdness of this scene was certainly intentional.  But it does come across as rather unfortunate when taken out of context.  (And I'm sure the same might be said for the other nominees as well.)

In any case, Murakami need not worry about picking up the trophy.  The ultimate winner was David Guterson, for Ed King and its re-telling of the ultimate bad sex experience, Oedipus Rex.

from 5k to ultramarathon?

after having taken an extended break from running to heal some injuries, fix some health issues and pursue some other interests, i start back just before 2010 turned into 2011.  i had been off for over a year and to say i was out of shape would have been putting it mildly.  case-in-point i signed up for a 5k (Ras na hEireann) with Todd, trained a bit but ultimately got injured (pulled hamstring) and had to pull out of the race.  a pulled hamstring training for a 3.1 mile race.

and now i've set my sights on two big races for 2012, the first is the Vermont City Marathon, a good 'ol 26.2 miler and the second is the New River Trail 50k, which would be my first ultramarathon.

am i nuts?  debatable; but is this possible?  YES!!!  absolutely.

firstly, think of Joel.  the first race he EVER ran was the 2011 edition of the New River Trail 50k.  and, not surprisingly, he recovered enough to start training for the 2012 Vermont City Marathon as well.

secondly, while the longest race i did in 2011 was 4.2 miles (beyond that it were just a handful of 5ks), i USED to race much longer races (albeit triathlons).  my body has certainly endured hours of punishment at the hest of sport.

the real question is, can it handle hours of punishment from running alone?  that's what i'll find out over the course of less than a year.

after taking a break for the latter part of summer and the early part of fall, i've now started a training program that i think is going to get me from 5k fitness to ultramarathon fitness.  i'm not planning to run a crazy, mountainous 100-miler (though i won't rule it out for the future :), just a relatively flat, 31.1 miler in October of next year.

as for how i'm gearing my initial training for this, i'm focusing so much less on going faster, not even so much on going farther and so much more on going longer.  it's a new kind of running for me and a very enjoyable switch.  i set out without considering pace at all and simply try to run for a longer period of time.  your typical Long Slow Distance runs without set goals other than to continue to increase my weekly mileage by a reasonable level each week (10%).

i plan to update this blog with my progress along the way and use it as a way to keep myself honest.  i know if i write it here, at least Todd and Joel will hold me to it!!

Related Posts:
Race Report: New River Trail 50k
It's On!
why i run races i know i won't win
Post Ultramarathon Recovery

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Our Next Closer?

Word comes from the winter meetings that the Sox are interested in A’s closer Andrew Bailey. Combine this with a rumor I read elsewhere (can't remember where) that Bard would prefer to be a starter than a closer and I think the Sox may try converting Bard and hope to piece together an acceptable bullpen with different pieces. Of course, they'll probably have to give up some pieces in order to get Bailey, so the scene continues to shift.

Not sure how I feel about this yet. As i've said before, my opinion with Bard is that while we do need another starter, why mess with a good thing - he's probably the best setup man in the game.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pedro Martinez

Presented without comment:
"I still feel the little itch to go and compete. Actually seeing the Red Sox this winter, before they were disqualified, I saw so many holes that I could probably fill while watching those games. It makes me want to go, but the other part of me says, 'No.'"
                  --Pedro Martinez, December 4, 2011

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gilded Covers

In a front page article, the New York Times describes how publishers have been putting more and more effort into the design of a hardcover books, to help them compete with e-books.

Unfortunately, the article doesn't dive into the economics, and I'm not sure if this approach makes sense for publishers.  In general, the same publisher will hold both the hardcover rights and the electronic rights to a new release. Once production costs are taken into account, it may well be more profitable for publishers to push readers toward the e-book format.

In any case, the efforts to keep printed book alive are working, for now.  According to the article, the English translation of Murakami's 1Q84 has sold 95,000 copies in hardcover, compared to 28,000 in e-book.  Other recent books featured in the article include:

  • 11/22/63 (Stephen King)
  • Decoded (Jay-Z)
  • The Sense of An Ending (Julian Barnes)
Although the article doesn't mention it, I suspect that many hardcover books are given as gifts.  While many people buy e-books for their own consumption, they are unlikely to give e-books as gifts.  And of course, a beautiful book makes a better gift.

Are there books that you are planning to give -- or that you want -- this holiday season?

Related posts:
1Q84: Hardcover

Friday, December 2, 2011

November Summary

It's been a while since we've done one of these, but now that Eric's running again and my cobloggers and I start upping our mileage for the Burlington Marathon, I figured it's worth throwing out our numbers.

