Thursday, June 29, 2006

Swimmers bios revisited...

I'm currently reading Marc Parrish's Paths to the Olympics : maize and blue to Olympic gold (Detroit, MI : Colemar Press, 1997), and I really like it. So much so that I'm writing about it before I finish. The typesetting is kind of amateurish, and the photo reproductions aren't that great. But the content IS great. The book consists of interviews with 15 men who swam competitively for the Univ of Michigan and who went to the Olympics. Most went to Olympic Games in the 1980's and 1990's, but at least one was at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The interviews concentrate on their swimming careers--family and friends are only mentioned in connection with swimming, and there's no mention of school lives or careers. That's a shame, because these guys all come off as articulate in their interviews. It'd be nice to hear how they combined school work and swimming, or how swimming has carried over in their work. But that's nit-picky. While I'm nit-picking...I do wish the author had provided a brief update on each person, as to what they're doing now.

But overall, I'm so glad I hunted this book down! The interviews are full of anecdotes, especially about the experience of competing (lots about the atmosphere in the "Ready Room"), but also about the Olympic experience overall, and early experiences with swimming. Other strengths of the book: it doesn't just focus on Americans! I've read interviews with athletes from Puerto Rico (a different kind of American, I guess), Turkey, and the Netherlands, with Brazil, El Salvador, and the Philippines yet to come. Also, these men aren't all gold-medal winners. Many more Olympic participants don't earn medals than do, but mostly we hear from the medal winners. This book is a nice contrast. Success or a "good Olympic experience" isn't defined solely by whether you earn medals or not.
(For other swimming books, see entries for June 13 2006, July 18, 2006, and October 10, 2006)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Year-in-the-life books, Part II


This subject is ripe for this kind of treatment: it's very much on a calendar, and each year of school you're supposed to reach some developmental milestones. And nearly everyone has attended school, many are sending kids to school, we all live in school districts...

I've divided this list into grade levels (kind of), starting with the early years.

Grade school

Kidder, Tracy. Among Schoolchildren. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1989.
A recent classic; I know it's assigned in college education classes. Covers a 5th-grade classroom in Massachusetts. By one of the best non-fiction writers around.

Codell, Esmé Raji. Educating Esme: diary of a teacher’s first year. Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1999.
Definitely a diary, and Codell's personality can be a little hard to take at times. She's almost too exuberant. But it's a quick read.

High School

Another one of those interesting contrasts that turn up in my reading. They were published years apart, and I read them years apart. I think they'd make an interesting pair.

Freedman, Samuel G. Small victories : the real world of a teacher, her students, and their high school. New York : Harper & Row, c1990.
Humes, Edward. School of Dreams making the grade at a top American high school. Orlando, Fla.: Harcourt, c2003.
You could call this pair "Poor school/rich (or middle-class) school". In Small Victories journalist Freedman follows a teacher at a poor inner-city high school in New York City. Humes follows multiple students at a high school in Cerritos, California (suburb of Los Angeles). The differences in what life options are available to students at the two schools is heartbreaking. I learned a lot about military recruiting in high schools in Small Victories. In School of Dreams the students are under tremendous pressures to achieve academically. I think both high schools have large 2nd-generation-American populations, so that would be an interesting comparison as well. The years chronicled in each book are about a decade apart--another source of comparison and contrast.

Miles Corwin, Elinor Burkett, and Meredith Maran (among others) have all chronicled a year in various high schools in the last decade or so. Samuel Freedman has done another year-in-the-life type book focusing on a church: Upon this rock : the miracles of a black church.

