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Two Hours

posted by: November 25, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Two HoursIn Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon, Ed Caesar discusses what it would take for a man to complete the arbitrary distance of 26.2 miles under the arbitrary time limit of two hours.


Why 26.2 miles? Every runner knows the story of Pheidippides, who ran 150 miles to request help from the Spartan army when the Persians landed in Greece. He then ran 25 miles from the battlefield near Marathon to Athens where he announced the Greek victory, and promptly died on the spot from exhaustion. When the modern Olympics began in 1896, it included a “marathon” race inspired by Pheidippides’ (likely fictional) journey. Marathon distances were approximately 25 miles until 1921, when the International Amateur Athletic Federation set the distance to match the course of the 1908 London Olympic marathon. The 1908 marathon route began at Windsor Castle and finished with a lap around the track inside White City Stadium, ending in front of the Royal Box. Any runner who makes it to mile 25 of a marathon and doesn’t think he can run another 1.2 can thank the British royal family for their viewing preferences.


And why two hours? In 1991, Mike Joyner concluded that the ideal runner under ideal conditions could complete a marathon in 1 hour, 57 minutes and 58 seconds, and published his findings in the Journal of Applied Physiology. At the time, the world record was 02:06:50. The current world record, set 23 years later by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto at the 2014 Berlin Marathon, is nearly four minutes faster at 02:02:57.
Whether it’s likely that we will see a sub-two hour marathon in the near future is hotly debated. Caesar discusses issues of science, technology, psychology and economics that affect the “ideal runner” and “ideal conditions.” He considers everything from advancements in road pavement, to the illegal use of performance enhancing drugs, to why the Western Rift Valley of Kenya produces such amazing distance runners. Caesar writes extensively about the training and career of accomplished Kenyan runner Geoffrey Mutai to put a face to the challenge.


Two Hours is the perfect book to relax with over the winter, perhaps in anticipation of training for your own spring marathon. Fans of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall will definitely enjoy this as well.


Humans of New York

posted by: November 24, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Humans of New YorkIt’s very easy to get caught up in the lives of fictional characters in novels or celebrities on TV. However, photographer Brandon Stanton’s new book Humans of New York: Stories uses stunning portraits and personal anecdotes to show that the most interesting and compelling stories can come from everyday people around us. Stanton originally began photographing the citizens of New York as part of a project to create a visual census of the city. His pictures wound up becoming the wildly successful blog, Humans of New York. As his project grew, he went from including one-line captions on his photos to entire paragraphs of stories the people he met on the street would tell him.


While his first book, Humans of New York (2013), focuses more on photography and includes just a few captions, this book contains many more of the personal and in-depth stories found on his blog today. The stories range from devastatingly sad to chillingly insightful to warmly endearing, while the people photographed cover a variety of races, ages, social classes and genders.


It’s hard not to get absorbed into Stanton’s book and the beautifully poignant stories within. Individually, an anecdote from a stranger might not be much to consider, but together, they create a broad spectrum of captivating stories that truly reflect both the intricacy and brevity of human life.


National Book Award Winners

posted by: November 19, 2015 - 2:53pm

Cover art for Between the World and MeCover art for Fortune SmilesBaltimore native Ta-Nehisi Coates capped a remarkable year last night when he won the National Book Award for nonfiction for Between the World and Me, a frank narrative outlining his experience as a black man in America. Coates received a standing ovation from the crowd at Cipriani Wall Street and told the audience, “I wanted to make racism tactile, visceral. Because it is.” Coates wrote the memoir as a letter to his teenage son and dedicated last night’s award to Prince Jones, a classmate from Howard University who was killed by a police officer while unarmed. Coates’ award-winning title has been selected as the adult nonfiction title in Baltimore County’s inaugural community-wide read, BC Reads, coming in April.


Adam Johnson won the fiction award for Fortune Smiles, a collection of short stories dealing with a wide range of global subjects. The award for young people’s literature was given to Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep, a novel about a mentally ill teenager inspired by Shusterman’s son. Robin Coste Lewis won the poetry award for her debut collection Voyage of the Sable Venus, an exploration of race, gender and identity.


The National Book Award, which was established in 1950, has been awarded to some of the country’s most celebrated authors, including William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy and Lillian Hellman. Presented by the National Book Foundation, the awards were open to American authors who published books from December 1, 2014, to November 30, 2015. The prizes were presented at a black-tie dinner, and all four winners will receive $10,000. Watch the entire ceremony, including all of the winners' acceptance speeches here.


