One-Minute Book Reviews

October 16, 2008

Ring Lardner’s Baseball Stories for All Ages, ‘You Know Me Al’

Classic tales of an overconfident White Sox rookie are still print in different editions for adults and children

An egocentric pitcher. A coach fed up with his player’s excuses. A team that can’t win on the road. And — to spice things up — a little girl trouble in the background.

Sound like a team in the 2008 playoffs? Actually it’s what you’ll find in Ring Lardner’s collection of humorous short stories about baseball, You Know Me Al (Book Jungle, 248, $16.95, paperback), written for adults but likely also to appeal to many teenagers.

First published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1914, these tales are a masterpiece of tone. They take the form of rambling, misspelled and ungrammatical letters written by a rookie White Sox pitcher named Jack Keefe to his friend Al while traveling with his team during the baseball season. Jack has a comically misplaced self-confidence that feeds a low-grade persecution complex. (“I hit good on the training trip and he must of knew they had no chance to score off me in the innings they had left while they were liable to murder his other pitchers.”) Lardner’s stories about his anti-hero remain entertaining partly because they deal with emotions that still exist in any locker room.

But a little of Jack’s bombast goes a long way, and young readers may prefer an anthologized excerpt from You Know Me Al. One of the best for tweens and teenagers appears in Alan Durant’s outstanding Score! Sports Stories (Roaring Brook, 264 pp., 264 pp., ages 9 and up), a collection of 21 modern and classic sports stories just out in a new paperback edition. Durant’s brief introduction suggests why young readers may enjoy excerpt: “The story is full of jokes – mainly at the teller’s expense, as Keefe constantly gets on the wrong side of coach Callahan with his often idiotic remarks.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 25, 2008

Attack of the Killer Soccer Moms – Nancy Star’s Novel ‘Carpool Diem’ (Books I Didn’t Finish)

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:58 pm
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The latest in a series of occasional posts on books I didn’t finish and why I didn’t finish them

Title: Carpool Diem. By Nancy Star. Grand Central/5 Spot, 326 pp., $13.99, paperback.

What it is: A fizzy novel about a turbocharged executive who transfers her aggression to her daughter’s soccer games when she loses her job.

How much I read: About 70 pages: the first nine chapters, the last few pages, and some other parts.

Why I stopped reading: This lighter-than-light novel might be best read in an SUV full of empty Gatorade bottles while you wait for your daughter to finish practice. I thought it might be fun to review during soccer season but decided I was out of my depth when I realized that I didn’t know when soccer season was. (Memo to parents: Is it still soccer season? Or is it lacrosse season now? Or maybe hockey?) You could imagine Barnes and Noble displaying this one next to Sophie Kinsella’s books, maybe with a sign reading, “What if Shopaholic was a New Jersey soccer mom?”

Best line in what I read: The manic newsletters that the obsessive, semi-deranged soccer coach Winslow West sends to team parents. Here’s a sample paragraph: “Aggressive Play Reminder: I know young athletes tend to think that when a ref shows them a yellow card it is a warning to be feared. I urge you instead to view the yellow card as a form of tribute to aggressive play! The next time a ref shows you a yellow card, accept it as the compliment it really is!!!” And another: “Notification of next year’s team selection will be on the 25th of June. Players who are moved down to the B team, the Asteroids, will receive a call from the B coach, Gerri Picker. But do not despair! Any player who is moved down from our Elite team to the B team will have the opportunity, over the next season, to work hard and climb back up if she so desires!!!” And then there’s my favorite: “Practice will continue to be held on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays throughout the summer, from eight forty-five to twelve-fifteen and four forty-five to six thirty, irregardless of the weather!” Love that “irregardless.”

Worst line in what I read: The strained humor in parts of an epilogue called “Five Warning Signs That Your Kid’s Coach Is Crazy.” One sign: “Uses a ball pump as a key chain.”

Reading group guide and excerpt: At www.hachettebookgroupusa.com/books_9780446581820.htm.

