Running 13 Miles for the Homeless

On Saturday, Jan. 25, I’m running a half-marathon.

That’s 13.1 miles.

It’s a little crazy. I’ve never run that far before (12 miles is my record). But this is where my running is taking me and I’m giving it a shot.

I’m a little lacking in motivation, so I decided to use Mark Horvath and his work with InvisiblePeople.tv to help the homeless as inspiration. I’m trying to raise $500 for InvisiblePeople.tv with this half-marathon.

So please, cheer me on by making a donation.

I’m feeling pretty good about it today as I write this, but come Saturday I’ll need all the inspiration I can get. I felt pretty bleh when I ran 12 miles a few weeks ago, and I don’t want to feel that way on Saturday. I’d rather think about Mark Horvath and how running those miles is helping him and the homeless people he serves.

I’d appreciate your support. And InvisiblePeople.tv does incredible work telling the stories of the homeless and being an advocate for a people who have no voice.

You can make a donation here.

Thank you.

Top Fiction Books From 2013

I read 146 books in 2013. When you read that many books you end up with a lot of favorites.

If you want to read more, be sure to check out 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

Last year I offered a straight top 15 list, but this year I’m going to break it out a bit. I read a lot more fiction than nonfiction and I really love fiction. It’s hard to compare the two, so it seems unfair to put them in the same list. I’ll share my nonfiction favs later. We’ll also give a few honorable mentions…

Top 10 Fiction of 2013:

  1. The Martian by Andy Weir
    An astronaut is abandoned on Mars and has to find a way to survive for years until rescue can come. It feels like the forever how-toing and survivalist stuff should get old, but it’s captivating. Impossible to put down and just incredibly engaging. I can’t stop recommending this one. Plus it was self published and got picked up for major release (which is why it’s not available until February).
  2. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
    A time travel story that replaces all the pesky science fiction with romance. That makes it much more approachable than you’d expect and incredibly fun. It’s a love story where the time-traveling husband first meets his wife when they’re both in their 20s. But she actually met first him when she was 6 and he was in his 40s. Confused? Don’t worry, it’s awesome.
  3. Wool by Hugh Howey
    I kept hearing people talk about the self-published phenomena of Wool and I finally grabbed an omnibus edition from the library (I hate cliffhangers). Howey also grabbed headlines by scoring mainstream publication while maintaining his digital rights, which is pretty great. Howey weaves an incredible world that’s engaging and fascinating, while also being hard to put down. I  plowed through this book wanting to see more of the world and know what happens next. Great characters, great world, great fun. (And for the record, the sequels hold their own. A rare case when the trilogy didn’t kill the story.)
  4. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
    I basically fell in love with Rainbow Rowell as one of my new favorite authors this year. I read all three of her books and saw her at a reading (delightful!). It’s tempting to put all three of her books in my list and if I did a top 15 I probably would. Attachments is pretty great with its late 1990s email monitoring setup. Eleanor & Park is probably her most popular and while it’s great, it’s probably my least favorite (but still in my top 15). But Fangirl gets the top spot for exploring the life of a freshman college student having a difficult transition (I can relate), exploring writing and also diving into fan fiction with a fun sendup of the Harry Potter world. I didn’t want it to end.
  5. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
    This was kind of an unexpected favorite. It’s much more of a literary novel (and an Oprah pick!) and it took a little getting used to the literary style, but once the book got going I really got into it. It’s the story of a mute boy and his family that trains dogs, and, well, ultimately it’s a retelling of Hamlet. I’m kind of slow on the uptake with that kind of stuff though. I just enjoyed the story for what it was. For me the story really hit its stride when the boy was on the run with his dogs.
  6. Kindred by Octavia Butler
    Another surprise favorite, I listened to Kindred while running. I’ve read Octavia Butler before and found her to be a little intense. Kind of severe I guess, which felt odd in the more fantasy works I’ve read. This one is entirely realistic, except for the fact that Dana is inexplicably drawn from the 1970s to slave-holding 1800s Maryland. Another time travel novel with no time machine! I love that concept. It’s a perfect scenario for Butler’s intense style, and it was riveting.
  7. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
    John Scalzi became one of my favorite writers this year. His reimagining of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is just great. It kicks off an entire series and it’s full of mind-bending surprises, sci-fi insight and just plain grunts doing their thing. Good stuff. Perhaps the only reason Scalzi didn’t make the top five is because his stuff has an unassuming quality that doesn’t draw attention to itself. It’s just a good read.
  8. The Passage by Justin Cronin
    This pre- and post-apocalypse vampire story is incredible in its breadth and depth. It’s long and takes some getting used to, which is probably why it’s not higher on the list, but the worlds it takes you to are fantastic. The narrative jumps around, sometimes entire generations, but you keep getting various glimpses of the tragedy unfolding. You see a post-apocalyptic hidey-hole and then generations later a compound that’s found a way to survive. My biggest complaint is that it turns into a trilogy and starts to get bizarre. I thought The Twelve was kind of a letdown and I’m less eager for the third installment.
  9. Feed by Mira Grant
    I remember being amazed at the pace and imagination of this zombie tale. It’s the story of two adventure-addicted bloggers in a world where humanity has learned to live with their zombie infestation. The bloggers land on a press tour with a presidential candidate when a mysterious plot threatens them all. It moves at a breakneck pace and Mira Grant is not afraid to kill off main characters, which makes it a thrill ride. The only reason it’s not higher on the list is because it spawns two disappointing sequels that really kill the mood. (Notice a theme? Trilogies are really killing good stories. I know it’s tempting, but leave well enough alone!)
  10. Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
    This one feels like an odd choice for the top 10 list. It’s the story of a troubled teenage girl and the ex-boyfriend who died with his share of secrets. She’s trying to sort out his death and the secrets while maintaining some semblance of life. I loved the snapshots of her after school job delivering pizzas. I’m a sucker for those vignettes of real life. But it’s just a funny, quirky, poignant book that I really enjoyed. No time travel, no zombies, no space flight—just good characters and a page-turning story.

