I loved this book. Even though I’d call myself only a casual runner at best (and that’s when I’m actively running at all), Born to Run really ignited an excitement in me to not only run more, but also to simply enjoy it.
The main story about the eventual race between the Americans and the legendary Tarahumara was really interesting to read, but the two most fascinating parts for me were: 1) learning the evolutionary history of how humans became uniquely designed to run, and 2) as mentioned above, that you can sheerly love the act of running itself and have fun doing it. The bushmen’s hunt near the end was also extremely vivid – the storytelling made it seem like running your prey to exhaustion was the most natural thing to do in the world, and genuinely like running at an easy lope for hours on end was what we were born to do.
McDougall alternates the science/history sections and anecdotal sections so you get a good balance between entertainment and knowledge, and his pacing is even and gradual, making his ideas easy to follow and digest. This book also popularized those dreadful-looking toe shoes (Vibrams being the biggest brand) under the idea that they allowed you to run more naturally – the closest sensation to running barefoot while still wearing something protecting you from the ground. Even though that theory has since been disproven, the other premises in its pages were still fascinating and more than made up for that misplaced endorsement.
I can definitely see myself coming back to this book throughout my life.
Invisible Cities is one of the strangest, most haunting books I’ve ever read. There’s no particular plot; every page is just a short, lyrical description of an imaginary city Marco Polo passes on his travels. Some of these cities are more realistic than others – marble palaces, frangipane trees, bustling markets. Others are completely impossibly and theoretical – a city delicately and entirely strung up between two cliff walls that knows one day it will fall into the abyss; a city that breathes earth instead of air; a city that is so crowded that people blot out the place and even the sky.
One of my favorite cities is Beersheba, whose residents believe in a heavenly, celestial city above made of gold and silver and glittering diamond, and a hell-like city underground made of waste and tar and trash. They strive every day to worship the city above and abhor the city below; but what they don’t know is that their greed and superficiality has blinded them, and that the city below is actually the one made of gold, while the city above is made of trash.
Intent on piling up its carats of perfection, Beersheba takes for virtue what is now a grim mania to fill the empty vessel of itself; the city does not know that its only moments of generous abandon are those when it becomes detached from itself, when it lets go, expands. Still, at the zenith of Beersheba there gravitates a celestial body that shines with all the city’s riches, enclosed in the treasury of cast-off things: a planet aflutter with potato peels, broken umbrellas, old socks, candy wrappings, paved with tram tickets, fingernail cuttings and pared calluses, eggshells. This is the celestial city, and in its heaven long-tailed comets fly-past, released to rotate in space from the only free and happy action of the citizens of Beersheba, a city which, only when it shits, is not miserly, calculating, greedy.
Even though it’s short (only 160 pages or so), it isn’t the type of book you read in one sitting. I found that I could only digest a few cities at a time, in order to think about them more closely and visualize them in my mind. Maybe that’s how it was meant to be read – slowly, savoring every city individually and appreciating all the beauties or horrors of each one.
Wow, I intensely loved this book. When I finished, my first thought was that it reminded me of Yanagihara’s A Little Life in its scope of following a few individuals over the course of their lives – but that’s where the similarities end. Whereas A Little Life is glorified misery porn (and I say this as someone who loved that book too), Pachinko is quietly hopeful and uplifting. Whereas A Little Life left me bawling on my bed for a solid half hour after finishing, Pachinko made me feel introspective and ancient and wise, having experienced the gamut of human emotion within its pages.