A great writer, I've come to believe, is a great writer.
Journalists--and writers of all kinds of books--get pigeonholed. It's all part of the general conspiracy amongst otherwise intelligent folks to smack labels on things so that their true scale and scope aren't so overwhelming. I knew a guy who got pigeonholed as a writer once every few years when he consciously switched gears to write about something different. Then he'd write about that new thing for awhile, get sick of it, switch gears, and write about something else.
Lou Schuler is a great writer, and I've come to believe that it doesn't really matter what he's writing about.
Two bits of supporting evidence this week: The New Rules of Lifting for Life, his new book on exercise for folks of middle age and above, co-authored with Alwyn Cosgrove, and Saints Alive, his young-adult novel, now available for the Kindle for FREE on Amazon. Full disclosure: I've read the former, but although I'm just in the beginning stages of the latter, I'm going to recommend it anyway on the strength of the first few pages. More on that soon.
The rules of lifting, it seems, just keep getting newer to Lou and his co-author, fitness innovator and gym co-owner Alwyn Cosgrove. That, it would seem, is in part because they've been writing the books they need from one stage of life to the next. The first New Rules was revolutionary at the time, but to look at it now you see that it's still steeped early-2000's strength-training tradition, impatient with the ins-and-outs of stretching, warming up, and soft-tissue care and itching to get the reader under the heaviest possible weight, in the toughest possible exercises, in the shortest possible time. Although there was a chapter on the core musculature, the programs largely shunted core training off to the sidelines.
New Rules...for Life is an entirely different story: both authors are now firmly in the throes of middle-age, and have shifted their perspective on training considerably. Now it's much more about feeling good, moving well, preserving and improving athleticism and functional movement, than it is about hot-button topics like 'bulking up" and "torching fat."
Don't get me wrong: there's plenty of information on both these topics in the book. But this is the long view of lifting weights. Most writing about fitness reads like a romance novel: hot and bothered, sweaty and intense, the first blush of passion for exercise still fresh in the phrasing: You'll be transformed, they promise. You won't recognize yourself. You'll become a Greek God. Your confidence will soar. You can do anything. Armed with your dumbbells and protein powder, you can take on the world.
Refreshingly, the years have stripped away the breathless urge to over-promise and over-sell. Schuler is into his 50's, and though it's clear he still loves to exercise, he wears his passion differently now. Cosgrove has beaten cancer--twice--but the disease took something out of him. This is something he's never made a secret of, exactly but it's been largely skirted in the series so far.
True to its name, this book is about lifting for life--not only your entire life, but amidst the grit and difficulties that the average life presents: weight to lose, lousy health markers, advancing age, even cancer. There are no huge promises here--the candor about what to expect, especially in regards to weight loss, is impressive: you'll get out what you put in; genetics can deal you a very tough hand; there are no magical solutions. More and more, Schuler and Cosgrove aren't writing rah-rah fitness books but something quieter and more modest, and in that sense more accurate and true to the longtime-lifter's experience.
The programming is dramatically different from previous outings in the series: Cosgrove uses a template approach that gives you a large number of options with each workout, the intention, presumably, being to give you alternatives that can last you, if not your whole life, a good long time.
Briefly: I like Saints Alive very much so far, and I'd recommend that anyone reading this grab a copy off of Amazon. Lou's been modest about the book and its success in Amazon's novel contest, just as he's been understated about his early aspirations as a screenwriter, but scroll through even the first few pages of Saints Alive and you'll see that his creative writing is every bit as engaging as his fitness writing. He puts you right inside the head of this awkward, funny 13-year-old boy and makes you not want to leave. Lou, you've been holding out on us.