On its face, My Oldtime Strongman Training is exactly what it promises to be. But the sum of this book is greater than its parts.
When presented with the possibility of trying something new, it’s in my nature to read at least one book about it. This is certainly a nod to books—I recommend them as a mechanism for understanding the world!—but also a personal idiosyncrasy, a way for me to immerse myself in a new idea from a safe and relaxed state, which lays some foundation for engaging with the idea in the real world.
To be clear: In the four years since I’ve updated this site, I have not become a professional or amateur strongwoman (though Amateur Strong Woman is a memoir title with potential). But I did recently seek out a new personal trainer, who floated the idea of peppering strongman-like exercises into our routines for fun. That sent me down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, which in turn sent me to the bookstore. And while there are many books about strength training and weightlifting, Spindler (whose YouTube page you can find here) makes a living as a performing “original strongman” (think: historical festivals, one-man shows, circuses…) Who could pass up that perspective?
By all logical measures, we should not be fucking with hawks. Some of the most intelligent birds on the planet, hawks are strong and curious and fast as all hell. They have talons and beaks and the evolutionary advantage of being able to claw your face off and fly away before you even realize you’re bleeding.
And yet, against all odds, hawks also have a long and storied history of being tight with humans. Falconry is a profession (hobby? calling?) dating back to 700 BC, and there is to this day a uniquely talented community of people who raise and train hawks, people whose fists feel empty without the weight of an avian predator, people who live in a world where tucking a dead rabbit into the back pocket of your jeans is just a regular Saturday.
A few weeks ago, after handmade pasta and a few too many specialty cocktails, my friends and I got into it over Lena Dunham. Empowered by that special brand of self-righteousness unique to personal opinions about popular things, we loudly and enthusiastically debated the merits of the Dunham Phenomenon—two of us against and one (me) in favor, with a fourth maintaining a wishy-washy neutrality that belied the definitive nature of Dunham’s fame. Indeed, if we’ve learned anything from the post-Girls age, it’s that one is either pro-Lena or against, impressed by her or annoyed, on the same page or reading a different book entirely. There is no Switzerland when it comes to Dunham.
Without even touching on the specifics of her body of work—wry stories of self-involved 20-somethings fumbling their way through adulthood—it would be hard to overstate the size of Lena Dunham’s zeitgeist footprint. She became a household name seemingly overnight, at first because of the critical reception to Girls—both good and bad—and later because of the critical reception to Lena herself: Why so whiny? Why so frequently naked? When clothed, why so much like a toddler? Over time, Dunham’s fame became a self-fulfilling prophecy, and talking about being so over talking about Lena Dunham morphed into the cultural high ground, like hating Uggs or giving up on post-1990 Saturday Night Live.
I did it! I departed New York City for an entire week to tan myself and eat fried Oreos at the Jersey shore, during which time I did not so much as pick up a newspaper, open a laptop or respond to any of the approximately zero tweets I received during my absence. Consequently, I have no idea what’s going on in the world right now, unless said goings-on include international debate over the rules of Flip Cup, and/or how deceptive it is to name fries covered in Old Bay “crab fries” and then market them to unsuspecting beach-goers.
In any case, while I did not necessarily keep abreast of current events, I did make good on my promise to spend at least 0.07% of vacation time reading. (In beach trips of yore, this percentage was much closer to, say, 75, but it’s surprisingly difficult to shun your friends (and/or a cold beer) in favor of a poolside lounge chair and a paperback. Mostly because they yell at you.)
So I’ve finished three books since I last wrote, which is a bit of a cheat since I decided last weekend that it made far more sense to to obsessively plan my beach-side dessert roster (Day 1: ice cream, Day 2: funnel cake, and so on) than write up a final book review before leaving. Whatever, now I just look super accomplished.
Well I think it’s safe to say I’m running behind this week. For good reason! I’m in the middle of a huge project at work, my bathroom was being redone (which I realize has no tangible effect on my ability to read or write in a timely fashion) and, perhaps most importantly, the season finale of The Bachelorette was on (that’s a one-hour reunion, a two-hour finale and a one-hour “After the Final Rose” special; big obligation guys). But here I am, better late than never.
I picked up Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club because of what I like to call a glitch-in-the-matrix moment: It came up, either online or in casual conversation, at least three times in the course of two weeks, so I figured the reading gods were all but asking me to pick it up. More importantly, it seemed to come up as one of those books everyone has read but I somehow missed the memo on (in fairness, The Liar’s Club came out in 1995; I had not so much availed myself of the memoir genre at that time, as I was 10.)
In any case, the book is praised for its combination of Mary Karr’s story—she’s a Texas-born problem child with a penchant for fights and a soft spot for her two alcoholic parents (including a deeply troubled mother)—and her writing; Karr is a poet as well as professional documentor of life’s calamities. Whatever the combo, it seems to strike a chord: The Liar’s Club was selected as one of the best books of 1995 by People, Time, The New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly (the latter perhaps not the best barometer of fine literature, but I’ll let it slide.)