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.