Three Books About Transformation and the Power of Choice

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Spring ushers in thoughts of transformation and change. Eat & Run, Mystic River, and The Invention of Wings tackle these subjects—and the role choice plays in their fruition—in a myriad of ways.


Spring is hands-down my favorite season. By the time March comes around, winter feels like it has gone on forever (a feeling magnified by a factor of 1,000 this year), and the promise of new life—both literally and metaphorically—fills me with a sense of promise that is unique to spring. The season also has an obvious association with transformation, change, and the power of choice, and these are subjects the three books below tackle, albeit in different ways.

Eat & Run

by Scott Jurek, with Steve Friedman

Part memoir and insight into a winning mindset, part philosophy and running guide, and part vegan cookbook, Eat & Run has a lot about it to love. Scott Jurek is a champion ultramarathoner, and he’s worked hard to get where he is. Yet, in contrast to many memoirs that revel in the subject’s childhood pain, family difficulties, and so on, the difficulties Jurek faced are discussed in such a low-key way, they’re almost easy to overlook. And I think that’s a key of the point of the book: During one of Jurek’s 100-mile races, for example, it’s not exactly helpful for him to ruminate on what’s gone or going wrong. Better to stay in the moment, focus on the task at hand, and embrace the most optimistic thoughts. Kind of like life, right?

Excerpt:

Most of all, the ultra distance leaves you alone with your thoughts to an excruciating extent. Whatever song you have in your head had better be a good one. Whatever story you are telling yourself had better be a story about going on. There is no room for negativity. The reason most people quit has nothing to do with their body.

Mystic River

by Dennis Lehane

Whereas Jurek’s book is about the positive power of choice, especially the ability to transform early difficulties into success, Mystic River is largely about how people are so often imprisoned by early hardships, as well as other things they can’t control. In other words, it almost seems to take the view that we have no choice, or at least not fundamentally. The movie Gone Baby Gone, based on the book of the same name by Boston born and bred Lehane, begins with the line, “I always believed it was the things you don’t choose that makes you who you are.” Those external factors play a huge role in Lehane’s Mystic River, and most of the pivotal choices people do make are ill-advised or bad ones with heavy repercussions. Plot-wise, Mystic River follows what happens after a young girl’s disappearance and unravels the mystery of who’s behind it. Thematically, it tackles how both events and people’s background can function as an invisible prison that keeps them trapped, often more effectively than the physical kind does. Yet for all Mystic River’s bleakness, Lehane’s writing is so masterful, even calling to mind Shakespearean tragedies, that I fell captive (in a good way) and wanted to read this book nonstop until I’d turned the last page.

Excerpt:

Jimmy got out of prison two months after the funeral, stood in his kitchen in the same clothes he’d left it in, and smiled at his alien child. He might have remembered her first four years, but she didn’t. She only remembered the last two, maybe some scattered fragments of the man he’d been in this house, before she was allowed to see him only on Saturdays from the other side of an old table in a dank, smelly place built on haunted Indian burial grounds, where winds whipped and walls dripped and the ceilings hung too low. Standing in his kitchen, watching her watch him, Jimmy had never felt more useless.

The Invention of Wings

by Sue Monk Kidd

While Mystic River is largely about being imprisoned by one’s circumstances, The Invention of Wings is just the opposite. This book tackles some heavy themes as well—slavery, the subjugation of women, brutality—and yet, throughout there is a sense of hope that underlies it all. Viktor Frankl once said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” The Invention of Wings is testament to those words as it looks at the strength of courage in the face of oppression, the difficulty of standing up for one’s beliefs, the life-changing force of compassion, and the freedom found through an indomitable spirit.

Excerpt (name blanked out to lessen any spoiling effect):

“Is there anything you need?” I asked.

She laughed. “There anything I need? Well, let’s see now.” Her eyes were hard as glass, burning yellow.

She’d borne a cruelty I couldn’t imagine, and she’d come through it scathed, the scar much deeper than her disfigured foot. What I’d heard in her ruthless laugh was a kind of radicalizing. She seemed suddenly dangerous, the way her mother had been dangerous. But ____ was more considering and methodical than her mother ever was, and warier, too, which made it more worrying. A wave of prescience washed over me, a hint of darkness coming, and then it was gone. I said to her, “I just meant—”

“I know what it is you meant,” she said, and her tone had mellowed. The anger in her face left, and I thought for a moment she might cry, a sight I’d never witnessed….”

What role do you believe choice and mindset plays in one’s life? What books have you loved lately?

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10 Comments

Filed under Running, Writing/Books

10 responses to “Three Books About Transformation and the Power of Choice

  1. scratchtype1

    Almost any post that mentions Viktor Frankl deserves to receive a like, although I have a certain ambivalence towards Frankl, as sometimes I wonder just how much choice we truly have and how much what we think is choice is just a self-generated delusion to make ourselves feel better. I don’t know if there is any certain answer to that.

    I’ll definitely have to consider getting the books by Jurek and Kidd.

  2. I feel like I haven’t had much time to read but you’ve really grabbed my interest with Eat & Run! That sounds phenomenal!

    • “Much time to read”…hmm, can’t imagine why you can’t fit it in. Seriously though, not sure how you’re managing all it now. But if you do get time, I suspect his lessons appeal to long-distance runners in particular, esp. as you go further with your marathon training.

  3. I’m listening to The Invention of Wings right now and loving it so much. I listened to The Kitchen House right before, which takes place in a similar time and place. You’ve mentioned Mystic River. I have it on the list!

  4. I’ll definitely have to check out The Invention of Wings. I know the other two books, but not one. Thanks for the rec!

    • Tell me what you think if/when you read! I just checked out your Pinterest (hadn’t seen it before) and love that you’re reading IQ84. I’m a big Murakami fan, and am looking forward to his new book, which will come out in English this year!

      • I LOVE Murakami. I finished 1Q84 a while ago (never updated the pin) and loved it. I haven’t read his entire oeuvre yet, but loved Wind Up Bird Chronicle, Wild Sheep Chase and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

  5. That’s so cool! He’s not for everyone, so I love finding people who feel the same, What I Talk About is one of my favorite books ever, and on that note, I actually found out about him when he was featured in the Runner’s World “I’m a Runner section.”

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