All—erm—Some of the Stuff I Read and Never Posted About

So I've been working a lot and writing a lot and reading a lot and just generally a lot and now it's February and I'm like HOLY SHIT it's February and yes. 

So I'll give a brief summary. This fall/winter I got into teen fiction—don't knock it because SOME of it is very, very good. Here are three examples you should go and read right now: 

The Grisha Trilogy

Six of Crows

The Crooked Kingdom 

^All of the above by Leigh Bardugo 


The Chaos Waking trilogy by Patrick Ness

Self-Guest Post: Call For Stories!

Normally I reserve this blog for general ranting and raving about the things I'm reading. But I'm making a guest post on my own blog to blatantly break my own rules and post a call for interviews on a few subjects I'm currently working on for the CrossFit Journal. If you're a CrossFit affiliate owner, coach or athlete who has something to say about any of the below, shoot me an email at brsaline(AT)gmail(DOT)com

1. Membership contracts (paying for more than a month at a time up front): Yea or nay? 

2. Membership levels that include 1 or 2-time per week levels: Yea or nay? (Can you really improve fitness by training just one or two times per week?) 

3. Client retention strategies: I want to hear about your more technical analytical strategies: things that go beyond just offering a great product, like database manipulation, email follow-ups or newsletter strategies, and other business techniques for keeping clients at your gym. 

4. The Prodigal Son/Daughter: Do you have someone who left your gym (due to family illness, job loss, finances, giving up, etc—anything except injury) for awhile but who eventually returned? I want to tell their story. 

5. Do you totally geek out about the physics of the tire flip, how much time a 400-m run with a turnaround adds to a score or how humidity affects the friction of a sled pull? Let's chat. 



Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job is just perfect. Quirky, delightful, hilarious in a zany sort of way, and comedically dark. Imagine a cross between Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams and Monty Python, set in in modern day San Francisco with a fantastical plotline. I read it over the past couple months as my escapist "let's avoid work and drink wine and read funny things" time. 

A Dirty Job

The bloodred lacquered Eldo slid around the corner, tires screaming like flaming peacocks, hubcaps spinning off toward the curb, engine roaring, spewing blue smoke out of the rear wheel wells like a flatulent dragon. 

If you need any more convincing than that, this book's not for you. 


the really big one

I discovered New Yorker staff writer Kathryn Schulz via the Longform Podcast, where she appeared as a guest, discussing her career as well as her July 2015 New Yorker piece, The Really Big One. On the podcast, she said she didn't mean for it to be a scary story, but it sort of turned out that way. The scarier bit? It's actually going to happen. 

From The Really Big One, by Kathryn Schulz, for the New Yorker: 

The first sign that the Cascadia earthquake has begun will be a compressional wave, radiating outward from the fault line. Compressional waves are fast-moving, high-frequency waves, audible to dogs and certain other animals but experienced by humans only as a sudden jolt. They are not very harmful, but they are potentially very useful, since they travel fast enough to be detected by sensors thirty to ninety seconds ahead of other seismic waves. That is enough time for earthquake early-warning systems, such as those in use throughout Japan, to automatically perform a variety of lifesaving functions: shutting down railways and power plants, opening elevators and firehouse doors, alerting hospitals to halt surgeries, and triggering alarms so that the general public can take cover. The Pacific Northwest has no early-warning system. When the Cascadia earthquake begins, there will be, instead, a cacophony of barking dogs and a long, suspended, what-was-that moment before the surface waves arrive. Surface waves are slower, lower-frequency waves that move the ground both up and down and side to side: the shaking, starting in earnest.
Soon after that shaking begins, the electrical grid will fail, likely everywhere west of the Cascades and possibly well beyond. If it happens at night, the ensuing catastrophe will unfold in darkness. In theory, those who are at home when it hits should be safest; it is easy and relatively inexpensive to seismically safeguard a private dwelling. But, lulled into nonchalance by their seemingly benign environment, most people in the Pacific Northwest have not done so. That nonchalance will shatter instantly. So will everything made of glass. Anything indoors and unsecured will lurch across the floor or come crashing down: bookshelves, lamps, computers, cannisters of flour in the pantry. Refrigerators will walk out of kitchens, unplugging themselves and toppling over. Water heaters will fall and smash interior gas lines. Houses that are not bolted to their foundations will slide off—or, rather, they will stay put, obeying inertia, while the foundations, together with the rest of the Northwest, jolt westward. Unmoored on the undulating ground, the homes will begin to collapse.



