Personal Record
Rachel Toor
University of Nebraska Press, 2008, 164 pages

I readily admit I’m a sucker for great books about running, and I confess that I do like the Penguin Chronicles. I’ve notched enough marathons to appreciate gutsy races, ridiculous workouts, and the esoteric prose that some writers put forth to champion their cause, their world belief and all of their personal records. Nonetheless, far too many running books are weighed down with pride.

Thankfully, this is not the case with Personal Record. Oddly enough, I dare the reader to find more than one or two of Rachel’s records. At a recent reading at Aunties, Toor remarked, “This is a book for runners, but this is also a book for friends or relatives or spouses of runners who just don’t get it.” In a stroke of genius, she wrote 26.2 chapters and essentially traced the route of her running career through coaches, boyfriends, stand out races, heartbreaking setbacks and numerous observations found along the way. The .2 is the acknowledgements—rightly so since it’s your support team that truly make the final marathon push possible.

Considering Clif Bar sponsors her as a pacer for marathons across the country, she draws from a huge pool of races. Throughout the book, she notes the irony of her endless running shoes, peculiar race directors, and something she calls Speed Goggles. She even draws out the humor found in never going anywhere without her unwieldy computer watch, as well as keeping Shot Blocs in her running bra for an electrolyte snack on the long four-hour training runs.

Personal Record passionately displays a talented running career, a vision for witty writing, and a striking snapshot of an athlete who, by her own account, took a long time to discover what running would do for her heart. “Not the knobby muscle that pumps blood through the body, the organ that keeps the physical self alive, but the notional place where feelings pool and clog and eventually spring free.”

If you know a runner, and you don’t get it, then perhaps Personal Record can help.

Jon Jonckers

Wilderness Pleasures: A Practical Guide To Camping Bliss
Kevin Callan
Boston Mills Press, 2008, 240 pages

Kevin Callan’s latest book has a simple yet lofty goal: to inform readers how to make their camping experiences more comfortable and pleasurable. Sounds great, but the book’s expansive range of topics, broad audience, and quirky sense of humor hinder the accomplishment of this goal.

The topics covered by this book range from indispensible to bewildering. Sections on trip preparation, camp gadgets and gear, and camp food all make perfect sense, but do readers really get much out of sections on how to choose camping companions? A “how to” section on map parties? This extraneous and useless information distracts the reader and diminishes the book’s
effectiveness.

Wilderness Pleasures is aimed primarily at inexperienced campers. But Callan is an avid canoeist, so much of the advice within Wilderness Pleasures seems aimed at paddlers. The section on eating well, for instance, assumes access to fresh ingredients without regard for weight or the ability to keep things cold. Backpackers, therefore, will find this information useless, but car campers or paddlers will find a wealth of helpful hints about how to maximize their backcountry dining experience, including quite a few recipes.

If Wild Pleasures is an accurate reflection of its author, then Callan is a goofy guy. The book abounds with pictures of Callan and his companions in goofy poses and silly faces. Other attempts at humor include the lists that frequently interrupt the text. Some of the lists offer up helpful information in a quick-access format. But some are just silly, such as “Top Ten Songs NOT to Listen to Before You Go.” The humor quickly wears thin.

There is a lot of genuinely useful information here, especially for the inexperienced camper. The tips and tricks are the sort only learned through experience. But the author’s insistence to continually inject himself and his quirky humor into the text proves distracting. Some may find it charming; I found it distasteful ornament.

David Tagnani

Hot, Flat And Crowded: Why We Need A Green Revolution – And How It Can Renew America
Thomas L. Friedman, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
2008, 437 pages

As if the threat of global climate change were not enough to get us out of our gas hogs Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Friedman gives us another, world peace.

Hot Flat and Crowded is full of the technical background verifying that human actions are accelerating global climate change. He divides the opponents of this view into three camps, the scientists working for the fossil fuel industry, the small minority of scientists who have examined the data and decided that the rapid increase in greenhouse gas emissions will not effect the planet’s livability, and finally those whose political agenda of less government cannot tolerate the governmental actions needed to reverse the trend to ever increasing use of fossil fuel.

Friedman discusses five reasons that the United States needs a new “green revolution:” energy supply and demand, petropolitics, climate change, energy poverty and biodiversity loss. He explains how the American lifestyle is spreading around the world sucking up resources at not just unsustainable but catastrophic rates. Friedman presents a multitude of examples of how America has lost its influence in the world through our government’s refusal to be part of the solution to runaway consumption. While consumption of all resources is a problem, the reliance on fossil fuels is the greatest. He points out how the flow of petro dollars to countries with fewer freedoms than we enjoy in the “west” fuels the further loss of freedom in those countries.

But reading Hot, Flat and Crowded will not leave you depressed like many books on energy. Friedman provides a plan through which America can regain its status as a world leader through developing sustainable energy sources and curbing our consumption of other resources. At the same time the country can become a leader in producing “green” energy and products that will restore the U.S. to a position of leadership in the industry of the “Energy-Climate Era.”

Reading this book will leave you energized.

Stan Miller