Like most gentlemen, I traverse the thoroughfares of my city via the most elegant means: the humble old-timey unicycle (or penny-farthing, if you prefer). (The modern one-wheel unicycle is a circus performer’s tool: fine for agitating depressed exotic animals, but certainly not an elegant way of traversing the boulevards between peer’s parlors and unicycle repair shops.) Sure, strong crosswinds and gawking motorists present hazards, but one large wheel, one ridiculously tiny wheel, two pedals, a steering apparatus, a medium-sized handheld bell, and, should you require luxury, a seat, are all one needs to travel in style and in possession of the higher moral ground. Armed with this obvious truth, it’s to be expected that I turn a skeptical eye on bicycles. Two wheels, sure, but making them the same size is downright ostentatious, and you do not need me to explain why. So gentleman rec-heads (what my fans refer to themselves as, I assume), may be surprised to find me recommending a book so tied to a device that replaced so many unicycles in the homes of undiscerning pedalists. But, first, look at that author’s name: Joe Mungo Reed. There are three names, two of them are mundane, and one of them is Mungo. It makes for a quailty name. It’s fun to say. Mungo.
Also, the book is really good, even if, as this positive review
points out, Joe Mungo Reed doesn’t always nail cycling parlance, and as my positive recommendation currently points out, he never pays tribute or even mentions a penny-farthing or old-timey unicycle despite there being, at times, dozens of cyclists in his scenes, at which point any one of them could organically say something like, “While I’m being sufficiently transported by this racing bicycle I am currently riding, I’d be remiss if I failed to pay tribute to the first excellent two-wheel vehicle, the penny-farthing, or, if you prefer (and I do), the humble old-timey unicycle. Now there was an apparatus upon which one could travel elegantly!” Clearly such dialogue would have enhanced the novel (and it’s up for grabs if Joe Mungo Reed is compelled to produce a sequel), but there is still much to recommend the book.
Like an old-timey unicycle, the prose is efficient and elegant: there are no unnecessary parts. Joe Mungo Reed is a gifted writer
, and while I gravitate to writers that write with a flourish (as I gravitate to unicycles with streamers in their handlebars and a well polished bell in the hand of its rider), I took great pleasure from reading “We Begin Our Ascent
.” The story is told by a participant in the Tour de France (a famous bike race). We pick up in the middle of the 23-day race, and it’s not long until the narrator’s bike team’s supply of performance enhancing drugs is interrupted, a development that turns our narrator’s wife into a drug smuggler. There is drama in this development, in part because the narrator does not want his wife to smuggle drugs, and in part because it’s difficult to keep the cyclists’ old blood the proper temperature in the hours leading up to it being reinjected into their veins. (This is an old cyclist’s trick.)
While the book would have been more exciting if we could put some of the riders on machines with differently sized wheels, it is still highly recommended … so Joe Mungo READ it! (Joe Mungo Reed is the author’s name, that was merely a hilarious joke.)