…that come in 35 hour-long packages of audiobook awesomeness that can easily make your day. Anna Karenina as read by Maggie Gyllenhaal was released by Audible today. Which I probably would have bought for the retail price $40, y’know, if I didn’t have a credit to spend. And, that too: I would have totally paid a full credit for that book, one of my favorite books read by an actress I respect, y’know, had I not been given the awesome you-already-own-the-ebook discount. So… best two bucks I ever spent.
I’ve been lurking in a lamentable state of mind as the realities of life and mortality clashes and crash and push things about in unsatisfactory ways. Running has become my anchor, if nothing else but biochemically slicing off both the peaks and valleys, so when life is too busy to run properly the waves tend to get pretty big.
I didn’t get out until after nine at night, the sun threatening to drop below the horizon before I even found my turnaround point. The sluggish drag of too much sluggishness, too much eating, too much sitting, too much too-muching, all of it was adding lead to my soles… to my souls.
I had stepped out the door, literally had not even started my watch, and Sam randomly and dissonantly drove by with his big, dopey grin, giving a parabolic wave and letting his bandanna flap in the breeze from his open window. That made me grin, if for no other reason than at the randomness.
So I pressed play on my headphones –a new audiobook for a new month, some Gabriel García Márquez– and pressed start on my watch, and I ran.
Seven klicks in the lingering but uncertain heat. Seven klicks in my own head, a mental game not unlike REM sleep where and when the burdens and harangues of the day get packed away and processed. Seven klicks of junk but purposeful movement. Seven klicks of much needed solitude.
June moves into the home stretch! And onward we push through those thirty posts nearing the end of what I’ve been writing every year this month. For the fifth year in a row I’m back to a month of daily blogging: each day a new post on a new topic, but on the same blog-per-day topic as last year, creating another set of Those 30 Posts in June. Today, that post just happens to be about something that I want:
To Read… Dangerously
Did you happen to recall that I’m reading a lot of books this year? I won’t bore you with the specifics in this particular post (I’ll save that for a later one) other than to note that between daily blogging and the prompt arrival of summer, I haven’t quite made it through the last hundred pages or so of my current book… but I’m striving for week’s end.
Really. No… really.
I’m motivated. Refreshingly so.
As it happens I picked up a “daily deal” audiobook the other day that struck up my interest not because I could add it to my list of twenty-five novels to read this year. No. In fact, it’s a non-fiction audiobook, the two specific qualifiers that specifically exclude it from my list.
But, that stated, it is aptly applicable to the reading project because it is a book about exactly that. Reading.
Go ahead… insert yawn here. I know you’re thinking about it.
Actually, the book caught my attention because it’s this: titled “The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life” (by –notthat– Andy Miller) the author tells the story in a self-reflective quasi-journal sort of fashion about how, upon entering his mid-thirties and struggling with the monotony of commuting, parenting, working, and too many games of sudoku, he felt compelled to nourish his brain by getting through a short list of books he’d compiled to read before to was too late.
Presumably this changes his life (I don’t know as I haven’t yet finished the book.)
Yet, a third of the way through this curious little story, written by an eerily kindred spirit somewhere far across the sea, I hear echos of my own motivations and layered purpose in trying to slog through my own (shorter) list of novels inside of this particular year. I don’t know that I’m reading quite that dangerously, but I am reading similarly for both the trivial and not-so-trivial factors that seem to drive Miller to feed his brain with something besides spreadsheets and business emails.
a mash-up of commuting & (listening to) music
Every day I ride the train to and from work and every day I sit amongst hundreds of my fellow commuters as we speed nearly soundlessly down the tracks towards our various jobs. No one speaks. We all clutch our devices either reading, playing little games, or listening with our ears plugged into little private soundtracks pulsing from our players into and drowning out the world around us.
I’m among them, of course.
I put on some music or play a podcast or crank up an audiobook.
But apart from peaking over the shoulders of some unsuspecting stranger, an act that is just as like to get me a stern look as a slap in the face, I can’t do much to figure out to what everyone else around me is listening.
#100happydays #dailyhappy (19/100) … listening to the dramatization audiobook of “12 Angry Men” and then listening to it again, all over one more time. And knowing that I only paid 99 cents for it. #dailydeal
Once more it is June. Again. And again I embark upon that epic effort of daily blogging, take three, wherein I call upon myself for a kind of rambling focus, picking from a list of daily topics, and with neither planning nor advance writing, strive to pepper this blog with the free-thought, free-writing wonder that is another one of Those 30 Posts in June. Today, that post just happens to be:
June 3rd // Something You Have Read
I might gush a little bit here, but if I’ve never recommended the Neal Stephenson book Anathem to you prior to today, then here you go: duly recommended.
