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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Books for the Beginning Runner

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With cooler air and colorful scenery, autumn is the perfect season to begin running outdoors. Before you hit the trail or the pavement, take your first step at the public library where there are dozens of titles to jump-start your journey.

The Runner’s World Big Book of Running for Beginners: Winning Strategies, Inspiring Stories, and the Ultimate Training Tools for Beginning Runners by Jennifer Van Allen is a good starting point for novices. This 2014 guide includes all the basics such as where and when to run, what to eat before and after to maximize performance and how to avoid injuries. Inspiring first-person stories of “how running changed my life” are interspersed throughout the book. Many of these personal essays are by people who began with challenges such as a medical condition or weight problem and yet went on to complete marathons or half-marathons, demonstrating how running can benefit all kinds of people. 
 
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Running is even more comprehensive.  Author Bill Rodgers is an accomplished athlete, four-time winner of both the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon, but he starts off with the basics before delving into more advanced topics. So, it can be read over a series of months as the reader becomes more adept. There is also a simple beginner’s program for walkers with a day-by-day running chart. Basically, you add spurts of running to your walking that become gradually longer until after a month or so you are running instead of walking the whole route. Topics covered include: selecting the right shoes and clothing, gadgets you may or may not need and starting to race, from 5ks to marathons. It also includes chapters on running for women, older adults and parents of small children. 
   
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For pure beginner’s inspiration, it is hard to beat The Courage to Start: A Guide to Running for Your Life by John “The Penguin” Bingham. Bingham wrote “The Penguin Chronicles” column in Runner’s World magazine from his perspective as a couch-potato-turned-avid-runner. Bingham’s book has a reassuring “if I can do it you can do it” message. He writes with self-deprecating humor about his determination to take up running when he could barely huff his way to the end of his own driveway and is a firm believer that running can enrich almost anyone’s life, including those who are not bound for greatness in the sport. Bingham has an enthusiastic following among his fellow “penguin runners” who are less concerned with speed than personal fulfillment and general fitness.  

Runners of any level who are also readers may be interested in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir by Haruki Murakami. The renowned Japanese author wrote this memoir in his late fifties about returning to running after a long absence and a tackling a long distance running regime at a mature age. He writes about his career in literature and how his daily hour-long runs balance out his life as a writer. Murakami’s acclaimed magical realism novels include The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore.  

Whether you are psyching yourself up to begin or are already a seasoned runner, Fairfax County Public Library has a wealth of books available to provide encouragement and practical advice.
 
-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Great Book Club Picks: Anne Perry

You know the scene. It’s your book club meeting, and you helped pick the book. You arrive at the meeting and find a handful of members couldn’t get past the first few chapters. A few were too busy to read it. And hardly anyone who did read the book really liked it all that much. You cringe. But it turns out to be a great night, leads to lots of lively discussion and makes you realize why reading together as a group is such a pleasurable experience.

This happened to me recently. The book was one of Anne Perry’s historical detective novels featuring the recurring character William Monk. Don’t get me wrong: Anne Perry’s books are extremely popular, get good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and nearly always land on the New York Times bestseller list. But midway through the discussion, my book club realized the book we really wanted to read was Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham (originally published as So Brilliantly Clever: Parker, Hulme and the Murder that Shocked the World).


Long before Anne Perry embarked on a successful career writing about murder, she spent time in prison for committing one. Perry (born Juliet Hulme) was 15 when she conspired with her best friend Pauline Parker to kill Parker’s mother. The girls were incensed that Honora Parker would not let Pauline leave New Zealand with Hulme after the latter’s parents separated and planned to return to England. The girls lured Mrs. Parker to a park and bludgeoned her with half of a brick, placed in a stocking. Their cover story easily picked apart, both girls spent time in prison. Hulme eventually moved to the United States, changed her name and began writing. Her identity was largely unknown until the 1994 film Heavenly Creatures brought new attention to the case. (An interesting side-note: Peter Jackson directed the film, which launched his successful, international directing career. The film starred a pre-Titanic Kate Winslet as Hulme.)

