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“Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance”

By Alex Hutchinson, foreword by Malcolm Gladwell

c.2018, Wm. Morrow

$27.99, $34.99 Canada; 306 pages

You need a shave.

It’s been awhile and, though you’ve been grooming and growing, you’re long overdue – so, maybe just a little off the top. You’ll feel a lot better when you do, and in the new book “Endure” by Alex Hutchinson, you’ll see how your body will adapt on track, path, ocean, drift and desert.

Prior to 1954, it was believed that the human body was physically incapable of running a mile in less than four minutes – until the late Roger Bannister put that notion to rest quite handily. As for today, the belief that a marathon of 26.2 miles can’t be finished in under two hours still holds – but barely.

When it comes to endurance, effort and the human body, we’ve long been fascinated with possibilities; the questions, in fact, go back centuries and countless tests and studies have been (and are being) done to determine answers when a hundredth-of-a-second means something. Still, one thing’s for sure: “the will to endure can’t be reliably tied to any single physiological variable," Hutchinson says.

Much of the matter of endurance has to do with “the need to override what your instincts are telling you to do…” Perhaps not surprisingly, it very much has to do with the brain, “but not in the simple it’s-all-in-your-head manner of self-help books.” The science of it all is “complex,” made even more so by outliers who, for any number of reasons, can and do achieve beyond preconceived limits – which is to say that we still don’t know where the “ultimate limits” lie.

The stories, even so, are tantalizing.

Hutchinson writes of Henry Worsley who, at age 48, tackled a South Pole trek that “demanded every ounce of his reserves.” Hutchinson shows how early scientists helped save the lives of the men who built Hoover Dam. He examines how we pace ourselves, sometimes sub-consciously; why we do better after we’ve suffered; and how hypnosis may increase strength. He explains how deep diving and high climbing pose the same questions; why marathon runners are shrinking; why thirst shouldn’t matter; what diet can do; and how none of this may matter in the future.

We’ve all known that can’t-go-another-inch feeling, when a surprising well of reserve is suddenly present. Where did that come from? And can you utilize it at will? In “Endure,” you’ll see, but first: this is not just a book for athletes.

While it’s true that author Alex Hutchinson writes extensively about men and women who participate in extreme, even elite, sports, the lip-biting anecdotes inside “Endure” prove that this is a book for anyone who might find themselves in inclement weather or unusual situations. Yes, it’s mostly about athletic endurance, but its everyday relevance lies in the science Hutchinson brings which, though sometimes a bit too deep for the casual reader, is applicable whether you run to the finish line or fridge.

Athletes and trainers, of course, will soak this book up, and adventurers will jump for it. Even couch potatoes should enjoy it because “Endure” is razor sharp.

“Down the River Unto the Sea”

By Walter Mosley

c.2018, Mulholland Books

$27, $35 Canada; 325 pages

Something’s wrong.

It may look just fine, but you know better. Call it intuition, call it plain-as-day, but there’s something off, something not-quite-right about a situation and it’s gotten under your skin. You can’t ignore it and you can’t let it be. As in the new novel, “Down the River Unto the Sea” by Walter Mosley, it’s time to set things right.

The last thing Joe King Oliver needed was that letter.

Joe was already skittish and uneasy in his own skin, and he certainly didn’t trust very readily. That’s what happens when you’re wrongly accused of a crime but you spend 90 days in Riker’s anyway, in solitary confinement, listening to other men scream, waiting to be killed. Yes, though that all happened more than a decade ago, it still simmered in Joe Oliver’s soul.

But that letter.

It came from a woman who wrote that her name was Beatrice but she was Nathali Malcolm once, long ago, when she was coerced into setting him up. When her lies and accusations sent an innocent man to prison.

Through the years, Joe couldn’t figure out why it happened, let alone who’d done it. He left Riker’s broken, with a lost marriage, a lost NYPD job…just lost. Weeks after his release, his only friend stepped in quietly and helped Joe with a PI business, and that’s where Joe was when he read the letter.

He didn’t want revenge – not completely, anyhow – but he did want his name cleared. This letter could do that, just as it could stir up a thousand bad dreams. So when a beautiful woman came to his office with a suitcase full of money and a story of an activist who was railroaded straight to jail for a double-cop-homicide, the time seemed right to fix a few wrongs.

But the more Joe looked at his case and that of the activist, the more he saw similarities he couldn’t ignore. In solving one injustice, could he solve another?  And was it safer to trust a real demon than to live with the demons in his life?

Here’s the thing I love best about Walter Mosley novels: the main characters are solid. You feel like you could lean on them all day, and they’d never budge.

That’s Joe King Oliver, and that’s “Down the River Unto the Sea.”

And yet, there’s wiggle room in this book; Mosley doesn’t destroy readers’ fun by telling who done it in this noir whodunit. Instead, we’re allowed the same dawning realization that Mosley’s Joe has, and that just sharpens the gasping you’ll do while reading. Add a swirl of street darkness, a few soulless characters and some clueless ones, a bit of pure evil, and you’ll be turning pages far, far into the night.

This is one of those books that leaves you a little breathless – not only while you’re reading, but once the back cover’s closed, too. For anyone who loves hard-bitten PI thrillers, reading “Down to the River Unto the Sea” couldn’t be more right.

More: The Bookworm: It’s all about perspective and doing things differently

More: The Bookworm: Tales of heartache, woe and survival

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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