I am mostly concluding this review to point you to the comments in the DW version of the previous post on this book, in which Rydra Wong recommends a truly amazing set of books and articles, most of which I had never even heard of, by thoughtful athletes in unusual sports who write about why they do what they do and what it feels like. I am very interested in mind-body issues, and these sorts of books are an excellent source of writing on it that is actually good and not just an annoying stew of vagueness, fifth-hand Zen, and blaming the reader for sundry failures of body and mind.

The second half of Cox's book has her pursuing her US/Soviet swim, a darkly humorous endeavor in which she is spied on by some seriously incompetent FBI agents, repeatedly bangs her nose against the Iron Curtain, and ends up with the CIA and KGB simultaneously tapping her phone. No one can quite believe that she really is doing this because she wants to, and primarily because it's the most challenging thing she can think of, rather than for some dark political purpose in which she is merely the cover. (She does, in fact, have a political purpose, but it's secondary and personal: she hopes her swim might have a sort of butterfly effect on US-Soviet relations, showing both sides that they are human beings, not the Evil Other.)

However, the same persistence that makes her a great swimmer enables the swim to happen - she keeps banging down doors until both governments, rather bewilderedly, decide that maybe they can make political hay of it. She makes the swim, and the butterfly effect actually does seem to happen. So for a while Cox does a number of other swims intended to both challenge herself and act as gestures of goodwill between countries. These are all vividly described, as she faces off with sharks, ice bergs, sea snakes, ice sharp enough to slice a boat's hull in half, and her own cold and exhaustion.

But eventually, she can't resist the ultimate swim: Antarctica. This is in water so cold that no one is sure it is even survivable. Once again, she returns to the researchers and their rectal thermometers. This time technology has improved and they want her to swallow a mini-thermometer and data-gatherer, emphasizing that it's very expensive and they need to get it back, both to download the data and because it's re-usable - "Just use a plastic bag!" Cox, suspicious: "Am I the first person to swallow this thing?" The researcher assures her that she is, while accidentally also making it clear that she won't be the last.

The reason I read this book was a brief article on Cox's swim which noted that before the swim, her teeth had to be specially sealed and some of her fillings removed and replaced, because otherwise they would shatter from the cold. That, I thought, was hardcore. At the end of the book, she notes offhandedly that the nerve damage she sustained from the cold (which she only barely mentions otherwise) is repairing itself, and she's resting while looking forward to the next thing.

Once again, highly recommended if you like this sort of thing.

Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer
staranise: A star anise floating in a cup of mint tea (Default)

From: [personal profile] staranise

At the end of the book, she notes offhandedly that the nerve damage she sustained from the cold (which she only barely mentions otherwise) is repairing itself, and she's resting while looking forward to the next thing.

princessofgeeks: (Default)

From: [personal profile] princessofgeeks

It really is an amazing book. I couldn't put it down.
genarti: Frost-limned grass and an icy river. ([misc] sun and snow)

From: [personal profile] genarti

Oh geez, I want to huddle up in a warm blanket and drink hot chocolate just thinking about that Antarctic swim, and it's a hot summer day here! But the book sounds fantastic, wow.
dhampyresa: (Default)

From: [personal profile] dhampyresa

"Am I the first person to swallow this thing?" The researcher assures her that she is, while accidentally also making it clear that she won't be the last.


From: [personal profile] saunteringfiend

Any chance of a link to the article you mention? You have definitely got me hooked, which is strange because this sort of book is not typically my thing, but I'd like to try the article before I commit to buying the book.
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From: [personal profile] sholio

Reading this made me think about my favorite glasnost story about the Bering Sea U.S./Soviet boundary, which is actually not related in all except for Bering Sea connection, but is a neat enough story anyway that I thought you might like it.

On the first Friday of every month, Fairbanks, like many places, has an art crawl with various shows and gallery openings, which I like to go to. One of them recently was at a gallery with a bunch of pretty walrus-ivory carvings, and I read the artist bio that went with them.

Apparently in the 1980s the artist, as a young man, was a Russian soldier stationed at a middle-of-fucking-nowhere military outpost on the Bering coast across from Alaska, guarding the Soviet border from the Capitalist Menace. Having nothing else to do, he made friends with the local (Siberian Yupik) people and became interested in their ivory carving.

Fast forward 30 years, and he's now moved to Fairbanks, married a Native Alaskan woman, and learned to carve ivory, and now he's doing shows around town.

So obviously I loved this because of the "we're all just people deep down" aspect of it. I mean, seriously, this young Russian military dude was sent to the edge of civilization to Protect The Homeland From The Enemy, and that backfired in the most adorable possible way. But it's doubly interesting to me because, in spite of growing up here in the 80s, I actually had no idea there was a military presence on the other side of the border! Apparently there actually was quite a bit of militarization along the border in those days. My husband also worked with a guy who was in the Air Force in the 1970s and whose job was, I kid you not, to fly towards Russia each day with instructions to drop bombs if he didn't get the "turn around" order. Which he always did. But still ... GAH. I'm glad I didn't know how close we actually came to nuclear war on apparently a regular basis back then.

Anyway, fascinating! The bit about the teeth is especially ... augh. D:
ext_14419: the mouse that wants Arthur's brain (Default)

From: [identity profile] derien.livejournal.com

Sounds like a fascinating book! Quick question, though - you refer to the author of the book as 'Hill' at two points near the beginning of this post. Did you just have another book you were thinking about, did I misread, or is there a co-writer on this book with Cox?

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

It's a sort of associational typo, now corrected. Lynn Hill is also famous, record-setting female endurance athlete whose memoir I also have, but she's a rock climber.

From: [identity profile] frilled-shark.livejournal.com

Since some of your recent reviews have been of Stephen King novels, have you ever read The Long Walk? It's very much about how the characters' minds and bodies react in an extreme event.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

I have and I've been meaning to review it - I read it for Yuletide. It falls a bit in the Uncanny Valley for me of being too allegorical/non-realistic to work as fantasy but too realistic to work as allegory. Still, I give it major props for the sheer relentless atmosphere even though it's not really enjoyable to read for that exact reason. (I had a similar issue with The Gunslinger.) The first part of The Stand is my perfect version of people reacting to an extreme event - it feels incredibly real, and the characters are human and likable enough to make it fun to read.

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