Evan Ratliff's The Mastermind, for Atavist Magazine, is for the true lovers of longform out there. It's an investment, but a page-turning one with a depth of investigative reporting that knocks my jaw to the floor. 

He was a brilliant programmer and a vicious cartel boss, who became a prized U.S. government asset.The Atavist Magazine presents a story of an elusive criminal kingpin, told in weekly installments.


An excerpt from Episode 2, "I'm Your Boss Now"

One morning in early 2009, a 26-year-old manager of an Israeli customer-relations call center named Moran Oz found himself treading water in a hail of bullets. A moment before, he’d been sitting on the deck of a small yacht, cruising just out of sight of the Philippine shoreline. Then he was in the water, the boat was pulling back around, and the three men he had thought were his boss’s business partners were standing above him. Two of them were armed, and one began firing into the ocean close to Oz. “That was for the sharks,” one said when the shooting finally stopped. “The next time will be for you.”


Blair Braverman hooked me in this, my first encounter with her writing. Her narrative is strong; she is clearly present in it but not distracting. I love the words she chooses, and I love how she tears me away from the adventure story and confronts me with something scarier: humanity. 

From Welcome to Dog World! by Blair Braverman, published by the Atavist Magazine

Dog World was perched atop a glacier near the edge of an icefield the size of Rhode Island. The only reasonable way to get there was by helicopter, and eight times a day they came in, five birds, loaded with cruise-ship tourists who’d spent $500 to go “flightseeing” over the icefield and then set down on the glacier for a dogsled ride—a taste of Real Alaska.

At first, from the helicopter, the only thing they’d see was the sweeping ice, smooth and white, punched through with mountaintops. If they had never been there before, the sight was near religious, something to bring them to tears. The pilots were instructed to play Enya on repeat, piped directly into their passengers’ headphones—music the tour company believed was a properly swooning soundtrack for the otherworldly vista below.

We lived there from May to September—I and nine other musher guides, a few staff, and 200 huskies—in a cluster of canvas tents and plastic igloos. Our job was to provide a luxury experience: all the thrills of a glacier with none of the discomfort, either physical or mental, that comes with the terrain. It wasn’t that our efforts were secret; they were just invisible. We cleaned the kennels constantly so that tourists would be spared the sight of a single lump of dog poop. We raked up fur that collected on the snow and piled it behind the tents in an enormous mound we called the woolly mammoth. Sometimes we had to be creative: If my dogs’ eyes got sore from the sun, I’d put mascara around them to minimize reflected light. “Those dogs must be related,” the tourists would say, admiring the huskies with big black circles around their eyes, and because it was easier than explaining, I let them believe it.

Nothing was meant to live on the glacier, and the longer I stayed, the clearer this became. Yet somehow we all got used to it. We no longer jumped at the gunshot crack of an avalanche on a sun-warmed afternoon. Turquoise lakes a half-mile wide formed and vanished overnight. As the surface snow melted, the foundation under our camp sank steadily away, and we’d wake to find our tents, which were on skis, perched atop pedestals of hardened snow. On rainy weeks, we gave up the dream of staying dry. At night, when I undressed, my waterlogged, sunburned skin fell off in white strips, which I’d toss to the nearest dogs, who sniffed them and turned away. I wrapped my fingers in duct tape to keep my shredded skin in one piece when I shook hands with tourists. When it was foggy we probed for crevasses, working a tight grid through camp, pushing aluminum poles into the snow until our palms blistered and our muscles burned. I never saw a big crevasse, but sometimes turquoise cracks split the snow. They were usually small, just a few inches across, and when I crouched close and peered into them they seemed to extend down forever.

The camp was a closed system: If we ate cherries for lunch, we’d be picking the pits out of the outhouse pump two days later (and getting a lecture from our manager about not swallowing pits in the first place). All human and dog waste had to be packed into barrels and flown to Juneau in a sling that dangled beneath the helicopters. On a bad day, we called it the Goddamn Ice Cube. On a good day, Summer Camp on the Moon.

But if the camp was a closed system, then the tourists, with their camcorders and designer sunglasses, existed outside of it. Our job was not to give them a peek in but to build the walls of their fantasy so solidly that they could not see anything else—to reassure them that even though they were on a glacier, nothing was dangerous, all was good, and everything was under control.

