One-Minute Book Reviews

May 9, 2010

In ‘Open’ Andre Agassi Returns the Serve of Jerry Kramer and Jim Bouton

Filed under: Biography,Memoirs — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:58 pm
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A superstar recalls his lifelong fight to keep fear from becoming his “gateway drug”

Open: An Autobiography. By Andre Agassi. Knopf, 388 pp., $28.95.

By Janice Harayda
If Open had appeared a generation ago, people might be speak of it today along with Jerry Kramer’s Instant Reply and Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, two modern classics of sports literature. As it is, this autobiography can hold its own against many books by authors who have devoted their lives to writing and not, as Andre Agassi did, to becoming one of the great tennis players of the late 20th century.

Much for the publicity for Open has focused on its revelations that Agassi used crystal methamphetamine and chafed against his first marriage to a strong-willed Brooke Shields (who, he says, insisted that he wear shoes with lifts in them at their wedding so she wouldn’t tower over him in the photos). But this book is more interesting for its account of how a superstar wrested a worthy life from dismal circumstances that included growing up with a tyrannical stage father, dropping out of school in the ninth grade, and going back to the minor leagues of his sport when his ranking sank from No. 1 to No. 141 in the world.

Agassi tells his story with a deadpan wit, a lack of grandstanding, and considerable literary flair. Much of the credit for it goes to ghostwriter J. R. Moehringer, author of The Tender Bar, who won a Pulitzer Prize for feature reporting at the Los Angeles Times. Agassi says he told his friend Barbra Streisand: “Fears are like gateway drugs … You give into a small one, and soon you’re giving into bigger ones.” He has clearly benefited from few of his actions in retirement more than overcoming any fears he had about hiring a ghostwriter who could return his serve with style.

Best line: “I just don’t trust surgeons. I trust very few people, and I especially dislike the notion of trusting one perfect stranger, surrendering all control to one person whom I’ve only just met. I cringe at the thought of lying on a table, unconscious, while someone slices open the wrist with which I make my living. What if he’s distracted that day? What if he’s off? I see it happening on the court all the time – half the time it’s happening to me. I’m in the top ten, but some days you’d think I was a rank amateur. What if my surgeon is the Andre Agassi of medicine? What if he doesn’t have his A game that day? What if he’s drunk or on drugs?”

Worst line: “They’re the cast [of Friends], the eponymous Friends, but for all I know they could be six unemployed actors from West Covina.” Who but a literary critic would say “the eponymous Friends”?

Published: November 2009

You can also follow Jan Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter. She satirizes the publishing industry on her Fake Book News (@FakeBookNews) page on Twitter.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 3, 2009

What! You Want Me to Review Some Books When the Yankees Are in the Series?

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:14 pm
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Update: 3:50 p.m., Wednesday: Okay, I didn’t quite make that “within 24 hours.” But I’ll be back very soon. Jan

What! You want me to explain why I’ve posted no reviews so far this week when I’d normally have one or two up by Tuesday? Have you forgotten that I grew up in Central New Jersey (Yankees territory) and spent summers in that two-room shack without running water in South Jersey (Phillies territory)? Oh, you are cruel if you expect me to lash myself to my desk and write during beer commercials. So I’ll just say I hope to be back within 24 hours with comments on at least one of the books I’ve finished recently: Mitch Albom’s Have a Little Faith and David Small’s National Book Award finalist, Stitches. I am also reading Chronic City and The Informers and may say more about Bright-sided and Charles and Emma. In the meantime you can follow me on Twitter, where I’ve been writing about my efforts to finish Chronic City and other topics.

June 17, 2009

Joke of the Day — Literary Wit From ‘Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend’

Filed under: Humor,Joke of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:08 am
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A white reporter who watched Satchel Paige pitch in the Negro Leagues in the 1930s said that when Paige threw the ball, you saw only something that resembled “a thin line of pipe smoke.” Janet Maslin writes in a review Larry Tye’s new Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend (Random House, 392 pp., $26).

“When asked if he threw that fast consistently, Paige, who would become famed for choice aphorisms, replied: ‘No, sir. I do it all the time.’”

