Friday, August 29, 2008

Rips were the least of her worries

Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics' Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders, and Elusive Olympic Dreams
by Jennifer Sey

Reading this book made me so glad that I was never all that talented a gymnast. The author was the national champion in 1986, and tells the story of how she went from a precocious toddler turning cartwheels to a young, self-motivated competitor to a teenager dealing with parental issues, abusive coaches, debilitating injuries, and self-destructive tendencies, to her eventual exit from the sport.

Seriously, she was worrying about her own weight as an 8-year-old, long before switching gyms to one where the coaches essentially starved their gymnasts. Sey had one nurturing coach, and other coaches who were more concerned with performance than the health (mental and physical) of their girls, to the point where the conspired with doctors to determine "healing" regimines for serious things like snapped tibias that minimized the time before training could re-start, regardless of how it'd impact her over time. Craziness. She was hooked on laxatives, had parents who sacrificed their lives to help her and then wouldn't let her quit, and essentially had a breakdown before she could make it to the Olympics in 1988. There are so many things we casual observers don't think about that rule these girls' lives - when you start competing on the senior level year or two after the previous Olympics, the only way to make it to the next one is to maintain or, better, improve your ability and standing for perhaps three years. That's a lifetime in the world of elite gymnastics, considering the risks for injuries, self-destruction, and the new, younger, more talented girls showing up each year. It's no wonder so many of the national champions peak quickly and then drop out of sight.

Part autobiography, part cautionary tale, Sey seems to have used the writing process to work through her (numerous) lingering issues. Sey and her fellow gymnasts knew that they were not being treated well, that there were definite problems with their coaches and the overall system, but often conspired to keep the knowledge of this from their parents, knowing they'd be taken away from the sport they loved. I can imagine any parent of a gymnast reading this and freaking out, but as a former gymnast (albeit one never able to do many of the skills that Sey mastered before she turned 10) who lucked out on the coaching front, it just shows how the path could have been very different.

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posted by ket at 1:12 PM


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

math jokes rock

Ti: Indexed
Au: Jessica Hagy
Ed: paperback is it
Pub: 08/08?

The coolness of this book is automatically established by the coolness of the blog on which it is based. Also, the author is super cool and I was pleased to meet her recently at a siging during which I may have made a minor ninny of myself by fawning slightly, but she was just soo nice!


posted by ~e at 1:28 PM



Ti: Into Thin Air
Au: John Krakauer
Ed: Audio Bk

Bookmark - pause button or spacing out

Several groups of amateurs attempt to climb mount everest with commerical guides, a nasty storm shows up and bad choices abound. I found it a hard to listen to, especially the many many close calls that bad along with a few that went well.

What is a little amazing to me about this story and others is how much people seem to have forgotten that the world outside really is bigger than us. Weather will kick your ass. You shouldn't kite surf during tropical storms or drive when there's water on the road. Technology and equipment and the supposed human dominance of the world will not save you. And even though I do recognize that intellectually, reading this book there were so many times when I thought "HOW is it possible that someone so CLOSE to a tent couldn't have been saved? HOW is it possible that a person whose location is absolutely known can't be rescued?" So maybe I can understand a little bit why people can be so confidant about marching out into bad situations - you understand that your tiny speck of a self is really no match for nature, without really *believing* it.

It is pretty interesting to hear about this through the author, who was there, as it does give me a sense of how confusing the entire situation was. He really wasn't at all clear at the time about what was going on and only figured many of these things out later, after comparing notes with other survivors and doing some thinking when he had a little more oxygen available.

posted by ~e at 12:59 PM


Friday, August 22, 2008

PSA - questions as to the ownership of my soul

so, clearly, i like see previous praise and more praise.

and clearly, i was far too trusting: dang it.

i also like it's a lovely little site for referring customers who don't always grasp the concept of 'out of print.' and it supports indy booksellers.

or, at least it used to. (yeah, ok, it still does, but now with a bad aftertaste)

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posted by ~e at 10:17 PM


you too can turn your angst into a writing career...