Our days started at 6 a.m. sharp and lasted until early evening. Most of my time was spent guiding the tourists. Each of the eight daily tours consisted of an orientation, a lap around a two-mile trail, and a chance to pet the dogs. My groups were often surprised that their guide was a young woman, and when I first arrived on the glacier I had taken pride in disarming them with my enthusiasm and knowledge. I praised their adventurousness, offered expertly timed confessions (“I was terrified on my first helicopter ride, too!”), took photos with their cameras and let their kids stand in front of me on the sled runners, pretending to drive. At first the performance was exciting, a chance to play the role of my bravest, brightest self. But with time my end of the conversation solidified into a script, one I could deploy with pristine enthusiasm. I hardly noticed what I was saying.

The tourists were always curious about glacier life, and I did my best to give them what they wanted. I told them about the hummingbirds that stopped by on their way to the moss-covered mountains, but I didn’t tell them about the time a lightning storm closed in on us and I thought for sure we’d all get electrocuted. I told them how strange it was to live in a world almost totally drained of color, but not about the elaborate plans another guide and I had come up with to escape the glacier on foot if we ever needed to. I told them the food was great and the mushers and dogs were like family and I had the best job in the world. Then I’d go back to my tent and cry.



This collection of "short fictions and disturbances" is a treat. Just read it. 

From Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

"You see, it's almost impossible not to invent the flying car, as soon as you've invented the Lumenbubble. So eventually I had to uninvent them too. And I miss the individual Lumenbubble: a massless portable light source that floated half a meter above your head and went on when you wanted it to. Such a wonderful invention. Still, no use crying over unspilt milk, and you can't mend an omelette without unbreaking a few eggs." 


Reading The Doctor, written by James Verini and published in the Atavist Magazine, is like looking at an anthill through a magnifying glass. Verini's wonderful reporting takes you straight into the horrors of war-ravaged Nuba, focusing on one American doctor's dedication to healing the damage. 

From The Doctor, by James Verini: 

Catena lives in a cinder-block house with a pitched aluminum roof and a dirt yard, where hornbills and shrikes congregate in the mango and mahogany saplings. On the unadorned poured-concrete porch are two pairs of broken sandals he has been meaning to get fixed for years and a permanently inert broom. Inside, the floors are covered with scrubs, back issues of Time and Sports Illustrated, and well-worn books. Recently, he’d finished G.K. Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis and Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. (“How does a woman get into an old man’s head like that?”) They came in care packages sent by his father. Catena hasn’t gotten around to throwing out the cardboard boxes, which are all around the floor, too.

His father includes jumbo bars of Hershey’s chocolate, which Catena keeps in a sputtering deep-freezer, the only appliance in a communal staff kitchen. Outside the kitchen is a hand pump where he washes his scrubs. The cleaning women would do this, but he doesn’t like to bother them. The pump basin has been taken over by a family of ducks, a gift to Catena from the supreme general of the Nuban army. A constant assassination target, the general lives mostly in undisclosed locations, traveling with, among other keepsakes, the cockpit seat of a downed Antonov. Very fond of the doctor, he occasionally shows up at Mother of Mercy unannounced, bearing unexplained gifts like an extravagant uncle. Recently, he gave Catena 25 pounds of honey.

Catena attends mass every morning at 6:30 and then works for 12 to 14 hours, six or seven days a week, more if there has been a battle or bombing. On Fridays, he performs a dozen or more surgeries. For his work, the Catholic Medical Mission Board, which employs 1,200 volunteers in 27 countries, pays him $350 a month.

He appears never to tire. When he has visitors, he talks with them enthusiastically into the night, listening intently, always looking them in the eyes. When asked questions he speaks expansively, his conversation full of references to old Saturday Night Live skits and college and professional sports. He recalls not just the scores of decades-old football, baseball, and basketball games, but also jersey numbers, the details of plays.

“I miss the contact,” he told me of playing football. “People think I’m crazy when I tell them that, but I say, ‘You haven’t tried it.’ I mean, running full speed at someone and just slamming into them! It’s, it’s—” he tensed his shoulders and raised his arms and grimaced with pain and joy. “But I worry about what’s happening to my head,” he said.

At night the cleaners, who double as cooks, set out pots of rice, lentils, and noodles on a side table in a small dining room. The nurses are responsible for bringing in the flatware and jerricans of water from the kitchen but never do, because they know Catena will. He also clears up after everyone has eaten.

One night he arrived late for dinner because he’d been delivering a child.

“Do you mind if I shower?” he asked. “I’m covered in amniotic fluid and urine.”

