Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

What We’re Reading Open Thread

Unknown After reading and loving The Distance Between Us last month, I was eager for another, similar story for my next read. I’m partial to memoirs, and, in addition to The Distance Between Us, I also adored The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, which I read years ago on my honeymoon. Both memoirs are stories of turbulent childhoods in which the authors face enormous adversity and eventually rise above it. In my hunt for another memoir like these two, I found North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both. I read it last week and it did not disappoint. From the Amazon description:

Sex, drugs, and . . . bug stew? In the vein of The Glass Castle and Wild, Cea Sunrise Person’s compelling memoir of a childhood spent with her dysfunctional counter-culture family in the Canadian wilderness—a searing story of physical, emotional, and psychological survival.

In the late 1960s, riding the crest of the counterculture movement, Cea’s family left a comfortable existence in California to live off the land in the Canadian wilderness. But unlike most commune dwellers of the time, the Persons weren’t trying to build a new society—they wanted to escape civilization altogether. Led by Cea’s grandfather Dick, they lived a pot-smoking, free-loving, clothing-optional life under a canvas tipi without running water, electricity, or heat for the bitter winters.

Living out her grandparents’ dream with her teenage mother Michelle, young Cea knew little of the world beyond her forest. She spent her summers playing nude in the meadow and her winters snowshoeing behind the grandfather she idolized. Despite fierce storms, food shortages, and the occasional drug-and-sex-infused party for visitors, it seemed to be a mostly happy existence. For Michelle, however, now long separated from Cea’s father, there was one crucial element missing: a man. When Cea was five, Michelle took her on the road with a new boyfriend. As the trio set upon a series of ill-fated adventures, Cea began to question both her highly unusual world and the hedonistic woman at the centre of it—questions that eventually evolved into an all-consuming search for a more normal life. Finally, in her early teens, Cea realized she would have to make a choice as drastic as the one her grandparents once had in order to save herself.

Have you read it? What did you think? I loved it. And now I’m looking for something new to read. I was thinking about this one. (I guess I’m on a memoir kick at the moment). What are you reading? Any recommendations?

66 comments… add one
  • avatar

    haggith March 30, 2015, 12:19 pm

    One of my favorite movies of all times “The diving bell and the butterfly” is actually based on Jean-Dominique Baby, who after suffered from the locked-in syndrome, he dictates this whole book by blinking each letter. If the old “the book is better than the movie” is true, then it must be a must-read. I haven’t read it yet but I have recommended the movie to everyone so this is in my amazon wishlist;
    http://www.amazon.com/Diving-Bell-Butterfly-Memoir-Death/dp/0375701214/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427735607&sr=1-1&keywords=the+diving+bell+and+the+butterfly+by+jean+dominique+bauby

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    • avatar

      haggith March 30, 2015, 12:22 pm

      can’t edit!!!
      “based on Jean-Dominique Baby’s memoir, who after having to live with the “locked-in” syndrome, he dictated this whole book by dictating each letter.

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  • Lianne

    Lianne March 30, 2015, 12:25 pm

    I haven’t read North of Normal, but want to! I also read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for a class a few years ago. It was really great.
    .
    I recently downloaded The Traitor’s Wife, which is historical fiction and is about the influence Benedict Arnold’s wife had in his treason. I love historical fiction and this got great reviews. However, I haven’t started it yet, because after we got our kitty, Atticus, I had to read To Kill a Mockingbird again! I will finish that today and then start The Traitor’s Wife…then North of Normal 🙂

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  • Stonegypsy

    Stonegypsy March 30, 2015, 12:27 pm

    Yesterday I read Clockwork Orange. I saw the movie years ago and absolutely hated it (There should be a giant trigger warning on the cover of both), even if Malcolm Macdowell is incredible in it. I don’t know why I thought I would like the book more. I basically had to learn a new language so I could read about a narcissistic sociopath doing horrible things and not learning or growing at all.
    It did have kind of a lyrical quality once I got used to the language, and… I don’t know. I have really mixed feelings about it.

