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Grayson: A Book Review and Lesson on Positivity

Lynne Cox (source: newyorker.com)

For Lynne Cox, a champion long distance open water swimmer, practice and positivity go hand in hand.

If you’re unfamiliar with Lynne and her triumphs, here are just a few of her records:

  • In 1972 at age 15 Lynne swam across the English Channel and shattered the men’s and women’s world records with a time of 9 hours and 57 minutes.
  • In 1975 Lynne became the first woman to swim across Cook Strait between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Her time was 12 hour and 2 1/2 minutes.
  • In 1976 Lynne became the first person to swim across the 42 degree F waters of the Strait of Magellan with a time of 1 hour 2 minutes.
  • In 1985 Lynne swam “Around the World in 80 Days” by swimming 12 extremely challenging waterways some that had never been attempted.
  • In 1987 Lynne became the first person to swim across the Bering Strait as a way to open the US-Soviet Border for the first time in 48 years with a time of 2 hours and 6 minutes.
  • In 1994 Lynne swam through the Gulf of Aqaba from Egypt to Israel and from Israel to Jordan tracing the progress of peace between the three countries.
  • In 2002 Lynne became the first person to complete a 1.2 miles in Antarctica, from the ship the Orlova to Neko Harbor in a time of 25 minutes.  (All facts from Lynne Cox’s website)

Not bad right?  Would you believe me if I said Lynne was inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame?  She is.

Lynne’s journey in the water began at the age of 9, when she was coached by Harvard University coach, Ben Muritt.  By age 12, she was working with 4 time US Olympic trainer Don Gambril.

Grayson, is a memoir by Lynne about a routine swim practice that became a life defining moment.  She was only 17 years old when this happened.

Imagine yourself swimming laps early in the morning, back and forth between pier points.  The sun is not up yet.  You are alone in this day where the black sky blends into the dark waters.  Suddenly, hundreds upon hundreds of anchovies are swimming past you!  And behind them are grunion.  Slippery, iridescent fish are moving so fast, that one grunion ends up in your mouth!

This is a grunion. (source: latimesblogs.latimes.com)

After the grunion, you become swarmed by large, 40 pound tuna, bouncing out of the water, all chomping for their next meal.  That’s when you realize, you’re in a food chain cycle.

Below you, the current is weighted.  You can tell something is beneath you.  Something big.  It’s following your path.  As you continue to stroke forward, you peer behind you with each breath checking for dorsal fins.  Is it a shark?  Panic in every fiber of your body tells you to leave the water, but the fighter inside you says stay.  Stay and finish your workout.  This situation is real and you will face it again on another swim, you have to prepare yourself.  Stay.

You can see a friend on shore waving their arms at you.  He comes running down and he tells you, “It’s a whale!”


That is the beginning of the story of Grayson, a four month old baby gray whale and how Lynne meets him while she is practicing in the ocean.  What follows is an epic journey that lasted hours where the two new friends go in search of Grayson’s mother, without whom he will not survive.

Lynne Cox swimming (source: laurinswim.com)

You will not believe what they go through, and yet through it all, Lynne is a consistent reminder of the power of positivity in our thoughts.  There are times where her body becomes weak, where she loses Grayson, where she wonders if his mother is dead.  But Lynne will defy it all and remain assertive.  She will remind you that there is no task too big if you break it down and go piece by piece.  She will remind you that the hardest and most difficult trials of our lives are best made with decisions of heart instead of head.  And she will do all of this with such imagery as you can barely imagine.

For this midwest girl, the Mississippi River is the closest thing I have to open water.  I have been to both oceans surrounding our country, but I have never had the delights and trepidations that Lynne describes while encountering dolphins and jellyfish.  It has been a few months since I read this book, it was at the end of summer.  I just went to my library’s book discussion on it and it reminded me that I while I was reading this book, I was sitting on a patio chair outside with my feet up on the seat because reading about the food chain cycle around her was terrifying!  I also shared bits of the book aloud with my boyfriend because the descriptions are so rich and magical. Lynne Cox does something only a handful of us can do, but she invites us along in her writing with beauty and awe.