Published: March 2008

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

Furthermore: Nancy Star is a New Jersey children’s author who also writes novels for adults that include Carpool Diem. Contact the author: Nancy Star, c/o Author Mail, 5 Spot, Hachette Book Group USA, 237 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10017.

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

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

August 19, 2008

What’s the Difference Between Being a World Champion and an Olympic Champion in Your Sport? (Quote of the Day / Steve Redgrave in ‘Athens to Athens’)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:37 pm
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Steve Redgrave of Great Britain was the first person to win gold medals in five successive Olympics, a feat he achieved in men’s rowing events in Los Angeles, Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney. Redgrave has also been a world champion in his sport and compares the two honors in Athens to Athens:

“The Olympic Games are the ultimate challenge. Richard Burnell, himself a gold-medal winner in 1948, said to me after the first time I won in 1984: ‘You’re world champion for one year, you’re Olympic champion for life.’ That sums it up.”

As quoted by David Miller in Athens to Athens: The Official History of the Olympic Games and the IOC, 1894–2004 (Mainstream, 2003). Miller is a former chief sports correspondent of the Times of London. Steve Redgrave’s Web site is www.steveredgrave.com. Richard Burnell won a gold medal in the double sculls with Bert Bushnell.

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

August 13, 2008

How Do Gymnasts Know When They’re Ready to Do Those Really Scary Routines? (Quote of the Day – Mary Lou Retton via Dave Anderson)

Filed under: News,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:36 am
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How do gymnasts know when they’re ready to do one of those white-knuckle routines we saw last night in the women’s gymnastics final? Mary Lou Retton, who won the gold medal in the women’s all-around at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, once said:

“If you’re a gymnast, someone should be able to sneak up and drag you out of bed at midnight and push you out onto some strange floor, and you should be able to do your entire routine sound asleep in your pajamas. Without one mistake.”

As quoted by Dave Anderson in The Story of the Olympics (Morrow Junior Books, 1996), with a foreword by Carol Lewis. Written by a Pulitzer Prize–winning sportswriter for the New York Times, this excellent introduction to the Olympics for ages 9 and up came out in a revised an expanded edition from HarperCollins in 2000, shown at left.

During the Olympics, One-Minute Book Reviews will post occasional quotes from books that give context to the sports taking center stage in Beijing. These posts will appear in addition to the usual reviews. The quotes are intended partly to guide you to good books that you may want to read during or after the Olympics.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 12, 2008

Gymnastics Is a ‘Contact Sport’ (Quote of the Day / Jennifer Sey in ‘Chalked Up’)

Filed under: News,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:37 am
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Jennifer Sey, the 1986 U.S. National Gymnastics Champion, argues in her new memoir Chalked Up that gymnastics is a contact sport:

“In football, it’s another player who crushes, bruises, breaks the athlete. In gymnastics, it’s the floor. Or the beam. Or any piece of unmoving, unforgiving equipment that meets the body on its descent through the air from great heights.”

From Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics’ Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders, and Elusive Olympic Dreams (Morrow, 289 pp., $24.95). For more on the book, see Sey’s site www.jennifersey.com and this review www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/06/02. Read an excerpt from Chalked Up here www.jensey.com/excerpt.htm.

[During the Olympics, One-Minute Book Reviews post, in addition to reviews, frequent quotes about marquee events in Beijing. These quotes will generally come from good books about sports. Another comment about women's gymnastics will appear later today.]

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

August 10, 2008

Has Volleyball Arrived as an Olympic Sport? (Quote of the Day / Paul Sunderland via Dave Anderson)

Filed under: News,Nonfiction,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 6:54 pm
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Volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1964 but didn’t come into its own in the U.S. until Karch Kiraly drove the American team to gold medals in 1984 and 1988. Even then, it had a narrower appeal than marquee sports such as swimming and track. Has volleyball finally arrived as an Olympic sport? If not, when will it have emerged from the margins? One answer came from Paul Sunderland, a member of the 1984 U.S. team:

“It won’t have arrived until the people who see us in an airport stop asking us what basketball team we play for.”