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    • othy

      othy March 30, 2015, 3:29 pm

      I couldn’t finish the movie, so it never crossed my mind to try and read it.

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      • Stonegypsy

        Stonegypsy March 30, 2015, 3:38 pm

        I started sobbing during the movie, twice, but my boyfriend at the time insisted we finish it. On the other hand, it was almost an interactive experience, because I felt like I was being tortured just like the main character!

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      • Cassie

        Cassie March 30, 2015, 5:11 pm

        My guy friend had wanted to watch it so we started and I just had to stop. So we put in the other movie he had rented– It really says something when Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the less horrifying choice.

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      • Stonegypsy

        Stonegypsy March 30, 2015, 5:17 pm

        Yeah… we had to pause the movie after *both* rape scenes in the beginning of the movie so that I could curl up in a ball and sob. And my boyfriend was dead set on finishing.
        Which, in retrospect, should have been a clear “This dude is an asshole” sign. Hindsight’s 20/20

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      • avatar

        Sunshine Brite March 30, 2015, 5:57 pm

        Damn that’s cold.

        We watched it senior year of high school after reading the book… hindsight that probably wasn’t super appropriate.

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    • kare

      kare March 30, 2015, 8:35 pm

      I love the book and movie. It’s definitely dark and not suitable for everyone. However, I really enjoyed the argument around morality and free will. Also, the ending from the book is different than the movie. The author wrote the story after his wife was attacked and miscarried. The main character is 15 because that’s how old his son would have been at the time the book was written. The author also based a character on himself. The back story makes a difference to me.

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      • Stonegypsy

        Stonegypsy March 31, 2015, 9:05 am

        I don’t remember the ending from the movie very well. Even though at the end of the book there’s some small appearance of character growth, he still doesn’t regret hurting people, he’s not any less selfish or narcissistic than he ever was.
        I did think the morality/free will argument was interesting. But it was hard because I felt (unlike the prison chaplain) that actually maybe it’s better to take away the choice than to allow someone to continue being a monster and continue hurting other people.
        As tough a read as I found it, I still couldn’t put it down. Very mixed feelings.

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      • kare

        kare March 31, 2015, 1:10 pm

        I definitely agree about it sometimes being better to take away the choice, but to me that doesn’t make the person “good” or “cured”. It was just an interesting concept to see from someone who was affected by a brutal crime. I’m really shocked the book is taught in high school though.

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      • Stonegypsy

        Stonegypsy March 31, 2015, 1:17 pm

        Oh yeah, absolutely. He still *wants* to hurt people, it’s just that if he thinks about it he gets sick.
        Until they cure him and give him a job and let him back into the world to continue being a monster.

        And yeah, it seems like a bizarre thing to put on a curriculum.

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  • avatar

    K March 30, 2015, 12:32 pm

    I, too, love memoirs! Thanks for suggesting those. I’m currently reading and enjoying “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, which is a post-apocalyptic novel.

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    • Cassie

      Cassie March 30, 2015, 12:46 pm

      Station Eleven is on my list to read!

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      • avatar

        booknerd March 30, 2015, 2:01 pm

        I loved station eleven! Sooooo good!

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    • Portia

      Portia March 30, 2015, 3:10 pm

      Just read the synopsis for Station Eleven and this sounds right up my alley! Putting it in my library ebook queue right now…

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    • Amybelle

      Amybelle March 31, 2015, 8:01 am

      I loved Station Eleven so much, beautiful writing!

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      • avatar

        K March 31, 2015, 8:26 am

        Yes, some of the passages are just so beautifully written.