My December was:

  • 15 runs
  • 81 miles; average length = 5.4 miles
  • 7 hours, 20 minutes; Average run = 48 minutes
  • Average pace: ~8:10 per mile. (Cant easily figure this out on Nike+ for the month and am too lazy to do the math.)
How'd you do for November 2011?

Related Posts:
September Summary

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Give Me 15 Minutes!

Jay Johnson's “Give me 15” article in the October 2011 issue of Running Times has, for a good two months now, been staring at me from my nightstand. It's an alluring article. I mean, he claims that I can “Lower injury risk with these short pre-and post-run routines!” I want to lower my injury risk! It makes perfect sense to do a few quick loosening and strength exercises before and after your run. I get it. But it’s just not happening for me. Why is this?

There's nothing wrong with the routine that Johnson presents. In short, he instructs you to do some lunges before the run and some pushups and leg stretches after the run. Nothing special. The articles emphasizes it's only 15 minutes. And I even already do forward lunges are part of my Dynamic Stretching routine before every run. It’s the post-run strength exercises that I have problems with.

First of all, the article lists 12 different things to do after every run. I’m not sure exactly who is audience is, but it’s hard enough for me to find the time to get out the door for decent miles, much less spend 15 minutes after the run to do an entire strength routine. Plus, I’m usually damned tired when I get home. All I have the time to do after a run is stretch out a bit and get some protein in me before the “real world” stuff (kids, work, etc.) demands my attention. In addition, I’m currently running farther and faster than I ever have in my life to prep for a marathon; there’s not much more motivation to add additional exercises on top of the already daunting run I just completed. Put all of this together and i'm not even doing a few post-run push-ups, much less the detailed exercises that Johnson lays out for us.

What do you think? Are these legitimate excuses or just my lack of willpower? Do you do any strength exercises before or after your runs?

So What's Next?

So I got a shiny new kindle for my birthday, and it's just sitting there unused because I also got Murakami's 1Q84 on the same day. However, I’m closing in on the last page of the big novel (only 100 more pages to go!), and will want something to new read when it's done.

I know it's sick of me to be thinking about my next book when I'm not even done with 1Q84, but that's just how I roll, baby. At times it feels like I almost get more enjoyment about of perusing and thinking about books then I do actually reading them!

Anyways, here are the candidates for my next book. It’ll also be my first kindle book, so I’m hopking that it’ll also be memorable. The following are a mixture of books that sound interesting to me or have been recommended by people that I trust. What do you think I should choose first?
Related Posts:
Don DeLillo's The Angel Esmeralda
1Q84: Hardcover
Michiko Kakutani's Top Ten for 2011
National Book Awards: The Finalists

Shoe Review: Brooks PureCadence

I've posted a follow-up review of these shoes after 400+ miles in them that you can find here:

i've been through a LOT of shoes over the years, especially this year.  like most people who care about these things, my head is all mixed up about whether i should be looking for more technology, less technology, more shoe or less shoe.  i made a decision a while back to forget about all that and simply go with what works.  how great, in theory...  but the opportunity to truly test out each and every shoe just plain isn't going to happen.

this year, i've run on neutral shoes, motion control shoes, stability shoes, barefoot and stability shoes.  i realized, from all this, that i need at least some stability technology in my shoes.  the comes into play for me on longer runs, when i get fatigued and have a tendency to lose a bit of my running form.  i am an over-pronator with high arches.

Todd runs the Brooks Adrenaline and seems to like them, so i thought i'd give them a try.  when i tried to order them, however, they were somehow out of my size at the price i was looking for, and so, out of frustration and a penchant to be swayed by good marketing, i bought the Brooks PureCadence instead.

i wanted to give the shoes enough of a sampling before i passed any judgement on them.  i will say, however, that after the first run i was totally in love with them and have since only increased my affection for them.

let's be clear about what these shoes are.  Brooks have not one time included the word "minimal" in any of the descriptions i have found on their website for these shoes.  if you read people's comments about these shoes, however, you'll see the words "minimal" and "barefoot" come up a lot, and i'm pretty sure, for marketing reasons, Brooks is willing to ride that wave.  these shoes ARE NOT minimal nor anything similar to "barefoot" (that should be pretty obvious).  they ARE low-profile, low-heel-drop (4mm) and light-weight (9.5 oz) shoes suitable for short and long runs,   that also have ample cushioning and stability control.

