Bike maintenance and a reading slump

Let me just say that as much I love riding my bike, I do not love taking care of my bike. Cleaning it is always an ordeal, one that leaves me with cuts and scrapes on my hands and black grease under my fingernails (and often on my arms and legs as well). Tonight I needed to put two new tires on, and the whole thing was an utter failure. After some struggle I pried the tires off, put new tubes in, and pried the tires back on (and banged up my knuckles in the process). That was okay. But when I tried to pump up the tubes, they wouldn’t hold air. It turns out I punctured the tubes at some point while trying to get the tires on. In one case the tube got pinched, and in another some mysterious small, sharp metal object got in between the tire and tube and ruined everything. Sigh. Poor Hobgoblin got tired of listening to my complaints and curses and finally stepped in to finish up the job for me. Poor Muttboy was so stressed by the whole scene that he couldn’t eat his milkbone. I got grease on my jeans and on my t-shirt and had to scrub my arm so hard to get the grease off that I practically made myself bleed.

I should be better at this by now, but I’m just not.

I did go on a great 75-mile ride yesterday, however, with two other women on my racing team. We are well matched in terms of strength, and we had fun riding hard and enjoying the beautiful, sunny day. I have now made a good start on my summer cycling tan: I have an inch of burnt skin on my wrist, the part that’s exposed between my arm warmers and my cycling gloves. I also have about five inches of tanned skin on the lower part of my calves and shins, the part that’s between my knee warmers and my socks. I’m working on a pretty sharp line on my arms below my shoulders as well. I’m ready for the beach, right?

As for reading, it’s been up and down. I finished Jane Gardam’s novel Old Filth and was disappointed. When I last wrote about it here, I was enjoying it a lot, but immediately after I wrote that post, I hit a section where there were a number of odd coincidences, the plot took a turn I didn’t like, and all the sudden the characters felt unfamiliar. I never quite recovered after that. I was knocked out of the world of the book, all the sudden wondering whether I was reading it properly. The story just didn’t ring true to me anymore.

That said, though, the premise of the book is very interesting, and I’m guessing not everyone will have the reaction I had above. The novel deals with the vestiges of British colonialism, telling the story of a young boy growing up in Malay and left to the “natives” for his upbringing. His mother died shortly after giving birth and his father did his best to lose himself in his work, so it was only his aunt who paid him any attention. Eventually he was sent off to England to be raised by strangers, unfortunately, as it turns out, cruel and abusive ones, and after that he went to boarding school. It’s an absolutely awful childhood, one full of neglect and abuse. It seems like a fairly common one, however, since many British children growing up in the colonies were sent back to England by their parents who hoped they could get a good education and learn how to be properly English.

The main character, Edward Feathers, grows up to become a lawyer and then a judge, working for a while in Hong Kong (hence the “FILTH” acronym: Failed in London, Try Hong Kong), and then retiring in England, which is where we meet him. The present-day action of the novel takes place during Edward’s retirement, with lengthy flashbacks to his younger years. Gradually, we discover the full extent of everything that happened to him.

I liked the back-and-forth narration (in fact, it’s when the novel paused for a lengthy period in the present day that it started to falter), the gradual revelation of Edward’s life story, and the glimpse the novel gives into colonial culture. I just wish the narrative pacing had been better and that the characters had remained convincing throughout.

Because I seemed to be having a hard time with literary fiction (Old Filth and Vertigo leaving me underwhelmed), I decided to try a mystery novel and picked up Elizabeth George’s Payment in Blood. I did much better with that one, enjoying it a lot. Then this afternoon I just finished Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which I surprised myself by totally loving. At this point, I’m hoping I’m out of the short reading slump I was in, and now I have the fun of choosing something new.

11 Comments

Filed under Books, Cycling, Fiction

11 responses to “Bike maintenance and a reading slump

  1. My feminist side has always loved the theoretical idea of being the kind of woman who is very able & knowledgeable about car/bike/utility repair, dives right in & gets the job done…but sadly, I am not. At least I’m not alone.

    Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a classic! It keeps coming up in conversation but my partner has never read it & I hurry to shush people so they don’t give away the twist ending. This cannot continue forever, so I hope he reads it one of these days.

  2. I would have having to maintain a bike – I grumble at having to put petrol in the car! So I am most impressed that you even make such determined attempts. And yay for Agatha Christie! She often gets me out of a reading slump. It’s such a pleasure, though, when a book, whatever it may be, suddenly fires your mind after a sluggish stretch of books that don’t quite make it.

