March of the Books

Here’s the singular thing I love, love, love about March: the St. Patrick’s Day Road Race in Holyoke, MA. I adore running this race. Runner’s World magazine has mentioned it more than once, calling it the mini Boston Marathon for it’s toughness. I PR’ed this year! But what I am more excited about is that this time I was only five seconds away from breaking an hour. Unlike last year (1:07:and something seconds) I was 1 hour and a measly four seconds. But, enough about running! Here are the books finished for March, 2017:

  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (AB +EB)*
  • Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (AB + print)
  • Falling Angels by Barbara Gowdy*
  • Treachery in the Yard by Adimchinma Ibe*

Nonfiction:

  • Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam (DNF)
  • Big Empty edited by Ladette Randolph and Nina Shevchuk-Murray (EB)
  • No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin (AB)

Series continuations:

  • Red Bones by Ann Cleeves
  • Hall of a Thousand Columns by Tim Mackintosh-Smith (DNF)
  • Endymion by Dan Simmons

Early Review “won”:

  • Ma Speaks Up by Marianne Leone (received and finished)
  • My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul (This has arrived & I have started it)

*Short enough to read in one day.


Breaks of the Game

Halberstam, David. The Breaks of the Game. New York: Hyperion, 2009.

Reason read: March Madness is well, in March. Everyone has heard of March Madness before. Read in honor of college hoops time.

This is an interesting topic for a book. Halberstam follows the 1979-1980 sad season of Portland, Oregon’s basketball team, the Trailblazers. Not their winning year. Interestingly enough, they had won the championship the year before. They bombed the year after. Maybe that’s what Halberstam found so interesting. After Bill Walton left the team they simply imploded. Halberstam could have called his book The Wreckage Walton Left Behind.
According to Breaks of the Game between 1970 and 1979 the Portland Trailblazers won 322 games and lost 416 and yet their fan attendance went from a paltry 1,095 to a cap of 11,500 by 1979. The One to Watch was Bill Walton, a first round draft choice. After he joined the team season ticket holders jumped from 2,971 to 6,218.
True to Halberstam form, Breaks of the Game looks at every angle of the sport of basketball from the coaches to the players, from the referees to the sponsors, from the owners to the fans and everyone in between. If you like basketball, this is the book for you. If you love the Portland Trailblazers no matter their record, this is a must read.

As an aside, I have seen Dead concerts “with” Bill Walton. He and I are huge fans. He’s often in the front row (or close to it) while I’m in the nosebleed seats.

Author fact: I probably mentioned this before but Halberstam was tragically killed in an auto accident on his way to an interview. I still can’t get over that.

Book trivia: Breaks of the Game contains no photographs whatsoever (not even of Bill Walton) & is not indexed.

Nancy said: Nancy connects Breaks in the Game with another sports book, The Punch, since Kermit Washington was traded to the Portland Trailblazers following the infamous punch (p 226).

BookLust Twist: from both Book Lust and More Book Lust. From Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Sports and Games” (p 225) and from More Book Lust in the even more obvious chapter called “David Halberstam: Too Good To Miss” (p 112).


Spring Forward

I’m really looking forward to spring. The chance to run outside (sorry, New Guinea) & a little more green in my life. Here are the books planned:

Fiction:

  • Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel ~ in honor of the best time to visit Mexico (AB). I think this will only take a few days to read so I’m adding:
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (AB) as a backup ~ in honor of the Oscars (even though they just happened, embarrassingly so).
  • Falling Angels by Barbara Gowdy ~ in honor of the time Niagara Falls stopped flowing, and,
  • Treachery in the Yard by Adimchinma Ibe ~ in honor of Nigeria’s president as of 2015.

Both of these fictions are short-short so I should be able to read them in a day or two each.

Nonfiction:

  • Breaks in the Game by David Halberstam ~ in honor of March Madness (basketball)
  • The Big Empty edited by Ladette Randolph ~ in honor of Nebraska becoming a state in March.

Series Continuations:

  • Red Bones by Ann Cleeves ~ to continue the series started in January in honor of Up Helly Aa.
  • Endymion by Dan Simmons ~ to continue the series started in January in honor of Science Fiction month. This sucker is 600 pages long. Not sure I’ll finish it in time…
  • Hall of a Thousand Columns by Tim Mackintosh-Smith ~ to continue the series started in February in honor of Exploration month. This is an ILL and it hasn’t arrived yet, so I’m not sure I will finish it in time.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Ma Speaks Up by Marianne Leonne ~ maybe. I “won” it in February but it hasn’t arrived yet.
  • EDITED to ADD: I just got word I also “won” My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul. It isn’t expected to arrive for awhile so this is really an April book.

Playing for Keeps

Halberstam, David. Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made. New York: Random House, 1999.

