I’ve already reported this on Facebook and Twitter, but if you’re not following me there (and if not, why not?), then I’m sad to report that Wendell, my rat terrier, faithful companion of 16 years and the inspiration for Nifkin in GOOD IN BED (that’s him on the back cover) and CERTAIN GIRLS, passed away on Monday.

What can you say about a sixteen-year-old dog who died? That he loved hot dogs, and beach runs, and me? Worse, what can you say about any dog who died without sounding like you’re ripping off Marley? (I swear, that damn dog has ruined it for the rest of us. Ruined it!)

We are all missing him very much, even my almost-six-year-old, whose questions have included “will Wendell be recycled?” (I blame her progressive hippie school)...but I'm comforted in knowing that he led a good, full life, with seagulls to bark at and good food to eat and people who appreciated his unique and occasionally elusive charms.

There will be more on Wendell soon…but, meanwhile, I wanted to tell you about the books I’m loving for the springtime: Lynn Cox’s SWIMMING TO ANTARCTICA, and Jayne Williams’ SLOW FAT TRIATHLETE.

Most of the time, I read novels. But into every life a little nonfiction must fall, and that was especially true when I decided to break out of my gym rut and attempt a sprint-distance triathlon last summer and a ten-mile run last Sunday (Philadelphia’s Broad Street Run! If you were on Facebook, you’d know!)

If you read my books, you know that I’m a big fat advocate – in real life and in my fiction-- of exercise and the benefits it brings to men and women of all shapes and sizes.

But big girls have to be careful consumers of fitness books, blogs and websites. Hit the wrong one and you’re in for a metric ton of dumb-ass (I have such fond memories of the your-first-triathlon guidebook which informed me, in the very first chapter, that all triathletes were “lean and fit,” or would quickly become so, and that nobody my size could even hope to run a mile. Thanks. Not).

The lazy assumption is, any woman who isn’t skinny is automatically unhealthy, or diabetic, or dying. That the only exercise she gets is lifting a Krackel bar to her face. And that, of course, her failure to accept counting calories as her primary life’s work means that she can’t possibly be smart, or accomplished, or qualified for a big job.

Of course, even the dumbest fatophobe has learned that it’s no longer okay to hate on fat girls for simply being fat…and so the snark comes blanketed in the curdled Hollandaise of concern for her health.

For the most depressing example of this ever, check out what some liberals – liberals! – are saying about potential supreme court nominees Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, neither of whom is supermodel-skinny…and neither of whom, the reasoning goes, should get the nod, because fatties die young and if Obama picks one of these ladies, she won’t live long enough to make a lasting impression on the Court and will probably keel over in the midst of her confirmation hearing. Possibly while clutching a Krackel bar.

There’s a scene in SWIMMING that made me wince with recognition. Sixteen-year-old Lynne Cox and her mother are in a cab, on their way to the beach. “Are you a Channel swimmer?” the cab driver asks, and Lynne answers, proudly, that she is.

The cabbie thinks this over.

“Well, you don’t look like a Channel swimmer to me,” he says. “You’re too fat to be one.”

Stung, Cox gets in the water, and swims the English Channel in nine hours, fifty-seven minutes, breaking the world record – one of the first of many she would shatter, all the while defying conventional notions of what an athlete looks like.

And so, for all of my sisters who feel the spring sunshine and think, hey, maybe I could sign up for that sprint tri or that 5-K, check out SWIMMING TO ANTARCTICA, which tells the story of an awkward, chubby girl who found her home, and life's work, in the water.

“Everything was new, fresh, alive and wonderful,” she writes of her first open-water swim. “The water played like music around my head, my shoulders shimmered in the sunlight, and I grew stronger, my strokes became more powerful. I went faster and faster, catching more swimmers, delighted with everything.”

SLOW FAT TRIATHLETE
was my bible last spring and summer. It’s written in a friendly, accessible, down-to-earth tone, with dozens of funny anecdotes and you-are-there race reports that walk you through everything from buying your gear to navigating the water-to-bike transition.

It doesn’t have specific if-it’s-Tuesday-I-should-be-biking plans, but you can easily find those online, and it does have the F word right there in the title, which is a tough word for lots of women to deal with…but trust me. If you’re a newbie who’s bigger than a breadbox, or if you're already working out and need a book that affirms that you are, indeed, an athlete, even in a world disinclined to see you that way, this is the book for you. But don't take my word for it! Read an excerpt here, and then buy the book and be inspired.

Jen