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  • Cassie

    Cassie March 30, 2015, 12:35 pm

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  • Cassie

    Cassie March 30, 2015, 12:45 pm

    I’m currently reading Below, which is entertaining. Things have been quite stressful at work, and an easy-read ‘monster’ thriller is just what I need. http://www.amazon.com/Below-Ryan-Lockwood/dp/0786032871/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427737216&sr=1-1&keywords=below+ryan+lockwood

    I also read Dr. Sleep by Stephen King last month. Stephen King can be hit or miss for me, but I liked what he did with the character of Danny (from The Shining).

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    • Lianne

      Lianne March 30, 2015, 1:02 pm

      I loved this sequel to The Shining. I liked where it took us.

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    • MissRemy

      msremy March 31, 2015, 5:58 am

      I agree! Really loved Dr. Sleep 🙂

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  • avatar

    emily85 March 30, 2015, 12:56 pm

    I read it after you mentioned it last week. I stayed up so late to finish it cause I couldn’t put it down!

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    • avatar

      emily85 March 30, 2015, 12:57 pm

      Oh, and I think the Glass Castle is one of my favorite books. I’ve read it a bunch of times. North of Normal was a great antidote to Wild, which I enjoyed, but found Cheryl Strayed to be a relatively unsympathetic narrator.

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  • Miel

    Miel March 30, 2015, 1:09 pm

    For those of you who travels: I realized the only times I can buy books is in airport book stores (like Hudson, or whatever the company is named). There are some interesting books in there… mixed with tons of garbage about “how to change your life one vegetable at a time”. So it’s not obvious what to buy.

    Any airport book store suggestions for me ?

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    • avatar

      K March 30, 2015, 1:54 pm

      Hudson News! Haha they are everywhere. The last time I was in an airport book store a couple of months ago, I bought Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl) and liked it more than Gone Girl.

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      • avatar

        booknerd March 30, 2015, 2:02 pm

        I love her other books.

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      • avatar

        snoopy128 March 30, 2015, 5:25 pm

        I third Gillian Flynn books! And I also thought Sharp Objects was better than Gone Girl.

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  • mylaray

    mylaray March 30, 2015, 1:16 pm

    I really want to read North of Normal. Memories about dysfunction are one of my favorites (ha).
    .
    Right now I’m reading Leaving Berlin, a novel by Joseph Kanon, about East Berlin in 1949. I’m really enjoying that so far, it’s quite thrilling.
    .
    I also just started Dead Wake by Erik Larson about the Lusitania ship that was struck by a German torpedo. I love his other books so I’m hoping this is just as good.

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    • Portia

      Portia March 30, 2015, 1:35 pm

      Oh I loved Devil in the White City! I had to look him up because I remembered his name but not what I’d read of his. In the vein of books like that, I read Conquering Gotham a few years ago and really liked that – it’s about Penn Station in NYC and building all the tunnels into the city. It had a lot to do with Philly and that was one of my first years there (the Pennsylvania Railroad company played a huge role), but there was just a lot of interconnecting threads I had no idea about.

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      • mylaray

        mylaray March 30, 2015, 1:41 pm

        Oh, Conquering Gotham sounds great. I’m from NYC, so I’ll have to read that too.

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      • avatar

        jlyfsh March 30, 2015, 9:17 pm

        One book about NYC that takes a different look at the city’s development over the years is called The Big Oyster. All about the impacts of the oyster industry on NYC and how it changed over time. I really loved it!

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      • mylaray

        mylaray March 30, 2015, 9:47 pm

        Oh, I have read that too. It’s a fascinating book! And I love oysters. I read one of his other books first called Cod, which is also an in depth look into how the codfish influenced so much.

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      • avatar

        jlyfsh March 31, 2015, 7:25 am

        Yes! Loved that one too 🙂

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      • Pamplemousse Rose

        Pamplemousse Rose March 31, 2015, 12:44 pm

        I read a similar cultural history book called The History of the World in Six Glasses. If I remember, the beverages it talks about are coffee, tea, beer, wine, spirits and Coca Cola. I used to own a copy but it was in a box of books that went missing on a cross-country move 🙁

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      • Pamplemousse Rose

        Pamplemousse Rose March 30, 2015, 5:55 pm

        Devil in the White City is one of my favourite books! I recommend it to pretty much everyone. My husband also read Larsen’s In the Garden of Beasts (about the American Ambassador to Germany, either leading up to WWII or during, I’m not sure) and said it was really good too. I’ll have to check out Conquering Gotham.

