If I’m not reading, you’ll find me working out—sometimes you’ll find me doing both at the same time, chugging away on a treadmill or elliptical while gazing intently into my Kindle (for those of you who get motion sickness, I am sorry; I do not recommend that for you). Quarantine has inspired even those who never used to identify as gym rats to get into the fitness zone. There are as many types of movement as there are types of books. But you can’t work out all day, so here are my recommendations for what to do while on the couch—one for those gainz, and the other for working those muscles that tend to get a little less love.
Fitness is a multidisciplinary world, so this list is multi-genre, multi-age, multi-format. I firmly believe every book on the list will be engaging for an adult reader. It’s always good to shake it up a bit, right?
Now, let’s get going. Don’t forget to hydrate!
Well hello there, Little Engine That Could! You’ve got amazing stamina, and you know your only true competition is who you were yesterday. You’re probably the most reliable and resourceful person for miles, and your friends are both awed and afraid of your drive. You may or may not publicly phrase it this way, but you embody the Elle Woods maxim that exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy, and happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t. They do, however, get to experience the high of being totally in the zone and having nothing on their mind except the feel of sneakers hitting the pavement or that flywheel whirring.
Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis: Beast Mode
Speaking of being the most reliable person around, how about this survivalist YA about being the only person for miles? Avid camper and hiker Ashley takes a nasty fall while she’s drunk and angry, and when she comes to, she’s alone in the woods, shoeless, and without supplies or guidance tools of any kind. She can either give up or keep walking. Which would you do? CW: Alcohol, drug references, and gruesome injury.
Texts from Jane Eyre by Daniel Lavery: Crosstrain
Whoosah, my friend. I know you’re, like, really intense and that’s awesome, but sometimes it’s okay to take things a little less seriously. Even if you haven’t read or watched all the classics in this brilliant humor book, you’ll probably be able to get most or all of the jokes in them. What would the March sisters, the witch Circe, or Hamlet do if an iPhone found its way to them? Let the lactic acid from your last run subside and smile a bit with this seriously funny book.
You’re a pro at staying present and grounded, and your superpower is mindfulness. Even when things get rough, you are able to find it in yourself to stay calm and collected, and you’re flexible and amenable to change. It is both an honor and a burden to be you, because you are probably the person your friends cry to when they need support, and you always deliver. If someone tells you to stop and smell the roses, you actually stop and smell them. I wish I had your discipline.
Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer, Jeremy Zerfoss, and John Coulthart: Beast Mode
This book is jaw-dropping whether you’re a writer or not, whether you’re a fan of fantasy books or not. Read it all the way through and you’ll definitely not retain all of it the first time, but you’ll be fully engaged throughout because of its full-color illustrations, intricate design, and astute observations on good and bad world-building. You’re a pro at appreciating beauty and respecting the process, so what better than a book about the technical and artistic details of being a creator?
Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred: The Graphic Novel by Damian Duffy and John Jennings: Crosstrain
I admire you for your ability to live in the moment, but for this moment at least, consider not doing that. Octavia Butler’s beloved classic recently got the comics treatment, and it works well as a standalone or an accompaniment to the original text. Dana, a twentysomething moving into a new house, is suddenly swept into the past, and while that might sound fun to some, it’s a huge bummer when you’re Black. Not a cute bummer but a traumatic, deadly serious one. But she’s soon back home, and it would be easy to forget if it didn’t keep happening. She later discovers that she is being pulled back to this particular place and time because it holds a connection to her present. The injustice and time travel paradoxes of it all add up to a hell of an ethical dilemma. Yoga as a practice in the western world is full of its own ethical and cultural dilemmas, so maybe watching Dana work this one out will inspire you to do some questioning, research, or introspection of your own. CW: Violence.
To the casual fight spectator or moviegoer, martial arts looks down and dirty, but you know well that being that good requires impeccable control over yourself and your surroundings and anticipation of your opponent’s every move. That serves you well outside the ring too, as you’re probably a great manager or teacher in your professional life. Also, it feels really good to hit something as hard as you possibly can and not get into trouble for it. My therapist agrees that kicking and punching an Everlast bag is good for me and for the people around me.
Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon: Beast Mode
This under-celebrated backlist duology is perfect for you for two reasons: first, there is fighting! You are good at that! Second, this is high fantasy even non–fantasy readers like me can get into, as it’s an amazing sensory experience throughout with sumptuous food descriptions galore. Athletes need to fuel, and what is it about quest novels and nobody ever needing to eat or use the bathroom? No worries about that here; my girl Ai Ling eats. Cindy Pon herself is a gym rat, so you’re definitely in good hands with this one. CW: sexual assault.
Color Outside the Lines edited by Sangu Mandanna: Crosstrain
Muay Thai. Capoeira. Jiu-jitsu. Just about every culture has its own form of martial arts practice (maybe not the Swiss? Are they too neutral for that?), and my guess is that you’ve tried more than one form. This collection of stories about interracial relationships is for you. It’s about love instead of fighting, which should be a nice breather after your last bout in the ring or on the mat. I know you’re busy, which is why short stories are the right choice.
