Tuesday, July 28, 2015

SRM WEEK 16 OF 20: Yellow Flags...

Greeting from the Inland Empire! Try not to be jealous that my life is all glamour, all the time.

Also, MAN, things got weird and/or real this week.

Weird-ness and/or Real-ness Factor #1: Remember a couple of weeks ago when I was like, "La la la, this training cycle is SOOOO easy, what are people even complaining about all the time???" Well; let the record show that this week was marked by a couple of days when I Just Could Not, from the first couple of miles in. (I mean, I'm not saying I Didn't in all cases; just that I reallllly didn't want to.) Not because I was doing anything hard, even; my body just felt like I was starting every run at the 15 mile mark. I'm calling this one "bad news and good news;" bad news because it sucks, but good news because I'm pretty sure that it's mostly due to the fact that I've run over 40 miles for the last 4 weeks in a row and I literally cannot remember the last time that happened.

Weird-ness and/or Real-ness Factor #2: I've had this weird sensation on some of my harder runs lately where my body is exhausted, and I can feel it's exhausted, and I soooo very badly want to not be running, and yet...physically it kinda just doesn't seem that bad? The legs just kind of keep chugging, even though I feel like I should be slogging? I feel like this is maybe the flip side of #1, so again, I'm calling it bad news & good news.

Weird-ness and/or Real-ness Factor #3: For the first time this training cycle (!), I didn't get all my weekly mileage in. And while that sucks, I am still pretty darn happy with the fact that I managed to go 15 weeks before it happened. I didn't miss any runs (I've still only missed one this entire cycle), and when I cut things short this week, I did it for good reasons.

One of the reasons is slightly more concerning than the other. For the last couple of weeks, I've had this tender little lump on my left tibia, and I know it's a result of putting more stress on that part of my leg since I've been working on using my left arch correctly. What I can tell you for sure is that it's NOT a stress fracture (something I learned when I had one last year was that once you've had one, you never mistake something else for it ever again), but it's definitely a spot I've been paying attention to because I very very much want it to not BECOME one.

On Sunday I was supposed to run 16 miles (a cut-back long run), and for the first time, that spot kinda-sorta hurt enough that I thought very hard about how important it was to finish that run. I went back & forth about how far I was willing to go on it, and then the pain would go away for a while but come back after stopping at a light, then go away again, then come back. And eventually I settled on two thoughts:

    1) I kept flashing back to fall 2013 when I was training for NVM the first time around, and had some mild pain in my calf, and kept pushing through it, and it got worse, and I kept pushing through it, and then by Christmas I DID have a stress fracture & couldn't run again for 2 months.

    2) I could not help but think back to exactly one year ago to the day, training for the same race, & running 18 miles on a sketchy not-totally-healed hip because I was having panic attacks about not getting in every single mile of every single run. Afterward I got on a plane for the same work trip, and by the time I got off I couldn't put weight on that leg and couldn't run for that entire week.

So yeah; those two thoughts together were enough for me to declare those 16 miles just Not That Important relative to a thing that is hurting a month out from your goal race. I keep reminding myself that Coach Tom has said my training plan is designed with the assumption that I will do 90% of it, and if one is going to fall short by a few miles so that certain bones can fully recover, the week in between two big long runs seems like a pretty good time to do it.



~*~*~SRM WEEK 16 OF 20~*~*~

Grand Total: 33 miles

    * 24.75 easy
    * 7.5 speed/tempo

Monday: Rest

    Man, déjà vu all over again. Busted feet first thing in the morning, work insanity, & no karate. :(

Tuesday: 1.75 warm up, 5 x 800 alternating 5K pace & marathon pace, 1 cool down = 5.25 total

    Speed work at Kezar with SF Track Club. The assigned workouts are usually shorter than what RunCoach has me doing on a regular basis, so I've been trying to arrive ~20 minutes early & stay a little later to get in some extra mileage. No time for that today, so this one ended up being on the short side.

    When Coach Tom explained this workout, it sounded kind of hard to me, especially given that my legs were still feeling heavy after Sunday's 21 miler & my warm-up had been in the 10:30 pace range. The idea of running even one 7:15 800m just did not sound like something my legs were up to. And although 8:15 is certainly more comfortable than 7:15, it's not what I usually think of as "recovery pace." So, I had told my training partner (who was watching our pace) that he was free to give me a verbal kick in the ass if at any point I started to lag.