my assumption after purchasing these shoes was that i would use them for shorter runs and then get a pair of adrenalines to wear on my longer runs.  so far, even with the vast sneaker collection i already have, i have not worn another shoe on any run i've done since i put these on my feet, nor can i imagine doing so.  the combination of the low-profile/low-heel drop/light(ish)weight with the stability control features makes this shoe somewhat unique in the market.  i don't know of another shoe that gives you what many would consider to be somewhat opposing features in one package.  but the result is amazing.  the low heel drop, which i thought would further tighten my calves, seems to ease them, allowing for much more ankle flex in my stride, a much more natural feeling. the light weight allows me to increase my cadence (purely) and keeps my legs fresher throughout the run.  the lower profile gives me a much better feeling from toe to heel when i come in contact with the ground, a much more solid and confident strike.

i have a pretty narrow foot, and the fit of these is quite good.  i could imagine the shoe being a bit too narrow for runners with wider feet, and i don't think they offer wider sizes yet.  i like the inclusion of the "nav band" which does make the shoe fit my foot more nicely.  all in all, the shoe feels REALLY good on my foot...  the fit is great and the shoe is so much more comfortable than i would have anticipated and sincerely as comfortable if not more so than any other shoe i've ran in.

when running in these shoes, the constant questions, tweaks and adjustments working through my head and body when i run in other shoes go away.  i find that i settle into the form i want to be in, the stride and strike i strive for naturally, as if the shoes were custom made for me.  this is a huge endorsement from me!  i don't know if it's a result of the technology being really good, or simply that there is less technology that makes this shoe work for me, but even towards the end of my longer runs in these shoes, my form feels stable and strong, even when my legs don't.  i will say, however, that i have rolled my ankle twice in these shoes...  i WAS running on uneven terrain in the dark, but i haven't done that in a long time in any other shoe.

i had originally questioned whether or not i thought these shoes would be cush enough to last through a marathon, but i do believe they will.  i haven't taken them over 8 miles yet though, so i'll be sure to report back if there is any issue when i do.

on the downside, i don't think these shoes are going to last me very long.  i've only put 30-40 miles in on them and they are already showing some signs of wear.  additionally, the "split toe" feature seems like a good idea, but on my shoe, the gap on the left side is (much) smaller than the gap on the right side, leading me to believe they aren't constructed as well as they could be.  (i have yet to experience anything new with this "split toe" feature either).  for a shoe as expensive as these are, i would hope they would last a decent amount of time and being well-constructed.

still, my primary thought right now is:  how do i make sure i am always able to run in these shoes.

Related Posts:
Review: Brooks Launch
Shoe Review: Asics Gel-Bandito
Kinvara 2 Review

Bobby Valentine in Japan

Given all the, um, success that the Red Sox have had with their Japanese players, it's a smidgen interesting that the owners (sorry, I mean Cherington) picked a manager who is most notable for the success he had in Japan.

Let's review. 

Valentine was hired by the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1995 as the first American-born manager of a Japanese baseball team.  He quickly started doing things his own way -- under Valentine, practice sessions lasted only three hours, rather than nine hours as was typical.  In the process, he turned around what had been a pretty woeful team.  In 1995, they finished 69-58, compared to 55-77 the year before.   But, Valentine didn't get along with the GM or the other coaches.  Especially the coaches -- at one point, he wrote a letter to the owners suggesting that they be replaced.  In Japan, it's never a good move to go behind the GM's back,  and so bam!  Just one year into his two-year contract, the Marines fired him.

The GM had won that battle, but not for long.  In the coming years, the GM was fired as well, and the team quickly dropped back into the cellar.  So, in 2004, the Marines decided to do the only thing they could think of to dig their way out -- try again with Valentine.  As luck would have it, Valentine had recently been fired by the Mets, and was available to sign on with his old club.  And he missed them.  As he told GQ in 2004: "I kind of like that I can tell a guy to hit ten straight balls into right field in batting practice, and if he doesn't, he comes over to me afterward and apologizes ... I like that."

Back in Japan, in the second year of his second stint with the Marines, Valentine took them all the way:  in 2005, they won the Japan Series (the Japanese championship).  After winning, he challenged the 2005 World Series winners, the Chicago White Sox, to a "Real World Series," claiming his team could go toe-to-toe with any team on the globe. 

