guest review: movie: Run Free, from Pops

Pops has been to see the documentary film Run Free, which handles the subject matter of Born to Run which he’s earlier reviewed for us. His review is below.

In follow-up to the Micah True, Caballo Blanco story introduced in McDougall’s book, I saw the just-released doc film by Seattle director Sterling Noren: Run Free. Noren began working on the general idea of a film after a chance meeting with True in Mexico in 2009. After Born to Run was published, True heard Hollywood was planning a film so he requested that Noren help tell the “real story” with his own film.

Noren’s film is wonderful; his work benefits from True’s cooperation and many interviews with central characters including McDougall, runner Scott Jurek and Luis Escobar, who also contributes great still photos taken over the years. It features the beautiful & magical Copper Canyon in Mexico, the special native towns there and of course the Tarahumara themselves – and True’s special relationship with the place & its people.

Filming includes the 2012 version of Caballo Blanco’s Copper Canyon ultra race; and then Noren’s crew was on hand for the immediate aftermath when True goes missing in the Gila Wilderness (as I related in my earlier book review.) McDougall’s fun & mythical tale as told in the book becomes starkly real in the film – both in the simplicity of Tarahumara subsistence culture, and the sad poetry of True’s final, fatal run.

The film’s narrative effectively invites us into the eccentric world of its main character & the close network of ultra runners, which makes their role in the wilderness search & subsequent memorial events all the more poignant. It’s a powerful story for those who can connect, from a number of perspectives. For this runner, four decades in, it was that and more.

Thanks, Pops. I’m glad – but not surprised – that you found it so powerful.

edition by edition: A Sand County Almanac, with Pops

"with essays on conservation"

“with essays on conservation”

My Pops has lately gotten into Aldo Leopold, with the help of a local reading group focusing on Sand County Almanac. I told him I certainly hoped he’d gotten a hold of the large-format, glossy-pictured edition that I read, because it was so beautiful; and he said that he had. But then he discovered something I never realized: that beautiful photo-edition is missing several essay originally included! The horror! I will have to return to a fuller version of the book; and Pops has taken care of that by gifting me a more complete copy. (It is waiting my arrival in our new home in the north. I am busy and therefore can be in no hurry…)

Pops further comments:

The Sand County reading group was last night. Only two new people showed up, which is not a big deal; though most are Aldo fans, it was nice discussion but mostly insignificant; except, a couple of people had seen this film and highly recommend it. Have you heard of it? Green Fire – more here.

No, of course I had not, but now it’s on the list…

And… do you remember reading this anywhere?

“Lead by Luna Leopold, Aldo’s son, a group of Leopold’s family and colleagues collaborated on the final editing of the book, reluctantly agreeing to one significant change: renaming the book from Leopold’s working title Great Possessions to A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here & There.”

One of our group commented on the ingenious selection and sequence of pieces in the book, unaware that the editing was not Leopold’s own work. In fact, there are not dates on any of the essays; I think it would be very interesting to see that, because the edited result is surely not sequential in time.

I also see misleading references to the works: even the film page linked above cites A Sand County Almanac (without the suffix “And Sketches Here & There”) as the source for the famous “fierce green eyes” quote – whereas it actually appears in one of the sketches (“Thinking Like a Mountain”) – which was not included in the photo-edition you read, titled… A Sand County Almanac: With Essays On Conservation.

"with essays on conservation from round river"

“with essays on conservation from round river”

And… I took a further look at the selections in different editions (a friend brought a fourth edition besides the three I had). The newish paperback I bought for you (“With Essays on Conservation from Round River”) actually has a whole section of essays (not included elsewhere) besides the original sketches, so it is the “fullest” yet; what an adventure!

Wow! Great job, Pops! I can’t wait to find the time!

Words of caution, kids: watch your editions. I’ve certainly learned something. Thanks Pops for the lesson as well as the new & complete paperback!

guest review: A Scots Quair by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, from Pops

Thank you, Pops, for sharing another recommended read. I remember hearing about this one several months ago!

