The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Daniel James Brown is upfront with what happens in his historical non-fiction: the boys of University of Washington win gold in the 1936 Olympic games in Nazi Germany. As strange as it may seem to give the ending away instead of drawing out the drama, trusting the reader not to look up the results, Brown gives away nothing about the book.  In fact, this book is less about the finish line and more about what led up to and came together in the final 150m of that race in 1936.

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The further you shorten and abstract this story, the greater injustice you do to its beauty. This book is the story of one of the rowers, Joe Rantz, but is shared by many others in the boat. Coming from humble means, Joe’s story is one littered with broken trust, abandonment, and physical labor. His mother dies when he was a young boy, tearing apart his family, leading to him being sent away. His father returns, remarries, and moves his new family away, leaving Joe on the porch to fend for himself in the countryside in Washington.

Rantz makes it to University of Washington where life’s distractions keeps Joe’s mind occupied as he learns to row. Money, school, family, work. All of these worries distracts him from growing with his boat. His group of freshmen rowers were some of the best that had come around. With a few roster changes, this was the boat that won the Olympic gold just a few years later.

This book is about what differentiates a good crew from a great crew. After spending last term learning to row, this was an interesting and emotional topic to read. A great crew has no individuals, but is one entity far greater than the sum of its parts. Brown does a beautiful job at capturing the heartache as well as the triumph of these stories while painting the relevant historical setting – Nazi Germany and its propaganda (“fake news” if you will…), Seattle, and  the landscape of the rowing field. He captures the transformation of a community that is placed on the map through victories of their home team, much like Coastal Carolina placed Conway, SC on the map with the NCAA baseball victory and Clemson put themselves on the map by recently toppling Alabama.

I would highly recommend this book to everyone and say it is a Must Read for anyone who has sat in a crew boat.

New Years and Barcelona

Over the last few days of 2016 and for the beginning of 2017, I had my first friend visit, Josh. Unfortunately, unforeseen to me, all of the colleges were closed for break, which I learned while my family was here. So, instead of touring around the colleges, we spent a lot of time reading, working out, and playing Halo. Josh seemed open to this, even though I doubt it was his ideal version of the trip.

For new years, we skipped out on going to London and stayed in Cambridge, hanging out with some Gates students to ring in the new year. The company was great, games fun, and drinks plentiful. Sadly, we didn’t do anything to watch a count down. I don’t think this is because the countdown is not as big of a deal here as in the US, I think this was just more we didn’t make an effort to find it online. Instead, someone just counted down from ten off their phone, we all chanted, declared happy new year, and blissfully put 2016 and its problems behind us for the evening. Some people scoffed at this notion, reminding us that yesterday’s problems aren’t solved by the turn of a calendar, we drunkenly asked them to let us have the night and to remind us tomorrow.

After recovering on New Year’s Day, myself, Josh, Alex and Marisa flew to Barcelona to escape the grey blanket and see some sun and blue skies for a few days before returning to work. Immediately, I wished I understood more Spanish, a feeling that has been growing with my encounter with more international students. The city was lovely and the food was amazing, but I couldn’t help but feel like a pampered guest in the city. People talk about Barcelona as the nightlife where everyone parties until the break of dawn, which is not the side of Barcelona or any culture I want to see.

Some of the coolest stuff that I did see was the idea of how much history did occur in Barcelona, with the Catalonians and the explorers. Standing on the same steps where Columbus would have walked to ask for money or have returned with Native Americans was quite a powerful thought. I learned to look up free walking tours where you tip your guide at the end. These were fun and informative.  We took a Paella cooking class where we took part in preparing and cooking Paella and making Sangria. Josh made a great bartender. Lastly, I look forward to touring la Sagrada de Familia on the inside instead of just the outside.

P.S. Only buy drinks on a crash!