The White Sox didn't bite, but the fans loved it.  Suddenly, it was impossible to get a ticket to the stadium that had once never been more than half full.  Valentine suggested major improvements: luxury boxes, deluxe suites, and an HD screen.  Other changes came as well, such as 3-meter high Bobby murals on the walls of the stadium, and concession  stands selling Bobby lunch boxes and Bobby bubble gum.  Nearby, a street was named after him. 

The improvements that Valentine had suggested to the stadium were popular with the fans, but they didn't lead to the increased revenue that he had promised the team.  When management began cutting bonuses to players, Valentine responded by paying them out of his own pocket. 

The Marines came within a game of returning to the Japan Series in 2007.  However, 2008 didn't go so well, and in December 2008, the team announced that they wouldn't be renewing his contract in 2010.  Valentine suggested he would be willing to revise the cost of his contract downward, but management didn't budge.  It was clear to all that it wasn't about the money -- ownership was dissatisfied with his power, his influence, and his way of doing things.

The decision to now renew Valentine's contract didn't just leave him as a lame duck -- it also made his very, very enthusiastic fans quite unhappy with management.  How enthusiastic were they?  Here is a YouTube video of a crowd at a Japanese baseball game, singing a fight song about how much they love Bobby Valentine.  As much as Sox nation loved Francona, it's hard to imagine them singing a similar love song to Tito at Fenway.

But perhaps the ultimate tribute to Valentine's popularity in Japan is that Sapporo beer issued a limited special edition "Bobeer" with his face on the front of the can. 

Here's hoping that Sam Adams will have cause to do the same!

Related posts:
First Impressions on the Bobby Valentine Hiring

First Impressions on the Bobby Valentine Hiring

Here's what I don't get about Bobby Valentine. The CW is that he's this great baseball mind, but as Joel pointed out, he was given a lot of talent and didn't do a whole lot with it. To wit: the 1992 Texas Rangers. They had Nolan Ryan and Kevin Brown pitching, and with a lineup including Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmero, Ruben Sierra, and Juan Gonzalez, they only finished fourth in their division.Fourth! (Thanks Joel for pointing that out.)

I also am concerned about what this move says about the front office/GM relationship. From all I read, Cherington wanted to go with Sveum as the manager, but was overruled by the FO in favor of the more "accomplished" BV. (read: he's managed before, and talks a pretty game on ESPN.) The search ever since Sveum went to the Cubs has felt like a kabuki theater to make it appear like Charrington was doing his due diligence  Nothing like cutting your new GM off at the knees for his first major decision! (And what does it say that the old Sox GM ended up with Sveum in Chicago?)

I'm willing to give BV the benefit of the doubt - after all, what had Francona accomplished as a manager before coming to Boston? - but the whole situation doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence. I don't like how smooth he seems, and even knowing that he took the Mets to the world series one year, I just don't feel that he's got what it takes to manage our group of entitled superstars.

Update: After I typed this up, Chad Finn typed up his reactions for the Globe. His thoughts are always worth checking out.

Related Posts:
Bobby Valentine to Manage Red Sox
Next Up: Bobby Valentine?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bobby Valentine to Manage Red Sox

Story from ESPN here.

My opinion of this is.....


Songs for Novels

I often get a song in my head while reading a book. Sometimes, the choice of song is obvious, as when I spent the entire duration that I was living inside David Mitchell's number9dream singing the John Lennon song of the same name. Other times, it's more obscure: for 1Q84, it's Warren Zevon's "They Moved the Moon" off of his criminally underrated Transverse City album. The song, while no great shakes as a poem, has a sense of desolation that's a great fit for the characters of the novel as they look up, mystified, at the two moons in the night sky.

Have any good songs running thru your head as you read?

"They Moved the Moon"
I was counting on you
To stand by me
To see me through
I was counting on you

They moved the moon
While I looked down
When I looked away
They changed the stars around

I'm so confused
Don't know what to do
Don't know which way to turn
I was counting on you

They moved the moon
While I looked down
When I looked away
They changed the stars around

Can't you see me?
Can't you hear me now?
Don't you want a love that's true?
Don't you know my heart belongs to you?

I was counting on you
To stand by me
To see me through
I was counting on you

They moved the moon
While I looked down
When I looked away
They changed the stars around

They moved the moon
I feel so strange
While I looked down
Everything I depended on
When I looked away
Has been rearranged
They changed the stars around

(Bonus fun fact: Zevon composed the album while "woozy from reading the Thomas Pynchon canon at a sitting, so to speak.")