    But then a funny thing happened. We started our first fast 800m & my legs just kind of took over. I mean yes, there was effort, but it really did not feel that hard, & we actually finished every fast interval in more like the 6:58 range than 7:15. And the 8:15 "slow" intervals that I had been worried about feeling hard (which were more like 7:45's, I think) felt weirdly comfortable. The whole thing was over before I knew it & I finished feeling like I could have gone a few more rounds with no problem.

    So, like. Not sure what's up with that.

Wednesday: 5 easy / karate

    Feeling very antsy & uneasy with Tuesday's short workout so got in a few easy miles before karate. I think the mileage was fine but the timing maybe was not, because...

Thursday: 10 6 easy

    OMG. I can't remember the last time a run felt this bad. Not painful, but like I had lead in my shoes--just dragging myself through every step. And also kind of lightheaded. And just exhausted. (See: #1 above.) When I just feel "Ugh," I almost always push through whatever I had planned, but this just felt on a whole other level. I mean, I still *could* have dragged myself through the entire 10 miles without killing myself, but I had a big interval workout the next day & I kind of felt like I was in a situation where I had to make a choice between the two. In the end I decided to cut this one short (which was still REALLY hard) in hopes of not being a wreck for the intervals.

    I doubt this was PURELY because of running 5 miles the day before when it's usually a rest day, but between that & two weeks of several bigger, longer runs, I think the cumulative effect just hit me particularly hard that day.

Friday: 2 warm up, 6 x 1 mile @ 10K pace / 1:30 jog, 2 cool down = 10.75.

    I would have preferred to do this one at the track so it would be easier to hit the right pace consistently, but the logistics of the day dictated otherwise. Womp womp. So, I got to do these on rolling hills while dealing with pedestrians & a good bit of wind. As a result my pace was all over the place between 7:15 & 7:35. I tried to stick to the right level of effort, though, & was (thankfully!) able to finish the whole workout with no problem. (Though MAN did it wipe me out. See #2 above.)

Saturday: Rest

    I am not too proud to admit I toyed with the idea of getting in some easy miles to make up for the lost ones on Thursday, but was then reminded by my achey legs not to be a frickin dumbass.

Sunday: 16 long 6 easy

    See #3 above. Uggggghhhh this was frustrating. I had a 2:30 flight so was feeling smug about how I'd gotten up at 8:00 on a weekend to get the run done beforehand. Things started out pretty schlubby (I think my first mile was almost 11:00; see #1 above) which kind of seemed like par for the course this week. But, over time, even though my body still felt exhausted, I got into a rhythm & weirdly felt like I could run comfortably for a long time. (See #2 above) So yeah. It was super frustrating to feel like I needed to stop when I was otherwise totally capable of getting it done, but I'm trying to be mature about it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

SRM WEEK 15 OF 20: The Dudette Abides

It's kind of incredible to me that in three more weeks I'll be tapering. I feel like with most marathon training cycles in the past, I'd get to the halfway point & be like GAWD TAPER CANNOT COME FAST ENOUGH. But this time it feels more like, really? Already? Maybe it's just because I've had this race on my mind for nearly a year now, so although I've officially been calling it a 20 week cycle, mentally it's been more like 50 weeks.

Work- & sleep-wise this week was kind of a shit show, but somehow I managed to get all the miles in, including the second of three 20+ long runs. And if I wasn't excited about last week's warm & sunny 21 in the upper 70s & full sun, let me tell you how thrilled I was when I got up this Sunday & the weather app on my phone read 86F. (This reminded me that I'd meant to do the whole Osmo pre-load thing but totally forgot about it Saturday night; I did the 30 minutes pre-workout dose but I'm not really sure how much good it does without the initial dose as well.)

I definitely made a bee-line from my oven of a neighborhood down to Ocean Beach, where thankfully it was a little cooler & there was the occasional breeze. Because of the temperature difference I ended up doing laps of the west side of the park rather than the east side as usual; of course, there is a reason I don't usually lap the west side, and that's because it features some really long, big hills that range from unpleasant to truly WTF (or that at least feel kind of WTF once you're 2+ hours in on a hot day).


How hot was it? People were swimming. In the Pacific. IN SAN FRANCISCO.

