Monday, April 17, 2017

Life in water

Lidia Yuknavitch the lifelong swimmer. (Courtesy of Dave Lull.)

Sets of questions

Rebecca Solnit's life as a writer. Pull quote: "Lots of people want to be me now, but nobody wants to be me 20 years ago when I was living on $15,000 a year."

James, Jimmy, Jamie

Ed Pavlic's 2015 Boston Review piece on James Baldwin's letters to his brother David. Wish I could read the one about Just Above My Head and real-life family members!

Checking in

I am determined to reclaim the blog as a place where at the very least I log what I've been reading! Action prompted in particular by trying to download content from Facebook (I am just getting started on a short piece called "Reading Gibbon in the Time of Trump" and want to see which Decline and Fall bits I posted on which days - one of the ways in which Facebook is much inferior to the old-fashioned blog!) and remembering why it would have been better if I'd just posted those bits here. Also thinking quite a bit, around and after the two-year anniversary of my father's death, on the fact that it may not just have been social media that leached the energy away from my blogging vim; it was also very much the nature of my relationship with my father that we shared links and talked about bits we'd seen online, and my avoidance of the FT weekend magazine for instance seems part and parcel of the same phenomenon. Also, keeping so many tabs open is causing Chrome to fail - a tech guy at work showed me a good tool that lets you save a whole host of open tabs onto a single page of links, but really clearing tabs by posting what interested me would be a smarter way....

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Wrestling with angels

I see the last few posts here are mistakes, entries that should have gone to the other blog! Which I keep up very faithfully, only it is boring to read (insanely repetitive, as training must be!). Still overdue a light reading update and a year-end best post, I would like to keep the blog going to that extent but I've been too busy with other things: especially, finishing the Austen book (and juggling the other work commitments that you can only put on hold for so long). Leaving for the airport for Rome in a couple of hours, got some last bits of packing still to do and library books to return, but thought I'd blog a few sentences from J.D. Daniels' very good little book of essays The Correspondence. I think it may have been a mistake to include the two pieces originally written as short stories - they feel different and they don't work as well as the essays. But even so it's a great little volume. Here are a couple paragraphs I especially liked, for obvious reasons:
I took eight weeks off to squat and dead-lift heavy and eat everything that wans't nailed down, and I gained thirty-five pounds and had to buy new pants. Then I went back to sparring and I broke a guy's ribs. That was nice.

And then I did it all again, the way you find yourself eating dinner again the next night; the way you have sex, if you do, again; the way too much to drink was barely enough. It didn't end, it doesn't end, and if I knew what to say next, this wouldn't be the end.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Short run!

Really I'm still sick, ugh - I overdid it slightly yesterday maybe, it wasn't just feeling queasy towards end of run but I felt pretty woozy at the library afterwards too, and had to come home and lie down for the afternoon instead of working on my book. Just did :30 easy, still not feeling great, will be smarter to err on side of caution. Still wavering about whether or not I am going to NJ this evening for family Xmas eve at my brother's - I think it may make more sense to save energy for tomorrow and the following few days of socializing....

Also, watch battery died halfway through run! NOoooooooo!!!!!!! I am a watch person through and through - must head out now for a couple minor errands anyway and it will be beneficial for morale if I can get the battery replaced...

:30 easy

Friday, December 23, 2016


1hr very easy along the Hudson with my best long-ago training partner who is now moving back to the neighborhood - we will be able to run together a lot more regularly in coming months! Still feeling somewhat under the weather, lungs on the mend but imperfect, and I hate how queasy the postnasal drip makes you feel during exercise (had to go off the clock and walk for some minutes near the end, though I then felt OK enough to finish out the hour).

1hr very easy

Monday, December 05, 2016

Light reading update

Jet lag has me up much earlier than usual: I must make sure not to squander this advantage, if I am smart I can type up the notes for my two remaining Austen chapters and get the production of quota underway before life too much intervenes! Very happy to be home - I always forget how much I love my apartment, and of course the warm welcome from the two funny cats is huge....

First, though, an overdue light reading update, a sort of throat-clearing before getting back into the real work.

The trip home from England went smoothly, with the proviso that I arrived at the airport six hours in advance of my flight (B.'s flight to Miami was a couple hours earlier from a different terminal) and was horrified to learn that the airline would only take checked bags (I had 2 bags of approximately fifty pounds each, one small and densely full of books, the other a cumbersome large duffel full of clothes and miscellaneous running gear) three hours in advance of flying time. Fortunately Heathrow Terminal 5 is very nice and I was able to hole up in a reasonable restaurant for the duration.

