Devoted swimmers will want to splash about in this entertaining narrative.

SPLASH!

10,000 YEARS OF SWIMMING

A nimble social history of humans at play in water.

Swimming is a sport, an art, a form of meditation—and, by former University of Virginia swimming champion Means’ account, very nearly a biological imperative, an expression of our kinship to critters that crawled out of the sea to make their homes on land. Those “fish-human comparisons” are intriguing: Put a human in water that’s heated to 90 degrees, and you relax their heart; “knock the temperature down 10 percent or more,” and you’re in territory that brings relief from ailments such as asthma and rheumatism, to say nothing of bliss. “No wonder whales often seem more at peace with themselves than we humans do,” writes the author. Given the antique connection with the sea, it’s intriguing that a cave in desert Egypt, central to Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient, delivers the first documentation of humans afloat on the sea. Means delivers a lovely portrait of the zaftig Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman, “the woman who first liberated swimwear from the tyranny of Victorian morality”—but then, years later, sniffed of the newly invented bikini that “only two women in a million can wear it.” The author also incorporates bits and pieces of cultural and sports history, such as early long-distance competitions and the rules of Olympic swimming. But some of the best parts of his book are memoir, as when he recounts a personal best of underwater swimming that took in 75 meters, surfacing only for fear that he’d pass out: “Water is the wrong medium for fainting.” It’s surprising that two pop-history books on swimming appear within two months of each other—the other is Bonnie Tsui’s Why We Swim—but neither crowds out the other.

Devoted swimmers will want to splash about in this entertaining narrative.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-306-84566-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More thought-provoking work from an important creator.

THE SECRET TO SUPERHUMAN STRENGTH

The acclaimed graphic memoirist returns to themes of self-discovery, this time through the lens of her love of fitness and exercise.

Some readers may expect Bechdel to be satisfied with her career. She was the 2014 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, and her bestselling memoirs, Fun Home and Are You My Mother? both earned universally rave reviews, with the former inspiring a Broadway musical that won five Tony awards. But there she was, in her mid-50s, suffering from “a distinct sense of dread” and asking herself, “where had my creative joy gone?” Ultimately, she found what she was seeking, or at least expanded her search. In what she calls “the fitness book,” the author recounts, from her birth to the present, the exercise fads that have swept the nation for decades, from the guru-worship of Charles Atlas and Jack LaLanne through running, biking, hiking, “feminist martial arts,” yoga, and mountain climbing. “I have hared off after almost every new fitness fad to come down the pike for the last six decades,” she writes. Yet this book is about more than just exercise. Bechdel’s work always encompasses multiple interlocking themes, and here she delves into body image; her emerging gay consciousness; the connection between nature and inner meaning; how the transcendentalists were a version of the hippies a century earlier; and how her own pilgrimage is reminiscent of both Margaret Fuller and Jack Kerouac, whose stories become inextricably entwined in these pages with Bechdel’s. The author’s probing intelligence and self-deprecating humor continue to shimmer through her emotionally expressive drawings, but there is so much going on (familial, professional, romantic, cultural, spiritual) that it is easy to see how she became overwhelmed—and how she had to learn to accept the looming mortality that awaits us all. In the end, she decided to “stop struggling,” a decision that will relieve readers as well.

More thought-provoking work from an important creator.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-544-38765-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A welcome reference, entertaining and information-packed, for any outdoors-inclined reader.

THE MEATEATER GUIDE TO WILDERNESS SKILLS AND SURVIVAL

The bad news: On any given outdoor expedition, you are your own worst enemy. The good news: If you are prepared, which this book helps you achieve, you might just live through it.

As MeatEater host and experienced outdoorsman Rinella notes, there are countless dangers attendant in going into mountains, woods, or deserts; he quotes journalist Wes Siler: “People have always managed to find stupid ways to die.” Avoiding stupid mistakes is the overarching point of Rinella’s latest book, full of provocative and helpful advice. One stupid way to die is not to have the proper equipment. There’s a complication built into the question, given that when humping gear into the outdoors, weight is always an issue. The author’s answer? “Build your gear list by prioritizing safety.” That entails having some means of communication, water, food, and shelter foremost and then adding on “extra shit.” As to that, he notes gravely, “a National Park Service geologist recently estimated that as much as 215,000 pounds of feces has been tossed haphazardly into crevasses along the climbing route on Denali National Park’s Kahiltna Glacier, where climbers melt snow for drinking water.” Ingesting fecal matter is a quick route to sickness, and Rinella adds, there are plenty of outdoorspeople who have no idea of how to keep their bodily wastes from ruining the scenery or poisoning the water supply. Throughout, the author provides precise information about wilderness first aid, ranging from irrigating wounds to applying arterial pressure to keeping someone experiencing a heart attack (a common event outdoors, given that so many people overexert without previous conditioning) alive. Some takeaways: Keep your crotch dry, don’t pitch a tent under a dead tree limb, walk side-hill across mountains, and “do not enter a marsh or swamp in flip-flops, and think twice before entering in strap-on sandals such as Tevas or Chacos.”

A welcome reference, entertaining and information-packed, for any outdoors-inclined reader.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-12969-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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