In retrospect, I don't know if this was the greatest idea. Yes, it was slightly cooler, but man, those hills took a lot out of me, and by the time I got to mile 15 I was definitely having one of those "I just cannot even" moments. (But actually, more like, "I just cannot even. Yet, I continue to anyway." So it was kind of a mental repeat of that for the last hour.) Not gonna lie that I got through the last mile by counting down blocks. (1 block = ~.1 miles.)

So yeah. Part of me wants to be like, "This run was stupid hard," except that I feel like that's less relevant than the fact that this run was probably exactly what it was supposed to be: Hard like last week, except even harder, given that it came on the heels of a higher-mileage week, a long speed/tempo session two days before, and another 21 miler just a week before. On the other hand, though, I think it was maybe a little easier mentally.

On the plus side, in spite of the fact that it was hotter & I was probably sweating more & drinking just as much or more, I never got the sloshy stomach action, so maybe the Osmo pre-load did something? The only other real excitement was tripping over a curb 3.5 miles in & wiping out spectacularly by the Conservatory of Flowers.

If you're going to nearly face-plant & lacerate the crap out of your knees & hands, though, I wholly recommend doing so in front of a tourist equipped with anti-bacterial wipes. Even then, I'm pretty sure I had blood dripping down my legs on & off for the next hour or so.

~*~*~SRM WEEK 15 OF 20~*~*~

Grand Total: 47 miles

    * 16.5 easy
    * 9.5 speed/tempo
    * 21 long

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: 2.65 warm up, 10 x 200m @ 5K pace/ 200m jog, 1.85 cool down = 7 total

    Speed work at Kezar with SF Track Club. (Though...I have to say that this workout felt either too easy or too short or both. I feel like if I was going to run 200m's I should have been running them faster than 5K pace & probably more than 10. Ah well.)

Wednesday: strength work

    Again, karate was foiled by work. But also my feet were killing me barefoot again, so I'm not sure whether I would have ended up going. Also, for all that Tuesday did not feel like all that hard a workout, I was REALLY sore in the adductors & hips.

Thursday: 8 easy

    Work & lack of sleep were killing me by Thursday afternoon and oh man. How badly did I NOT want to do this run? I was nodding off as I finished my work day & actually decided that I needed a nap before there was any chance of my finishing a run without running into a lamp post or tripping over a curb & face planting spectacularly. (Plenty of time for that on the weekend.) I was still pretty sore & so the beginning of this run felt AWFUL (like seriously...I think my first mile was not even sub-11), but it got a little better & by the end I no longer wanted to stab myself in the face.

Friday: 2 warm up, 2 x 1200m @ 10K pace / 1:30 jog, 30:00 @ GMP, 2 x 1200m @ 10K pace / 1:30 jog, 2 cool down = 11.

    At this point in the week I was so sleep deprived & exhausted that it was *almost* (but not quite) funny. Leaving work I was kind of halfway between dreading this run and being sort of indifferent & resigned to it. Like, "Of course it's going to suck. And...?" But the weird thing was that it didn't. I mean, the first intervals uphill & into the wind, sure; that sucked. And none of the tempo parts were easy. But my brain just felt kind of numb to & distant from it, like it was sucking but I kind of didn't really care that it was sucking. And afterward, I actually felt pretty much fine. Way better than after Thursday's run, anyway!

Saturday: Rest

Sunday: 21 long

Same overall mileage next week, but a cut-back on long run day--only 16 miles. So luxurious!!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Matters of the Foot

A few weeks ago I mentioned this article by ultra-runner/coach/PT Joe Uhan, posted by the baddass fellow runner I've been doing some strength training with lately (though...not all that lately because I am lame). Everything in the article sounded spookily familiar re: the problems I've had with my right leg over the last couple of years, and based on that & some other observations my strength trainer has made, I was willing to at least consider the possibility that root the cause was not actually in my right hip but in my left foot. (Here is the post where I explained more about why.)

Step 1 was to fix what my left foot was doing. It's been a few years since it was outright terrible, but after reading the Uhan article, it was pretty clear that I still have a problem. No, I don't run on the absolute outside edges of my feet anymore, but by default I *definitely* do not let my foot roll through all the way onto the arch & let that inner part of my foot bear most of my weight as I push off with my left leg. (And according to the article, you must do this in order to have any chance of engaging your left glutes.)