Key to successful travel for me is having the right books to read, and in fact the day passed very enjoyably. I read part of and put aside a Swedish thriller I wasn't enjoying, then had an undemanding and enjoyable urban fantasy (at its best, this genre is undemanding and wonderfully immersive) that took me through the first stint of waiting, an incredibly good and funny noir novel for the next bit of waiting and first bit of the flight, and then, incredibly immersively, a long science fiction novel that I have been meaning to read and that absolutely captivated me.

I haven't logged light reading since mid-September, which means I am well overdue for it - forthwith! As always, loosely sorted by categories and with the best stuff mostly singled out at the top. This includes reading from the Australia trip and then the stint of Oxford light reading (probably a little lighter than usual, in volume as well as kind, as I was doing a fair bit of work reading as well).

Strong all-round recommendation at the top, then.

Natasha Pulley, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. My favorite kind of book - captivating! This was a consensus recommendation when I crowdsourced my light reading demands on Facebook before traveling to Oxford, and I enjoyed it very much indeed (reminiscent of but also quite different from Frances Hardinge's The Lie Tree, also I thought an extremely good book).

Garth Nix, Goldenhand - latest installment in the Old Kingdom series, which must be my favorite YA fantasy series running today (it was the first three books in this series, plus Pullman's His Dark Materials, that made me write The Explosionist when I got tired of not finding a new trilogy along the lines of Nix's or Pullman's on the shelves of the Bank Street Bookstore)

James Lasdun, The Fall Guy. He is a genius! He writes as good a sentence as anyone you have ever read, but he also has this chilling Talented Mr. Ripleyesque imagination about doubles and secret selves - this one's very good indeed.

The book that surprised and delighted me most perhaps of everything I'm logging here, and that made the first part of the trip from Heathrow to JFK pass as if in a flash, was Joe Ide's IQ. I loved this so much I can hardly say! It's a Sherlock Holmes homage (the story of a young detective coming into his full powers of deductive reasoning), but it's also learned from Walter Mosley's socially conscious noir (with a dash of George Pelecanos) and has a strong satirical element that is genuinely comic rather than just striving for it. The parody rap lyrics are some of the funniest things I've read all year - I had just found this one as a random recommendation on Amazon, hadn't particularly registered anything about it in the world - everyone should read this book!

And the book that captivated me for the remainder of the voyage was N. K. Jemisen's justly lauded The Fifth Season. I loved her earlier trilogy and have had this one on my Kindle for a while, but hadn't quite gotten into it - I think I read the first few chapters and found them a little alienating (I have observed that one weakness of digital publication for novels is that when you have a novel written in a few different voices and timelines you really lose something not having the physical book in your hands, with the extra help it can give in the way of headers and being able easily to leaf back a few pages to orient yourself), put it aside for a quieter moment. But it is glorious - really expansive imaginative storytelling at its absolute best (as ambitious as Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora, for instance, a book I enjoyed very much, but much more unusual and startling in its willingness to invoke fantastical as well as science-fictional elements). Loved it and can't wait to read the next installment.

Kevin Wignall, The Traitor's Story (love his cool unemotional way with storytelling - some storytelling minds are just more attractive than others, the economy and precision of his imagination much appeal to me!)

Tana French, The Trespasser. I continue to feel she's one of the couple best crime novelists writing today - we are used now to the contours of her imagination, so it's a bit less startling than those first few books in the series were, but they are still pretty much at the top of my list of what I most want to read.

A new novel in Emma Newman's appealing Planetfall world, After Atlas (B. was reading this also a few days ago and comments on the miraculously readable convergence of SF and noir investigation). And then what might have been the best discovery of my last few months of light reading because it was so joyful and so well-timed (it saved me from a good amount of post-election angst - not that I was spared, just that I had places to escape into like my Austen book and these novels) - a wonderful series called the Split Worlds. Between Two Thorns, Any Other Name, All is Far, A Little Knowledge - I was slightly gnashing my teeth when I came to the end of book four and realized that it wasn't the end of the story, but now I am glad of it as it means there is another one to read. I had vaguely had the impression that Planetfall was Newman's first novel, which surprised me given what a very very good book I found it - so this makes sense, she had a journeyman series before that might be a little more ragged around the edges but that are absolutely delightful and pretty much my favorite sort of thing in the world to read in times of trouble!

