Monday, October 21, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: The Girl With All the Gifts

The Girl With All The GiftsThe Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I LOVED the first 1/4 - 1/3 of this book. Telling a zombie story from the perspective of a sympathetic child zombie--Melanie--was pure genius, and the mix of tension and horror surrounding her captivity sucked me right in. Based on those first several chapters, I thought this was definitely going to be my new "recommend to everyone" book.

Then, the junkers (a great term for a type of character that never amounts to very much) invade the military base, the main characters escape together . . . and the story evolves into a much more typical zombie story, the only difference being that they have the sympathetic zombie child still in tow. Carey does a good job at developing the various characters' relationships with Melanie, but once the perspective shifted from what Melanie was experiencing to what the more "stock" adult characters were experiencing (each chapter is told from a different character's perspective), I frankly got bored. A few of the fight-or-flee scenes are invigorating, but the entire middle section is just a lot of "traveling toward home" (appropriately named Beacon), which even the least savvy reader can deduce is no longer there anymore. It's a zombie movie--we know they're going to be lacking supplies and fighting off the zombies at night. We know there's going to be tension between the heartless scientists who insists everything she does is "for the greater good," the psychologist/teacher who feels responsible for Melanie, and the Sergeant General who adheres at all times to his duty of keeping everyone alive. These are predictable characters, whose actions and fates are predictable and therefore make the duration of the book considerably less exciting.

The one character I couldn't figure out was Gallagher. He is the least stereotypical character in the mix--Carey takes pains to develop his childhood backstory to explain why he is in the military at all--but he never really does much of anything. I could easily see another book being dedicated to him and his experiences during this time in "history," but I don't really understand why he had to come along on this particular ride.

All in all, this book was built from an excellent premise, will no doubt be loved by many, and will almost certainly be made into an entertaining movie. Thank you, Carey, for giving us something other than a traditional zombie story . . . at least for the first third of the book.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Giving the "Coach Thing" a Shot

Almost exactly one year ago, I met Josh, the coach of Gotham City Runners. Our introduction was purely serendipitous: I was training for the NYC Marathon and was sick of running the same boring routes around Central Park, so I emailed a former coworker, M___, who I knew also trained for marathons and happened to live in Manhattan, to ask if she had any suggestions for alternative routes. She said that she ran with this group of really nice people, and  they were meeting up in the Bronx to run in Palisades Park, and did I want to come? I had--literally--never done a long run with other people before, but I figured "why not?" And so I went.

As it turned out, M___ never showed up to that run at all. However, Josh and the other runners were very inclusive, and they invited me to join their other long runs, since many members of the team were training for the same race I was. I ran one or two more times with the group, and then Hurricane Sandy hit, and that was that.

Fast forward to May of this year. I had just PRed in the Long Branch Half Marathon, and I messaged Josh to hear how the full marathon had gone for his runners. He told me their results and asked how I had done. Proudly, I told him my time of 1:32:42. After congratulating me, he wrote (and I quote), "You could totally torque it down and compete." He went on to say that if I worked with him, I could probably drop 6 minutes off of my half marathon time. Six minutes! That's basically 30 seconds per mile, and I was already running close to 7-minute miles. My initial reaction was, "Yeah right." But told him I'd think about it, and I did. Ultimately I figured I'd give it a shot. Why not try working with a coach? What could it hurt? I'd give it 6 months to a year, and if I hated it or didn't get any faster, then I could just quit. Otherwise, I'd get faster, and who wouldn't want that?

Now, as of Sunday, October 13th, I am proud to say that I not only PRed in the Staten Island Half Marathon, but I dropped almost 3 minutes off of my Long Branch time. I ran the race at a sub-7min/mile pace, which I never thought I would do, ever, in my whole life. And what's more, I placed 3rd in my age group and 6th out of every woman who ran the race!