Truly a classic of Scottish literature, A Scots Quair is a fictional trilogy written in 1932. I am totally enthralled; it is proletarian rustic history, romance of the earth, real-time anti-war essay, epic of Scotland’s industrial emergence, Victorian romance, visionary social observation, heartfelt conservationist ecology, salt-of-the-earth characters, staggering timeless relevance, Gaelic heart, linguistic challenge, lyrical poetic voice. Simply amazing. There are also striking cultural & spiritual similarities with the Pacific Northwest, and I’m not just talking cold & rain!

This was a “recommended” book discovered in planning for our 2010 trip to Scotland, which I loved and it certainly contributed to my appreciation and devotion here after such long delay. I wrote most of this summary after reading only book one, and it rings true as I finish the set two months since beginning the journey.

My paperback is printed in painfully small print; that combined with the blend of colloquial Gaelic & unfamiliar sentence structure to present a long learning curve before I fell into its flow and grew to cherish its voice. It took me a while to squeeze this commitment into a busy time, but after that tentative beginning I never wavered; the story was a reliable companion and ultimately I rued reaching the end.

Lewis Grassic Gibbon is the author. He writes of the period in which he lived: the dawning of the 20th century in Scotland up until publication in the 30s. The helpful 1986 Introduction by scholar David Kerr Cameron notes: “Sadly, Gibbon died aged only thirty-four, in 1935, almost as he completed the trilogy that would be his outstanding achievement, already aware of the fate of his beloved peasant folk but hardly realizing how important he himself would become.”

The story observes the course of change during this time in northeast Scotland by following Chris Guthrie from her birth to death, divided into three formative periods & locales in her life. The characters flowing in and out are countless, yet so many become familiar & cherished. Tragedies of the time are ever-present, as is a rich appreciation of nuance and humor in those lives. I am struck again by the wonder of a female character portrayed so compellingly by a male author.

This is one for all time, and I thirst to find some of it’s legacy in other forms…

guest review: The Falling Sky by Pippa Goldschmidt, from Pops

This review bears on some recent discussions: scientific fiction and scientific nonfiction.

Thanks to Kirk Smith at his blog, Fiction About Science, for both passing on a copy of this book to my Pops, and for publishing his review there. I am reposting it here, as originally published by Kirk Smith.

falling sky

The Falling Sky is about a “realistic scientist doing realistic science.” That is the hook that brought me to this special first novel written by a PhD astronomer, now a recognized writer in Edinburgh, Scotland. But it is so much more than that.

One could say this is the insightful story of a young woman finding her way from adolescence into a life of her own; or her personal contemporary tale of sexual awakening and relationships with other women; or a striking and remarkable exploration of how a scientist’s unique perspective can literally saturate the way she perceives and interacts with everything around her; or an emotionally wrenching journey with a family trying to make sense of a pointless and tragic death. It is really all of that.

That may seem to be quite a burden to place on an easy-reading first novel of only 264 pages; but Goldschmidt succeeds gracefully and does not overreach. Her story of Jeanette comfortably weaves modest measures of these elements together – and tempts the reader to fold closed the pages, finger inserted, while looking off into space to savor the author’s words and Jeanette’s thoughts. In that sense, this is not a “quick read.”

There is fuel here for artists, romantics, philosophers, mystics, feminists, photographers and scientists alike. Those familiar with Edinburgh are teased with pleasing glimpses.

But for one so inclined to the feast, it is possible to see the scientific perspective virtually everywhere in this story; in its language, metaphors, analogies, repetition of certain words and its oblique references to black holes, cosmology, time scales, anti-matter, entropy. Some may see excess or stridency in this; for those it should be accepted as essential immersion in Jeanette’s world, as setting and mood, and not as cause for anxiety or fear of missing something. There is more to savor.

Storytelling here is not linear, but not distracting: chapters alternate between “Now” and “Then” as the 3rd person narrative traces Jeanette’s young life as an astronomer while we gradually learn more of her adolescent past. She is smart & ambitious, yet confused. She is a talented and intelligent scientist whose rational lens often fails her in navigating the human world of relationships. She is an emotional creature like all of us, and it wrenches her life. The reader is drawn in as she searches.