There is no doubt in my mind that David Halberstam loved basketball. He may have even loved Michael Jordan even more. The care and consideration he gave both to the sport and to the athlete is exemplary. To be sure, you will also get biographies of the key people surrounding Michael Jordan’s personal life and career path as well. From mama to coaches, from friends to agents, Halberstam details each and everyone one of them. You will learn about Michael Jordan, the driven kid; Michael Jordan, the aggressive ballplayer; Michael Jordan, the savvy salesman and everything else he was in between.
My only complaint – the chronology is a bit disorganized. Because the timeline is interrupted by different basketball games throughout out Jordan’s career Halberstam’s timeline isn’t constructed in such a way that a reader could witness Michael Jordan’s rise to success smoothly. The games lend a certain drama to the biography but the timeline suffers for it.

Reason read: March is the month for Madness; college basketball madness, that is. Only I started reading this early because a friend loaned it to me.

Time for some honesty. I have a pet peeve when it comes to professional athletes and their retirements. The media goes into a frenzy. The bigger the star, the bigger the segment on ESPN. Reporters clamor for a “last” interview. Researchers comb the archives looking for footage of so-and-so’s rookie year. Childhood friends are contacted and the athlete’s mama is always asked to reminisce about the first she noticed star quality and athletic potential. The story will break for days and days and be seen on every channel several times over. It’s as if the retiring athlete hasn’t given up the sport. Instead it’s as if he or she has given up the ghost and died. That is, Until they start playing again. It’s the in and out of retirement I can’t stand. Michael Jordan was one such athlete. He retired more than once and each time the media gave him a send off fit for kings. And not the Sacramento kind.

Book trivia: Playing for Keeps boasts a lot of really cool photos.

Author fact: Halberstam has written on a myriad of subjects. Basketball only scratched the surface of the topics he covered.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “David Halberstam: Too Good To Miss” (p 113).


September ’10 was…

Sorry – forgot to post this!
September. As the song goes, “wake me when September ends” (thanks, Green Day). I got married in September just so I would have one happy memory (my wedding was freakin’ awesome). It is the one good thing to look forward to celebrating each year. Except this year. Considering how bad this September has been I am amazed I even remembered I got married in this damned month. Between Indiana being sick dying (on our anniversary no less), the anniversary of my father’s passing (18 years), my grandfather still being in hospice and my other insane family issues I can’t sleep straight. I don’t know when I’ll find mind rest again. But, here are the books that kept me somewhat sane:

  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre ~ I feel bad not being able to finish (or even like) this book. For years I’ve wondered about it.
  • Moo by Jane Smiley ~ was this ever a movie? I still can’t get over how caustic it was!
  • Wild Life by Molly Gloss ~ this should have been a movie, too!
  • Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott ~ just told my mom about this book last night. Something I would reread if I had children.
  • Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide by Robert Michael Pyle ~ this had me believing…for a minute.
  • The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty ~ my biggest head-scratcher this month. Seems like I have read this before somewhere.
  • The Clock Winder by Anne Tyler ~ it is interesting the way people have influence over others without wanting (or even trying). I read this in four days time.
  • The Heartbreak Hotel by Anne Rivers Siddon ~ a little redundant but I read this in honor of back to school month and because I had it ready on a shelf.
  • Report From Ground Zero by Dennis Smith ~ because I haven’t been sad enough

For LibraryThing’s Early Review Program:

  • Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine by George Dohrmann ~ this was intense!

I was supposed to get another book but I haven’t seen it yet. I am not going to even mention the title in case it never arrives. Even if it does comes I won’t be reading it in September.

For fun (started):

  • The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver ~ my husband bought this for me as an anniversary present because he knows I love, love, love Ms. Kingsolver’s work. And to think I didn’t get him anything. I did end up making one of this favorite meals for the very first time, chicken pot pie.

Play Their Hearts Out

Dohrmann, George. Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine. New York: Ballentine Books, 2010.

Play Their Hearts Out was a roller coaster of a read. Not because it had nonstop heart pounding excitement but more because some chapters moved faster than others. Like being pulled up to the crest of the ride, some moments in the book were bogged down with unnecessary detail making it long winded and rambling. Other moments, once released from over-worded detail, moved at a much faster pace and were quite enjoyable. Play Their Hearts Out is  everything you need to know (the good, the bad, and the ugliest of ugly) about AAU basketball. It is gritty and uncensored. Dohrmann had an all-access pass to the sidelines of Coach Joe Keller’s world for eight years. In that time he follows Coach Keller and his star recruit, Demetrius Walker, from middle school to major success. Orbiting the story are other key players who influence Keller like competing coaches, opposing teams, and ever present parents.

On a personal note, I found myself asking if the attitudes and actions of Coach Joe Keller seemed exaggerated because if they weren’t Dohrmann’s depiction of Mr. Keller irritated me. From Dohrmann’s writing Keller’s philosophy on recruitment and coaching seemed cutthroat and conniving – more appropriate for professional basketball than for anything considered “grassroots.” The portrayal of Joe Keller is the quintessential shark, hungry for the kill, unconventional and caustic to everyone around him. I guess greed can do that to a person, especially when there’s a big Nike or Adidas contract involved.


