Even more Spanish academic article reading this month, some of which were fascinating, particularly one on proposed changes in the methodology of anthropology. But never fear, I’m not going to recommend any of it. I also (for my sins) had to read The Cherry Orchard by Chekhov for the 100th time. God, I loathe that play. So not all of my reading was pleasant.
Then there was the reading I did for me or for fun. Some of it wasn’t worth sharing, but some of it was. I read all of a longtime bestseller’s novel, was incredibly impressed with the new voice he was using, irritated at his use of quote marks (deliberate), and enjoyed all of it…until the end. He forgot the validation (for those of you who know the 7-point plot outline). It just ends. I have no idea how to put what I read in context at all because of that, and can’t in good conscience, recommend it. Which makes me sad. (A lot of reviewers pointed this out. Most of them mention how good the book is despite its “abrupt” ending. Yeah. Abrupt is too kind a word.)
However, I do list a marvelous novel below, which stunned me, inspired me, and surprised me.
And here’s what I think you might enjoy.
Adande, J.A., “Introduction,” The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2022, edited by J.A. Adande, Triumph Books, 2022. Adande’s introduction is fascinating. He takes an old issue of a 1970s sports magazine with an article on dos and don’ts of sportswriting, something that influenced him a lot as a kid, and shows how none of those rules apply to good sports writing in the 2020s. It’s a short marvel. I think you can probably read it in the online sample, and you should.
Bryant, Howard, “Let Us Appreciate The Grace And Uncommon Decency of Henry Aaron,” The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2022, edited by J.A. Adande, Triumph Books, 2022. I had two visceral reactions to this article. The first was that I hadn’t thought of Henry (Hank) Aaron in a long time, long enough to realize that I had somehow assumed we’d lost him over the years. He was very important to me growing up. I saw him hit a home run when he played for the Milwaukee Brewers. He had already clinched the home run title, so the following runs, while important to the game at hand, were simply icing on the record. I remember that moment of pure joy. I think that was the moment I fell in love with baseball. Even though we were in the nose-bleeds and there was no big screen across the backfield at that point, I can see that moment in my mind as clearly as when it happened.
The second reaction to the article was stunned hurt. I know the Jackie Robinson story—all baseball fans do—and the story of what he went through as he broke barriers. But I hadn’t translated that to Henry Aaron, who was also breaking barriers, later in the century, but still at a time of terrible hatred and racism and bigotry. The things he went through…Jeez. And the things he went through after he retired. Holy crap. I had no idea.
So read this and honor one of our best. His is an amazing saga, and I’m glad it’s finally being told…correctly.
de la Cretaz, Frankie, “Living Nonbinary in a Binary Sports World,” The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2022, edited by J.A. Adande, Triumph Books, 2022. I’ve been aware of the problem of transgender athletes for some time, wanting to play in the sport according to their proper gender. The way that the Republicans are going after trans women right now (not trans men) in high school and college sports makes me ill. But it’s only a tiny part of the story. No one really writes about the nonbinary athletes and how they must chose an identity that is not theirs just to play their favorite sport. Frankie de la Cretaz examines the nonbinary athletes already playing in various leagues, and the way that their teams have supported them…or not. I can’t begin to describe how complicated this issue is, not just because of the human beings involved, but because sports is such a big business and there is so much money invested in the way things have always been. Women’s programs have had serious problems with that for decades. (See the Doug Moe book below.) Even to the point of just recently getting women’s college basketball teams to use the advertising phrase “March Madness.” I can’t imagine how long it will take for the segregation of sports into female and male to become a thing of the past. (I’d put A’ja Wilson (of the Las Vegas Aces, which one the championship this year) against any man playing in the professional basketball ranks.) When women compete on an equal footing with men, they do well. Letting all athletes compete against each other would make an article like this a relic. I hope that happens. Because there are a lot of great athletes out there struggling to live their best lives, and being hampered by rules of the sport they love.