If any of you are looking for a great Christmas present idea, I highly recommend Lynne’s book.  She intended it for an adult audience, but teens all over have grasped at this inspiring story and found hope in its pages.  It’s a book that with a message that will make you go, “Ok Lynne, I know you’re talking to me!” and anyone can appreciate it.

Go get this book!

For more information about Lynne, her world records, her speaking engagements, her other books, and even her blog, check out her website www.lynnecox.org.

What do you think?  Can you imagine swimming in the ocean with a baby whale?  What experiences have you had growing up where positive thinking played a crucial role in helping you face an overwhelming situation?

The Hunger Games: Best Lack of Sleep You Ever Had

After several pleading conversations from my friend, Annie, I went out and bought The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.   It sat on my bookshelf for awhile, not out of apathy, but let’s face it, there are always lots of books to read!  If I’m being honest, it only made the “next in line” list because it was a smaller paperback and I was traveling, not adding a lot of weight is good when you’ll be carrying this backpack around an airport for a couple hours.  And I have yet to purchase an e-reader; don’t hate me.  I started reading The Hunger Games on the plane ride home.  I was hooked by page four.

I’m not usually one to ignore the driver on a long ride home, but I did.  Joe and I had just come back from a fabulous week long vacation in Toronto, and instead of regaling each other with stories about our favorite visits and dishes, I was reading.  (I did put the book away when I saw him doing the droopy eye thing; I don’t want to die to get to the next chapter.)

The Hunger Games put me right back in excitement mode.  The story of a post-apocalyptic North America where only 12 districts remain intact, all ruled by one Capital.  To ensure no further outbursts or rebellion, the Capital created the Hunger Games.  Twenty-four must go, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district.  They will compete to be the last one standing, and the Capital will do whatever is necessary to see it’s a good show.

     Suzanne Collins did an amazing job with the pacing of this book, the story gives you normal world in the beginning, quickly sets up the problems for the people, shows you how the lead character, Katniss Everdeen, is a little rebellious, even in the beginning.  The games are quickly introduced and once she’s in the game, there’s no putting the book down.  I commend Collins for her writing; she reminded me of the Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley books I used to love reading as a teen.  And while many things occurred to terrorize the survival of Katniss, I never thought it was unbelievable in the world Collins created.  Her plot points and actions are well mapped together.

Collins found her niche writing for children television shows, including Nickelodeon.  Her biography is a bit outdated, but you can glimpse into how her mind thinks when she’s world building.  Her first series, The Underland Chronicles, tells the story of an 11 year old boy and his sister who fall through a grate in their apartment and end up in the Underland below the streets of New York City.  There, the boy is considered a warrior and his sister is worshiped by cockroaches.  Together they must win the battle against the rats to save their lost father.  See what I mean?  She’s a hoot!

The Hunger Games is set to be released on film in March 2012, but you’ll definitely want to read this book.  The next two in the series, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, have been purchased and sit by my bedside.  I’m pacing myself, reading another book in between the series.  Although, if any of you read the blog review Ellie Ann Soderstrom did, you may second guess continuing the series.  While she too raved about the first book, she thought the next two were lacking in character growth for our leading lady, Katniss.  Don’t read Ellie Ann’s post unless you’re ok with spoilers!!!  I’m still planning to finish the series, and hoping I’m able to to see Katniss evolve as the battle takes on new levels.

“May the odds be ever in your favor!” –Effie Trinket, The Hunger Games

Have you read The Hunger Games?  What do you think of Suzanne Collins world building?  Are you prepared to have dreams that YOU are in the Hunger Games?  It is the leading side effect of reading this book.  Proceed with caution, and don’t sleep with your archery kit.

P.S.  Don’t miss the just released trailer for The Hunger Games!

A Witchy Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

     I’m having such fun with this book club I joined.  Our book for June was The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe.

Connie, a graduate student trying to survive her oral exams, inherits (of sorts) a dusty, dirty old house that belonged to her grandmother.  She moves to the house in the summer to clean it up and sell it, but what Connie doesn’t know is that this house will unlock a secret in history dating all the way back to the Salem Witch Trials.

