Essential Cookbooks

Here is the second in my series of Thursday “lifestyle” posts. As we get ready to put the apartment on the market again, most of our cookbooks have to go into storage so that the bookshelves don’t look too “heavy” or “intimidating” per our realtor. This means keeping out only my essential cookbooks, so I thought I’d highlight a few.

Tender by Nigel Slater

I have and adore several of Nigel Slater’s cookbooks. Appetite is another one I highly recommend if you are a beginning cook, and also Real Food, from which I got one of my favorite fast recipes. But Tender is the one I open the most often these days. It goes through a long list of vegetables, from A to Z, and gives many recipes and serving ideas.

Like many of Slater’s books, it is as much of an idea book as a recipe book, with helpful serving suggestions as well as written-out recipes. The recipes are vegetable-centric but not all vegetarian. I love ordering a CSA box and using this book to figure out what to do with the haul.

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi

I love Middle Eastern food, and Jerusalem is the crossroads of many cultures. Though with all of Ottolenghi’s recipes I like to use about a quarter of the hot peppers, and half the oil, that he calls for, the combinations of flavors are wonderful, and many of them are new to me.

I make several of the different lamb meatballs regularly. The barley risotto is in frequent rotation, and the desserts have been unexpected and wonderful. Like Tender above, he uses many fresh vegetables, and huge handfuls of herbs, making these dishes very fresh-tasting.


 The Best Recipe by America’s Test Kitchen

It’s not sexy, but you need one good reference cookbook. Once upon a time it was The Joy of Cooking, but now it’s The Best Recipe. America’s Test Kitchen exhaustively tests everything, and while I sometimes find their recipes to be a bit fussy to make and plain to eat, it is an excellent reference for the basics.

Their Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe cannot be improved upon. Their Flourless Chocolate Cake recipe is divine. The Caesar Salad recipe is perfection. If you want to eat a standard American recipe, this is the place to start. I also love their baking book, Italian book, and Soups and Stews book.


What are some of your essential cookbooks?

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Roasted Root Vegetable Soup

Turnip and carrot tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper
Turnip and carrot tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper

I do writing and reading blog posts every Tuesday, and now I’m gong to start doing lifestyle blog posts every Thursday, mostly about cooking and crafting.

One of my favorite things about winter is cooking warming foods, and I particularly love root vegetable soups. They taste very creamy without being loaded with heavy cream. They are a good starter, and for lunches I will dice any leftover protein I have sitting around and eat it in the soup. I don’t really use a recipe, because it always depends what I have in the refrigerator, but here’s a general idea.

Vegetables I like to use: carrots, turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery root.


Step 1: Roast root vegetables

After roasting

Preheat oven to 400. Cut up root vegetables into 1″ cubes. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper. Roast for 20 min, toss, roast for another 20-25 min. They’re done when you can press a butter knife through them, but you’re going to simmer them also, so it doesn’t matter if they’re completely done.

Step 2: Onions and butter

In a big pot, saute chopped onions or shallots in a generous amount of butter (2-3 T). You can fry some celery with this as well.


Step 3: Simmer

Add roasted root vegetables to the pot, cover with water or stock. If using water, add some bullion–I like Chicken Better than Bullion. Simmer for 20-30 minutes covered.

With some leftover pork shoulder stirred in and a dollop of arugula pesto

Step 4: Blend

Let cool until it’s not dangerously hot, and blend until smooth. May need to do this in two batches.

Step 5: Adjust flavors

Return it all to the pot and heat through. This is a good time to taste it and see what it needs. I often find it needs several grindings of fresh pepper and the juice from half a lemon.

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How to cook dinner at make it all come out at the same time

Sunday night dinner

I was bragging on Facebook the other day that one of my superpowers is cooking dinner and making it all come out at the same time, and promised some tips about that, so here they are! It’s not magic, and it’s not a superpower, it takes some planning but it also takes some of the tips I will outline below, from easiest to more difficult.

