Sunday, August 7, 2011

Week 29: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach

OK guys. This book is effing weird. Like, I think it might be propaganda for some weird cult that believes in some weird seagull god. It's trippy. I mean, I enjoyed it, it was sort of an epic mind journey. But I don't really get it, per se. It's about a seagull named Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Yeah, he's got three names. He lives in a flock of seagulls but feels as though he doesn't fit in with the others. He loves to fly, and wants to spend all of his time flying. The other seagulls fly, but only to catch food. They don't love flying the way Jonathan Livingston Seagull does. He continues to fly around all night, flouting all the seagull rules, and before he knows it he is in hot water. He's forced to stand before the seagull council who rules that he must be banished from the flock. Off he goes, into the sky, far away from his flock. He starts a new, solitary life. Then, some other seagulls from outer space come get him and bring him away from Earth to meet their seagull leader, Chiang. People, I am dead serious here. So Chiang basically extols Jonathan Livingston Seagull (I'll refer to him as JLS from now on, like one of those Hollywood celebrities) and tells him that he has a special gift, his love of flying and his flying skills. They teach him how to fly better. Then he returns to Earth and helps other seagulls who have been outcast by encouraging them to be themselves. It's an interesting story in the sense that I was not bored reading it. I was, at times, confused - is this a children's book? Was the author high? Is this an allegory for some bigger tale? Then I looked it up online and found out that not only was a movie made of this book, but it inspired an album. An album by NEIL DIAMOND. I feel like I'm missing something. I'm so confused! I welcome JLS's life lessons, but perhaps I'm not ready to receive them yet. Perhaps one day I will be.

Week 28: Tour De France for Dummies, by Phil Liggett, James Raia, and Sammarye Lewis

I got this book to complement my aforementioned annual Tour de France bender. Although my mania for the Tour puts my knowledge of the event way out of the league of "dummies", I purchased this book with the hope that it might acquaint me with some of the nitty-gritty rules and regulations that I wanted to become more familiar with. One of the authors, Phil Liggett, is the premier announcer for the Tour. He's charismatic, enthralling, and beloved by cycling fans. Also, the foreword of the book is written by Lance Armstrong. So, I figured that these all must be good signs, right? Well, kind of. The book, as its name implies, is indeed for dummies. Dummies who make spelling and grammatical errors (Editing for Dummies, anyone?). It's not especially consistent, and manages to be boring at times, yet never really gets into the minutiae and details that I was craving. It seems to glaze the entire event with a thick layer of mediocrity. It's not terrible, and it's certainly a good primer for someone who truly doesn't know anything about the Tour. Parts of it are interesting, such as the rundowns of the most dramatic Tour moments, or the best climbs. But there's just something goofy about it. I enjoyed reading this book and found it fun, but in terms of information, I think the Tour de France Wikipedia page has Tour de France for Dummies beat.

Week 27: Boy Racer: My Journey to Tour de France Record-Breaker, by Mark Cavendish

So here I sit, reflecting on this year-long reading challenge, realizing that updating the blog on a regular basis is proving more tricky than the reading! The reading is just a given - the blog takes more of a concerted effort. But I do enjoy having this evolving documentation of the whole process, so it's worth it, to me. At any rate, here come a few rapid-fire book reviews! First off is Boy Racer, by Mark Cavendish. Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that bikes are a pretty big part of my life. That being said, I love the Tour de France. I mean, I LOVE it. Jamie and I don't have cable, but every July we get cable for one single month in order to watch the Tour coverage. Last year, I was in Paris for the final stage on the Champ-Elysees, and it was an experience I will never forget. I thought I would commemorate this very special time of year by reading a couple of books that are related to the Tour. Cavendish is a great cyclist, with a big personality, so it seems natural that he would write a book documenting his rise to fame. At a young age, this sprinter is already closing in on the all-time record of the most stage wins in the Tour de France. He's got an incredibly healthy sense of self-esteem, and is often brash and unrestrained in interviews. He's prone to swearing as well as breaking down in tears, prompting me to refer to him as Crybaby several times over the years. He reminds me in some ways of Lance Armstrong, in the sense that he's got this persona that sometimes overshadows his cycling. His book chronicles his upbringing in the Isle of Man (his nickname is "The Manx Missile") and his introduction to cycling. We learn about his constant struggle with authority as well as his difficulty with controlling his weight. The reader starts to understand that Cavendish's main motivation is the intense pressure he puts on himself. He's a perfectionist, of sorts, and very self-effacing - he's the first one to admit how stubborn and volatile he can be; additionally, he often refers to himself as "fat" and details rides in which he is struggling to keep pace. His accounts of key Tour moments is totally engaging and exciting. Certain details had me holding my breath as I read them. The man can write, and I think that anyone who is even remotely interested in professional cycling will find this book to be a delight.