I don't even do this when I walk. And if I'm just standing, I inevitably catch myself rolling my feet outward & standing with my weight on the outer edges of my feet. I've done this for as long as I can remember, since I was a kid. I don't know if it's something about the way my ankles work or if certain tendons or ligaments or whatever on the inside are just too tight, but it is definitely NOT super comfortable for me to bear weight on my arches, particularly the left one.

I know changing form/foot strike things are super hard for a lot of people but it's something I've done consciously several times in my life and thankfully I've always found it pretty easy. So basically, as soon as I read the Uhan article, I started trying to pay super close attention every time I was on my feet--standing, walking, running, whatever--and make sure I was ALWAYS rolling all the way in so that I was pushing off with my weight born by my arch.

Pretty much immediately, the pain on my inner left foot, kind of between my ankle & arch that plagued me occasionally during my NVM training (when I was having absolutely no right leg problems whatsoever, HMMM) immediately came back. I suspected that the fact that I hadn't been using my arch correctly probably meant it was not as strong as it should be, so this wasn't really surprising.

I think we can all agree that trading one injury for another counts as #notwinning, so I took Uhan's advice & 1) started doing the recommended arch strengthening exercises (which you can find at the bottom of the article), & 2) started taping my left foot for arch support (in hopes that eventually it would be strong enough that I wouldn't need to).

ADVENTURES IN FOOT-TAPING

Sadly, Uhan did not explain in the article exactly how he went about taping the runners' feet, but I figured I could just google "how to tape runner's foot for arch support." Sadly, this returned about 10 different methods from the fairly simple to the devilishly complex. Now I am no expert at KT tape, so I decided to give one of the simplest methods a shot first.

This first method involved simply taking two lengths of tape ~4-5 squares in length & taping them around the foot:

My version (post-trail run):

On my first try, it basically felt like nothing; I couldn't even tell the tape was there. The instructions say the tape should be at about 50% tension, but only way I could make it work at all was by pulling the tape as tight as I could. (I was worried it would be too tight & cut off circulation, but that never happened.) This proved okay for shorter, easier runs but just really did not seem to stand up to track workouts or long runs (and DEFINITELY not to 2.5 hour trail runs!). So, after a couple of week of this, I went back to the drawing board, by which I mean YouTube.

The second method I tried was this one, which you may notice is massively more complicated & requires a solid five minutes of cutting & slicing tape & painstakingly pulling & smoothing it into place.

And here's my version:

As soon as I put my shoe on & stood up, I noticed an immediate difference in how supported my foot felt. Even just walking, it was so much easier and comfortable to bear my weight on the inside of my foot instead of the outside. And with running, suddenly it was way, WAY easier to roll onto my arch and engage my left glutes without a dull pain shooting through my left heel and ankle.

For maybe three weeks I taped my foot up like this religiously, for every run, without fail. Yes, it was annoying and time-consuming and required close to an entire roll of KT tape per week, but it also freaking WORKED.

After Sunnyvale, I decided to try an easy run tape-free & see if my foot was maybe up to the challenge at this point. I was able to run 8 easy miles using my arch correctly (I think?) with no pain in my right hip & only a little in my left foot/ankle, which seemed like a big improvement. That week I think I only taped it for speed work & long runs, & just recently have been experimenting with going tape-free with those as well.

The results have been mixed. On the plus side, I can land on my left foot & use my glutes the right way with little to no pain almost all the time, even doing speed work or on long runs. The downside is that I clearly still have some kind of left foot dysfunction, or my arch just isn't quite as strong as it needs to be yet, because MAN, the mornings after a harder or longer run can be brutal. My feet (both, but much more so the left) are sometimes so sore first thing in the morning that I kind of wish I had crutches. Thankfully they warm up after about ten minutes or so & by the time the next run rolls around they seem to be fine, but wow. Just some really, really uncomfortable moments first thing in the morning. So for now, I think I will probably go back to taping it for speed & long runs, at least some of the time, just so I can, like, walk in the morning.

BUT BUT BUT. The issues with my right hip? Essentially gone. (I mean I doubt it will ever be 100% normal again, but the pain & discomfort with running seems to be gone.)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

[That one women's activewear brand] is Planning My Yoga Getaway to Rio

Man, it is just like me to write a post about how great I feel and how easy my training has been, up to & including 21 warm-ish miles, & then basically crash for a week. Part of this is due to work, which is really stressful right now & taking up a lot of my time & causing me to not get enough sleep. Basically this week I've done nothing but work, sleep, & run, & not really in a super-structured way; more just juggling them all around & fitting them in when & where I can.