General Principles & Tips

My goal when serving a meal is for everything to come to the table warm and properly cooked, not for everything to finish at exactly the same time. That is not necessary. The main key is knowing not only how long everything takes, but how long different steps take and when dishes can be held while other dishes catch up to them. A lot of this is trial and error, but here are some tips:

  • Have a good idea of how long each thing you’re making takes over all, and how long major steps take
  • Chopping ingredients takes longer than you think. If there are a lot to be chopped do it first.
  • Boiling water takes longer than you think, do it first or at least early
  • Preheating an oven takes longer than you think
  • Potatoes and other root vegetables retain heat very well, so you have about 10 minutes of leeway after they are done cooking before they start to get cold
  • Rice is better if it sits for 10-20 minutes. Boil rice early.
  • Any dish that starts with sauteing onions and garlic can be held after that step is done. Leave the burner on the lowest setting or turn it off.
  • Any hot dish on the stove-top that does not involve vegetables or pasta that are going to get overcooked can be held at a very low burner setting when they’re done
  • I love roasting because you stick your vegetables or whatever in the oven and set a timer. Toss once, set another time, done. Super easy.
  • Roasting temperatures can be variable, much more than for baking. If you have something that needs to be roasted at 375 and something else at 425, consider roasting them both at 400.
  • You can hold a roasted vegetable in the oven for 5-10 minutes by turning off the oven but not opening it
  • If anything takes cream as a finisher, don’t add it until the very end
  • Things that are fast or touchy should get priority at any moment
  • MOST IMPORTANT: If you’re making one fast and touchy dish, or a new dish, choose other dishes you know well that are easy and easy to hold

Difficulty Level 0: Cold dinner

Have a picnic food where everything is cold, and don’t worry about it.

Difficulty Level 1: One hot dish, the rest cold

Still very easy. Just make sure you finish the cold dishes before finishing the hot dish. For example, say your meal is a stew, salad, and (store-bought) bread. This one is nice and easy because a stew can be held on simmer forever. If it’s something more time-sensitive than a stew, and has a cooking phase that’s long enough to make your cold dishes, make them while your hot dish is cooking. Otherwise make the cold dishes first, then the hot dishes.

Difficulty Level 2: Two hot components, the rest cold

This can make up most of your meals. Let’s say you’re making a fast-paced pasta sauce, like all’amatriciana, over pantry (not fresh) pasta, with a side salad. This is where you have to understand what takes up the most amount of time. If I were making this meal I would:

  1. Start boiling the pasta water–this will take the longest
  2. Chop everything for the sauce
  3. Start sauteing bacon, onions, garlic for the sauce
  4. If the water is taking a long time, you can hold the onion mixture here
  5. Pasta probably cooks for 10 minutes. Put it in when the water is boiling
  6. Add the tomatoes to the sauce
  7. Make up the salad (I make very simple salads)
  8. Keep an eye on the sauce and when it’s done cooking, turn the burner to its lowest setting
  9. Drain the pasta
  10. Add cream to the sauce, if using

Voila, dinner is ready.

Difficulty Level 3: Three easy hot dishes, maybe some of them use the oven

Sunday night I made roast chicken with potatoes and onions, roast broccoli rabe, and heating up some frozen sourdough rolls. It’s not a hard 3-dish meal, but everything is hot and in the oven.

  • A whole roast chicken can be a challenge because the cooking time is variable, so you have to be flexible.
  • The chicken cooks for 90 minutes or so, so that’s most of the cooking time. The potatoes and onions cook in the roasting pan under the chicken, so that’s two dishes for the price of one.
  • Chicken is better if it sits a little before carving, giving me a buffer.
  • The broccoli rabe only takes 10 min in a 400-425 oven
  • The rolls warm up at 400 for 12-14 min
  • So the chicken comes out at 7pm, then then I throw the rolls in while the oven goes from 350 to 400.
  • Once it gets to 400, the broccoli rabe goes in
  • Carve the chicken in the last few minutes of cooking the rolls and broccoli rabe

