Creature comforts for Nolan Quoyle

“Oh! Wunnerful! Wunnerful food! They’s ‘ot rainbaths out of the ceiling, my son, oh, like white silk, the soap she foams up in your ‘and. You feels like a boy to go ‘mongst the ‘ot waters. They gives you new clothes every day. White as the driven snow. The television. They’s cards and games.”

“It sounds pleasant,” said Quoyle, thinking, he can’t go back to that reeking sty. “No, no. It’s not entirely pleasant. Bloody place is full of loonies. I knows where I is. Still, the creature comforts is so wunnerful I play up to ‘em. They asks me, ‘Who are you?’— I says ‘Joey Smallwood.’ Or, ‘Biggest Crab in the Pot.’ ‘Oh, ‘e’s loony,’ they think. ‘Keep ‘im ‘ere.’”

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

The phrase, “go ‘mongst the ‘ot waters” and Nolan Quoyle’s joy at such a simple pleasure we take for granted, is something about this book that has stuck with me over the years since I first read it.

A bound prisoner straining to get free

The house was heavy around him, the pressure of the past filling the rooms like odorless gas. The sea breathed in the distance. The house meant something to the aunt. Did that bind him? The coast around the house seemed beautiful to him. But the house was wrong. Had always been wrong, he thought. Dragged by human labor across miles of ice, the outcasts straining against the ropes and shouting curses at the godly mob. Winched onto the rock. Groaning. A bound prisoner straining to get free. The humming of the taut cables. That vibration passed into the house, made it seem alive. That was it, in the house he felt he was inside a tethered animal, dumb but feeling. Swallowed by the shouting past.

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

A bound prisoner straining to get free…That was it, in the house he felt he was inside a tethered animal, dumb but feeling. Swallowed by the shouting past.

Like the sea, with its heartbeat, the green house is alive; it’s a character in the book, though it’s not complicit in the horrors that happened under its roof.

The approximation of a Newfoundland accent

“Well, Agnis girl, what’ll you ‘ave today?” The waitress beamed at the aunt. “I’ll have the stewed cod, Pearl. Cuppa tea, of course. This here is my nephew, works for the paper.” “Oh yis, I sees him afore. In ‘ere the odder day wit’ Billy. ‘Ad the squidburger.” “That I did,” said Quoyle. “Delicious.” “Skipper Will, y’know, ‘e invented the squidburger. Y’ll ‘ave it today, m’dear?”

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

This is the first true approximation of a thick Newfoundland accent in the book.

Agnis Hamm goes home

She had not been in these waters since she was a young girl, but it rushed back, the sea’s hypnotic boil, the smell of blood, weather and salt, fish heads, spruce smoke and reeking armpits, the rattle of wash- ball rocks in hissing wave, turrs, the crackery taste of brewis, the bedroom under the eaves.

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

Petal Bear. Thin, moist, hot.

THEN, at a meeting, Petal Bear. Thin, moist, hot.

Grey eyes close together, curly hair the color of oak. The fluorescent light made her as pale as candle wax. Her eyelids gleamed with some dusky unguent. A metallic thread in her rose sweater.

Petal Bear was crosshatched with longings, but not, after they were married, for Quoyle.

While she remained a curious equation that attracted many mathematicians.

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

Born To Run by Christopher McDougall

220px-Born2runFull title: Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

My friend Joe Boydston recommended this book to me. I attended one of his running clinics at the Automattic Grand Meetup in Park City, Utah in September. In a short hour, Joe changed the way I approach my training and after applying his tips to my runs, I’ve been given a whole new lease on an activity I’ve been doing off and on for over 20 years. I knew I had to read this book.

Born To Run is one part adventure story, one part science, one part anthropology, and one part sheer guts. As an oft-injured runner, McDougall opens the book lamenting another injury. He’s trying to figure out what he’s doing wrong in an activity that’s natural to all humans.

Conventional science says that running is guaranteed to tear our bodies down over time with the repetitive pounding, yet by investigating science, history, and anthropology, McDougall discovers that the human body — with it’s upright form maximized for air intake, springy, rubber-band-like tendons geared to storing and returning energy repeatedly over long durations, and our well-muscled buttocks — has evolved into a running machine, dispelling the myth that as runners, we’re slowly ruining our bodies over time. 

McDougall posits that we get injured because we use high-tech running shoes as a crutch, and that these cushy shoes create more running injuries than they cure. The book talks of the foot as a marvel of evolutionary engineering that we as a society have allowed to let languish in shoes, essentially weakening our foundation, causing supination, and over pronation — the very form problems shoes, braces, and orthotics are meant to cure. Strengthen the foot, and improve your running form, says McDougall.

The anthropological study of the evolution of The Running Man is accompanied narratively by stories of The Tarahumara, a race of Indians in the remote Mexican Copper Canyons, who run ultra marathons in the mountains for the fun of it. The culmination of the book is an epic 50-‘mile ultra marathon in the Carrabancas pitting ultra-marathoner extraordinaire Scott Jurek against some eccentric and somewhat crazy American athletes and a group of Tarahumarans —  a race arranged by a running-crazed drifter called Caballo Blanco.

The pacing of the book is excellent — it’s difficult to put down and it’s a very enjoyable read. One thing that struck me is that the book opens with McDougall’s running injury, and ends as he completes the Carrabancan ultra. The reader gets occasional advice on the way he revises his form –(easy, light), back straight, head up, knees up, short strides at a cadence of 180 steps per minute — though I would have loved to know more about his personal recovery and how these principles changed his approach to running.

October, 2014