Not as much reading this month as I had hoped, but then, this is the month that I didn’t sleep either, because we were dealing with the aftermath of Dean’s fall and surgery. I’m recommending a video as well as a few books and articles, which I will explain below.
Much of what I did read was in snatches—at doctor’s offices or at lunch when I was at UNLV. Toward the end of the month, I was able to read more, but some of it was required.
Brewer, Jerry, “A Legacy of Exclusion,” The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2023, edited by Richard Deitsch. Everyone knows the history of the integration of baseball, but very few people talk about the integration of American Football. The ironic thing is that it was integrated a hundred years ago, and then Jim Crow laws destroyed it. The fight continued, and continues now. (We’re watching it here in Vegas, as we’re waiting for the Las Vegas Raiders to hire their new coach. They have a Black interim coach, but it seems like very few teams have the courage or the wherewithal to hire a Black coach and break with that evil “tradition.) So, read this. It’s important.
Connelly, Michael, Resurrection Walk, Little, Brown, 2023. There is a lot wrong with the marketing on this book. First of all, it says that it’s a Lincoln Lawyer novel. Sure, maybe. But it has just as much Harry Bosch as Mickey Haller. Sure, the ending focuses on Haller and it feels like the author intruded on his character. I don’t think Haller would react that way, as set up. But I think the ending was the goal of the entire story and the author just imposed it.
So…the last two pages were a disappointment. But here I am recommending the book anyway. Why? Because everything but the last two pages was marvelous. Well done and gripping. So read it and see if you agree with me. Or read it and love it. Or just read it. Because y’know. It’s a good book.
Freimore, Jacqueline, “Here’s To New Friends,” The Best American Mystery and Suspense Stories, edited by Jess Walter, Mariner, 2022. Somehow I got behind in my reading of the various mystery volumes and I decided to catch up in November, when I only had the attention span for short fiction. A lot of the stories in the volume were not to my taste (children in jeopardy tales, which I won’t read), but the ones that worked for me really worked. I’ll put them here and in December, which is when I finished the volume.
Jacqueline Freimore’s story is a simple one, with a great voice and great narration. If I tell you more about it, I’ll ruin it, especially if I say what I liked about it. But I will tell you this: she was in complete control of the narrative, so that we could figure out what she wanted us to figure out at the exact moment we needed to. I might even have gasped out loud. This is well done.
Goldberg, Tod, “A Career Spent Disappointing People,” The Best American Mystery and Suspense Stories, edited by Jess Walter, Mariner, 2022. Strange little story that kept surprising me over and over again. I’ve read so much (especially short fiction) that stories which surprise me get extra points. This one is noir, but it’s very good noir. Nicely done.
Greenberg, Richard, Take Me Out, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003. A well done and deeply disturbing play that seems to be about baseball, but really explores race, bigotry, gay rights, and violence. It’s breathtaking in its reach. The play first appeared twenty years ago, but feels fresh even now. It was on Broadway in the early part of this century (which is a bit of a surprise to me—not because of the themes, but because of baseball. It is a thinly veiled look at the 2000 Yankees, though, which might be why). The play was revived in 2022 for a short run, which I’m sad to have missed. If you like baseball fiction and you like well-done theater, read this.
Grisham, John, Calico Joe, Dell Mass Market, 2013. Those of you who’ve read the recommended reading lists over the years know I love a good baseball story. (You can tell that from the Greenberg above, as well.) Calico Joe is another of Grisham’s sports tales, and this one has the same authenticity that Bleachers had. (See October’s list.) At the heart of this story is a truly jealous moment, something evil and vicious, and its impact on several families as well as many different communities. The story held me during a tough month, which is saying something. It’s got power and the feel of truth.
Haywood, Gar Anthony, “Return To Sender,” The Best American Mystery and Suspense Stories, edited by Jess Walter, Mariner, 2022. Perhaps the most memorable story in the entire volume, this piece is about a jukebox—and the jukebox is very important. I can see all of this, and I know all the characters. I also loved the way it all turned out. Looking at the opening again, I’m transported back to the sunny UNLV union where I first read it. That doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s gold.
