To call this month bizarre is understating everything. From the beginning of the month through the 20th, the culture, world, and environment changed almost daily. I am still reeling. And I’ve tried to keep up. So for those first 20 days, my reading time got curtailed because I felt like I was just starting to get a handle on the day when the day ended. The next day was something else entirely.
However, I had stored up a lot of great escape reading and I…well, I escaped. Eventually, I got my feet under me, but I kept reading. Lots of good material, both non-fiction and fiction. I slowed down toward the end because of other deadlines, but mostly, I found this month amazing in the reading side of things.
So here’s the best of the best. (Please note that some of these have Amazon only links because I couldn’t get Books2Read to work, so I defaulted to Amazon, not because I like Amazon, but because it’s easy.)
Branch, John, “Children of the Cube,” Best American Sports Writing 2019, edited by Charles P. Pierce, Mariner, 2019. One of the things I love the most about this series is the way that many things are considered sport. This is about the interesting kids who are in the Rubik’s Cube competitions. It’s a personal essay about Branch’s son, but it’s also a marvelous essay about being the parent of a child who is both different and better at something than you will ever be. Lovely.
Craighill, Virginia Ottley, “The Lost Cause,” Best American Sports Writing 2019, edited by Charles P. Pierce, Mariner, 2019. A lovely, lovely, funny piece about going to a championship game with family who are Believers, when you are not. How the game feels, how weird it is and yet how easy it is to get caught up. This one is worth the price of the book.
Jackson, Jeff, “The Paradox of Paradise,” Best American Sports Writing 2019, edited by Charles P. Pierce, Mariner, 2019. Jackson is a climber and a writer, and one beautiful Hawaiian morning, he was trying to write a haiku about a climb when that horrid siren went off, the one that told Hawaiians that a missile was heading for the island, and they’d all be dead in about a half an hour. It was a mistake, of course, but no one knew that. I’ve read a dozen pieces about this experience, not counting Facebook posts from friends, and none is as powerful as this piece is. Read it. It’s amazing.
Laydin, Tim, “Fists of Fury,” Best American Sports Writing 2019, edited by Charles P. Pierce, Mariner, 2019. I loved this piece. It was published 50 years after Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute at the Olympics in Mexico City. I remember that: It sent shockwaves through the entire culture.
This essay explores their complicated relationship, what their protest did to their lives, and what it all means now. Powerful and wonderful, worth the price of the entire anthology.
MacGregor, Jeff, “Taming The Lionfish,” Best American Sports Writing 2019, edited by Charles P. Pierce, Mariner, 2019. Until I read this piece, I had never heard of lionfish, which are apparently taking over a certain area of ocean like kudzu took over the south. This is about a competition to eradicate the buggers—and to eat them. They’re poisonous, by the way. Another fun piece in this anthology.
Miller, Sam, “The Aging Curve,” Best American Sports Writing 2019, edited by Charles P. Pierce, Mariner, 2019. Probably the best essay I’ve ever read on what it feels like to be an athlete, and how abilities (from fast-twitch muscles to the brain) peak at certain ages. Beautifully done.
Mirhashem, Molly, “An Ode To Running in the City,” Outside, October, 2016. My Pocket Reader brought up this article on a day when I was actually feeling bad about running. I’d had a severe allergy attack that morning while on a run (damn you, Scotch Broom!), and was stressing about running during the spring blooms. But this piece, about the joys of urban running, reminded me how much I love my morning runs. I see my neighborhood and my neighbors. I see some of the occasional dangers and know them for something different, so I veer onto a new street, or stop a cop and report (I’ve done that a dozen times, maybe). I like seeing people on my runs, instead of “scenery,” which I got so tired of in Oregon. This writer comments on all of that, and some of the other joys as well. Worth the few minutes it’ll take you to read the piece.
Pierce, Charles, editor, Best American Sports Writing 2019, Mariner, 2019. I blew through this book in about a week, which is amazing considering it was in my take-your-time-reading-this spot. Every essay except two was good, and many were exceptional. Plus this was edited, which means Pierce put these in reading order, which the chronological reader/editor in me loves, loves, loves. This is the best volume of this particular anthology series that I’ve read.
Ryan, W.C., A House of Ghosts, Arcade, 2019. I love this book. I was reading it when the stupid COVID-19 crisis ramped up here in the U.S., and the book was the perfect escape. What is this book, genrewise? Hell if I know. It’s a spy novel, it’s a mystery novel, it’s a ghost story, it’s a historical, it’s suspense with romance, and so much more. Some of the reviewers compare it to Agatha Christie, but I wouldn’t have read it if that were the case.
The set-up is that a group of people are trapped in a manor house on a remote island (very Christie) with a storm bearing down on them (also Christie). But the point of them being in the house—at least for many of them—is that the couple who own the house want to have a seance to communicate with their (maybe) dead son. He (maybe) died in the current war, which happens to be WWI. It’s 1917, after all, and the effects of the war are really being felt around Europe.
Our hero and heroine are there on behalf of some spy agency to figure out who is selling secrets to the enemy about munitions, and while that’s important, it’s really not what the book is about. The book is about hauntings, and family and so much more.
The setting is thin in the first two chapters, probably because (I’m guessing) some editor wanted those chapters added later. Once we get to the house, everything ramps up. You can feel the cold and the atmosphere and all that fun stuff.
I found this to be the perfect escape read.
Schwab, Victoria, Tunnel of Bones, Scholastic Press, 2019. Oh, my goodness, Victoria Schwab has been to the catacombs! She captured tourist Paris beautifully. This book is the second in the City of Ghosts series. Our young heroine, Cassidy Blake, who actually sees the other side is visiting Paris along with her famous parents who run a ghost-hunting show (they can’t see ghosts) and with her ghostly best friend Jacob and her cat. The scenes in the catacombs are scary and accurate, and made me remember what I did when I left the catacombs. I went back to my room and took a shower, because something icky dripped on my head the entire time I was down there. And I got stories out of it, and so did she.
Very tense, in a good way, and lots of fun Paris details, great character interaction, and a sympathetic poltergeist! Well done and worth the read.
Streep, Abe, “What The Arlee Warriors Were Playing For,” Best American Sports Writing 2019, edited by Charles P. Pierce, Mariner, 2019. A lovely piece about small town sports, about loss and that one good player, and teen suicide and…oh, read it. It’s got heart and it’s suspenseful.
Weaver, Caity, “My Magical Quest to Destroy Tom Brady And Win a Philadephia Eagles Mini-Fridge At Super Bowl LII,” Best American Sports Writing 2019, edited by Charles P. Pierce, Mariner, 2019. Another piece about a non-fan at a bowl game, this one the biggest game of all. Weaver agreed to cover the game as a non-fan if her colleagues bought her a mini-fridge, provided she complete a Scavenger Hunt during the game. No spoilers here, but wow, some of the pieces of that hunt were fun. They included “cast a spell on the Patriots to lose,” and “ride on a private airplane.” Some were easy, like find a Diet Coke, and some looked impossible. Reading this was so much fun, I wanted to participate next time…until I actually thought about it.