Related posts:
1Q84: Hardcover

Saturday, November 26, 2011

First Lines of "The Runner"

The runner took the turn slowly, watching ducks collect near the footbridge where a girl was scattering bread.  The path roughly followed the outline of the pond, meandering through stands of trees.  The runner listened to his even breathing.  He was young and knew he could go harder but didn't want to spoil the sense of easy effort in the dying light, all the day's voices and noises drained out in steady sweat.
-Don DeLillo, "The Runner," in The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories

Related posts:

DeLillo's Short Stories
Baseball Writing

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Michiko Kakutani's Top Ten for 2011

Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times has picked her top ten books of 2011.  In no apparent order:

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by Joshua Foer
Van Gogh: The Life, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith
Rome: A Cultural, Visual and Personal History, by Robert Hughes
The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, by Don DeLillo
The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, by Kim Barker
The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace
The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht
Blue Nights, by Joan Didion
The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, by Michael Lewis

I have not (yet) read any of these books, so I can't say whether any would qualify to be in my top ten.  There do seem to be several notable omissions from the fiction side (which has only four books), but that may reflect the fact that some of the best novels of the year have only recently come out, and she may not have had time to read them all.

In any case, I look forward to diving into some of these.  Kakutani is wide-ranging, cerebral reader, and I always find her reviews to be insightful and interesting, even when I disagree with them.

Related posts:
Quick Review: The Art of Fielding
Don DeLillo's The Angel Esmeralda
DeLillo's Short Stories

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tune-up Races

As a part of a marathon training plan, many runners will schedule a "tune-up race."  This is a race about two months before the marathon, which is somewhere around the same distance as the runner's longest recent run.  For most, this means that a half marathon will be ideal. 

The purpose of a tune-up run isn't to go out and run your fastest possible half marathon.  To do that would put a lot of stress on the body (possibly causing injury), and in any case wouldn't do much to help prepare for the marathon itself.  Rather, the goal of a tune-up run is to go out and run at your intended marathon pace, using the experience to practice pacing, to gauge fuel needs, and to otherwise prepare. 

Of course, you could also do all of that by by yourself on any given Saturday.  But if you want to do well in a full marathon when you are surrounded by 20,000 competitors, there is at least some value in doing the "tune-up" in a similar environment.

Just how much value?  In my case, I can't imagine that I would get on an airplane - or even drive 100 miles - just to take part in a tune-up race.  But, as luck would have it, the SunTrust Rock 'n Roll Marathon and Half Marathon is scheduled for March 17 -- ten weeks before the Burlington Marathon -- and the starting line, at RFK stadium, is a ten-minute jog from my home.

It is not a cheap race, though.  $95 if I sign up before December 31st, with fees going as high as $145 thereafter.  And in the past, runners have commented that it has been an organizational disaster.  Sure, some of the complaints from runners are trivial.  (For instance, folks who ran the full marathon complaining about the fact that half-marathoners received the same finisher's medal.  Really?)  But on the other hand, when multiple runners noted that there wasn't even enough water to go around at the finish line, it makes you wonder just what you are paying for.

That being said, this will the first year that the Rock 'n Roll Marathon Series is helping to organize the event, and they seem to know what they are doing.  Plus, the race is on St. Patrick's Day, so there should be some good post-race parties.

Is anybody else game? 

Related posts:
Training Plans

Monday, November 21, 2011

American League MVP

And the winner is . . . Justin Verlander.

It was a very close vote.  Verlander received 280 points, while Jacoby Ellsbury received 242 points, coming in second.  Jose Bautista, who looked like a lock at mid-season, ended up with 231 points.

Compare that to 2010, when the winner (Josh Hamilton) received 358 points, or to 2009, when the winner (Joe Mauer) received 387 points.  In fact, the voting hasn't been this close since 2003, when Alex Rodriguez, who was still in Texas, edged out Carlos Delgado.

I suspect that it was a career year for Ellsbury, and we should not expect quite the same electricity in years to come.  But I hope he will prove me wrong.

Congratulations also to Dustin Pedroia, who received 48 points and came in 9th. 

David Ortiz, who looked like a vote getter until late in the season, ended up without any points at all, which seems like a travesty considering that Alex Gordon, Asdrubal Cabrera and Ben Zobrist each ended up with a handful. 

The full results are at Baseball Reference.

Related posts:
Golden Gloves
Ellsbury's RBIs

Running Form: Where i'm At

Eric posted a great summary of his thoughts about running form. As someone who has adapted my form a bit based on what I read in Born to Run, I thought i'd also share my anecdotal thoughts.

