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Book Title: Long Distance|
The author of the book: Bill McKibben
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 1.45 MB
Date of issue: November 1st 2001
ISBN 13: 9780452282704
Read full description of the books Long Distance:My review published in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2001:
A Zig-Zag Path to Enlightenment
Reviewed by Steve Kettmann
A Year of Living Strenuously By Bill McKibben Simon & Schuster; 191 pages; $23 It's an idea that many of us have considered, or will as we approach middle age: Why not devote a year or so to fitness, as in the kind of fitness to which top-level athletes aspire, the kind of fitness that reshapes the body and, one hopes, the soul?
Bill McKibben, author of "The End of Nature" and "The Age of Missing Information," chose to spend more than a year doing everything he could to become a better cross-country skier. He sought the advice of a coach. He lifted weights. He ran long distances. He eliminated fat from his diet. He interviewed the top people in the sport. He scoured the Internet for any fresh tidbits that might give him insight. But mostly he skied, and pushed himself in ways he never had in the first 37 years of his life.
"I hadn't dogged it after all; I'd chased old 2009 down twice, and I'd finally gone right through him," he notes after a race. "Even stronger, though,
was the feeling of total clarity that came over me in that small drama. For once in my life I was absolutely present, right there the whole time."
If that sounds like a predictable sentiment that will usher in an even more predictable narrative of huffing and puffing and gaining some inner peace that we get to hear about, McKibben wishes it had been that easy. In fact, even an extreme training regimen like the one McKibben undertakes cannot shield us from the surprises of real life -- and, in the middle of his year of living strenuously, McKibben faces the worst sort of surprise. He finds out his father has an aggressive "nonbenign" brain tumor, and ends up exploring the meaning of the word "endurance" in ways far more subtle and complex than he ever expected.
A less talented, less restrained writer than McKibben could have stumbled badly in relaying the details of his father's illness, even as he's still training and telling us about that as well. Too many pat homilies have accompanied too many tales of gaining spirituality through perspiration. But McKibben guards against that, starting with his first line: "I came seeking sweat and found only enlightenment."
This tone of gently self-mocking irreverence is much appreciated. It enables McKibben to tell his story with simple honesty. He didn't set out to write about his father, after all, and especially not about his father's death -- he has already embarked on his year of training when his father tells him about what at first seems like a mild stroke. But the material chooses him, and McKibben handles the challenge beautifully.
At times, he can be forgiven for casting his father as perhaps too saintly a figure to be believed. Gordon McKibben, like his son, was a newspaperman and a writer. He loved the outdoors. He loved his wife, devoted himself to his marriage, and, even in his final days, robbed of speech most of the time, "he never ceased following Mom with his eyes." As the son says in an elegy, he admired his father more than ever, watching him die.
"His example, frankly, is intimidating," he writes. "Sue and I have been married eleven years now, and I've come nowhere near the state of grace he seemed to come by effortlessly. But what a gift it was that he gave us, this understanding that you could be a man his way, full of love and kindness and good humor and hard work. But not full of yourself."
Those are beautiful words, and they cap a section in which the impulse comes often to put down the book and ponder. Both father and son come alive as vivid characters, and the truth and emotional clarity of much of the writing has the haunting quality we hope to find in fiction.
It should not be held against McKibben if the sections of the book telling of his year exploring top-level fitness falls a notch short of this high standard. Partly, this has to do with the incommunicable nature of much of what he's exploring here. Sit idling down after a long, grueling cross-country ski (or a long run or swim), and it's possible to feel a kind of thought- cleansing calm, but such calm defies description. That's the whole point.
To his credit, McKibben opts not to throw many words at something that transcends words. He caps his year of training with a race in Norway, where the sport is a kind of national religion, and squeezes his account of this fascinating material into a seven-page afterword, much of which focuses on ski wax. Still, some readers may feel disappointed that McKibben doesn't follow up at length on all the big themes laid out early in the book.
McKibben writes with good humor about having grown up as a wimp, musing, 'I'm not sure where my wimpiness came from" He says he aspires to feel the connection to his body that he lacked as a skinny, awkward kid. "I want to gain an intuitive sense of my body and how it works," he writes to himself, when his coach asks him to articulate his goals for the year.
It's hard to say for sure whether this goal fades for McKibben before the much more involving challenge of being with his father during the weeks leading up to his death, or whether he learns something from his father about keeping some important things quiet. Either way, it's hard not to admire both McKibbens, father and son, for showing strength and a sense of humor even in the most challenging circumstances.
Steve Kettmann is a former Chronicle sportswriter who lives in Berlin.
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...
Read information about the authorBill McKibben is the author of Eaarth, The End of Nature, Deep Economy, Enough, Fight Global Warming Now, The Bill McKibben Reader, and numerous other books. He is the founder of the environmental organizations Step It Up and 350.org, and was among the first to warn of the dangers of global warming. In 2010 The Boston Globe called him "probably the nation's leading environmentalist," and Time magazine has called him "the world's best green journalist." He studied at Harvard, and started his writing career as a staff writer at The New Yorker. The End of Nature, his first book, was published in 1989 and was regarded as the first book on climate change for a general audience. He is a frequent contributor to magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Orion Magazine, Mother Jones, The New York Review of Books, Granta, Rolling Stone, and Outside. He has been awarded Guggenheim Fellowship and won the Lannan Prize for nonfiction writing in 2000. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College and lives in Vermont with his wife, the writer Sue Halpern, and their daughter.
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