Monthly Archives: November 2021

Best books of the last 125 years – my list

See the previous entry for the New York Times list.  In no particular order (fiction only):

  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Empire Falls by Richard Russo
  • Goodnight Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf
  • Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
  • Heidi by Johanna Sypri
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  • Suite Francaise by Irene Nerimovsky
  • Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling
  • We Are All Completely Beside Oursevles by Karen Joy Fowler
  • Euphoria by Lily King
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Of these, my top few would be:

  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  • Euphoria by Lily King

And if I had to pick just one, I think I’d go for Cloud Atlas.  So there you have it – the best fiction book of the last 125 years.

What are your picks?

Best book of the last 125 years

The New York Times has a “vote for the best book of the last 125 years” feature.  Their nominated books, alongside my Goodreads rating and any thoughts I had on them, are listed below:

  1. 1984 – Have not read
  2. All the Light We Cannot See – 4 stars – no comments, sadly.  But I remember thinking it was good but definitely not great.  A little too on point, if that makes sense.
  3. Beloved – 4 stars – “I think this must be the type of book you have to read twice to really understand. The writing is beautiful, but the book is depressing from end to end – and confusing from end to end. It reminds me a little bit of the God of Small Things in writing style but without the waves of understanding at the end.”  Basically, probably it went over my head.  And also was very depressing.
  4. Catch-22 – Have not read
  5. The Catcher in the Rye – read in high school.  Liked but did not love, if memory serves.  Not transcendent in any case.
  6. Charlotte’s Web – 4/5 – An excellent children’s books, but there are better out there.  “I re-read this sweet little book for the first time since 2nd or 3rd grade. L seemed to enjoy it, though she’s not sure she liked it quite as much as the “Laura and Mary” books. I liked the way it dealt with heavy themes, like death, in an accessible way that wouldn’t, for the most part, frighten a small child. Reading it led to some good conversation about where our food, and bacon in particular, comes from. Mostly, though, it’s just a low-key, lovely read for a young child.”
  7. A Confederacy of Dunces – Have not read
  8. The Fellowship of the Ring – 4/5 – A great book, no doubt.  The best in the last 125 years?  No.  Slow to get going, lacking action, lacking strong female characters, etc.  But I look forward to re-reading it, and maybe reading it to my kids.
  9. A Fine Balance – Have not read
  10. A Gentleman in Moscow – Have not read
  11. Gone With the Wind – 3/5 – “It’s impossible to write about this book without writing about the racism. Most old books are racist, but this is a book about the Civil War and race, and that makes it different, and in my opinion, worse. I can’t even begin to enumerate the ways in which it’s offensive. As a result, though I loved many things about the book, I really can’t recommend it.GWTW is the first book I’ve read about the Civil War in ages. I’ve read novels that have touched on that war, but this book really centered on the war and of course, Reconstruction. It’s easy to forget in the modern age how incredibly devastating that war was to our country and especially to the South. What a tragedy! In any case, I enjoyed relearning something I’ve thought of very little since AP History class twenty years ago.

    Scarlett is a wonderful, tragic character. I find myself jaded in my old age, and I don’t enjoy rom coms and the like the way I used to. I find it harder to be stirred by romance in books and movies, but the romance of Scarlett and Rhett is one for the ages.”  – Best book?  Really?

  12. Grapes of Wrath – 5/5 – Now we’re getting somewhere.
  13. The Great Gatsby – Read it a long time ago.  I don’t remember it being particularly extraordinary.
  14. The Handmaid’s Tale – 4/5 – A bow to trendiness and today’s politics and while an excellent book, by no means Atwood’s best. The Blind Assassin, which won the Booker Prize, was far better.  I also preferred Cat’s Eye. “Re-reading it years later, it’s interesting to see how my perspective has changed. As a mother of young children, it is wrenching to read of her daughter being taken from her. Of course, this happens to women all over the world, but really, how utterly and completely unacceptable. Otherwise, the book spends a lot of time very slowly unwinding the details of the society in which “Offred” is trapped and how she got stuck in her current position. I found it a little lacking on forward action – everything has already happened until near the end.The book contained some elements well familiar to me from other Atwood novels, particularly her affair with Nick. It is very much like the romance from The Blind Assassin – a dangerous and ill-advisable affair, an inscrutable lover, the relationship seemingly being physical and sexual only and yet not, lack of conversation.”
  15. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – 5/5 – Having read this aloud to my kids recently, I really do love this book.  Best of the last century?  Maybe best kid’s book.  Maaaybe.  Best book period?  Nah.
  16. Infinite Jest – haven’t read
  17. To Kill A Mockingbird – 5/5 – An excellent book no doubt.  I haven’t read it in decades, though.
  18. A Little Life – haven’t read
  19. Lolita – haven’t read.  And really?
  20. Lonesome Dove – haven’t read
  21. One Hundred Years of Solitude – haven’t read
  22. The Overstory – haven’t read
  23. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – haven’t read
  24. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – not rated on Goodreads, but I loved it.  An excellent YA book.
  25. Ulysses – haven’t read, and probably not smart enough to understand it anyway.