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

May 6, 2009

How Tori Murden McClure Became the First Woman to Row Alone Across the Atlantic in Her New Memoir, ‘A Pearl in the Storm’ – Coming Soon

Filed under: News,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:24 pm
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Remember when your eighth-grade English teacher told you that the three great themes in literature were “man against man, man against nature, and man against himself”? My favorite man-against-nature books include Adrift (Mariner, 256 pp., $14.95, paperback), Steven Callahan’s bestselling memoir of spending 76 days lost at sea on an inflatable raft after his sailboat sank during a race from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. The woman-against-nature category has produced other gems, such as Atlantic Circle (Norton, 1985), Kathryn Lasky Knight’s true story of sailing across the Atlantic with her husband. Can Tori Murden McClure hold her own in her new memoir of rowing solo across the Atlantic, A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean (HarperCollins, 304 pp., $24.95)? A review will appear soon.

April 21, 2009

Is ‘The Glory of Their Times’ the ‘Best Baseball Book Ever’?

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:41 pm
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Jonathan Yardley wrote recently in the Washington Post that Lawrence S. Ritter’s 1966 collection of interviews with early 20th-century baseball players, The Glory of Their Times (Harper, 384 pp., $14.95, paperback), “may well be the best baseball book ever.” How can I not have heard about that one until now? I thought it was generally agreed among critics who know more about the sport than I do that “the best baseball book ever” was Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer.

March 3, 2009

Cricket as a Metaphor in Joseph O’Neill’s ‘Netherland,’ Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for the Year’s Best American Work of Fiction

Filed under: Novels,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:00 am
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While I was compiling the Delete Key Awards shortlist, Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland won the PEN/Faulkner Award, given by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation to the year’s best American work of fiction. A nice line about the use of cricket as a metaphor in the novel appeared in Cathleen Medwick’s review in O, The Oprah Magazine:

“The complex game of cricket serves as this exquisitely articulated novel’s metaphor for civility wrested from chaos and the oblique trajectory of hope.”

One of the most widely praised novels of 2008, Netherland was snubbed by the judges for the National Book Awards and the National Book Critics Circle Awards, which I predicted it would win. But O’Neill has come out ahead financially: He gets $15,000 for the PEN/Faulkner instead of $10,000 for a National Book Award and nothing for a National Book Critics Circle Award. And he has a chance to pick up another $10,000 when the winners of Pulitzer prizes are named on April 20, though the history of those awards would seem to give the edge to Toni Morrison’s A Mercy.

A review of and reading group guide to Netherland appeared in separate posts on One-Minute Book Reviews on June 24, 2008. The paperback edition of the novel is due out from Vintage Books in June 2009.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 30, 2009

‘There Is No Way to Measure the Destructive Effect of Sports Broadcasting on Ordinary American English’ (Quote of the Day / Edwin Newman)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:36 am
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Part of the fun of watching the Super Bowl lies in the theater-of-the-absurd quality of so much the commentary. How often will we hear today that a team down by 21 points has to “move the football downfield” and “put some points on the board”? At least as often as we hear during the World Series that a team behind by five runs has to “put some wood on the ball” and “score some runs.”

When former athletes arrived, so did, "They came to play football."

It wasn’t always so, the former NBC newscaster Edwin Newman says in Strictly Speaking: Will America Be the Death of English? (Warner, 1975):

“There is no way to measure the destructive effect of sports broadcasting on ordinary American English, but it must be considerable. In the early days sports broadcasting was done, with occasional exceptions such as Clem McCarthy, by non-experts, announcers. Their knowledge of the sports they described varied, but their English was generally of a high order. If they could not tell you much about the inside of the game they were covering, at any rate what they did tell you you could understand.

“Then came the experts, which is to say the former athletes. They could tell you a great deal about the inside, but — again with some exceptions — not in a comprehensible way. They knew the terms the athletes themselves used, and for a while that added color to the broadcasts. But the inside terms were few, and the nonathlete announcers allowed themselves to be hemmed in by them – ‘He got good wood on that on,’ ‘He got the big jump,’ ‘He really challenged him on that one,’ ‘They’re high on him,’ ‘They came to play,’ ‘He’s really got the good hands,’ and ‘That has to be,’ as in ‘That has to be the best game Oakland has ever played.’

