September 8, 2012

Inspired by books

Yesterday, I finished book #3 in my quest to read a book every other day for the month of September: You Are An Ironman, by Jacques Steinberg. I actually didn’t love it quite as much as I expected, as I found some of the training stories to be boring. But when it came to race day, I was hooked! I loved hearing about how everyone did, and the thoughts that went through their head as they toiled to make the 17 hour cutoff. It was fun to read all the different accounts of the same race, particularly since the author wove the tales together (even though the athletes profiled had never met) – so you knew that someone was just ahead of someone else on the bike, but had vastly different experiences.

As I predicted, I read most of this on the stationary bike at my hotel gym – and this turned out to be a pretty great book to inspire me on the bike. I probably covered about 25 miles while reading (obviously, I read more than just on the bike), and found that the stationary bike can be much more of a sweaty workout than I’ve ever used it for in the past (hello, lazy pedaling!). The book didn’t inspire me to train for an Ironman (you know you’re not dedicated enough to training when a coworker told me that there was a good lap pool at the YMCA four blocks from our hotel, and I thought that sounded like too much trouble), but it did at least get me motivated to try a “brick” workout: jumping on the treadmill for a quick mile immediately after finishing the book on the bike. And I do mean quick – I averaged a 7:50 pace (starting out at a 9:00 pace and gradually getting faster throughout) and felt very comfortable doing it. Perhaps taking a break due to calf soreness has been a good thing for me? I know at least mentally it’s great – I am itching to run, and very much looking forward to squeezing a nice long run in this weekend. Hopefully the calf soreness is a thing of the past!

Some of you offered comments on what I should read next – and I got some great suggestions! However, I just wanted to take a minute to note that my reading order is determined less by mood and more by when books are due back to the library – I have three books due on Saturday, so I’m racing to finish them so as to minimize the late fines I’ll have to pay. (That said, I don’t mind paying late fines at all – I consider it well worth it for the privilege of getting to borrow all the books I want. Libraries are wonderful institutions!)

My next book, according to the New York Public Library overdue list, is “French Kids Eat Everything”, by Karen Le Billon. While I don’t have kids (and am not even considering them at this point in my life!), I am still always fascinated by food culture and childhood nutrition, reading blogs like The Lunch Tray or books like Janet Poppendieck’s Free For All: Fixing School Food in America. Meanwhile, Le Billon’s book provides a fascinating first person account of a woman who moves from Canada to France with her two young children, and how they learn to adjust to the French food culture. While it’s peppered with “French food rules” that make it a bit of a how-to book, it’s really more of a narrative that shows the many lessons she learns about how to make food kind of a cultural treasure that’s about much, much more than just being fuel. I find that point especially fascinating, and very enlightening. Most American diet philosophies seem to focus on the “food is fuel!” thing, where they emphasize eating as little as possible to sustain ourselves while still getting the right nutrients. The French philosophy, in contrast, seems to be based around enjoying food as nourishment for both the body and the mind – with the purpose of meals being to provide an enjoyable experience that is shared with family and friends. If you’re as fascinated by this kind of psychology as I am, I’d highly recommend it, whether you have kids or not.

And as for inspiration? Well, let’s just say I am highly considering a move to France at this point. (Clearly I’m not at all impulsive or easily swayed.) I love the French philosophy on food, as well as the strict rules and sense of shared responsibility for decorum. Not to mention, all the food sounds delicious! I get hungry just reading about the simple yet fresh-sounding foods that the author describes, and I remember how one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten was the tartiflette that I had as part of a communal meal at the French B&B where I stayed while on a ski trip last It doesn’t take fancy recipes or plating to cook gourmet food – just quality ingredients!

What books have you been reading lately? Anything outstanding to recommend?


5 thoughts on “Inspired by books”

  1. Other than Kontiki, some other books I would recommend (assuming you haven’t read them already) include: The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa, Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle by Richard Louv, Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, The Year of the Flood and the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre, The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan, Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta Maker and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford, The Swan Thieves and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins, and The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin.

  2. I hope you realize that “the strict rules and sense of shared responsibility for decorum” in large part go hand in hand with vast government funding of social programs for the collective good.

    You’ve been pretty vocal about your conservative world view and dislike of government funding for social programs.

    Just want you to understand how much of what you admire about European cultures goes hand in hand with what Republicans in America like to deem “socialist” programs and entitlement.

  3. While you might like the food and food philosophy, I really don’t think you would like living in France. The French generally don’t believe in gyms, running marathons, or constantly working out, don’t believe in working long hours, are not big beer drinkers, and are very private people who don’t let you into their circle easily (and therefore it would be hard to make friends). I just think you are too American, Laura! : )

  4. Whoa, that’s quite a reading list in the first anonymous post…I need to get busy. Re: France…don’t go without taking me with you…for a visit anyway! 🙂 Loved your review of French Kids Eat Anything! Gotta grab a copy…Picked up a sliver of Brillat Savarin (classic French Triple Creme cheese (similar to brie in consistency) from the health food store’s amazing cheese section. The name is derived from Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” From the Physiology of Taste published in 1825. Indescribably delicious!!!! 🙂

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