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Quick Hits: Books on Nutrition & Fitness

The Strength Training Anatomy Workout, by Frederic Delavier, follows in the steps of his million-copy-selling Strength Training Anatomy. Hundreds of photographs clearly displaying proper exercise form are standard procedure in books of this sort; what sets Delavier apart is his writing. He’s concise, and goes into depth about why this or that protocol works for some and may not for you. Theory and gym mythology are tackled. Meatheads, personal trainers and serious athletes alike will find much to learn and enjoy in this book. (Human Kinetics, trade paperback, $21.95)  

Body by Design trades upon the needs of people to have structure and direction in their fitness life. Author Kris Gethin, Editor-in-Chief of, is knowledgeable and has created a blueprint for fitness and health that will work for many. I’m dubious of 12-week transformation programs; in the short-term of course it will effect bodyfat loss and lean tissue gains, but whether this hardcover book will help push someone into lifestyle changes is my question. I feel Gethin presents this book as the answer to many people’s fitness problems. He utilizes motivation to help people learn, that's important, but how to get it from a book into someone’s life? (Touchstone, hardcover, $24.99)

How many books need to exist showing people sitting in leg extension machines? I was quickly bored with Men’s Body Sculpting. C’mon, two photos of a guy sitting in a chair doing dumbell curls, taking up most of an entire page? (Human Kinetics, $19.95)

 I enjoyed Abs Revealed more than anticipated; Jonathan Ross displays many exercises using TRX straps, and he emphasizes that visible abs and a sculpted mid-section only come about from training the entire body. Great advice, and I learned a few tricks from his exercises with straps. Ross isn’t a fan of weight belts, either, yet another reason to like the guy. His basic nutritional chapter will be old hat to most athletes approaching a defined mid-section, but everyone adds it to each book, so it must be some kinda publishing rule. Nicely done. (Human Kinetics, $19.95)

Return To Fitness by Bill Katovsky captivated me. He’s a guy who’s edited triathlon magazines, been in world-class shape, then ruined himself for a few years with lifestyle decisions. A number of years ago he awoke and determined he’d better get his butt back into condition or his life was going to be short and ugly, and he did so. Coauthor of Bike For Life, another favorite of mine, his viewpoints and writing resonate with me. Not just because I’m over 50; who cannot relate to getting back in shape after injury, illness or prolonged inactivity, as he puts it?

Opening Return to Fitness randomly I find myself engrossed; the interview with Ed Coyle, Director of the Human Performance Lab, is great, for example. Discussions of Lance Armstrong’s heart and how he changed the composition of his muscle fibers gives a backstage peek at the training methods of one of the world’s greatest athletes, and Coyle was there. This is only one example of many in the book - Katovsky channels his experiences into life, which forms the core. Passion pervades the pages of Return to Fitness. (DaCapo, $16.95)

Stretching isn’t one of my strong suits, and not often a part of my workouts. Over the years people have told me this is a problem, but others I respect have said controlled weight-training is stretching, as long as full range of motion is utilized. I doubt there is a single, always-correct answer to whether people should stretch.

Jay Blahnik makes a good case for it with Full-Body Flexibility, a round-up of every stretch (175!) I can imagine. Included are many multiregion moves, something I appreciate more as I get older. My favorite aspect is how each photograph of a position is accompanied by brief instructions concerning what one should and shouldn’t do. Without a coach giving verbal prompts and touches, this book is much more useful with these instructions. (Human Kinetics, $19.95)

What foods and supplements to jam into your body before, during and after workouts and competition is one of the most common conversational topics between athletes. Bodybuilders embrace different protocols than endurance athletes, for example. Runners and cyclists, though both exercising for long periods, often eat and drink wildly differently. Whether there is even a correct answer for any athlete is the question pondered by Heidi Skolnik and Andrea Chernus in Nutrient Timing for Peak Performance. 

I consider this a reference book; that’s how much I value what’s on the pages. Whether determining one’s Basil Metabolic Rate, or trying to determine how much dietary fat to consume before and after endurance workouts, or presenting meal plans based on various calorie protocols and types of activities, the authors keep me reading. Even after decades of absorbing everything I can about food and exercise, Nutrient Timing for Peak Performance educates while keeping me interested. How’s that for a combination? (Human Kinetics, $17.95)



Radiohead Continues On Their Own Path

I’ve experienced some cool things while listening to Radiohead, notably on bicycle rides. Go fast and get into the flow with Radiohead under headphones, and not only do miles go by, but I’ve felt like I was floating and pedaling effortlessly. Spacy and a bit scary.

