‘Swole’ explores what masculinity could be in a hyperconnected, TikTok-imaged world

Author Michael Brodeur takes the gym too seriously, and not seriously at all at the same time, in his book “Swole: The Making of Men and the Meaning of Muscles” in an effort to show the readers that the overly online world of hypermasculinity is an illusion and what a man can be is what you make of it.

Brodeur evokes his own autobiography to guide the reader through the history of weightlifting and the role of men in society. He’s a middle-aged, Gen-X, self-described “meathead” who brags about the depths of his squats and size of his biceps and butt, but also lives a life as the classical music critic for The Washington Post and a gay man.

These dueling identities weave through Brodeur’s “Swole.” The narrative works, most of the time, but sometimes Brodeur’s chapters feel more like miniature essays surrounding a broader theme of masculinity than a comprehensive whole.

He celebrates male bodies and men wanting to be bigger, stronger and uses humor and the history of idols like Arnold Schwarzenegger, He-Man and professional wrestling to show how men’s identities have evolved and changed since he was a child struggling to come to terms with his own sexual orientation.

Brodeur appears to reject the modern-day gym industry that often sells their version of the ideal body: A place where calorie counts are perfected, macronutrients are measured and microtargeting of muscle groups are a must.

Instead, Brodeur tells the reader to reach for the ideal you want — be comfortable looking at yourself in a mirror, and know it’s also OK to be somewhat embarrassed about looking at yourself in a mirror.

Brodeur also warns about the rising influence that internet personalities like Andrew Tate or the Liver King are having on younger men, or the unending number of TikTok personalities that basically lay out easy ways for young men to purchase and abuse anabolic steroids.
“Adrift and allegedly emasculated by the mass rejection of ‘real masculinity,’ ” men are now balls-deep in an imaginary internet-based civil war with themselves,” he writes.

“Swole” allows men to celebrate masculinity as they want to define it.

Sweet reviews books for The Associated Press.