rebeccmeister: (1x)
[personal profile] rebeccmeister
I feel somewhat silly for not having read this book earlier. My only excuses are that I was reading other things, and that I'm wary of anything that gets too much hype (ahem, previous book I read).

In many ways, The Boys in the Boat was a welcome contrast to Quiet. The comparison is somewhat unfair, because one book is a historical text, while the other is quasi-scientific and partially autobiographical, but I'm going to make the comparison anyway because these are the things I've been reading lately for fun. If only the editor of TBITB had handled Quiet. Maybe the editor could have transformed Quiet into a better text altogether.

TBITB is about a collection of intertwined lives - specifically about the University of Washington rowing team that competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. As with much of rowing, the conclusion of the story isn't nearly as remarkable as the whole process of working to get there. It's a story about the history and culture of Seattle as much as a story about the rowers, too, so it spoke to me on that level as well. It's also a story about George Pocock's legacy of craftsmanship, and I think the author felt compelled to honor that legacy by putting in a tremendous amount of thought and care while crafting the book. Thank you, Daniel James Brown, for writing with such respect and giving us all an example to strive for.

It's funny to realize that I learned to row while sitting in the great room of the boathouse named after Pocock that displayed the rowing shell featured in the book. I can't tell you how many hours I sat stretching underneath that boat, staring up at it ignorantly. I was vaguely aware of its significance to the sport, and of Pocock's boatbuilding legacy, as I learned to row in the Pocock Center nearly 20 years ago. I'm glad that there's a boatbuilder who has continued the tradition of crafting these beautiful cedar shells. But the book has helped the entire story come alive in a new way.

At the end of each day, after reading sections of the book, including vivid retellings of the key races leading up to the Olympics, one is left with an interesting sense of purpose (if not a racing heartbeat after reaching the conclusion of each race). The boys who rowed and competed in that eight did not come from moneyed families - they had to scrape to get by and pay tuition each year. The main protagonist wore the same sweater every.single.day. Their greatest assets were an ability to buckle down and work hard, and the development of trust that comes from working hard together under difficult circumstances through many trials and tribulations towards a shared goal. The goal isn't an externally motivated one, either - instead, it comes out more clearly in some of the quiet rows between races: nine people, working together in perfect synchrony to send a boat gliding through the water. The ultimate expression and experience of this sensation can only come during the extreme intensity of racing, to be sure, but is not the glue of a good boat.

I hope I can channel some of the book's energy into my day-to-day work, both the manuscript-writing and the trips out to Lake Bryan for rowing practices. I've never managed to put myself in situations with as high a cost or as high a glory as those rowers, but I can still take inspiration from them in how I approach everyday life.

Date: 2014-09-16 08:10 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I have a student who is reading this book. I actually have a lot of rowers (no surprise, east coast private schools). And thanks to you, I can speak intelligently about their interest. Or at the very least, ask intelligent questions. And that is probably better anyway.


DM

Date: 2014-09-17 02:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rebeccmeister.livejournal.com
It's still a pretty elitist sport, overall, but it's good to be able to understand bits and bobs of it all. I really appreciate how the Seattle rowing tradition has more working-class roots, and it was also cool to learn about how that shaped out among people in England, where George Pocock learned to build boats and row. While his father was in business building boats for one of the private prep schools, George also spent a lot of time building and racing boats against the guys who ferried people up and down the river.

Date: 2014-09-18 07:15 am (UTC)
ivy: (grey hand-drawn crow)
From: [personal profile] ivy
I am totally going to have to read this book now... once I get done with my giant pile from Scotland. Heh.

Date: 2014-09-18 01:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rebeccmeister.livejournal.com
I've been keeping a "list of books to read" for ages, and it tends to grow more than it shrinks. But it's nice to have options, I figure!

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