  3. Sometimes mysteries are just what you need to regain a love of reading. I’m not sure what it is about them that helps, but it works most of the time.

  4. Your bike maintenance “fun” is exactly why I am very willing to pay the co-op bike shop folk to take care of my bike for me. Too bad Old Filth didn’t end up as promising as it began.

  5. Sometimes the best way to get out of a reading slump is to start and finish something new! It seems counterintuitive to just read more, but I have found it can work. And reading something that’s fun and fast never hurts either! I’ve not read that Christie, but I’ve heard about it and know it’s a good one!

  6. I really liked that particular Agatha Christie, too. I think a French academic/critic wrote a book pinning the murder on someone else based on the clues, which I have always thought would be interesting to read. Too bad about Old Filth–now that I actually know what it is about it appeals to me even more, though it sounds like the switching back and forth might be too jarring. Have fun choosing a new book to read!

  7. I really want to get a bike this summer but I honestly can’t imagine that I’ll be good about the maintenance part of it. I guess I need to read up on some of those bike maintenance books my husband has. Ugh.

    I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Wasn’t it great? Loved it. I’m slowly working my way through the Elizabeth George mysteries and am enjoying those too. I just hope our next Slaves read isn’t as “hard” as the other ones have been for me otherwise I’m going to lose my membership in the group – haha…

  8. Emily — oh, I know just what you mean. I’ve tried with the bike maintenance stuff — I’ve even taken a class in bike repair — but it just doesn’t stick in my brain, and I just don’t have the right touch. AND it’s all-too-convenient to have Hobgoblin around, even though I share your feminist side and want to be more self-sufficient. I keep hoping I’m slowly getting better … and yes, nobody should hear about the ending of Roger Ackroyd ahead of time — that would ruin the thing entirely!

    Litlove — it’s pride that makes me try with the bike maintenance stuff — I’m surrounded by such capable bike mechanics, and it’s embarrassing how bad I am! But really, I do hate it, as I hate all regular maintenance-type jobs. Oh, well. I’m very glad to have Christie back on my list of writers to read in a slump — that’s a great list to have, right?

    Jodie — I think you are right. They are just so satisfying, and you know just what to expect — there is much less chance for disappointment than there usually is.

    Stefanie — my bike shop is a mere mile away, but as I said to Litlove, I can’t bear to go in there for the more basic maintenance things, because I would get laughed at (not in a mean way, but still). So poor Hobgoblin has to pay the price sometimes, unfortunately :)

    Steph — you are right, and I completely agree about the fun and fast part — it’s too daunting while in a reading slump to take a risk, so short books are perfect. I definitely recommend the Christie!

    Danielle — oh, interesting! I’ve love to read about the alternative solution. I hope I come across it at some point. About Old Filth, I’d still recommend it to people if the subject matter sounds interesting — others might not have the same reaction I did.

    Iliana — well, I’m sure your local bike shop wouldn’t mind the business if you took your bike there for maintenance! I hate the thought of reading bike manuals — I wouldn’t learn a thing from them, I’m sure. I do think the next Slaves book will be easier, but you will never lose your “membership” of course!

  9. I admire you for doing as much work as you do/tried to do on your bike. I tried to learn to change a flat but even SOC admits that my tubes? tires? are really stiff and difficult. Or maybe that’s the valve thingy? I forget. Anyway, I allow his enthusiasm for bike maintenance to spill over to my trusty steed. :) I did change the batteries in my bike computer all by myself, which is harder than you would think, so I feel proud of that at least.

    Jodie is right — there is something about mysteries that helps you regain your footing when you hit a reading slump. Glad you liked the Agatha Christie; I still think she’s the best. The Sleeping Murder (with Miss Marple) was another really good title of hers.

  10. I never even though of bike maintenance as a necessary part of riding. (I guess it shows I walk more than ride!) Rather like horse grooming and shoveling out manure?

  11. Years ago, I bought a bike manual, determined I was going to take care of my own bike. God knows whatever happened to it. Like Emily, I am a theoretical “self-sufficient mechanic,” but, really, if I can afford to pay someone else to do that stuff, why not? So, there we have it: I’m both a sexist and an imperialist when it comes to mechanics.

    I haven’t yet finished Akroyd but am getting close. I like it so far. I thought Poirot, in reading of him at this point in my life, would seem more pompous than he is.

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