A first installment in a series that is another version of what I most enjoy collapsing into (I was happily downloading books from Amazon end-of-year recommendations for transatlantic travel, only I started this one the night before and stayed up till I finished it, and was only outraged to realize that I could not immediately get the next chunk of story): Todd Lockwood, The Summer Dragon. I was then saying to B. in the car we took to the airport the next morning that books about girls raising dragons are pretty much my favorite thing in the world - he said, implacably, "I find them Pernicious"! (Which reminded me of the time we were riding in a boat across a lake in Costa Rica and saw a huge flock of sea birds, prompting B. to turn to me and observe that one good tern deserves another.)

Connie Willis, Crosstalk. Enjoyable, very much in the vein of her earlier fiction like Bellwether, but slight. I am mildly outraged that the boring book that you are supposed to read if you are a telepath who needs to shield your mind from the intrusion of other people's chaotic thoughts is Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire! And

New Virgil Flowers book from John Sandford, Escape Clause, cause for minor celebration! (I read through the whole of that series and then the Lucas Davenport ones late this spring in a reading binge that was incredibly well timed to coincide with the time of the academic year when I still need a pipeline of light reading but don't have the energy or attention to discover new veins of ore.

New Daniel Faust installment from Craig Schaefer, The Castle Doctrine (these are good but not great - they are not as immediately appealing as Ben Aaronovich's Rivers of London series and not as masterfully told and plotted as Paul Cornell's Shadow London, but very enjoyable - definitely recommended).

Justine Larbalestier's My Sister Rosa is excellent, though I wasn't sure I endorsed the final twist - you can see it coming and I think it complicates what is otherwise a very emotionally true and compelling book

I found Harlen Coben's initial Myron Bolitar novels a bit silly/slight, but like Robert Crais he has gotten better over time. Enjoyed Home, then read the trio of YA Mickey Bolitar novels, which are wildly implausible in their imaginings but quite enjoyable to read (Chelter, Seconds Away, Found). Then read Fool Me Once. Then read Missing You. Then felt I had had enough Coben for a while!

Pre-election solace (genius timing!): Lee Child's new Jack Reacher novel! The last one wasn't great (the dark web stuff is too silly, and really the Reacher premise works best in a time before cellphones and pervasive computing) but this one is a return to form - I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Doug Johnstone, The Jump (very good - subtle, moving)

Walter Jon Williams, This is Not a Game (not bad, sort of sub-William-Gibson)

Seanan McGuire, Full of Briars (novelette in the October Daye world); Mira Grant, Feedback. Poppy Z. Brite, Last Wish and The Gulf.
Michelle Belanger, Mortan Sins (short story in the Conspiracy of Angels world)

Matthew FitzSimmons, Poisonfeather (Gibson Vaugn #2, sequel to The Short Drop). Not quite as smooth as the first one, but it's a worthwhile series, I will certainly continue to read.

Michael Connelly's new Harry Bosch novel, The Wrong Side of Goodbye. I think the quality of the series has declined over the years. This one is a little stronger than some of the couple previous, but I always have a curious feeling as I am reading that it is almost as if he has written the book as an outline rather than a fully imagined and realized story.

A pair of quite reasonable British police procedurals by Sarah Ward, In Bitter Chill and A Deadly Thaw (but don't you wish series naming protocols would undergo a major overhaul?)

David Anthony Durman, Acacia: The War with the Mein (book 1 of a series, I thought it was good and I enjoyed it but I do not know that I have the fortitude quite to read the rest of the saga - also, though I do not imagine influence just deep mythic patterning/stereotype, the children in the displaced ruling family have exactly the same roles and personalities as the Stark children in Game of Thrones!)

Peter Straub, Ghost Story (for some reason I'd never read this, but I think it feels dated now - the gender roles are offputting - and it's so reminiscent of some of the Stephen King of that era that I really wonder who thought of it first). Liked it enough to read Floating Dragon thereafter, but once I'd read those two I felt it really was sufficient, though they are long reasonably enjoyable books of the sort I always need more of.

Helen Callaghan, Dear Amy (couldn't quite get behind this one, I think thriller writers should be banned from writing stories that rely on dissociative selves with comparmentalized knowledge a-la Girl on a Train, whether due to alcohol abuse or mental illness)

Aoife Clifford, All these Perfect Strangers (Australian crime novel, not bad but not memorable); Kirstyn McDermott, Madigan Mine (good premise well told but not quite my preferred genre - I think I was trying to get local color via reading Australian genre fiction)
Ann Turner, Out of the Ice, an Antarctic thriller, was the best of the bunch - reminds me I meant to get her other novel but it was not I think available for Kindle.

