The Secret to Superhuman Strength

Comics artist Alison Bechdel approaches the subject of exercise in The Secret to Superhuman Strength with the same insatiable curiosity, interdisciplinary rumination and candid humor as she did with the earlier subjects of her parents in Fun Home and Are You My Mother? "My bookish exterior perhaps belies it, but I'm a bit of an exercise freak," Bechdel reveals, before carefully unfurling her extensive history with fitness fads and physical vigor, quick to stipulate that coordinated sports fall roughly outside her interests.

This is both a study of Bechdel's individual history with maintaining her body, as well as an expansive, ambitious consideration of what it means to be embodied. At an early age, her interest was piqued by Jack LaLanne's televised exercise routines for women, although she was far more fascinated by his body than his instructions. "Housewives in the '60s did not want bulging biceps. But from Jack I learned that the body was something you could shape." As she grows into adulthood, tackling martial arts, cycling, skiing and so on, she also considers her place within generational shifts regarding gender, as well as philosophical movements flowing from the transcendentalists to the present day, in her search for an ever-elusive sense of balance between body and mind.

Grounding this incredible journey is Bechdel's distinctive artwork colored extensively by her partner, Holly Rae Taylor. The Secret to Superhuman Strength is far greater than the diverting lark it seems; it is a potent testament to the human condition. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

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