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Literary Exercise Regimes

With the advent of the new academic year comes the inevitable resolution on most student’s part to take care of oneself. Usually this goal incorporates the smaller goals of ordering fewer takeaways, and, yes, exercising more. My own fitness journey was surprisingly sparked this year by a novel I was reading about a woman with—bear with me—alcoholism. She, like me, was spending most of her days lying about her house and not taking care of her body. Now, to be clear, I am not an alcoholic, just lazy. I was not chain smoking cigarettes, nor consuming multiple bottles of wine per evening as she was, but the recumbent nature of her everyday routine at rock bottom struck an embarrassing chord. So when she discovers exercise in the novel and uses it to get stronger and pull herself out of the pits of her addiction, I was inspired to do the same. I have here compiled a list of books that feature physical activity regimes—and ventured to glean some lessons from them—in hopes that they help some of you to keep that fitness resolution this year.

The Queen’s Gambit, by Walter Tevis

In the book upon which the popular Netflix show is based, mentally-ill chess champion Beth Harmon consumes dangerous amounts of alcohol at a low point, and is only saved from continuing to slowly poison herself by accepting help from her childhood friend, Jolene, who takes her to her university’s gym and encourages her to care for her body better. Beth finds after a few months that not only can she walk up stairs without getting winded, but she feels happier, and abstains from overconsuming alcohol for the rest of the novel. The health lesson I’d take from The Queen’s Gambit, then, is that accountability and good friends can really kick start and help maintain one’s fitness journey. Becoming better at taking care of yourself does not have to be something you do on your own!

Finding Audrey, by Sophie Kinsella

In this young-adult novel about battling mental health issues, Audrey struggles to leave her house after a traumatic experience. Audrey’s brother, meanwhile, is seemingly presented as a video game nerd and indoor-cat throughout the novel, but when his mom starts to push him to stop spending all his time on the internet and forces him to work out with her she discovers he is on the cross country team and can do even more press-ups than she can. Audrey’s brother is a foil to her own journey, but he demonstrates that it is good to have multiple hobbies that balance one’s time.

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride & Prejudice, by Curtis Sittenfeld

It is a truth universally acknowledged that one’s eyes are brightened by exercise and one’s figure is best displayed while walking. While in Austen’s original Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet is a pioneer of the Hot Girl Walk™, in this adaptation of the novel Liz goes for regular runs around her neighborhood. Her regular exercise is both how she relieves herself from the stress of her crazy family, but also how she and Darcy first hook up. While for most of us, mid-run is not our finest hour lookswise, it is still good practice to get outside and exercise once and a while to let off steam from our high-intensity academic lives.

The Pursuit of Love, by Nancy Mitford

While seemingly addressing the oncoming Second World War and women’s role in that society, this novel actually is about the importance of having hobbies that get you out of doors, and keeping a balanced diet of red and white foods. One of the recurring motifs in The Pursuit of Love is the practice of hunting. Linda Radlett loves to be out of doors either hunting or, ironically, playing with and caring for animals. It is the freedom of the outdoors that she misses most when she marries and moves to the city. Another theme is Fanny’s Uncle Davey’s obsession with health and dieting. Midway through the novel he embarks on a special diet in which he eats “red foods” one day and “white foods” the next. What constitutes a white food versus a red one is never clarified, but Davey never withholds himself from the foods that he likes, declaring that chocolate cake is definitely a “red”. The health lesson here, with some stretching, is to take every diet with a grain of salt, and never forget to enjoy your food along with keeping yourself healthy


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