Difficulty Level 4: Everything is cooked hot and fast and can’t be held

One of my favorite meals, which is easy and fast but requires good timing is: Duck breast, red wine pan sauce, store bought pumpkin ravioli, roasted broccoli rabe (I have an obssession). Here are the steps I would go through:

  1. Start boiling water for the ravioli
  2. Preheat the oven for the duck
  3. Score the duck breast, salt and pepper
  4. Heat up the pan and start stove-top cooking the duck
  5. Cut up the broccoli rabe and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper
  6. Put the broccoli rabe on its roasting pan
  7. Probably pour off some fat from the duck breast
  8. Prep the pan for the oven for the duck breast
  9. Put the broccoli rabe in the oven
  10. Take the duck breast off the stove-top and onto its roasting pan, put it on the other shelf in the oven
  11. Make the pan sauce for the duck in the same pan (I do a very easy pan sauce with red wine, honey, a little Beef Better Than Bullion, and maybe some jam or a cinnamon stick)
  12. You have maybe 2 minutes left on everything now. Boil the pumpkin ravioli.
  13. Take out the duck and tent it with foil to let it rest
  14. Take out the broccoli rabe, and add lemon juice and crumbled goat cheese
  15. Drain the ravioli
  16. Carve the duck breast
  17. Put everything on a plate and serve

The above takes about 30 minutes and I’m moving the whole time.

A Side Note

I read an article the other day that says Americans are eating fewer leftovers and throwing more food away. Leftovers are the best way to make sure everything is ready at the same time, especially on a weekday after work. And it doesn’t have to be cooking one thing and eating it all week. I made two whole roast chickens on Sunday. I made stock from the bones. I stirred some meat into soup I already had made for lunch yesterday, and made some of the meat and stock into Avgolemono Soup on Monday evening, which is a very fast soup and also used up some leftover rice I had sitting around. I will probably make some more of the chicken into Chicken Tikka Masala tomorrow. Often I’ll make side dishes that can stretch for more than one meal so I can have meals that are different combinations of leftovers.


Trial and error is very important. If the timing didn’t work out, figure out why not and try to do it differently next time. That’s true of all of cooking, and all of life, really. Experience, and learning from that experience, makes all of this much easier.

Let me know if you have any questions! I’ve been doing this for long enough that I have probably forgotten to mention important things that I now take for granted.

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Maybe I should have played D&D

I’ve been listening to The Adventure Zone podcast, thanks to an effusive article on it by Film Crit Hulk. I’ve never played D&D, but I had a lot of friends in late high school who played RPGs (Role Playing Games). Actually, they mostly played LARPs (Live Action Role Plays), some even with foam-covered PVC (polyvinyl chloride–sorry not sorry) pipes.

For those who aren’t familiar, RPGs are a sort of non-comedic improv game, where characters–that have to obey certain rules of construction–are guided through an adventure by the DM/GM (Dungeon Master/Game Master). I did once play an NPC (non-player character) in a local Vampire LARP, but if there was a GM, they were nowhere to be found, so I didn’t know what to do. And I suspect it was an excuse for a boy I had a flirtation with to bite my neck.

….Anyhooooo, I was always tangential to groups of people playing RPGs, but I never did it myself. I think a part of me definitely thought it was a nerdy bridge too far. I didn’t really see the point. But I think my biggest concern was always that I would do it wrong. I was painfully perfectionistic well into my 20s, and playing an RPG felt so exposed–what if I did it wrong? What if I was totally boring? WHAT IF I DID IT WRONG?????

(The world might end. My friends might think I was boring, which was like the world ending, but worse. I might have to fling myself into the sun.)

Once I started writing more seriously, I told myself that I wouldn’t want to play an RPG because (a) it wouldn’t produce any potentially publishable work, and (b) if I couldn’t control all the characters, and the ending, what was the point? But now that I’m listening to The Adventure Zone, which is a podcast of three brothers and their father playing D&D, I finally get it. Griffin is a strong DM who always has good scenarios for his players.

