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A Life in Sport

Written by John CaseyAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by John Casey

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On Sale: November 08, 2011
Pages: 256 | ISBN: 978-0-307-70135-0
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

PEN/ESPN Award Finalist

Spanning more than fifty years of ambitious and wild endeavors, Room for Improvement chronicles John Casey's most peculiar addiction, that of an adrenaline junky. Here we see Casey taking part in an Outward Bound course in Maine during the dead of winter; being pinned by a two-hundred-pound judo instructor; leading a lost couple on a yacht through the rocky waterways of Narragansett Bay by a simple rowboat; and completing--on his seventieth birthday--a 70K marathon of his own devising that included rowing, bicycling, skating, dog walking, and rollerblading. Be it a preoccupation with health or just an indomitably playful sense of adventure, John Casey's insatiable drive is an inspiration to us all

Excerpt

Cross-Country Skiing

Before I’d ever seen a cross-country ski I used to have a recurring dream. I was on some other planet. I slipped out of a dark city, through a gap in the force field, and into a meadow. My body was changing mysteriously. It was dawn. The sky was apple-green; the air felt like a silk shirt. I had to go somewhere far away. My body was changing so that I would be able to. It grew longer and lighter. I began to run, easily but with an astonishingly powerful spring. Air came into my lungs not only through my mouth but directly through the skin of my chest. It was like slaking a deep thirst. I came to a hill. I feared that would be the end of the magic, but the new power just coiled up tighter. It made me laugh. I breasted the hill and kept on, absorbing the silver air and discharging energy downward through my calves and forward from my brow and eyes. I was acutely conscious of the trees and rocks and the air and light, and how my motion was in rhythm with them. The purpose of the journey and what lay beyond the next hill changed from dream to dream, but the original sense of my body in motion was constant and recurring.

When I finally learned how to cross-country ski, I realized these dreams had been a foretaste of sensations obtainable here and now. It wasn’t like that at first, of course, nor is it like that every day now. But every so often I’m shot through with everything the dream foretold.

If you’ve ever had an affection for a canoe or a slender rowboat, taken pleasure in the elegance of the lines, the neat slice of the bow, the clean tuck of the stern, and felt a seed of superstition that a boat like that is sensate and likes moving through the water, then you may find a particular joy in cross-country skiing: once you begin to get the motion right, the kicking and gliding and riding the driving ski with your body weight floating over it, you may find that you have swallowed your boat whole, that you are your boat moving across a lake of still air and snow.

But even the first awkward runs can have grace. The first cross-country skis I got were sturdy wide clodhoppers, not the fragile and elegant ones I have now. I was living in Iowa, where there are still strips of virgin forest by rivers and among the few hard-to-till hills and gullies. I used to bundle up and shuffle along through an oak forest, innocent of technique and wax but happy to wander alone, puffing up clouds in the motionless subzero air. The third time I went out in this forest there was a foot of snow and more falling. I jogged and poled my way along an old logging road. I reached the top of a rise and started sliding down the other side, making no more noise than a sailboat slipping through flat water.

A red fox, beautifully furred, was sitting on a stump beside the road. His tail was wrapped around his hip and across his forepaws. I could see the particular hairs of his coat. He looked at me curiously as I drifted toward him. He wasn’t alarmed, I think because I wasn’t making any of the moves I should have been to be advancing on him. I slid closer, and he hopped down like a cat from a sofa. About ten yards in front of me. He loped down the road—fairly casually, considering he sank in the snow up to his shoulders at each bound. I tagged along, sliding downhill after him. After a hundred yards the fox glanced around. He looked concerned that I was still with him. He upped the pace. I poled a bit and scrunched down. He glanced around again, more puzzled than alarmed. He stepped to the side of the road and let me pass by. Our eyes met. The fox pricked his ears, but there was no noise. I ghosted on down the rest of the hill, my head turned back to watch him. He came into the middle of the road and watched me, his head cocked to one side.

Skin divers tell me that they are objects of curiosity to the fish down in that silent world.