Honorable Mentions
Every year there are some books that don’t make my top books list but are still worth a mention. Here are a few honorable mentions:

  • Best Post-Apocalyptic Story: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
    I read a lot of post-apocalyptic sci-fi. It’s fair to say I’ve read all the major books. It’s hard to find a new one and I usually find myself reading zombie or vampire variants that aren’t quite the standard post-apocalyptic story. But this one was a surprise standard. It has a very weird voice that takes some getting used to, but once you do it’s the story of a pilot and his dog living with a totally prepared military guy and wanting to get out and explore. The simple details are wonderful. The only thing that kept it from being a top pick is the barebones style that took a lot of getting used to.
  • Worst Post-Apocalyptic Story: Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse by James Wesley, Rawles
    Wow. This book is so bad and so great at the same time. The writing and storytelling is atrocious. The survivalist insights are amazing. The author is a real deal prepper and knows his stuff. But the story is straight up propaganda (I wouldn’t even say it’s thinly veiled). So it’s painful to read, but strangely captivating. The story does become addicting and I had to know what happened, but then he’d throw in some ridiculous political comment and I was laughing at it.
  • So Close But Not There: Reamde / Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
    Anytime you’re reading a book that’s more than 600 pages you’re making a serious commitment and the author needs to hold up their end of the bargain. Stephen King is one of the rare authors who can do this well. Neal Stephenson is almost there. Reamde was pretty good. Maybe top 15. An incredibly suspenseful story that just unfolded in bizarre complications. I enjoyed it. But there were definitely moments where I wondered about the pacing. Did it really need to be this long? Could we have shaved off a few hundred pages? That’s a problem. Then there’s Cryptonomicon. It had this great World War II mystery being played out in the past and uncovered in the present. Really engaging (except when he spent pages and pages explaining weird math concepts). But then the ending came too abruptly and with some weird leaps. You don’t spend a thousand pages on a book and then rush the ending. I dropped it a full star on Goodreads based on the abruptness of the ending alone. Even worse? It’s supposedly the first in a series. I like Stephenson’s writing, but the length makes me wary.
  • Too Good Not to Mention: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
    I already mentioned this one above when I put Fanmail in the top five, but Attachments needs some more love. Let’s be honest: It’s a top 10 book. The only reason I didn’t put it there is because I don’t like to give one author multiple spots. Arbitrary and stupid? Maybe. This is just a feel good love story. You’re rooting for the geek as he struggles to make sense of his life, gets himself in some trouble and wonders if he can ever get out.

There you go. The best fiction of 2013. Now I’m ready to get back to my 2014 reading (currently Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is making a good case for the 2014 top 10).

If you want to read more, again, check out my booklet 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading Again.

2013 Reading List

So after reading 137 books in 2012 and writing a book about it, I felt a fair amount of self-imposed pressure to keep it up in 2013. I didn’t want it to be a fluke. Clearly it wasn’t a fluke, just an insatiable love for reading.

I dove in to so many great worlds through books in the past year. The number doesn’t really matter, just that joy of reading.

Of course we like numbers. This year I hit 146.

That sounds crazy. And intimidating. If you want to read more, don’t focus on my crazy numbers. Just find some books you love and start reading. I’ve got plenty of tips for you.

I’ll be putting together a top five (or 10 or 15) list of my favorite books of the year, like I did last year, but I’ll need some time to whittle that list down (Update: Here’s my top 10 fiction of 2013). Though it will probably include The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Martian and something by Rainbow Rowell.