They make jokes, about the situation they are in, and about family pecadillos because they know each other well. The characters, especially Taako, the dumb-as-a-brick elven wizard, are hilarious and sometimes poignant. There are wonderful NPCs, even early on, like Klarg, the Oolong-tea-drinking orc, and Jess The Beheader, a professional wrestler, and poor, departed Jenkins (who put up with a lot of shit from the main guys, let me tell you).

I admire what they’re doing, and it doesn’t seem as impossible for me to engage with as it once did. I see how everyone works together to make it a good storytelling experience. It’s a totally different kind of storytelling than writing a novel, and wonderful in its own way. I think I finally get it now. Maybe playing an RPG wouldn’t be fraught, wouldn’t expose the fact that I’m a writer because I think much better in text that I can go back and fix than I do out loud, on my feet. Maybe it would be fun. Maybe it would be play.

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Viking Women’s Work

I’ve loved yarn and fiber arts almost as long as I’ve loved reading. My mom knit me many sweaters and even more pairs of mittens (which I frequently lost, sorry Mom). A family friend taught me how to crochet when I was eight, in my teens I had an apprenticeship at a weaving shop, and over the years I’ve learned how to:

  • Crochet
  • Tat (make tatted lace)
  • Do macrame and make friendship bracelets–even had a little business selling them in middle school
  • Knit
  • Weave on a floor loom
  • Spin yarn (insert joke about spinning yarns here)
  • Nalbinding (a precursor to knitting–samples have been found in viking camps)
A drop spindle with a hand-dyed merino silk blend

There’s something very satisfying to me about creating something from nothing, from raw materials to finished fabric. Spinning is one of the more recent addition to that list. I decided to learn about five years ago, starting with a drop spindle, which is a much cheaper way to begin than buying a wheel.

I’ve always wanted to learn to spin with a drop spindle, because Morgaine in The Mists of Avalon was always going into trances when she spun with her spindle–I might secretly be a sorceress! Viking women used drop spindles; the spinning wheel wasn’t invented until around 1500. Making yarn with a drop spindle is time consuming. Icelandic women were rated as potential wives by how many yards of fabric they could produce in a year. I believe that 40 was a very respectable number.

My wheel

After spinning up about a pound of wool on my drop spindle, I knew I liked spinning enough to purchase a wheel, which is a bit more of an investment. And so much easier. Still, it takes a few weeks of spinning an hour or so a day for me to turn 4oz of fleece into 400 yards of 3-ply yarn. I can hardly imagine spinning enough yarn to weave the fabric for a sail. From, “It is estimated that about 35 hours of labor was required to make the thread required for one day of weaving.” Kings might be able to afford imported silk, but most ships had sails made of wool.

And I usually start my spinning with combed top, which is cleaned and dyed, and all of the fibers are facing the same direction so they can easily be spun directly with no further processing. A friend of mind recently sent me some raw wool, which I will have to wash several times, pick through to remove vegetable matter, and finally card into rolags for spinning–far more work than I do with my lovely combed top.

Raw (barn-scented!) fleece

Not only did women spin and weave fabric for nearly every sail, they also clothed their families from birth to death, in wool that had to keep out the harsh Norse winter. Sagas rarely tell of their deeds, but the Vikings would not have been able to cross the North Atlantic without the work of thousands of anonymous women. I’m glad I can spend months spinning and knitting 4 oz of prepared fleece into a beautiful shawl instead.


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My First Spartan Race

This weekend I did my first Spartan Race, which was billed as a “Sprint” but ended up being 3 hours (3:00:55 exactly), 5.2 miles, up and down a ski-resort mountain 5 times, with 21 obstacles, including my least favorite: getting under about 200 yards of barbed wire strung at 18″ off the ground. The best way to do it: roll. Uphill. On an elbow that I had already fallen on twice. I have deep bruises on my hip, butt, and elbow, and a peppering of little bruises everywhere else. I was so wiped out afterward that it took me 3 hours to eat the dinner I’d ordered when I got home.

