Book review: Ten Points by Bill Strickland

Reading this book felt like an invasion of privacy. I don’t know Bill Strickland- I’ve never met him and I don’t even know anyone who has. But I read his articles and blogs, I’ve read his books and I’ve heard him interviewed, so I feel like so know him. This meant reading his memoir Ten Points didn’t feel just like reading any other book- it felt like reading his diary. After finishing his book, I feel like I’ve been shown all the life changing events of a person I’ve only just met. I felt like a peeping Tom reading this book, but it was absolutely worth it, as it was an amazing read.

Strickland was consumed by demons left over from an abusive father. For the most part, through his life, he was able to keep the demons in check. But once he became a husband and a father, he became fearful that his demons will ruin everything he helped build. He feels sure the curse of his childhood will cause him to turn into his father. Even when he discovered that cycling helped keep the demons in check, he was still afraid that they signified a curse which doomed him to failure. Which is why when his daughter innocently asks if he can score 10 points in his crit season, he says yes, hoping it will help banish the demons and break the curse. So we follow Strickland as he turns himself inside out to score 10 points and save himself from the curse.

I love reading, but I prefer simple fare- I’m not interested in flowery writing or pages of descriptions or in deciphering clues hidden in words. There are a few exceptions and Strickland is one of them. His writing seems effortless and the beauty with which he describes even the simplest of actions amazes me. He finds ways to put words to emotions and feelings and internal experiences that can’t be put into words. I wanted to put an example here, but I realized that each sentence and paragraph is part of the whole. You know how they say the whole is the sum of its parts? To take a part out of context would, first, lessen the impact it would would have as part of the whole, and second, deny a new reader the joy of discovery how it all fit together.

Strickland also has a way of weaving a story together that makes me envious. Whenever I write, I obsess over organization and flow. Strickland’s stories of his past and present are woven together seamlessly, with the introduction of each past event flowing into the present event  it mirrors and influenced. In this way, we are allowed to discover alongside Strickland how what he experienced in the past shaped who he becomes in the present.

As someone who loves cycling, I thoroughly enjoyed how he described the racing. I’ve never raced, and probably never will, and it was fascinating to get a glimpse into the middle of the pack. It is in these sections where his descriptive abilities really come out. The jostling, the shouts, the fighting for position, the reading of the pack, the way breaks get away, the recovery after sprints- the narration of the races made me feel like I had actually been in a race. It is during these races where Strickland discovers new things about himself and using his skill with words, his self realizations are put onto paper.

I will admit that the parts I enjoyed most were not the racing bits- it was his interactions with his daughter and wife that drew me in the most. The presence of his family around him as he fights his demons and as he looks back into his past made his journey into himself all that more moving.

While this is a book about bike racing, it isn’t just about bike racing. In fact, it’s mostly about how a family needs all its members to survive. It’s about how the weakness of one can destroy it and the strength of another can save it. The bike just happens to be where discoveries himself and tries to rid himself of the curse of his childhood. Through his book we are allowed a glimpse into his life. We get to see how he is a good father, even though he thinks he’s not. We see how the childhood events of his wife’s life shape her family decisions. We are allowed a brief look into a marriage that has gone through fire and emerged even stronger. We see how the wisdom and innocence of a child can inspire and motivate the adults that surround them.

This is not an easy book to read- books that deal with child abuse never are. There were many times I had to put the book down and compose myself. But I had to finish it. I had to know how (if) he conquers his demons. This book is a moving look into how what doesn’t kill you really can make you stronger, but only if you’re willing to face it head on.

Re-finding Greatness

Another book review, you say? Well, I did do a lot of reading while I was home for Thanksgiving, because as you know, no TV! This was a book I started a bit ago, but got distracted by library books with deadlines on them.

Tour de Lance, by Bill Strickland, is a fabulous book that follows Lance Armstrong as he comes back to the sport in 2009 after a 4 year absence. Now, Strickland is quite a fan of Armstrong. He says so himself. But he’s not super keen to hear that Armstrong is coming back, as comebacks historically only serve to tarnish the legacy left behind from the first retirement. And, he was looking forward to a new generation of cycling stars! (such as, oh I don’t know, Alberto Contador!) Despite his trepidation at Armstrong’s un-retirement, he decides to chronicle Armstrong’s journey, as an outsider, as objectively as possible.

This is a great book for someone who’s new to the sport, just interested in learning more about how the Tour works, or looking for a different perspective on Armstrong. Unlike The Rider, it was written with cycling novices in mind, and there is a lot of explanation of race tactics, team tactics, race and team politics. However, as the book progresses further into 2009 Tour de France, there is a reflection of Strickland’s increasing  obsession with Armstrong’s success, as Strickland loses some threads started early in book. Not only is there less explanation and description of race tactics, stories of cancer survivors/fighters who relate to or are inspired by Armstrong are forgotten on the sidelines as well. Although I can’t say I minded losing that thread too much, as it doesn’t appeal to me, it is an important part of who Armstrong’s public persona, what he’s done, and the justification for his comeback. (btw, yeah right. He just missed racing- the cancer research and awareness mission was just a good cover. Not that I blame him. When you’ve been competitive since 15, you can’t just turn that off.)

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The Most Exciting Race You’ll Ever Read

I shall start by saying that I am an avid reader. I’m pretty sure this stems from the lack of TV in our house growing up – there wasn’t anything else to do except read! However, I am not used to reading books which require me to think too hard. I’m pretty sure this stems from wanting to read as fast as possible. I viewed every library/school reading incentive program as a competition with the winner (me) crushing the enemy under the sheer size of their reading list. (I was not unique in this respect – all of my siblings approached these incentive programs with the same no-mercy attitude.) Once I started reading The Rider by Tim Krabbé, I wasn’t sure how this “thinking” book would go down. However, the further I got into the book, the slower I read. I became more willing to take my time, as I realized it was a book best enjoyed at a slow pace.

For those who are unfamiliar with this book, Krabbé tells the story of a 137 km race over 140 pages. Krabbé (the author) recounts how Krabbé (the racer) really wants to win Tour de Mont Aigoual and spends the next 150 pages detailing every attack, every pedal stroke, every painful breath. While telling the story of the race, he deftly weaves in tales from his early career and the careers of champions past. I won’t dream of ruining the ending, but I will say I spent the last 100m as tense as I do while watching a sprint on TV!

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