Carol O'Connell's latest Mallory novel, Blind Sight. These are so eccentric as to sometimes have become almost unreadably silly, but I didn't think this volume was such a brazen offender as a couple of the others. The story rather recapitulates elements of her standalone novel The Judas Child, which remains my favorite of all her books.

I don't read urban fantasy obsessively, I am too critical of the writing in its bottom tiers, but Ilona Andrews, Magic Binds was worthwhile, and I was very pleased (this was the one I read yesterday morning at the airport with too much luggage) with Suzanne Johnson's Royal Street. Was happy to realize that it is the first of a five-book series, will get the others promptly (though by the time I realized I could do this, I was in a no-wireless zone and had a moment of feeling profoundly thwarted!).

Susan McBride, Walk into Silence - sub-literary, though the writing is quite good - I always feel a bit tricked when I think I'm reading "crime" genre and it turns out to be built on the romance chassis, there is a thinness of imagining around the storytelling

I must have been desperate - a Supernatural novel, Mythmaker! (Actually I do occasionally like reading this sort of tie-in story, though it is mostly only when I can't settle on anything else decent to read!)

Charlie Engle, Running Man: A Memoir. Very enjoyable in parts, but I thought the account of his arrest and imprisonment was somewhat lacking in self-awareness.

Comfort reread: Robin McKinley, The Blue Sword. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, though that was more of a tourism reread - and I suddenly remember now that I never walked into the Botanic Garden, though I ran past it almost every day, to see if I could find Will and Lyra's bench!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Minor work update

The Austen book has been a haven for me over the last couple of weeks. It's killing me to have to put it aside for a few days (weekend travel, then focusing on Gibbon and footnotes for the last two weeks I'm here and in preparation for my Balliol talk on self-annotation)! But I've just drafted chapter 6 of 8. Two more to draft, plus introduction and conclusion.

(It's currently draft zero, so it will need a couple weeks of cleaning up and filling in of references before it's a proper editable first draft - shooting to have proper full draft by Xmas. Due date to publisher in March, but I need to send it by late January so that I'm clear for six weeks of all-on Gibbon in Rome.)

Note to self: don't in future use such similar blues for two related chapters (revision, voice). Under artificial light, the sky-blue post-its are genuinely indistinguishable from the sea-blue ones!

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Packing for an English sabbatical

It is not a complaint, I love this flat and am extremely happy here, but there are a couple things I hadn't bargained for about the English sabbatical flat! I would have packed slightly differently if I had remembered the following:

In English October and November, it is colder inside than outside.

The thermostat seems basically placed to give the illusion of control, and there is no heat from radiators during the day.

The bathroom has a funny shower like a sort of plastic telephone booth - the water is hot and fully pressured, so that's the most important thing, but the bathroom itself is huge and drafty and unheated, and it is impossible to shave legs either in the shower (because the water runs down your legs in such a thick curtain when you are bent over vertically) or out (because the goose-pimples from freezingness catch on the razor).

The washer-dryer is a good amenity, and the washer aspect works fine, but these double-use machines are virtually useless as dryers, and the drying racks in the flat have to be positioned near functioning radiators if you actually want things to dry in a reasonable timeframe.....

Sabbatical makes twice-a-day exercise a near certainty!

Pants that are good for running are fine for yoga, but not vice versa; shirts that are fine for running sometimes fall down over your head in downward-facing dog and similar.

All of which is to say - I bought a pair of fleece pants a few weeks ago as a home comfort (regretted not bringing my Siberia running pants for indoor wear, and my Patagonia down sweater!), and have just descended on a local running store to repair other lacks: shirts that won't fall down when I am somewhat inverted, full-length running tights in case the leg-shaving conundrum remains insoluble (I think I found a good compromise the other day - it was after hot yoga, so I was fairly warm even after the chilly walk home, and I turned on the shower and left the door open and very hastily shaved my legs outside of the shower with shaving cream).

I may have to get some kind of a fleece blanket - I was so cold the other day I pulled a blanket from the warming cupboard, but it made me wheeze pretty severely and I think I should keep my distance from it!

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Saturday night ruminations

Reading Decline and Fall XLI has given me an irresistible desire to reread one of my favorite Robert Graves novels, Count Belisarius. Amazingly it is available for Kindle! It is not of the caliber of I, Claudius (which I must have read a dozen times at least between the ages of 10 and 16), but I liked it very much when I was younger, and will be curious to see what I think now (that said, the commenters at Amazon are correct when they say that reading Procopius instead might be a valid choice!).