There are still patches of dream landscape to glide into quietly: a coral reef, woods muffled in a foot of snow and more falling.


***


The next winter we were in Rhode Island in the cold stone cot- tage near Matunuck on the edge of a six- or seven-square-mile wedge of eerie second-growth woods (pine and rhododendron gone wild). The interior of the woods was dotted with glacial ponds and a few empty summerhouses. The only resemblance to Iowa was the snow, but that was wetter and coarser. But once I discovered klister waxes I was released into another winter solitude, richer for a forgotten graveyard and dilapi- dated stone sheep pens inaccessible to summer people because of the brambles and bull briar now snowed over. In November, before the snow, I’d got lost in these woods and spent part of a chilly night curled up in wet leaves. After it snowed, however,

I could go anywhere and be able to get home by following my tracks. I used to glide by the graveyard at dusk, the light more of a glow rising from the snow than falling from the sky. An owl sometimes followed me, winging from tree to tree, hoping to catch whatever rodent life I might scare up from underneath the snow. Once a partridge burst out of a drift at my feet, leaving a vapor trail of snow crystals hanging in front of me.
After a cold spell I was able to ski on Potter Pond, one of a series of salt ponds along the South County coast. The ice, covered with snow, was solid right up to where a narrow gut let the tide in crossways near the southern end. There the ice was suddenly cut off in a mile-long stroke as though by one slice of a knife. Going out at dusk again, I could glide right to the edge of the ice and stand quietly within twenty yards of Canada geese and black ducks paddling around in the dark seawater.

On Potter Pond part of the spell was skiing past the ghost of summer—boathouses, beached boats, and sections of dock. The neat gray-and-maroon or yellow-and-blue paint jobs, splotched with ice and blown snow, were all a shade more som- ber in the hard winter light.

On windy days I could take off my life jacket, hoist my parka on my ski poles, and sail downwind across the pond.


***

But to do it up right, you really have to go north. I began to intrude on friends in Amherst, Massachusetts, and Putney, Vermont. It was on one of these trips that I finally saw what real cross-country skiing is. Putney was a nest of good cross- country skiers, a number of them on the U.S. team. The Put- ney School kids were good too, since John Caldwell was the school coach as well as the Olympic coach at that time. There are miles and miles of trails laid out for training cross-country skiers—through birchwoods and pinewoods, hayfields, and apple orchards. It was in an apple orchard that I saw a skier skimming along, each stride extending his body easily and fluidly so that for a split second at the end of each kick his upper body seemed to be flying over his forward knee. This form of skiing is more graceful than skating (which it dis- tantly resembles), because the motions are larger and are con- centrated in straight lines. I wanted that motion; I could tell that it would feel good—even better than running or skating or rowing or swimming.
Unfortunately, the winter in Rhode Island turned to rain. I tried dreaming about how to do it right (which is how I learned to downhill-ski as a kid and, later, how to shoot pheas- ant. I’d try for a while, then watch it done right, then hook the two together in a dream lesson).

Having had an instructive dream or two, reread John Caldwell’s The New Cross-Country Ski Book, and jogged a bit, I entered the George Washington’s Birthday Race, a southern Vermont event. Eighteen kilometers (about eleven and a half miles) from Westminster West to Putney. A crowd of four hundred or so. One hundred seeded skiers (U.S. cross-country and biathlon team members as well as college racers) lined up ahead of the mob for the mass start. At the gun the crowd yelled a collective Comanche whoop and sprinted forward. Like the subway at rush hour but with everyone swinging ski poles. We swept up a hill, down again, funneled across a footbridge, and then up again. And up. I fell in behind a fellow who was striding along with style. Tried to catch his rhythm. By now the crowd was strung out in double file up and around the shoulder of a hill. It looked like a procession of medieval flagellants.