So a big thanks to Josh  and all of the pain and suffering he's put me through. (Just kidding; I actually sort of like structured workouts now . . . even if they do tend to hurt.) And a second thanks to the team of welcoming, supportive, enthusiastic runners he coaches. I'm grateful to be a part of Gotham City Runners!

A note on the results from this race: While I "officially" came in 2nd in the F25-29 age group, I technically placed 3rd. The top finisher in my age group placed 2nd for all women, so she was removed from the age group award winners. But hey, I'll take 3rd, too. Gladly!

Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place (F25-29)
13.1 miles

Monday, October 14, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Wild

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest TrailWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some parts of this book I really, really liked. Some parts, I really, really didn't. But as the author of Dear Sugar, I have to admit that I expected something more.

The beginning portion about her mother's death was beautiful. It is exactly how a daughter feels when her mother dies--and my mother hasn't even died yet. I cried, and my heart hurt, and I was thrilled that I was already having such a strong reaction to this memoir. It felt like a promise of a heartfelt, engaging book.

Then, she leaves her husband. This part I simply didn't understand. However, as this is a memoir, I'm glad she didn't pull a James Frey move and vilify her husband, just to fit the narrative.

Moving on, she starts out her trek with a pack so enormous that she literally cannot even lift it--hence the name "Monster." I appreciate the eventual metaphor of this: she eventually learns to carry her burdens and even grows attached to them (in one part, she is nervous about being so far away from her pack). However, it does seem a little ridiculous for her to have been so naive, and she goes to such pains to spell out exactly what she bought to take with her, I expected more scenes where she becomes attached to those items or gets rid of some of them. I just expected the limitedness of her life to be shown with more purpose. All we really ever see are her water purification pump, her tent, her better-than-milk mix, a few articles of clothing, and those blasted boots.

As might be expected about a memoir that follows a woman hiking along along a mountain range, some of the narrative became monotonous. What actually bored me the most were the descriptions of the terrain. I wanted just enough to understand the trials and tribulations (or the beauty and respite), and then I wanted the narrative to move along. This happened sometimes, but not always. Not even most times.

Apart from the beginning portion about her mother, my favorite parts of this book were the parts that included other people. Strayed distills characters to their essences, and she is blunt about her feelings about them. This is a true talent, and one that lends itself well to the memoir genre.

And finally, I must end with some quotes that I absolutely, positively related to:

"I only wanted it to be eleven o'clock so he'd leave with me and I could stop wondering whether I was a babe or a gargoyle and whether he was looking at me or he thought I was looking at him." This could have come straight out of a young adult novel! And yet even in my twenties, I oftentimes feel this way....

"There were pleasant mornings . . . ten-mile stretches that I'd glide right over while barely feeling a thing. . . . But there would always come a point . . . when I didn't love it anymore, when it was monotonous and hard and my mind shifted into a primal gear that was void of anything but forward motion. . . ." This one I spliced to fit my activity: marathon training. Before this quote she says that the PCT had gotten easier but that didn't mean it was easy. This is precisely how it feels to run.

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Monday, October 7, 2013

Birdies Crowing: An Adventure with iMovie & Pigeons

First, I bird-sat. (Bird-watched? That sounds misleading. But "bird-sat" sounds like I literally sat on them. Okay, so I pet-sat some birds.)

Then I took a rainy afternoon to learn how to use iMovie '08. (Sort of. Don't call me an expert yet.)

Here is the result. Happy viewing.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Don't Worry, It Gets Worse

Don't Worry, It Gets Worse: One Twentysomething's (Mostly Failed) Attempts at AdulthoodDon't Worry, It Gets Worse: One Twentysomething's (Mostly Failed) Attempts at Adulthood by Alida Nugent
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really, really wanted to like this book. After all, I--also being a twenty-something graduate of a liberal arts college who lives in NYC (okay, okay, I live in NJ, but my neighborhood is more of a Manhattan suburb than Staten Island will ever be)--am essentially just like Nugent!