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  • Portia

    Portia March 30, 2015, 1:30 pm

    Oh good, because I’ve been reading through All the Light We Cannot See and I’m just not getting into it the way I’d want to. I’ve had this happen with a bunch of books recently, including 1q84 (and that is one massive book).

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    • avatar

      Kate March 30, 2015, 1:45 pm

      I liked All The Light We Cannot See well enough, but it was too long and way too precious.

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      • Portia

        Portia March 30, 2015, 3:12 pm

        Good, it’s not just me. It was on so many lists this year, but I don’t find myself wanting to pick it up.

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    • avatar

      snoopy128 March 30, 2015, 5:28 pm

      I’d say give IQ84 a rest until you have time for a slow moving book.
      IQ84 is one of my favourite books, but I find it’s easier if you :
      a) read some other Haruki Murakami first
      b) have time to read it and expect it to move at a slow (but very methodical pace). Each little detail ties together, so it’s best to read it when you can do it without much interruption. It’s not a book that lends itself to putting it down and picking it up weeks later.

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      • Portia

        Portia March 30, 2015, 6:50 pm

        I could tell 1q84 was a good book, well-written, interesting story, all that. But in the end, it wasn’t my style (and I wanted it to be, I got through 80% of it after restarting). It’s like historical fiction, even the best ones can’t interest me.

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  • avatar

    Kate March 30, 2015, 1:43 pm

    I also really liked The Distance Between Us. On my trip I’m reading The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty by Amanda Filippachi (sp?). It’s totally nuts and I like it but it only has 3.5 stars on Amazon so it probably has a disappointing ending. It’s a novel, not a memoir.

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    • avatar

      Kate March 31, 2015, 12:34 pm

      Yup, finished it and it was disappointing. It’s really out there, like a fairy tale / allegory but in NYC today… And it had a very interesting premise but I thought lacked depth and didn’t deliver in the end.

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  • mrmidtwenties

    mrmidtwenties March 30, 2015, 2:05 pm

    I am currently reading sales reports, they’re kind of like a book, but numbers, and really really boring.

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    • Portia

      Portia March 30, 2015, 9:07 pm

      I spent most of the day reading government reports. Fewer numbers, but I feel your pain.

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  • Bubbles

    Bubbles March 30, 2015, 2:15 pm

    Wendy, thank you for recommending “The Distance Between Us” last month. I just finished it this weekend and LOVED it. It was a really vivid account of striving for the American Dream and the struggles of living through poverty and a dysfunctional/abusive family. The efforts of crossing the borders legally (or illegally in this case) is something we forget about once we are generations removed from the struggle of coming to this country.

    I am now reading “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins.

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  • veritek33

    veritek33 March 30, 2015, 3:03 pm

    I’m reading the Astronauts Wives Club right now. It’s about the wives of the mercury 7 and new 9 during the NASA space race years and all the crazy things that were expected of them by NASA and their contracts with Life magazine. Like zero privacy from the press and having to be model housewives – when one of the wives was actually a very accomplished pilot herself. It’s been a good read so far and I’m about halfway through.

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    • Portia

      Portia March 30, 2015, 3:14 pm

      Ooo, interesting!

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    • avatar

      jlyfsh March 30, 2015, 9:15 pm

      I’m going to have add that to my list!

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  • avatar

    Kate March 30, 2015, 3:35 pm

    I don’t know if this is f’d up, but every other book I read is a holocaust memoir. Seems like due to a combination of Kindle publishing e-books and some of these people coming to the end of their lives, there are new ones all the time. They’re fascinating.