In the mean time I wanted to tell you about this one fairly well-known women's active wear brand, whom I will not call out by name because I'm not a completely horrible person. Although I have to say that I do like a lot of their clothes & have bought several things from them. Their catalogs tend to be a little ridiculous, though, and I feel like the most recent one was more ridiculous than most. From what I gather, they are planning me a yoga/fitness retreat in Rio (but not paying for it, mind you. TYPICAL).

This is, I feel, the only logical conclusion I can draw based on pages like this one:


Thank GOD, this has been keeping me up at night.

But it isn't all cute outfits & boutique yoga in Rio. Sometimes, apparently, it is cute outfits and making the world your gym.



Because doing push-ups on a tire is *totally* on my Rio to-do list.

Once you get tired of doing push-ups on a tire, you can relax with some weighted lunges:



Good thing I get this catalog. How else would I know how to UP THE ANTE
on my resistance training????? #ante #uppingit #sandbags

I hope I have rescued you from a BORING Rio getaway where you end up doing nothing but sitting on a bunch of BORING beaches or hiking BORING scenery or exploring BORING STUPID historical landmarks. Now you know to go straight for the tires!

You are welcome.

Monday, July 13, 2015

SRM WEEK 14 OF 20: Long Runs: New & *Sooo* Improved

This week marked my first "big" long run of my SRM training cycle--ie, a distance that starts with a "2". Because of having the 10-mile race in there, my long run schedule made kind of a big jump, going 16-17-Race-16-21.

I've gotten a lot better at mentally facing most of my long runs, but things that start with "2"s are just a whole other beast. I had it all worked out, though. A running friend and her adorable family are sadly (weep!) leaving the Bay Area for Oregon, and as a kind of last hurrah a bunch of us had planned to hang out at the DSE Six-Hour Endurance Challenge in the Marina Sunday morning. (No but seriously. Some people *actually* run for six hours.)

This was going to be perfect! I would leave the house at 7, giving myself an hour to run the 5ish miles to the Marina, then run up to 10-11ish miles with friends (not to mention all the aid station support!), then run the 5 miles back home. Not only would company and course support help the miles fly by, but this plan would also mean I'd be done with my run before noon. (See: Things that never happen, ever.)

Alas, I was stuck awake Saturday night with a wicked bout of insomnia, and when 4am rolled around and I was still wide awake, I knew there was no way I was getting up in two hours for 21 miles of running. Just, no.

So, loops through Golden Gate Park alone in the heat of the day it was. Lovely.

Now, I hope it goes without saying that 3+ hours of running is never particularly pleasant (at least not for us mere mortals), but I can say that this one was no worse than my recent 16-17 milers and perhaps the least miserable of any 20+ run I've ever done. This was also my longest training run since 2012, and finishing it with no injury scares/concerning pain anywhere and not feeling like death was pretty heartening.

It was hot for SF (upper 70s & full sun), so my pace was a bit slower than normal, but it didn't feel slow--I felt pretty comfortable and in a good rhythm just about the whole way. I was meant to run miles 16-19 at goal marathon pace & then finish with two easy ones, and I think the heat did mess with that plan a bit, though. Running 8:00 miles felt much harder than usual, and towards the end of the second one I started to feel lightheaded, which is generally not something that happens to me while running. (After a hard race, yes! But not during.) I was drinking a lot of water (obviously) but during those faster miles I could feel it starting to slosh around in my stomach, another thing that just doesn't tend to happen to me.

Something I learned from my sessions with the nutritionist is that this usually indicates that you need more salt. Because the body needs a very specific water/salt balance to work properly, it can't just absorb all the water or salt you put in it. You can actually be dehydrated, but if you're also low on salt, your body won't absorb the water--it'll just slosh around in your stomach.

He said that he has seen this problem countless times with athletes who feel like crap during/after hard workouts, particularly if they're sweating a lot. They will be obsessed with hydration but also obsessed with "clean" eating, which almost always means they aren't getting enough salt to actually retain all the water they drink. Peeing clear doesn't necessarily mean you're hydrated.

(BTW, that is the reason you might need salt in hot weather workouts, not preventing cramps. Repeat low sodium/electrolytes does not cause muscle cramps.)

