Thursday, July 29, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: The Butcher Boy

The Butcher BoyThe Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

If I had to put this book into a category, I would classify it with Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho, only less elegantly written.

The novel starts out fairly easily, engaging the reader with promises of a dysfunctional family and schoolboy rivalries, all while the reader grows accustomed to choppy first-person style of narration. (The novel is told by the main character, an Irish schoolboy named Francie.) Gradually, suspense builds as the reader's suspicions are aroused by the odd treatment of Francie by the other people in the novel. Eventually his paranoia becomes apparent, and while the readers no longer trust Francie, we must travel through the story along with him, since his is the only viewpoint we have.

I saw in one review that this book is like a mash-up of Catcher in the Rye and A Clockwork Orange. In terms of concept and style, I agree; however, I enjoyed both of those books all the way through to their conclusions, whereas two-thirds of the way through this book, I could see where it was headed, which was into the blank incoherent abyss of madness. Unfortunately by that point I was too far into the book to put it aside, and I continued to hold out (in vain) for McCabe to recreate any feeling of suspense. This is what Ellis did better: he kept the reader waiting and wondering and fearful, not so much about what the next gruesome horror might be, but of what the outcome of that horror could be, the backlash, and if it would ever occur.

Horror for the sake of horror and insanity for the sake of insanity are gratuitous, and eventually that is how I felt about this book. By its end, I don't feel I learned any lesson, nor did I feel compassion for a single character in the novel. I didn't feel any empathy for Francie, nor did I pity any of his victims. Thus, I was left wondering what the purpose of the book was. McCabe's ability to portray Francie's descent into madness via his increasingly manic and confused narration is admirable; however, it does not automatically make for a laudable novel.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: Firegirl

FiregirlFiregirl by Tony Abbott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a really nice book...for a middle schooler. The lesson taught is simple and straightforward, yet Abbott doesn't hit his reader over the head with it; instead he illustrates it with his story as though drawing a picture with a bold-tipped marker. The characters are simple but also relatable, and the simplicity lends itself well to the main character Tom's discovery of life's difficult "gray areas."

This is a book that would benefit from being taught in middle school. I hope it is added to someone's curriculum somewhere, because it is important to discuss the issues Abbott raises: both childhood politics, inner vs. outer life, and conflicted emotions.
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Sunday, July 25, 2010

People Rage

Ever run late to catch an airplane? You’re careening through airport corridors, stomping your foot impatiently at a family of seven in front of you in the security line, hurdling two senior citizens on your way to Boarding Gate Z, waving your ticket in the impassive faces of airport personnel, and are just managing to climb over the obese guy in the aisle seat when the captain comes on and informs everyone that “due to a problem on the runway, the flight will be delayed. Please stand by.” Makes you want to punch someone.
Now, imagine feeling like that every day. In every line. Every time you step one foot outside to go anywhere.

This is what I call people rage: it is the impulse to shove senior citizens through doorways, kick small children off sidewalks, and push tourists down escalators. Basically, anyone obstructing me from getting to my destination qualifies as a target of my rage. Teenagers walking three abreast should know better than to take up the entire sidewalk. NYC is not one giant game of red-rover! And overly large umbrellas should be banned in crowded cities. I don’t want my eyeballs poked out just because some lady needs to preserve her hairdo. God forbid that same woman starts down the subway stairs in front of me, wobbling on her 3-inch stilettos while yapping away on her cell phone. Someday I am going to snatch one of those things from someone and shove it up their rear end.

One thing is for sure: I am not alone. Just stand in Grand Central station for five minutes at the beginning or end of any workday, and you’ll see thousands of people who operate exactly like I have just described. Watch people catch the subway home. A lesson I learned while living in Queens is that a subway car is never too full; you just have to be willing to elbow your way in and endure standing on top of someone’s toes while smelling another person’s greasy hair for the duration of your commute.

Shared or not, my newfound aggression kind of scares me. I was terrible at basketball because I never “got angry,” and now I’m fantasizing about punching grown men who stand obtrusively on the left-hand side of the escalator (which, for those of you who don’t know, is the “passing lane;” the purpose is to leave it clear for those people who treat escalators as speed enhancers rather than as a carnival ride). Is this the product of living in a city packed with 19,000,000 other people? A form of “survival of the fittest?” Or is it a character trait that has finally surfaced, thanks to a few environmental prompts?

I try to tell myself that there’s no reason for such a big hurry. So what if I miss my train? Another one will come (even thought I will probably have to wait at least 20 minutes, knowing my luck). Life will not grind to a screeching halt if I am five minutes late getting somewhere. (Except in airports—then things get a bit trickier.) Arriving at the gym at 4:55 will not make me any healthier than if I arrive at 5:00, and getting out of the grocery store three minutes faster will do nothing but put me back in my insanely hot apartment sooner. So why, when stuck behind a meandering couple on the sidewalk, do I huff impatiently to myself and step out onto the street?

There is one scarier thought: is this an irreversible change? If I move to the suburbs, will I eventually end up in the news as the lady driver who pulled a Colt .45 on the guy in the pickup truck who cut her off at the traffic light?

So far, the most I’ve done is accidentally bump an old lady with my bicycle on a subway staircase. In typical “enraged” fashion, she cussed me out. I apologized. She ignored me and kept ranting. (But I’d rather have jumped on my bicycle and driven right over her!)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: The Solitude of Prime Numbers

The Solitude of Prime NumbersThe Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What this book needed was redemption.