The Lake House

posted by: November 19, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Lake HouseCancel all your plans, grab a blanket, a glass of wine and get comfy! Kate Morton’s latest novel The Lake House has been released. Featuring an abandoned house, an unsolved child’s disappearance and family intrigue galore, you will joyfully be reading late into the night, during meals and anytime you have a spare moment.


During the 1933 Midsummer Eve’s Party, 11-month-old Theo Edevane disappears without a trace from his ancestral home in Cornwall, England. Flash forward 70 years. Sadie Sparrow, disgraced police detective spending her mandatory leave in Cornwall, discovers the Edevane family estate. The house is located deep in the woods surrounded by ponds, trickling streams and idyllic gardens, like those described in fairy tales. But this is no fairy tale. Sparrow finds the house to have been abandoned. A saucer is on the table waiting for tea. Books are left open waiting for someone to read. It as if the family just left and locked the doors, never to return. What happened to Theo that fateful night in 1933? Why is the house abandoned? To get answers, Sparrow tracks down famed mystery author Alice Edevane, who was only 16 when her brother disappeared. What does Alice know about the events of that evening? Does she know more than she told police? Will she help Sadie solve her brother’s disappearance?


Told from each family member’s perspective, continuously shifting from the past to the present, Morton weaves an engaging tale of mystery, with layer upon layer of intrigue. A page-turner with an amazing ending, you will not be sorry you spent the time learning the mysteries of The Lake House. For more great reads by Morton, try The Secret Keeper and The House at Riverton. Just as good, I promise!


Find Me Unafraid

posted by: November 19, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Find Me UnafraidI have long been fascinated by the story of Jessica Posner and Kennedy Odede. I was excited when I saw Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an Africa Slum on my desk as I would finally get to hear the whole story of how they came to be by their own accounts. Previously, I have only heard snippets of their lives and what they have accomplished in Nairobi, Kenya and, more specifically, the African slum of Kibera where Kennedy grew up.


Kennedy Odede had a difficult life. He was born to a teen mother, homeless at one point and grew up in the worst slum in Kenya. Most would not, and never do, come out of this same situation alive let alone with a college degree and a non-profit organization, Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), to help the girls of Kibera. Jessica Posner was a junior at Wesleyan University when she decided she wanted to study abroad for a semester and chose Nairobi. She heard about Kennedy and SHOFCO through two of her friends and decided to contact him about doing a theater project for his organization.


Their story is told in alternating chapters, a ‘he said, she said’ of how they met, fell in love and have helped and continue to help the girls of Kibera. The dream of creating the Kibera School for Girls became a reality through a grant, and in six harried weeks, it was built and continues to thrive. This story, their story, is only the beginning of what they have yet to accomplish.


Crooked Heart

posted by: November 18, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Crooked HeartA lame orphan, an incompetent grifter and London’s Blitz might comprise a fairly grim story. Instead, author Lissa Evans’ Crooked Heart: A Novel is darkly comedic and heartwarming as it focuses on the incongruous pairing of a posh city child and his conniving country mouse foster parent.  


Meet Mrs. Vee Sedge: resident of rural St. Albans, lives with her indolent adult son and disabled mother who writes motivational letters to Winston Churchill regarding homefront morale and offering friendly advice (“I saw your picture in the paper last week and I hope you don’t mind me saying that I wonder if you’re getting enough fresh air.”) Vee is so desperate for money that she’s taken out a life insurance policy on an elderly neighbor, who foils Vee’s plans by failing to die, and she goes door to door collecting money for the war effort which she keeps for herself. When Vee sees Noel limping through her village as part of a parade of children evacuated from London to evade Hitler’s bombs, she volunteers to care for the little boy, not out of patriotic duty, but as a prop to a con.


Noel is the child who never fits in. Precocious, pale and unathletic, he is also bereft since the death of his beloved godmother. Farmed out to the putative safety of the Sedge’s shabby quarters, Noel perks up when he realizes he can be the brains behind Vee’s ill-conceived swindles. World War II’s privations were harsh and Evans frames the duo’s petty frauds in a landscape where the common folk of England must scheme to survive. Nominated for a Bailey’s Women’s Prize for fiction, Crooked Heart’s clever writing, multifaceted characters and thoughtful story make this an engaging read and a winning book club pick.


