Bench Press by Sven Lindqvist (Granta)
Oh my god is that my stomach? Did I really drink a six-pack of PBR tallboys every day since June first? Shit man, I gots to get to the gym!" These statements are echoing through urban dweller apartments and business offices throughout Portland as we speak. Yes, drinking beer all summer is fun. Yes, shirking off your gym schedule in lieu of "going to the park" is fine and dandy, but where has the tone and definition gone? The debate rages in all our heads: go to the gym and hang out with jerks and have a nice bod, or, go to the bar and hang out with jerks and look like Tubby McTubberson. The choice is ours.

Swedish intellectual Sven Lindqvist takes this debate head on in a newly translated edition of his 1988 autobiographical essay, Bench Press. He dissects weight training culture, from Marcus Aurelius to Arnold Schwarzenegger, and then compares the thoughts of these men to his own thoughts about his 57-year-old body that has always bucked training as nothing more than brutish masturbation.

Lindqvist weaves three threads within the text. One: his dissection of weight training, complete with illustrations of archaic weight training machines. Two: lucidly painted descriptions of his dreams about the desert and the well divers who plumb the depths, digging for water. And three, his chance meeting of a body builder in a sauna, whom he calls, the "skinhead," because of his shaved head and menacing appearance,

The Skinhead turns out to be an intelligent man ready to debate the merits and downfalls of a life of training and non-training, the most interesting exchange being whether body builders are just a bunch of self-obsessed narcissists or artists working in the medium of flesh. Lindqvist asserts, "We should encourage people to say YES to the way their bodies happen to look." To which the Skinhead replies, "Are you being consistentÉ Think about your writingÉ Are you prepared to say: We should encourage writers to say YES to the way their first drafts happen to look?" A worthy debate for sure. Lindqvist's style and substance engages, enlightens and entertains. Bench Press is the perfect read for the deconstructionist to chew on while getting back on the treadmill. BRIAN BRAIT