Sunday, January 17, 2010

Once a Runner by John L. Parker

Once a Runner is the story of Quenton Cassady, a mile runner in college during the Vietnam War era. It was originally self-published by Parker, and copies were sold out in that initial run. Since then, they have been traded and passed along from one generation of runners to the next, achieving cult status along the way. It was just republished and is gaining, again, the acclaim it deserves as, perhaps, "The best novel ever written about running" as Runner's World called it.

The book reads like a race itself. It is well paced, interspersed with college hijinks, the seriousness of the era, and the back and forth of brothers in sports. It tells of Quenton's chase for a sub-4-minute mile, his obsessive training and the singular focus it takes to achieve one's goals.

To the non-runner, this book might seem arcane, with it's explanantions of training schedules and race strategies. To the runner, it might seem archaic, the brutality of his schedule in light of modern training techniques and things we now understand. Those caveats aside, it's a story worth reading, and I ended up cheering for Quenton just like when I ran track, cheering for his heart and his daring and his courage, for his willingness to accept any standard of greatness other than the one he defined for himself.


I heard something that made me think, today. In church, they were talking about how the world has so much more and that the world is simply better at things than Christianity. If you want music, the world's is better, if you want art or writing, the world's is better. The world is even better at taking care of people and funding projects for people in need...

The only thing that Christians can offer, and do better than what the world can, is grace, the grace that was extended to us by God. We can become, in the words of my friend Vern, a conduit for God's grace. How much better might the world be if we focused on the extension of that grace to other people? How much better might my world be if I did that?

I love this video, Jessye Norman singing at the end of a four-hour rock concert in tribute to the 70th birthday of Nelson Mandela. The crowd of nearly 80,000 people is screaming for more Dire Straits when Jessye comes out. In an interview with Bill Moyers, she said as she sang the song, it was as if the crowd remembered why they were there.

May you have grace in your life, and bring grace to the lives of others...

Monday, January 11, 2010


I've been struggling with pretty bad ankle pain for several months now. It would occasionally get a bit better, but never went away entirely, and then it would come back worse. Well, I finally manned-up and went to the doctor. That whole thing about men and doctors...I'm not sure what that is. Hobbling to the bathroom in the morning I could barely walk, so it was time.

It turned out to be achilles bursitis, which is an inflammation of the bursa sac at the back of the heel. There is a small sac of fluid that enables the tendon to slide easily over the bone, but it occasionally becomes inflamed in athletes.

So, it's a month of Physical Therapy and treatments and then, hopefully, I will be able to get back to working out. And running. Because i am getting fat and lazy.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin

I spent a lot of time reading this book, often putting it down for extended periods. It's not that it was an excessively difficult book to read, but more that it was so incredibly dense, rich like an Italian chocolate espresso cake with buttercream icing. As such, it was also excessively beautiful, the prose of Helprin's style reading more like poetry than a story.

Alessandro Giuliani is at the end of his life, taking a trolley car to visit relatives in Italy. Through a series of events, he winds up walking with a young man who works at a local propeller manufacturer, recounting his life. He tells of his youth, in the house of his father and mother, who gave him a life of old world love. I love that he is aware, even in his youth, that he is living an idyllic and beautiful life. His family is beautfully drawn, and I am reminded of the best that family has to offer, the warmth and charm of a family painted in detailed brush strokes of golds, greens and earthy tones.

Alessandro goes to school to study aesthetics, which encourages him to see beauty in the things he experiences, the world in which he lives. Shortly after, he enlists in the Italian navy to fight in what are the beginnings of the Great War, World War I. He travels throughout the war, on a sinking ship, on a secret suicide mission, in the hell of prison facing execution, into the high mountains and even to the palaces of royalty. There are dark forces that shadow him and his comrades, and angels that flit hopefully around him, offering both protection and the briefest glimpses of beauty. The ability Alessandro has to see that beauty leaves him, though, as it is torn from his soul, as the idealism of his youth is destroyed, the friends he cherishes are lost, and the family he loves disappears.

In the end, stripped of everything, it is Alessandro's basic humanity, his insistence on continuing to look for beauty, and to see it, that moves me. The book is at once a vast and epic poem, an adventurous tale of a young man, and a love story, told with deft skill by a master storyteller. Read this book.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Don't Be THAT Guy...

You might remember my advice to turn off your cell phones in meetings. The same holds forth for cellular devices in church, movie theaters and any other place where the squawk of your phone is going to cause heads to turn, brows to knit and fists to clench in that snow-capped knuckle look that is so popular these days.

I really need to add this, though, because someone didn't get the advice. Not exactly, anyway. So here is the necessary follow up to that previous post. Ready? Don't be the guy that forgets to turn off his cell phone at the presentation ESPECIALLY if you're the guy GIVING the presentation.

I didn't think it needed to be said. I was wrong. Don't be THAT guy.

Cool Website...

I am not even quite sure how I found this website, but it takes a unique perspective on the products it sells by animating them in an integrated way. It's what might happen if the makers of Mouse Trap teamed up with Rube Goldberg to create a European e-commerce site. It takes a while to load the site, but again, I think it's worth it. CLICK HERE to take a look.