However, as it turns out, I'm really nothing at all like Nugent. Firstly, we have entirely different priorities: I'm an athlete and she's . . . an alcoholic? I like nice boys and she . . . well, she doesn't, at least not yet. I'm fiscally responsible; she definitely is not. These are just a few of the easy comparisons I can make off the top of my head that kept me from reading this book and thinking, "Right on, girl!"

Then, there's her overwhelming snarkiness. If I had been her editor for this book, I'd have started by explaining that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I then would have forced her to circle her favorite, most effective jokes and then cross out half of those and then rewrite the book using only the remaining circled jokes. And maybe read Me Talk Pretty One Day for good measure.

However, I can't say I completely hated this book, either, primarily because her depiction of being a twenty-something living specifically in NYC is so accurate. For other NYC-dwellers out there, here are a few comments I found absolutely true (and hilarious):

New York is motivated by not just moving toward something but also moving toward something int he fastest manner possible.

Tip for Saving: Shave off half of your electric bill by going to bed at a reasonable hour instead of staying up till 3 a.m. to stare at cats and people you hate on Facebook.

[In New York] there is the prominent smell of both fuel and garbage, which seems to have a miragelike presence in the summer, but the moment you walk by a bakery, you remember what it is like not to live in a place constantly surrounded by carcinogenic fumes.

Here, people are more attractive than I ever thought people could be in person.

Tip for Saving: Save some money on razors by . . . BAHAHAHA, I know you've had the same razor for eighty-four years.

That last comment just cracks me up. Anyway, if you don't mind an overdose of sarcasm and mean and self-deprecating jokes, and you happen to be a twenty-something female living in NYC, and you happen to be in an airport bookstore desperate for something quick to read, this might be a book worth snagging. One of its particularly big perks is the fact that it is so slim. Had it been much longer than 188 pages, I probably wouldn't have finished it. But these days, it's hard to find any book under 200 pages long. So hats off to Nugent for that!

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Chasing Chaos

Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian AidChasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid by Jessica Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For what it was, this book did an admirable. I remained interested in Jessica's personal story, the explanations of how humanitarian aid functions, and the descriptions of what was going on the wider world throughout the book. (Well, at least until the last chapter or so.) Unfortunately, the book couldn't quite figure out what genre it wanted to fit into--it wasn't quite travel writing, it wasn't quite journalism, and it wasn't quite a memoir--and as a result, the writing itself suffered.

I'm glad Jessica didn't write this strictly as a memoir, because I feel it might quickly have devolved into an Eat, Pray, Love wannabe, starting with a "lost self" and ending with a "found self." I think her exploration into the world of humanitarian aid was very frank and informative, and even more so because she didn't attempt to offer any real answers. Some readers will likely find this depressing and pointless (why point out the shortcomings if she doesn't have any suggestions for solutions?), but I thought that it made her analysis of the whole system much more believable. It's very fair to point out existing problems, even if there are no easy solutions to offer.

I would have loved to give this book five stars, but first I had to dock one star for the writing itself (it wasn't seamless or gripping or even mature enough for a five star review), and then I had to dock a second star for pacing. I can appreciate that time in these camps passes rather slowly despite all of the chaos that's swirling around, and I can appreciate wanting to pace those portions of the book somewhat similarly, for effect. If that were the case, though, other portions of the book needed to be condensed and zipped through much more quickly. Because as readers, we need a sense of urgency to get to the end. And then, when the end is nothing more than extremely bogged-down explanations of factual information that we already surmised earlier in the book . . . well, her editor should have demanded some changes.

All in all, however, Chasing Chaos was a worthwhile book for anyone interested in learning more about the life of a humanitarian aid worker.

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Garmin in the Bronx

Yes, my running friends, I did it: For better or for worse, I finally succumbed to the world of high-tech running gear and bought myself a GPS watch.

So far, I'm not entirely sure whether it was for better or for worse.

