Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A quick light reading update

At the Times, an unsettling but distinctly fascinating (that poor naked poodle!) slideshow of pictures from the Westminster Kennel Club dog show...

Posting will remain light round here for the next week or so due to more than usually all-pervasive work obligations. Almost the only redeeming feature of the mild stomach ailment that has laid me low this past week is that it gave me time and occasion for a tiny bit of light reading, otherwise recently in scarce supply. (And friends reading this must forgive me my marked recent social delinquency, I will make every effort to reemerge into the world next week!)

It is ridiculous, my apartment is full of new & appealing unread books, but as soon as I heard this one was out I rushed to the bookstore to buy it in hardcover (something I almost never do with crime fiction), this writer's books are not exactly what I would recommend to everyone but I find them absolutely irresistible: Carol O'Connell's Find Me. As always, it's a bit strange and surreal in ways that make you wonder whether they arise primarily from the wondrous strangeness of O'Connell's imagination or just from a kind of technical inattentiveness (it is not really praise to say of a crime novel that you're not quite sure what's just happened). O'Connell is also perhaps too tender with her main character Mallory, essentially this is romanticized gunslinger stuff. And yet I absolutely love her novels....

Ken Foster's The Dogs Who Found Me is utterly compelling, especially in the sequence leading up to the end of the narrative (he's made the thoughtful and disturbing choice to conclude with a description of evacuating New Orleans during Katrina with his small family of dogs). An interesting and thought-provoking book. Will make you want to rescue a pit bull...

Finally, Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim Faster, Better and Easier. Self-helpish, padded, and yet rather a good read (my brain just makes me skip over the drills, though; and he gives them the most ridiculous names...). I am now wholly consumed with the learn-to-be-a-good-swimmer project, it's a good thing: the free-weights type of working out is fine, I always enjoy it (really anyone will enjoy it if they do it properly, it's very democratic, no skills required in particular and you feel great afterwards) but it has in no sense captured my imagination. (Muscles are good, I like them, but I cannot say I really care about them!)

The swimming- and running-type stuff is far more mentally compelling to me. Of course nothing is like running (I am just about now cleared to start a little bit of running again post-stress fracture, but the point is to build back very slowly for safety purposes, I can see it is going to be very frustrating--I am waiting to have my first little pitiful one-mile run on a day when I can afford to be traumatized and irritated), and swimming has all the horrors of excessive chlorine (to which it turns out I am absurdly allergic--but Claritin works wonders), crowded lanes, sordid locker-rooms etc., but I am guessing it will all work out fine.

I've been having some lessons and practicing doggedly and semi-maniacally whenever I can, and I'm going to do Doug Stern's six-week swimming clinic in March, and I'm going to find some opportunity to practice open-water swimming over the summer, and in short my heart's desire is to run the marathon in the fall and to do a bunch of triathlons in 2008. (Which is mildly absurd, I still don't even have a bike, but I am going to get one as soon as I get a check for the novel.)

And all last week I kept on queasily arising from my sickbed and consulting the academic calendar for 2007-2008 and the schedule for Doug's training vacations (he's the deep-water-running guru guy, I like these strong-willed and obsessive instructors with a good sense of humor, I've been taking the class offered through the New York Road Runners) and it does indeed seem to me that if I teach my spring-semester seminars next year both on Monday and am willing to embark on hitherto-unprecedented extravagance and sport-related obsessiveness then I could go to the 2008 incarnation of Doug's January training vacation in Curacao.

(A curiosity: in 1997 Oliver Sacks published a piece in Triathlete Magazine about this trip! I have not been able to get hold of the actual piece--in the very unlikely event that someone reading this has a copy, I'd love to see it--but I remember a number of places where Sacks writes amazingly well about swimming, it's one of his passions and a prompt to his eloquence.)

One more thing about swimming: I haven't by any means found the perfect place to swim, both of my main options are flawed in one way or another (actually in multiple ways), but there really is nonetheless a hidden gem at Columbia Teachers College. The Aquatic Center pool is like something from the eighteenth century--well, not really, more like early twentieth century, but delightfully there are no locker rooms, you just walk round the outside edge of the pool area and find yourself a little changing room--they're numbered, and with locks on the doors--you walk in and lock it from the inside & just leave all your clothes and things on the hooks and shelves and then use the inside door to walk directly to the pool area.