On and on. I saw, or rather dimly perceived through a pulsating pinkish haze, a sign beside the trail. The sign said “Kilometer 1.” I heard a far-off train whistle that turned out to be coming from my throat. But then, mysteriously, at kilo- meter four, it cleared up. I was skiing better than I ever had. There was a wide channel from my throat to the bottom of my lungs. The air tasted like sweet cold springwater. The birch trees were white again, the sky blue.

After the race (about an hour and a half for me) I stood for a while, bubbling with deep well-being. I felt like a potbelly stove—I was throwing off a shimmer of heat a foot in every direction. I skied back to the house where I was staying, two or three miles through the woods, still glowing with blood heat and drinking in gallons of air laced with pine trees and imminent snow.


***

Although it’s exciting to go to a big birthday party and have a number pinned on you and go sprinting off with a crowd and crash around the course faster than you normally would (or could), the keener and longer pleasures are solitary. There are, of course, bad days, both going out solo and going out racing. A bad day touring: packs of snowmobiles coming and going. Aside from their shrieking noise and their stink and juggernaut destruction of fences, saplings, and bird and animal life keeping warm under the snow, snowmobiles can wreck a trail for anything but another snowmobile. The engine heats up the snow. The snow refreezes into sheet ice. The next snowmobile along churns out ice chunks with its tank tread as though someone had stuck fifty cents in an ice machine. And it’s not just along a narrow swath on one side of the trail. Snowmo- biling for fun (I exclude practical use) is a herd sport, and snowmobile heaven is three abreast at full throttle. So you try to skate back home on the ice chunks, careen out of control, gouge your ski bottoms, hit a stone wall, and break a ski tip.

As for a bad day racing: even if you’ve got a piece of basic technique and some wind and muscle, there can still be a problem with snow and wax. When it’s cold it’s not too hard to recognize the snow type and the right basic wax. But when the snow gets wet and warm, it’s a mess. Even the Finnish and Swedish run out of words for it.

One time I raced in the Putney relays. A team had lost a man, and I hopped in out of the crowd. The snow was slush. The cognoscenti were discussing what kind of slush it was and were blowtorching on the esoteric once-a-year waxes: hard yellow, silver klister, and mixed secret ingredients. I smeared on purple klister (all I had). The label was ambiguously translated: “For changing conditions.” I got to the starting line just in time for the gun. I was dead last out of the gate, last up the hill, and last into the woods. Every time I kicked, my ski slipped backward. By the time I’d done my six-and-a- quarter-mile leg I’d raised blisters on my hands from poling. My clothes were soaked with three pounds of sweat. No quitting, because it was a relay. Near the finish there was a crowd lining the track, coming to see the hotshots. I approached this gauntlet of shame with my eyes fixed straight ahead, my cheeks burning. I slithered and lurched toward the tag line. A man pulled his wife back from crossing the track. She: “Oh, I thought they’d gone by hours ago.”

How did I preen myself into this? The day before, I’d done the same distance in slightly moist snow with some speed and, I thought, some style. I’d kicked and glided along in happy solitude, almost catching up to my phantom vision of how it’s done.

I tag my man. Strip off racing bib. Pull hat low over eyes. Cringing. Not one of the club, after all.

It becomes funny after a half hour. Although I can still work up a blush. And sometimes a gritty little desire to find another race, get the right wax, and whip someone’s ass.

I’ll dry out my peacock tail feathers some other way. Maybe a race on a dry day. Maybe. But the immediate solution is to go up to Burke Mountain and cruise around the trails. A frozen crust, not the most pleasant condition. The skis clatter over ruts, and the downhills are faster than normal. I take sev- eral nosedives at tight corners. But the wax holds somewhat up the rises. I feel better already. Halfway along the five-mile trail I come out into an open field. Across a broad valley there is a vast threatening horizon. The wind (I learn later) is blowing at almost fifty miles an hour. I can see the snow squalls coming for miles. A couple blow close by, blotting out the pine trees. A squall hits directly, and for an instant I’m breathing snow. It passes, but there’s no more sun, no shadow. The sky is a milky glow, the same color as the crust. The perspective from my eyes to my ski tips is whited out. The air catches the sky and snow color. As I move along it’s like floating inside a pearl. A little frightening.