We've done a good bit of data collection on my water intake, salt intake, & sweat rates at different distances & intensity levels, & apparently the balance is pretty good most of the time without my having to do too much about it, because I virtually never have any of those problems. I don't tend to get sloshy stomach or bad dehydration symptoms, and I've always been able to do pretty long, intense workouts on nothing but water with no problem. But I think probably the fact that it was so hot & sunny during this run and that I was out there for a good bit longer than normal with nothing but water (and two gels during the fast miles) meant I lost more sodium than usual & just reached a point where I couldn't retain the water anymore, even though I needed it.

Because of this and the fact that marathon pace felt just *so* hard at that point, I only did three fast miles. I'm pretty sure sure I could have finished the fourth, but was just feeling too lightheaded & nauseous to feel 100% safe trying. (In a race situation I totally would have kept going.) So instead it was three easy miles to the end, definitely with more pauses than were strictly necessary in order to enjoy bits of shade here & there.

During the run I had been mentally doing the math re: how many carb calories I would need to eat before bed and came up with ~830, which, I gotta say, is a pretty daunting number considering you can't just inhale a pizza or two & call it good. Here's how it went down:

  • Immediately after the run: Granola bar, glass of milk, & a beer. (I keep meaning to ask about whether the carbs in beer are a legit source of refueling or not but haven't yet managed to remember. Real talk, though, after 3+ hours & 21 miles in the sun, I have no fucks to give about this. A cold beer is being had. Also we are just not even talking about the alcohol, because 5% ABV beer counts as alcoholic only in the most literal sense.)
  • An hour or so later: Chips & guacamole, several slices of bread with chevre, 2 margaritas, & 3 carrots (since we learned from Sports Nutrition Part 3 that you can't just pound a bunch of carbs & expect them to do much other than turn into fat)
  • Two hours later: Flank steak tacos, grilled veggies, salad, corn on the cob, plus an additional giant heap of flank steak (I like to think this was because my body was gearing up to crank out a whole shitload of new red blood cells which was causing me to crave iron. But probably it was just really really good.)
  • Four hours later: Pita bread with hummus & baba ganoush, two big bowls of chicken stock loaded up with garlic salt, & two more glasses of water.

Which comes to a grand total of I have no freaking clue but at least I didn't go to bed hungry/thirsty. Hopefully, I ended up somewhere in the right neighborhood.

I definitely want to write a longer post on this at some point, but I just want to say that the difference in how I feel day-to-day and especially after longer/harder workouts since I started putting all the nutrition stuff into practice is just HUGE. In the past, a 10-12 mile track workout or a 3+ hour run in the heat (on almost no fuel!) would have left me a complete zombie for the rest of the day. Not now, though. In fact, in spite of the fact that my overall mileage has been up as has the sheer number of tougher workouts, marathon training has never felt so easy. (Obviously, the hard workouts still feel hard. But I don't feel utterly wiped out at the end of every week, which is new.)

~*~*~SRM WEEK 14 OF 20~*~*~

Grand Total: 44 miles

    * 19.5 easy
    * 3.5 speed
    * 21 long

Monday: Karate. For some reason I had Monday off, which I spent mostly cleaning my house & running errands.

Tuesday: a.m. strength / p.m. 3 warm up, 7 x 600m @ 5K pace w/ 200m recoveries, .5 cool down = 7 total. Chill speed work at Kezar with SF Track Club.

Wednesday: karate

Thursday: 8 easy

Friday: 8 easy. No 2nd workout scheduled this week, I'm assuming because of the big long run jump.

Saturday: Rest

Sunday: 21 long

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Books Update....

BEHOLD, for it is time to speak of books.

The year is now half over (I will dispense with any melodramatic amazement regarding this fact, I'm sure you've had your fill already) and lo, it is time to pass judgment on the May & June selections of SF Road Warrior's 2015 Year of Classics. (January through April selections reviewed here.)

MAY: The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy (1997, 340 pages). For a long time I avoided reading any books about India because I know nothing about it and was afraid none of it would make sense to me. But now, having read this one plus two Salman Rushdie books in the last 12 months, I think I'm over that. This book was depressing as hell, yes, but still a beautifully written story about the complications of families, good and bad intentions, and children making sense of a complicated world as best they can. The narration of the story is not linear but jumps back and forth in time and between points of views of different characters. It begins at the end and ends in the middle, revealing more and more details about people and events and their histories and futures each time it circles around, and still keeps you guessing almost all the way to the end. Not a light, happy, fun read, but not a long one, packed with gorgeous language, & brilliantly written all around.

