228: Designers Don't Read Books About Cycling

Have I made it apparent that I like books? Too much? Well, this one is about books as well. And if my calculations are correct (and I'm getting my calculations from Amazon) then today June 15th is the big day. Comic books used to come out on Tuesdays and I would run to the store to get them. Luckily, I am a bit more internet savvy these days, so I do not have to do any running.

I have been reading this book lately Designers Don't Read which I guess is mostly true, but it is probably because they are too hung up on the kerning of this, or whether all those text boxes line up or they have just been staring at the computer screen too long? (Joke)

Anyway, the book, by fellow Portland resident Austin Howe, is broken down into neat essays on various and sundry subjects. Each one of them has a title, but also a secondary header that is the minutes it takes to read the essay. I wonder how they came up with these numbers? The essays began as emails sent out to Howe's favorite designers around the country and ended up becoming this book. And most of them are really good. However, I keep coming back to one at the end. Admittedly, I've only read a few at the beginning and a few at the back. But the below snippet is something that I have been applying to everything that I have been seeing since reading it.

"Art" is the intersection of craft and self-awareness.

It works for everything. Literally. Let us say for a moment that bike racing is indeed Art. That at its highest levels these athletes are performing this insane balancing act that is the craft of their sport intermingled with the self awareness it takes to handle being at that level. But, I think that I will get back to that at some point in the near future.

Today, if it is indeed the 15th, would also happen to be the release date of Mr. Strickland's new book The Tour de Lance. And I think that the two books are related. Do yourself a favor cycling fans and get this book. Actually, get them both, support these literary arts.

I do not usually take notes when I read books. Sometimes, if I am feeling exceptionally rude, and only when I own the book myself, I will write something in the book itself. Or make a little dash or something to remind me later, when looking back through the book that there was something that caught my eye, held my interest for a minute longer, or stood out in the way that it was written. However, this time I kept notes. Furiously scribbled on an Ace Hotel Notepad, lining my own journal and even in the book, I took notes.

The tough thing about them is that my notes, especially if they are written in the height of passion, are almost totally illegible. They look sometimes like Ralph Steadman drawings without the lizards and dinosaurs. And at one point I wrote "FUCK YES" and circled that and drew and arrow towards something that looks like "Beelzebub is in the teamcar." Chew on that one for a minute. (That is not written anywhere in the book, I assure you.)

About a week before I received the book I got a call from Rich Bravo. Now, I don't know if you know this, because I give Rich Bravo a lot of shit, but, not only is he one of the smartest people I know, but he also knows his shit when it comes to books and literature...and writing...and the Classics (which is what he studied in College.)

"I'm reading Bill's new book." He says this to me in a fairly frank manner, maybe knowing that on the other side of the phone I'm clenching my fists in sheer jealousy, maybe not.

"Yeah? How is it?" I respond, obviously hiding my disappointment that I am not reading Bill's new book.

"Well, lets just put it this way, if Bill were a journalist in Vietnam instead of for Cycling and the Tour de France, he would win a Pulitzer for this." This statement coming from anyone else would make me laugh. "Tell me more." I say casually. "I don't know, you will have to read it, but I think what he does best, is not only make the subject accessible to everyone, but the insertion of his own personality into the story is so great that it gives it another dimension." DING — Intersection of Craft and Self-Awareness = Art.

The first weekend that I got the book I went for a long ride. It was sometime in March, but we had an unusually sunny and balmy day here in Portland. I had read the first few paragraphs of the book right before I left, standing awkwardly in the dining room of our house, probably making everyone else late in the process. These first few paragraphs (arguably the most important in the book) where he describes Armstrong's 2009 TT in Monaco at the start of the Tour de France would not leave me for the entirety of my ride.

And when I got home, stripped down to just bib shorts - their straps hanging down - and maybe one sock- and the same spot in the dining room is where I stood and finished the next few chapters.

It struck me a few days later that this book was going to mean something. That it would mean something more than a book about a Cancer survivor, or one of the greatest athletes ever to have lived, because at the base of it, really when he gets in and starts digging (by not digging) you will see that Lance has started to become human. That, as much as he works to fend it off, it still creeps in to everything that he does.

Now, I'm reading back over the last few paragraphs and I keep thinking "But you haven't said anything about the book." Like, an excerpt or something to really convince people that this really is the Bees Knees, as they say. I used a couple excerpts earlier this year, and that image of Menchov, the dying lion, is not one easily forgotten.

There is another one that I wrote down near the Menchov quote that was a such a good description of an exploding pack that I re-read it instantly. And have maybe thought of it a few times in races, whilst moving through a group of riders.

We drove up beside Morabito, the Swiss Astana rider. "We have to keep going," Craig said. We had to drive until we saw Lance. The gap to the break was down to 1:18. The pack seemed to be like a sack open on its downhill side and spilling out its contents as it got dragged upwards. We passed great great groups of riders, whose stench floated behind them...

It is these sweeping descriptions of the bike races that we (I) want to see and feel firsthand that make this account great. It is amazing to see the dirt under the fingernails of the riders (and writers), the gummy sharks that are the secret passage to the underworld that is professional cycling, and ultimately, the people surrounding the greatest cycling empire ever to have lived.

What I am really curious is to see what YOU think of the book.

Apparently, Mr. Armstrength himself was not fond of the book and his furrowed brow, as we all know, casts a wide net. Or however that phrase goes? I honestly kept a keen eye out for anything that could possibly harm the reputation of the golden child whilst reading.

The only thing that I could think that this book possibly does that would put a chink in the Armstrong armor? It makes him look human. And I think that is the one thing he is afraid of. Because, as soon as he's human, then he is just like the rest of us. And really? Who wants that?