For some reason, one of my most popular posts of the past year was my recent short rambling on literature, beer, and the joy of heavy squats. Quite surprisingly to me, I received more emails asking about some of my favorite books, authors, and beers than I usually get from other posts asking how to bring up numbers in the major lifts or how to gain more muscle mass. And since I enjoy writing about things that I love, I thought I would write what it is that you are now reading.
I’ll try not to ramble too much, but I’m not promising anything.
My favorite kinds of beers are stouts and porters. I say “kinds” because, if I’m not erroneous here, I’m pretty sure they are much the same thing. I wasn’t entirely sure, however, so I had to look it up, and here’s what Wikipedia has to say about my favorite kinds of beers:
“Porter is a dark style of beer originating in London in the 18th century, descended from brown beer, a well hopped beer made from brown malt. The name is thought to come from its popularity with street and river porters.
The history and development of stout and porter are intertwined. The name "stout" for a dark beer is believed to have come about because a strong porter may be called "Extra Porter" or "Double Porter" or "Stout Porter". The term "Stout Porter" would later be shortened to just "Stout". For example, Guinness Extra Stout was originally called "Extra Superior Porter" and was only given the name Extra Stout in 1840.”
As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m a fan of the “Truck Stop Honey Ale” offered by the Back 40 Brewing Company right here in my home of Alabama. Their porter, however, is equally as good. It’s called “Kudzu”—named after the evasive species of plant that was introduced by some brilliant genius as a means of controlling erosion, and is now everywhere in Alabama—and it’s probably my current favorite porter, but there are others that I enjoy quite a damn bunch. Samuel Adams’ “Maple Pecan Porter”—which I think you can still currently find in their seasonal collection for spring—is a bit tasty. Sierra Nevada’s porter—simply called “Porter”—is also delicious in a chocolaty, malty sort-of-way.
As far as stouts go, the best stout—that’s also relatively easy to find—is Sam Adams’s “Cream Stout”. It has a hint of malt, caramel, toffee, and chocolate, and is especially good considering the fact that it comes from such a mainstream brand.
Of course, I love beer for more than just the taste—good beer has to be the best-tasting thing on the face of God’s green earth—and I’m not talking about the alcohol content, either. Some of the best memories of my forty years on this earth have involved drinking beer, and that’s because I’ve often drank beer with friends of mine who I love dearly and completely. Beer should be enjoyed in community with others who understand just how great a thing a beer and friendship truly are (and who also understand good beer).
For instance, two of my favorite Asian beers are “Singha” and “Chang” from Thailand. They both taste good, that’s true, but I enjoy them because of the weeks I spent in Thailand a couple of years ago, and the good friendships that I formed—Grissadakorn, aka Pop, if you’re reading this, I miss you, buddy—while in the country and while sitting around drinking beer late into the evening.
And I can’t even think about my friend Puddin’—a man who I can say without reservation that I love as deeply as anyone—without thinking about all the nights we decided to see how much beer we could drink after a heavy powerlifting session.
Which brings us around to another point: beer and lifting weights. There are those—they are wrong, mind you, but they are out there—who would say that drinking beer is not conducive to building a lot of strength. I couldn’t disagree more.
My Uncle Kirk—who is in his 7th decade on earth, and has been lifting hard since he was a teenager—once told me that the strongest he has ever been was when he was drinking at least 36 beers per week. Since I believe in putting such statements to the test by using myself—and my fellow training partners—as guinea pigs, I decided to do just that. Granted it was during the same time that I was using the “Sheiko” methods of powerlifting, but for several months, Puddin’ and I drank a bare minimum of 36 beers each week—most of it post-workout—and I haven’t been that strong since.
I know not of anything more rapturous than really good prose.
While beer drinking will always be one of my life’s greatest joys, I have to say that the greatest pleasures of my life have involved reading really good books, novels in particular. I can still remember the shear thrill of reading “Love in the Time of Cholera,” “Lonesome Dove,” and “The Brothers Karamazov” for the first time—which happen to be my three favorite novels.
“The Brothers Karamazov” touches the soul, in all of its existential yearning for the Transcendent, like no theological essay or philosophical writing ever could. And that is what great novels—particularly sacramental novels—will always do, because that’s what they have always done.
“Love in the Time of Cholera”—my favorite of the three—has a prose that will never be matched. It is the greatest love story ever written, by the greatest writer that is still living, with possibly the greatest last sentence of any novel. Ever. (If I’m gushing, then you’ll just have to get over it. Gabriel Garcia Marquez has long been my favorite author. His other books, especially One Hundred Years of Solitude, are all—for the most part—excellent.)
“Lonesome Dove”—probably best known because of the popular mini-series from the 1980s—is a lesson in epic. Despite its length at almost 900 pages, there is hardly a single page that doesn’t ring with utter truth. (Which is another thing that great novels do: they reveal the truth of things—the truth about life, love, angst, memories, and death. Things do not have to be factual to be true.) It also happens to have some of the most memorable lines of any novel I have ever read, much of them spoken by my two favorite literary characters, Woodrow F. Call and Augustus McCrae.