The novel is an odd love story of self-betrayal and disappointment. Giordano does a fantastic job of keeping the reader's interest be creating characters just unique enough to intrigue us and just aloof enough to keep us turning the pages. However, enough sad and disturbing choices are made that halfway through the book, what we are reading for is redemption. What we want is an "aha" moment and at least a small flicker of hope that "everything will be okay."

Unfortunately, Giordano does not offer us that. By the three-quarter mark in this novel, I realized that no salvation was going to come to either of the main characters. Were Giordano's writing not so lyrical and therefore captivating (and were I not so stubbornly hopeful), I would have put the book down and picked up something else. However, I dutifully read through to the end, and was just as disappointed as I had expected. It's a shame, because as a reader, you start out feeling sympathetic toward Alice and Mattia. By the end, though, you are so fed up that you have no qualms leaving them to their lonely, self-destructive ways. Like in counseling, if neither one wants to get better, then there's no use trying to help them...or in this case, read about them.
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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Write Like

Apparently, according to a newly developed online algorithm, I write like different authors depending on my subject matter. Who would have thought?
  • Athletic/racing posts = David Foster Wallace
  • Personal stories = Dan Brown
  • Book reviews = H.P. Lovecraft or Edgar Allen Poe
  • Beyond the Bench (science) posts = Arthur C. Clarke or Douglas Adams

Excellent versatility, wouldn't you say?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up

You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up: A Love Story You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up: A Love Story by Annabelle Gurwitch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven't read a laugh-out-loud book in a long time. However, when I read Anabelle's passage about Jeff's nude-ar (a male homing instinct that enables this gender to instantly materialize the moment a woman even touches the hem of her shirt), I busted up. And the amusement did not stop there.

Annabelle and Jeff write in alternating passages about the trials, tribulations, and downright horrors of being married. They disagree about pretty much everything and make a sport out of depicting the other as "more wrong." Simultaneously, they strike terror into the hearts of unwed readers, while depicting marriage as an enviable state full of frustration, amusement, and security.

I am one of these unwed readers, and I found the book uproariously funny. I would imagine that married readers would enjoy it even more.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Stars and Stripes Aquathlon

Imagine jumping into a river with 250 other people and then trying to swim through two buoys, approximately 20 feet apart. All at the same time. And yes, everyone wants to be the first through the opening, because this is a race.

That was my experience today, as I participated in the NYC Swim association's Aquathlon. I got kicked, punched, slapped, and pummeled from all directions as I and the other 279 participants attempted to get through two buoys, 1.5k down the Hudson, and up the ladder back to land--at which point we were by no means finished. Then there was the task of shedding our goggles and cap (plus a wetsuit, for those swimmers who wore one), donning our socks and sneakers, and racing up the West Side Highway, from 56th to 83rd street, and then back down again--a 5k run that completed the race.

My results are below. Overall, I am pleased with my performance, seeing as it is my second-ever open water race and also my second-ever mutli-event competition. I'd like to see it as one step closer to becoming a triathlete (because having completed one sprint-length triathlon last summer does not qualify me for the title of "triathlete"); however, I'm not sure whether I'm going to summon the motivation to dive into competitive cycling.

In the meantime, I have other concerns. NYC marathon training starts this week, so long run updates will be coming soon. Stay tuned....

Race Length (swim/run)Overall TimeSwim TimeRun TimeOverall PlaceGender Place
1.5k (1 mile) / 5k (3.1 miles)00:51:06:2000:27:44:9500:23:21:2522/2805th

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: The Lie

The Lie: A Novel The Lie: A Novel by Chad Kultgen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I would like to give this novel three or four stars. For about two-thirds of the book, Kultgen had me sufficiently intrigued to where I expected to give the novel at least a three-star rating. I was in college recently enough to identify with the three narrators, or at least to recognize and appreciate their outlooks on college life. (For instance, I didn't exactly whore around or base my life upon getting into a particular sorority, seeing as I never even rushed, but I at least recognize Heather's character, even if I cannot identify with it.)

However, once the nature of the particular "lie" the book is based upon became apparent--in spite of all the other intriguing lies that propped up the plot and kept the book moving along--my interest in The Lie wanted considerably. I did finish what seemed to be a painfully long denouement, more because I was desperate for some form of redemption for at least one character (which never came) than because I was still interested in the Kultgen's narrative.

All in all, a promising start that dwindled out to an overly-depressing finish. Only worth recommending to fans of Requiem For A Dream.

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Friday, July 2, 2010

JP Morgan Corporate Challenge Race Results

The Corporate Challenge is, quite simply, the physical manifestation of the term "rat race." The event attempts to put thousands of non-runners in a race alongside 500 people who happen to know how to properly lace up shoes and keep their elbows at their sides.

I spent the first mile hurdling strollers and dodging hand-holding walkers, and then I spent the next 2.5 miles bleeding from a gash in my knee, after being tripped by someone who likely was not a cutthroat competitor.

Here are my results from a race I am NEVER running again. Next year, I'll volunteer to watch the bags.
Race LengthFinishing TimeAverage PaceOverall PlaceWiley Team Overall Place
3.5 miles26:197:31/mile 248/12,8965/116