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2012 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing Runner-up
"He's a damned good writer . . . How many professor types do you reckon would tackle a 50-mile run along the Adirondack Trail or an 11-day winter-survival course in Main that included two nights along in a makeshift cave?" —Wall Street Journal
"There's a lot of humor in these essays, most of it good-naturedly aimed at Casey himself. But he's serious, too. Casey doesn't scold those of us who aren't as physically active as we used to be; rather, he entices us to consider getting moving again, preferably outside." —The Boston Globe
"Room for Improvement is a marvel of closely observed mostly outdoor sport, much of it alarmingly strenuous, but colored throughout by infectious exuberance and tolerance for discomfort. With genteel detachment well to the rear, Casey brings us point blank to the levels of sporting commitment that rise to illumination." —Thomas McGuane
"In these empirical and informative essays, John Casey writes with the 'savor of attentiveness' about those peaks in cardiovascular exercise when we feel transformed—about being, as he puts it, 'encased in the rhythm of what I was doing.' Casey has walked, run, rowed, paddled, and cross-country skied. Not unlike those sports, these connected essays flow into one another, and they reflect more than an author's willingness to suffer 'a ruffled minor vanity'; not unlike the over-seventy athlete he is, John Casey's writing is exemplary and tireless." —John Irving
An author/lit professor/exercise fanatic chronicles his lifelong pursuit of endurance sports and survival training.
Marathons, cross-country skiing races, endurance hikes, epic rowing junkets, wilderness survival trips—National Book Award winner Casey (English/Univ. of Virginia; Compass Rose, 2010, etc.) has led a vigorous life worth writing about, and he does so in a muscular prose worthy of his manly pursuits. That's not to say, however, that the narrative is driven by a testosterone-fueled need to prove athletic excellence or dominion over nature. Instead the author attempts to re-create on paper the mind-numbing cold of a snowy night spent huddled in a self-made shelter, the strange weightlessness of a long-distance run and the hand-shredding and leg-shaking fatigue brought on by hours of rowing. For all of the vivid descriptions, however, there is an analytical distance, the requisite probe for meaning engendered by the mind of a writer and teacher—not so much in the acknowledgement of the therapeutic power of exercise as a balm against divorce-induced depression, but rather in the effort to contextualize the intensely personal yet still communal Outward Bound experience, or to describe the kinship and camaraderie of like-minded individuals engaged in the same quest for something beyond health, vanity, endorphins or competition. Age becomes a more prominent theme as the essays progress, with the author concocting increasingly elaborate exercise routines to commemorate his birthdays. Casey shows evident pride as he details his continued achievements, but the same outward self-assessment that pervades the collection remains, a balance between acknowledging the passing of years while striving to avoid being controlled by them.
Occasionally self-indulgent, but the collection's rustic charm and indomitable spirit transcend its flaws.
Excerpted from Room for Improvement by John Casey Copyright © 2011 by John Casey. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
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