Life is Short, Don’t Wait to Dance by Valorie Kondos Field

38744007I’ve been vaguely aware of NCAA gymnastics since high school, but I never went out of my way to watch a meet the same way I watched Elite or the Olympics. Since starting to listen to Gymcastic three years ago, I’ve become much more aware of college gymnastics. Combine that with Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian heading to UCLA after their Olympic experience, and you’ve got a brand-new UCLA gymnastics fan!

I went to my first college gymnastics meet ever (and only my third in-person meet ever – first one in 15 years!) earlier this year when UCLA came to Stanford in January. I got to see Kyla Ross perform near perfect bars (one of the only times she wouldn’t get a 10 this season!) about five feet in front of me. IT. WAS. AWESOME!

All that to say, I was intrigued by Miss Val’s book since this is her last season. I wasn’t expecting her to spill the tea (she’s too classy), but hoped for more than a few coaching platitudes. It’s a quick read and from it, I can tell that I would NOT have been a good fit for UCLA gymnastics (should that have been an option). But I can see why she has such a good relationship with her gymnasts and why so many former Elites flock to her program.

The biggest revelation to me was that Katelyn Ohashi was so fucked up by Elite gymnastics that during her freshman year she admitted out loud during a group activity that she didn’t want to be great. Given her level of success and her positive attitude as an upperclassman, it’s a testament to Miss Val and to Katelyn’s hard work that she’s overcome a lot of the past and learned to love the sport again. It was also interesting to me that apparently UCLA gymnastics practices are open to well-meaning fans that show up, which seems CRAZY, but good to know, I guess.

All in all, Miss Val and I have very different philosophies, but I can see the value in where she’s coming from.

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

40411206Gilmore Girls got me through a break up in the early ’00s, and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since, even if I spent most of the later seasons screaming, “WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT?!” When it announced that the show was going to be part of the current revival craze that’s sweeping Hollywood, I was nervous because though it took a long time to get there, I felt the show was left in a good place: Luke and Lorelai presumably together, Rory off to be a reporter, and Richard and Emily doing their Hartford thing, but getting along with Lorelai for the first time ever.

However, reading Lauren Graham’s recollection of her time on set made me reconsider it. Most of her memoir feels like the normal things – how she grew up, how she struggled as an actor, how she got her big break, how things have changed for her, and now she’s filming the revival. It was a fun read and I’ve always like Lauren Graham (Northern Virginia gals gotta stick together!), but the best part was really her little diary about the revival. I really enjoyed the tiny moments where Kelly Bishop remembered Edward Herrmann and how Lauren tried to get everyone she ever met into a scene somehow (let’s be besties, Lauren – I wanna be on Gilmore Girls!) I was a little surprised how few Scott stories there were, but I guess the central relationship on this show was always Lauren and Alexis.

Anyway, at just over 200 pages, it’s a quick read with some cute stories. If you liked Lauren Graham before, this won’t change your mind (and vice versa). I’m curious to check out her fiction books to see if her manic energy is present there as well.

Thanks for the Money: How to Use My Life Story to Become the Best Joel McHale You Can Be by Joel McHale

29429952Do you like Joel McHale? If yes, then you’ll love this book. If no, what the hell are you doing here? My mom thinks Joel is kinda funny, and she kinda liked this book when I lent it to her (sorry, Joel!). The theory checks out.

Though Joel McHale was not my first E! clip show about television show host crush (that honor goes to John Henson – who I almost met during my LA life at a taping of a failed talk show pilot – and his lovely skunk streak!), he’s my longest lasting one. He’s also one of the first people I remember following on Twitter (I joined for Rainn Wilson and Paul Feig, but Joel is the first one I kept). Our greatest Twitter interaction came in 2012:

Which of course led him to slide into my DMs:
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We did not start a torrid Twitter affair (something about him being in love with his wife and me being too star-struck to respond – whatever), but I realized the power of the celebrity talk show host/sitcom-that’s-not-a-traditional-sitcom star. And luckily, four years later, he came out with a book to allow me to harness that power for myself. And when I finally read it two years later, it was pretty funny.

Like all celebrities, the beginning is humble, the middle is funny, but it goes on for much longer than anyone would prefer. Would I buy it again? Nah, that’s what libraries are for. But he got my money, and really, that’s all he cares about.

Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, A Life in Balance by Simone Biles

31847558Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast and one of the best (if not the best) we’ve ever seen. She doesn’t just win, she blows the competition away by full points. My fav, Aly Raisman, even joked that winning the all-around silver at the Rio Olympics was like winning first because no one had a chance when competing against Simone.

Simone’s memoir takes a surface look at her life from bouncy toddler of a mother who had to give her up to her grandparents (who adopted her and became her parents) to Olympic Gold Medalist. Gymnastics (or at least tumbling) seemed to come naturally to her and you can feel her joy for the sport in the pages. Her concentration on things like deals about belly button rings display her bubbly personality and youth. She’s surprisingly self-aware her bad attitude in practice as she went through her teen years, which is refreshing if hard to believe.

The book ends with her carrying the flag for the U.S. delegation into the closing ceremonies of the Rio Olympics. She’s upbeat, positive, and full of possibility. She only has good things to say about USAG, the Ranch, and her experience in gymnastics. Reading it after Aly’s book and knowing her #metoo story, I wonder how she’d change things today. Nevertheless, I look forward to Simone’s return to competition and the continuation of her story!

Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything by Aly Raisman

As you can see, I didn’t come close to my reading goal last year. But I’m back at it again, hoping to get through the pile of books I’ve accumulated in the last couple of years. More time reading is one of my New Year’s resolutions.

35565694I’ve loved gymnastics as long as I can remember. Shannon Miller was my first favorite gymnast. Then Carly Patterson. Then Shawn Johnson. Then Aly Raisman.

I first remember seeing Aly Raisman at the 2012 National Championships. All the commentators were talking about Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas. I kept yelling at the TV – “What about Aly? She’s really good.” Same thing at the Olympic Trials. And when Aly got the second all-around spot over Jordyn at the 2012 Olympics, no one seemed to care that Aly was better; it was all about how Jordyn had been two-per-countried (which is rightfully a dumb thing that should be gotten rid of). All this to say, Aly’s my girl and I think she’s amazing.

When she announced she was going to write a book a year after the 2016 Games, I was psyched to read it. She’s the one that everyone counted out, but depended on when it mattered. The workhorse. I wanted to hear what it felt like to be in that position. Then she revealed she was one of Larry Nassar’s victims, and my heart broke for her. The book isn’t about that, but she is very clear that what happened was awful, it could happen to anyone, and it needs to be stopped.

Her treatment by USA Gymnastics was appalling in many instances (listen to the GymCastic review for most of them!) and I’m happy to see that she’s not be cowed to be quiet. But there are times when she tells stories that are so demeaning or ridiculous, but you can tell she doesn’t get that it was wrong – just that’s how it was, which breaks my heart.

The book is definitely aimed at young gymnasts who want to read about their hero, so it’s not a challenging read, but it’s still interesting. I can’t wait to see what Aly does next!