Fool’s Quest

posted by: November 18, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Fool's QuestRobin Hobb has spent two decades building up to the events of Fool’s Quest, beginning in 1996 with the introduction of the bastard FitzChivalry Farseer in Assassin’s Apprentice, the first book in the Farseer trilogy. All of Hobb’s intricate world building and delicate web spinning has led to this dark-tinged tale, the second in her Fitz and the Fool series.


Long after Fitz has gone from unacknowledged pseudo-heir to the throne to unacknowledged and invisible hero of the realm many times over, he retires to live out a happy life with his new family. He has a wife he can love out in public, he has a daughter he can finally claim as his own...and he has a royal family continuing to spy on him long after he thought his spying days were over. His ignorant bliss is shattered when he receives a message from a friend he had thought lost forever: The Fool’s child is in danger, and he needs Fitz to save the child. But first, he has to find out who the child is.


Fool’s Quest is a novel of love, loss and longing — and what constitutes family. One man will do almost anything to protect those he loves. But with everyone in danger, how many can Fitz save?


Readers who enjoyed Raymond Feist’s early novels or who enjoy Trudi Canavan will enjoy the Fitz and the Fool series.



posted by: November 17, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for GhostlyAudrey Niffenegger is mostly known for her bestselling and film adapted novel The Time Traveler’s Wife, but if you know her other work, the gothic novel Her Fearful Symmetry or her dark graphic novels such as Raven Girl, you won’t be surprised to learn she’s had a lifelong fascination with the otherworldly. Ghostly collects her favorite ghost stories, from the classic to the obscure, with illustrations and introductions to each. It’s like receiving a thoughtful mixtape from a friend who wants to unsettle you.


There are perennial classics here such as M.R. James’ “The Mezzotint,” in which a collector is troubled by something in the background of a photo that appears to be moving. There are also modern masterpieces like Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat,” in which a babysitter teaches two girls how to play Dead, which is different from being dead and has its own rules. And there are also very funny pieces like Amy Giacalone’s “Tiny Ghosts,” in which a woman is taking a bath and reading her favorite book when a tiny door opens next to her faucet and a little ghost comes out.

Ghost stories traditionally focus more on mood and atmosphere rather than the jump scares and viscera that are obligatory in other horror genres, and so there’s almost no blood dropped in any of these tales (apart from Poe’s “The Black Cat,” which is terribly gory and ironically the only story here likely to be read in elementary schools.) This means that theoretically you could read some of these stories to the little ones by campfire or by flashlight. Just don’t be surprised if they don’t thank you for it!

For edgier scares, check out the new teen horror anthology Slasher Girls and Monster Boys or for safer horror, the children’s classic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.



posted by: November 17, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for MeatspaceNikesh Shukla’s second novel Meatspace is what happens when the fractals of a man’s loneliness are traced through social media and reassembled into a spectre of depression. Tweets, status updates and blog posts are the 2015 equivalent of wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve, and the characters in Meatspace are all very expressive. Cut through the gristly irony and melodrama, and the remaining sinew shows readers how Shukla’s cast of aimless authors are feeling at any given moment of their days — except when they’re on the Tube.


Kitab Balasubramanyam was fired from his job in London for writing a novel in a secret Google doc instead of earning his pay. Now he’s holed up in a bachelor pad with his brother Aziz and a fridge full of chutney that his ex-girlfriend Rach left behind. Every minute of every day he’s online, randomly liking his relatives’ status updates and photos on Facebook or deleting and rephrasing a tweet to sound more authorial as he checks the nonexistent sales figures of his now-published book. Living off his mother’s life insurance policy is only going to get him so far, so he’s trying to make the author thing work out by doing readings at local pubs, which is going as fantastically as it sounds.


Dawdling in the bar bathroom after his latest stint at the mic, Kitab Balasubramanyam meets another guy who is also floating through life: Kitab Balasubramanyam. A second Indian guy at the same exact London pub book reading with the same exact name. Weirdness ensues.


Every chapter starts with a glimpse at Kitab’s browser history and is permeated with hashtags and blog posts and stored tweet drafts, all of which jigsaw together to illustrate how not-okay he is. Meatspace is brimming with pop culture references so relevant it’s like Nikesh Shukla has found a way to make ninja edits to the print copies, as if it wasn’t already impressive enough.





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