Next day I sign up for a lesson. For a balm. The instruc- tor is a young college racer. It’s a bad icy day, but we have a good time. We switch the lead back and forth going around a trail so I can watch him do it right and he can see what I’m doing wrong. He allows as how my stride is pretty good (the balm), but if I’m interested in doing any racing—he pauses; I say, “Well, maybe”—then there are a few things. How to keep driving over bumps, up the rises, around turns. Also, my poles are too long, inhibiting me from getting low enough to balance forward over the driving knee. Ah. All good things to learn. Not just for speed but for the feel of it. We agree to meet at the next George Washington’s Birthday Race.

Back home to South Newfane, Vermont, where we’ve mi-grated for this winter. I ski out late in the day on an easy flat trail that skirts a brook. The water runs black down the mid- dle, dark green against the thick ice along the bank, and occa- sionally boils up in pale-green-and-white haystacks. I push hard across an open field and glide in for a rest in the shelter of the woods. The sun is going down. Two miles from home, but I feel very good. The back of my sweater, my wool hat, and my mustache are coated with the white frost of my sweat and breath. It has been a great pleasure. I wonder for a minute if some of my pleasure is sharpened because I’m afraid that these woods and fields, which should outlast me, will not. Maybe. But I felt the colors and shapes of trees in winter, the snow, and the air carrying the hard taste of the cold long before I learned to put all that in frames. And I’m sure that very early on I wondered how to travel into winter, how to enter it so that it all closed around me.

I think again of skin diving and coral reefs. I pull the ice off my mustache and knock the frost off my hat. I start home in the half-light. Going back in the tracks I’ve made, I feel a spurt of energy. I begin to stretch out. I pick up the tempo, balanc- ing out over the driving ski. I feel myself catching the phan- tom in front of me. It feels like the old recurring dream—as if the silver air is coming through the skin of my chest and energy is uncoiling down through my legs at each stride.
John Casey|Author Q&A

About John Casey

John Casey - Room for Improvement

Photo © Lynne Brubaker

John Casey was born in 1939 in Worcester, Massachusetts, and educated at Harvard College, Harvard Law School, and the University of Iowa. His novel Spartina won the National Book Award in 1989. He lives with his wife in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he is a professor of English literature at the University of Virginia.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with

John Casey
author of

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Notes on a Dozen Lifelong Sports


Q: Many people can exercise for one day or one week, or train for one race. But you write about participating in sports throughout your life—you even biked, rowed, and rollerbladed for 70 kilometers on your 70th birthday! What are some tools to help people stay fit for their whole lives, rather than for an isolated stint?

A:
There are lots of good reasons to exercise (health, vanity, sense of well-being, etc.) and some less obvious reasons (what you get to see in the woods or on a river), but I’m going to take your word “tools” literally. I’ve often been urged into doing things by tools. My old axe, newer splitting maul, cross-cut handsaw, pick & shovel call out—they practically sing that old Puritan hymn, “Come labor on! Who dares stand idle on the harvest plain...”

Q: How did you become interested in sports and the outdoors? Were you encouraged to participate in sports as a child?

A:
There was a lot of mens sana in corpore sano in schools and scouts, but even earlier in my large extended family. We Casey children often got parked with our Dudley relatives, mostly happily. But when I was very little (four or five) I was at my grandmother’s house in Hanover, New Hampshire. Lots of snow. She put me on a pair of old-fashioned skis and told me to shuffle my way to a nearby hill. If I got up it (and, presumably, down), I’d get supper. I fell in the front yard. I couldn’t get up. Ski poles and skis were in a tangle in the deep snow. I saw my grandmother pull back a curtain to peek. I thought, She’ll take pity on me. I waited. She out-waited me. Stern Yankee.

On the other hand my father couldn’t resist tap dancing wherever there was a hard floor, often singing “East Side, West Side” as he waltz-clogged. I’ve taken to doing that too.