I had a few trends this year, including getting into some great new authors (John Scalzi, Hugh Howey, Rainbow Rowell, Neal Stephenson and Mira Grant), tackling a few classics (I’m not big on classics) including Call of the Wild, The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, Chinua Achebe and Anne Frank (yeah, somehow I’d never read her diary), and getting into the history of the civil rights movement (which included discovering a new hero in Pauli Murray). And like always, I read a lot of post-apocalyptic sci-fi.

You can also check out my previous reading lists: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2001.

So let’s get to it. Here’s my reading list for 2013:

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Thankful to Be Home

What are you thankful for?It’s the day before Thanksgiving, the busiest travel day of the year, and for the first time since high school I’m not traveling anywhere. I guess 1996 would be the last year I didn’t go anywhere for Thanksgiving. In college I always drove the 700 miles home to Michigan. Once married, we alternated Christmas and Thanksgiving between our parents in Wisconsin and Kansas. The former was only a 300-mile trip, but the latter was another 700-mile full day in the car.

So I’m pretty used to traveling on Thanksgiving. On the years I made the 700-mile drive I’d get up at some ridiculous pre-dawn hour so I could be on the road early and make good time. The alarm would go off at something awful like 4:30 and I’d be on the road by 5. Except I could never sleep well before long drives and would always be up before my alarm. No matter how early it was.

I couldn’t sleep this morning either. No alarm was set, but I was awake by 5. Some habits die hard, I guess.

This year we decided to stay home for both holidays. Last year we somehow ended up traveling every other weekend in November and December and we just couldn’t handle it this year. Too many miles, too much whining from the back seat, too much stress. Plus, the idea of having our own holiday and forming our own traditions sounded pretty great. We’ve never done our own holidays, so we haven’t forged many of our own traditions.

Growing up we rarely went anywhere for the holidays. We had fairly set traditions, like going to cut down a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving and setting it up that night. Watching Ernest Saves Christmas on Christmas Eve. OK, so sometimes family traditions are weird. But that’s what’s fun about them.

Through the years I’ve always been thankful that I had a place to go for the holidays. No matter what happened that year, no matter what life transition happened (and there were a few, between getting married, watching my parents get divorced and seeing them get back together), I always had a place to call home. A lot of people aren’t so lucky.

I’m also thankful that for all those miles traveled I never had any major car trouble. It always seemed like a minor miracle that I’ve never been in a big accident, never had my car break down, never had a flat tire. I’ve had my share of close calls. I hit a bird in Chicago once. A jet ski fell off a trailer just in front of me. It wasn’t a holiday, but on one snowy drive I did lose control and fishtail into a ditch, but I was nearly able to drive out of it. Plus my parents were there to help push me out and we were back on the road like nothing happened. Later that day on the Interstate I watched the truck in front of me start swerving and spin 40 feet off the road into deep snow. Last year I drove several hundred miles to Thanksgiving with the check engine light on, worried something bad was going to happen. But all systems were go.

I’ve had some close calls over the years, some diverted plans and some travel sickness I’d rather not detail, but we’ve always made it. I’m incredibly thankful for that.

I have a lot to be thankful for at Thanksgiving. This year it’s going to be staying home and doing nothing with my family. Forging our own traditions, like the day before Thanksgiving donuts (it’s a thing) and setting up our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving (some traditions are meant to endure).

New Five Iron Frenzy

I’ve waited two years for this. In 2011 Five Iron Frenzy launched a Kickstarter project for their comeback, raising a pile of money and ensuring a new album. Today the album officially releases. You should go buy it.

As a Kickstarter backer I’ve been listening to it for a couple weeks. It’s good stuff. Here’s the band talking about the new album:

Five Iron Frenzy was my favorite band as a teenager and it was the end of an era when they called it quits in 2003. Ten years later they’re back and it’s kind of incredible. I don’t think I ever expected Five Iron to get back together. They ended with such finality (out with a bang, not a whimper) it was clear they had seriously thought about it and were ending their career on their own terms. In some ways breaking up the way they did made it easier to put it all back together, assuming the right pieces were there. Five Iron has never been a band that would do some aging comeback tour, and it shows. They’re writing new material, and while it’s different, it’s still very much Five Iron Frenzy.

I’m curious to see how the new digital economy and a decade of difference will change things for Five Iron Frenzy. They don’t have a record company and they’ve all got day jobs. It did take two full years for the Kickstarter project to actually come to be. Will this be a one-off comeback? Or can we expect even more Five Iron in the future? I have no idea, but I can only hope for more.

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Church Communication Heroes

Church Communication Heroes Volume 1Last month I put together another yet another ebook, this one exploring heroes. Church Communication Heroes Volume 1 launched on All Saints’ Day last week. It’s another ebook from Church Marketing Sucks, our second one this year.

I’m especially excited about this one because it finds inspiration in the historical figures who have gone before us. They may not have used Facebook hundreds of years ago, but they still had to communicate. I think churches can learn a lot from history and too often we’re disconnected from it.

