Adventure Books and Bicycling | Books for Dudes

I awoke thirsty, my skull and body throbbing with pain in time to my pulse. Even the feeble light was too much. I felt as though I’d been in a fight‚ and remembered I had been. But you should have seen what my face did to those guys’ fists! I knew who I was. But how did I get to this silent, unfamiliar room?

It was the smell that finally drove me to get up. Was that a puddle of my own sick? I crept out of the bed, taking inventory of my cuts and bruises. Nothing broken, but somehow even my hair hurt. I made my way down some carpeted steps as quietly as I could before hearing sharp, tinny noises from another room. As I headed toward them I picked up breakfast-y scents: syrup, toasting bread, coffee. Gingerly I crept around a corner and found a very pretty, slender woman turned toward me holding a frying pan.

What is this place? I asked her. Her brow furrowed and she cocked a hand on her hip (the international signal for female annoyance). What are you called? I spoke slowly, a bit louder. Perhaps she spoke no English?

Stop it, she spoke tersely, raising an eyebrow. And sit down. We have to be out of here by 8, the floor install guys are coming.

Dumbstruck and confused, I sat with a whimper and accepted a cup of coffee from the fine-looking lady. She even smelled wonderful. I don’t know how you got that shiner, she said, but it’s a beauty. You’d think you’d let your own wife know things from time to time. And don’t expect me to bail you out if Barney Fife comes a-knockin’ again.

Ah, this explained why I’d forgotten most everything‚ I’d been spending too much time writing the Books for Dudes column‚ and getting beat up for it too.

It also explains these selections, most of which are about being an individual dude doing Something Big. See, like many other dudes who are delivering your mailz, fixing your networkz, or grooming your lolcatz, I is an individual. Sure, I have a family and responsibilities, but when it comes to me time, it’s time for me. Not that I’m greedy (I’m selfish, there’s a big difference). Adventure books are the perfect dude outlet; they let us see a version of ourselves doing great things.

Connelly, J.J. Viva La Madness. Overlook. 2012. 448p. ISBN 9781590208595. hc. $$25.95. F

The short review is easy: Did you enjoy Connelly’s Layer Cake (2004)? You’ll enjoy this too. The longer version: This madcap romp set in the seamy underworld of the international drug trade is a laugh a minute‚ provided you laugh at Byzantine intrigue, gruesome murders, and violent, gun-toting chaps speaking in a thick Cockney accent. Our unnamed narrator is a former middle man looking to get back into the trade after a couple of years laying low. When the adventure bug bites him, he joins a team of gangsters with decidedly ungood results. The initial plot involves a trunk full of money and the aforementioned nascent drug enterprises. The gang soon learns, however, of the Venezuelan source of the money and how important it is to them. As their greed increases so does the intricacy of the situation they set up to protect themselves. And ‚Äòintricate’ isn’t a thing these brutal dudes do well; they’re way short on finesse and disintegrate faster than Lawrencium 262 around an 8.6 MeV alpha particle. The implosion, while entertaining, is massive.

Innes, Hammond. Atlantic Fury. Carroll & Graf. Dist. by Publishers Group West. 1985. 308p. ISBN 9780881841435. pap. $3.50. F

Like the title says, you bet the Atlantic is furious! Madder than your wife when she found about that set of golf clubs. In this particular case the ocean is furious with a tiny island called Laerg (modeled after Hirta in St Kilda) in the Scottish Hebrides[1] around 1960. Some British bureaucrats blithely decide to close Laerg’s missile-tracking base in autumn because winter is closing in, the iceman cometh, and northern Atlantic conditions get RUFKM dangerous. The only vessels that will work are the big-ass landing craft designed to carry tanks from ship to shore, not exactly the most nimble seacraft. Two forceful entities enter the scene: 1.) Donald Ross, a painter and ex-sailor who wants very much to visit Laerg; and 2.) a polar cyclone‚ think The Perfect Storm with ice‚ that turns the base closure into a survival story. Originally published way back in 1962, the descriptions of the weather, the wind, and the rescues are worth having to skip multiple useless bits (e.g., Ross meets his presumed-dead older brother).

