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Find some inspiration with these two books

(ran NP edition)

Folks over 50 who are looking for a little inspirational summer reading may want to check into a couple of new books.

For middle-aged couch potatoes, there's a new volume by author David Lamb, whose book Over the Hills: A Midlife Escape Across America by Bicycle (Times Books, $23) offers a unique spin on his personal midlife cycle.

By way of explanation, he says: "I'd grown weary of putting out the trash Tuesday nights and worrying if my IRA was growing fast enough. I just wanted to do something outrageous."

With that, Lamb _ whose previous books include The Africans, The Arabs and Stolen Season: A Journey Through America and Baseball's Minor Leagues _ packed a bottle of whiskey and a laptop computer and pedaled away from his home in Alexandria, Va.

Three months and 3,145 miles later he reached the Santa Monica Pier on the Southern California coast. In between were hazards of every sort: flat tires, sore knees, bad weather and dry counties.

In the end, Lamb concludes he didn't really change on the trip; he just went along for the ride.

"Middle age, for me anyway, doesn't have to be complicated. It is neither a beginning nor an end. It's just the in-between."

For a later-in-life view, readers might want to dip into Late Bloomers (Artisan, $14.95), by author Brendan Gill, who has been a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine for 60 years.

In 75 short profiles and illustrations, Gill spotlights people whose greatest achievement or recognition came late in life. His varied list of subjects includes Harry Truman and the irascible cleric, Jonathan Swift, who wrote Gulliver's Travels at 59.

"Who are late bloomers?" Gill asks. "They are people who at whatever cost and whatever circumstances have succeeded in finding themselves."