Reading and riding notes

First about cycling: yesterday I went on a wonderful, epic bike ride with Hobgoblin and eight or so other people, up north into an area with all the hills and dirt roads you could want. All the hills and dirt roads you could want if you happen to be looking for those things, which, amazingly enough, I sort of am. Just to be clear — this wasn’t a mountain bike ride; instead, we were seeking out dirt roads to ride our road bikes on. I heard one person yell out “road bikes?!” in an amazed voice as he passed us in his car on a particularly nasty stretch.

The reason we were looking for such a course to ride on is this, the Tour of the Battenkill, a fairly well-known Pro/Am race that people travel from all over to compete in. It’s famous for being a brutal course — hilly, and with long sections of dirt roads. The race is this Saturday, and I’m a little frightened.

The ride yesterday was tons of fun, though; I love how after going over a horrifyingly frightening stretch with deep gullies and large chunks of gravel that send my wheels sliding all over the place, the regular sections of dirt roads with just plain old dirt come to seem easy. I was zipping down the hills at 20 mph or more, flying over potholes and feeling okay.

BUT, the forecast for the race this weekend calls for rain, both the day before and the day of the race. What will it be like to ride in mud? I’m frightened, as I said. Very frightened. I’ll let you know how it goes. Secretly, I’m hoping to come down with the flu or something between now and Saturday.

Now on to books: I’m happily in the middle of Jane Gardam’s 2004 novel Old Filth. A look at Wikipedia tells me this is her 23rd novel, after publishing her first in 1971, and she also has eleven collections of short stories. She is someone I wouldn’t have known about if it weren’t for blogging, though; I can add her to the long list of writers I’ve learned about that way. The term “Old Filth” refers to the main character, Sir Edward Feathers, who made up the acronym FILTH, which stands for “Failed in London, Try Hong Kong.” The novel is set in contemporary times, when Filth (as people consistently call him) is an old man. The present-day setting becomes a kind of frame narrative, as the novel takes us back in time to tell of Filth’s childhood and adulthood, spent partly in England and partly in Hong Kong. So far the story is interesting and well-told, and the writing is sharp and funny.

I picked this up after setting aside Rebecca Goldstein’s book 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, which sounded very interesting as an idea-driven, philosophical novel. The chapters are each named after an argument for the existence of God, and the story is about a psychology professor who unexpectedly finds himself famous after publishing a book on religion that hit a cultural nerve. All this sounded good, but after reading the first chapter, I wasn’t hugely impressed. The story and the main character didn’t captivate me, and I got a little worried looking at the 400 or so pages left to read. So back to the library it went. I do want to read some of Goldstein’s nonfiction, though; she has a book on the philosopher Spinoza that sounds interesting.


Filed under Books, Cycling, Fiction

15 responses to “Reading and riding notes

  1. I’d be scared of your impending race too! I wonder if riding in mud is like riding in wet snow and ice with your tires slipping and sliding all over except dirtier? Good luck!

    I’ve never heard of Filth before. It sounds good and I await your final verdict. And thanks for the warning about 36 Arguments. I’ve been eyeing it but now I think I will pass.


  2. bardiac

    Keep the rubber on the downside and the blood on the inside. I hope you have fun with the race (and that it doesn’t dare to rain on you!)


  3. Jane Gardam is prolific, but I’ve never heard of her before either. If the book finishes as it’s begun, I’ll definitely put it on my list.


  4. You’re really daring to ride a race like that (but the tee shirts are really cool!). Maybe the rain will wait a day? I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you! I’ve had several people recommend Old Filth to me, but every time I pick it up at the library I think I’m just not in the mood for it, so I look forward to hearing what you think!


  5. My main association with Spinoza is that Wodehouse’s Jeeves is always reading him, which in my mind makes him seem “fun!” and “fluffy!” Far from the truth, I’m sure. 🙂

    Good luck on your upcoming race!


  6. I wish you luck and a change in forecast for Saturday. Or for someone to loan you a cyclocross bike. 🙂 Please send iPhone photos so we can share in your misery/fun!