It was pretty great.

Why am I smiling in this picture? What sorcery is this?
Why am I smiling in this picture? What sorcery is this?

The last 3 years or so I’ve been training Strongman and competing in Strongman competitions pretty exclusively, and this summer I decided to expand my fitness pursuits a bit to obstacle racing. I had planned to wait until later in the summer, but a friend of mine was doing this one, and I thought it would be an “easy” way to check out the sport.

(I won’t say I couldn’t have done it without him, but he stuck with me the whole time, cheered and encouraged me, and never once made me feel worried about my speed–it was really fun to do it with a buddy. I can’t wait to be someone else’s buddy on another race in the future.)

I’m pretty athletic these days–I lift weights or do Strongman for 90 minutes 4 times a week, and run 10 miles a week. I can do 8 strict pull-ups in a row, dead-lift over 300 pounds, and run for 60 minutes without stopping. I’ve won local Strongman competitions and I qualified for and competed at Strongman Nationals last year.

But this was still a serious challenge. Unlike a Strongman competition where each event never takes more than 90 seconds, this took a long time, and my strength was never the issue. By the second half of the race, I would have done any number of obstacles rather than go up another hill. I would take ten steps up a 50% grade slope, and then have to stop and catch my breath.

Not sure what's happening here, but it looks like action, right?
Not sure what’s happening here, but it looks like action, right?

The first 75 minutes of the race I felt great. I jogged a bit up and down some of the hills, even on rough terrain. My partner and I helped each other out getting over the taller walls–even being able to do pullups, it’s good to have a push to get from a chin over the wall to shoulders over the wall. Then we had that 200yd barbed wire roll, and my energy level plummeted. No more glycogen in my legs, every uphill step made me breathe hard.

It was harder than I expected, but I also did as well as I hoped, and as well as I expected. I expected to hit a wall at some point, though I was hoping it would be further along. I expected to cry at some point, and I did when I fell off a rig with very slippery rings and landed on my elbow, which I’d already deeply bruised earlier in the race. I go into this sort of stuff for the challenge, though. There was still 2.5 miles more racing to do after I fell, and it was rewarding to pick myself up and go on.

All these smiles! It’s like I was having a good time or something!

I hoped to do the rope climb successfully, and I did, carefully, and with perfect form. I had such a good leg wrap that I could sit on the rope and rest my hands. I heard someone from below tell her friend to “look what she’s doing–that’s how you climb a rope”. I hoped to do the monkey bars successfully, and I did, even though it was after I hit the wall. The bars were at least 2 feet apart, and some were higher and lower than others, but again, I did it carefully, and made it across.

I never even considered quitting, which is good–and it helped to have a partner there for that.

The last obstacle was a very low fire to jump over.

In some ways, it was easier than a Strongman competition, though. Aside from the bruises, it didn’t make me sore. I didn’t have the intense nerves I have to manage in Strongman, or the intense disappointment when I don’t perform as well as I’d like. In this case, my overall goal was to keep moving and finish the race. I knew I might have to face some challenges to get there, but that, barring major injury, I would. I loved being outside in the woods for so long. At one moment when we were going downhill, the view opened up in front of us, green trees on valleys and hills as far as we could see. I get that so rarely living in New York City.

I do hope to do another obstacle race in the future And what I need to do to prepare is greatly increase my running endurance, and do more hill climbing. The obstacles are not a big problem, and are not my limiting factor at this point. 3 hours of exertion, dehydrated and underfed–that’s what I need to manage next time.

Those are dehydration crazy-eyes.
Those are dehydration crazy-eyes.
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Why I Think Crossfit Is Important (Even Though I Don’t Do It Much Anymore)

Viking_PressOne morning, four and a half years ago, I went to my first Crossfit class, and I hated it and it made me cry and feel like a failure. I swore I’d never do it again. But that evening I signed up for a monthly membership, and I started going. And I cried in other classes, and I dropped a barbell on my leg.