Very satisfying day - I am down the sabbatical rabbit-hole in the best possible way. Got up, did my 2hr run (a "running meditation" for a recovery week!), was so freezing in English flat afterwards that I went back to bed first just for huddling and then for napping, got up and just about produced quota on Austen, went to hot power yoga, came home, read Gibbon and now am going to retire, appropriately, to bed with a novel. Woo-hoo!

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Work update

Oxford lifestyle continues idyllic - the weather and terrain are so perfect for running, and I have found great yoga and a great lifting coach to work out with. Went to London for a couple days over the weekend for some family visiting, and my mother was here for two nights which was very nice, but I am ready to plunge into total workaholism for the rest of the time I'm here - I must make a quick trip to Cambridge to see friends, but I don't think I'm going to go back to London, I just want to hole up and read and write!

The only tricky thing for me work-wise just now is that I'm totally torn between my desire to draft the Austen book as expeditiously as possible (don't want to lose momentum) and my desire to (a) make use of library materials here to do broad reading for footnotology and (b) make progress on Gibbon project and make sure my lecture at the end of term on Gibbon and Gray is really good. I had an amazing evening of Gibbon-related reading last night that culminated in a massive plan and greater clarity: at home in NYC I have a great collection of Gibboniana from the library, but I don't need to reproduce that collection here, I will have access again in December; I do need to reimmerse myself in Gray (requested amazing slew of stuff to read at the Weston in the rare book room); and I do need to pull together at least a mini-footnote library to reimmerse myself and identify crucial primary sources for library investigation, couldn't bring that stuff with me as luggage book space was given over to the Austen volumes. So I've ordered four things from Amazon UK and identified the area of open stacks in the Bodleian where I can find the 10 or so other things I think I really need to have to hand (list can be found at the bottom of this post).

Austen, though! I hate to lose momentum! This is the chart I made once I had had a week of settling in. As I said previously, I don't think I can finish the draft while I'm here, but I should be able to have the book drafted in full (it is a very rough draft) by Xmas.

Going to step up the pace a bit now - I've drafted three chapters (out of eight, but it's possible that seven and eight aren't really two distinct chapters), so I'll press ahead with five days per chapter for the next three, on manners, morals and voice (one day of assembling the notes, four days of producing quota), then type up the notes for the remaining two chapters (teeth, mourning and melancholy) so that I've at least got something on paper.

I'll be doing some reading and library stuff in the meantime, but week 7 will be wholly devoted to footnotology and Bodleian-Weston time and week 8 will involve delivering my two talks, putting finishing touches on the second one (the first is ready to go) and spending some time with Brent, who will come over for that last week.

Bonus library method picture. (I do not know that there is better evidence for consistency of character than this - in fact, I wrote about it at least once before on this blog, it was a meme making the rounds in 2005 about what you'd look for in the library in 2015 and I will quote the relevant line here - "Then I would arm myself with a pen and paper (one thing I can guarantee is that in 2015 I will still be jotting down call numbers on the back of an old envelope or a supermarket receipt) and write down a huge long list of call numbers and hit the stacks and then go home for a huge orgy of reading.") (In this case it's on the other side of the piece of paper where I made notes about the new powerlifting warmup sequence!)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

"The best fruit in England"

Evidence of the genius of Jane Austen, example #149 - and yes, it's almost nine at night, and I'm only now typing up the notes for the second chapter of the Austen book, "Conversation." I printed out draft zero of chapter one on Friday and it actually looks pretty decent! (Now it goes in a folder and I really won't look at it again till I've got the whole thing drafted - I have a strong preference for start-to-finish writing, it leaves the thing much more even in feel when you've put it together than if you work on bits piecemeal.)