“The effect is deadening, on the enjoyment to be had from watching sports on television or reading about them, and, since sports make up so large a part of American life and do so much to set its tone, on the language we see and hear around us.”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

January 27, 2009

Kadir Nelson Celebrates Titans Like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in His 2009 Coretta Scott King Award-Winner, ‘We Are the Ship’

A California author has won two children’s-book prizes for his account of the days when black baseball teams sometimes had to sleep in jails or funeral homes because hotels wouldn’t rent rooms to them

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. By Kadir Nelson. Foreword by Hank Aaron. Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, 88 pp., $18.99. Ages 8 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Remembering Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and other titans

Quiz time, all of you who see yourself as experts on children’s literature: When was the last time you read a picture book that had a story told through first-person plural narration? Or that used original oil paintings for art instead of watercolors, collages, pen-and-ink drawings, or other more popular picture book media?

If you don’t know, you may have a sense of why Kadir Nelson has just won two major awards for We Are the Ship, an illustrated history of Negro League baseball. Nelson relies entirely on plural narration — a down-to-earth variation on the royal “we” — to tell the story of the black ballplayers who had to compete against themselves in a segregated America. And he illustrates his text with dozens of full-page oil paintings of celebrated players, owners, managers and umpires.

We Are the Ship reflects lapses you wouldn’t expect in an award-winning book, and Kevin Baker described some in his review in the New York Times Book Review. But it brims with vibrant details served up in a relaxed and conversational tone, all woven into stories you might hear from a ballplayer with his feet up on your porch in the off-season.

George “Mule” Suttles isn’t as well known today as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and other Negro League titans. But Nelson shows you his appeal in a few sentences:

“We had a fellow named George ‘Mule’ Suttles, who played for the Newark Eagles. He was a big ’un. We used to say he hit the ball like a mule kicks. Fans would yell, ‘Kick, Mule, kick!’ and he’d take a great big swing like, Babe Ruth. He’d even thrill you when he struck out. Darn near screwed himself into the ground when he struck out.”

Nelson might have prevented some confusion if had he said up front that he was writing in “a collective voice, the voice of every player” instead of describing this postmodern device in an author’s note on page 80 that many children may never read. And some of his language may be anachronistic for a speaker of its day. (Would a player in the early decades of the 20th century have said “kinda,” “Hall of Famer” and “The man was awesome”?) The art is slick enough that paging through this book is a a bit like viewing a collection of high-quality movie stills.

Even so, We Are the Ship is informative and entertaining. Nelson shows the cruelty faced by players who at times had to sleep at the local jail or funeral home because they couldn’t afford rooms on the road or hotels would rent only to whites. But he balances such stories with lighter ones that keep his book from becoming bleak. How much of the fun has gone out of baseball in the era of steroids, big money and free agents? Nelson offers a clue when he reminds us that, in the early days of Negro baseball, Lloyd “Pepper” Basset used to catch some games in a rocking chair.

Best line: Manager Andrew “Rube” Foster sent signals to his pitchers from the dugout instead of having his catchers send them: “He’d puff signals from his pipe or nod his head one way to signal a play. One puff, fastball. Two puffs, curveball. Things like that.”

Worst line: No. 1: “The average major league player’s salary back then [in the 1940s] was $7,000 per month.” Dave Anderson of the New York Times, perhaps the greatest living baseball writer, says in The Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s (co-authored with Rudy Marzanot) that it was $7,000 a year, not a month. No. 2: Nelson says that the Depression–era numbers game (which involved betting on random numbers that would appear on stock-market pages or elsewhere): “Back then, it was a 100 percent illegal business; but nowadays it’s known as the lottery, and it’s run by the government.” This line is glib and misleading. The numbers racket and state lotteries have always been separate.

Recommendation? We Are the Ship has the format of a coffee-table book and, although marketed to children, may appeal also to adults.

Published: January 2008. We Are the Ship is the No. 1 children’s baseball book on Amazon.

Furthermore: Nelson lives in southern California. His first name is pronounced Kah-DEER.

On Monday We Are the Ship won the 2009 Coretta Scott King Award, which the American Library Association gives to “to African American authors and illustrators for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions.” The book also received the Robert F. Sibert Medal for “the most distinguished informational book” for young readers.

