16 June 2009

Seabiscut by Laura Hillenbrand

Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand was the prize for my Giveaway Carnival event, and the lucky recipient agreed to provide her review to be posted alongside my own here. Thanks to Dixie of A few of my favorite things blog for extending and strengthening an act of generosity into becoming an act of creativity!

For more info on this amazing animal, please also see the wikipedia entry on Seabiscuit.

Eva's review:

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand seemed at first a rather overblown title to me for a book about an animal, no matter how interesting. But Seabiscuit was a really amazing animal, and worthy of such a dedicated biographer as Laura Hillenbrand - I was won over to his Amazing-ness by the end of the book. The story of Seabiscut's success is fairly well known, however the adversity that beset the jockey and horse seems to be known by very few. Hillenbrand surfaces the backstory and the reader realizes how truly amazing the athleticism of horse and rider were by understanding how difficult their recoveries from injury were. Also, Hillenbrand includes information about all the various persons involved with Seabiscuit, and in doing so brings an understanding to the reader as to how much effort is involved in racing a top-of-the-line racehorse. Suddenly, those victory purses don't seem so outrageous when looked at on a per-hour investment basis for that time at least.



Dixie's review:

Take a car salesman and a horse whisperer, and add a down and out jockey together. Toss in a knobby-kneed, cantankerous thoroughbred and you have the tale of Seabiscuit: An American Legend.
Written by Laura Hillenbrand this book chronicles the history of the 1930's and 40's Horse Racing circuit in a wonderfully colorful, richly described setting. There are 3 main characters we come to know. First there is owner Charles Howard, a larger than life character with PT Barnum appeal. Then there is Tom Smith, the quiet, reclusive trainer who had an almost mystical way with horses. Next comes jockey Red Pollard. A blind in one eye rider who had never achieved the greatness that he sought, and always seemed to be just one step away from catching the brass ring or a toe-tag.

Then there is the horse.

Most of the Horse racing establishment had long written off this unlikely thoroughbred of ever achieving anything remotely akin to greatness. When trainer Tom Smith urges his boss Charles Howard to buy Seabiscuit for a song, and then hired Pollard to ride him, thus began an unlikely alliance that would evolve into racing legend. We also learn of the distasteful side of the life of a jockey, who often it seemed was subjected to such miserable conditions that one wonders why anyone in their right mind would choose this career. From virtually starving themselves to maintain their weight, to riding while ill and injured, and even living in cold, drafty stables an often nomadic existence. This is a wonderful tale of an underdog's triumphant rise to glory and after reading this you come to realize that legends truly aren't born-indeed they are made, and if not for these three men who believed in him, Seabiscuit most likely would have remained just another obscure "also-ran".


13 June 2009

A Dance with Dragons

Still waiting. Trying to be patient.

Related posts:

10 June 2009

A Parody of Writer's Almanac, by request

Today, it's the birthday of Masashi Tanaka, well known for his manga series. Tanaka created a series of manga relating to the eponymous character Gon. His manga series is unique in literature featured on the Writer's Almanac in that the text contains absolutely no words, not even onomatopoetic ones usually to be expected in such literature. The Writer's Almanac editors are grateful for the opportunity to trot out SAT-prep-course vocabulary such as onomanatopoetic, All Things Considered. But, being stubborn sorts bred from the descendants of those Scandanavians who didn't go viking in the middle ages, and used to setbacks from long years of Minnesota winters and false springs, we won't let a trifle such as lack of words hold us back from reviewing one of the most important examples of this sort of literature on the Writer's Almanac. His works include: Gon, Gon on Safari, Gon Swimming, Gon Underground and Gon Wild! The artist has declined to respond to requests concerning anticipated publication of Lake WobeGON.

In 1988, the manga received an "Excellent Prize", narrowly edging out other contenders who had to settle for the "Pretty Good Prize" and the "Something I'd Read After I Finished the Back of the Kleenex Box Prize".

Be average, do some work, and keep your hands where I can see them.

Thanks for the suggestion @ToriFan247.

09 June 2009


I reviewed Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen earlier this year and was really impressed with it. I think that dealing with such a subject as slavery in a way that is approachable for younger readers and truthful is a gruelling challenge for an author, yet Paulsen does so admirably well. (See the publisher's author page for more info on Paulsen and his many historical works.)

I got a copy of Sarny for myself to find out what happens after the events of Nightjohn. In the course of the story Sarny matures, becomes a mother, a widow, and then a heroine as she unshackles herself and pursues her children, who have been sold away from her. Her pursuit of her children with her friend and fellow ex-slave Lucy in tow to assist was gut wrenching for a mother to read; and the friendship she had with Lucy was a good counterbalance to the pathos of finding missing children. In the course of events, Sarny learns more about privilege and the reliance she can have on a community than one would normally expect from such inauspicious beginnings. There is a Forrest Gump quality about the way Sarny ends up in the midst of historical events; though gratefully the author does not push it so far as to lose credibility, and also fortunately Sarny is far too smart to settle for Gumplike platitudes in describing her fate. She does offer a few gems of wisdom:
"The brain don't forget," Sarny says in reflection upon her life; her characterization is completely unforgettable.
Again, I read the book rapidly - in two sittings, as the story is so compelling. The setting of New Orleans was a brilliant one, as such a cosmopolitan city provides excellent contrast to Sarny at the start of her time there. I would have enjoyed learning more about Sarny's benefactor Miss Laura, and thought that featuring such a character in the story was both a risky and rewarding choice. My understanding is that Paulsen created these composite characters to represent an amalgamation of persons who would have existed at the time, and that there actually was no such person as Sarny. However, understanding and empathizing with Sarny is a valid way of understanding the historical period and the terrible legacy of slavery for an individual such as she.