When it comes to high-tech gadgets, I'm not quite on the cutting-edge. I didn't get my first cell phone until 2008, and I still don't have a cell phone that can talk to me, or give me directions, or check my email, or just about anything other than send texts and make phone calls. The most complicated software on my computer is probably iMovie, and that program came pre-installed on the computer when I bought it. I've never owned an iPad or a gaming system, and technically I don't even own a TV; the 48" screen in my living room belongs to my boyfriend.

So when I purchased this GPS watch--which, by the way, is a Garmin 210, as shown in the picture--I was hoping against hope that it would be intuitive and user-friendly and do just what I needed it to do without almost any thought on my part at all.

Which, it does. Sort of.

My first clue that this must be an easy device to use was the owner's manual. It has--literally--eleven 5" x 5" pages. Once you read through the "getting set up" instructions, there really isn't that much more left to read. Which, to me, implies, "Just start using the darned thing."

My first few runs were awesome. This thing told me my real-time running pace and showed my per-mile split times afterward! Gone were the days of guessing whether I had just run for three minutes at a 6:45/mile pace the way my coach had asked me to, or at a 7:30/mile pace like I felt like I must have run. No longer would I have to assume that I "must have run farther" than the mapmyrun told me I had, since "there was no way" I was running as slow as 8:45/mile. Now I had a machine that would keep track of all of this for me! Easy-access data!

The watch really is cool, because it lets you program workouts. You want to run 6x3:00 at 7:15 pace with a 1:30 recover jog between each? No problem! Punch a few buttons and then the watch will magically beep when it's time to change intervals. And what's more--it will keep track of how fast you ran during those intervals, too!

The trouble arose not when I was programming my first interval workout, but when I went to program my second one. Silly me, I didn't realize that there were three options on the "Turn Interval On" screen: Yes, No, and Set. I never got to that Set option, so I just got frustrated and finally ran the workout without any help from my watch. I'm used to doing this, so there it didn't cause me any real problems. The real problems would wait until I really cared about the data.

The real problems arose when I went to run a race.

Since I got this watch, I have only run workouts; no races. Therefore, I was super excited to use it for the Bronx 10 Miler, coming up on Sunday, September 29th. Finally, I'd know for sure what I had only assumed to be true about my running style: that I started races out slow and got faster as the miles progressed. My splits provided by the races themselves have indicated this trend, but I would finally get a mile-by-mile breakdown. I was stoked!

The day of the race, I connected my Garmin to the satellites well in advance of the starting gun. The last thing I wanted was that stupid "connecting to satellites" bar to be halfway full when the gun went off. However, when the gun finally did go off and I pushed "start," I got a message that said something like, "Warmup will continue until lap is pressed." What? This wasn't a warmup. This was the race!

However, since this was the race, I didn't have the time to mess around with a stupid piece of equipment. I had running to do! So I just ignored it for the duration of the race, basing my pace approximations on the race clocks throughout the course.

The race went well. While I think that touting it as a "flat course" was severely misleading--I would described it as "rolling hills"--I still managed to run in my usual style, getting passed at the beginning and then burning by other runners at the end. The race splits bear that out: I ran the first 5 miles in 35:25 and the second 5 in 33:55. And I know I was cruising at the end, because I finally managed to pass the green-shirt-wearing guy I had been following the entire race in the last mile!

However, I'll never know exactly how fast or slow I started out, because my watch didn't capture a single split . . . unless you could the 10 mile time a split. It counted the whole thing as a warm-up and fed back a single finishing time of 1:09:27.

Guess that's what happens when you put too much stock in electronic devices! Nevertheless, I am still stoked to have run a personal best time, even if I've only ever run one other 10 mile race. My goal was to finish under 70 minutes, and I did it. What's more I somehow finished 5th in my age group. How about that?

A note on the results from this race: While officially came in 5th in the F25-29 age group, I technically placed 7th. The top two finishers in my age group placed in the top 3 finishers for all women, and so they were removed from the age group award winners.

Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place (F25-29)
10 miles