It took me 13 months to be able to do a full, un-assisted pull-up. Now I can do  7 in a row. I went to Strongman Nationals last year.

But by the time I started Crossfit, I’d already started doing some work to learn that failure is okay; in fact, it’s the only way you get to success. I’d been learning that in my writing, and Crossfit reinforced it.

The other amazing thing about Crossfit is that it takes everyone seriously as an athlete. If you have barely risen from your couch in five years, and you go to a Crossfit class, you will be taken seriously as an athlete. The coaches will find a way for you to participate in the workout, and the next time you do it, you’ll be a little better, and a little better the time after that.

Crossfit takes everyone seriously and meets them where they are.

I think those are good lessons for anything you really want to do. Start where you are, and take yourself seriously. Taking yourself seriously doesn’t mean not having a sense of humor, it means believing that it is worth your time and energy to do the thing you’ve committed to. Whether that’s learning to cook, or exercise, or write a novel. I think we often don’t take ourselves seriously because then if we fail, or worse, if we give up, we haven’t really put ourselves on the line.

But if you don’t take yourself seriously, and put yourself on the line, how can you succeed?

I’d never found anything fitness related before that began with the idea that each person is an athlete, capable and willing to improve–and every fitness endeavor should.

I don’t do Crossfit much anymore because I’ve found some other fitness things to take seriously, and which I find more fun. I like Strongman more. I like getting stronger infinitely more than I like doing burpees. But that focused seriousness of purpose will go with me for the rest of my life.

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Lifting weights makes you dumb

And by you, I mean me. And by me, I mean for the 60 minutes after lifting something very heavy, I can’t do basic math and am incredibly forgetful. Over the course of my strongman career, I have left…let’s see…roughly everything I own in every gym in the tri-state area.

This is from a contest over a year ago, but this is what lifting an atlas stone looks like.
This is from a contest over a year ago, but this is what lifting an atlas stone looks like.

Today I lifted a 210-lb atlas stone a few times, going over 200 lbs for the first time in ages, and it was very hard, and afterward, I left my purse on the train platform and got on the train without it.

Luckily the ticket taker wanted my ticket right away, so I discovered I was missing it right after the train pulled away from the station.

Luckily the next station was pretty close, so I got off there to make my way back.

Luckily I had my phone so I could use Uber to get back to the train station.

Luckily before my Uber even arrived, a train came going the other direction.

Luckily no ticket taker talked to me between Larchmont and Mamaroneck.


Luck was on my side today. And luckily post-weightlifting brain wears off pretty quickly…just in time to do some writing this afternoon.




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Two very different books about athletic achievement

Before I went on vacation I read two very different books about athletic achievement. One was What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, and the other was Spartan Up! by Joe De Sena. Murakami is a fiction writer I greatly enjoy. De Sena is an investment banker who retired from that and started Spartan Races, a type of obstacle racing.

In many ways it’s unfair to compare them. They were written for different purposes and different audiences. Sena has a life philosophy that he wants to share. Murakami is writing about his own experiences with running, what they mean to him, and how their meaning has changed over the years, as he gained more experience and aged.

Murakami’s book reads more true to me because it’s one person’s experience, rather than espousing a life philosophy for everyone. By showing an individual experience, it implies the universal, while De Sena’s explicitly states a universal, which is everyone should work really hard and push themselves to their limits as much as possible. Every decision in every day should be weighed against whether it will make you better.

I mistrust life philosophies that purport to be universal, and I especially mistrust De Sena’s, for a few reasons. De Sena’s has no balance. If you are an overachiever, it’s easy to believe that every moment you must push yourself to do better (and if you don’t, you’re a failure), but that sort of thinking is incredibly damaging. I kept reading this book and thinking “yes, but”.

Yes, there is a value in pushing one’s self to the limits. I have learned a lot about myself by pushing myself to my physical limits, and discovering the mental limits that are there as well. We live in an insulating world here in the affluent west, and unless we seek out challenging experiences they don’t come to our door. But one of the things I’ve learned from pushing myself that hard is that it is damaging to do it too often.

