Welcome back to Off the Shelf, a monthly tasting menu of everything literary the Winning Edits team has been devouring!
In this column, I take you on a literary-culinary tour of the Winning Edits team’s bookshelves.
This month: Feats of endurance, from one man’s decision to train with a Navy SEAL for a month to another’s quest to cross Antarctica, plus a powerful graphic novel, a phrasebook that’s perfect in its imperfection, and one gut punch of a read called The Power.
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Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet
I grabbed this one from the library on a whim after hearing about it from one of our clients. Living with a SEAL is not high literature by any stretch, but I’m getting a kick out of it.
Author Jesse Itzler is a quirky and fascinating dude—he’s an entrepreneur, former rapper, founder of Marquis Jets, ultramarathoner, and husband of Spanx founder Sara Blakely—who hires an honest-to-goodness Navy SEAL (known in the book only as “SEAL”) to live with him for thirty days and whip him into shape.
I recently started training for a 10K road race, and Itzler’s experiences have had me feeling better about my not-so-grueling ten-mile-a-week regimen. Let’s just say reading about how Itzler goes to bed at 10 PM after a grueling training day, only to be awoken by SEAL at 12:30 AM for another run outside in freezing New York City winter has a way of putting things in perspective for you.
Lighter Than My Shadow
Associate Editor Non Wels recently picked up Lighter Than My Shadow, a graphic novel by Katie Green, one he describes as “a remarkable illustrated coming-of-age journey” that’s “courageously told.”
This story of a young girl struggling with an eating disorder, says Non, “hits me right in the heart as someone who has had anorexia. We need more stories like this that reveal what it’s like—the ups and the downs—to live with an eating disorder, especially as so many of us have struggled.”
English as She Is Spoke
English as She Is Spoke, by José da Fonseca & Pedro Carolino, and edited by Paul Collins, is the updated edition of a book originally published in 1855. This book is, in Production Editor David Grabowski’s words, “what happens when you try to write a Portuguese-to-English phrasebook with no knowledge of the English language.”
Full disclosure: this is a book I recommended to David after coming across it myself sometime in the late 2000s, but David suggested it for Off the Shelf of his own accord. Says David, “This book is pure fun. Sometimes unintentional humor is one of the funniest things in the world, and this little number proves it.”
It’s full of handy phrases the non-native English speaker can use to navigate foreign lands. Take, for example, this advice on what to say when you’re “With a Bookseller”: “Little or almost nothing, it not appears any thing of note.” (Ah, yes. You’ll find Sartre in aisle 5.)
Or perhaps this well-known phrase, found in the “Idiotisms [sic] and Proverbs” section: “The walls have hearsay. Take the moon with the teeth. He has a good beak.”
Take it from none other than Mark Twain: “Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect.”
The Power is a book that asks us, as Production Designer Sara Jane Hess tells it, to “imagine if women suddenly had a power that made them practically untouchable.” This is the root of the story Naomi Alderman crafts in The Power, exploring what the world would look like if it were run by women—and what that would mean for men, religion, politics, history, and every other facet of our society.
This book does something many other great books do, according to Sara Jane: “Not only does it give a look at this alternate reality, but also forces the reader to look at and question their own reality.”
Says Sara Jane, “It’s a story that is exciting, thought-provoking, and frightening, it is a thoroughly enjoyable read from start to finish. My palms are still tingling!”
“The White Darkness: A Solitary Journey Across Antarctica”
“The White Darkness” is a New Yorker article that recounts the saga of Henry Worsley, who attempted to cross Antarctica solo in 2015, following in the footsteps of Ernest Shackleton.
“I have a passion for long-form journalism, particularly in the New Yorker,” says Managing Editor Karen Beattie. “The writer, David Grann, puts readers into the scene—you can almost feel the cold hurricane-force winds freezing your face numb, the desolation and exhilaration of being alone on miles and miles of ice for months and months, and the pain of walking ten miles a day pulling a 300-pound sled.”
Even better: The online version of the article includes a trove of photos, maps, and audio recordings that help readers grasp what polar exploration is like.
Looking for more great book recommendations? Check out other editions of Off the Shelf: