16 August 2010

Laps, straps and rhythmic beating

It all started on that fateful trip to FleetFeet in Cincinnati: my sister, Katie, was looking at getting a Garmin GPS watch to help with her training. There I was, beholden to a plethora of nerd-tactic devices all designed to make my life as a runner better. Ah, yes, technology.

While I didn't really have a need for a GPS watch (I'd been running using RunKeeper Pro on my iPhone), I was intrigued by the idea of zone training. Zone training is just a fancy phrase some Russian exercise physiologist came up with during the Cold War to describe using your heartbeat as a pace setting tool.

(And just in case you were wondering, no, you did not just time-warp to the 80s, and I have no plans to start marathon training in a neon-colored Adidas track suit.)

There were a few things that peaked my curiosity about zone training:
  1. I've heard several times that you can determine how "in shape" you are by your resting heart rate. Naturally, I wanted to find out what mine was.
  2. I had been struggling on some long runs lately, and I wanted to see if I could find an explanation. Was I exceeding my target heart rate (HR) during the run? Not pushing myself hard enough?
  3. RunKeeper Pro has the ability to add your average HR to your workout logs, and I'd been approximating for the last few months during runs. This was *way* too unscientific for me.
  4. CrossFit (the workout regiment I do outside of running) really pushes my cardiovascular capabilities, and I was curious in a) the number of calories I was actually burning during the workouts and b) what range my HR was in for the 15-30 minute sessions.
Polar RS100 Heart Rate Monitor and StopwatchSo I picked up the Polar RS100 on Amazon for roughly $80 (about $20 less than it retails for). It's their low-end monitor, but has the capability of recording up to 99 laps, is water-resistant and uses a chest-strap monitor that communicates with the watch. This was critical especially for CrossFit, where I didn't want to have to stop my workout to get a quick reading.

The chest strap doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would; when I first picked it up I worried it would restrict my breathing and cause me to cramp. It's actually quite comfortable and made from a soft, flexible, plastic-y type material with a neoprene hook-and-latch to go around my back. It's also machine washable (critical when you sweat as much as I do).

Since using it, I've learned a few valuable lessons I want to share with you:
  1. I had no idea how many calories I was actually burning while running. This was the most surprising lesson learned, as RunKeeper Pro (which automatically calculates your calories burned using a time / distance algorithm) was *grossly* underestimating how much fuel I was using. In some cases I was actually burning TWICE the calories RunKeeper said I was. (12 mile run: Polar, 2,134 calories; RunKeeper, 1,024 calories)
  2. With that in mind, I realized part of the reason I was struggling so much during the long runs was because I didn't have the fuel I needed. I'd get up first-thing in the morning without eating anything, and was relying on my glycogen stores (essentially, how much energy I could store up / carry over from the previous days) which rapidly depleted. I've started to eat a small something before running and am intentionally consuming more energy gels, electrolyte-loaded liquids and thinking more proactively about the types of foods I consume before I run.
  3. I was exceeding my target zone routinely by about 2-3 percent. Last week I tried to cap my HR at 85 percent, and noticed a positive difference in how I felt after mile 10. I still think 85 is low for me, so I'll be toying with 87-88 percent to see if I can still feel the same difference at that level.
  4. I'm not as "in shape" as I thought I was, or, I have a better sense of a good target to shoot for. Right now my resting HR is around 68 BPM. My goal is to have my resting HR be closer to 60; this would mean my heart is more efficient at distributing oxygen to the bloodstream and, therefore, needs to beat less frequently.
  5. Indeed, I am a nerd. It's just neat to be able to break down the metrics of your run; I really appreciate being able to analyze (with data) my progress, issues and trends.
More to come after I use this more, but I am so far very pleased with my purchase. If you're in the market for a new HR monitor, I'd definitely give this one a shot and am happy to give you more specifics.  Just send me a tweet @samvenable.

Happy running and have a joy-filled day,

03 August 2010

Can you hear me now? Good.

It's official: last week I took back my iPhone 4 to the ATT store.  

After 30 days of taking phone calls, photos, emailing and tweeting, I decided that I couldn't stand the possibility of being stuck with a phone / network that wasn't rock solid for two years. And that's exactly what I told Dena, the friendly (and accommodating) associate at our neighborhood ATT store.  

I loved the camera.  I loved being able to video-record on the fly with one device.  I loved the apps, especially the Navigon GPS that makes my life so much easier when on the road.  I loved being able to pull this tiny device out of my pocket and instantly be productive.  There were so many things I liked about it - I just couldn't rely on it for voice communication.

What finally pushed me over the edge was a conversation with Bethany, my wife.  She read my blog post and made an off-handed comment to the effect of "if this were any other phone, you would've taken it back weeks ago."  

She nailed it on the head.  I was settling for lousy service just because it was an Apple product.

The 3G had its flaws - it was slow, had a lousy camera and couldn't multitask (after the iOS4 update), but at least I could count on it to make a call.  Come to think of it, there were only two spots in my area where I'd drop calls - but the rest of the time the service was solid.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), I'd already sold my iPhone 3G for a cool $160.  Which means I had to dig in the drawers to find an old phone to use until I figure out what my next step will be.

So until that day comes, keep an eye out for the guy walking down the street rocking a Nokia 3120 from  

29 July 2010

To return or not to return - that is the question.

For the first time in my life, I own an Apple product I'm not totally sold on.  Scarier yet: I'm sitting here on day 29 contemplating whether or not to return it to the ATT store.

Maybe this is the beginning of my disenfranchisement with Apple, but there are several things I've realized over the past few weeks as a result of my experience with this phone:
  1. Apple could have done a much better job with the PR on the situation.

    I do approach this with a bit of a bias, as I studied PR as an undergrad.  I try to support companies that not only have good products, but communicate well with their constituencies.  In some cases, I'm even willing to pay more for their product as a result.

    Listen, I'm not one of those conspiracy theorists.  I don't think Apple was intentionally hiding anything.  Part of it is that it's a new product, and c'mon, let's face it - the press totally blew this one out of proportion.  The issue is that Apple didn't release a statement that said, "we are aware of the issue and are trying to collect more data to answer your concerns."  They told us that they'd actually been misrepresenting signal strength as a result of an "incorrect formula."

    The language they used in that release was nearly comical.  I could swear they called in Johnny Chimpo to do their dirty work.

  2. ATT's service does actually suck.

    I don't know how I missed this for the last two years, but ATT's service on the iPhone is terrible.  Maybe my iPhone 3G was a freak of nature, but I swear the service wasn't as bad.

    I'm having people call me and the phone doesn't ring.  Calls don't drop, but people on the other end of the line can't hear me for 20-second spans.  Voicemails aren't delivered.  I'm standing in areas that used to be clear as a summer morn and now calls are garbled.

    The scary thing is this reminds me of my experience in Athens 6 years ago with (dare I say it) Garbelizon.

    Call me crazy, but my service wasn't this bad with the iPhone 3G.  At least then it would just drop the call.  It seemed more...honest.

  3. I can't understand the people I'm calling.

    Yes.  It's like that.  The people I'm talking with sound like they have a sock over the mic.  I don't know if it's the noise-canceling mic at the top, but I fully expected the sound to be even better than it was on the iPhone 3G.  Each time I get done with a call, my hand's sore because I've been pressing it so hard into my ear (and yes, before you think it, I DO have the volume up all the way).

  4. I'm already locked into the Apple ecosystem.

    Hate to say this, but I started to think about how difficult porting my information / apps / music will be.  As intrigued as I am by the Android system, I've heard connecting them to your Mac is maddening (and slow).

  5. Other techy people I know that really like Apple products have taken their back.

    ...and I might be joining them.

  6. I can't afford to wait for Apple to update the software or fix whatever bug is causing this.

    I don't have the time.  Normally, I don't mind being an early adopter and this wouldn't be a huge deal, but ATT's increased cancellation fee and not necessarily wanting to be locked into their service anymore are weighing heavily on me.

    I'm not sweating bullets yet, but I do only have 16 hours to figure this out...
What's a boy to do?

26 May 2010

Gitomer and the power of positive thinking

Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales GreatnessI've been reading Gitomer's Little Red Book of Selling over the past few days.  It came highly recommended from my uncle, who has just started his own leadership consulting company.

I'm still early in the book, but one of the principles that has really hit home was the concept of staying positive and avoiding people who will 'poison' you.  We all know the ones - the ones for whom life is never good enough, things are always terrible, they're disenfranchised, tired, angry and always pointing blame at someone else.

Here's the scary part: I think I've been that person over the past few years.

Yesterday, I was having a conversation with a mentor and close friend, and I shared what I'd been thinking with him.  Yet we weren't even a few minutes into the conversation and we had already started to complain about a few challenging situations.  Before we knew it, we were on the slip-and-slide of doom.