Out of this list, I’d probably vote for the Grapes of Wrath.

Which is your favorite, or your favorites, off this list?  Vote here.  Excepting Ulysses and Lolita, I’m excited to take a crack at the ones I haven’t read.

Thanksgiving dinner

It will just be the five of us, and I’m trying to keep it simple.  None of us likes turkey, so we’ll have Ribeye steak . . . with bacon, because it’s a holiday, and bacon makes everything better.  We’ll also have from scratch stuffing, butternut squash soup, and pumpkin trifle.  And cranberry sauce from a can.  ETA – and carrot bread!  Which L makes from scratch without any help except putting it in and taking it out of the oven.

This will be our second time making the trifle; L did a dry run last week, and wow.  I highly recommend it if you’re looking for an extra dessert.

What are you cooking for Thanksgiving?

Two weeks

It’s two weeks until marathon day!  I’ve been training eleven weeks, and I have a two week taper left to go.  Some stats, with two week to go:

  • 479 miles, or an average of 44 miles per week
  • 83 hours, or an average of 7.5 hours per week
  • Average pace of 10.4 minutes per mile, though that’s a bit skewed by the fact that I never stop my watch, so that includes various stops for snacks, baby soothing, etc.  My moving pace average is probably around 10 minutes per mile.
  • 3 races
    • Parkrun 5K in 22:05 (7:04 / mi)
    • Lake Washington Half in 1:44:27 (7:55 / mi)
    • Orca Half as a training run in 1:54:47 (8:44 / mi)
  • 299 stroller miles

So far, the weather in Sacramento is looking excellent.  I’m in the process of trying to figure out what to wear.  I’m thinking short sleeve or sleeveless top with arm warmers and gloves plus Fast and Free shorts from Lulu.  I’d rather wear loose traditional running shorts, but I think I need all the pockets for phone plus gels plus a place to put gloves.  I found arm warmers for $5 on Amazon, so my plan is to toss them away as the weather warms up.  (It should hit 50 before the end of the race.)  I’ll be wearing Nike Vaporfly 2s, which were pricey, but are very comfortable and will give me a nice mental edge.

All the calculators tell me I should be able to run at least 3:50 pace.  It never pays to underestimate the marathon.  This race humbles A LOT of very well prepared people.  I am hoping that I am not one of those people.  With that said, if I am feeling well that morning, I plan to go out with the 3:50 pace group and try and run sub-3:50.  With that said, I’ll be happy as long as I finish without needing medical assistance, and I’ll be delighted if I break 4 hours.  But I have trained hard for this, and I think I’d be selling myself short if I don’t go out at the pace I’m in shape for.

We can’t take the kids with us (thanks CDC quarantine guidelines) so we’re planning to be there only about 24 hours.  It’s going to be a whirlwind trip.  If it takes me longer than 5 hours to finish, we’ll have trouble making our flight.  So, yeah.  Hopefully I finish “on time” or thereabouts.


As I write this at 10:35 at night, I should add that unambiguously, my biggest weakness of this training cycle has been going to bed too late.  I don’t know what is wrong with me.  I am just terrible about going to bed at a reasonable hour.  Tips?

Vaccine update

Unfortunately, data from Europe is making it more and more clear that vaccination will not stop Covid, even if very high percentages of the population are vaccinated.

Case 1 – Ireland.  89% of Irish citizens age 12 and up are fully vaccinated.  More than 80% of those vaccines were Pfizer or Moderna, with the remainder Astra Zenica or J&J.  In other words, it’s a fairly similar profile to the US.  Their vaccination drive peaked in July, or about four months ago, so vaccine effectiveness waning would be less than in the US.  (You hear a lot about vaccine effectiveness waning at 6 months or later, but my take on the data is that the sharp dropoff starts at 4 months, or even 3.)  Ireland also still has mask mandates for adults and restrictions on large indoor gatherings, unlike most of the US.  In addition, there are vaccine mandates there to do just about anything indoors.

