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Cycling; Second-person Narration

October 21, 2011 | by

I love both reading and cycling. Can you recommend some great titles? —Monica

To answer this one, I consulted our resident cyclist, Peter Conroy. And did he deliver! Says Peter:

With respect to the classics, the discussion has to start with Tim Krabbe’s The Rider, a fictionalized account of a one-day amateur race in 1978. Brutish and beautiful, this is required reading for anyone who’s ever wanted to go faster. Daniel Coyle’s Lance Armstrongs War is a fascinating tour through the bizarre world of pro cycling in the aughts and a great portrait of the man who systematically dominated its hardest race from 1999 to 2005. More recently, Timm Kolln’s The Peloton is a stunning collection of photos and remarkably candid interviews with a generation of professional racers.

I feel I’m the lone standout in my book club of highly educated, highly literary, middle-aged ladies. I never took a literature class in college, and I like a good page-turner with a bit of plot and action. I also believe a good read doesn’t, by definition, leave its reader utterly depressed! So far, judging by the other members’ selections, it seems that I’m the only one who feels this way. It’s my turn to pick a book. Can you suggest something that will please us all?

The divide between “literary fiction” and “good reads” isn’t as stark as it sometimes seems—recent Booker controversies to the contrary! You have loads of options. After all, who doesn’t love a page-turner now and then? You don’t mention whether your book club is geared more toward new fiction or classics, but if you can take the latter route, you can’t go wrong with Dickens. Have you read Bleak House? A few newer titles that spring to mind: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Never Let Me Go, The Magician’s Assistant, and—while it may seem intimidating on the face of it—Infinite Jest. All a pleasure to read with plenty of fodder for discussion.

In this magazine, Gore Vidal once said, “The second person certainly holds few charms.” What is your opinion of second-person narration?

Tricky. I think the great second-person book list may begin and end with Absalom, Absalom! That said, I’m willing to hear a case made for Bright Lights, Big City.

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  1. Matt | October 21, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Great to see this review! Les Nomades du Velo Angelis (In Pursuit of Stardom) by Tony Hewson and Le Metier by Michael Barry are great reads too.

  2. brady | October 21, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Not a book, I guess, but Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” deserves mention in any discussion of the 2nd person.

  3. Sadie Stein | October 21, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    @Brady and @Matt — Thanks! These are great. Can’t believe I neglected “Girl”…

  4. Anne | October 21, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    For the lone standout in the book club: I would try David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, if you haven’t already.

  5. Rocky | October 21, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    For the cycler, Mike Magnuson’s HEFT ON WHEELS is also good.

  6. TSB | October 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    “Karoo,” does not have a bicycle in it. However its author, Steve Tesich, wrote one of the great bicycle movies, “Breaking Away.” “Karoo” is a book about making movies, in part, and as such, like a bike rider in training, there is a lot of spinning wheels while going nowhere. But man, is it funny and dark.

  7. NRH | October 21, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    As per second person there’s always Michel Butor’s “La Modification,” not his best work but it does hold up surprisingly well.

  8. Malcolm | October 21, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    French writer Paul Fournel’s ‘Need for the Bike’ is my favourite cycling book. A cleanly written collection of anecdotes and observations, you can open it anywhere and read something that will make you want to ride.
    The two photo books by velo press on Paris Roubaix and the classics are great books on racing.

  9. John P. | October 22, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Julian Barnes has a wonderful cycling short story; can’t remember the title, I’m afraid.

    Luigi Meneghello’s “Deliver Us,” a recent translation from Northwestern Univ. Press, isn’t about cycling alone, but it has some great bike-racing scenes. It’s also an excellent book overall.

  10. David Smith | October 22, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    I wouldn’t recommend cycling and reading at the same time! But seriously, great article.

  11. CB | October 23, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    The Virgin Suicides for 2nd person narration!

  12. CB | October 23, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Sorry – Virgin Suicides is first person plural – still, a wonderful book. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Calvino is partly 2nd person and also wonderful.

  13. Wihl | October 24, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    For the cyclist: The Supermale by Alfred Jarry

  14. Lauren | October 24, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    For the cyclist: David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries.

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