College admissions

Steinberg, Jacques. The Gatekeepers: inside the admissions process of a premier college. New York: Viking, 2002.
Toor, Rachel. Admissions Confidential: an insider's account of the elite college selection process. New York : St. Martin's Press, 2001.
Another pairing. Toor's Admission Confidential is a first-person account of being an admissions officer at Duke University. Reporter Steinberg writes about an admissions counselor at Wesleyan (Connecticut) and five students who apply there in one year. I didn't read these because I'm applying to college (thank goodness, I'm past that stage!) or helping someone else apply to college. I've found it interesting to see how admissions officers "compose" a class, and I like the portraits of the students. I went to a midwestern liberal arts college and these books did make me think about what might have gone on when I was applying. Reading these books also made me thankful I'm not competing for spots at these colleges right now--these are some impressive applicants! I recall liking Toor's book a bit better; maybe it was just an easier read.


Kluge, P.F. Alma mater : a college homecoming. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., [1995].
A memoir by a college professor who goes back to teach for a year at his alma mater, Kenyon College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Having attended Cornell College, a small liberal arts college in a small town in Iowa, I found it interesting to hear a visiting professor's view on that type of college. Also, I could just relate to the campus, and town, he described. I read it a long time ago, but I recall some poignant descriptions of relationships with students and colleagues. I also seem to remember the writer lived on some on-campus housing.

Coyne, Kevin. Domers. New York : Viking, 1995.
And now for something completely different...well, except for the region. It's a year in the life of Notre Dame, that big Catholic University in Indiana. Back to a more reportorial style, from the vantage points of several people: students, administrators, faculty, Jesuits who live in the dorms...

Ruggero, Ed. Duty First: A Year In The Life Of West Point And The Making Of American Leaders. New York : Harper Collins, c2001.
...and something completely different from those two: an account of the first year at West Point. The writer is particularly interested in how West Point develops leaders--he does keep returning to this question. Similar to Domers in that it's from multiple viewpoints: cadets/students, faculty, and administrators. It profiles quite a few cadets, and not only first-year cadets. You learn how they decided to go to West Point, see them in the classroom and on the field. There's quite a discussion of the honor code. Of course, it's at a military academy--a different kind of discipline from a Catholic university. For another take on contemporary life at West Point, see Absolutely American : Four Years at West Point by David Lipsky

Allitt, Patrick. I’m the Teacher, You’re the Student a semester in the university classroom. University of Pennsylvania Press, c2005.
...and back to a diary...more practical and focused than Kluge's. I read this book this spring and I loved it. I'm going to give it to a friend who's a relatively new college instructor. Allitt takes you through an American history survey class (post-Civil War to early 1970s). He teaches at Emory University, in Atlanta. He may be teaching other classes that semester; he may be doing research; but he doesn't write about that. He talks mostly about class interactions, even recounting Q & A's and what he's looking for in student's responses, how he chooses readings, the grading process, how he deals with cheating...the nuts and bolts, but in a very engaging way. He even makes the description of the mechanics of putting his slide shows together interesting. He does have a brief section on his experience as an adult student, and how he as a professor felt on the other end of instruction. I have to admit, I really enjoyed some of the howlers from student papers...but it was interesting just to see the students' writings. On top of all this, he weaves in quite a bit about American history, but again, in a very engaging way. (I was an American history major, and I learned quite a bit from this book). Some of my enthusiasm may come from just having read it, but mostly it was a good read.

And finally, for those who can stand it...
Grad/Professional School
Turow, Scott. One L. New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, c1988. Reprint. Originally published: New York : Putnam, c1977.
Another classic, the first book by the author of legal thrillers. This is the only Turow book I've read, though I did see the movie version of Presumed Innocent. I bought One L when I was in college, at Prairie Lights bookstore, in Iowa City. (I spent many a Saturday afternoon at Prairie Lights and Iowa Book and Supply.) Anyway, I read One L in a weekend. Oh, as for what it's about...Turow takes you through his first year at Harvard Law School. You learn a little bit about law in the bargain.

When I graduated with a bachelor's in history, and didn't know what I wanted to do, lots of people asked if I were going to law school. After reading One L, I knew I didn't want to go!