My book club normally begins its discussions with a consideration of the author’s biography. This night, no one wanted to move on to the actual book we were supposed to read. So, if provoking good discussion is what makes a book a good choice for book clubs, any of Anne Perry’s mysteries will do. Just make sure you check out Murder of the Century, too, because that’s the selection that will leave everyone talking.  


-Ginger Hawkins, Centreville Regional Library

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fractured Fairy Tales and Fables


At least once a year, I like to pull out the fractured fairy tales and fables. Grade-schoolers of all ages enjoy these, as do I!

The Gingerbread Man
The Gingerbread Man is beloved by everyone. The Gingerbread Man Loose at School by Laura Murphy is a recent hit with kindergarten through second grade. One of my favorite Gingerbread tales though is The Yuckiest, Stinkiest Best Valentine Ever by Brenda Ferber. It is illustrated by Ted Arnold of Fly Guy fame and will have all ages cracking up. It’s especially fun around Valentine’s Day, but would be a fun, silly read any time.


 
Goldilocks
There are a lot of send-ups of Goldilocks, and I’m delighted that Mo Willems took this on in Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. The humor is largely in the drawings. You also won’t want to miss Margie Palatini’s Goldie and the Three Hares.


 

The Little Red Hen
Rebecca and Ed Emberley’s eminently simple, traditional re-telling of The Little Red Hen in bold colors will instantly appeal to preschoolers while grade-schoolers will enjoy Philomen Sturges’s The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza). If you want to introduce a child to cooking, try Janet Stevens’s Cook-a-doodle-do. A big, brown rooster, who is the great grandson of the little red hen, is tired of chicken scratch and wants to try his hand at baking. There are the three requisite “not I” responses, followed by three eager (though inept) volunteers. Lots of hilarity and fun wordplay ensues. There are sidebars with cooking explanations that will allow you to discuss the technical aspects of cooking or at least concoct your own strawberry shortcake. 
 
Jack and the Beanstalk
One version of Jack and the Beanstalk that caught my eye when it came out was Jack and the Baked Beanstalk by Colin Stimpson. Jack and his mother are left high and dry when a highway bypass is constructed right over their cafe. The Depression era illustrations give this book a unique point of view. The giant looks like a bored Wall Street Banker. Diane Stanley takes this tale in an entirely different direction in The Giant and the Beanstalk. In this version, the focus is on the Giant who encounters various Jacks from other nursery rhymes as he strives to find the Jack holding his hen. 

The Three Little Pigs
There are a number of folktales that have taken on a delightful Southwestern or Hispanic twist as seen in The Three Little Tamales by Eric Kimmel, aka the three little pigs, or Kimmel’s Cactus Soup which is a play on Stone Soup. Half the fun of reading Susan Lowell’s Little Red Cowboy Hat is the dialect. For an African version of the Three Little Pigs, read Jan Brett’s The Three Little Dassies. It brings to life a desert landscape with an eagle, their natural predator, trying to destroy each dassie’s home. 

 
Rapunzel
The goofy rhyming text in Falling for Rapunzel by Leah Wilcox features a maiden who is hard of hearing and keeps throwing everything over the castle wall to her suitor except her long braid. Kids will die laughing. And right now the graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge is all the rage.
Fables
Don’t overlook the fractured fables. John Rocco’s Wolf! Wolf! is set in Asia and relates the Boy Who Cried Wolf story from the perspective of a sage, old wolf. In Ed and Rebecca Emberley’s rendition of The Ant and the Grasshopper, the vibrant, funky insects practically dance right off the page. The grasshopper strikes up a New Orleans-styled marching band that follows the ant right back to his hill. His burden made light, the ant opens up his tunnel to shade and shelter the musicians who let the “good times roll.” The Caldecott honor book, Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young is a charming reworking of The Blind Man and the Elephant. The black and white images are very effective in portraying this ancient Persian tale.

For longer riffs on fairy tale themes that are popular, you might want to try Wendy Mass, E. D. Baker, Vivian Vande Velde, Michael Buckley, Gail Levine or Gregory Maguire.
--Maggie Wrobel, Centreville Regional Library