Emma, of course, the visit to Donbury Abbey:
The whole party were assembled, excepting Frank Churchill, who was expected every moment from Richmond; and Mrs. Elton, in all her apparatus of happiness, her large bonnet and her basket, was very ready to lead the way in gathering, accepting, or talking—strawberries, and only strawberries, could now be thought or spoken of.—“The best fruit in England—every body’s favourite—always wholesome.—These the finest beds and finest sorts.—Delightful to gather for one’s self—the only way of really enjoying them.—Morning decidedly the best time—never tired—every sort good—hautboy infinitely superior—no comparison—the others hardly eatable—hautboys very scarce—Chili preferred—white wood finest flavor of all—price of strawberries in London—abundance about Bristol—Maple Grove—cultivation—beds when to be renewed—gardeners thinking exactly different—no general rule—gardeners never to be put out of their way—delicious fruit—only too rich to be eaten much of—inferior to cherries-currants more refreshing—only objection to gathering strawberries the stooping—glaring sun—tired to death—could bear it no longer—must go and sit in the shade.” (E 389-90)
Typing up these notes is an easier job than it was for "Letters," partly because there were so very many examples for that chapter but also because I'd run out of appropriately colored post-its and was using those tape tabs instead - they are much less obvious to the eye in an interleaved book, and I am happy that this one's so much easier!

This now marks the conclusion of week 2 (of 8) in Oxford. I am very happy with how things are going, though slightly ashamed that I have yet to plunge into libraries - that's the project for Monday after I eat breakfast and produce quota, but I didn't want to distract myself from writing before I had made at least a small dent. Finished Gibbon vol. 3 this evening, a satisfying landmark - that's the halfway mark (and the final decline of the empire in the West). Reading a chapter of that a day 'religiously' as it were, and have now also put down 2 (very slow - it's only about 35 miles) 7-hour run weeks, and have found a personal trainer to lift with starting on Tuesday, so all is very well with me currently.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Saturday evening snippet

End of week 1 (of 8) in Oxford. Really nice week! Though need to buckle down and start working properly - adjustment period is properly coming to a close....

A Saturday evening Gibbon snippet (new title for book is Gibbon's Rome: A Love Story - it is amazing how just sitting quietly and reading allows ideas to flow, I was having insane thoughts last night about how you would write an opera libretto that would bring the juxtaposition of the father-son dynamic, the father marrying and preventing the son from being able to do so - and not sending the money he promised so that Gibbon has to keep his brokeness a shameful secret from the friends he has been traveling with - and then the moment of impact when Gibbon actually meets Rome the city - but in my book, it's my own love story with the Decline and Fall as well):
I owe it to myself, and to historic truth, to declare, that some circumstances in this paragraph are founded only on conjecture and analogy. The stubbornness of our language has sometimes forced me to deviate from the conditional into the indicative mood.
Main task for remaining weeks is to draft as much of the Austen book as I can (I'm optimistic that I should be able to get most of it down on paper in at least a rough version, top limit of 50K I think for full book so 8 chapters at 5-6K each should be doable in a 1.5K production of quota fashion); glory in libraries and read massive amounts of general footnote stuff (mostly amazing primary sources, especially history and poetry, with footnotes); and (re)read a chapter a day of Gibbon to put myself in the mood.

One of my two talks for the end of term now has an explicit commitment to talk especially about Gray's and Gibbon's footnotes, so I will do some Gray reentry also in between the other footnote reading. Exploration of library system to begin Monday, must first have a proper writing session on Austen and must before that finish typing up notes for the first chapter so that I can proceed to the next stage!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Fast running

Jon Day has a really nice piece at the LRB on two new books about Emil Zatopek:
By modern standards some of his achievements seem modest. He was the first person to run 10,000 metres in under 29 minutes, but runners are now getting close to 26 minutes. He would not have qualified for the 10,000 metres event in the 2016 Olympics, and his marathon times are now matched by those of strong amateurs. The range of his abilities, however, remains unequalled. He was 174.3 cm tall and weighed 68 kg. He had long legs, but his left was slightly thinner than his right. His resting heart rate was measured, on different occasions, at 68 and 56 bpm. Both rates are high for a runner, though it was noted that he was able to recover quickly after exercise. He had an odd diet, fuelling himself before races with beer, cheese, sausages and bread. He drank strange concoctions that he thought would improve his performance: the juice from jars of pickles; a mixture of lemon juice (for vitamin C) and chalk (he thought the calcium would protect his teeth). He ate the leaves of young birch trees because he had noticed that deer did so. Deer run quickly, he reasoned, so he might too.
I will definitely reaad Richard Askwith's - I loved his book Feet in the Clouds more than almost any other book about running....

(This is what I had to say about it at the time I read it - though actually I am really starting to move in the direction of trail-running despite my horrendous sense of direction and fear of heights, as I have been inspired by SWAP teammates! Albeit last time I hitched a ride with Liz to a trail run I was so freaked out by the first five minutes of rock-clambering with ice that I backed out and ran laps on a flat trail around the lake instead!)