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Books We Like

Published 6/7/2013 by Jason Slayton

Books We Like

I am a youth services librarian and a long distance runner. Twice a week, I read books to children. Toddlers. Preschoolers. I am trying to convince them to become life-long readers. This process is lengthy but ultimately rewarding as children discover the life-long joy of books.

Children are as expressive a creature you will ever have the privilege of meeting. I may see smiles or frowns, hear laughter or tears. Someone might tell me they want to be a dinosaur when they grow up. You really don’t know. Storytime can be unpredictable to say the very least. Life can be that way, too.

Almost two months ago as I write this, bombs were detonated at the Boston Marathon. The City of Boston was beautiful in response. Stories emerged of people helping one another. A *hero of mine once said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"

The day after this tragedy, I saw the faces of children coming into storytime, completely unaware of what had happened. They just wanted to hear a story. I read stories to them about heroes that day.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall. Most runners experiencing foot pain will pick up a new pair of shoes and see if things improve. The more assertive might even visit the doctor, though this is never a good idea because undoubtably the doctor will prescribe rest (runners abhor the word).

A third option is explored by Christopher McDougall, who decided the best way to deal with foot pain would be to travel to the Copper Canyons of Mexico and live amongst the Tarahumara Indians. They are renown for their ability to run incredible distances (sometimes over a hundred miles) whilst wearing the most minimalistic footwear and experiencing no injuries. His theory was that, if they can run these types of ultramarathon distances without getting injured, then perhaps they can teach him how to run without hurting his foot. He learns to run with his feet unshod, and raises a battle cry against footwear. He accuses large shoe manufacturers of conspiring to afflict us all with plantar fasciitis. It is like Oliver Stone wrote a documentary about Nike, except it is based on facts.

McDougall possibly gets in deeper than he could have ever imagined as he goes on barefoot adventures with the enigmatic Caballo Blanco, trying to chase down live game for food, and competing in an incredible fifty mile race.

If you are interested in some other “running books” I would suggest, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami, which details the author’s early days as a writer and his entry into running through his experiences as a marathoner.

Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor. This collection of nine short stories may simply be the greatest thing that exists in print. O’Connor will blow your mind with the ending of her stories, no matter how rich they are with foreshadowing (and they are rich). Morality and hypocrisy are at the heart of these stories. Her characters are grotesque and almost always afflicted with some sort of crippling pride resulting in a violent end. To be blunt, they are usually filthy racists that get bludgeoned to death by a warthog after failing to understand the gospel they preach.

O’Connor exposes our blind spots. She reveals our selfishness. She is the master of bringing you to your knees and obliterating your reality. These are stories of redemption and destruction. So often the human heart is idolized for its supposed ability to love and lead humans to do good. After reading Everything That Rises Must Converge, you will wrestle with the possibility that this is our biggest lie.

The greatest tragedy is that the author died of lupus before she turned forty.If you like these, O’Connor also wrote another incredible collection of short stories which are presented in A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.This is a love letter to Generation X. There are flying DeLoreans and Pac-Man arcade machines. What else could you possible want in a book? It is sheer dystopian bliss.

The year is 2044, and Wade Watts spends all of his free time escaping his miserable life by connecting into OASIS: a virtual utopia that allows for infinite realities. On the day that James Halliday (the creator of OASIS) passes away, it is revealed that somewhere inside this virtual world is an easter egg--an item that wields unlimited treasure to the one person who can discover its location. This egg is hidden within 1980’s pop culture: video games, films, and pretty much have to moonwalk up to a Donkey Kong machine and then hum the tune to a Cyndi Lauper song before you even receive the first clue as to where to find the first key.

Naturally, the protagonist is the first person to discover that key. And so, Wade Watts begins his journey to find three keys which ultimately lead to the easter egg, and in the process becomes both an immediate media darling, and enemy of the powerful and conspiratorial Innovative Online Industries--a corporation hellbent on commercializing the OASIS and basically making things even more miserable than a dystopia is supposed to be. Imagine Biff Tannen instead of Big Brother. And imagine using Atari instead of a GPS system to guide you around the world’s largest maze.

If you are keen on more dystopian glory, I would suggest you try Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart.

* Mr. Rogers.