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 1, 2008

Fiction, Nonfiction and Poetry About Sports for Grades K–8, Recommended by the Country’s Leading Children’s Literature Journal

Often I disagree with the reviews in the Horn Book, the country’s leading journal of children’s literature, which at times seem to favor books suited for schools and libraries at the expense of those that are pure fun. You probably aren’t going to find the magazine giving much play to Bob Phillips’s Awesome Good Clean Jokes for Kids (Harvest House, 207 pp., $3.99, paperback), which you can buy off the rack at CVS and might delight any 5-to-8-year-old on your holiday list.

But the Horn Book brings a seriousness of purpose to reviewing that’s all the more valuable now that so many book-review sections have died. And its editors have a leg up on most children’s book reviewers – to say nothing of bloggers — at gift-giving time: They see pretty much everything that gets published.

So if you’re looking for good books about sports for ages 5 to 13 or so, you could do worse than to look at its list of recommended fiction, nonfiction and poetry for grades kindergarten though 8 (and maybe higher)
www.hbook.com/resources/books/sports.asp. The Horn Book editors also suggest books about sports for preschoolers. I’ll post my gift suggestions for sports and other books in a few weeks.

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

October 18, 2008

Good Sports Stories for Children and Teenagers – Alan Durant’s ‘Score!’

UPDATE on Dec. 3, 2009: Online booksellers in the US have sold out of this one, but it is available under its original title of Sports Stories from UK booksellers including the Book Depository, which offers free shipping to the US.

Score!: Sports Stories. By Alan Durant. Roaring Brook, 264 pp., $6.95, paperback. First published as Sports Stories. Ages: See discussion below.

By Janice Harayda

Score! is an answer to the prayers of many adults who are looking for a gift for a child who likes sports. This outstanding book has 21 stories about young male and female athletes, written by authors from Homer and Matt Christopher. And it covers many popular sports, including soccer, tennis, football, baseball, basketball, swimming, wrestling, bicycling, ice hockey, horseback riding, and track and field.

That breadth alone might set Score! apart from other anthologies. But the book also contains an appealing variety of writing styles – formal and informal, serious and humorous, realistic and futuristic. An overconfident White Sox rookie writes hilariously inane and ungrammatical letters to a friend in Ring Lardner’s classic You Know Me Al. A young swimmer tries to qualify for the Rome Olympics after the death of her boyfriend in an excerpt from In Lane Three, Alex Archer by Tessa Duder, a former world-class swimmer for New Zealand. And a soccer contest 200 years in the future has undertones of wii and other digital games in Malorie Blackman’s “Contact.”

Alan Durant provides helpful introductions for some of his selections, including an excerpt from National Velvet. He writes that Enid Bagnold’s 1935 novel is “the most famous horse racing story in fiction” and inspired a movie that starred Elizabeth Taylor as the teenage horsewoman who disguises herself as a male jockey to enter the Grand National. Then he mentions an unusual aspect of the excerpt: “What makes this description of the race so memorable is the way it is viewed not from the perspective of the competitor, Violet, but from that of the horse’s trainer, Mi, who struggles to follow the race among the crowds of spectators.”

Most of the stories in Score! have a strong plot and would lend themselves to reading aloud. This virtue adds to their appeal in an age when fiction for children, as for adults, is becoming more fragmented and elliptical. Before television, the great radio broadcasters knew that had to use words to draw pictures of games for their listeners, and the best writers in this book do that and more for their young readers.

Best line: In The Iliad Ulysses asks Athena to help him in a foot race, and the goddess obliges by tripping his rival Ajax: “He fell headfirst into a pile of cattle dung, while Ulysses ran on to win the race.” What a brilliant way to get kids interested in Homer: Choose a scene that has somebody falling head first into a dung heap.

Worst line: A couple of stories deal with English sports in a way that may baffle some children. I love P.G. Wodehouse but have no idea what he means in a line about cricket match from his Mike at Wrykyn: “Burgess’s yorker was nearly too much for the latter in the first over, but he contrived to shop it away, and the pair gradually settled down.”

Recommendation? The publisher recommends Score! for ages 9–12. But some of the tales may also appeal to teenagers. The Lardner story, for example, was written for adults and first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post.

Caveat lector: This review was based on the hardcover edition, which has illustrations by David Kearney.

Publisher: 2008 (Roaring Brook paperback), 2000 (Kingfisher hardcover entitled Sports Stories).

Furthermore: Durant lives in England and wrote the “Leggs United” soccer series for children.

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

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