I stopped him at one point and said, "So, tell me - what's been good lately?"

It's a question I'm going to be asking myself every day, and I challenge you to do the same.

28 March 2010

Reaction: "enough"

(Note: if you haven't already read Godin's post I'm referring to, make sure you do so first)

Godin nailed it on the head - many of the people I have dealt with in fundraising have this exact fear.  They're afraid that there won't be a definable limit.  After all, what is enough?  How do you define it?

The simplest reaction to this "enough" ambiguity, especially in the realm of societal need, is to avert your eyes.  It's totally human, after all.

It's a fluffy example, but if you've ridden on Southwest Airlines you know it's true.  You've either been the averter or averted.  You know there's a need for seats; it's impossible to ignore.  It's just so...comfortable to wait on someone else to take that first step.  To make the ask.

As a fundraiser, the biggest challenge in my job is reaching the mid-level givers.  I know there's an intimidation factor that accompanies the "fundraiser" label; that's why people don't want to meet with them.  That's why they might hang up when asked for a donation.  It's another one of those people.

I've been wrestling with the best way to address this for the last two years, and while I have a few good principles I've used, I don't know that I've come up with a perfect solution yet.  More on that in a later post.

More broadly, the question of what's "enough" is going to be one universities and non-profits are going to have to help donors address soon.  But more than that, nonprofits are going to have to figure out themselves what enough is (and answer questions such as, "how much do we really need?").

There are now more than 1.2 million charities and foundations.  That means a growing number of nonprofits will be asking for help achieving their goals and addressing societal needs - and I wonder if donors will tire of it quickly.  According to George Rubanenko of Blackbaud, “After six solicitations a year, the likelihood for long-term loyalty diminishes significantly.”  

With more and more charities and foundations asking the same pool of people, how will donors react to six solicitations from different nonprofits?

Yes, "enough" is a tough thing to define, but nonprofits need to be asking themselves the same questions their prospects are wondering.

26 March 2010


Seth Godin really nailed it on the head today with his post on philanthropy and "the ceiling" (how much is enough?).  Before I react, I'm going to stew on it for bit but will be sure to comment later today.

In the meantime, read his post:

22 March 2010

Working for...

Heard Loverboy's "Working for the Weekend" song this weekend, and it made me think: what if everybody was working for the week?

What would it look like if you were so excited and passionate about your work that you looked forward to the week instead of dreading it?

16 March 2010

Running and Life Lessons: Part One

I follow a few RSS feeds, one of which happens to be the Runner's World daily feed.  Every once in a while a gem pops up - and yesterday was one of those days.

Mark Remy was writing about a casual run he had the other day - you know, the "everyday" 20-mile kind - that was incredibly difficult to get into.  I'll let Remy describe:
The run itself didn’t start very auspiciously, either. In short, I felt horrible. Whatever the opposite of warmed-up is, that’s how I felt. For those first few miles with the dog, I struggled. And labored. And doubted myself. Maybe I was sick? Not fully recovered from last weekend’s 20? Wait… was I dying? I had just felt a twinge in my brain. Most likely a tumor. That’s all I need. (Meantime, the dog looked great. )
But I wasn’t dying. I was just working out the kinks. 
Warren calls this run, the Long Hill Loop, his “punch-through run.” And now I know why. You just have to keep going. And punch through it. All those long, soul-sucking climbs? Punch through ‘em. Those lonely, rural miles past sleeping households and barren fields? Punch through ‘em. That final, long slog up the mile-long switchbacks on Second Street, then the twisting, mile-long descent down the other side? Punch through. Do what you’ve gotta do. 
And we did. Do what we had to do, that is. It’s amazing — after doing this for so many years, over so many miles — how easy it is to forget that one, vital truism: Things might be uncomfortable for a while. That’s OK. Punch through it. Move forward.
That line - punch through - really resonated with me.  How many times in life do things start out painfully, slowly even, only to work out in the end?

Maybe it's just because I've started to run more regularly or my tolerance has built up (thus, my endorphins take longer to kick in), but I've been having a lot of those runs lately.  They start out great, after a quarter mile they suck, and then three miles in I'm feeling good.  It's weird, I know.  But it's a regular reminder that in life, sometimes we just have to punch through.

13 March 2010

Godin's Linchpin

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Just finished reading Seth Godin's Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?.  Quick read, some great points, and it got me thinking more intentionally about how I approach my professional life.