For my money, this is a beautifully composed review, as well as describing what sounds like a quite attractive read. The book is in my hands now, so eventually you can expect me to weigh in. Thanks, Pops.

the best of scientific fiction, from Pops

Not to be confused with traditional science fiction (although I have something for you on that topic, as well) – today’s is a quasi-guest post from Pops, who is excited to share about a recent author talk event he attended. The presenter was Kirk Smith, speaking on Lab Lit: Putting Real Science Into Fiction. Pops’s report:

I attended the Lab Lit program tonight. And I signed you up to review a book. Well, sorta. We should talk.

So, to review: Kirk Smith is an old-guy Seattle author with a passion for fiction about “realistic scientists doing realistic science” – ideally where the science is the central story, not ancillary. He has high standards for credibility and likes writers who can really “get inside the head” of scientist-protagonists. Eventually he became frustrated that satisfying examples were so rare, and resolved to write his own version.

This is sort of a special interest of my father’s. He’s been interested in several scientific issues over the last few years, and often disappointed in their presentation by the finest minds in the field – scientific minds being, unfortunately, often unable to communicate what they know clearly to the rest of us. The big exception being Bill McKibben (who I reviewed recently: Oil and Honey). This is a paraphrase of my father – hope I got that about right, Pops.

It was interesting; simply an avid, insightful reader sharing a niche passion; nothing topical like climate change & how to communicate science, though I would have enjoyed that too.

He spent 45 minutes talking knowledgeably about all the books on the attached handout [see below], and 15 minutes reading from & talking about his book (an ode to Einstein, with a female character). He lauded Isaacson’s Einstein, the only overlap I detect with your reviews (you get credit for enjoying a “challenging read!”). He recommends Einstein in Love.

Not true, Pops! I reviewed not only Einstein but also Flight Behavior, which I loved.

[His passion for this niche reminds me of my own for running fiction; of course he reads other forms! I get it.]

You are onto something here. As you said in your first paragraph, Smith “likes writers who can really ‘get inside the head’ of scientist-protagonists,” and I think that’s exactly what you like about running books: sharing an experience with the protagonist, recognizing the unique and awesome thing that is being a runner – or a scientist. Or (to digress), I suspect that Susan Vreeland gets accurately inside the head of an artist, in her Clara and Mr. Tiffany or The Forest Lover, both of which I loved. However, not being much of an artist, I can’t entirely attest.

You’ll see he covered non-fiction and biographies as well as other forms; he also has his own web site where he blogs & reviews, and recommends the LabLit site (by one of the authors) that inspired the terminology. He has corresponded with several of the authors on the list.

I came home with a free UK-only-available copy of The Falling Sky by Pippa Goldschmidt. One of us is committed to reviewing it by Feb 15, before its spring USA release. Call me.

Of course by the time I called, he had already started reading this book, which is fine because I have plenty of deadlines in the next two weeks without this one (!), which would require cross-country shipping to get to me, too! But I’m next in line for it when he’s done (so I have a more relaxed schedule to read it on), and his review will be cross-posted here when complete. Hooray! Guest reviews!

And for those who are curious about Smith’s reading list – I know I was! I’m sharing here the handout he shared at this book event, with Pops’s annotations on it (how lucky we are), and hoping that the wise and magnanimous Kirk Smith will not consider this a copyright violation too egregious. :-/ Seriously, thank you Kirk for the info; and readers, do check out his website here.

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

An addendum from Pops:

First, I noticed his top three fictions are all by female authors with female protagonists; then he eventually acknowledged the fact himself, in passing; then his reading (of his own novel) revealed the female protagonist in his own novel; and in response to a question explained (superficially I thought) why she is his stand-in for a fictional Einstein; and with a follow up question, finally spoke briefly but incisively about the challenge for girls & women in math & science fields to gain grudging credibility & respect.

So, one wonders: are the women appearing in his list (authors & characters both) a factor of his own selection, or if one did an “objective” survey of the landscape, would we see the same? An outbreak of women expressing a new voice? (In literature, or science, or both?)