Ti: Julie and Julia
Au:Julie Powell
Released in HC 2005

bookmark: i'm not very good at using bookmarks and generally just skimmed several pages until i could remember where i was...

food books are a new thing for me for whatever reason. with any hope, this will inspire me to cook more often. this book, in fact gave me the idea to make a goal of cooking at least one thing from each cookbook i own, as there is a nice sized bookcase of them in our dinner roomette.

Julie Powell has a crap job working as a secretary in an "unamed" government office in NYC right after 9/11, and this government office is rather heavily involved in dealing with the public's reaction to the event and it's aftermath. lofty as this sounds, she's a secretary who answers calls from nutcases and runs her butt of doing menial work. and most of her coworkers are big republicans. depressing all around.

on a visit home to texas she's inspired to steal her mother's copy of 'the art of french cooking' vol 1 by Julia Child, and endeavors to cook each and every recipe in the book in one year. her husbands suggests that she track her progress in using a novel new bit of technology - a BLOG.

through her adventures, Julie picks up blog readers ["bleaders"] and the attention of many media outlets. given the large number of blogs that are turned into books today, it makes me hope that some of those authors have read this book so that they can feel a little solidarity with Julie - it's a little odd to go from annonymous to famous for doing something in the privacy of your own home and assuming that no one is really paying attention.

anyway, i'm glad that the author was able to swing her blog into a book and that a former co-worker of mine recommended it and that i remembered that i wanted to read it when i spotted a remaindered copy in TN. i'm sure many people hanging out in the quarter-life crisis bubble can relate to the need to accomplish something when other parts of your life are not where you'd thought they'd be. a few of the memiors i've read lately that i've liked seem to have shared a common mode of communication, in which the authors feel free to share with the world the sort of crazy things that happen in their head, as opposed to just a narrative of what's happened in the lives. in this case, a crazy thing that may happen is completely loosing your sh!t over say, pastry dough, or doing an imitation of Julia Child aloud while cooking and not having ANY idea that you're doing it or remember it later.

also...if you read the book to the end, you'll find out a really good reason to keep up on your house keeping. i was quite motivated.

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posted by ~e at 8:49 PM


Friday, August 15, 2008

An Experiment in Slavery

Title: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. Volume 1: The Pox Party
Author: M.T. Anderson

A National Book Award Finalist, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing details the life of Octavian, a young slave, during the early days of the Revolutionary War. He is owned by Mr. Gitney, who is a member of the Novanglian College of Lucidity. Members of this college are very interested in the sciences and philosophy and in conducting all sorts of experiments, including those of questionable morality.

Octavian himself is an experiment - in the supposed inferiority of black people. Minute details of his life are recorded multiple times a day, including the weight of all that enters and leaves his body. He is taught Latin and Greek, and given an excellent classical education.

His mother, Cassiopeia, is said to be a princess in her homeland but she left it long ago when pregnant with Octavian. She is very beautiful and the men of the Novanglian College treat her like royalty.

Then, one fateful day, the patron of the Novanglian College dies, and his heir, Lord Cheldthorpe of the New Creation, visits to determine whether or not he should continue the support. He falls for Cassiopeia and wants to buy her and Octavian from Mr. Gitney. Cassiopeia has no interest in being a play toy and will only go if he marries her. Of course, he has no intention of marrying a slave, they fight, and he gets his revenge.

Left without money to support the College, Mr. Gitney resorts to engaging a businessman who has very different ideas about which experiments should be conducted, and how current experiments, including Octavian, should be handled. And life gets worse from there.

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posted by Kate at 5:32 PM


Monday, August 11, 2008


Title: The City of Ember
Author: Jeanne DuPrau

I saw this at the bookstore a few weeks ago when I was looking for a one-year-old's birthday present. I was immediately interested in this volume, and the two that follow it, and thus forgot the title as soon as I walked out the door. I remembered it when I saw that Bill Murray is starring in the movie this fall.

