Thursday, March 31, 2011

Opening Day Again

Today is opening day of the baseball season, with my Tigers set to take on the Yankees this afternoon (assuming the weather cooperates).  I will be watching the game this afternoon and enjoying the hope that always springs eternal at the beginning of the season.  Thought I would also share again what I wrote last year about Opening Day.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Thoughts: The Passage

The Passage (The Passage, #1)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A long but very worthwhile read. The novel is the first in a planned trilogy, and I think it helps to know this going into the story, so as not expect a certain finality to the end of the book. Presumably, the novel begins in the near future right before a apocalyptic event occurs. This event is really brought upon mankind by itself - think of the great ethical point made in Jurassic Park, scientists were so preoccupied with whether the could do something they never stopped to think if they should. Anyway, they did, the experiment went awry, chaos broke out, and humanity seems to be clinging to life on a thread, scraping an existence that fear is a constant part of. (I am purposely avoiding too many details as to avoid any spoiler information).

I was impressed with the writing. While some of the characters or a bit archetypal, there are so many that are very interesting, and because Cronin wasn't afraid to develop them (hello 750 pages), they continue to evolve throughout the novel in their own way. As a reader I became concerned when one of the characters would break off from the main plot line of the story, but Cronin kept their story part of the novel, and continued to increase the depth of the particular character. As enjoyable as it was to learn more and more about these characters, the expansive scope of the plot is really something else. It truly feels epic, and, despite the novel's length that I mentioned earlier, and that it is only the first of three books, I never felt bogged down. It continued to be a page turner right to the end, and left me wanting not to wait to read the following books (the second is not even out until 2012).

Cronin creates a vivid picture of a post-apocalyptic world that makes one think about our current uses of our planet's resources and the importance of a reflective and thoughtful approach to ethics in the scientific community, but also highlights the beauty that remains in such a world through the bond of human relationships.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Birthday Reflections

I meant to write and post this earlier, on Monday, so it was actually on my birthday, but time got away.  So anyway, this past Monday was my 30th birthday, which gave the opportunity to family and friends and co-workers to (for whatever reason) take some joy in ribbing me about turning 30.  I get that birthdays with zeros at the end tend to be a bigger deal to a lot of people, and on some level it "feels" a bit out of place for me to say that I am no longer in my 20s, but generally the age thing doesn't affect me much.  But it is humorous to let go of that ever-present self-consciousness and enjoy the cracks on age from those around me (after all, they're all older anyway :)).

I've wrote before about my love of making resolutions, and I find that I approach my birthday to take advantage of the opportunity to make another resolution, and to reflect on the past year in my life.  Last year at this time, the focus in our household was about getting healthier...eating better, exercise more, losing weight.  I set a goal for myself at the time that I thought was very ambitious, in light of how I never had successfully lost weight before in my life.  That goal was to lose 50 pounds before my next birthday.  I didn't meet the goal, but not for lack of trying or for lack of progress.  Up to that point, I had already dropped about 15 pounds, so while I did not lose another 50, I have lost 50 total.  As of this week, the weight loss meter is close to sixty pounds overall.  So I missed the goal by about 5 pounds.  I don't get the nice round number I wanted to reach, but I have a confidence now that I didn't last year.  The 5 pounds feels inevitable, whereas last year any weight loss seemed monumental.  I still have a long way to go to where I want to be, but last year I made a resolution that focused me throughout the next year.  This year its the same. 50 didn't work last year, but I am hoping that it can work this year, pushing me over 100 total.  This has become part of my life now, so that while there are set backs, I know its not permanent.  My lifestyle and the way I look at food and calories and exercise has shifted fundamentally.

But while that goes well, other things about the birthday are frustrating, I suppose.  Its not the year older part, its not the number.....the best way I can explain it is that whenever I reflect I think about how I should have done more, accomplished more, have more, etc. by this time in my life.  I think part of it stems from a lack of perspective at times, as well as being too much of a planner.  I like to plan everything out, put everything on a schedule and complete it on time, and sometimes life just doesn't work that way.  For the past several years, that lesson has been learned the hard way with the frustration Jackie and I have faced with trying to have a baby.  I have grown both more patient and impatient, and it becomes maddening as you realize how little control one really has.  It was naively arrogant of me to assume that something like that could fit so easily into one of my pre-thought out schedules.  But, while that journey has been humbling along with beyond frustrating, it has also been strengthening.

The journey has been strengthening because it has helped put things into focus - about my priorities, about what I seek and what I want and what I need. Simply, it has helped me grow in so many ways. I am a better husband and friend for those frustrations, and I imagine I will be a better father whenever such a blessing happens.