As quoted by Dave Anderson in The Story of the Olympics (Morrow Junior Books, 1996), with a foreword by Carol Lewis. Written by a Pulitzer Prize–winning sportswriter for the New York Times, this excellent introduction to the Olympics for ages 9 and up came out in a revised an expanded edition from HarperCollins in 2000, shown at left.

[During the Olympics, One-Minute Book Reviews will post occasional quotes from books that give context to the sports taking center stage in Beijing. These quotes will appear in addition to the usual reviews.]

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

June 18, 2008

Basketball Poems for Celtics Fans and Others

Earlier this month I wrote about Edward Hirsch’s shortlist of his favorite baseball poems, which appears in Poet’s Choice (Harcourt, 2006), a collection of his columns on poetry for the Washington Post. That book also has ideas for those of you who would rather read poems about basketball today. Hirsch recommends William Matthews’s “In Memory of the Utah Stars,” Quincy Troupe’s “Poem for Magic,” Garrett Hongo’s “The Cadence of Silk” Yusef Komunyakaa’s “Slam, Dunk, & Hook” and Marisa de los Santos’s “Women Watching Basketball.” He also likes B.H. Fairchild’s “Old Men Playing Basketball,” the text of which appears in Poet’s Choice. For more on Hirsch, a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry, click here www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=3173.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 5, 2008

Baseball Poems – One of Poetry’s Power-Hitters Picks His Favorites

Filed under: Essays and Reviews,Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:31 am
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Edward Hirsch, the poet and National Book Critics Circle Award winner, lists baseball poems he likes best

Part of the fun of having a blog like One-Minute Book Reviews is that you can rarely predict which posts will be the most popular. Often reviews I expected to have little appeal — and almost didn’t write — end up among the Top 10 on the site.

A case in point is Baseball Haiku (Norton, 2007), a book of American and Japanese haiku about baseball edited by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura. From the start I liked everything about this book — from the high quality of the poems to their thoughtful introductions and handsome packaging. But Baseball Haiku sat on my shelf for weeks. I wondered if by writing about it, I might be trying to thread too small a needle: How many people would want to read about a book of baseball poems, none with more than 17 syllables?

You’d be surprised.

My review of Baseball Haiku appeared on the morning after the 2007 World Series and at first attracted only modest traffic www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/10/29/. Like a pitcher recalled from the minors, it blazed back at the start of the 2008 season and has since ranked often among the Top 10 posts.

What are some of the best baseball poems in forms other than haiku? You’ll find answers in a lucid essay on baseball poems in Poet’s Choice (Harcourt, 2006), a collection of popular columns written for the Washington Post Book World by Edward Hirsch www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=3173, the poet whose many honors include a National Book Critics Circle Award www.bookcritics.org.

Hirsch writes:

“My shortlist of favorite baseball poems includes May Swenson’s quirky ‘Analysis of Baseball,’ Robert Francis’s study of a pitcher [‘Pitcher’], Michael Collier’s ‘The Wave,’ B. H. Fairchild’s ‘Body and Soul,’ Robert Pinsky’s ‘The Night Game,’ Michael Harper’s ‘Archives,’ Linda Pastan’s sly lyric ‘Baseball,’ and Richard Hugo’s class-driven ‘Missoula Softball Tournament.’”

Hirsch’s essay also includes the text of Hugo’s villanelle, “The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field,” and comments on baseball poems by Donald Hall, Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams and Ernest L. Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

June 2, 2008

Jennifer Sey’s Memoir of Her Brutal Life As a Gymnast, ‘Chalked Up’

A former gymnastics champion recalls the hazards of her sport, including coaches who shouted at girls, “You’re a fat pig!”

Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics’ Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders, and Elusive Olympic Dreams. By Jennifer Sey. Morrow, 289 pp., $24.95.

By Janice Harayda

Girls’ sports have had legal equality for more than three decades, but they still have nothing close to parity at bookstores. There are probably hundreds of good books about football, baseball and golf for every good book about gymnastics, figure-skating and youth soccer. The number of coffee-table books about golf alone might dwarf the number of books about girls’ sports.