Ember is completely surrounded by darkness. Each night at nine the city's lights shut off, and there is only pitch blackness until six the next morning. They've lived like that for decades, but things are starting to get a little wonky. Lately, there have been more cases of blackouts, the longest lasting for just over three minutes. These are terrifying because if you're across town, you may not be able to find your way home--there is no such thing as a portable light in Ember. Adding to the problems, the city's storehouses, a vast catacombs beneath the streets holding everything the city should ever need, is running low on everything--especially light bulbs.

When children turn twelve, they graduate school, pick a job from a hat (literally), and enter the workforce. Doon wants a job as an electrician's apprentice so he can help to save his city from the impending catastrophic failure of the generator he believes is imminent. Lina wants to be a messenger, Ember's version of instant messenging. Doon soon realizes that the mysteries of electricity are far more complicated than anything else he's encountered--or anyone in Ember. Nobody seems to know how the generator works, only how to replace parts from the pile of spares in the storehouses. He becomes very distraught that he won't be able to save the city... until Lina finds the most important item in Ember, chewed into slobbery fragments by her baby sister.

I can't go much further without throwing some spoilers around, so here's the skinny: Lina and Doon have to save their world with fragments of clues while (eventually) pursued by the only law Ember has, which is naturally thoroughly corrupt (otherwise, saving the world would be too easy). I may have to blame J.K. Rowling for this. Does 12 seem to young to save the world? I mean, I was a pretty bright kid, but I'm not sure I could have saved all of society as I knew it at age twelve. Fourteen, maybe, but twelve??

Still a great read for a long afternoon. I look forward to the other two books, but I don't see how the movie is going to cover this story without really spoiling it. Some of the greatest, tensest moments in the book are the ones in pitch black, when the characters can't see anything and have to rely on touch, sound, and smell to figure things out. No matter how much money it might save by going to a black screen in a movie theater, they'll never do it as long as the book requires. I don't see how they're going to translate that successfully.

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posted by reyn at 12:22 PM


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Travel Books

Traveling is a distracting business. On planes, worries about connections, luggage, and sudden mechanical failures resulting in fiery explosions make me antsy. And things don’t get any better once I arrive at my destination (phew). I’m always either busy having oodles of fun, or occupied by sitting for endless hours in non-descript conference rooms, noting that the distant fountain I can see from the window surges upwards every 65 seconds. Life becomes very full.

This doesn’t leave me much time for reading. And when the opportunity does present itself, I’m usually too unfocused to really sink into a book that I’ve never read before. My mind is always too busy elsewhere. Still, it’s impossible for me to board a plane without actually bringing a book in tow. So, when traveling, I always make it a point to pack at least one book-friend.

A book-friend is one of those books I’ve read so many times it’s easy to open to any page, peruse only a few paragraphs, and still be delighted. My book-friends are wordy and fun, and generally star plucky heroines known for their intelligence. They are books I can live comfortably with, that distract me from any unnecessary worries and yet don’t keep me up late at night because I’m *dying* to know what happens. But best of all, they’re the sort of books that no matter how many times I’ve read them, I always manage to find something new and amusing in their pages.

I’ve been traveling a lot recently, which gave me the opportunity to re-read three book-friends. Two have already been reviewed (by me), and the third needs no explanation. So I’ll keep things brief.

Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers

Full Review

I re-read this one in patches, starting 2/3 of the way through with Lord Peter Wimsey’s initial appearance, and then going back to the beginning and reading what I’d missed. Although I know the “Lord Peter appears!” section of the book very well, I’m not as familiar with the portions where Harriet goes sleuthing on her own, and it was tons of fun to roam Oxford with her at night, and be sardonically amused with the falls, fumbles, and foibles of hapless undergraduates (and, sometimes, college dons). Always fantastic.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl

Full Review

I knew I would re-read this at some point, and it was just as good the second time around. Different, too, because I could pick out the clues I’d missed before. The acrobatic writing and cheeky academic references are still what make Pessl’s debut shine, because the plot in less competent hands would have been rather ho-hum. But when a writer uses sentences like “The black sky, pinpricked by light, couldn’t help but show off like Mozart at five,” I’ll always be coming back for more.