Of course, these three novels are, well, just three novels among what seems to be an infinite sea of great literature. I have probably read a thousand books in the course of my relatively brief life—some close to being as good as these three, some not anywhere near as close—but these three books are, more than anything, simply the three that I have enjoyed the most. There are quite a few other novels that I’ve read that I would list as great. Here’s a short sampling of my other “best of” picks (and if I forget any, or if there are some that you think I’ve done an injustice by leaving off the list, keep in mind that these are just from the top of my head, and it may be that I’ve never read what you believe to be the greatest out there):
“Crime and Punishment,” also by Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Silence,” by Shusaku Endo
“Cold Mountain,” by Charles Frazier
“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” by Michael Chabon
“Lolita,” by Vladimir Nabokov
“Franny and Zooey,” by J.D. Salinger
“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain
“Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell,” by Susanna Clarke
“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien
“The Once and Future King” by T.H. White
“The Grapes of Wrath,” by John Steinbeck
“Animal Farm” by George Orwell
“At the Back of the North Wind,” by George McDonald
I must add, also, that there are, of course, great things to read other than just literature. I particularly enjoy philosophy, theology, and—not much surprise here—well written strength-training articles. So, who are the best writers in the field of strength training? Hands down, there are two writers that come to mind as being the best: Bill Starr and Dan John. I may not always agree with everything that Dan John writes with regards to methodology, but his writing is second-to-none. As for Starr, here’s what I wrote about his influence on me in a previous post:
For those of you who don't know—and most of you who have read my training articles do know—my primary inspiration in training and writing has always been Bill Starr. Perhaps nowadays people—powerlifters, strength athletes, readers of the major bodybuilding magazines—think that Starr is too "old-school." Well, old school in my book is just fine. Bill Starr still is, and always will be, one of the best-of-the-best.
When I grow tired of writing training articles, I return to Bill Starr. (Who writes damn good, by the way.)
When I grow tired of my current training program, I return to Bill Starr.
When I grow weary of all the modern gadgets—stuff like training balls, chains, bands, and one-legged whatever—I return to Bill Starr.
When I grow weary of all the modern "trainers" and all of their methods (like everyone that writes for T-Nation, for instance—as much as I like that magazine), I return to Bill Starr.
And when I just need a reminder of why I love to write and love to lift in the first place, I return to Bill Starr.
On the Joy of Heavy Squats
And now, at the end, we get to our third and our last—though certainly not our least by any stretch of the imagination—subject: the joy found in heavy squats.
There is joy found in lifting a lot of heavy stuff, I must admit.
I enjoy heavy bench-pressing, as much as I may not be good at it. But heavy bench presses are still toward the bottom of my “favorite heavy stuff to lift” list. (Although, it must be said, anything at the bottom of the “heavy lifting” list is still going to be head and shoulders above most others things in life.)
I enjoy pressing other heavy stuff even better than the flat bench press. Heavy overhead presses—military or push press—are enjoyable, as are heavy one-arm overhead presses.
I enjoy heavy “quick lifts,” such as power cleans and power snatches.
I enjoy the primal feel of heavy deadlifts. There is something raw and primeval about the deadlift, after all, since it requires the least technique and is more of a barometer of just natural lifting strength.
But then there’s the heavy squat. And nothing—I mean nothing—can compare to the heavy squat. Heavy squats probably do more for building muscle than any lift—and I mean any lift ever—throughout the course of the lifting world.
You should do more than just regular squats, mind you, but in whatever variety you choose to do them, they simply can’t be beat. In addition to the regular, heavy, flat-footed barbell back squat, I also recommend front squats, zercher squats, overhead squats, and—my favorite of them all—the bottom-position squat.
But no matter which one you choose, do them heavy. Heavy squats are still the king!
 To be honest, I don’t care much for anything “Wiki” and I hate to “Google” stuff. I think it’s rather obvious that the wealth of information we have at our fingertips is making us an uneducated, ignorant culture. After all, why the hell do you ever need to internalize information if all you need to do is “Google” it?
 I list Back 40 Beer Company here just because I drink so much of their beer, but for the most part I’ll try to stick with mainstream beer brands, just so they will be easier to find, if you so choose to drink one of my recommendations. Wherever you live, however, please support your local breweries and brewpubs. For instance, I also enjoy beers from other local Alabama breweries such as “Good People,” “Black Warrior Brewing Company,” and “Yellowhammer Brewery.”
 Please forgive the number of fantasy novels on this list. I read a lot of fantasy at one point in my life. In fact, for the longest time I wanted to be a fantasy novelist. At one point, I even quit writing strength training articles in order to focus on writing fantasy. I had a number of short stories published, and even had a novel published by a small press publisher, but I could never make any money writing fiction, and so returned to non-fiction, my original love.