How to keep fit in mind and body

Ruth Kivilahti // Special to Western News

Bookmarks spotlights the personalities and published books of faculty, staff and alumni.

Today, Tracy Isaacs, co-author of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey, answers questions on her ‘bookishness’ and writing.

Nearly six years ago, it started as a personal blog on which Isaacs and fellow philosopher Samantha Brennan would share their fitness journeys, publicly tackling a challenge to be in the best shape of their lives by the age of 50. Readership grew quickly, and the blog, Fit is a Feminist Issue, soon became an online community, with more than 200 contributors sharing their personal challenges, experiences and feminist views of fitness.

This month, Isaacs, Associate Dean (Academic) in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, and Brennan, a former Philosophy professor at Western, released a new book, Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey.

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What book do we find you reading tonight?

Tonight I’m reading Call Me by Your Name, by Andre Aciman. I love his personal essays. He’s great at articulating romantic angst. So far, I’m enjoying this novel very much. I chose it because I want to see the movie, which I’ve heard great things about, and if there’s a good novel behind I movie I prefer to read it first.

How you decide what to read? Reviews, word of mouth, maybe occasionally judge a book by its cover?

I go by word of mouth, periodically putting a call for suggestions on my Facebook timeline and following the threads of my friends who make such calls. I’ve got a fairly bookish group of friends. I’ve also been known to pull over and write down an author and title on my running electronic list, ‘books I want to read,’ if I hear an intriguing recommendation or author-interview on CBC Radio One.

Name one book you wish you had written. And why.

So tough to reduce it to one because many incredible books have been published. Who wouldn’t want to have written anything by Alice Munro, for example? So brilliant and nuanced.

But if I wish I’d written one recent book I’m going to say Station Eleven (2014) by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s a beautiful post-apocalyptic story that takes place right in our part of the world.

I’d love to be able to write fiction that draws readers in from page one and I have a particular attraction to stories about the collapse of civilization as we know it. I also wish I’d written David Foster Wallace’s essay Consider the Lobster, about the Maine Lobster Festival, in which he uses his unique genius and humour to turn a festival review for Gourmet Magazine into a philosophical reflection on lobsters’ ability (or not) to experience pain when they’re boiled alive for humans’ gustatory pleasure.

Personal narrative essays are my favourite genre of writing and this is one of the best ever written.

Name one book you could never finish. And why.

If I start a book I finish it.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

The Now Habit by Neil Fiore. Best book on procrastination ever written. That book, which I first read as an undergrad, helped me learn to enjoy leisure activities without guilt, get writing done in half hour increments, and take full days off from work. It was transformative and I recommend it to all of my new graduate students and any writer friends who struggle (which is most writers) with procrastination.

Any genres you avoid? And why.

No. I don’t believe in rejecting something on genre grounds. Good writing is good writing and transcends genre.

If you could require every university president to read one book, what would it be? And why.

My first thought is to require every university president to read any great literary work, so they might be reminded of the power and influence of brilliant writing. If they don’t know what to choose, they should consult colleagues in their Arts & Humanities programs.

What sort of objects are must-haves in your writing environment?

Laptop, pen, and a notebook with blank pages in it. I can write anywhere as long as I’ve got those three things with me. I also like having a timer, which I set for 25-30 minute increments of uninterrupted work (I learned this technique from The Now Habit.)

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Emma Donoghue (she’s so much fun), Alice Munro (literary rock star), and Nelson Mandela (one of the most inspiring and iconic humans of our time, from my native land, South Africa).

How do you explain what your latest book is about to them?

If you care about fitness and health but are tired of the same old messages about dieting, losing weight, and undertaking punishing workouts that you hate, Fit at Mid-Life offers an alternative approach that champions passion, joy, strength, and health over weight loss and looks. It does this by telling the story of our (my and Samantha Brennan’s) “fittest by 50” challenge, where we committed to be the fittest we’d ever been in our lives by our 50th birthdays.

What is the best line you have ever written?

Really? I’m not so in love with my own words, having written millions of them, that I could pick out a line and call it my favourite.

Who would you want to write your life story?

I’d prefer to write my own. I wouldn’t trust anyone else with it. (I have control issues.)

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Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey by Tracy Isaacs and Samantha Brennan (Greystone Books, $22.95 CDN/$17.95 US) is available through The Book Store at Western, Chapters, independent bookstores such as Oxford Books, and online from Amazon or the Greystone Books website.