Of walnuts and whales – fitness books and the booklover

In addition to being a TV presenter, literary critic and very successful author, Clive James is a famously acerbic interviewer; witty, dry and possessed of a portly poise that allows off colour joking while looking dignified. He once interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger, now the Governator of California, back then a muscle-bound movie action hero. They showed a clip of Arnie in the title role of Conan the Barbarian. At the time of filming he was a professional body-builder and the movie unashamedly showcased his bronzed and sculpted physique in a tiny leather loincloth.

Clive James, a large and bald man even then, put on a condescending smile and turned to Arnold. “Watching that scene, I have to say you reminded me of a condom stuffed with walnuts.”

Arnie looked him up and down, and quipped, “And you remind me of a walnut stuffed with condoms.”


Having both gone back to gym and taken up running again, I am unlucky enough to know how they both feel. I’m at that aggravating stage where my muscles have bulked but I haven’t slimmed much. So, despite being healthier, I’m no appreciably smaller and my arms are starting to look like large angry hams. Still, I intend to persevere, and add being an exercise lover to being a booklover.

While the cliches suggest that all athletes are brain-dead and all authors (and booklovers too) are flabby pale whale-like creatures from sitting indoors when they should be at the gym, the truth is that many readers enjoy a bit of sport. Walk into any bookstore or have a browse here at Boomerang and you will come across an amazing profusion of books about sport and exercise, from biographies to real-life triumphs to how-tos. Boxing, cycling, the perennially popular golf; they’re all out there and more titles come out each week. For a booklover who likes to read up on things, there’s plenty of material out there.

The question is, what was an unfit booklover to read? Cross-fit is the new media darling, apparently combining multiple movements and exercise drills for maximum “real-life” benefits (because, really, who is ever going to need to peddle at a stupidly high speed for 40 minutes on a stationary bike ?). So last week I decided to give that a whirl. No Excuses by the terrifyingly buff and permanently sun-glassed Commando Steve is on the bestseller list here at Boomerang (possibly because everyone is just too scared of him to take him off it) and it seemed like an obvious place to start.

As the name suggests, this is not fitness for sooks. Commando Steve is as engaging when talking about fitness and how he got into it as he is uncompromising when people try to wiggle out of getting their fit on. And don’t think that finishing the book  gets you off the hook – he even has a website for carrying on afterwards, with a new and entertainingly challenging routine being posted every day. And, it must be said, it looks like it works. Clive James would call the Commando Steve’s physique walnut-y, although probably not to his face.

So, all fired up and inspired, I decide to try introductory boxing which my local gym combines with a cross-fit routine into 45 minutes or so of pure, unrelenting agony. Hit the bag, hit the mat, do sit-ups, push-ups, whimper. Hit the bag, sit-ups, push-ups, offer the nice man cash to allow you to stop. More sit-ups, more push-ups. Flounder like a beached whale. Cry a bit. Hit the bag. Hit the floor.

I am not naturally talented as a boxer, it appears. My preferred method is to charge in flailing madly (and completely ineffectually) and then need a bit of a sit down. Muhammad Ali famously said “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. My interpretation of this appears to be “float like a 3-legged drunken hippo, sting like a bubble-wrapped sponge”. And cross-fit for beginners is remarkably demanding.

Still, a few days and a few classes later, I am feeling a little more limber. It may not be time to declare this booklover buff, but I’m at least on my way to feeling a bit less like a walnut. Or a whale.

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Sadhbh Warren

Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive - like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell! She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.