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.