Church communicators may not think we have any history, but we do.

The book explores the stories of 15 saints of communication, including familiar names such as  Martin Luther King Jr. and Vincent van Gogh and less obvious names such as Pauli Murray and Pandita Ramabai. We also had a ton of great writers and an incredible cover design.

It’s also fun because it’s volume one. The plan is to roll out more hero stories in the future.

Learn more about the ebook and pick up your own copy >>

The Joy of Author Readings

Last week I went to two separate author readings: Addie Zierman read from her beautiful spiritual memoir, When We Were On Fire, on Tuesday evening at Northwestern University; and Rainbow Rowell read a short bit from her 1980s teen love story, Eleanor & Park, on Wednesday at the Harriet Island Pavilion.

I love hearing from authors. It’s great to hear an author’s work in their own voice. I still remember hearing Wendell Berry read from Jayber Crow during college and just being blown away. That was a book  I had to read.

Author readings are also great events because they’re free. It’s not like you can get that deal with your favorite band. I’m not big on autographs and needing to meet authors, but that can be fun as well. And if you’re looking to meet women, apparently author events are the place to go. Maybe I’m just reading the wrong books, but the gender balance was way off. That makes sense for a teen love story, but I felt a bit like the old skeezy guy (sticking around for an autograph would not have helped that issue either). Continue reading

Turned on the Heat 2013

It’s been a warm fall in Minnesota, at least until this last week. I never even thought about turning on the heat until this week when it suddenly got cold. Those beautiful weekends in the 70s seem to be long gone and there’s even talk of snow today.

Thoughts About Running

I’m not exactly athletic. Anybody who knew me growing up knows that I stayed far away from most anything athletic. I liked hockey, bike riding and rollerskating, though I never played anything more than pond hockey. I did actually play intramural broomball in college, but that’s the beginning and end of my team sports experience.

My high school history teacher, who also happened to coach the cross country team, once told my parents I’d make a good runner. Maybe I should have listened.

I ran a 5K on Saturday and with the Twin Cities Marathon yesterday, running has been on my mind.

Personal Best 5K
I hate it when people constantly brag about their running achievements, so I try to keep mine to a minimum. But I did manage a personal best in the 5K on Saturday with 28:13. Most of the summer I’ve been doing longer runs (5-7 miles) and I’m not well adjusted to the relatively short distance of a 5K. But I did pretty well on Saturday, running hard early, not dying in the middle, and pouring on a ridiculous sprint I didn’t know I had in me at the end. It’s not a particularly fast time for a 5K, but the low-9 minute miles is a lot faster than I normally run.

Marathon
The funny thing about running is how much work it takes to get better. This is probably obvious to most people, but my complete lack of athletic experience gives me nothing to base improvement on. I have no idea how hard athletes work. Now that I’m running, I have an idea.

The problem with running is that there’s such a chasm between milestone achievements. If you don’t run at all, a 5K sounds daunting. Who wants to get up on a Saturday and run three miles? A few years ago, that’s the camp I was in. But now a 5K is too short. All that effort for 28 minutes of running? I’d rather run twice that far.

Of course getting to twice that far has taken about six months. This spring I actually read a book on marathons and thought maybe someday I’ll run a marathon. I wasn’t incredibly serious about it, but I did think it was conceivable. I checked out upcoming marathons and mapped out the training schedule to see if I could do it. If I followed the training schedule this book laid out, I would have been ready to run the Twin Cities Marathon with a week to spare.

That’s hilarious. Simply building from three miles to seven miles has taken me six months. Getting to 26 miles feels like an impossibility. I realized how crazy I was being when I noticed a 13-minute per mile minimum pace for the Twin Cities Marathon. At the time I was averaging a 12-minute mile on my longer runs. But I frequently started at over 13 minutes, and sometimes even 14 minutes for that first mile.

These days I’m running in the high 10-minute range, so improvement does happen. But it comes slowly. (For comparison’s sake, the winning marathon runners yesterday were in the 5-minutes per mile range. That’s freaky. A friend of mine ran in the 8-minutes per mile range.)

In the end, I have an incredible appreciation for people who run. It’s seriously hard work and requires tremendous dedication of body and spirit. It’s one thing to keep your body going, but it’s another thing to keep your spirit motivated when your body hates you. The time commitment alone is staggering. Serious marathon trainers run at least three times a week and those longer runs take time (it takes me an hour to run six miles). Simply finding the time to run (and get cleaned up afterward) is intense.

Sometimes I hate running. It hurts and my body is tired and I don’t want to crawl out of bed. But some days I crave it. I itch to get out and move my body. I’ve learned that sometimes stopping is the worst thing you can do and even when you think you’re completely spent and can’t go any farther, you can.

A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.