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    • Lyra

      Lyra March 30, 2015, 7:00 pm

      I’ve loved Holocaust stories since I was about 8, so you’re not alone. They’re fascinating. I was able to visit Auschwitz in 2010 and it was so eye-opening. It’s interesting to read them now with that lens, having seen where a lot of this took place. It definitely wasn’t a tourist trap or anything…it was definitely treated as hallowed ground, which was good to see. Eerily quiet, even with a bunch of people walking through.

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  • avatar

    Sunshine Brite March 30, 2015, 6:00 pm

    Gah, I need to go to the library and read something. I’m blocks from a library and I haven’t read anything since January. I used to devour books per week. I saw Erik Larson had a new book out last time I went shopping, I should try and get my hands on that. I’ve loved pretty much all those books – historical nonfiction written more like a fiction.

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    • Cassie

      Cassie March 30, 2015, 7:48 pm

      Blocks from a library… I think I know where you live now.

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      • Cassie

        Cassie March 30, 2015, 7:49 pm

        I didn’t mean that to come out so creepy and stalker-ish.

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      • avatar

        Sunshine Brite March 31, 2015, 7:18 am

        Bahahaha, stalk away, when I get unpacked I’ll have people over!

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  • avatar

    stickelet March 30, 2015, 7:56 pm

    Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan. She essentially starts going crazy and doesn’t know why. No one can figure out what’s wrong with her and the book has almost a desperate feel to it, as if they are about to give up. Great read, and a quick one too. I recommended it to my sister and she read it in two days. http://www.susannahcahalan.com/

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  • kare

    kare March 30, 2015, 8:43 pm

    For some reason I keep reading things involving people losing their teeth. I read Bernice by Edgar Allan Poe, then Sharp Objects, and the Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I didn’t realize it was such a common literary theme.
    *
    Now I’m supposed to read some Hemingway because I promised my FWB I would. He also told me when we were out last week that a lot of people are easy to read, kind of like a cheap paperback novel, but I’m like Tolstoy. Probably one of the more interesting compliments I’ve received…

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  • avatar

    jlyfsh March 30, 2015, 9:18 pm

    I’m listening to a book called Spillover about viruses right now. It’s very interesting if you’re in to that kind of thing!

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  • avatar

    SAAtl March 31, 2015, 6:52 am

    I am a longtime “lurker” but I have to jump in because I love books and getting and giving recommendations so that I pick up things I wouldn’t have otherwise. I recently read, “The Language of Flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and it is one of my all time favorite books. Seriously, I ignored my children, husband, job and everything else to finish it.

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  • avatar

    Boosker March 31, 2015, 8:51 am

    Just picked up two novels from the library that (I think) you’d classify as magical realism. The Weight of Blood by Laura McHughs and The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. I put them on hold so long ago that I forget what they’re about. Right now I’m emailing agents trying to find representation for my own book, and these two titles were mentioned an awful lot as books agents loved and/or were mad they didn’t rep.

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  • avatar

    joanna March 31, 2015, 11:55 am

    I just finished “North of Normal” and I loved it. I cried at the end.

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  • Stonegypsy

    Stonegypsy March 31, 2015, 12:46 pm

    It’s like 80 degrees in Denver today, and I have the evening to myself, which means it’s going to be the perfect kind of day to chill outside and read until it’s too dark. I’m thinking of starting The Golden Compass, because I have had it for years and have been meaning to read it, but just haven’t gotten around to it.
    Or maybe I’ll finally get around to starting A Dance With Dragons.

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  • avatar

    snoopy128 March 31, 2015, 1:49 pm

    For all you runners out there- What I talk about when I talk about running by Haruki Murakami

    He basically just talks about his love for running and how it has evolved, but in his very introspective and analytic style. I found myself identifying with many of the things he said.
    It’s less American-style “rah, rah, I love running, everybody should do it” and more of a personal reflection on why *he* runs and how it has impacted him.

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