One-Minute Book Reviews

October 22, 2013

Ex-Bronco Nate Jackson’s Football Memoir ‘Slow Getting Up’

Filed under: Memoirs,Nonfiction,Sports — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:28 pm
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An iconoclast recalls the physical and mental bruises he sustained in the NFL

Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival From the Bottom of the Pile. By Nate Jackson. Harper, 243 pp., $26.99.

By Janice Harayda

Nate Jackson recalls his injury-prone years in the NFL in a book that proves that a professional football player can use “contextualize” and “neophytic” in a sentence. He has not written his league’s answer to Andre Agassi’s Open, perhaps the best sports memoir of the past decade.

But unlike better-known players such as Brett Favre, Jackson has a sense of humor — by turns droll, self-mocking and sarcastic — that doesn’t spare his teams, the 49ers and the Broncos. He refers to every stadium as [Insert Corporate Logo Here] Field and notes that the NFL has required its drug-testers to watch players urinate, not just collect cups,  ever since a member of one of its rosters was caught at an airport with a prosthetic penis called the Whizzinator.

As entertaining as some of this is, you wonder why Jackson felt the need to explain things such as that a lot of masturbation goes on in the hotel rooms of football players traveling without their wives or girlfriends. Did he think no one would have suspected it?

Best line: No. 1:  “So much of offensive football is lying with your body, getting the defender to think you are going somewhere you aren’t. Tell a story with your movements: a bloody lie!” No. 2:  Jackson says he lost some of his idealism when the Broncos replaced quarterback Jake Plummer, whose success had made him believe “there was room for an iconoclast in the cloistered institution of big football,” with the rookie Jay Cutler: “But the good/bad thing about football is that it moves too quickly for your conscientious objections to keep pace. It pulls you along by sheer force.”

Worst line: No. 1: “But I’m not a pregame self-gratifier.” (Accompanied by a report on players who are.) No. 2: “If the wedge comes free to me and the R2, and all the other guys get blocked, then the R2 and I must eat up the wedge and spill the returner outside into the arms of the R1.”

About the author: Nate Jackson spent more than six seasons in the NFL, mostly as a tight end. He played for the San Francisco 49ers in 2002 and for the Denver Broncos from 2003–2008. Ann Killon interviewed him about Slow Getting Up for a San Francisco Chronicle article in which he discusses his brief use of Human Growth Hormone at the end of his career.

Published: September 2013

Jan is a novelist and award-winning critic and journalist who spent 11 years as the book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. You can follow @janiceharayda on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button at right.

© 2013 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

August 21, 2008

Australia Was the Best Modern Olympic Host (Quote of the Day / ‘The Olympic Games’)

Filed under: Nonfiction,Quotes of the Day,Sports — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:43 pm
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If the International Olympic Committee gave awards for hosting the summer games of the past quarter century, China would deserve the booby prize for embarrassments that began with lip sync-ing at the opening ceremony and keep unfolding. What country was the best recent host? The editors of The Olympic Games: Athens 1896–Athens 2004 (DK, 2004) vote for Australia:

“The Sydney 2000 Games were one of the greatest success stories in Olympic history. Over 10,000 athletes from 200 countries delivered the ultimate sporting even in a suberb venue.

“At the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Games, outgoing president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Juan Antonio Samaranch declared to the host nation, ‘I am proud and happy to proclaim that you have presented to the world the best Olympic Games ever.’ Quite a plaudit, but one few would argue with. Everything seemed perfect – the organization, the athletic performance, the setting, the climate …

“The only blot on the Sydney Games was the rash of athletes removed after failing drugs tests – a record total of 35. However, it is undeniable that the Sydney Games were the high watermark of the modern Olympics, and something that future Olympic hosts will have to live up to.”