It’s been nearly five years since the release of that mind-bending, spec-fiction epic, a book I first “read” as an audio-book download a few months after it came out, and in the span of time since I personally have gone back to the novel now… I’m gonna say… six times, in various forms. I own at least three copies of the massive tome, legally — Kindle, Audible, and hard-cover — and as such it has become my “go to” book, my having it hanging around novel that I can pick up and read from when I just need something to listen to or read from.
I’ve read it, re-read it, re-read it again, then read it some more in bits-and-pieces, and despite a tip-of-the-tongue feeling that I should be able to better explain why that is, I find myself stuck for a clear and precise explanation of what got me hooked.
It’s a dense novel, for a start. I find new things in every time I read it. New ideas pop from the narrative and new things to think about tumble out of the pages (or headphones, whatever) with each passing consumption of the story. It is one part philosophical thinker, one part speculation on quantum physics, one part coming-of-age-novel, and it is peppered generously with dystopian-tinted sidelong glances at a circus fun-mirror kinda of reflection of ourselves. And if I told you anything else, I’d just be ruining the fun.
It is odd, though, that we find books like this to latch ourselves onto. I don’t know that everyone does that, but I assume that somewhere, everywhere, people find themselves with stories or bits of modern media that become touch-points, comfort-reads, or fall-backs for with we find ourselves relaxing and just slumping into a zone. Or maybe it’s just that I’m getting older and this is what happens to my generation, a generation that’s been raised on seemingly unlimited fiction and boundless abundance of mass media; We roll ourselves into a metaphorical ball and narrow that consumption into a mediated, controlled, and predictable influx.
Or maybe I just really like the book.
It’s odd. I was sitting here this evening contemplating writing a short (two line) review of a novel I just finished listening to, a novel I’d alluded to in a handful of previous “running” posts because I’d been listening to it while I’ve been out and about running the last couple of weeks. I contemplating writing this post and — as is my inclination in such projects — I started Googling aspects of the novel as a bit of a refresher. Googling led me to Wikipedia, and as Wikipedia tends to do, this quickly led me to the author’s page.
I’m not exactly one to believe in the epic, random interconnectedness of all things. I mean, coincidences happen: get over it. It’s only that Courtenay’s novels, at least the one’s I’ve read, are usually stories of (to borrow a phrase) the circle of life. They’re grand narratives of regular people who do big things, and how those things shape their lives and ultimately their deaths. And important people, characters who have had significant and plot-driving roles in Courtenary’s novels (spoiler alert) tend to die as the books move towards their climax. It is in so many ways a terrible loss to literature that he passed, but it is so soon after reading his novel that for me my brain is still (somehow) processing it as just another an odd twist of that plot.
Not that it has anything whatsoever to do with me. I just doesn’t.
For whatever reason I’ve often made an exception in reading Courtenay novels. Anyone who knows me might also know that I don’t read a lot of general fiction; I’m a science fiction reader at heart and tend to lean towards the grand, philosophic journeys offered by speculative narratives set in the future or in alternate histories. But, for whatever reason, I got into Courtenay novels a dozen or so years ago and have been consuming them at a slow but steady pace ever since. They have been a kind of grounding for me. So different from my normal buffet of zombies-plague, post-apocalyptic, space-battle, hacker-dystopian fare that almost feel I need to occasionally read one just to centre my own world in something more real.
And yet there it is. Another of what I could fairly consider one my favourite authors has vanished, another gem of literature has written his last masterpiece. He could hold a mirror towards humanity so that we could all get a good look, a proper look at what we should see and understand about ourselves, and it seems to me to be such a rare gift. Fortunately he left much of himself behind: and you should read some of that. In fact, fellow Canadians, his last story turned that mirror on us, in a novel set in Toronto: Jack of Diamonds.
Above image is of a eucalyptus fire, a major plot element in the novel Four Fires. Borrowed from the Australian Government Geoscience Gallery
It’s Remembrance Day in Canada: November 11, when we pay maybe just a moment — or maybe a whole day’s worth — of homage to the memory and sacrifice of the wars, past, present and future, that have shaped our freedoms, defined our nation, and enabled the society we too often take for granted here in the twenty-first century.
I celebrated my freedom in the most humbling way I know how: by communing with the streets and trails of my beautiful and free city in a pair of running shoes. I also put on a pair of headphones and continued listening to a really great audiobook called Four Fires by Bryce Courtenay, which is not only a tale of small-town under-dogged perseverance in nineteen-fifties and sixties outback Australia, but (at coincidentally and precisely the stretch I listened to this morning) a heart-wrenching story of post-traumatic stress syndrome and its consequences on the protagonist’s family following a World War II POW experience. It was apt listening for a Remembrance Day morning, I would say.