Seth's main point is every action needs to center around how you can become indispensable.  The linchpin, if you will.  A seemingly small piece that is critical to the daily operation of the greater machine.

Here are my key takeaways:
  1. Shoot for 5 minutes of brilliance.  

    No one is brilliant every moment of the day.  It's impossible, yet we all strive to do so.  We as humans need to focus on our 5 minutes of brilliance each day that justifies our existence on this planet.

    I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, so I get down on myself when I don't live up to my own absurdly high expectations.  The goal here is not to settle on a lesser goal, but have more realistic expectations on how quickly you can achieve it and in what segments.  As mom always used to say, "Peel one potato at a time."

  2. The lizard brain.

    This is the term Seth coined for the portion of our brains that controls our survival instincts.  It's the same 'brain' we share with lizards, and he argues that its existence in everyday life inhibits our ability to succeed.  It's the voice you hear in the back of your head that says things like "you can't do this" or "you're not smart enough."  It's the part of you that desires to stay comfortable, to stick with what you know, to survive.

    I realized I am extremely guilty of listening to the lizard brain too many times in my life.  I hear it when I run.  I hear it when I work.  I hear it in social settings with people I don't know.

  3. Successful businesses are composed of linchpins.
    Organizations that consistently hire complacency kill any momentum they might have been gaining.  While it might be 'safe' to hire just another cog (he compares the modern-day workplace to an extension of the early assembly line - easily replaceable workers doing a single specialized task), ultimately you're going to slowly kill your company.  We need new thinkers, innovators, risk takers.

    I've been doing better in this area, but I need to focus my efforts further and define a niche area.  In tough times, good businesses hang on to the linchpins because they're critical to success.  Linchpins think with a forward perspective, and are prepared for and excited by the unknown.
I'd definitely pick up the book if you're looking for something to read.  Godin could have done a slightly better job with the length (some parts were pretty repetitive), but I understand his rationale (what's the key to learning? repetition, repetition, repetition).

Are you a linchpin?  Do you listen to your lizard brain too much?  

01 March 2010

Avoiding the B word

I realized earlier this year I was using a four-letter word a bit too frequently: busy.
(gags)  Even writing it makes me cringe.

Also equally as disgusting:
  • It's been crazy...
  • I haven't had enough time...
  • I'll get to it tomorrow...
The B-word, as I'll call it, is an excuse.  An excuse I've used too many times to allow myself to fail.  To fail at meeting the expectations of myself, my loved ones, friends and coworkers.

It's easy to say, "I'm sorry I forgot; I've been so b&%#."

It's much harder to say, "I've overloaded myself and your priority/task/request was a lot lower on my list than it was on yours, even if I said I'd take care of it."

I'm sick of using it, and I refuse to do so anymore.

If you hear it, or any variation of that four-letter word, slip out of my mouth you have my permission to call me out.

For Lent this year, I'm giving up the B-word.

20 February 2010

Sam Danger and my personal branding conundrum

After 6 hours of tick-tacking, I finally managed to get Bethany's blog configured properly last night.  There was a lot of back-and-forth between, Google Apps and Wordpress.  At the end of the day, I think she'd be better off using Blogger, which I must admit I'm partial too.

As I was working with her to help establish her brand I started thinking about how to tackle mine.  Personal branding seems to be a hot topic recently, and I'm actually going to be co-presenting on campus about it in the coming months.

The trouble I'm having is that there's another Sam Venable.  Now normally, this wouldn't be a huge deal.  Except this Sam Venable is a columnist at the Knoxville News Sentinel.  

We even look alike!  The Venable nose is unmistakable (side note: though I'm sure we're not related, I'd be interested to see if we have any shared ancestry).

But the real kicker is this - not only do we kind of look alike and have the same name - he's also a writer.  Of course, the primary difference being he gets paid to do so.

So I've been debating what the best strategy to tackle this is.  How do I differentiate myself from him?  

When I first started writing and created this blog, I thought the best way was to stage myself as the "other" Sam Venable - but the problem is there are probably a few hundred of us elsewhere in the world.  So, if I take the Seth Godin / Gary Vaynerchuk approach, I haven't really found a good niche.  I'm not specific enough, and I'm not positioning myself for success.

Secondly, as I started to contemplate my own domain, I realized that is a bit longer than I want it to be.  How do I concisely describe, differentiate and promote with a URL?

I don't have any answers yet, but I'm working on it.  