With the announcement of their upcoming new collection of music (to be released this Saturday), only hours after the Grammy Awards ended, Radiohead stays on course, thumbing their noses at the music industry. Nobody can imagine Thom Yorke and band showing up or performing at that event, it's inconceivable, but they trumped the telecast by announcing King of Limbs. And giving the world less than a week to get excited and anticipatory about it. When has a major musical act announced a new project of such magnitude with so little notice? I love it

King of Limbs hits the world Saturday morning via the Radiohead website, a digital download starting at only $9.00. Coming May 9 will be what the band refers to as “the newspaper album,” a $48.00 package composed of two 10-inch vinyl records, a compact disc, and a whole bunch of sheets of artwork, supposedly 625 very small pieces of artwork, and some type of full-color plastic thing to store all of King of Limbs in.

$9.00 is about what one would pay for this album via iTunes.  If you only want the music, why not buy directly from the band? And collectors or those looking for higher sound quality, rejoice, ‘cause the “newspaper album” project sounds like a treasure chest of Radiohead memorabilia. 

Keep shaking it up, Radiohead.


National Lampoon Was The Best...

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead - The Writers and Artists Who Made the National Lampoon Insanely Great by Rick Meyerowitz  $40 oversize hardcover, Abrams

Anyone reading my reviews and website who is unaware of The National Lampoon probably found their way here accidentally. So forgive me for skipping a brief introduction to the seminal humor magazine founded in 1970. Google it and read all about it.

Better yet, get your hands on this book and allow it all to wash over you. From marvelous parody covers to an endless line-up of cartoons, photos and articles your brain slotted into some far-away compartment, if you’re old enough to have been post-puberty in the ‘70s or ‘80s, you’ll likely have fond memories of much of this. Turn a page, smile and remember.

National Lampoon was sharp; cutting edge before that expression became tired. Imagine The Onion without this magazine having come first. I cannot. Would Saturday NIght Live have become the cultural lightning rod it’s been, without this magazine influencing the original cast? I doubt it. I’m not certain it would even exist.

Graphically, this book is simple and effective, utilizing the large pages to full effect. I cannot even begin to do justice to how important National Lampoon was to us in the glorious first two decade’s of this magazine’s life; if you ever purchased more than one copy of the magazine, you’ll fall into the pages of this wonderful volume.


Are Comic Books Dangerous?

The Ten-Cent Plague (The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America) by David Hajdu, Pacador, $26 hardcover

X’ed Out by Charles Burns, $19.95, Pantheon oversize hardcover

The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You To Read! compiled by Jim Trombetta, $29.95, Abrams oversize hardcover

Try casually leaving these three books on your coffee table to see how visitors respond. If they are unaware of your interest in the graphic storytelling medium, they may be surprised or shocked. You might be able to turn that into an opportunity to show them how cool comics can be, are today, and how feared and poorly thought of they were, in our lifetimes (at least in mine, and in yours if you were alive in the 1950s).

When I was a kid I was well aware that most adults thought of comic books as trash. My grandparents callously referred to them as “funny books” and would throw them away if they found 'em lying around; my poor uncle was continually hiding his Marvel Comics, as in the early ‘60s even those innocent comics were thought of as subversive by the older generations (of course, we kept our paperback James Bond novels in hiding places, as well). 

To commemorate my birth, the government held televised hearings in 1954 investigating juvenile delinquency. Among the issues they felt were tearing apart the fabric of society were comic books, notably those dangerous, anti-everything-right horror comics. So of course they banned horror comics, overnight “disappearing” them from the drugstores and newsstands where days earlier they had commanded a colorful presence. Trombetta’s collection utilizes a tasteful combination of graphics and layout to showcase entire comics from this time, along with their covers, presented to evoke the feel of the time. His commentaries are wise and funny, and I enjoy them enough to warp the cliche and tell you they are “almost worth the price of admission). 

Included is a DVD presenting the long-unseen, legendary documentary Confidential File from 1955. Senator Estes Kefauver and comic book artist Ellis Eringer are featured. Priceless. You've never seen this before.

Charles Burns would have been run out of the United States on a rail if he’d been working as an artist in the 1950s, so we’re fortunate he grew up in Seattle in the 1970s. X’ed Out is the initial offering in a series, and it’ll make you itch and think and wonder, and possibly uncomfortable. That’s Charles Burns in a nutshell.

Burns’ artwork is meticulous and deep; I find myself going back and forth through the pages after my first read-through, noticing additional elements of interest. Think of peeling an onion and revealing more with each layer. Unlike an onion, your eyes won’t weep, only your brain and imagination.

Keeping with the theme of discord between the young and their parents is The Ten-Cent Plague. David Hajdu’s book is a superb page-turner, similar to a crime thriller novel of today, chronicling the popular culture world of the 1940s and ‘50s as lived by kids and teenagers through comic books. To think that rock’n’roll performers in the mid-‘60s thought they’d invented the generation gap...