Hepola, Sarah, “High Kicks and Hot Pants,” The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2023, edited by Richard Deitsch. I read this article some time ago, and I still find myself thinking about. I’m also a closet football fan, even though I feel guilty about it at times. So I do see cheerleaders. Most of them are co-ed now. Most of them are well known for their own athleticism. But according to Hepola, it started with the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. They were maligned when I was a girl, but I didn’t know how hard they were fighting for their own rights, their own brand, and their own self-protection. The article is based on interviews with people who have been part of this organization for fifty years—or who went in and out of it. It’s fascinating.
Kushner, Tony, Angels in America, Theater Communications Group, 2013. Miniseries on Max. As of this writing, I haven’t read all of the materials in the book I’m recommending, but I did watch the entire miniseries made from the play. I will (might) end up recommending an essay or two from the book in a future reading list.
Angels in America is one of the reasons I took this semester’s class at UNLV, titled Gay Plays. I have wanted to see Angels in America since it came out in the early 1990s, won the Tony, and then won the Pulitzer. But I’ll be honest: I was afraid of this material, not just because the 2-part play(s) are 3+ hours long each, but because the play deals with AIDS. The play was written in the middle of the worst of the crisis. I lost a lot of friends during that period of time, and I was worried about my own emotional health watching the production.
So of course I opted to watch it with a bunch of college kids, who had lived through Covid but not the worst of the AIDS crisis. Heck, their parents weren’t even fully grown then. It was fascinating to listen to their sharp & insightful reactions, but they missed a lot, such as the fact that Roy Cohen was a real person (even though the prof told them). And they had no real idea of the pain or political situation that the play deals with. So it was good to listen to them, but also good to hold my own opinions, mostly to myself.
Here’s the thing about me: when I hear (for decades, in this case) that something is brilliant, I assign half of my brain to argue with that. I hadn’t even reached the end of the opening miniseries episode (also written by Kushner) before I stopped arguing and watched in awe. Now, I’m mad at Stephen Spielberg, who co-opted Kushner and had him writing screenplays for the last 2 decades instead of actual plays. How much brilliance have we lost?
This play, by the way, deals with several religions, lots of 1980s (and still relevant) politics, the horrors of the late 1980s AIDS crisis, and the complexities of several relationships. It’s a fantasy (he calls it a fantasia, because, y’know, we wouldn’t want to say that it’s fantasy), and the fantastic elements are wonderful, particularly in the last few scenes. There’s humor as well as pathos. And, surprisingly to me, the ending is exceedingly upbeat. The kind of upbeat that I needed after this hellacious month. This is highly, highly, highly recommended.
Macur, Juliet, “The Keeper,” The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2023, edited by Richard Deitsch. Tension-filled story about a woman who was on Afghanistan’s women’s national soccer team. When the U.S. left and the Taliban took over again, women who achieved things and had degrees were either about to be put in jail or killed. This story is about her escape from Afghanistan and how she’s trying to make a life in Australia. However, her mother and her baby sister still live in Afghanistan. This is powerful and heartbreaking. Read it.
Porter, Rick, “‘We Let The Wolf Into The Henhouse, and We Lived to Regret It,” The Hollywood Reporter, September 6, 2023. Fascinating article about the issues that led to the strikes. The lack of data, the way that streaming works…or doesn’t work. The difficulties in getting data. This is worth reading for anyone who has deals pending or plans to do work in film and TV.
Pryor, Lex, “Serena Williams Refused to Bend. She Bent Tennis Instead.” The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2023, edited by Richard Deitsch. Somehow Lex Pryor managed to give a short and powerful history of African-Americans in tennis. Pryor also managed to show just how amazing Serena Williams is right in the middle of the change. I knew much of this, but not all of it. Fascinating.
Randall, Cassidy, “Alone at the Edge of the World,” The Year’s Best Sports Writing 2023, edited by Richard Deitsch. Fascinating, fascinating article on a British woman who was part of the Golden Globe Race in 2015. 18 people tried to take sailboats around the world…alone. She planned for it, did really well, but her ship got destroyed in a storm. She hated the publicity, though, and hated that everyone made such a big deal about her gender, so she didn’t let anyone write about her for years. She’s amazing and her story is inspiring. I’m glad I heard about her.
Spencer, George, “Progress on Alzheimer’s Disease,” On Wisconsin, Summer 2023. I have a close family member with dementia and my great-aunt had Alzheimer’s. Any time I see the word “progress” alongside the name of that disease, my heart goes up just a little bit. It makes me very happy. This is quite an uplifting article, based on the science. Take a look.