Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Trial by Trail

The thing I love most about our subdivision is the running trail that circles the subdivision. If you run the complete loop, it comes out to about a 5K. At one point, the paved path becomes a dirt path that borders a lake. It's only about a quarter mile but I've had my fair share of adventures on it nonetheless.

I am not a fast runner but I compensate for my slowness in two ways. One, I wear fast clothes. You know, sweat wicking, slinky clothes that have racing stripes and swooshes. Two, I try to run at unpopular times, like say, 10 am or 1pm, so that I am the only runner out there. That way I won't be passed too often. I run as regularly as a SAHM with 4 kids can, and my times have slowly, (so slowly), but consistenly improved. I think I even convinced myself I wasn't so slow anymore until one Saturday when I broke one of my rules. I ran at the peak running hour for the weekend--9am.

I was pushing myself, running hard. I was sweaty and I could feel my form suffering. My hair was plastered to my face and I was making gasping noises. I was on the dirt path, rounding the lake. I knew I had less than a half mile and I was done with the run for the day. I fumbled with my mp3 player, trying to eek out some fortitude by amping up the beat, when from nowhere a runner side-stepped past me on the single-file path. Startled, I stumbled a little, and watched with dejection as toned, tan thighs and a perky pony tail bounced effortlessly past me.
I lurched awkwardly as I tried to answer with a burst of speed of my own, arms flailing, feet thudding, but it was pointless. I could have been standing still; the young runner steadily bounded from view. In a burst of recognition, I watched youth personified pass by me, without a look back, presumptuous and oblivious, now steadily receding from my grasp.

I sighed and resumed a joggers shuffle, ignoring pain in my knee, hip, and--was that a twinge in my back? My hips may have started their mid-life spread, age spots might be shadowing my face, my toddlers may have turned into teens, but I know my PR is still out there, and I have plenty of time to grab it. Youth may no longer be my adjective, but maturity has imbued me with tenacity and perseverance. I embrace this body with all its flaws and know that I have plenty of miles to wring out of it yet.

The Innocent Man

The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ok, when I say I like this book, I mean that it is an informative, well-written book that tells an important story. But I can't say I "liked" it--it made me more heart-sick than anything. It's the story of a man, who is falsely accused of a crime, sent to death row, and at the eleventh hour, is exonerated. But it is really the story of several men who were badly mistreated, and falsely accused and prosecuted and found guilty all in the same small town in Oklahoma. Grisham doesn't tell the story from the side of the policemen and investigators who basically tortured "confessions" out of these innocent men, and I wished that he had. I find it hard to believe that these policemen could behave like that without some other motive than just trying to nail somebody, anybody, for a crime. But the fact that they behaved like this more than once doesn't demonstrate that they were full of "good intentions".
This is the story of how justice can be grossly miscarried. But it is also the story of how mentally ill people are minimilized, villified, and abused. It is also the story of how people without money are minimilized, villified, and abused. How Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz were convicted of a murder they didn't commit is due more to their pocketbook than to the evidence at hand. I was also appalled by the conditions of prisons in this country. I was deeply saddened by the lack of care and respect people have for one another, people who should know better. How can we as humans see suffering and not try to relieve it somehow?
This isn't the best non-fiction I've read. It could be better researched. Some of it could be better told. And there are story lines that are delved into deeply in the story and then not referred to again (until the epilogue) but it is an engrossing story, and in the end, it is the story of how justice ultimately triumphed, at least in the case of the courts. What we can do for the mentally ill still seems to remain a big question.
Grisham said he could have written even more on this story, and I sort of wish he had. I wish he would have gone more into Gore's trial, told more of how the lawyers and people who helped him felt about Williamson, and what the original prosecutors thought, felt. But what is here is a great, tragic story. It's just too bad it's all true.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Coraline

Coraline Coraline by Neil Gaiman


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In a world where the new YA novel is actually a 4-7 book-long epic, this little novella exposes the most imaginative and compelling world. Gaiman's simple tale of a little girl who walks through a door and discovers a world where nothing is what it seems sucks you in, and when you are done you are delighted and satisfied.
I was completely enchanted from the beginning. And then things got wierd, and then sort of disturbed, and I thought, should this be a kids book? But it's all about courage, and facing our fears, about looking at things in a new light. Toys forgotten at the bottom of toy boxes are actually precious, mirrors are really hiding places, other mothers who seem perfect--look again and they are not who they seem to be at all. I won't give it all away--just know that this little book is so much more than it seems. Truly amazing.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

If I Stay

If I Stay If I Stay by Gayle Forman


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Mia-- a senior in high school who is mature, studious girl who plays the cello, has a tight family she loves, and a boyfriend who just may be the love of her life--has just survived a car accident, and now hovers between life and death. As she reflects on her past and contemplates her future will she choose to fight for life, or will she let go?
It's an interesting concept and, given the subject matter, of course, it pulls at your heartstrings. In the end, though, I'm not sure the book had that much to offer, given the fact that it's a life and death book and it's marketed to teens. I mean, what makes a book a "teen" book? And who decides this is a "teen" book vs. an "adult" book? Is it just because the heroine is a teen? Because I find when I read "teen" books, I expect different things from them (and maybe that's not fair, but there it is). I don't expect there to be as much literary sophistication (which this book didn't have), but I do expect to find more clean language and less sex (which, I guess, comparatively this book did have, though not as much as I wished)but more than that, I expect the book to offer something more to sink your teeth into, to inspire or make you think. I think YA fiction sometimes just skims the surface, like teens aren't ready for deep thinking, and while Forman thinks her readers can relate to a serious girl that perfers Mozart over punk rock, and is mature enough to relate to her parents, who are "cool" enough to give her and her underage boyfriend alcohol, and then let them go upstairs with a "knowing smile" then surely, the decision to live or die should involve more inner struggle than "I am so tired" and "I just have to squeeze his hand".
This is not to say it's a bad book. The characters are well-written and aren't stero-typed. It does make you think about the little things in life that make life worthwhile, and it does celebrate a good family relationship. I guess I'm just as confused as Mia whether her story is good enough to tell.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Sea of Monsters

The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #2) The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I am loving this series. The second book was even more enjoyable than the first. Riordan provides better focus, plot, and emotion with this follow-up to The Lightening Thief. Riordan also does a better job referencing the monsters back to the old Greek tales, so that young readers know where they came from. But he still does a terrific job at imagining what these gods and monsters would be like in 21st century America.
This time Percy must locate the Golden Fleece to save Camp Half-Blood Hill. They must sail through the Sea of Monsters to retrieve it, which, it turns out is off the coast of Miami a.k.a the Bermuda Triangle. Along the way, Percy learns that "Families are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is to remind each other that we're related, for better or worse...and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum."

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