This comment comes from a publisher that, though well-respected, is based in London www.dk.com. Do you agree with the editors? Or do you think their comments show a Commonwealth bias?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

August 20, 2008

‘Barefoot Runner: The Life of Marathon Champion Abebe Bikila’ – A Portrait of the First African to Win a Gold Medal at the Olympics

Filed under: African American,Biography,Sports — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:32 pm
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The band couldn’t find the Ethiopian national anthem when a former bodyguard for Haile Selassie became the first man to win back-to-back gold medals in the signature event of the Olympics

Barefoot Runner: The Life of Marathon Champion Abebe Bikila. By Paul Rambali. Serpent’s Tail, 315 pp., $20, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

This is a very strange book about the first African to win a gold medal at the Olympics and the man some regard as the greatest marathoner of all time. Born in rural Ethiopia, Abebe Bikila served as a bodyguard for Emperor Haile Selassie before running barefoot to his first gold medal at the Rome games in 1960. Four years later, wearing shoes and socks in Tokyo, Bikila became the first man to win back-to-back gold medals in the marathon:

“Bikila was so euphoric that it mattered not if the band could not find the score for the Ethiopian national anthem … and played the Japanese anthem instead,” David Miller writes in Athens to Athens.

Journalist Paul Rambali tells Bikila’s story in a book that its publisher bills as a biography but that reads more like a novelization. From the first sentence onward, Rambali uses the literary device of limited omniscient narration: He goes inside Bikila’s head and, in alternating chapters, that of his coach, Onni Niskanen, and describes thoughts he appears to have had no way of knowing.

This device might have worked beautifully in a brief children’s biography, an art form that allows more leeway for the technique. As it is, too much of Barefoot Runner defies belief for a work labeled “nonfiction.”

Bikila died of a brain hemorrhage in his early 40s, which may help to explain why no definitive biography of him has appeared, nearly a half century after he struck gold in Rome. But lesser athletes have had better books written about them. The world will owe a debt to anyone who gives this great Olympian the great biography he deserves.

Best line: Rambali explains why Bikila ran barefoot in Rome, though he provides no source for it. He says that when Bikila, among other runners, went to the Adidas stand in the Olympic village to get shoes, there were no shoes that fit him: “His big toes were too large and his outside toes too small. ‘They’re almost ingrown,’ said the Adidas man. He was curious about Abebe’s feet and said he had never seen anything like them: the soles and heels were as hard as corns! He told the major [Onni Niskanen] they had given away 1,500 pairs of shoes and they had hardly any left … They couldn’t find a pair of shoes anywhere that Abebe was comfortable with and finally the major had decided that, since there wouldn’t be time to properly break in a new pair, Abebe would race barefoot.”

Worst line: “The old women shouted questions at him as he passed. He was always running, it was true. If he didn’t answer them, it wasn’t because he was out breath, for he was never out of breath.” This early comment sets the tone for the rest of the book. Has the world ever had a distance runner who was “never out of breath”?

Published: June 2007 www.serpentstail.com/book?id=10906

Furthermore: A recent review in the Guardian says that Tim Judah takes a more journalistic approach to Bikila’s life in his Bikila: Ethiopia’s Marathon Champion (Reportage Press, 2008), which doesn’t appear to have reached the U.S. www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/jul/27/sportandleisure?gusrc=rss&feed=books, and provides a useful comparison of that book and Barefoot Runner.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning journalist.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

July 4, 2008

A Good Sports Book for Middle-School and Older Students

Good news for anyone who is looking for a well-written sports book for middle-school and older students: Phillip Hoose’s Perfect, Once Removed: When Baseball Was All the World to Me (Walker, 176 pp., $10.95, paperback, ages 10 and up) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/16/ has come out in paperback. In this lively memoir Hoose www.philliphoose.com remembers when he was in the fourth grade and his cousin once removed, Don Larsen, pitched a perfect game for the Yankees against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. Walker Books www.walkerbooks.com/books/catalog.php?key=614 is rightly cross-marketing this book to adults and adolescents, both of whom may especially enjoy its moment-by-moment account of Larsen’s perfect game. The bright new cover art for the paperback edition, shown here, should heighten its appeal for young readers. Perfect, Once Removed was named one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2007 by Bill Ott for the American Library Association’s Booklist.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 22, 2008