19 February 2010

Lunchtime post: I get the Gist

A few weeks back we had an OU alumna, Jackie Reau, on campus to give us an instructional seminar on social media (SM).  Few colleges have delineated a cohesive, intentional strategy for communications via SM - and we're just in the infant stages of our implementation.  But I digress...

I had the opportunity to go to dinner with a few colleagues and Jackie, and she is an absolute blast (read: is as technerdy as I am).  After a few minutes, we started talking about a few different tools we use in our job.  I shared my experience with Tungle and then she mentioned a tool she'd just discovered called Gist.  I'd never heard about it, but early the next morning I was checking it out.

Gist is like a CRM tool for managing your personal networks - think of it as Google Reader for your contacts.  It aggregates your networks from the likes of your Gmail, Outlook, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., and compiles their public information on the web into their interface.  News stories, blog posts, links, pictures, tweets: they all show up in one place.  

Now I know you might be thinking it's a bit creepy, but I find myself using it less for work and more as an extension of how I use other SM / networking tools.  

David writes a blog post?  Boom!  I see it right there on my dashboard, with a snippet and link to get to the full article.  I can send a follow-up note to David, interact with him directly on the blog or connect with him another way.  Gist makes it super easy to connect, and the information it provides is a great conversation starter if you need an excuse.

If you want to learn more about their company, they have a webinar or two posted on their blog you can check out.  They also have some great information on their website.

What tools do you use to manage your networks?  

29 January 2010

Lunchtime post: Responsible non-profits and the SM gold rush

One idea many NPs fall victim to is the reliance on direct-appeal solicitation letters.  We've run into this on our campus - someone gets excited about an idea they have, and their first response to "how are we going to pay for it?" is "with a letter campaign."

In my last post, I said:
...non-profits need to do a better job of targeting their donors.  We are notorious for blanket direct appeals (AKA junk mail) that are poorly written and convey a lack of professionalism.  If I give $10 to a NP and they send me $5 worth of direct appeals, how confident can I be in their management of my gift?  
Let's roll up our sleeves and delve into this.

I don't know about you, but I receive a TON of direct appeals at home.  Just over the past two weeks I amassed a pile from The Smiles Foundation, Better Homes and Gardens, Chase, and even a few of those random coupon booklets that I've never had use for.

Want to know where I put them? Right in the shredder.  And I know I'm not the only one.

This truth is forcing NPs to rethink how they engage their prospect base, which is why you're hearing a lot about social media (SM) in fundraising campaigns.

The trouble with the idea was that, by and large, most efforts to fundraise through SM have produced little dollar support.  In Friday's Talk of the Nation spot, Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, said the majority of mid-sized non-profits reported raising less than $100.  

My office has been using social media as extension of our existing fund raising efforts for some smaller causes.  Specifically, I've been coordinating the Facebok fan page for the Marching 110.  After six months of experimentation, we found that it CAN be successful - but only when centered on specific, targeted campaigns with realistic goals.  

Our 110 is famous on campus - students come to watch the band at the football games and then leave after halftime.  They're entertaining, passionate, and a hard-working group of student athletes.  Its alumni base is historically very engaged, though financially there has been a bit of a disconnect.

We developed the fan page as an outlet not only to drive awareness about the band, build community and control our messaging, but also to encourage our fans to support the band financially.  

To supplement our current online giving page, we partnered with Razoo to give our fans the opportunity to use another SM technology to make their gift.  The idea behind Razoo is pretty brilliant - they want to give donors the ability to support and monitor all their philanthropic causes in one place. One great feature they have is the ability to login to their site using Facebook connect.  They also allow donors to remain anonymous (we'll get to that - that's a topic for another post).

There are a few shortcomings the tool has - for example, the progress against goal measurement won't allow you to account for outside funds raised - but by and large we were satisfied with it. With time, my expectation is that more donors will be comfortable with third parties 

Our online campaign with this new approach increased online gifts by four times what we'd been previously doing; but more importantly, our fans' engagement level increased exponentially.  The page now has more than 4,000 fans.

So, let's wrap up with three key takeaways:
  1. Social media isn't THE answer, but it's part of it.  NPs need to think proactively about how they can use these tools to further the mission of their organizations; the trouble with the past is that there were few early adopters and most of us are playing catch up now.  
  2. Don't rely on SM as your ONLY fundraising / stewardship arm - use it to supplement what you are already doing.  
  3. Finally, and most importantly, set realistic goals and expectations.
What are your thoughts?  Feel free to continue the dialog in the comments area.

