I realized the other day that I have not been diversifying my blog topics as much as I could be. I made some promises in my introduction to this blog, but lately it’s just been pictures of me looking sweaty and wearing some really short shorts.
With that in mind, here is some of what I’ve been reading lately:
- The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It – This book tella the story of three amateur athletes (Roger Bannister, John Landy, and Wes Santee) from different corners of the globe who all attempted to accomplish the same goal at about the same time – become the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. While the premise itself had the capacity to be boring (let’s face it - we’re talking ultimately about people running around in circles), the narrative was engaging, the pacing (pun intended) was good, and it was inspiring enough to make me wonder when I will see the movie adaptation.
- Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks – Written by Ken Jennings (yes, that Ken Jennings), this is an entertaining look into a variety of careers, incidents, and subcultures that revolve around maps and geography. The chapters are most independent of one another and focus on some strange aspect of maps (map thieves, geography bees, people that make maps of fictional places, online maps, and so forth). They are especially enjoyable for someone like me that has loved maps for a very long time, but Jennings is surprisingly funny and would make the book enjoyable for those that aren’t quite “mapheads.”
- Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded – I’m a big fan of both science and history, and by telling the story of the 1883 explosion of Krakatoa, one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, I got a healthy dose of both. The book does a great job of exploring the incident from all aspects – the geological processes behind the creation of the volcano, the historical factors that made the nearby land a prominent Dutch settlement, and the social changes that made the event have such an impact on the rest of the world – and stitching them together into one cohesive and readable narrative.
- The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Halleluiah” – I would classify this book as a biography – not of a person, but of the song “Halleluiah.” The book traces the evolution of this song from its unassuming inclusion on a 1980s Leonard Cohen album, to Jeff Buckley’s notable cover, and finally to the ubiquitous tune that seems to be played everywhere and covered by everyone. Though I personally found it to be too long, I thought the concept was an interesting one and I enjoyed it all the same.
- Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness – Written by famously-vegan ultrarunner Scott Jurek, this book was a strange mix of biography (a chapter about winning the notorious Western States race) and vegan manifesto (a recipe for mushroom burgers). As a result, it was a little messy, as it tried to go in so many directions without really nailing any of them. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to walk away from this book and be impressed with the human body’s capacity for both suffering and accomplishment.
- Fatal North: Murder and Survival on the First North Pole Expedition – Based on the journals and notes of the crewmembers, this book tells the story of the USS Polaris and its journey to be the first vessel to reach the North Pole. As the title implies, the journey is impeded by both murder and struggles for survival, so they never quite make it, but the read is quick and engaging. However, it’s not a good book to read when you’re waiting around in freezing weather.
By the way, if you didn’t know if before, this blog post should inform you that I am a huge nerd who reads mostly nonfiction. Maybe I should pick up a novel every now and then…