Innes, Hammond. The Wreck of the Mary Deare. Knopf. 1956. 276p. ISBN: N/A. $8.95. F[2]

Innes’ 50-year-old adventure saga stretches credulity but, still, it’s damned good. This dude John Sands skippers a little yacht and starts his own marine salvage business. One night our jolly captain is merrily a’sailin’ the English Channel and almost gets run down by a 6,000-ton freighter named (guess‚Ķ) the Mary Deare. So Sands chases that mother down, climbs aboard, and starts looking around. The crew has abandoned the leaky, burnt-out husk, leaving the captain to his nautical fate. That’s Cap’n Patch, a real tough bastard who will stop at literally nothing to get the ship as close to port as he can. The two wrestle it over to the Minquiers (French for monkeys‚ thanks, Pink Panther!) where they leave it. After a dead-dreary courtroom drama which proves [[[SPOILER ALERT]]] it was insurance fraud the entire time, Sands and Patch race the hateful, murderous ex-first mate back to the ship for a final look-see. This 1956 title was made into a movie with Charlton Heston and Gary Cooper.

Jacobs, A.J. Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection. Simon & Schuster. 2012. 402p. 1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed. hc. $26. HEALTH

After an episode that found him wheezing and scared in a Dominican Republic hospital, the ass-kickingly funny Jacobs set his sights on achieving “optimal health.” This book documents his successes and provides beaucoup health info for regular dudes. Combining commentary, background information, expert interviews, and his own results, Jacobs addresses the importance of various bodily issues and functions in chapters with titles like “The Ears: The Quest for Quiet” and “The Lower Intestine: The Quest to go to the Bathroom Properly.” It’s all so deviously, fiendishly entertaining that you’re not even aware you’re soaking up a lot of knowledge. I now know Many Fantastic Things, including the facts that [Y]our sponge is a hot zone, and your wallet should be handled with a biohazard suit and, distressingly, that reading on the toilet distracts you, causing you to sit on the toilet longer‚Ķcauses swelling of the veins in the anal canal. And the swelling results in enlarged hemorrhoids[3]. Oh, fantastic.

James, P.D. The Lighthouse. Knopf. Dist. by Random House. 2005. 1st American ed. 335p. ISBN 9780307262912. hc. $25.95. F

Do you like slow stories? Because this S-L-O-W burn Agatha Christie homage was written by a snail and edited by a sloth while playing a best-of-1001 games of chess and enclosed in a time capsule. Inspector Dalgliesh is a British super-sleuth whose team is called to investigate a suspicious death on the island of Combe, a private getaway-type island for Really Notable People (RNPs). It’s Britain’s answer to Camp David with a permanent staff of about ten. So this crotchety old RNP writer named John Updike Nathan Oliver croaks it (where? In the lighthouse!) and among the RNPs on the island are a scientist who hates Oliver and a German dignitary who hates Oliver. The other people on the island who hate Oliver are: everybody. Dalgliesh is making absolutely zero headway when two things happen: he finds the body of an alcoholic, defrocked priest (yes, really) and he is taken ill with SARS (yes, really), so his protégé has to finish up the job. Part of James’s pacing issue is that each policeman deals long-form with unfinished emotional crap, including one cop’s stirring and deep examination of his fear of rappelling.

Nance, John J. Fire Flight. Simon & Schuster. 2003. 353p. ISBN 9780743261616. hc. $25. F

Despite its flaws, this tale of hardcore smoke jumpers and airborne fire bombers fighting wildfires in Wyoming’s Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks is pretty sweet. At the story’s center is Clark Maxwell, a no-nonsense air tanker pilot who flies DC-6s retrofitted to carry bajillions of gallons of fire-suppressant slurry. His job, basically, is to fly into the heart of raging forest fires and let go. A deadly crash arouses Clark’s suspicions that the aging DC-6 fleet is literally coming apart at the seams, and why. He’s also got a budding romance with Karen Jones, who sound like a smoke-jumping, parachuting, chainsaw-wielding Playmate. There are things that sort of suck, though, like minor plots involving government flunkies and an aging rock star. Ditto the repetitive plot and the book’s villainous fleet owner, who’s really just a businessman milking his company. And there are major problems with central casting characters speaking dialog that’s wooden (though it has a nice, burnt pine scent!). And, yes, I agree that’s a lot of strikes down. But what you’re paying for here is Nance’s expertise at describing fighting massive wildland forest fires from the air and land, which he keeps exciting and nontechnical.