Goodrich, Chris. Anarchy and elegance: confessions of a journalist at Yale Law School / Boston : Little, Brown, and Co., c1991.
The title pretty much says it all. This one doesn't stand out for me that much, but I still own the book--I haven't given it away.

Goldman, Ari. The search for God at Harvard. New York : Times Books/Random House, 1991.
And here's a reporter who went to Harvard Divinity School and recounts his year there.

Reid, Robert. Year one : an intimate look inside Harvard Business School. New York : Avon Books, 1995. Orignially published: New York : W, Morrow, 1994.
From this book I gained an idea of what business consultants actually do, and what one does with a business degree. I really enjoyed reading about the cases. Reid also described some interesting classmates, with varying backgrounds. (Actually, all these grad school books are interesting in showing the types of people who go to grad school.) Now when I hear those candidates on the Apprentice tv show discuss price points, I have an understanding of what they mean. Truly, this did add to my meager understanding of the business world. For a take on the whole business school experience, not just the first year, at Stanford, there's Snapshots from hell : the making of an MBA by Peter Robinson, 1994.

It seems that to get a publisher to buy your book about grad/professional school, you should write about an Ivy League school. It'd be interesting to read about the experiences at other schools, especially public universities. Or one written by a woman, a minority, or a foreign student. I think Reid does try to cover that angle, a bit.

Other entries with "Year in the Life" books: June 20, 2006–restaurants/chefs; August 26, 2006–part III: theater and business; Oct 11, 2006–part IVa: sports; Feb 21, 2007–part IVb: sports; March 28, 2007–part V: religion; April 6, 2007–part IVc: sports; and May 2, 2007–part VI: miscellaneous.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"Year in the Life" books


I don't know if it counts as a genre, but I've always liked reading non-fiction books that follow the year in the life of an institution. The calendar gives the authors an outline to hang their narratives on, and some boundaries. But the books I like use the happenings of a year to give background on the institution, and the people who participate in it. Usually it doesn't just focus on one person or aspect (though I'm including a few diaries/memoirs in my list).

I was surprised at how many books I've read in this category. Actually, I could divide it by general subject area: sports, education, and theater all have defined "seasons" or years where there are definite beginnings and ends. I did some searching in library catalogs for non-fiction books with the words "year" and "life" in the title, and came up with quite a few titles. There are year-in-the-life books about practicing medicine in two different locations: Taking Care of Your Own: A Year in the Life of a Small Hospital, by Susan Garrett, and Surgeon! : a year in the life of an inner-city doctor, by Richard T. Caleel. You can read about a year in the life of a Japanese woman and her family (The secrets of Mariko, by Elisabeth Bumiller) or a year in the life of a pronghorn (Built for speed, by John A. Byers). And not all these kinds of books have "life" and/or "year" in the title: Anne Lamott wrote Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. There are a ton of year-in-the-life books out there I haven't read. Here's a list of ones I have read. My areas of interest do tend towards sports, theater, education, plus restaurants, religion, and business, and other miscellaneous areas.

Daria, Irene. Lutece: a day in the life of America's greatest restaurant. New York : Random House, 1993.
Daria uses the structure of a day to explain the behind-the-scenes life of a restaurant.

Echikson, William. Burgundy Stars: a year in the life of a great French restaurant. Boston: Little, Brown, 1995.
I couldn't remember if this covered one year or more (the blurbs say it covers one). The restaurant is Bernard Loiseau's La Cote d'Or. It focuses mostly on Loiseau; I think there's a fair amount on a sommelier as well. Loiseau is also the subject of The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine, by Rudolph Chelminski, published in 1995. Another one of those books read at the lakeside cabin.