Yes, physical strength and preparedness are great tools for letting me feel confident, prevent injuries (although they cause others), and improving my health. But it feels fascist to insist on it for everyone. Exercise and physical health are not moral goods. I believe they are goods in other ways, but I don’t believe that people have a moral obligation always to make the healthiest choices.

Yes, you can always make the choice to run the ultra marathon, take the 24 hour bike ride, but you, Joe De Sena, have a wife who can take care of your 4 children while you exhaust yourself. Sometimes the hard work is not pushing yourself to your physical limits, but doing the day to day tasks. Okay, that got a little personal, but I couldn’t help but think that his wife is doing a lot of unsung work.

Spartan Up! pushed up against my hard won philosophy for life which is: “Everything that is really worth doing is hard, but not everything hard is worth doing.” That said, it is a motivating book, and everyone needs an engagingly written kick in the ass sometimes, and this book is that. It’s just a bit one-sided.

By contrast, Murakami’s book is a personal exploration of what running has meant for him. He talks about how it affects his writing, and the similarities to his writing. He talks about the meaning of winning (or not), and the inevitable slowness he’s found with age. When you can no longer keep setting personal bests what does the pursuit mean? He doesn’t have universal answers. He barely has answers for himself. He only has observations. He has moments of delight. He has moments of pain and discomfort.

Pursuing athletic achievement has shown me humans’ ability to accomplish remarkable feats, but it has also shown me how very fragile we are. Becoming stronger is walking a fine line between injury and growth. The two hundred pound stone I pick up, and feel mastery of, can crush my finger. We are strong and we are weak. Murakami’s book explores both sides of that. De Sena’s tries to ignore the weakness, but I think that a philosophy that does not embrace both sides is missing something.

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Writing and Knitting (and Lifting Weights)

Last night I went to a reading/conversation at The Center For Fiction for Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting, edited by Ann Hood, who read her essay, and in conversation with one of my favorite teachers from NYU, Elissa Schappell.

The book, from what I understand, uses knitting or learning to knit, or family members that knit, as a jumping off point to talk about other things, for the most part, rather than being about the intricacies of knitting. No knit snobs allowed.

But how can you be snobby when someone learned to knit to give their hands something to do when they mourned the death of a child, or said goodbye to a dying parent? The book contains a variety of perspectives, stories both funny and poignant. I definitely plan to read it at some point.

ETA: My mother-in-law is getting this book for me for Christmas/Hannukah! Awesome.

Hood and Schappell talked about if writers write like they knit. I’ve often thought that knitting a sweater bears some similarities to writing a novel:

1. They are big projects that take a lot of time and patience

2. They are 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

3. Sweaters/novels stand on the shoulders of those that have come before, and do well to follow certain rules, but can also be formed in many different ways.

And then me as a knitter/writer:

1. I like to do research first, putting together stitch patterns and a sweater pattern, never following any pattern exactly, but always having a moderate plan.

2. I am ambitious. I am not a swatcher, a hat-knitter, or a short story writer. I like to knit beautiful, intricate sweaters on small needles. I write long historical novels. So far, anyway.

3. I knit mostly for myself. At least when I’m knitting sweaters. I write and plan the books I want to read.

4. I am impatient, and begin before fully planning, and do my planning along the way.

5. Successes and failures are big and dramatic. I can work for months or years, slave over something, and it may not be usable, wearable, readable in the end. Or it might be a sweater that every time I put it on, I think: this might be the most beautiful sweater in the entire world.

But as a somewhat serious strength athlete, there are ways I think writing is like getting stronger.

1. You have to trust the process.

2. There is a lot to learn, and you have to do some things that don’t seem that helpful but actually do help in the long run.

3. You have to be patient. You’re lifting things and its only getting slightly easier, but then months go by, and if you keep doing it, at the end, you are stronger, and you have the word count for a novel, if not the structure yet.

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