Recommended Reading List: July, 2019
I confess: there’s a lot of material here from June. You see, as I was about to write the last few recommendations on the June list, a massively ugly flu hit. I missed the deadline, but the list went up automatically. Incomplete, but declared done by the deadline. You won’t know what’s July or June, though, not that it matters. And I’m doing my best to keep the list current this month, because who knows what’ll hit me at the end of July…
And someone! Please tell me where the year has gone!!!
Been working on an editing project, so some of my reading time was limited. But I made time, which helped. And I’m changing my schedule enough to accommodate more reading, which will help in August, I hope. Still, I enjoyed a lot more than I expected to. Here’s what I liked the most:
Anderson, Lars, “Death of a Teenage Quarterback,” The Best American Sports Writing 2018, edited by Jeff Pearlman and Glenn Stout, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. Very heartbreaking, because this kid had CTE, and knew it. This was one of those essays I didn’t want to read, and yet I couldn’t stop reading it. Well done.
Ballard, Chris, “‘You Can’t Give In”: Monty Williams On Life After Tragedy,” The Best American Sports Writing 2018, edited by Jeff Pearlman and Glenn Stout, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. As some of you know, this has been a hard few years for me, and when I read this essay, about the Thunder’s assistant coach Monty Williams, I started to cry. At the time of this piece, he was dealing with the death of his wife of 26 years in a car accident that also hurt two of his children. While coaching. While dealing with all 5 of his children. The piece sounds sad, but it’s really about hope and about living. It had an impact on me. Hope it does on you.
Balogh, Mary, Someone To Honor, Berkeley, 2019. I’ll be honest: this book didn’t really take off for me until the middle. In fact, as I set the book down the night before it really moved, I thought maybe the book was a tad dull.
But I love the Westcott series, and I persevered. And from that one little break onward, I couldn’t put this novel down. I really didn’t know how Balogh would handle the crisis she had set up.
But she did so well, and in a way that made me feel good. (I didn’t think she could pull it off with the set-up she had.) So the series continues apace. I think she just gets better and better.
Borden, Sam, “Eternal Champions,” The Best American Sports Writing 2018, edited by Jeff Pearlman and Glenn Stout, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. A wonderful piece about a tragedy I had forgotten: the death of the entire winning Brazilian soccer team in a plane crash. Lyrical and touching, this piece shows how life stops quickly and how it goes on. Loved it.
Branch, John, “Cheers on a Soccer Field, Far From Las Vegas,” The Best American Sports Writing 2018, edited by Jeff Pearlman and Glenn Stout, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. A very short little piece written in the month after the mass shooting here in Las Vegas. This city is still ravaged by the shooting. People discuss it daily. I think one of the reasons folks are so nice here is that they’ve realized life is short, and there’s no percentage in saying something mean, since it might be the last time you see someone.
California-based reporter John Branch had to travel to Vegas in the aftermath of the shooting. He left after his 12-year-old daughter’s soccer match, and dug into the horrific details of what happened here: 59 dead, 841 badly injured (more than half by gunfire). Branch did his job, covering the shooting. While he was doing so, he learned that the mother of one of his daughter’s soccer teammates had been at the festival where the shooting occurred, and the mother was missing.
Actually, the mother died. He writes, “In Las Vegas, Stacee was just one in a crowd, part of a list.” In his hometown, she was the only one who died in the shooting, and the entire town mourned. He missed the memorial at home, but arrived back for his daughter’s next soccer game. Surprisingly, the teammate showed up, and…well, you read it. I tear up just thinking about it.
Forgrave, Reid, “The Concussion Diaries: One High School Football Player’s Secret Struggle with CTE,” The Best American Sports Writing 2018, edited by Jeff Pearlman and Glenn Stout, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. A heartbreaking story about a good kid who got his bell rang from the time he was little. He had brain trauma early on, and eventually killed himself. This piece starts with the suicide, and works around in time. The costs of our games, paid by a kid. Beautifully written, and courageously told, the story of that kid was an amazing person. We’re poorer for having lost him.
Jennings, Chantel, “Dante Pettis’s Reading List: Defenses, And Then the Definitive Works,” The Best American Sports Writing 2018, edited by Jeff Pearlman and Glenn Stout, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. In the middle of an anthology filled with death and violence and CTE, there’s this, about a college athlete who wants to work on more than his game. Loved it.
Junger, Sebastian, The Perfect Storm, Harper Nonfiction, 1998. I’ve had this mass market paperback since 1998, and it’s been on my TBR pile ever since. Dunno why I picked it up to read it after I moved away from the coast…or maybe I do know why. I got real tired of storms.
Fascinating book, made more fascinating by the old tech, which is really only a few decades back. Seems longer, though. The writing is also fascinating, since Junger employs some amazing techniques, especially when he’s writing about someone who died without reporting in. “He might have been thinking…” “If what someone else did is any indication, they would have been…” Amazing and compelling stuff.
The movie picked the least interesting story, in my opinion. Junger’s book covered so many fascinating experiences, and I found myself turning pages quickly, marveling at what my fellow humans do to make a living or to save lives. Worth reading.