After reading McDougall's book, I experimented with forfoot striking but soon settled into attempting to "run tall" - essentially, avoiding my old loping strides that I fear used to lead to my knee and shin problems in favor of shorter strides and front-to-mid foot striking. It required some adjustment in that I needed to work to increase the speed of my legs and am still working on loosening up my calves (this stride makes them extremely tight), but the benefit is that I haven't had any major injuries and I'm running as fast as I have since I was a teenager.

However, Bernd Heinrich's argues against the "run tall" notion in p.226-7 of Why We Run:
"The primary way to increase running efficency would be to minimize leg lift while maximizing stride length; and of course, using the lightest shoes possible.I practiced running using gravity and momentum as much as possible to swing my feet. A sprinter expends an exorbitant amounts of energy with each step, which is essentially a leap. I needed to train a stride that would be a compromise between an energy-efficient short step, where the feed are barely lifted, and a long stride, which necessitates more knee lift. By running as much as possible at race pace during training, I hoped to cultivate that specific optimum stride for the distance I intended to run.
What a long-distance runner can least afford to do is lift his whole body up and down on successive steps. he must glide. An ostrich or any other elite marathoner exhibits almost no up-and-down motion of the head or the shoulders. Suppose a 150-pound runner goes up and down only 3 inches with each step; then over the course of a 100-k run he will have lifted his 150-pound body mass a distance of about two miles. That's a lot of work, and it must be strenuously avoided in favor of horizontal motion."
Now, i'm not looking to optimize anything here - I'm really looking for a comfortable way to run down the road that makes me fast but mainly one that doesn't hurt me. And it's important to note that Heinrich needed to explore to to find his perfect stride; he had back problems so severe that he was deemed unfit for active military service, and by all accounts had an ungainly form in high school. Once he found something that worked, however, he went on to run some extremely fast times, and even set the American record for the 100 km. As I mentioned in my review of the book, what he describes really should be described "Why He Runs, since it's not for everyone, but the basic principles behind this thinking are sound and have given me a lot to ponder as I work may way through my longer runs.

To me, however, the salient point is what Eric calls "running softly." I try to minimize the impact my feet have with the ground, trying to roll the feet so that the impact is like a perfect curve. Heinrich talks about this a bit as well, so i'll close with a scene from his record setting race:
"For a quarter mile or so, I feel the rhythm and switch my conscious editing to concentrate on the opposite limbs. Once and a while, I vary the length of my stride, to contract my leg muscles for slightly different durations, like frogs varying the length of their calls. The rhythm of my footsteps is steady, unvarying, and like my heartbeat, it is unconsciously timed with my breathing. ... The rhythm preserves synchronicity,  synchronicity translates to smoothness, and smoothness means energy efficiency. p. 248
Related Posts:
Runnign Form: Active vs. Passive
Improve your running form

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Don DeLillo's The Angel Esmeralda

I just bought The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, by Don DeLillo.

The New Yorker, which generally gives books only brief, one-paragraph reviews, has given Martin Amis several pages to ramble on about Don DeLillo in general, and this collection of short stories in particular.    I'm not a fan of the first person plural in reviews.  For example:

DeLillo is the laureate of terror, of modern or postmodern terror, and the way it hovers and shimmers in our subliminal minds. As Eric Hobsbawm has said, terrorism is a new kind of urban pollution, and the pollutant is an insidious and chronic disquiet. Such is the air DeLillo breathes. And so strong is this identification that we feel slightly dislocated when, in “The Ivory Acrobat” (1988), he confronts a form of terror that is “natural” and therefore ancient and innocent: the earthquake.
Just how is it you know that I also feel slightly dislocated, Martin?  (I presume that I may call you Martin, since we are on such intimate terms that you presume to speak for how I feel.)

In the end, Martin concludes with a simple declaration that he loves the book.  You don't often get that kind of unabashed affection in the New Yorker.  Or in the New York Times.

But, Michiko Kakutani, writing in the Arts section, notes of the title story that, "this tale not only uses all of Mr. DeLillo’s electric gifts of language but also is one of his rare, deeply emotional forays into the human heart."  And Liesl Schillinger, in a longer review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, concludes that "DeLillo packs fertile ruminations and potent consolation into each of these rich, dense, concentrated stories."

Note that none of these authors are unabashed DeLillo fans; Amis and Kakutani each carefully explains that he / she doesn't like all of DeLillo's work.  So, this would seem to be a return to form.

Despite some initial skepticism on my part, I look forward to telling you what I think.

Related posts: