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Book Review: Fighting the Effects of Gravity: A Bittersweet Journey into Middle Life by James Robinson

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For a rundown of the bizarre bombs middle age drops on those who dare enter, James Robinson’s book, Fighting the Effects of Gravity, provides an explosive and very humorous summation of devastation. Robinson was a weight lifter who achieved his hulk-like appearance through intense physical exercise and a dedicated regime of lifting heavier and heavier weights starting during early adolescence and continuing until his butt fell. So proud was he of his bounding biceps, well-defined abs, and sensuously thin waist that “I wore tank tops and sleeveless shirts … even in …the dead of winter … because … you never can tell when you might have to remove your coat in public.”

Robinson’s overtly muscular physique might be the reason that his impression of mid-life crisis begins at 35 – the age when his distinctively broad upper torso still funneled down through a narrow waist, 35 inches. We more “normal-bodied” males don’t notice the disappearance of Robinson’s unneeded packed-on muscle. What tissue we have, we need/use just to get out of bed each day and live on.

One can imagine the author’s horror when he stood naked in his bathroom before a large steamed up mirror. His “inconsiderate buttocks” had drooped. Ah-hah, this was the reason his form fitting blue jeans no longer felt comfortable. “Mr. Gravity” had claimed a first victim. Soon to follow would be the slow buildup of a stomach paunch and the need for looser sized shoes as gravity yanked down hard on arches formerly held high by striated muscle tissue.

Fighting the Effects of Gravity tells a broader tale of times and events of Robinson’s past that added to his nagging sense of aging. He speaks of television sets with rabbit ears for antennae, some draped with silver foil to improve picture quality – and the days when Pittsburgh had only three channels. He mentions Chiller Theater when Chilly Billy Cardilly ran “B” rated horror flicks for late night entertainment.

Then Robinson talks of the normal aging memory problem by which he could easily remember the names of popular old automobiles or the names of childhood friends and even those in grade school. He easily recalls names and events from the Nixon-Kennedy era but dares not involve himself in a heated discussion about Iraq and the WMD that – um, damn, what’s his name confronted – lest being unable to recall the president’s name. Yes, he remembers details about the U.S.-led invasion when that guy – um, that militarist idiot – guided Bush into battle …!

In Fighting the Effects of Gravity, the author takes comfort in the fact that many old-timers were alert until they passed on. Specifically, he mentions James Brown who shouted and gyrated on stage at age 73. He talks of George Burns who planned on doing a comedy stint to celebrate his 100th birthday. He recalls Captain Kirk as William Shatner still doing Priceline ads, and still making special TV appearances. In a delightfully comedic way, Robinson states that for him, middle age began around age 35, a bit early, I think, for most people. Even the book’s cover is comical because it shows a grasping hand which probably belongs to a person far beyond mid-life.

The book is a good read because it ends on a positive note. Growing older is “all in how you look at it.” People who plan now, on living, loving, and being active past the age of 60, will probably live far beyond that age. Of course diet and exercise are still part of his routine, but Robinson advises proper nourishment and a positive attitude for all. This involves enduring regular physical checkups, the notorious prostate finger exam, and even the dreaded colonoscopy which actually led to invasive surgery and saved the author’s life.

I would highly recommend Fighting the Effects of Gravity for persons of any age who want a laughing-out-loud glance at middle age. For some it will be a glimpse at their near future—for others it will be a stroll down memory lane. And for those living through mid-life, you’ll find a shoulder to lean on. Read this hilarious book. It will not disappoint.

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