Avalanche Rescue Needs a Revolutionary

I love adventure stories and I love profiles about interesting people doing interesting things. This tale is both. 

avalance resuce needs a revolutionary

By Devon O'Neil, for Outside Magazine

From the start, they knew to be careful: prolific early-season storms had left the snowpack layered and unpredictable. Though Weselake had snowboarded the same run the previous day without incident, he and his partners descended with caution. They stuck together on low-angle slopes, where they crossed tracks from the day before, then paused above a wide gully halfway down. When Bezubiak, who was 23 at the time, skied across the entry to test the snow stability, his weight triggered a two-foot-deep, twenty-foot-wide slab avalanche that raged downhill like water released from a dam. Suddenly on high alert, they moved into the trees, where slides are less common, and began making their way down the rest of the slope one at a time to limit their exposure.

Almost immediately, they felt a substantial collapse of snow beneath them. Kuzma, a 22-year-old professional freeskier from New Zealand, grabbed a fistful of branches. Bezubiak bear-hugged a tree. But Weselake disappeared as a torrent of snow swept him on his back headfirst down the slope.

Kuzma, who was left standing atop the two-foot-tall avalanche crown, leaped down to the bed surface, the layer left behind after a slide. She and Bezubiak switched their avalanche beacons to receive mode and began a frantic search of the debris field for Weselake. Kuzma’s device led her 1,150 feet to the bottom of the slide path, where the reading indicated that they were within a few feet of him. Bezubiak performed a more precise search to pinpoint Weselake’s location, then Kuzma drove her probe into the snow and hit him almost immediately. They whipped out their shovels for the hardest, most time-consuming phase of any rescue: digging. They knew Weselake was buried six feet deep and that his chances of survival were falling fast.



The Night of the Gun is the memoir of David Carr, the late and celebrated New York Times Journalist. But it's more investigative journalism than memoir, and it kind of gives you hope that no matter how much you generally suck at life, you can still reinvent yourself. 

Allow me to borrow from Bruce Handy's review

Before David Carr was the widely read media columnist for The New York Times’s Monday business section, he was a cokehead and an alcoholic. He’s now written a memoir about how he got from there to here, only he didn’t just write it — he also reported it, as best he could. To take one example: What really happened that night after a wedding when Carr yanked his buddy Ralph headfirst out of a town car and tossed him into a flower bed, and the subsequent hotel room brawl had to be broken up by security? “I don’t know,” Ralph verbally shrugs when Carr puts the question to him two decades later. “You’re asking one guy who is drunk and stoned if his memory matches the other guy’s who’s drunk and stoned.” In that conundrum lie both the genius and a primary flaw of this brave, heartfelt, often funny, often frustrating book.

from The Night of the Gun

A person who hated to miss anything, I had found something where finding that last little thing was considered an asset. I was not a maniac; I was a journalist, a head case with a portfolio. That manic, grubby tyrant inside me had found expression in an activity that would bring me recognition, a measure or recompense, and a reason to do something besides trip from high to high.   —David Carr


Apologies in advance, but there's gonna be a lot of Branch on this blog. If you don't like it, so be it. You're probably one of those people that don't like puppies or ice cream sundaes. 


By: John Branch, for the New York times

The 1,000-foot cliffs of Zion National Park that border the open range of Smith Mesa glowed orange and red, like hot coals. The sun slinked low on the opposite side of a wide sky. Bill Wright, 60, stopped his pickup on the dirt road, dusty from drought. He walked west, weaving through green junipers, scraggly shrub live oak, flowering barrel cactus and dried cow pies last spring. His pointed boots left a string of meandering arrows in the red sand.

The boys were off riding saddle broncs on the professional rodeo circuit’s Texas swing — somewhere between Austin, Nacogdoches and Lubbock, Bill could never keep up. Bill’s wife, Evelyn, was at home, two hours north in Milford, Utah, teaching at the elementary school. Bill was alone, living in a camper, eating from a skillet, surrounded by silence and 20,000 acres of rugged rangeland hiding a few hundred of his cattle.


Josh Bunch, owner of Practice CrossFit in Troy, Ohio, was my first editor. He taught me that writing is more identity than profession, and was the first to begin stomping the clichés out of me.


By: Josh Bunch

Dead people show up when you least expect them. When you're in the shower, getting a haircut, walking your blind dog.

Ten years before my dad died he had a stroke. It stole several steps from him like a bad roll on a board game. To this day, every time I see one of those walkers with a built in chair, I think of him. And every time I walk my blind dog, I feel like a horrible son.