Comics were taken from kids and burned; upright society was aghast at the damage these dime-trash-comics were doing to kids, and how subversive Bill Gaines (E.C. Comics) and the other publishers clearly were about all things proper. Author Hajdu performs admirably telling the story with imagination and verve. And what could be better than having Charles Burns create a cover for this book? What a package... what an era.


Keith Richards Lives Life with Passion!

Life by Keith Richards

hardcover, $29.99, Little, Brown & Co.

Life by Keith Richards is as fine a music biography as I’ve read in my life.

Does it sound like I’m exaggerating? I’m not. Am I a Keith Richards fan? Absolutely. Have I read thousands of popular music books in my lifetime? Yes. I’ve written about hundreds of them, I’ve bought and sold additional thousands. I’m telling you plain and simple that Richards gets it right with his autobiography, Life.

Years ago, in a review published somewhere, I described Keith Richards onstage as a living musical note. When I saw the Stones live, Keith rambled onstage playing “Not Fade Away,” and I was briefly overcome and burst into tears! As an adult. 

Yeah, the guy epitomizes rock’n’roll for me, but who knew he could write? I know this is a reviewer’s cliche now, but who would have even figured he’d remember the stories?

I was a record collector from the dawn of the early ‘60s, and spent most of my 25 years in the publishing business immersed in that world (Cowabunga, Goldmine, Baby Boomer Collectibles, Zig Zag, Trouser Press, Discoveries). I’ve spent thousands of hours in hundreds of record stores, bookshops, second-hand emporiums, and at record shows across the country. Reading Keith Richards describe the English record collecting scene of the early ‘60s, when they were discovering American blues music and performers, is priceless and sounds so right. 

He reminisces about spending a year with Mick Jagger, record hunting. Richards’ memories of these strange guys (it was always men, rarely women, in the States too) coming together with music as their common ground rings true. I well remember, a decade later, hearing rumors of this or that record, or that perhaps this ‘50s C&W performer did a great rock’n’roll 45 early in their career, usually on some phantom label, but nobody knew for certain ‘cause none of us owned he record! 

This is a different time; people had to locate a physical copy of an obscure record to know what it sounded like! There was no iTunes, no internet, no downloading. Collectors and dealers alike played all the records to find the good ones! Why do you think dealers and collectors carried little plastic battery-powered record players all the time?

Keith experienced the same thing, living in England trying to learn about American blues performers in the early ‘60s. When he describes individuals as having the largest blues record collection in London, and discusses matrix numbers, I’m blown away. Original pressings, original labels, first pressings... wow, this is the backdrop to years of my life. 

Keith says, “For better or worse it was their passion... And it certainly was mine too... That’s what we lived for, basically.”

 Richards goes on to talk about searching for the right sounds. He didn’t care about labels, about what “type” of music something supposedly was. If it was pop and it was great, it was terrific. He described it this way:

“I was looking for the core of it – the expression. It’s not something you take in in the had, it’s something you take in in the gut. It’s beyond the matter of the musicality of it, which is very variable and flexible.”“I was looking for the core of it – the expression. It’s not something you take in in the had, it’s something you take in in the gut. It’s beyond the matter of the musicality of it, which is very variable and flexible.”

Passion, that’s what Keith Richards the young record collector and aspiring musician was searching for. And it’s what he brings to bear so heavily with the Rolling Stones and every other musical project he’s been involved in. It’s all about the passion, his feelings for music. That’s what I’ve always heard and felt resonated from within him.

Flash forward decades through the history of the Rolling Stones, Richards’ life and women and drugs and music. You’ll read more than 500 pages, and wish it was 5,000. Go slowly and relish how honestly Keith Richards is about his life, his relationships, and his music. Forget the crap you’ve read about he and Mick Jagger, and pay attention to the real gen here. 

I was impressed when the Keith of today comes forth with health and wellness advice; it’s wonderful and spot on:

“You’ve got to hit it when you’re hungry. We’ve been trained from babyhood to have three square meals a day, the full factor-industrial revolution idea of how you’re supposed to eat. .... It’s very bad for you to stuff all that crap in at once. Better to have a bit here, a mouthful there, every few hours a bit or two. The human body can deal with it better than shoving a whole load of crap down your gob in an hour.”

I love it! Proper dietary advice from Keith Richards. He’s right, and I am astounded to have read it in Life.

Rather than go on and on, just get your hands on this fine book and read it. The version from features Johnny Depp reading the first and last portions of Life, with someone else handling the biggest portion in the middle, if you would prefer to listen rather than hold this heavy hardcover on your lap. Download to your Kindle or iPad, I don’t care, but get involved with Keith Richards’ Life.