24 January 2010

Text me, tease me: non-profit edition

Was listening to Science Friday on Talk of the Nation this week, whose opening segment was about the surge of interest in text-to-give campaigns we've seen recently.  This, of course, is the result of the Red Cross' campaign for Haiti.

The interest is certainly understandable - $30 million is no laughable result from a simple text campaign.

Unfortunately, news reports of their success is giving non-profits (NPs) a skewed, unrealistic perspective of text-to-give program success.  I've heard rumblings in our office in interest in this medium, and I know other NPs are facing similar circumstances.  However, there are still some practical and philosophical issues that for the immediate future will prevent these from taking off.


Text-to-give campaigns are traditionally expensive; moreover, 100 percent of the transaction does not reach the NP.  To give you a framework, mGive is one vendor that handles this service.  They charge $399 / month for their 'bronze' package, $.35 per transaction and a 3.5 percent 'successful transaction fee.'

So, let's say someone gives you $5 via text message.  Of that amount, SEVEN PERCENT of their gift doesn't reach your non-profit.  While it doesn't seem like much, if your campaign reaches a similar level of success to that of the Red Cross (and all donors give at the $5 level) that would mean $2.11 million of the $30 million you raised would go toward transaction fees.

Granted, mGive is waiving the Red Cross' transaction fees for this campaign; smaller NPs would have a much more difficult time getting the same.

Our approach to donor data

One of the reasons, I believe, the Red Cross has been so successful with this effort is that they've allowed their donor to remain anonymous, if they so choose.  That means the Red Cross receives their transaction information, but cannot see your billing information, name, etc.  

During the show, the single caller brought up a very valid point - most donors would like the option to remain anonymous so the aren't peppered with follow up pieces.

Admittedly, this is the fault of traditional-minded non-profits that run bad campaigns, for whom "concern that they are able to properly steward the donor" is nothing more than a thinly-veiled spin on their desire to capture as much data as possible so they can persist you.

There are three key points here.

  • The first is despite the increasing level of transparency the internet age has brought, people still want to feel some semblance of privacy.

  • The second is non-profits need to do a better job of targeting their donors.  We are notorious for blanket direct appeals (AKA junk mail) that are poorly written and convey a lack of professionalism.  If I give $10 to a NP and they send me $5 worth of direct appeals, how confident can I be in their management of my gift?  If we improve execution of our appeals, I believe this will be a smaller issue.

  • The third is NPs need to reach a level of comfort with anonymity.  Regardless of your feelings as a NP, there will always be someone that simply wants a one-and-done relationship with your NP.  Again, if we improve the targeting, I think this will be a smaller issue.  But let's wake up people.  Be realistic.

So, why has the Red Cross been so successful despite these obstacles?
  1. The immediacy of the gift
  2. The fundraising event was tied to a very specific cause, with a limited time frame
  3. The ability of donors to remain anonymous
  4. The simplicity of the giving process
  5. The fees were waived for each transaction
In a later post, I'll address point number two, because I believe it is absolutely critical in how NPs approach the use of SM for fundraising.

In conclusion, while the Red Cross campaign has been successful, remember this particular case is the exception and not the rule.  There are still some outstanding obstacles - cost and donor data control - the will prevent text-to-give from becoming mainstream in the immediate future.

11 January 2010

Jim Harrison's Legends of the Fall

Just finished reading Legends of the Fall last night - and have to say I was really impressed.  A friend of mine had recommended I pick it up back in September, and for one reason or another I haven't had the chance to read it since then.

The book consists of three novellas: The Man Who Gave Up His Name, Revenge, and Legends of the Fall.  I was surprised after picking it up that there was more than one story, and even more surprised after finishing that Legends of the Fall was the weakest story among the three.

Harrison does a great job in the book utilizing language to weave together stories with description that could have easily been 300 pages for each story rather than the full book.  The style, as much as the story itself, was totally captivating - at least in the first two stories.

I'm not entirely sure why Legends of the Fall didn't interest me as much, but I had a much more difficult time finishing it.  Admittedly, part of it might have been the timing (I finished the first two novellas over Christmas and have been squeezing Legends in after work).

I think it's weakest point is that the protagonist isn't fully revealed until halfway through the narrative, and at that point you've lost out on his lead-in because you weren't entirely sure it was relevant.  The setting also changes frequently enough that it's much more difficult to picture where he is.

The book as a whole was the kind you keep on a shelf and read it every two years or so - if nothing else, it's a great lesson in how powerfully words can be molded to create a great story.