There’s stern Yankee and there’s Irish exuberance. Both ways had an effect.

Q: You write about your Outward Bound solo (four days alone in the woods), “usually the nature of time is social. Measured by obligations to other people. Work. Lunch. Dinner. Who, when. Here the only events are sunrise, sunset, high tide, low tide.” In an age in which most people can’t go a day without a cell phone or a computer, what can we learn from this book about slowing down and appreciating what’s around us?

A:
My solo on a tiny island off the Maine coast was bliss. I got a little fancy writing that part; the Proust/Joyce contrast is okay, but it came from looking back. To put it more simply, when you’re alone for a good spell, it’s pleasant to find that you’re good company for yourself, your mind humming along companionably, but it’s better to find that WHERE you are is even better company. I loved every bit of that island. At high tide it wasn’t much bigger than a basketball court, but it got bigger the clearer my senses became.

The solo in a snow cave was up and down. Well, up/down/up. Nothing to do with the Maine woods in winter; I just happened to start thinking about something very sad. That ran its course. The snow and the trees came back. How many colors there are in the bark of a white birch. The young ones have a touch of rose.

Nothing urgent. That’s pretty much it. Nothing urgent.

Q: About your Outward Bound course on Hurricane Island, you write, “I think it a wise decision to provide the equipment there. Otherwise there would be some people showing up in hundred-dollar seagoing outfits and others showing up with see-through plastic galoshes that would dissolve the first time they touched a barnacle-covered rock.” Outside of Outward Bound, can athletics transgress class boundaries? Given how expensive it can be to play ice hockey, and how inexpensive it can be to play soccer, how do sports divide or unify us?

A:
Oh, don’t pick on ice hockey. Lots of kids in Canada and northern US start playing pick-up hockey on frozen ponds—no body-checking, no lifting. They move on to full-body hockey using Uncle Mike’s or cousin Pierre’s hand-me-down pads. Expensive? Polo. But back to Outward Bound: good call by OB to outfit everyone the same. And that’s not the only democratizing that goes on. In my two Outward-Bound courses it sooner or later became clear that we needed each other and that some people had a particular skills that came in handy or  virtues that served us all well. Didn’t always work out for every boat or group, but closer to the Sermon on the Mount than to Donald Trump.

Q: Competition and sports are so connected, yet you say, “Medals? Medals are for wind chimes. What you love is the gracefulness of rowing or paddling or skiing, to connect with the grace inherent in boats or skis, and the grace with which they move on water or snow,” and “there are many reasons to keep doing sports into middle and even old age—health, vanity, endorphins, adventure—but another good reason is a partner.” Throughout the book, you focus on the companionship more than competition. Why is it so important to focus on a partner instead of just focusing on winning?

A:
“Medals are for wind chimes.” That’s a smart-ass remark all by itself. It comes as half of a reflection on “indoor-rowing” competitions, the eco-puritan half of me that wishes that the rowing machines could at least be generating electricity. The whole truth is that there’ve been some medals that mean a lot. And I’m not downplaying competition. Being in a race has got me to do things I couldn’t have done otherwise.

I don’t think I focus on companionship OVER competition. As I got closer to the end of the book, companionship came into focus on its own. There are comments on coaches and comrades all along; I thought it was time to say how helpful it is to have friends who get you off your chair and out the door.

Q: You begin with a story called “I Got Fat in Law School.” Why did you choose to start with this one?

A:
Maybe I thought it made sense to start with a national problem. Listen to Michelle Obama; see the movie “Supersize Me”. Fat was a problem for me. Not so much after the age of 26. Sports and exercise, especially long-distance events, burn fat.

The old conventional wisdom was that since running a mile burns only 100 calories, you’d have to run 36 miles to lose a pound. But what makes exercise work to reduce fat is that there’s an after burn following exercise that goes on for an hour or more. And—further bonus—jogging a few miles cuts the appetite.