Mark Bowden Remembers ‘The Best Game Ever’ and the Birth of Sudden-Death Overtime in National Football League Championship Play

Filed under: Nonfiction,Sports — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:30 am
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To judge by the Amazon ratings for Black Hawk Down – a total of 672 reviews, not one less than four stars – I’m among the few who thought that Mark Bowden’s account of the bungled 1993 American military raid in Somalia was overrated. So although I’m in no rush to read Bowden’s new book about the first National Football League championship game decided in sudden-death overtime, I’d like to mention the most authoritative review of it that I’ve seen so far.

Jonathan Yardley wrote of The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL (Atlantic Monthly, 279 pp., $23) in the Washington Post:

“It’s considerably more than a play-by-play account, though Bowden does manage to build up a surprising amount of suspense. Both pro football and the United States were very different half a century ago, and Bowden understands that this game caught both the league and the nation at a moment of deep and lasting change. … Early in his career Bowden covered professional football for the Philadelphia Inquirer, an experience that serves him well here. His explanations of shifts in the teams’ offensive and defensive strategies are lucid, and he knows enough about the extreme physical and mental demands the game exacts to convey a strong sense of the players’ exhaustion and determination as the game ground toward its conclusion. He isn’t entirely immune to journalistic cliché and at times overwrites, but generally his prose is competent and clear.”

Yardley also says that while Bowden respects the 1958 Giants, “this is a Colt fan’s book.” To read his full review, click here before the Post packs it off an archive:
www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/06/06/ST2008060602105.html. A slide show of the game that accompanies the review. The Atlantic Monthy Press site www.groveatlantic.com has additional information.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

May 19, 2008

When Girls’ Sports Injuries Go Beyond the Soccer Field

Filed under: Nonfiction,Sports — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:11 pm
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On May 11 the New York Times Magazine published a cover story provocatively headlined: “Everyone Wants Girls to Have As Many Opportunities in Sports as Boys. But Can We Live With the Greater Rate of Injuries They Suffer?” www.nytimes.com/2008/05/11/magazine/11Girls-t.html. Written by Michael Sokolove, the article focused on soccer injuries, especially ruptures of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Journalist Joan Ryan explores the physical and emotional risks of two other popular sports in Little Girls in Pretty Boxes The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters (Warner, 2000), a chilling exposé of the exploitation of young female gymnasts and skaters. The book grew out of an award-winning series Ryan wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle and became a 1997 made-for-TV movie www.imdb.com/title/tt0119551/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 8, 2008

One of the Year’s Best Books About High School Sports, Mark Kreidler’s ‘Four Days to Glory,’ Returns in a Paperback Edition

Filed under: Paperbacks,Sports,Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:53 pm
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Masterly reporting sheds light on an athletic subculture little-known outside the Midwest

You can’t envy parents, teachers and librarians who are looking for sports books for high school students. So many books in the category are cheesy celebrity biographies that foster the worship of false demigods instead of a love of reading or a real understanding of competition. Not Mark Kreidler’s Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland (Harper, 285 pp., $13.95, paperback, ages 13 and up), which recently came out in paperback www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/07/. Two high school wrestlers prepare to compete in the Iowa state championship in this book of masterly reporting that offers a fascinating portrait of a little-known athletic subculture www.markkreidler.com and www.harpercollins.com. Mary Ann Harlan rightly said in School Library Journal: “Teen wrestlers will appreciate a book that speaks to them and respectfully about them, and sports fans may find a new area to appreciate.”

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews, a site for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. You can find other reviews in the “Children’s Books,” “Young Adult,” “Caldecott Medals” and “Newbery Medals” categories at right.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

October 29, 2007

‘Baseball Haiku': World-Class Poems About the Seasons of a Sport

Poems that speak to the emotions of Red Sox and Rockies fans today

Baseball Haiku: American and Japanese Haiku and Senryu on Baseball. Edited and With Translations by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura. Norton, 214 pp., $19.95.