So the first two books let you compare and contrast a French and U.S. restaurant (I read them years apart, unfortunately). Then you can read about the training of American chefs in:

Ruhlman, Michael. Making of a Chef: mastering heat at the Culinary Institute of America. New York: H. Holt, 1997.
This is more of a memoir; the writer is a student at the CIA, though kind of a "special student," doing a shorter course for the purpose of writing a book. Not being much of a cook, I read more about making stock and sauces than I wanted to. There's a lot of description of that. But I liked the book enough to buy Ruhlman's next book on cooking, Soul of a Chef, as soon as it came out (I'm finally reading it now!). And he's got a third book on professional cooking, Reach of a Chef. Ruhlman says one of his interests is the experience of the pursuit of perfection. It's definitely a big part of Soul of a Chef. But I don't know how many insights I got into that pursuit in Making of a Chef.

Other entries with "Year in the Life" books: June 22, 2006 –part II: education; August 26, 2006 –part III: theater and business; Oct 11, 2006–part IVa: sports; Feb 21, 2007–part IVb: sports; March 28, 2007–part V: religion; April 6, 2007–part IVc: sports; and May 2, 2007–part VI: miscellaneous.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Biographies/autobiographies of swimmers

I've always liked to read books about sports and athletes, mostly about "amateur" athletes, or those sports that are included in the Olympics. I'm especially interested in the sociology of sports, and the worlds the athletese inhabit. Swimming is my main form of exercise these days, and especially in summer my mind turns to swimming. I've managed to find quite a few biographies/autobiographies of swimmers. In some cases, I read these years, maybe even as many as 15 years ago, so I don't know that they've all held up over time.

Fraser, Dawn, and Harry Gordon. Below the surface; confessions of an Olympic champion. New York, Morrow, 1965. (Published in Australia under title Gold medal girl.)
Fraser is Australian, and won the 100 meter freestyle in the 1956, 1960, and 1964 Olympics. This was a fascinating book. Fraser is definitely opinionated, and willing to go her own way. The book gives an interesting picture of being a female athlete in the 1950s and early 1960s, as well as being an amateur athlete, including struggles with the athletic establishment. I enjoyed her descriptions of actually being at the Olympics (there was some incident about stealing a flag). An amazing amount happened to her by the time she was 28, when the book was published. Plus, you get a glimpse of Australia during and right after WWII.

Mullen, P H. Gold in the water : the true story of ordinary men and their extraordinary dream of Olympic glory. New York : T. Dunne Books, 2001.
This follows several U.S. male swimmers as they train for the 2000 Olympics. This book is much more descriptive than Melina's book above; it reads like it was written from direct observation as well as from interviews. I expected to like this a bit more than I did. But I read it in a day, while sitting on a deck by a lake in northern Wisconsin. By the time I read it, I didn't remember who got what result in the Olympics, so it was gripping to find out how each swimmer did. And it's a nice mix: not all the swimmers profiled got medals, or even made the Olympic team.

Chambliss, Daniel F. Champions: The Making of Olympic Swimmers. New York: Morrow, 1988.
Sociologist describes four swimmers at the Mission Viejo swimming club preparing for the 1984 Olympics. Slightly different take on the topic; the author wants to figure out what makes some swimmers great. But it's written in an accessible style.

Melina, Lois Ruskai. By a Fraction of a Second. El Segunda, CA : Sports Pubs, Inc., 2000.
Covers several female U.S. swimmers in the years leading up to the 2000 Olympics. This book explained technical aspects of swimming that I could understand! I read it in a day, at a lakeside cottage. I wish it'd been longer, the profiles deeper. But I enjoyed it.

Sanders, Summer, with Melinda M Marshall. Champions are raised, not born : how my parents made me a success. New York: Delacorte Press, 1999.
By a multi-medal winner from the U.S. in the 1992 Olympics. It's written in a kind of advice-book style, but there are a lot of anecdotes. Two things stand out: she writes about the social aspects of swimming as a kid, and it sounds fun! Also, her description of her comeback was interesting; I always wonder what make athletes decide to try to come back, and how they feel about it.

