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Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder Paperback – August 1, 1992
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From Publishers Weekly
Fussell, who took up bodybuilding after attending Oxford, tells his story and examines the diets, drugs and dedication that drive the bodybuilding world. Enjoyable reading.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
YA-- Teenage boys who a generation ago would have answered Charles Atlas ads will be attracted to this book about Fussell's own immersion program in bodybuilding. He is an Oxford honors graduate in English language and literature and writes engagingly about what drew him into the subculture of gym life. He includes the reaction of his bewildered parents and describes the assortment of gym habitues who befriended him. This is no George Plimpton inside glimpse--the author lived the bodybuilding life full-time for four years, and he shares with his readers that life of mind-numbing exercises, fistfuls of vitamins, and steroid injections. This is destined to be a cult book that will survive because of its humor, its truth, and its fine writing. --Judy McAloon, Richard Byrd Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Regardless of your opinion of bodybuilding, reading an account such as this will evoke respect for the participants. Despite the drug use and abuse, the seedy underbelly of the gym life and the massive ego required to focus every waking hour upon your physical appearance - they do work incredibly hard to achieve what they do.
As a fat kid growing up, I used to buy Muscle & Fitness Magazine from the corner market. I was always a little embarrassed doing so because my physique was so far from those on the cover. When I was 11 years old I met Arnold and he autographed the cover of my M&F. I was hooked. at the age of 13 I began lifting weights in my basement- like so many boys my age - plastic weights my father filled with sand. The focus, of course, was on bench presses and curls (for the curls).
I continued to lift for sports through high school, but didn't become hardcore until college. That's when I decided I wanted to get huge and ripped. I devoted every waking hour to a regimen of lifting, resting, eating and a laundry list of supplements (I believed the magazines - had no idea about steroids). I killed myself for nearly two nears with some good results, however, I noticed one significant problem: the better shape I was in, and the closer I stuck to my schedule, the more miserable I felt. I was doing nothing except thinking about my physique or acting on those thoughts. Nothing and no one else existed. I didn't go out with my friends (those I still had) or do anything that might disrupt my diet or schedule (no ball games or concerts).
Around year two I had a come-to-Jesus moment. Realizing that my pursuit of the perfect physique had become a slavery of my own creation, I decided to abandon my quest. It was this experience that helped my truly connect with the story told by Mr. Fussell.
The desire to put on a suit of muscle to create a barrier between oneself and the world. To be invested in a culture and a group of peers with whom you literally sweat and bleed (and sometime throw up). To be so singular in your devotion to something - over which you have complete control - offers a tremendous sense of peace and purpose in a world that seems out of control.
Ultimately, it ends, for many, with the realization that this is a highly narcissistic and fruitless endeavor. The benefits are minimal - the cost considerable. The rigor required limits your life in a number or ways, the food and supplements cripple you pocket book and the payoff is for your ego alone - the belief that having the largest bicep makes your superior in some way. It is a shallow and selfish and extreme lifestyle choice, one the Fussell walked away from and never returned.
I've never been a bodybuilder, and my own fitness levels have waxed and waned over the years, but I did go through a period where I got hooked on going to the gym and strove to lift heavier and heavier weights. My motivation, like most others, was the knowledge that I should be fitter than I was, but I did see the powerlifters and bodybuilders who strove for something beyond mere fitness, for reasons known only to them.
Fussell says that he turned to bodybuilding out of feelings of fear and vulnerability while walking the streets of New York. For reasons he explores in the book, but not quite getting to the real reason - SPOILER ALERT - he gave it up after he competed in his first bodybuilding events.
I don't want to get all Chicken Soup for the Soul or anything, but after an initial read, it seems to me that he did what he did not because of what he felt he lacked on the outside, but for a sense of manliness, for lack of a better of word, that he didn't feel on the inside. He embraced the "bodybuilder identity" and all of its outward hypermasculinity, but eventually realized its hollowness, and when the reality of competition didn't live up to his expectations, he dropped it completely. That's growth, I suppose, but the author's bio page now makes a point of him being a subsistence hunter in Montana, which seems to be another way of seeking to actualize and announce one's manhood. Why the need to call out "the author is now a subsistence hunter", rather than simply saying "the author lives in Montana", unless one is trying to make an impression?
At any rate, it is a good read, and an interesting read, but not the classic I was hoping for. Its reputation is a bit overstated.
The friends he makes in his adventure are shown as two-dimensional, but some seem to have cared about him, adding to the story. You feel sorry for them, but at the same time they seem happier than a lot of people - at least they're doing something they enjoy part of the time.
It's a fast read, after a few chapters, the pace and feel are set. By that point you'll know if you're going to like it.
I would not say this is the best written book, nor is it overly pensive; but I could not put it down. And it gives some good insight into the single mindedness of the sport. Best of all was the perspective on the show and show prep.