By Janice Harayda

“Haiku and baseball were made for each other: While haiku give us moments in which nature is linked to human nature, baseball is played in the midst of the natural elements — on a field under an open sky; and as haiku happen in a timeless now, so does baseball, for there is no clock ticking in a baseball game — the game’s not over until the last out.”

With those words, Cor van den Heuvel sets the tone for this exemplary anthology of more than 200 of the finest haiku about baseball written by American and Japanese poets. Most Americans think of haiku as poems of 17 syllables, typically arranged in a 5-7-5 pattern on three stepped or flush-left lines.

But van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura show how much more flexible the form can be than the traditional pattern might suggest. Van den Heuvel notes, for example, that the best American practitioners of the art typically write free-verse haiku that have fewer than 17 syllables.

Consider the work of the Kansas-born Michael Fessler, who shows how nature can affect baseball in a poem that portrays the game as few of us see it played today: “dust storm trick: / infielders / face the outfield.” Fessler’s haiku suggests the layers of meaning that gifted poets can find in as few as 15 syllables: The word “trick” refers both the players’ shift of position and to a trick of nature, the dust storm. And the poem quietly conveys the passions aroused by baseball, a sport people will play in blinding storms.

Each author in Baseball Haiku gets an intelligent, one-page introduction that mentions a team that influenced him or her. But even without that material you might guess that the Maine-born van den Heuvel is “a lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox” from one of his own poems that appears in the book, an homage to Ted Williams: “Ted hits another homer / a seagull high over right field / gets out of the way.”

Like all good poetry, the best haiku in this book transcend fandom and evoke deep and, if not universal, at least transoceanic emotions. One comes from the Japanese poet Yotsuya Ryu, known for his ability to capture fleeting moments in nature. He wrote its words years ago. But this one’s for you, Rockies fans: “until raised to Heaven / I’ll go to fields of green / carrying my glove.”

Published: June 2007 www.wwnorton.co

Furthermore: All the Japanese poems in Baseball Haiku include their original text and an English translation. More haiku appear at www.simplyhaiku.com. Van den Heuvel nows lives in New York City and Tamura in Japan.

You may also enjoy: The June 18, 2008, post on this site “Basketball Poems for Celtics Fans and Others” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/06/18/.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

October 19, 2007

Waving a Red-and-White Towel for ‘Veeck — As in Wreck': The Best Book Ever Written About Cleveland Baseball?

He sent a midget to the plate in St. Louis, inadvertently caused a fan riot in Chicago and brought the first black player, Larry Doby, into the American League in Cleveland

By Janice Harayda

One of the first things I asked my new co-workers after I moved to Ohio to become the book editor of the Plain Dealer was, “What are the best books about Cleveland?” Many people mentioned the memoirs of the most colorful owner in the history of the Cleveland Indians, Veeck — As in Wreck : The Autobiography of Bill Veeck, by Bill Veeck with Ed Linn, with a foreword by Bob Verdi (University of Chicago Press, $16, paperback).

I later learned that ardent baseball fans regard this straight-talking book as one of the best ever written about the sport. And its admirers include the ex-baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, who listed it among his five favorites in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year.

“Bill Veeck’s memoir is an irreverent and funny account of his days as an unorthodox baseball owner — and indeed he did try some silly tricks to draw crowds,” Vincent wrote. “Sometimes he went over the line, as with Eddie Gaedel, the midget he sent up to bat for the St. Louis Browns in 1951, and ‘Disco Demolition Night,’ which turned into a fan riot in 1979, when he owed the Chicago White Sox. But Veeck also made a serious and singular contribution to the game in 1947 when, as the owner of the Cleveland Indians, he brought the first black player, Larry Doby, into the American League. But because Jackie Robinson preceded Doby into the major leagues by a few months, both Doby and Veeck have been somewhat overlooked … Bill Veeck may have been a bit of a wreck, but he deserves much more attention and credit than he has received.”