Such fodder for future expression!

Such fodder indeed! I have no idea how to answer your questions, of course – possibly Smith could speak to these? (It would have been a great line of questioning to pursue on the spot with the audience! It sounds like he wasn’t anxious to head in this direction – of social commentary – on his own. But I understand how it took a day or two to get these thoughts, and thus this line of questioning, straightened out in your own head.) The pessimist (or realist?) in me doubts that there is a general and widespread trend toward a women’s majority in science & literature! Although for the most part we are increasingly represented, hm? That’s just a guess from me, though.

Kingsolver on Knitting and The Interconnectedness of Life

Barbara Kingsolver has captured my heart with The Lacuna and Flight Behavior. Only fitting, then, that she should make such a charming, truthful, and lyrical submission as this to Orion magazine: “Where It Begins”. I can’t decide which is more valuable and valued: her lovely message, which I won’t sully by summarizing, or her lovely writing, for example:

…banish all possibilities, the winter and the summer, the bare feet under the table, the shattered day undone and dregs of old regard and bitter unsettled tea leaves and the words forever jostling ahead of each other in line, queuing up to be written. Especially those. Words that drub, drub, drub at the skull’s concave inner wall. Words that are birds in a linear flock, pelting themselves in ruined fury all night long against the windowpane.

I am so very happy to hear that words are still drub, drub, drubbing at her skull’s inner wall, because I want them out here.

Enjoy. (Thanks, Pops.)

Stretching by Bob Anderson (illustrated by Jean Anderson)

I received my copy of Bob Anderson’s iconic Stretching on my 16th birthday, as you can see here:


That inscription reads, “Happy 16th Julie. May you always keep on stretching mind, body & soul – 7 years & beyond! Love, Dad.” You see I was Julie rather than Julia and he was Dad rather than Pops – it’s been a little while! (The 7-year part is a reference to my aunt (my father’s sister) Laura Kastner’s book, The Seven Year Stretch.) I was a young athlete and my father was a slightly older one, and he wanted to pass on the important lessons communicated here.

stretchingStretching was originally published in 1980, before I was born; my copy was printed in 1997, but this book has been through multiple editions since. I still see posters on the walls at gyms and the like with Jean Anderson’s recognizable illustrations, teaching Bob Anderson’s stretches. Paging through this book now, I am impressed at how well it stands up. We mostly still use the concepts outlined here. I showed it to my physical therapist’s intern (hi, Percy!) and he thought it still looked pretty solid.

The book opens with chapters on who should stretch (hint: he’s pretty inclusive), when to stretch, why to stretch, etc., and then begins on the stretches themselves, which are heavily illustrated. The illustrations, by the author’s wife, are perfect: simple line drawings that show the positions used, with cross-hatching to indicate where I should feel the stretch.

I hope the Anderson's won't mind my sharing of this one page (click to enlarge)

I hope the Anderson’s won’t mind my sharing of this one page

A good portion of the book is dedicated to these text-and-illustration teachings; and then come combinations of stretches, like stretching routines for times of day and while watching television, and for various sports. As a soccer player I wore out that two-page spread; as a cyclist I keep a photocopy of the corresponding two pages handy. Then there are exercises for developing strength; a note to teachers and coaches; and advice on nutrition, back care, and running and cycling techniques. The nutrition part is a little more apt to be dated – possibly outdated, depending on what you believe, but mostly dated in the sense that today a person could read copious volumes on any one of several dozen faddish, extreme dietary programs (yes, I’m looking at you, Paleo), and Anderson’s advice is old-fashionedly simple. Also charmingly dated is the bit on cycling technique; nothing I found in a quick skim is wrong, but as with nutrition, it’s a far cry from the laser-heavy methods of precision bike fitting we use today. Frankly, I miss Anderson’s matter-of-factness and simplicity, but there you are.

In a word, this is a great reference manual for anybody – literally – but possibly of special interest to athletes, because of the sport-specific advice offered. Although old, it’s still gold. Thanks, Pops! Still stretching!

Rating: 9 deep breaths.

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