    Thank you for 1)admitting to using wikipedia. I do that for quick reference, but sometimes feel guilty, and 2)admitting to putting down a book after one chapter. I still have trouble giving up on books, but knowing you do that too makes it easier.


  7. Best of luck for your race (and fingers crossed for a dry ride). Sounds scary. As for old Filth, sounds intriguing. Let us know if it gets the thumbs up.


  8. Hope the race went well – nothing broken – nothing deflated – nothing rained on – nothing mud-bound! Post pictures if you had time to take any.


  9. Goldstein’s book on Spinoza is great…. here’s a post I wrote about it a couple of years back.

    Also, her novel The Mind-Body Problem is pretty good, I think, though her other fiction has not thrilled me so far.


  10. Before reading your post here, I haven’t heard of Jane Gardam. Thanks for introducing her. Old Filth sounds interesting to me mainly because of my Hong Kong connection. I was born there and spent my childhood and early teenage years there. From what I’d learned about colonial politics, this “Failed in London, try HK” axiom sounds so true.

    But your other book by R. Goldstein appeals to me even more. So you’d returned it after one argument…hmm… That stirs up my curiosity even more, Dorothy!


  11. Ooh scary race. Take very good care, Dorothy. I am a Jane Gardam fan, having read Bilgewater at 18 and plunging into the rest of her work. Haven’t read Filth yet although I own it (I keep saving it up).


  12. I’m sort of scared for your race, too! Be careful and take care…and, of course, let us know how it goes.


  13. Lots of luck with the race tomorrow. I could never, ever do that. I don’t like going down long hills on nice, smooth asphalt. Wouldn’t dream of doing so on muddy dirt roads (although I did all the time back when I was a “fearless” kid). I hadn’t heard of Jane Gardam, either, but that book sounds good (surprise, surprise). The other one would have caught my attention, too, but I’ll take your word for it that it isn’t worth it.


  14. Pingback: Recent Reading, Briefly: Mantel, Goldstein, Darwin » Novel Readings - Notes on Literature and Criticism

  15. Oh, who knew, I’m even further behind in commenting than I thought …

    Stefanie — as it turns out Old Filth wasn’t a favorite, but I think others might like it. As for the Goldstein, the same might be true, but I’d be hesitant to suggest it.

    Bardiac — thank goodness no rain. And all the blood stayed inside — excellent!

    Lilian — I didn’t feel that the book finished as it began, unfortunately.

    Danielle — funny you should mention those t-shirts, because I hardly ever wear them! (I mean the collection I have from doing races for a few years now.) But the Battenkill shirt is nice — too bad the most I will ever do with it is turn it into a bike-cleaning rag 🙂

    Emily — oh, funny, I didn’t know what about Jeeves. Yeah, “fun” and “fluffy” are not words I associated with Spinoza. I’ve read him I’m pretty sure, from I don’t remember a thing. I probably would have if he were really fluffy! 🙂

    Debby — well, we utterly failed when it comes to photos. We were too caught up in the event to think about pictures, I guess. And yes, I do rely on Wikipedia! I even tell my students it’s a good starting place — but not a good ending one.

    Pete — thanks! Only a mixed review on the Gardam, unfortunately, but if the subject matter appeals, you might give it a try anyway.

    Grad — the race went amazingly well, and we all came back with nothing broken and no accidents — excellent!

    Richard — I do want to get to her Spinoza book at some point. Thanks for the link.

    Arti — oh, I think you’d like Old Filth, then. There’s actually not much about Hong Kong directly in it, but it’s important in the novel anyway, as a shaping influence. I’d love to know what you think about Goldstein if you ever do pick her books up!

    Litlove — oh, interesting. Old Filth didn’t quite work for me, but I’m not really against reading her again, and it intrigues me that you enjoy her so much. I wouldn’t mind trying some of her earlier work.

    Courtney — everything turned out quite well — thank goodness! It’s wonderful to have it over.

    Pvreader (Emily) — while I was in the race I found myself taking the downhills much faster than I normally do. That race adrenaline kicked in big time, which was nice. I’m really not a very daring person at all!


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