Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Yikes, it's going to be a busy semester...and The Power of One

Yikes. Two new classes are going to make this a very busy semester. However, I've met all my classes now, and I think every one is going to be an interesting, delightful group. All very different, all challenging in different ways, but all fun. But busy.

I guess I'll determine to write a blog at least once a week, hopefully more, and not kick myself if all I can do is once a week.

We're reading The Power of One right now in my Humanities of South Africa class. I love that book. I have read it about four times, I think, and every time I marvel at the voice and the story. Bryce Courtenay, the author, just died in November, so I'm feeling as if reading it this time is a bit of a tribute to him.

I was surprised that only three people in class knew what Apartheid was. That's sort of shocking, but on the other hand--I have plenty to teach in there. It will all be new material to most of them (not all!), I guess.

In Comp, we're reading A Lesson Before Dying.   I've taught that book so many times, I only have to skim it to go through quizzes and to lead discussion. I feel as if I know it by heart. Maybe I should change to a different book, but it's so good and so powerful, and it introduces students to some ideas that they haven't known before.  Love the book So for now, I'll keep on with it.

Speaking of all that, I sat down to write a chapter review for Intro to Humanities. I better get on it.

A Youtube about The Power of One--but not the book; just a good video

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Rider by Tim Krabbé

Book Review, or maybe book rave?
The Rider by Tim Krabbé. Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition 2003 (Originally published in the Netherlands in 1978).

The Rider wins my heart. This novel, by Tim Krabbé and translated from Dutch, is like watching a classic one-day race from inside the peleton. For anyone who’s ridden a bike competitively, or ridden “over your head” to keep up with buddies, or seen black from cranking up a hill so big you think it’ll kill you, you will understand this book. The translator Sam Garrett did a beautiful job because the language and metaphors are spot-on. Krabbé has nailed the physical and psychological agony and joy. Some gems:

Despuech, who has just made a break but obviously won’t stay away off the front.: Despuech is crazy. Despuech is only showing us that he doesn’t stand a chance in hell. He knows it too, but still it’s a fact: he has to choose between finishing at the back after shining, or finishing at the back after not having shone at all. Dozeas of riders are now thinking the word ‘Despuech’, and people along the route will clap for him. And later all the riders will slide right over him, like a net over an undersized fish.
Product DetailsGradually I find a cadence. Climbing is a rhythm, a trance; you have to rock your organs’ protests back to sleep.

I shift down. Forty-three nineteen: the gear of champions. How the hell do I keep talking myself into racing?

Gerrri Knetemann: “You guys need to suffer more, get dirtier; you should arrive at the top in a casket, that’s what we pay you for.”

Asked about the pain of getting dropped, Knetemann say, “It’s too bad, sir, but at a certain point you just can’t do it. And when can’t do it any more, you get dropped. Too bad. Nothing to make a fuss about.”

Perhaps I love this book so much because the protagonist narrating the story is a journalist/writer turned cyclist at age thirty. I fancy myself a combination of those two, so I particularly loved this little soliloquy: “I believed that, while cycling, I would come up with thoughts and ideas for the stories I’d be writing the rest of the time. Fat chance. The rest of my time I spent jotting in my cycling logbook and keeping statistics on my distance and times, and while cycling I thought of nothing at all.

Fear of heights, multiplied by my velocity. Don’t look to the side. The wind blows right through me…

Descents scare me, I’m the worst downhill rider here…

A sign. It says that the speed limit here is 60 kilometers per hour. My brain flashes a joke for my approval: point at that sign and waggle my finger at the others. Joke rejected.


Yup. there we go.I think of coming down a mountain in Eastern Washington State in a small group ride from the The Bicycle Butler bike shop. Switchbacks and all, the pack flying. I was in my drops, aero, keeping up, and then--a switchback, I braked—out of instinct and self-preservation—I slowed, and I was dropped like a wounded bird from the flock.
...saw a rider meticulously peeling a banana with both hands on a downhill stretch at 65 kilometers an hour…
Comments like those about the “up-and coming Hinault” and anectodes of cycling history woven in the consciousness of the rider—the narrator—all in the course of a 150 km race make us as readers feel part of cycling history, part of this race in 1977

Who the hell goes cycling on a hot day like this?
The book’s opening will grab you, if you are one who identifies with the story, or if you are obsessive about any passion in your life. The narrator looks up from his gear at the spectators. "Non-racers…The emptiness of those lives shocks me."

Perhaps that’s the crux of it. When cycling becomes so central to our core that a life without it seems empty: there, I figured it out. That’s why I love this book so much.