What book should be considered as a possible mouthpiece for today’s modern fitness movement? I’m not referring to an instructional textbook, scientific tome or how-to guide. Instead, I’m referring to a work that helps sing the song of sweat and tears in the gym, something that tells the tale of those who have embarked on the maddening quest for ever-lower body fat and bulging muscles.
When it comes to compiling a reading list of worthy candidates, I would advocate that there’s a surprising dearth of titles to choose from. Sure, you’ll find some books penned by some former so-and-so title-holder, and while some of these make for adequate reading, I would argue that they all come up short in one way or another.
In my mind, the man who has penned perhaps the greatest book about bodybuilding’s subculture started out as a 6’4”, 170-pound Oxford scholar and book nerd.
Sam Wilson Fussell became a bona fide author in 1991, with the release of the aptly titled “Muscle.” Sadly, it is the only book he has published. “Muscle” provides a kind of Alice in Wonderland Adventure into the world of competitive bodybuilding. It’s filled with colorful characters trying to achieve physical nirvana through whatever means necessary, including drug use. I’m not an advocate of chemical enhancement, and one look at my physique could attest to this, but the book is about so much more than the needles and orals. In my opinion, it is the greatest book ever written about one man’s obsession with the gym.
The author himself “disappeared” from the media spotlight not too long after promoting the book. Muscle has gone on to attain an almost cult-like following online. Just Google the book and/or author and you’ll still find people commenting and writing about it to this very day. Keep in mind that this is 25 years later, with basically zero online promotion from either Sam or the publisher.
The book was even slated by HBO as a possible television series in 2013. Again, this is somewhat mind-blowing as I would imagine that most people have never even heard of “Muscle.” Part of the reason for the cult-like following can also be attributed to the author’s reclusive nature. After dropping off the radar for 20 years, he recently resurfaced in a fantastic interview with Dr. Michael Joyner on his blog Human Limits. You should read the interview.
What’s Sam been up to for the last decade?
Apparently, he has been working as Diver 16 on the Montana Flathead County Sheriff Dive Rescue Team, while also living a kind of homestead lifestyle that involves wood-fired stoves and bow hunting. It is exactly the kind of thing those who have read the book would expect Sam Wilson Fussell to be doing.
If you haven’t read “Muscle,” I suggest you give it a try. You might just learn something outside of your probable rectangular existence, something Sam describes below in his interview with Dr. Joyner:
And this is why: a man drives his rectangular car into a rectangular supermarket lot. He passes the other rectangular cars on the way to park in his rectangular parking spot. He exits his vehicle and walks to the market. Along the way, he picks up a rectangular shopping cart. He pushes his cart into the supermarket. The supermarket, as a building, is a large rectangle.
The man pushes his cart to the frozen meat section. He eyes the offerings. The meat, be it chicken or beef, is wrapped in a rectangular package.
The man leans forward and selects a rectangular package of meat from the display and proceeds to the check-out line.
He places the meat on the rubber moving counter, the counter in the shape of rectangle. He pulls from his wallet, which is the shape of a rectangle, a bill. The bill is the shape of a rectangle. Though he could have used a debit or charge card. Also the shape of a rectangle.
So why do I hunt? Why am I a subsistence hunter who hunts all of his meat from the woods instead of buying it from the store?
Because life is not rectangular.