My blind Husky moves like the earth’s gravity increased when I said “walk.” He pays attention to everything but me, and doesn’t seem to care when I pull that short purple leash harder to get him to hurry. He’s exactly like my dad was and I treat him like I don’t have time for him to enjoy the journey.

Neil Young Comes Clean

The late David Carr was a celebrated media columnist for the New York Times, bestselling author and champion of new writers and young journalists. For me, his work—his metaphors, cadence, reporting—is a study in the craft. 

Neil Young Comes Clean

By: David Carr, for the New York Times

He made a bunch of rights and lefts through the forest before getting out to unlock the gate. Others might have an electronic gate, but Young likes the mechanical experience of slipping a key into a padlock and swinging something open. He is fundamentally analog, despite the occasional electronic excesses in his music. He likes amps with knobs that go to 12 and things that click when you touch them.


Andréa Maria Cecil, Assistant Managing Editor and Head Writer of the CrossFit Journal, exposes hydration misinformation with the tale of just one of the many tragedies resulting from industry-controlled science. 


By: Andréa Maria Cecil, for the CrossFit Journal

The words hung in the air: brain dead.

Only days earlier he was a strong, healthy, God-fearing 17-year-old who in little more than a year at his high school had become captain of the football team and boasted a 3.8 GPA. Zyrees Oliver planned to play college football. Then he wanted to go into the NFL—his path plainly divergent from that of his incarcerated father.

Now he lay unresponsive in a bed in the ICU of an Atlanta hospital, his mother struggling to comprehend the neurologist’s words.

Exactly two weeks after a previous hospital visit—on Aug. 5, 2014—Zyrees, having been responsibly following medical advice to hydrate as much as possible, passed out at a late-afternoon football practice, teammates told his family. They took him to the head coach’s office to rest, his aunt said in a written account provided to the CrossFit Journal. At around 9 p.m., the coach called Zyrees’ mother, Monique Oliver. She arrived to find her son lying on the office floor, having consumed 2 gallons of Gatorade and 2 gallons of water, according to the account. When the teenager rose from the floor, he vomited.

“I’ll be all right. I just need to lie down,” family members said he told his mother.

They were the last words he spoke to her.


I bought David Mitchell's 2014 novel, The Bone Clocks, because I needed something to read and the New York Times not only included it in its 2014 list of notable books, but also called it a "head-spinning flight" and mentioned "other dimensions." It seemed like a good way to get away with reading something otherworldly and fantastic and yet still be reading something for grown-ups. With his wonderful color and ever-changing points of view, Mitchell taught me, delighted me, frustrated me like hell and totally drew me in.

From The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell

A roaring, percussive KA-BOOOOOOOOOMMM ... fills the Chapel. Constantin falls to the floor, as do the others. I-in-Holly stare up at the crack, terror transmuting into hope, then a savage joy as an uprooting, tearing, steel-hull-on-a-reef noise howls louder, and the hairline crack becomes a black line zigzagging down the north roof to the back of the icon. Slowly, the sickening sound dies away, but it leaves behind a heavily pregnant threat of more ... from where I-in-Holly am crouching I see the halo-shaped gnostic serpent swing, then drop. It smashes like a thousand dinner plates, fragments dashing and smattering across the stone floor, like ten thousand little living fleeing beings. 

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

John Branch, sportswriter for the New York Times, is one of my favorite feature writers. Who else writes about what tennis courts are made of, generations of cattle ranchers turned rodeo stars,  champion horseshoe players and deathly avalanches all within the same breath? One of the first pieces to wake me to the love of longform, I am continually invigorated by this Pulitzer-winning masterpiece. 

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

By: John Branch, for the New York Times

The snow burst through the trees with no warning but a last-second whoosh of sound, a two-story wall of white and Chris Rudolph’s piercing cry: “Avalanche! Elyse!”

The very thing the 16 skiers and snowboarders had sought — fresh, soft snow — instantly became the enemy. Somewhere above, a pristine meadow cracked in the shape of a lightning bolt, slicing a slab nearly 200 feet across and 3 feet deep. Gravity did the rest.

Snow shattered and spilled down the slope. Within seconds, the avalanche was the size of more than a thousand cars barreling down the mountain and weighed millions of pounds. Moving about 7o miles per hour, it crashed through the sturdy old-growth trees, snapping their limbs and shredding bark from their trunks.

The avalanche, in Washington’s Cascades in February, slid past some trees and rocks, like ocean swells around a ship’s prow. Others it captured and added to its violent load.

Somewhere inside, it also carried people. How many, no one knew.