The book is a fascinating read, imagined by the author through her own dissertation work at Boston University.  Every day she would walk her dog on the trails between Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts, the cities the book takes place in.  Howe states the characters in her book are not autobiographical, but they are well developed nonetheless, and she herself is descended from two Salem Witch historical figures:  Elizabeth Proctor, who survived, and Elizabeth Howe, who did not.  Spanning the Witch Trial days and the decades that followed in conjunction with present day, she webs together a cunning woman of the 1600’s with a 1990’s stressed out student!

Last summer, I vacationed in Boston, MA, and took a day trip to Salem with my boyfriend.  If any of you have upcoming vacations that way, plan to stay overnight!  All the good graveyard and witch tours happen at night!  As it was, we weren’t in on that loop, so we had to catch our train back to Boston, but we did spend a full day in Salem.  Salem is a beautiful, seaport town with a mix of past and present in its streets.  The locals you’ll meet are just as diverse covering the full spectrum of love/hate for the tourists that flock to its city, especially at Halloween.  The city offers such tourist and historical attractions like the Witch Dungeon Museum and the Pirate Museum.  Plus, almost all its shops offer psychic readings, tarot readings, palm readings, and a vast array of magical potions and herbs if it interests you.

We toured the Salem Witch Museum.  The main room is set up like a theater, and you sit around the edges with its “stages” encircling you.  The lights go up on various scenes to reveal still models in period dress, each depicting a moment during the Salem Witch Trials as the audio narrates.  The role of Tituba in the Salem Witch Trials is not widely known, but she was a servant in Reverend Parris’ house.  A slave from Barbados, Tituba would entertain the children with magic tricks and scary stories.  Her name was the first name cried out from the “afflicted” girls.  After that, many more women were accused of the craft.  The most shameful accusation was that of Rebecca Nurse, a respected, God-fearing, elder member of the community.  It is suspected her plea of guilty came more-so out of fear and misunderstanding than anything else.  Historians say she was questioned twice at trial, but she was old and hard of hearing, causing her to nod in reply than speak up.  She was one of the 19 people hanged during the Salem Witch Trials.

The hangings weren’t the only punishments given during during this time of suspicion and fear.  A man named Giles Corey was actually pressed to death, with logs and boulders stacked upon him as a torture method to make him name additional suspicious townspeople.  His last words are reported to have been, “More weight.”

In addition to the 20 deaths following the trials, many of the accused “witches” spent months in prison awaiting a suitable judge to arrive to port.  And even those that weren’t hanged suffered a life in prison.  At the time, if you were imprisoned, it was up to your family to pay for your imprisonment and upkeep.  If you could not pay, which many of the lower class families could not, you rotted in jail for a lifetime to pay off your debt.

Many of the leading figures of the Salem Witch Trials make an appearance in Howe’s book, giving it a rich historical setting, and new perspective on its haunting past.  The book is full of several mother-daughter relationships, providing great discussion at book clubs, if you’re looking for a new read.  And since the main topic is uncovering Deliverance’s physick book, also called a spell book, receipt book, Book of Shadows, you can count on a little magic sneaking its way in.

As for Howe’s writing style, it was said by several book club members that the beginning is a little slow.  I agree, at times the description of Connie’s actions or internal thoughts dragged on, but this is absolutely a book to stick with, unanimously liked by each member, especially the ending!  It brought up a lot of interesting conversation about character development, gender then and now, how our perception of the world is based on the world we grow up in, and of course, witches!  Do you believe in witchcraft?  How has the term witch changed over time?

What do you think?  Do you believe in magic, or is it all a bunch of hocus pocus?

Also, what’s a great next read I should tell my book club about?

Page 56, Sentence 5

It’s National Book Week!  Time to celebrate, like this woman!

See, she knows how to party!  Grab the closest book to you, go to page 56, sentence 5, and copy it into my comments.  Paste these instructions in your own blog and see how many book lines you can read.  Don’t give away the book unless someone asks though!  It’s more fun to see all the different quotes and guess where they came from.  Here’s my book quote:

“Let’s waddle home, kids,” Dad would say.

Happy reading and writing during National Book Week!  Quick it’s almost over, participate now!

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