Tewksbury, Mark. Visions of excellence : the art of achieving your dreams.
Toronto, Ont. ; New York, N.Y. : Viking, 1993.
Tewksbury was a Canadian gold medalist in the 1992 Olympics. I think this book was supposed to have a motivational slant. I just found his descriptions of training interesting, especially training with a synchronized swimming coach. I remember reading it in Sept 2000, sitting by a pool at an Albuquerque hotel, waiting to watch the closing ceremonies of the Sydney Olympics.

Warner, Chuck. Four champions, one gold medal: the true story of four swimmers who battled for the same Olympic dream. El Segundo, Calif.: Sports Publications, 1999. Three guys from the U.S., one from Australia, all aiming for the 1976 Olympics. I remember it having a lot of training details. But I can't remember a single one of the athletes' names. I think they were training for one of the swimming distance races.

Chavoor, Sherman, with Bill Davis. The 50-meter jungle; how Olympic gold medal swimmers are made. New York, Coward, McCann, Geoghegan [1973].
Chavoor coached U.S. Olympians Mark Spitz and Debbie Meier, among others. There's quite a bit of his coaching methods in here. Didn't really stand out for me.

Schollander, Don, with Joel H. Cohen. Inside swimming. Chicago, Regnery [1974]. From the U.S., Schollander won golds in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics. I remember this book mainly because it was the first library book I ever took on a long road trip. (I'd grown up indoctrinated to never take library books on the road, because I could lose them sometime along the way. It's only happened to me once in 15 years so far!)

Ones I haven't read/finished yet:
Phelps, Michael and Brian Cazeneuve. Michael Phelps: Beneath the Surface. Champaign, IL: Sports Publishing L.L.C. , 2004.

Silver, Michael, and Natalie Coughlin. Golden girl: How Natalie Coughlin fought back, challenged conventional wisdom, and became America's Olympic Champion. [Emmaus, Pa.]: Rodale; [New York]: Distributed to the book trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers, 2006.

Ortiz, Rick. Legacies: Eight Champions, Eight Interviews. Newport Beach, CA: Metro Lifestyles and Design, 1992.
Written in question and answer format. Swimmers are male and female, from the U.S. and Great Britain, and swam at the world level in the 1980s and 1990s.

For other swimming books, see entries for June 29 2006, July 18, 2006., and October 10, 2006).

Saturday, June 10, 2006

I'm just looking for a place to post my book reviews and lists. Don't know if the blog format will work...

No particular reason anyone should care what I'm reading, or what I recommend. But I do seem to have a knack for recommending good books to people, at least people in my small circle of friends. Mostly I read non-fiction. I'm a librarian, so I know how to track books down, and how to mine library catalogs for books on all kinds of subjects. I have access to two wonderful library systems--the University of Wisconsin, and Madison Public Library/South Central Library System. Why are they so great? UW-Madison has a huge library system, and it's one of the biggest (and, as an employee, in my humble opinion) one of the best research libraries around. The wonderful collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society are included in it. That library's been around since the 1850's, and it's nationally renowned for its North American history collection. And if the 40-odd libraries on the Madison campus don't have a book, there are 13 other UW campuses that I can borrow books from.

Then there's Madison Public Library and the South Central Library System. Madison PL's great because it collects a hefty dose of academic titles as well as a broad and deep public library collection. Its branches do a nice job of tailoring their collections to their neighborhoods. And Madison belongs to a big system of other public libraries in the state. The system includes libraries for small rural communities, small towns, and small cities. So there's great variety among those collections.

I still haven't bought a book through Amazon yet, so I doubt I'll be linking to Amazon's descriptions (or any other descriptions). I love many features of Amazon--customer reviews, page views. But I have avoided actually paying for anything online. For tracking down specific used books, I've become a fan of I find listings there, then I contact the booksellers directly. It's been fun! And I try to buy most of my new books at independent bookstores (though I do visit Borders and Barnes & Noble occasionally).

This has been fun! I might be able to do this after all!