You’ve got a bit of a competitive streak. No stranger to hard effort, you are used to working hard and getting swole. You high achiever, you! Just maybe don’t group text the details about the WOD and your personal best AMRAP at 5am. Some of us are not ready for the world yet. We will double-tap your Instagram post about it later, promise, and then we will begrudgingly admit that you, yes you, are the only reason we have a group chat anyway, because you are the kind of steadfast friend whose dedication to excellence doesn’t end when you leave the gym but follows you everywhere you go in everything that you do.
Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein: Beast Mode
Ostensibly a romance, this novel’s driving force is actually athleticism, with relationships and self-care tying for silver medal. You’ll have to lolsob because it takes place during the lead-up to and happenings at the 2020 Olympics, which…like I said, lolsob. #2020 #ThanksCovid. Anyway, former almost-Olympian Avery is having a quarter-life crisis after a breakup, and her only outlet for maybe saving her dignity is to become assistant coach to a promising young gymnast…whose main coach happens to be an Olympian himself—and Avery’s teen crush. All kinds of delightful tropes play out, but what you’ll love most is how much space the text dedicates to describing good hard effort, with amazing detail about the sport of gymnastics and the very process of being an athlete, such that you can identify with it regardless of what your particular sport is.
Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone At Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language Anywhere in the World by Benny Lewis: Crosstrain
It’s not an MLM, it’s a…clickbaity title with worthwhile content! Since you love planning and progress, maybe you should try picking up a second (or third? fourth? Lewis speaks about a thousand) language as your next project. This book has a methodical approach (sadly it is not as easy as my approach to learning Italian, which mostly consists of “watch some TV shows and follow Italian pop playlists on Spotify”) and is a quick but highly engaging read. It encourages interacting with others, so if your lifting sessions just involve you and a mostly silent spotter, this is the project for you.
You are precise, detail-oriented, but not a total perfectionist. Absolutely not. (You are definitely a perfectionist.) Nothing wrong with a little frivolity now and again, but, like, can we first finish this set of pulses in quiet contemplation so we can pretend our muscles aren’t quaking? You are one of three kinds of people: good at math in the real world but completely incapable of keeping track of reps once you lie down on the reformer, or desperately attached to music so reps can always go according to the 8-count and there’s no need to count them individually. And that’s the joke. Ba-dum-tshh! You’re beloved for your intellect; nobody cares that you’re not a comedian.
Disassembly Required: A Field Guide to Actually Existing Capitalism by Geoff Mann: Beast Mode
I didn’t think anything about economics or finance mattered or made sense to me because I’m not a stockbroker, I don’t have a trust fund, and none of it is very interesting anyway. It wasn’t until I took a critical finance class, rather than your typical undergraduate economics class, that I gained more of an understanding of why capitalism is a total farce but completely runs my life despite how fundamentally impractical, nonsensical, and unequal it is. This non-stuffy book is really illuminating. I promise you won’t sound like a tech bro or consulting firm intern when you’re through reading it.
Danza! by Duncan Tonatiuh: Crosstrain
In my entire life, I have never found a book available in English about ballet folklórico, the type of dance I did while growing up. (If you’re unfamiliar with the term, you may actually recognize some of the things associated with it, especially mariachi music and the various dresses associated with each state or region of Mexico.) This picture book biography of Amalia Hernández Navarro is perfect for you. You’ll appreciate the intricacies of the form because of your own disciplined nature, but the expressiveness of the dance style and illustrations bursting with celebration and enthusiasm would probably be a healthy step outside your comfort zone. Stretch out that personal bubble and take a little twirl, why don’t you!
Your Instagram is all green juice, neon activewear, and #SweatySelfies. You always find the sweet spot between consistency and variety, between the familiar and the new. A social butterfly, you’re really good at convincing others to join you for a class, and you’re equally excited for the latte or cocktail that comes after. You already made reservations at the bar, in fact. You also have a preferred cubby, dumbbell set, and spot on the floor, and everybody else respects that. People like to follow the leader, and the leader is you.
I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee: Beast Mode
What’s great about this contemporary YA is that it is totally a feel-good romcom while at the same time a subversion of all the tropes in your typical feel-good romcom: we’ve got a queer Korean American teen who is determined to make it big in the K-pop world as a dancer and singer, and she is always ready to speak up when someone tells her she’s overweight. One of the best things about Zumba, Pound, and all the high-energy dance programs of the fitness world is that they are probably the most body-positive, diverse, and welcoming spaces in the gym. Before the pandemic, fellow Rioter Jessica Pryde and I did Mixxedfit together before our Saturday brunch and writing session. This book fits right in.
Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Crosstrain
Let’s get serious for a moment. Racial injustice in the United States has never not been an issue, but every generation has its own flavor of racism, so then people think it’s something brand new. The opening story in this collection deals with something we’re all too familiar with: unarmed black people being shot for no reason. It goes on to show how, no matter what type of protest we choose or what reaction we have, it’s never the right one according to the people whose behavior we’re protesting. Another story takes place in a The Purge–like setting. They’re tough but brilliant, and since they’re short stories, you can always take a breather when you need one. CW: Violence