“Sometimes, you will feel as if you have rowed right off the planet and are now rowing among the stars.”

200px-theboysintheboatBooks on Tap read The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown at  Champion Brewery on January 3. This non-fiction choice follows the University of Washington crew team in the run-up to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. These nine working-class amateurs not only had to beat the elite East Coast Ivy League teams, they then had to face the semi-professional and naval European teams. While the book is rich in detail and we meet many characters, the heart of the story is Joe Rantz, who joins the team as a mistrustful, essentially homeless teenager. We follow along during the cold, grueling training mornings, the back-breaking summer jobs Joe takes on to earn enough money to stay in school and the exhilarating race days. The close cooperation Joe and his family provided the author enhances the depth of the story without sacrificing accuracy (at least through Joe’s eyes). Joe’s story line also kept us from being bogged down in the arcane rowing details and the many incidental historical figures introduced.

And what historical figures! Some readers were captivated by this turning point in history, from the depths of the Great Depression to the run-up to World War II. We were struck by the lengths the Nazis went to clear areas of Berlin and to advance their standing on the world stage via propaganda while hiding their genocidal intentions. The teammates certainly didn’t know the full extent of the atrocities and in fact coxswain Bobby Moch may not have found out that his family was Jewish had his father not revealed it to him on the eve of Bobby’s trip to Berlin.  In an interesting side note, the rowers present at our discussion agreed that it takes a particular personality to be a successful coxswain and that these bold men often go on to coach.

We also discussed the ongoing clearances that happen in Olympic hosts cities and that hosting does not usually produce long-term benefits for the host city. We wondered if the Olympics are not as popular as they were decades ago because of doping scandals, boycotts, more access to all sports online and increased professional participation but we agreed that we still get sucked in every two years.

The author sets the team up as underdogs and while they weren’t as highly regarded or supported as their competition, they did have advantages. They had access to George Pocock, a premier boatbuilder and rowing devotee. Their coaches were committed to sending a boat to the Olympics and tinkered with the lineup for years. Rowing was a national sport at the time and the city of Seattle pinned their hopes on the team. Ultimately, as rowers in our group pointed out, it comes down to the day of the race and having luck and balance on your side.  The balance was most evident with Joe, a boy who was all but abandoned as a ten year old who had to learn to trust his teammates and find the ineffable swing that would make them champions.

More Information:
About the author & book
Other works
Movie update
The Summer Olympics were cancelled during World War II. In 1948 the so-called Austerity Olympics were held in London (the US won the men’s eights once again).

Read Alikes:
The Amateurs by David Halberstam
In the Garden of Beasts and The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Native American Son: The Life and and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe by Kate Buford
Seabiscuit: an American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand
Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
Note by Note: the Making of Steinway L1037
Jesse Owens film at Northside Library, February 26

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Library Resource Highlight: UniversalClass

January is a great time to learn something new! Check out UniversalClass for over 500 online courses that you can access with just your JMRL library card.


Go to JMRL Databases– Encyclopedias and General Information- UniversalClass to get started. You’ll need to sign up with your library card number and create a username and password.

There are classes on a wide range of topics, including computers, crafts, pet care, and spiritual studies. You can take a class on women who have changed American history, or a class on retirement planning. Most courses take 10-20 hours to complete, but some are as little as 4 hours long. You can access all the courses you are taking at UniversalClass under “My Classes.”

You’ll need to complete the course within 6 months once you sign up for it. Most of the coursework, exams, assignments, activities, and class participation is recorded and assessed by an instructor. Based on the grading guidelines that your instructor uses, all of your coursework grades and final assessment are displayed in the “Report Card” area. But, there are some classes that also offer a “video audit” option (for example, knitting), where you do not have to submit assignments or take exams, but you won’t receive a certificate at the end of the course. So take a class and learn a new skill!


Words of Wisdom

Words of Wisdom - Blog Post Header

Are you in need of some inspiration to help you achieve your goals and live your best life? Start off your new year with one of these books filled with wisdom:

Heart Talk by Cleo Wade – Offers an accessible collection of poetic, spiritual, and inspirational writings full of practical advice, life lessons, poems, and positive affirmations.

12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson – A renowned psychologist and cultural critic discusses the importance of clear and honest thinking and offers 12 directives for living happily and keeping out the chaos and nihilism in the modern, ever-changing world.

Happiness is a Choice You Make by John Leland – A reporter recounts his time spent with six of New York’s oldest inhabitants, all 85 and older, who share their wisdom about aging, life quality, and the art of living.

Note to Self by Gayle King – The “CBS This Morning” co-host shares some of the most memorable letters from the broadcast’s popular segment of the same name, including essays from Oprah, Joe Biden, Chelsea Handler, and Maya Angelou.

Gmorning, Gnight! by Lin-Manuel Miranda – The creator and star of “Hamilton” presents an illustrated book of affirmations to provide inspiration at the beginning and end of each day.

Awakening Your Ikigai by Ken Mogi – A guide to the Japanese phenomenon that is understood as “the reason to get up in the morning,” introduces the five pillars that will help readers make the most of their day and become their most authentic self.

You Do You by Sarah Knight – Presents a down-to-earth, irreverent, and no-holds-barred guide to letting go of the weight of others’ expectations and doubling down on your dreams to find real, lasting happiness.

Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans – Outlines strategies for a thriving life by incorporating “design thinking” habits that promote fulfillment and meaning by emulating the examples of the engineers of today’s most popular technologies.