Junod, Tom, “The Greatest At Rest,” The Best American Sports Writing 2018, edited by Jeff Pearlman and Glenn Stout, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. An amazingly well written piece on the death and funeral (and impact of the life of) Muhammad Ali. Each person profiled here is instantly real, each situation heartbreaking and strange, which probably sums up the latter part of Ali’s life. I’ve never read anything like this, and I doubt I ever will again. As I said. Amazing.
Killeen, Matt, Orphan Monster Spy, Viking, 2018. This is an absolutely brutal YA novel, a kind of YA historical noir. Having grown up in the era where kids in jeopardy meant maybe they wouldn’t get ice cream, this thing still shocks me that it’s YA.
I couldn’t put the book down. From the car crash in the beginning to the breathless ending, this novel followed all of the thriller rules. Our Jewish heroine, blond & blue-eyed Sarah, makes a decision that saves a life and keeps her in Nazi Germany in 1939, rather than completing an escape. From that moment on, Sarah makes tough choices and saves more lives, but loses a few in the process.
Nazi Germany is presented as depraved and dark as it was. The school she attends due to her spy work is the anti-Hogwarts, and the kids are heart-wrenching or just as twisted as their parents.
Breathless and well done. I do not recommend that you read this before bed. It’s dark and well written and disturbing.
McElwain, Julie, Betrayal In Time, Pegasus Crime, 2019. This series has become one of my favorites. It’s so preposterous and I love it. Back in book 1, a super-brilliant FBI agent got sent back in time to the Regency period in England. I kinda like to think she got sent into a fantasy world, but same thing. Because McElwain is crossing so many genres here and it’s such fun and I don’t really care. She lets me suspend my disbelief easily.
In this adventure, a body turns up in a former Catholic church and our heroine gets consulted by her friend, a Bow Street Runner. I had hoped for a bit more tie-in to the past novels, and while the relationships remain consistent, the tie-in didn’t come through, making this more of an episode in the long-running series than something super important. Nonetheless, I devoured the book and enjoyed every minute.
Pearlman, Jeff, editor, (Glenn Stout, series editor) The Best American Sports Writing 2018, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. I have no idea why I bought this volume. I may have accidentally ordered it when I was ordering The Best American Essays. Nonetheless, I read it (of course I did) and wow, did I fall in love, as you can probably tell from the other recommendations listed here. The articles are of the highest quality, and I think I skipped maybe one. There’s a lot of death here, and brain injury, and questioning whether or not sports are worthwhile, but lots of inspiration as well. The entire volume is worth getting and reading. Oh! And remember how I complain about The Best American Mysteries/Essays and that stupid alphabetical line-up of authors? No one did that here. The stories flow. I was so grateful.
Pearlman, Jeff, “Introduction,” The Best American Sports Writing 2018, edited by Jeff Pearlman and Glenn Stout, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. This introduction stands alone as a defense of amazing writing in journalism. In fact, the final anecdote in the introduction is a bit of amazing writing, well worth your time, even though it reminded me of growing up in Northern Wisconsin, and witnessing snotcicles. Yeah, you’ll understand if you read this. Because that was a detail I had forgotten, and now it’s back in my brain, maybe forever. Sigh.
Roberts, Nora, Undercurrents, St. Martins Press, 2019. I am so happy Nora Roberts is back on her game. She’s writing topics that interest her now, instead of being forced into a mold. Her writing has regained its verve, and her storytelling is great. This book, about two adults who have suffered abuse, is tough to read in places, but has its heart in the right place. And the beginning focuses on the childhood of the hero, Zane, making the heroine a bit of a mystery, which is good. I figured out the big twist real early. (It was the only logical thing.) But there was a delightful middle twist that I really liked. Blew through this in two reading sessions. Loved it.
Silva, Daniel, The New Girl, Harper Publishers, 2019. I have no idea how Daniel Silva writes such complex novels so quickly and about such timely things. He was already into this book, dealing with a Saudi Prince who might change his nation, when the murder of Jamal Khashoggi changed everything. Silva’s wife is a well known journalist, and the death of a journalist is personal for Silva. So the book became something Other, which I find fascinating.
The novel moves quickly and has a truly awful scene in the middle, particularly if you have read all of Silva’s preceding books. Normally, I would have quit there, but when you’re in the hands of a master, there is no such thing as normal. My heart broke, but I kept reading. And I enjoyed. Recommended.
Stout, Glenn, “Foreword,” The Best American Sports Writing 2018, edited by Jeff Pearlman and Glenn Stout, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. I was hooked from the first sentence. “Every year there are actually multiple editions of this book.” He’s talking about the way that a different editor could create a completely different volume (since editors choose from 50 provided stories and add some of their own). This is a lovely essay about doing a long-term editing series and about editing in general. Great way to start the book.
Tynes, Tyler, “There is No Escaping Politics,” The Best American Sports Writing 2018, edited by Jeff Pearlman and Glenn Stout, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. The title says it all. This piece is about the way politics and sports have intertwined here in America. The piece was written in 2017. If anything, things are worse now. Well done.
Wilkinson, Alec, “Remaking An Icon,” AARP The Magazine June/July 2019. Fascinating interview with 64-year-old Jeff Daniels on his decision to portray Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin’s stage version of To Kill A Mockingbird on Broadway. Which makes me bummed that I can’t travel, because I would have traveled for this. Daniels talks about having a long-term career, about embodying this kind of character, and about choices, in both careers and life. If you want a long-term career in the arts, then read this interview.