It was also very cold. It was twenty-one degrees Celsius below zero when I climbed out of my car at seven-thirty, just before the sunrise flashed a crest of warm yellow light peeking over the frosty horizon. I almost climbed back in and drove home. Went to bed. Cuddled up with the dog on the couch. Anything other than this…
I had adjusted my plans last night. My group (no longer seriously training for anything in particular) had anted up with a ten-klick route via the regular email. I, with only a few weeks until my half marathon in Las Vegas, was still needing to get a couple more long training runs in before that. Specifically, I was shooting for something in the neighborhood between sixteen and twenty klicks today — despite the cold and despite the pain. Try convincing someone who doesn’t need to, to run that distance with you in this weather. Not going to happen. So, I hit the meetup point an hour early and all on my own did a long, slow, and icy jaunt around our standard seven-and-a-half-plus route before the first of my fellow runners arrived. That was at seven-thirty.
My face was numb.
By eight-thirty, my effort and some random detours had clocked me just under eight kilometers and was sitting in the entrance of the recreation centre. My face was numb. My first (of three) layers was damp and cold from sweat. My toque had turned from its standard black to a crisp shade of speckled frost. And my face mask was crunchy to the touch. I peeled most of it off and spent most of a fifteen minute intermission between running episodes drying it off as best as possible in the rec centre’s washroom hand driers.
More folks arrived. Everyone had one of those “can you believe we’re actually out here today” moments. And then we were off… me, again.
Alone, I had done a simple, sidewalk-based loop. It was freshly plowed. It was cold, but quiet, and a little icy but nothing a little fancy footwork couldn’t handle. I had my iPod going with my audiobook. Apart from that last stretch when my fingers got a little chilly and the face mask had stopped clinging properly against my skin, its elasticity turned to a frozen air-chute actually directing the freezing air against my right cheek… apart from that it was all good.
There were twelve of us who braved the second round.
There were twelve of us who braved the second round. We trudged off the main roads, we sauntered into the scraped asphalt trails in the power-corridor, and then Mary led us into the Whitemud Creek valley against our better judgement.
In the past few days it has snowed anywhere between a half to a full foot worth of heavy, wet snow. Most major routes have been scraped or plowed. Other minor routes have merely been foot-tramped by brave explorers beating down a narrow, single file path of boot-prints on otherwise metre-wide winding forest trails. These trails are awesome in the summer, spectacular to behold in the autumn, and a welcome in change from the monotony of the street running come spring. We usually avoid them in the winter. But not today: The middle half of our group run took place on one of these valley trails, the untouched snow clinging to the bare branches of countless trees, a fractal ice pattern blanketing the water on the creek, and nothing but the crunch of snow breaking the bold silence of the mid-urban wilderness. But it was a hard run as well: breathtaking in sights as well as effort. By the time we reached the five-klick turn-around point somewhere close to under the Whitemud-Snow-Valley Bridge, we had trimmed our numbers down to just five brave men — or, well, four brave men and silly old me.
Running in a snowy, foot-tramped bush trail is an exercise in endurance, balance, patience, and pain: we dashed at something just below a race-pace, the cold air numbing our faces and lungs. Attention needs to focus between both what lays ahead, as you are running in close quarters with other people at a good clip, and what lays below, as the narrow path of firm-packed trail is bordered on either side by a pristine edging of foot-deep snow. One step only just slightly to the side and your balance is rocked, sending you stumbling for a few footfalls. One big step to the side and you’re up past your ankles in cold powder, a misstep that is not only enough to send you tripping and potentially rolling, but chills your toes even more, toes which are only just barely warm enough to feel the creeping burn of the cold.
I’d balled my hands into tight warm fists in the palms of my mitts…
I forgot to mention that having earlier in the morning soaked through the first layer of mitts I brought, and that soaking causing a chilling of my fingers probably more than not wearing gloves at all, I’d resorted to using just the shells of the second pair and stuffing the wet ones into my jacket pocket. But it was only a minor improvement and six or seven klicks into the run, my fingers were more numb than my face (which I remarked to Daryl felt like I’d only just left the dentist’s office) so I’d balled my hands into tight warm fists in the palms of my mitts. This made them warmer, but left me worried that — should I trip and fall in the trails — I would have gone down face first into a tree or at least a good-sized snow bank before I could have reacted properly with my hands.
It’s funny what you end up thinking about.
It’s funny what the cold and an epic trail run, communing with the snow and the ice on a frozen November morning will fill your brain to capacity with and leave you yearning for anything but that moment, even though it is that moment — and moments just like that — that you’ve been quietly yearning for since you started this. It is, after all, those moments of struggle and pain and perseverance that define the great things we do whether as individuals or as a society, and those bigger moments of struggle and pain and perseverance — and not my silly moments on the trails, but the larger moments of war and bravery and folks standing up for what they believe in, whatever they believe in — that we need to step back and remember today.
But in the end we survived. We pulled out of the creek valley and back into the power corridor, and hobbled our way back to the shed. My watch, as I clicked it to stop, the frosty display taking an extra half-second to react due to the cold, pausing as I clicked over to a little more than a daily total of seventeen-point-five kilometers: a hot coffee, a hot shower, and multiple layers of warm, dry clothes have never felt so wonderful.