Holmes, Dave, “Give The Starting-Line Bands A Medal,” Runner’s World, Issue 4, 2022. This is a short sidebar essay that, as far as I can tell, doesn’t show up anywhere on the Runner’s World website. It’s a beautifully written tribute to the bands that show up at the starting line of runs. Sometimes the band is the only band at the run, and sometimes they’re part of something larger, like the Rock N Roll. But Holmes puts it all in context. The entire essay is filled with gems like this:
The joy that live music instills in an audience gets drowned out by intrusive thoughts like “I haven’t mobilized my glutes,” or “my bowels feel funny,” or “banana.” We are, in the time before the gun, not the best audience.
Exactly. The writing is wonderful, and the sentiment is spot on. See if you can find this.
Moe, Doug, The Right Thing To Do: Kit Saunders-Nordeen And The Rise of Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics at the University of Wisconsin and Beyond, Henschel Haus Publishing, 2022. Last month I shared what I thought was the ugliest cover I’d seen in years (for M.L. Rio’s book), but this one gives that one a run for its money. I understand how this cover came about. Let’s do it in school colors and feature athletes. What sounds good in practice is terrible in reality. Sadly, this book has very little chance of selling well because of its look.
That’s too bad. Doug Moe is a heck of a writer whose career I’ve followed since we both lived in Madison (he stayed; I left). This book could’ve been dull, but it isn’t. Kit Saunders-Nordeen was the person who fought for women’s athletics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before and after Title IX. She must have been a force of nature. Those of you who don’t know that Title IX changed women’s sports forever need to read this book. Just because Title IX passed didn’t mean that it was implemented. It took lawsuits and setbacks and lots of fighting to make sure women got any athletic opportunities, let alone the same ones as the men.
The book also brought back some memories for me. I so desperately wanted to join the women’s crew team. Those women were powerhouses. They seemed like gods to me. I talked myself out of it (as I did with many things back then) because I was scared of it. I had talked to some of the team members and they encouraged me, but I didn’t even try. I told myself that I couldn’t get up that early, that I couldn’t exercise like that, that I didn’t have time. So I didn’t make the time.
What I didn’t realize was the struggle they were all having. The team was relatively new and there was no money for crew (despite Title IX). They had to do fundraisers and get parents to pay for things like one of the boats. It truly was a struggle, but not the kind I thought. I just saw these amazing women who were winning races all over the country and figured that they were perfect. Shows what I know.
If you’re at all interested in or participated in women’s sports in the past four decades, you need to read this book, particularly the chapters about Title IX and beyond. I’m sure similar struggles happened at other universities. Doug Moe just managed to chronicle the UW, and I’m glad he did.
Rankin, Ian, A Heart Full of Headstones, Little, Brown and Company, 2022. Two books by favorite authors arrived the same day, which was also the day I finished the almost-good book I listed above. So I was ready to start something new. I decided I’d read the first sentence of each and see which one interested me the most.
I started with the first sentence of the Ian Rankin book, which is slightly passive, but holy smokes is it important if you’ve read the previous 23 books in the series. I started to read and never stopped. Didn’t even get to the first sentence of the other book.
I had title-envy when I first saw the book, and I have title-envy even more now. The title is perfect. The manner in which Rankin wrote the book is amazing, and the threads he deals with, from corrupt cops to the changes in police practices since he started the series, are important. Some are even heartbreaking.
His ending? Well, wow. I can’t believe he did it. And maybe even saying that is a spoiler. It’s appropriate, though. It’s also wow, wow, wow.
If you’ve never read a Rebus book, then this is not the first one to start with. Start a few books back. Don’t start at the beginning, because like so many of us who first published thirty-some years ago, Rankin had time to develop his craft in public. Read the early books after you have a few others under your belt. Then read in order to this one. Believe me, it’s worth all that reading time. And you get to meet John Rebus, Siobahn Clarke, and all the others.
Rose, Lucy, “Norman Leer,” The Hollywood Reporter, September 6, 2022. Spectacular article about one of the icons of television. Norman Lear just turned 100. He’s still working, still producing, still relevant. This article showcases his attitude, which, I suspect is the key to his present…and probably his future. Read this one if you want a forever career.