I don’t know if this is physiological or psychological, but I don’t crave fat food when I’m in training. Yes, food is wonderful. There’s a blessing I’ve heard of—I think it’s from a Pacific island: “Thank you, Great Spirit, for making food taste good when you didn’t have to.” Yes. I'd add, “Thank you, Lord, for giving us the urge to play games, to run and dance.”

Q: The title of another story, “Room for Improvement” is a quote from a distance runner who was rather rude to you after you completed a 50-mile run! Why did you choose this title?

A:
Yes, the distance runner WAS rude. So rude it embarrassed my student who was proud of and being nice to his old prof who’d at least completed the JFK 50 mile event in 10 hours and change. The distance runner was rude but right. And it was a swift incision. If he’d said,”Well, at least you finished”, it would have been worse—a considered combination of pity and condescension. On the whole I’d rather hear what’s on someone’s mind pop right out. If it has the rhythm of a punch line, someday it’ll be funny.

I’m glad I laughed at what the distance runner said. And I should thank him for giving me a title. Titles are hard. Though not as hard as comedy, so I should thank him for that too. Hey, distance runner, if you happen to read this, Thank you. “Room for Improvement” I hope conveys that there are as many prat falls as medals.

Q: There are many important survival tips in this book, including this one: “most [dangerous organisms] cam be killed by a ten-minute boil—up from the five-minute boil suggested in most survival manuals: the bacteria are getting hardier.” What are the most important things that people show know before embarking on a survival-style trip?

A:
All of the “survival” courses I’ve done have been carefully directed. The only time I had a problem was when I went into a mile-long cave under a large mountain. On the way back the amateur guide stopped in front of two shafts. He said, “I THINK  we should go left.” He pondered for far too long and then said, “No. Right. I’m pretty sure I remember...” It was fifty-fifty. Luckily right was right.

So the only tip I offer is be sure the people in charge are pros. An amateur once told me that it was safe to eat any fungus that grows on trees. I checked this with a professor of mycology. He said, “Oh my God no.”

Q: Tom “The Tracker” Brown is quite a character! In response to someone who says “that’s only a vulture,” Tom says, “Have you climbed up to look in a vulture’s nest and had one puke in your face? That’s what a vulture does. When you’ve had one puke in your face, then you can say ‘only a vulture.’” Who is the most interesting teacher or coach you’ve encountered?

A:
Tom “Tracker” Brown was like March—came in like a lion left like a lamb. Blustery, even scary at first but good with people who made an effort.

The best instructors I’ve had are those who first of all make the mechanics clear and simple. Then, once the basics are in place find a way to convey what it FEELS like to do it right. Brett, my old sculling coach and pal, said, “When you come forward on the recovery, don’t just push your arms. Imagine you’re a great blue heron spreading his wings for the next wing beat.” Another coach at a sculling camp said, “On the recovery you’re a ballerina. On the drive you’re a tiger.” Instructors of logic and rhetoric say, quite rightly, that analogies can’t prove a point. Good instructors, whether of javelin throwing, dance, sculling or any exercise in which form matters as much as power, know that analogies can MAKE a point.

But you ask for memorable. Here’s a bit of memorable. My high-school football team played Georgetown Prep, a Catholic school. Before the kick-off the coach got our defensive line together. We liked Snaky Graham; we knew he liked us. He knew football, but a few other things were vague. Our defensive line was Flynn, Lynn, Casey (Irish Catholics) and Ed Smith (southern Maryland Catholic). The climax of Snaky’s pep talk was,”AwRIGHT! Now go in and get those boys with the beads. Get those mackeral snappers!”

We linemen looked at each other for a second and agreed, without a word, to let it float. We put our paws together and growled our pre-game growl. We never told this to anyone, especially not to the art teacher who often made fun of Snaky. I haven’t thought of this for years. I’m cheered to think that teenage boys every once in a while do the right thing.

Q: You write “all of [Tom Brown’s] course’s survival techniques—how to get out of the woods alive—while potentially useful and compellingly ingenious, aren’t as important as the suggestions about how to get into the woods.” What do you mean by this?

