on-line. I had mentioned earlier that I would be reviewing the book here on the blog. So, that is what this is all about. First though, there needs to be a bit of explanation..........
Why Review A Book? Great question! This blog is mostly bicycle related, so reviewing books of any sort is weird, and especially so since it doesn't appear on the surface that this book is cycling related at all.
Actually, there is plenty of cycling related material between its covers.
Ground Rules: Secondly, I will admit up front that I am not even a casual book reader. I barely register on "bookworm radar". Heck, I think I've only read three books in my time as an adult, including college! So I do not purport to be any sort of expert on authors, styles, or what is good, bad, or ugly in the book world. I am reviewing this book for two simple reasons: One- Trans Iowa "figures heavily", (Zach's own description, not mime), into the book. Secondly, there are other notable cycling references here including the messenger alley cats, bike polo, and the Single Speed Cyclo-Cross World Championships.
The Review: The Renegade Sportsman starts out by giving me a very tactile feel of paper. In an age of digitized press and i-Pads, this was almost shocking to me. It's kind of a rough looking package, which given the title is appropriate, I guess. Also, in a sort of renegade move, there is no table of contents either. I looked several times to no avail. This sort of assailed my retro-book tendencies. I guess "back in the day" tables of contents were a given. Maybe this is the "new math" for publishers these days concerning books, I don't know! The cover, (as shown above), is a garish yellow and red affair, so it's easily spotted amongst the usual fare consisting of the Dirt Rag, Guitar Player, and Entertainment Weekly magazines that litter the reading stand in the bathroom. A nice touch, I thought, by whomever was in charge of the marketing department.
Inside the book you will find what author Zach Dundas refers to as "renegade sports". These are what we would think of as the seamy underbelly of populist sports culture. Mr. Dundas weaves his tales of his observation and participation in these "sports" while pitting them against the massive mega-sports complex and the machinations thereof. His basic contention is that these oddities of American participatory "sports', these "renegade" ideas, are where the "real deal" is. Sports as we know it, the leagues and the divisions, and the colleges, and the gobbledy-gook that surrounds it, has careened off into a realm the likes of which is so unimaginable and unwieldy that the average citizen is left to forming "fantasy" leagues to somehow feel a part of it. Video unreality is packaged as a way to become "part of the action" and to feel any sort of connection with what is going on with "The Big Leagues" these days. Mr. Dundas seeks to find redemption in the actions of the protagonists in his book which range from drunken running clubs to crazed single speed cyclo-crossers, female roller bladers, and yes.....even Trans Iowa.
Is Mr. Dundas' mission accomplished? He does make a strong case, that is for sure. The book is entertaining, vulgar, spectacular, droll, and certainly funny enough. As a theory, it might fall a bit short, but in the end, who cares? The stuff between the bright yellow covers of "The Renegade Sportsman" is a good read. I am somewhat doubtful that things like the Hash House Harriers, or Trans Iowa is going to score any sort of coup against the modern day titans of sport, but maybe the stories of the "Renegade Sportsman" will inspire more folks to become their own movers and shakers instead of bland observers being force fed marketing driven, made for television muck that passes for sports in the 21st Century.
A Word About The Trans Iowa Chapter: I think I would be remiss if I didn't comment directly on the Trans Iowa chapter of the book, since, well.......I am a main character in it! Yes, it is rather unsettling to read something somebody else wrote about you. Rather surreal, actually. I will say that after three plus years it brings back some details of the event for me into sharp focus, while others are glossed over or omitted entirely that I thought would make for good copy. It's like that when you deal with impressions folks have. Something my Mom reminds me of from time to time. Things she thought would be of paramount significance in my life are often things I don't even remember. So a little of that is to be expected with something I am so close to.
Beyond this, Mr. Dundas' rendering of Trans Iowa is both entertaining, (waay more fun to read about than it was to go through!), and accurate. Well, with the exception of one glaring detail, not really having to do with the event at all. I am reported to be a bicycle mechanic, (true), in an Iowa City shop, (not true). My apologies if that offends the sensibilities of any of the bicycle shop employees and owners in Cedar Falls and Iowa City! Other than this minor gaff, the entire chapter is more than I could have ever hoped for. Since the book is wide ranging in it's scope concerning what types of sports are covered, it would have been easy for Trans Iowa to be just a minor aside. In my opinion, it seems to be what Zach Dundas claimed to me it would be, a chapter that figures heavily in the overall book. Even "Outside" contributor/author, Jon Billman tracked me down at the Dirty Kanza 200 and told me that I needed to read the June issue of "Outside" for his review of "The Renegade Sportsman". He told me his favorite chapter in the book was about T.I. and that he says so in the piece he wrote. It is humbling for sure, but I won't hide the fact that I am proud of it too.
Conclusions: I would give the book a thumbs up for a lighthearted, thought provoking look at alternative sports in America. There are really good chapters with direct cycling connections and even some cycling advocacy can be found here. I would give caution for the explicit language, sexual innuendo, and for the off beat ideas the book may spark in fertile minds. (Not sure I would like a Hash House Harrier kennel tramping through my back yard, for instance!) That said, I had fun reading it, and of course, I liked the Trans Iowa chapter best!
So, there ya go. That's my review of the book. If you would like to check it out for yourself, you can get it on Amazon here.