James McManus’s new nonfiction book is decidedly less sexy than his best-selling 2003 poker memoir, Positively Fifth Street. But in Physical: An American Checkup (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) he addresses a topic that should concern everyone, including faddish cardplayers–our national health. For a magazine assignment McManus undergoes the Mayo Clinic’s storied “executive physical,” including an undignified but essential colonoscopy. Turns out he’s in decent shape but really should cut way down on the smoking and drinking and get more exercise–standard advice, but easier said than done for a guy who went on to write a poker column. After somewhat blithe ruminations on his own mortality (he’s in his mid-50s with two young daughters), McManus gets dead serious about the health problems of his own family, railing at President Bush for his faith-based opposition to embryonic stem cell research–daughter Bridget has juvenile diabetes, and stem cells could save her life. (McManus cites the work of now-discredited South Korean researcher Hwang Woo-suk as evidence, but other experts like the University of Chicago’s Dr. Janet Rowley provide plenty of backup.) McManus’s $8,484.25 Mayo checkup? Harper’s picked up the tab, but as he notes, 45 million Americans have no health coverage at all. If you’re one of ’em, good luck getting that colonoscopy. McManus discusses Physical in a live WFMT interview as part of the literary series “Writers on the Record With Victoria Lautman.” a Sun 1/22, 11:45 AM, Lookingglass Theatre, Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan, 312-832-6788 or 312-832-6789. Reservations required.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Aynsley Floyd.