One sign of the enduring importance of Veeck — As in Wreck is that its latest edition comes from the distinguished University of Chicago Press (which, it’s safe to say, is not going to be publishing Dennis Rodman‘s Bad as I Wanna Be a half century from now). You might say that the book, first published in 1962, is the rare sports memoir for which fans still wave the literary equivalent those red-and-white Tribe towels that you’ve seen if you’ve watched the American League Championship Series. You can read an excerpt from Veeck — As in Wreck on site for the University of Chicago Press: www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/852180.html.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 16, 2007

Phillip Hoose Remembers When His Cousin, Don Larsen, Pitched the Only Perfect Game in World Series History

Filed under: Memoirs,Nonfiction,Sports — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:49 am
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A baseball memoir that speaks both to young fans and those old enough to miss the days when players smoked Camels in the dugout

Perfect, Once Removed: When Baseball Was All the World to Me. By Phillip Hoose. Walker, 176 pp., $19.95.

By Janice Harayda

Baseball books tend to preach to the bleachers. If you don’t understand the infield fly-rule or the job of a short-reliever, you can’t necessarily expect any help from their authors, who typically take a certain amount of knowledge – if not fanaticism – for granted.

Perfect, Once Removed is the rare baseball book that has something for fans at all levels. In this lively memoir Phillip Hoose tells how his cousin once removed, Don Larsen, pitched a perfect game for the Yankees against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series and, in doing so, helped him adjust to being a fourth-grader in Speedway, Indiana. The book could have become an exercise in special pleading for a famous relative. But Perfect, Once Removed gives such balanced view of Hoose’s and Larsen’s entwined stories that it may appeal to many people besides baby boomers who love to recall the great Yankee-Dodger games of yore, including a baseball-loving adolescents.

Part of the charm of Perfect, Once Removed is that Hoose respects his fourth-grade views and resists the impulse to correct them in hindsight, though he ends with a catch-up visit with then 76-year-old Larsen. He recalls that in the 1950s, ballplayers endorsed cigarettes so often that he created a scrapbook of the ads:

“To a man, these ballplayers reported that smoking helped them relax. They all enjoyed the mildness of a Camel. A cigarette before a game helped them perform better, and a butt in the locker room afterward helped them unwind. As Mickey Mantle put it, ‘For mildness and flavor, you can’t beat Camels!’ It all made sense to me.”

Hoose isn’t endorsing smoking, just recalling how he reacted to all that puffing by his heroes. And that kind of frankness help to give his book a relevance that extends beyond the personal. Perfect, Once Removed isn’t just family story. It’s a book about the way baseball used to be and a useful antidote to the tendency to idealize the past. If you think steroids are ruining the game, consider this: Would you prefer that ballplayers were still in endorsing Camels in major magazines?

Best line: One of many colorful details in this book involves how the catcher for Larsen’s perfect game celebrated the event: “Yogi Berra promptly went out and had his catcher’s mitt bronzed.”

Worst line: Hoose says that he has re-created some dialogue but that his book is “entirely accurate as to what was said and how it was said.” This claim is generally credible. It is much less so when he says that the Dodger fans on the school playground told him: “Your cousin sucks.” In 1956 they would have said, “Your cousin stinks.”

Editor: George Gibson

Published: October 2006 www.philliphoose.com

Recommendation? An excellent gift for a reader who loves to recall the days of demigods like Mantle, Berra and their teammates. School Library Journal also recommends Perfect, Once Removed for high school students (and it may appeal to some baseball fans as young as 10 or 11). This is a good book to read aloud to sports-loving children too old for picture books, especially moment-by-moment account of Larsen’s perfect game in Chapter 8.

Caveat lector: This review was based on the advance reading edition. Some material in the finished book may differ.

Furthermore: Hoose also wrote the award-winning The Race to Save the Lord God Bird (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $20), a nonfiction book about the ivory-billed woodpecker that appeared on many “Best Books of 2004” lists.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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