Despite the high rate of vaccination and other measures, Ireland’s cases per capita now exceeds the case levels the US experienced during its late summer Delta surge.  Of course, US numbers are lower because, being a large country, our numbers average out when one part of the country is surging and another isn’t.  In addition, Ireland is doing more testing than the US, and they haven’t yet seen a corresponding surge in deaths.  Deaths are starting to tick up there, so it’ll be telling to see how that goes.

Case 2 – Iceland.  Like Ireland, Iceland has a vaccination rate for ages 12+ of about 90%.  Also like Ireland, Iceland is experiencing a major Covid surge.  Iceland has a number of restrictions and Covid mitigations in place basically banning large gatherings.  With the new surge, they are introducing new rules restricting gatherings to only 50 people, limiting opening hours for restaurants, and imposing % capacity restrictions on everything from swimming pools to ski areas to gyms.

(It is worth noting that Iceland, being a small remote island, doesn’t exactly have overflow capacity for its hospitals, so it’s reasonable for them to take measures that might not make sense in the continental US.  Ireland’s relationship with the UK is . . . standoffish, and they don’t seem to be cooperating on Covid in any way, shape, or form, which no doubt forces them to also be more cautious, as a small island.)

Case 3 – King County.  We have 84% of people fully vaccinated and 89% with at least one shot.  I don’t think the Covid levels are particularly alarming around here, but the Seattle Times subjects us to regular hysterical headlines about hospitals being overwhelmed, and we have a mask mandate for indoors and larger outdoors gatherings.  In any case, we’ve certainly had an ongoing surge for the last few months that never seems to end.

Perhaps most disturbingly, between 40 and 45% of recent deaths in King County are among the vaccinated.  Now, with nearly 85% vaccinated over age 12 (72% of the total population), you’d expect a fair few deaths in the vaccinated population, but more than 40%?

Given the greater contagiousness of Delta and its greater severity, I do think the vaccine is likely making a huge difference.  Unfortunately, I think, at 70% effective against contagiousness and 90% effective (at best – probably less for the people who need it most) against hospitalization, we’re not much better off than we were at the beginning, with the wild type, before the more contagious alpha variant.  The new treatments from Pfizer and Merck and encouraging, however.  Perhaps they will tip the balance.  The 30,000 foot view for me, though, is that in addition to heart disease and cancer, which both kill about 600,000 people per year, we now have a third disease which will take a slightly lesser toll for the indefinitely future.  Taking into consideration waning immunity, vaccine mandates, future variants, and better treatments, it seems likely we’ll be looking at around 300,000 deaths per year indefinitely (at least – more this year, but vaccines weren’t widely available until spring) and potentially a year or two reduced life expectancy.  I don’t think this is the end of the world; we’ve gain a couple years of life expectancy since the 90s, and things weren’t so bad back then.  It is what it is.  I can only say that hospitals need to be increasing capacity, both in terms of beds and equipment, and staff.  Doing so will take years, and there’s no time to start the work like the present.

new zealand

What would you do if you had Covid and you were at home and struggling to breathe or otherwise felt in danger?  If you were in the US, you’d either call 911 or go to the ER.  If you were in New Zealand, where 1700 people are isolating at home with Covid by government order, you’d call “Healthline” for help, and you might or might not get a response.  If you didn’t get a response, it would be a crime for you to leave your home and go to an emergency room.  So, you might just stay home and die, as three people have done in recent days.  Until very recently (the last few days), if you tested positive for Covid in NZ, you were removed from your home and essentially imprisoned in MIQ – government managed quarantine.  This includes children, though they could be accompanied by an adult.

I suppose it’s silly to fret about that, given the number of lives NZ has saved by their extreme Covid containment measures.  (NZ has 7 deaths per 1M, as compared to the US’s 2300.)  Still, it’s a bit disturbing.  The New Zealanders already had three years of life expectancy on us Americans, but I’d still rather live here.  Of course, Hawaii has the same life expectancy as NZ.  Something about islands?

Speaking of Hawaii, I think it’s interesting that Ironman has rescheduled the canceled world championships from Hawaii in October 2021 to Utah next spring.  The championships have been in Hawaii (Kona) every year since they started in 1978, but apparently Ironman feels it’s too risky to try again in Hawaii after three consecutive cancelations in fall of 2020, spring of 2021, and fall of 2021.

I am planning on running a marathon in California in December 2021, and I think there’s a fair chance it may be derailed by Covid.  It’s been fairly predictable after a lull in cases that CA was due for a surge right around the time of my race.  Hopefully the surge will hold off long enough for me to get my run done.