I fear I have not done justice to its charms, but it's somehow like something from a young-adult fantasy novel, you get there through a dim confusing basement corridor in a part of campus I never otherwise go to and it's like a magical little preserve. I say eighteenth century, of course, because I am thinking of those bathing machines they invented at British watering-places of the period, and of course really it makes me happy because it reminds me of my favorite Humphry Clinker (on this note I will conclude):

Scarborough, though a paltry town, is romantic from its situation along a cliff that over-hangs the sea. The harbour is formed by a small elbow of land that runs out as a natural mole, directly opposite to the town; and on that side is the castle, which stands very high, of considerable extent, and, before the invention of gun-powder, was counted impregnable. At the other end of Scarborough are two public rooms for the use of the company, who resort to this place in the summer to drink the waters and bathe in the sea; and the diversions are pretty much on the same footing here as at Bath. The Spa is a little way beyond the town, on this side, under a cliff, within a few paces of the sea, and thither the drinkers go every morning in dishabille; but the descent is by a great number of steps, which invalids find very inconvenient. Betwixt the well and the harbour, the bathing machines are ranged along the beach, with all their proper utensils and attendants. You have never seen one of these machines — Image to yourself a small, snug, wooden chamber, fixed upon a wheel-carriage, having a door at each end, and on each side a little window above, a bench below — The bather, ascending into this apartment by wooden steps, shuts himself in, and begins to undress, while the attendant yokes a horse to the end next the sea, and draws the carriage forwards, till the surface of the water is on a level with the floor of the dressing-room, then he moves and fixes the horse to the other end — The person within being stripped, opens the door to the sea-ward, where he finds the guide ready, and plunges headlong into the water — After having bathed, he re-ascends into the apartment, by the steps which had been shifted for that purpose, and puts on his clothes at his leisure, while the carriage is drawn back again upon the dry land; so that he has nothing further to do, but to open the door, and come down as he went up — Should he be so weak or ill as to require a servant to put off and on his clothes, there is room enough in the apartment for half a dozen people. The guides who attend the ladies in the water, are of their own sex, and they and the female bathers have a dress of flannel for the sea; nay, they are provided with other conveniences for the support of decorum. A certain number of the machines are fitted with tilts, that project from the sea-ward ends of them, so as to screen the bathers from the view of all persons whatsoever — The beach is admirably adapted for this practice, the descent being gently gradual, and the sand soft as velvet; but then the machines can be used only at a certain time of the tide, which varies every day; so that sometimes the bathers are obliged to rise very early in the morning — For my part, I love swimming as an exercise, and can enjoy it at all times of the tide, without the formality of an apparatus — You and I have often plunged together into the Isis; but the sea is a much more noble bath, for health as well as pleasure. You cannot conceive what a flow of spirits it gives, and how it braces every sinew of the human frame.


  1. I love this post (in general I love your sport posts).

  2. Hope you feel recovered soon -- I think I'm suffering from a similar ailment. Can't seem to shake off a persistent flu bug and it keeps having different manifestations.

    I have tried with those Mallory books -- I've read three or four, but just can't get on with them. I find her fairly interesting but not sufficiently slow for the draggy plots. I can't get into them. Sorry.

  3. Your training plans sound like so much fun ...


  5. A good pool makes such a difference! The best indoor pool I've swum in was in the basement of Hart House at the University of Toronto. It was well-used but so civilized. You can stay in Hart House and use the pool if you're on university business (or claim to be)--I highly recommend it.

    I love the over-the-top gusto of the Mallory books, especially the shoot 'em up crescendo in Stone Angel. But I agree they aren't everyone's cup of tea.

  6. I am going to try and stay in that Hart House!

    I loved Stone Angel; but I think my single favorite book of O'Connell's is The Judas Child, which I must have read half a dozen times. That's a great book...

  7. great post. as a small curly haired dog owner it makes me sick to see what they do to poodles at that dog show. they are such intelligent beautiful animals and look so great with normal haircuts or just letting their hair grow out like bichons. i wonder who started that horrible poodle cut that takes away from all the great points of this sensitive smart and amiable animal!
    i used to swim in a wonderful pool at the bottom of the woolworth building. it was small and old fashioned and really fit the setting of the woolworth building. unfortunately they closed the gym there and now you cannot enter the building unless you work there... the setting of the swimming pool really makes a difference to one's swimming experience. there's another great pool at a gym in battery park that's on the ground floor with glass walls in the room so you have a view of the river...
    hope you're feeling better by now.