Part of the issue with this type of birthday reflecting, at least for me, is that it is easier to focus on what I don't have (don't have a child, don't have less debt, don't have more money, etc.) by a certain age, as opposed to what I do have.  I have wonderful parents who have become great friends. I can't imagine having better in-laws. I have a great sister who has a great family of her own.  I have a dog who I make her world everyday just by coming home, and reminds me that while I may not have a child, I do have a family. And most of all, I am married to my best friend and get to spend each and every day with her, traveling the roads of life together. I have so much.

I am truly one lucky guy.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Book Thoughts: People of the Book

People of the Book

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found this book to be particularly interesting about halfway through when I made a realization. Often when one read books (at least this is true for me), if its not an action/mystery/thriller where you are reading to solve the puzzle, you are reading to engross yourself into the characters. To learn more about them, figure out their unique personalities, their unique histories, everything that gives them depth and make them appear to be real life people. Well, I was somewhat disappointed with this book for the first half because I felt like I wasn't getting that type of in depth character portrayal. The novel is a story about a book known as the Sarajevo Haggadah, a real 15th/16th century book and its recent re-discovery in Bosnia in 1996, during the middle of the conflict taking place there at the time. The novel then traces the history of the book backwards, which means that while the primary arc of the story is the "present day" of the initial narrator, the book expert charged with conserving/preserving the Haggadah for display in a museum, the reader is given multiple stories going backwards through time, taking the reader through the events of WWII in the Bosnian territory, to Vienna at the turn of the 19th Century, along with Venice and southern Spain even further back. As such, its hard to develop consistency with any one character set, and the reader is left hanging somewhat as to what happens to the characters involved with the Haggadeh once their path no longer crosses the path of the book.

But, the realization hit that the novel was not about "people" characters, and thus a story about them, but the story of this book, and the amazing journey it took from its unique and conflicting creation to surviving hundreds of years of antisemitism throughout Europe. I believe, that once read from that perspective, focusing primarily on the book's story and journey, as opposed to the plights of the people throughout the novel, "People of the Book" becomes a fascinating story of a unique journey through history, and results in an interesting and entertaining read.

I think the book also makes one reflect on the history of discrimination towards "others" that have existed in our world.  As I mentioned above, this book highlights the discrimination prevalent in Europe towards Jews, simply on the basis of their religion.  More to the point, the discrimination often occurred because of a competing religion's (be it Christianity or Islam) views towards another faith.  As you read about the history (or fictional history as it may be) of the Sarajevo Haggadeh, and how it survives despite this bigotry, its inspiring and upsetting.  Its amazing that such a precious work of art that is contained in this Haggadeh has survived centuries that saw increasingly antisemitism evidenced by continent wide pogroms and culminating in the horror of the Holocaust.  Its disappointing to reflect at how little has changed.  The Holocaust is still less than a century ago.  There is constant tension between the three major monotheistic religions in the Middle East today.  In the United States, there is a rapid growth of prejudice against individuals of the Muslim faith.  I can't help but wonder if such prejudice is inherent in these faith systems; and regardless of that answer, why individuals cannot avoid acting in such violent and disrespectful ways upon such systems.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Reader's Perception

I recently finished "The Club Dumas", by Arturo Perez-Reverte, and found a quote from one of the characters at the end of the novel to be insightful into the nature of reading and books...

. . . there are no innocent readers anymore.  Each overlays the text with his own perverse view. A reader is the total of all he's read, in addition to all the films and television he's seen. To the information supplied by the author he'll always add his own.  And that's where the danger lies . . . (p. 335)

I think speaks not just to books, but how one perceives so much of his or her surrounding world.  It reminds me of a similar concept, I think, that came through when reading Stephen Hawking's "The Grand Design", that of how observation of the present changes the past.  The idea that nothing is neutral, nothing is static in the ideas we profess and the world we observe.  Its changing constantly, and we, through our own perceptions, contribute and cause that change.  I think this raises many interesting questions and points for discussion, but the one on my mind right now is...knowing how the information we have affects our perceptions, and thereby affects the world, what duty (if any) are we under to obtain information, and consequently, what information should we be seeking? (how's that for a convoluted question).

As the ancient philosopher Heraclites provides, One cannot step into the same river twice.


This morning, after about a two week hiatus, I reacquainted myself with our treadmill.  This decision to take a break was never permanent, but I rather wanted to focus my attention on my eating habits, as I felt that was the constant thing holding me back from continuing to make progress in my weight loss journey.  So, for the last two weeks or so, I have been completely focused on my eating, counting calories obsessively (with the help of My Fitness Pal), and have experienced good progress on that front, seeing some pounds drop off just from that effort.

Now, I try to amp it up, add some designated calorie burning activity to my day, and keep my focus to limit what I eat.  My 30th birthday is 2 weeks away, and I have a symbolic weight in my mind that I would like to I can say as I enter my thirties I will never have a weight above this again.  So, refocusing, and rebooting myself for an intense couple weeks to make that goal, and continue onward from there.