And, to Pessl’s great credit, I’m still uncertain of my feelings towards the heroine’s dad, whom I described in the scribbled margins of my copy as a “most lovable asshole academic.” When you’ve read a book twice and still find yourself in a love-hate relationship with one of the main characters, you know you’ve found something out of the ordinary.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

The best thing about re-reading Pride and Prejudice is coming across little gems that never made it into one of the (many) film adaptations. For example, Lizzy’s cynical and (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek description of how she looks forward to visiting the Collinses at Hunsford: “Thank Heaven! I am going tomorrow where I shall find a man who has not one agreeable quality, who has neither manner nor sense to recommend him. Stupid men are the only ones worth knowing, after all.”

She’ll be proven wrong, of course. But it’s still fun to see how.

p.s. – Sucked you in with the picture of the Airplane! poster, didn’t I? *grins*

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posted by Elizabeth at 3:31 PM


Friday, August 01, 2008

How do things like this get published?

The Death Dealer
by Heather Graham

This is the sequel to The Death Room, which, unfortunately, I didn't really discuss when I "reviewed" it (cop-out post).

In that one, Leslie's fiance Matt dies, and then she starts seeing/talking to ghosts, including him; there's also super-weird nights where she somehow has sex with a ghost. She almost falls for Matt's doppleganger cousin Joe during a period when she's attempting to help with archeological renovations in lower Manhattan, talking to ghosts who help her make "amazing" discoveries, and there's someone killing hookers, and at the end Leslie essentially sacrifices herself to save Genevieve, who's actually a social worker trying to save hookers who'd been held by the killer for a few weeks, and then she gets to be with Matt after all. Super-weird.

And in this one, she's still hanging around, providing interstitial narrator-type chapters. Someone's killing people in an Edgar Allen Poe club, and Genevieve's worried about her mom, who's a board member, and she's kept in touch with Joe, who's a PI, so they work to figure it out, and start to fall for each other, but both are worried that Joe's also still in love with the dead Leslie, and they also both start seeing/talking to ghosts, eventually calling in the professional ghost-people who helped Leslie in the first book, and at the end the killer's found and they realize they only love each other, and Mom survives, and then Leslie and Matt can finally rest. Again, super-weird.

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posted by ket at 8:52 PM


need to find better-quality reading materials

No Safe Place
by JoAnn Ross

Long-lost twins, a local crime boss, a disgraced ex-cop who's vindicated in the end (of course), and a whole lot of voodoo. Convoluted and (as always) rather eh.


posted by ket at 8:46 PM


Surprisingly Amusing

California Demon: The Secret Life of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom
by Julie Kenner

This book operates on the premise that the Vatican has a secret branch dedicated to hunting and killing demons. Kate, a demon-hunter since she was a teenaged orphan, gets roped back into duty when her small town in California starts being attacked. This is all a secret from her husband and children, though she did confide in her best friend.

It's all about the balance between normal suburban life (especially when dealing with a teenaged daughter) and a secret, super-agent mission. She manages rather well, identifying the demons who've taken over the bodies of the geezers in a local retirement home (and killing them), storing bodies of dead demons in the trunk of her car until they can be disposed of, and uncovering a plot to bring a super-demon out of a book and into the world.

There's a weird sub-plot where Kate deals with a teacher at her daughter's school who reminds her a great deal of her deceased (via mugger, not a demon) first husband. Coincidentally, he too is a demon hunter, though he's not officially sanctioned by the church, and helps take down the super-demon at the end (is that really a spoiler? it's rather obvious she'll succeed...).

There's a nice conclusion, but it also sets up the next book rather well. Kate has to figure out what's up with this teacher, since (ok, this part's a spoiler) she's afraid her husband used dark magic while dying to take over another person's body, and that the teacher is actually her husband. More importantly, taking down the super-demon involved revealing her secret life to her daughter, who now wants to become an apprentice; considering Kate started her training at the same age, it'll be hard to say no...

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posted by ket at 8:37 PM