August ’10 was…

August. The last gasp of summer before everyone starts thinking about back-to-school clothes, back-to-school school supplies and back-to-school attitudes. I know my college has already adopted the attitude now that the athletes and international students have started arriving on campus. August was quiet compared to July’s crazy traveling. But, for books it was:

  • The All-Girl Football Team by Lewis Nordan ~ Nordan is my emotional train wreck.
  • Zarafa: a Giraffes’s True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris by Michael Allin ~ in honor of Napoleon’s birth month even though Napoleon is a teeny part of the story
  • Zel by Donna Jo Napoli ~ the clever, psychological retelling of Rapunzel.
  • The Meaning of Everything: the Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester ~ in honor of National Language Month, but I didn’t finish it. Not even close.
  • Undaunted Courage by Simon Winchester ~ a really interesting account of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles ~ probably one of my all-time favorite books.

For LibraryThing and the Early Review Program: I started reading Play Their Hearts Out by George Dohrmann. Review coming in September.

For fun I read:

  • fit = female: the perfect fitness and nutrition game plan for your unique body type by geralyn b. coopersmith ~ the cover of the book didn’t use capital letters so neither did i.
  • Nutrition for Life: The no-fad, no-nonsense approach to eating well and researching your healthy weight by Lisa Hark, Phd, RD & Darwin Deen, MD ~ this is a really, really informative book.

April 2009 was…

I can’t believe how fast the time is flying by. Unbelievable. April flew by me on very windy wings. Thanks to a mini mental health holiday I was able to get through some pretty good books:

  • Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall ~ this was fascinating. I definitely want to read more of Morrall’s work.
  • An Omelette and a Glass of Wine by Elizabeth David ~ witty, and global. This made me hungry for really well designed food.
  • The Punch: by John Feinstein ~ The book that got me obsessed with December 9th, 1977.
  • The Noblest Roman by David Halberstam ~ prohibition, prostitution and politics, southern style.
  • The Jameses: a Family Narrative by R.W.B. Lewis ~ I now know more about Henry James and his ancestors than I ever thought possible and I didn’t even finish the book.
  • Flashman by George Fraser MacDonald ~ the first in the Flashman series. Strange.
  • Ancestral Truths by Sara Maitland ~ really intense book!
  • The Apple That Astonished Pairs by Billy Collins ~ a book of fascinating poetry.

In honor of National Poetry month it was:

  • “Table Talk” by Wallace Stevens
  • “Tract” by William Carlos Williams
  • “I Go Back” by Sharon Olds
  • “Colette” by Edwin
  • “Church Going” and “I Remember, I Remember” by Philip Larkin
  • “Why Do So Few Blacks Study Creative Writing” by Cornelius Eady

For the Early Review program:

  • Fatal Light by Richard Currey. This had me by the heart. It’s the 20th anniversary of its publication and just as relevant today as it was back then. It’s fiction but not. If you know what I mean. I think that it’s important to note that I was supposed to get a February pick but because I moved it got lost in the shuffle (translation: I didn’t get the forwarding thing set up in time and it went back to the publisher). Fatal Light is actually a March pick.

Punch

Feinstein, John. The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight That Changed Basketball Forever. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 2002.

Once I learn of a story, an incident that captures my imagination I have to research it, follow it, own it. The story behind “the punch” was no different. What happened on December 9th, 1977 was such a huge deal I needed to see the actual punch itself. Was it really that bad? That shocking? That horrible? I needed to know. In truth, the video evidence is grainy, distorted. To me, there is no way of knowing just how terrible “the punch” really was from a human nature standpoint. Guess it’s a location thing – you had to be there. If anything, I would call the punch a perfect storm. All of the elements needed to make it a horrific moment were in place: Kermit didn’t know why Rudy was charging at him – out of the corner he saw a figure in red barreling towards him. In the game of basketball you are trained to be aware of your opponent’s existence at all times. Rudy was the opponent in red. Rudy didn’t know Kermit was going to turn around and sock him. He was unaware of the danger as he ran full speed down the court. Fist meets face at full speed. Add another element: strength. Kermit was a strong, powerful man. His punching fist would have floored anyone, even if it didn’t have uninterrupted impact. When he hit Rudy, there was nothing slowing either man down.

What makes the Punch such a fascinating read is not only the play by play of the punch and the events leading up to it, but Feinstein is adament about making the reader understand these two players as people. Sports writing meets biography. There is an urgency to make one understand that both of these men were passionate people before they were passionate players. Feinstein carefully illustrates the tough beginnings, the drive and potential each of these basketball stars demonstrated at an early age, including their schooling, family lives and social circles. Even black and white photographs help bring Kermit and Rudy into reality. What is gracefully missing is, of course, the punch itself.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is Feinstein’s casual tone. Here’s how he describes Kermit meeting his wife, “The story of how she ended up meeting Kermit is a complicated one. It happened because of a friend of a friend who had once dated someone who knew another friend of Kermit’s – or something like that” (p 139).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust twice – both times in the chapter called, “Sports and Games” (p 225 & 226).