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Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

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As a schoolboy, Ben Smith was a victim of relentless and vicious bullying, which affected him so much that he attempted to take his own life twice. Carrying his experiences through to adulthood, he suffered from severe depression and a crushing inability to reveal his true self to others. His saviour was running.

So when Ben wanted to take on a challenge to raise awareness of bullying and also raise money for two anti-bullying charities, it was to running which he turned. The challenge he decided on was to run 401 marathons on 401 consecutive days. Yes, you read that correctly!

Selling his house and all his possessions to fund the project, Ben set out on his odyssey throughout the UK running a marathon every single day. It changed his life, but as news of his challenge grew, it also changed the lives of many others. People would turn out not just to support Ben, but also to run with him – sometimes the whole 26.2 miles, sometimes a portion of it. Several people ran their first ever marathon alongside him.

This books tells the remarkable story of the 401 challenge, and it’s an absorbing and inspirational read. Not so much a running book as a lesson that if you really want to achieve something – and you are prepared to work damned hard at it – you can and will do it. Rather than a day to day retelling, each chapters covers chunks of the time, and as well as Ben’s back story, which is told alongside the story of the marathons, there are contributions from his partner, family, friends and other people who ran with him or were inspired by him. This meant that as a reader we see Ben’s experiences through other people’s eyes, and see just what an effect it had on those around him.

It’s an honest account of the good times, but also the bad times – you simply cannot take on a challenge of that magnitude without it affecting you, and Ben is quite straightforward about the physical, mental and logistical issues which the challenge threw at him and his team. Ultimately though, this is always a story of hope, dedication and a little bit of craziness. Engaging throughout and thoroughly enjoyable whether or not you are a runner.

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I listened to this audiobook, narrated by the author, mainly while out running – maybe I was hoping it would provide inspiration!

In this memoir of sorts, Rich Roll describes how on the eve of his 40th birthday, he realised that he needed to change his health drastically – overweight,  unfit and scared of dying early, Rich transformed himself into an ultra fit, vegan triathlete and this book tells how it did it.

I should have enjoyed this – it had all the hallmarks of a book I would love. I am fascinated by people who find the mental and physical strength to push their body and achieve things way beyond the capability of most of us mere mortals. And running five Ultra-triathlons in less than a week is way beyond impressive by any standard you care to use. But…I never really enjoyed this book.

Having overcome alcohol addiction and some years later deciding to turn his health around, it is difficult not to be impressed by what Rich Roll has done. But for me, there was too much whining – things didn’t always go well for Rich, but that applies to everyone – and he had a distinct ‘why me’ tone to his voice (both literally and on the page). And there was too much spirituality attached to fairly mundane events. For example, in Hawaii Rich is confronted by an angry homeowner, annoyed to find Rich trespassing on his property (to clarify – Rich was not actually trespassing; he thought he had found a quiet place to relieve himself during an Ultraman race). But instead of seeing this as something that could happen to anyone anywhere, Rich decides that this is karma for not respecting the island. And when approached by an alcoholic woman who wants to party, of course he decides that this woman must be some kind of angel sent to show him the kind of life he could have wound up living.

Also, while fully respect the author’s vegan lifestyle choice, I disliked his dismissive attitude to anyone who doesn’t share the same values.

The whole thing just came across as a big ego-trip, and honestly I was pretty pleased to finish it. Oh well, onto the next one…

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In this memoir, Helen Croydon chronicles her journey from party girl to Team GB triathlete. When she realises that her typical social activities of parties, alcohol and shopping are not giving her fulfilment, Helen joins a running club in an attempt to find a new hobby and new friendships. She also ends up finding a love of endurance sport, and specifically triathlons – and an eventual goal of qualifying as a member of Team GB.

As a runner who loves competing in half marathons and marathons (I say “loves competing;” in truth I mean I love it after I’ve done it), I was looking forward to reading this book and the first half of it definitely delivered. I myself have been toying with the idea of joining a running club, having always preferred to run solo, and so I enjoyed reading about her experiences in that regard. However, the second half of the book was taken up a lot by her experiences of improving her cycling – I have zero interest in cycling so found this part less engaging. The title of the book led me to believe that it would feature the running quite heavily, although I may have been a bit naive in that respect.

What I did like was that the author openly talked about her struggles with training, her sadness at finding it harder to create lasting friendships than she had expected or hoped, and the sheer exhilaration at discovering what you are capable of if you push yourself.

Overall, I did enjoy this book and would recommend to people with an interest in endurance sport, and especially anyone with an interest in triathlon.

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This was another audiobook (I’ve REALLY been getting into audiobooks this year), and it was narrated by Vanessa Coffey, who I thought did an excellent job. Admittedly, as this is non-fiction, she didn’t have to tackle different characters etc., but she kept it interesting especially during the parts where she was discussing statistics etc.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This book is a memoir of sorts, written by Jill Stark, a health reporter originally from Scotland but who has lived in Australia for many years. After one too many hangovers, on New Years Day 2011, Jill decided to give up alcohol for three months – this eventually turned into a whole year – and this is the story of how it was for her.