JUNE (Russian Heritage Month): Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866, 545 pages). Though it was a slog at times, I'm glad I stuck this one out because the ending was actually kind of good. Also, most of the beginning was good, too! The middle 2/3, however, were just kind of rambling & difficult to follow. I was expecting this book to be at least semi-awesome because HELLO IT OPENS WITH AN AXE MURDER, but after that I kind of felt like I'd been tricked into reading a parlor book. Just way, way, WAY too many scenes of people sitting around expounding on various class issues & the like whilst throwing shade at each other. Can't bring yourself to read the whole thing? Read parts 1 & 6 & call it good. You'll get the dramatic/interesting parts without missing too much (besides some only semi-relevant subplots).

OTHER RECENT READS:

I have read a lot of stuff lately but here are the titles I most highly recommend:

Reamde, by Neal Stephenson (2011, 1044 pages). 5 stars. Like much of Stephenson's other work, Reamde is ambitious, complex, and features a veritable legion of three-dimensional characters. As with most Stephenson books, I was principally amazed by his ability to keep approximately nineteen bazillion balls in the air in terms of plot & character arc. Likewise, I'm always incredibly impressed with how well researched every single aspect of the story is. But what really made this book for me were all the kick-ass female characters. Like, more than one! With actual distinct personalities! Who, like, do badass stuff to move the plot forward and serve as more than love interests for the male characters! So yeah. Like Neal Stephenson? You will not be disappointed. Never heard of Neal Stephenson but like a really smart, complex, well-written action/thriller/international espionage story? Give it a shot.

The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides (1993, 249 pages). 5 stars. I remember loving the movie when it came out & have always wanted to read the book, and I was not disappointed. Cleverly & poetically written, dark without veering into morbid/depressing, and utterly engrossing from the first page all the way to the end. (Also, now I really want to watch the movie again.) My first Jeffrey Eugenides & now I am curious to read more by him.

The Cider House Rules, by John Irving (1985, 973 pages). 5 stars. Fantastic. To me, this is exactly what young adult literature should be, except it never will be, because the idea of teenagers reading books about other teenagers dealing with actual, real teenage issues in a way that is not soft-focus or whitewashed or pulling its punches makes a lot of adults really, really uncomfortable. I mean no, I would probably not give it to my middle schooler as there is some pretty frank discussion of sex, abortion, & rape/incest (& a fair number of f-bombs), but having taught high school for many years, I don't think it's in any way beyond what most teens in the say 15+ range can handle. In spite of the sobering topics that it treats, the book isn't really about those things. At its heart, it's an absolutely beautifully written story about love (friendship, romantic, parental), finding one's place/"belonging," rules (of all kinds--explicit, unspoken, laws, etc.), and who gets to make what kinds of decisions for who, based on what, and why. Beautiful, meaningful, and tragically sweet in a thousand different ways.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson. (2015, 290 pages) 5 stars. A great read for anyone who's into the intersection of sociology and the media (particularly online social media). Jon Ronson explores the recent phenomenon of epic public shaming, wherein a person makes a joke that comes across wrong or commits some kind of deception and then essentially has their career, life, and online identity soundly annihilated by the masses. Using as case studies such pilloried figures as Jonah Lehrer, Justine Sacco, Mike Daisey, Lindsey Stone, and Hank of the Adria Richards developer conference fiasco, Ronson explores how the semi-anonymous group-think nature of the latest technology has essentially brought back a punishment that was decommissioned in the US hundreds of years ago because its effects on the guilty were deemed too horribly cruel. If you're at all interested in the how-is-tech-changing-our-society question, you'll absolutely want to give this one a read.

Night Angel (trilogy), by Brent Weeks. (2009, 1392 pages) 4 stars. I probably only gave this 4 stars because I'm one book away from finishing is more recent series, Lightbringer, which so far is an utter masterpiece of epic fantasy. Night Angel can't help but suffer a little by comparison, but was still a fantastic read. Deft writing. Solid, three-dimensional characters that you kind of love and kind of hate. Complex and clever storytelling that artfully weaves together all kinds of political and personal and mythological history and keeps you guessing throughout who is a reliable source of information and who is not (and to what extent). Dialogue that is smart and witty and tight, and just poetic enough at the right times without getting flowery and cliche. Some of the most intriguing & well-written female characters I've ever read in a book written by a man. And once the thrills start, they're relentless to the end.

Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King. (2014, 436 pages) 4 stars. This book was my first non-Dark Tower Stephen King experience. It didn't strike me as the type of thing I would typically pick up on my own, but the reviews were glowing & coming off of Crime and Punishment I was really feeling the need for something sort of beach-read-y. You guys, I could not put this book down! That almost never happens to me. At every moment, I just had to know what happened next & felt truly put-upon any time I was forced to tear myself away to, like, go to work or whatever. Apparently that Stephen King knows a thing or two about book writing! Who wouldda thunk!?! I don't want to say it's "light" reading (it does open with a psycho killer in a Benz mowing down a crowd of people), but it's not depressingly dark or overly violent or graphic. There are some tense moments but probably nothing that will leave you feeling sick or give you nightmares. Yes, there are predictable moments and more than a few tropes, but it's clearly trying to be a certain type of story (think "NCSI" or "Criminal Minds"), and that, it does exceptionally well.

Where'd You Go Bernadette?, by Maria Semple. (2012, 330 pages) 4 stars. This book is mostly told as a collection of emails, letters, notes, reports, etc. about a high-up fancy tech man, his brilliant, formerly phenom-of-a-young-architect turned stay-at-home-mom/wife, and their precocious thirteen-year-old daughter. Hijinks, crises, and coming-of-age-type situations ensue. At first it struck me as just sort of cute but fluffy YA, but somewhere between maybe half & two thirds of the way through, The Plot Thickened, as did the characters and their personalities and situations. At that point, I had two thoughts: 1) Hm, this is maybe a little too intense in the f-bomby / mid-life-crisis-ey sense for the middle school set, which is too bad, because 2) suddenly the characters & their situations go from kind of flat & banal & boring to multi-dimensional and considerably more interesting, & some really complicated themes are introduced. I feel like a lot of YA books tend to steer clear of darker, tougher, more adult themes (because kiiiiiiiids), which is deeply lamentable in my opinion. Give teenagers a little more credit, huh? Also, hilarious if you've ever been involved with a private school.

The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. (2003, 500 pages) 4 stars. The premise seems relatively straightforward at first: Claire's husband Henry occasional becomes "unstuck" in time and spontaneously disappears, materializing into the past or future for minutes/hours/days at a time. The twist, though (not a spoiler), is that Henry first met Claire when his thirty-something self materialized in a meadow near eight-year-old Claire's childhood home where she'd often go to play. Because Henry's travels seem to sometimes latch on to particular places and times, he ends up visiting her in the meadow at different ages every few months or so between the time that she is six and eighteen. At age twenty, Claire meets twenty-eight-year-old Henry for the first time in his own timeline--her with twelve years of memories of visits with Henry at various ages and the knowledge that they end up married, and him knowing nothing at all. The author has clearly done a good job of thinking through even the most minute details and weaving all the questions (and answers) about Henry's time traveling that arise into the story. Some of the relationship stuff was kind of cliche & felt a little bit like a fourteen-year-old's naive ideas about what grown-up dating/sex/marriage/etc. is like (see: the entire wedding sequence, BARF). But, by and large I enjoyed it, even if some parts of it are depressing as hell.

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hakins. (2015, 336 pages) 4 stars. I can see why this book appeals to people who enjoyed Gone Girl: the disappearance of a woman under odd circumstances, multiple first-person narrators, palpable tension regarding which ones may or may not be reliable, and more and more criss-crossing secrets hinted at and/or revealed as the story goes on. It's a good mystery and I thought the author did a good job cleverly weaving the storylines, timelines, and points of view in a way that kept me guessing for a good while. Most chapters involved some kind of dropped hint that made me go, "Okay, hold up, what was THAT about?" And sometimes she'd just let it sit for a few chapters while I was all like, "YES BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ____ IN CHAPTER ___???" If you like that sort of book (murder/missing persons mystery, multiple potentially unreliable narrators, cleverly jumping around time in time and point of view to weave an intriguing story), you'll probably enjoy it.

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Currently Reading: Consider Phlebas, by Ian. M. Banks

Currently Listening To: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving

Up Next: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin, and either The Ocean At the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman, or Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami (haven't decided which yet)

WHAT ELSE IS GOOD, YOU GUYS??