Wade, Jeremy. River Monsters: True Stories of the Ones That Didn’t Get Away. Da Capo. 2012. 273p. 1st Da Capo Press ed. ISBN 9780306819544. pap. $16. SCIENCE

Englishman Wade is the craggy-faced host of Animal Planet’s River Monsters whose motto is that ‚Ķthere is more to this world than what’s visible on the surface. Where you and I wake up groggy on Opening Day and try for a trophy perch, Wade travels to far-away places like the Himalayas looking for, say, the human-eating goonch. After his six-year investigation of the “mythic fifteen-foot air-breather” arapaima got him some notoriety, Wade took it further with this
“series of such investigations into the murky world of fisherman’s tales. Wade’s stoic tone and dry humor belie his exuberance in poking at unseen river beasts like mahseer, striped tigerfish, and giant grouper. The excitement sometimes makes the book confusing or seemingly sloppy, but it is every bit as compelling as Badass: A Relentless Onslaught of the Toughest Warlords, Vikings, Samurai, Pirates, Gunfighters, and Military Commanders to Ever Live. The photos of Wade posing with otherworldly river fish are great, and not all of them are foreign: Alaska is home to the Lake Iliamna lake monster (most likely a white sturgeon, a Google image search for which is well worth your while).

The Endorsement: Velo Press.

Can someone please tell the nice folks at Velo to stop publishing such outrageously awesome books?

Johnson, Mark. Argyle Armada: Behind the Scenes of the Pro Cycling Life. Velo Press. 2012. 207p. ISBN 9781934030813. hc. $39.95. Category ‚ SPORTS?

I enjoy watching bike races like the Vuelta a Espa√±a and the Tour de France (my man Brad Wiggins wins!) on TV, but other than knowing that normal mortals can’t even hang with the slowest rider (‚ÄòLanterne Rouge‘) in the TdF for more than about 45 seconds, I didn’t know much about their life until Argyle Armada. Johnson took my dream job of embedded journalist with team GarminCervelo for their whole 2011 season. The former sponsor makes gadgets, the latter bikes, and the book’s title refers to the team’s colors: black and white with blue argyle. Johnson’s writing and truly glorious photography put readers pretty much inside the team bus, on rides, and in races for the tumultuous season that wound up more badass than Tsutomu Yamaguchi. They had some strong wins, like Daniel Martin’s stage win at the Vuelta, Johan Vansummeren taking 1st at Paris‚ Roubaix (an unbelievably hard race), and a breakout TdF year with three stage wins, the fastest team classification, and the team time trial win. Though this is a handsome coffee-table sized book, Johnson’s writing isn’t fluff. It blends race coverage with the business end of pro racing, (e.g., buy a new bus or milk the old one?) and provides behind-the-scenes snippets of conversation (‚Ķso then Tyler Farrar says to Thor Hushovd ‚Ķ).

Lim, Thomas, and Biju Thomas. The Feed Zone Cookbook: Fast and Flavorful Food for Athletes. 2011. 315p. ISBN 9781934030769. hc. $24.95. COOKERY

This 320-page miracle of awesomeness is by two first-time authors: Lim, a physiologist and Thomas, a lifelong cyclist and chef. Their work with elite and pro cyclists and athletes showed that simple, from-scratch concoctions enabled the athletes to perform better. And the athletes, conditioned to (and completely sick of) processed, pre-packaged bars and gels, loved it! This book has several things going for it, mostly because the authors know that people aren’t chefs, food doesn’t just happen, and time is precious (especially to endurance athletes). So along with portable options designed to fuel during racing or training, there are plenty of normal meals (e.g., chicken tikka marsala, sweet potato ‘n’ egg burritos) for everybody (we athletes and you mere mortals). The food is tasty and nutritionally dense, packing mucho calories. The recipes are actually doable, not some exotic test-kitchen frou frou masquerade. To sum up: a busy dude can actually make good-tasting, nutritious food. Does it get better than that? Nope. Also, depending on your touch screen skillz you can even do it right on the bike because it’s also available as an ebook for iPad.

[1] The problem with Scotland is that it’s full of Scots. It’s also no place to live. And the Hebrides? Forget about it. It’s so bad there that people dream about living on mainland Scotland. And Laerg is so bad that Laergians dream about living in the Hebrides.

[2] Most recently published in paper by Pan Books, 1997, ISBN 9780330342414, $11.99.

[3] Also, be sure to shut the lid before flushing. Otherwise, an explosion of tiny droplets of bacteria-ridden toilet water will coat your bathroom walls and toothbrushes (204).

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Douglas Lord About Douglas Lord

Douglas Lord has been reviewing books and audio for Library Journal since the earth was a molten mass. He is an Ironman athlete blessed with a family that sometimes finds him funny and puts up with him constantly reading aloud from advanced review copies. Books for Dudes focuses on books for curious, fun, time-crunched men.