As well as the physical effects of not drinking, Jill concentrates a lot on the social effects – how for example her friends found it awkward to be around her, and stopped inviting her out on certain nights when they themselves planned on getting drunk. She was told that it wasn’t the Australian way not to drink, and people couldn’t understand why she would want to do it. Occasions when alcohol is not only normal but actually expected – birthdays, weddings, football season and first dates etc. are all navigated in due course.

A large part of the book discusses statistics surrounding binge drinking; how it is encouraged by the alcohol industry, however subtly, and the effects that it is having on families and society in general. Some of the statistics are frankly quite scary, and paint a picture almost of a timebomb waiting to explode.

To clarify – Jill Stark is not an evangelistic teetotaller – she understands the attraction of alcohol and has no desire to stop others drinking; indeed she hopes that after her sober year, she will be able to indulge in alcohol in moderation herself. However, she does have genuine concerns about the rise in binge drinking and the long term effects of this behaviour.

Overall, I found this a fascinating listen – my only niggle is that it is occasionally very statistic heavy. Nonetheless, it gave me a lot to think about, and there is no doubt that Jill Stark is an engaging and entertaining writer.

If you have any interest in the subject, I would definitely recommend this book.

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The word ‘legend’ is bandied about too frequently these days – I’ve seen it used to describe reality tv stars, YouTube ‘stars’ and all manner of others which in truth it should not be used for – but sometimes the word is entirely fitting and Bruce Springsteen is one of those people truly deserving of the title. Whether you like his music or not, his songs are familiar to all, for their stories of blue-collar working class families and their struggles, from the anti-Vietnam protest song Born in the USA, to the Oscar winning Streets of Philadelphia from the groundbreaking 1993 Tom Hanks film about AIDS.

Bruce’s autobiography is a joy to read – not only does he discuss his own working class, blue collar background, and his rise to success, he is also amazingly candid about his struggles with depression and anxiety. He talks with obvious love and gratitude about his wife Patti Scialfa and their three children, and with open-ness about his troubled relationship with his father, who nonetheless he loved and loves very deeply.

His passion for his craft comes through on every page (no surprise to anyone who has listened to his music), as well as his enduring friendships with the many people who he has played with and alongside. I loved that he was starstruck, even at the height of his own success, when meeting the Rolling Stones!

Again – this will be no surprise for anyone who listens to Bruce’s lyrics – but he is a very talented author, likeable and amusing, and unapologetic…not that he has anything to be apologetic about. I always felt that Bruce was one of the good guys, and this book reinforces that view.

If you are a fan of Bruce Springsteen, or if you just really like reading autobiographies, I highly recommend this one.

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This film is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, who served as a butler in the White House, working for seven Presidents. In this film, Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) serves eight Presidents, against a backdrop of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War, among other famous American events. Quite simply, it is an amazing and moving film, in part due to the uniformly brilliant cast. Forest Whitaker never disappoints, and Oprah Winfrey is superb as his wife Gloria. There are some odd casting choices – I couldn’t imagine John Cusack playing Nixon I heard that he was in that role – but it worked. The film combines one man’s personal journey, walking a fine line between supporting his oldest son, who is determined to fight for equal rights, no matter what the cost; and working at the White House, where such subversiveness is frowned upon. Amongst the Presidents he works for are JFK, the aforementioned Nixon, and Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman). The film shows how the job takes it’s toll on Gaines’s family and causes conflicting ideals in his mind.

I loved it – go watch it, I don’t think you will be disappointed!

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Year of release: 2013

Director: Lee Daniels

Writers: Danny Strong, Wil Haygood

Main cast: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Lenny Kravitz, Cuba Gooding Jr, Clarence Williams III, David Oyelowo, Colman Domingo, Robin Williams, John Cusack, Alan Rickman, James Marsden

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In this enjoyable memoir, journalist Phil Hewitt tells how he took on the challenge of running a marathon for charity, and ended up falling in love with marathon running – at the time of writing the book in 2012, he had run 25 marathons, and this book charts his progress (or lack of) in some of his more memorable ones.

Each chapter concentrates mainly on one marathon, and just as in actual life, some days are better than others. Phil Hewitt has run marathons in some amazing cities – London (several times, including his first ever marathon), Dublin, Berlin, Paris, New York, Amsterdam and Rome, to name just a few. In an engaging and chatty style, he discusses the highs and lows of each of these, and also talks about friendships he crafted along the way, as well as lessons he learned about himself and life in general.

As a runner myself, I found his obsession with finishing times entirely understandable – I also totally identified with the way he used little mind games to get himself round the course when the going got tough. I laughed along with him, and felt his pain, and also completely understood why someone would want to put themselves through such a gruelling challenge when, lets face it, there is absolutely no real reason to do so!

I definitely recommend this book, but especially to running enthusiasts.

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