A:
The first thing that occurs to most people when they hear “survival” is the scenario of getting lost, of getting stranded in a car in a blizzard or in the desert, a plane crash in the wilderness. All that is the scare, the stick so to speak, of why to learn how to make fire by the bow-drill method, how to make a debris shelter (good to 20 degrees below zero), how to suck water from a wild-grape vine or from an improvised solar still, how to trap small animals or kill them with a throwing stick. Fire, shelter, water, food—the basics of how to get out of the woods.

But the carrot of the carrot and stick is how much there is to see. How to get INTO  the woods. The unfocused, peripheral-vision lesson, the tracking and stalking—not just seeing but listening, smelling, tasting—lead to an enlargement of the senses, an enjoyment of the senses. These were good lessons for me in general.

And, by the way, they were more specifically useful when it came time to write scenes in Spartina and Compass Rose in which Elsie, a natural resources officer, discovers, interprets and marvels at what’s going on in the woods and marshes of Rhode Island. I had my own log books and memories, but the Tom-Brown sessions put a sharper edge on my attentiveness, made me more of a “sojourner in nature”. Elsie gets up to a lot of things, but losing herself in nature is her indisputably good side. Her twenty years of sojourning are distilled from my own more scattered half-century of wanderings.

Q: During your winter Outward Bound course, you write about “the day the toilet paper got wet and we had to use snowballs. (Not as bad as you’d expect.)” This book is much funnier than people might expect out of a sports memoir. Was this an intentional choice on your part?

A:
Oh yes, I remember snowballs instead of toilet paper. At the time they seemed a practical expedient, but in retrospect I saw an echo of Rabelais (see his discussion of alternatives to toilet paper or whatever folks in era were using). A snowball, I should add, is as good a wake-up as a cup of coffee.

Did I intend to be funny? I did indeed. Of the twenty-four chapters in Room for Improvement fifteen have something or several things that made early readers laugh. There are as many prat falls as medals, most of them my own but a few involving other people’s prats.

Q: What’s next for you?

A:
I’ve stopped asking college seniors “What are you doing next year?” because all too frequently their faces show anguish or terror. I do have a book of stories that will be part of the Rhode-Island trilogy, but they’re done and under contract. I also have a collection of essays, but they’re also finished except for the business of finding a home.

As for ”what’s next” for me in terms of putting pen to paper: anguish or terror.

Oh, there is a GLIMMER  of something. It could turn into a story...maybe a novel.

Or maybe a haiku.


For booking information:
Erica Hinsley / 212-572-2018 / ehinsley@randomhouse.com


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

"A wonderful match of subject and style . . . [Casey's] writing is simple and crisp. It holds the clarity of early morning." —The New York Times Book Review 

"He's a damned good writer . . . How many professor types do you reckon would tackle a 50-mile run along the Adirondack Trail or an 11-day winter-survival course in Main that included two nights along in a makeshift cave?" —Wall Street Journal

"There's a lot of humor in these essays, most of it good-naturedly aimed at Casey himself. But he's serious, too. Casey doesn't scold those of us who aren't as physically active as we used to be; rather, he entices us to consider getting moving again, preferably outside." —The Boston Globe

"Room for Improvement
is a marvel of closely observed mostly outdoor sport, much of it alarmingly strenuous, but colored throughout by infectious exuberance and tolerance for discomfort. With genteel detachment well to the rear, Casey brings us point blank to the levels of sporting commitment that rise to illumination." —Thomas McGuane


"In these empirical and informative essays, John Casey writes with the 'savor of attentiveness' about those peaks in cardiovascular exercise when we feel transformed—about being, as he puts it, 'encased in the rhythm of what I was doing.' Casey has walked, run, rowed, paddled, and cross-country skied. Not unlike those sports, these connected essays flow into one another, and they reflect more than an author's willingness to suffer 'a ruffled minor vanity'; not unlike the over-seventy athlete he is, John Casey's writing is exemplary and tireless." —John Irving
 

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