This pattern doesn’t result from a conspiracy but from a cultural reality. Large numbers of female athletes haven’t been around for long enough for the books to catch up with them. Men were playing professional baseball for more than a century before Jim Bouton wrote Ball Four. Another generation or two may have to pass before all bookstores and libraries have worthy books about female athletes in every sport.

All the more reason, then, to welcome Chalked Up, an unusually thoughtful and intelligent memoir by the 1986 U.S. National Gymnastics Champion Jennifer Sey. This isn’t just a good book about gymnastics – it’s one of the best recent books about female athletes in any sport.

Much of what Sey has to say will be familiar to anyone who has read Joan Ryan’s Little Girls in Pretty Boxes and other exposés of abuses in gymnastics. Judges play favorites. Parents overinvest in their daughters’ successes. Coaches commit physical and emotional abuse, and doctors support them. Even the youngest female gymnasts may have powerful incentives to develop eating disorders and risk permanent damage to their health by competing with serious injuries.

But Chalked Up is unique for the maturity that Sey brings to bear on these issues. After beginning to compete at the age of six, she had grueling career, winning the national championship less than a year after breaking a femur in competition. Now, in her late 30s, she is old enough to have some perspective on her experiences but not so old that her memories of the pain have faded beyond retrieval.

Sey sees the harm done by the coaches who taunted girls, as she says they did at Bela Karolyi’s camp in Houston, with “You’re a fat pig!” and other insults. But she hasn’t written a polemic. Instead, she shows how gymnastics started out as fun and gradually took over her family’s life. Many factors kept her in the sport — her own drive and love of performing, her ability to find kind coaches who helped to offset the others’ abuse, her parents’ willingness to ignore signs of trouble. Although she never got to the Olympics, the cost of her participation emerges in final chapters that list the chilling health problems that she still has.

Yet Set misses gymnastics – or parts of it – every day. Years after she quit the sport, she watched the 1996 Olympics, when Kerri Strug collapsed on her first vault and did a second that helped the U.S. team win a gold medal. It rankled that some broadcasters praised Strug as unique. “Any girl on that team,” Sey says, “would have done the same thing.”

Best line: Sey argues that gymnastics is a contact sport, like football, in which the body is constantly colliding with objects with brutal force: “In football, it’s another player who crushes, bruises, breaks the athlete. In gymnastics, it’s the floor. Or the beam. Or any piece of unmoving, unforgiving equipment that meets the body on its descent through the air from great heights.”

Worst line: When Sey was about eight years old, she saw Saturday Night Fever. She says she was struck by a character whose well-developed body got her into trouble: “After seeing this R-rated movie with my parents, I linked a developing body to danger and unwanted male attention.” That’s a pretty sophisticated perception for an eight-year-old.

Recommendation? A book with crossover appeal, written for adults but likely to appeal also to many teenagers.

Editor: Jennifer Pooley

Published: May 2008 www.jennifersey.com and www.harpercollins.com

Furthermore: A graduate of Stanford University, Sey lives in San Francisco.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning journalist who has been the book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org.

Would you like to share a literary discovery or warn others about an overrated book? Join the conversation on the Ruthless Book Club, the online reading group for people who don’t like reading groups www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/06/01.

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

May 5, 2008

Do Owners Destroy Good Horses by Running Them in the Kentucky Derby Too Soon? (Quote of the Day / Carol Flake)

Filed under: News,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 6:28 pm
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Long before Eight Belles broke two ankles and was euthanized on the track at Churchill Downs on Saturday, journalist Carol Flake explored the dark side of the Kentucky Derby in Tarnished Crown: The Quest for a Racetrack Champion (Doubleday, 1987). Flake wrote that every year, some owners and trainers develop “Derby Fever Syndrome,” which impairs their judgment about the readiness of their horses for the race:

“I had once asked [trainer] John Veitch why so many trainers overestimated the ability of their horses. ‘It clouds your judgment, the hype and excitement of being able to say you ran a horse in the Derby,’ he said. ‘Every year about half the horses shouldn’t be there. There’s no sense destroying a useful horse by running him before he’s ready. You’ve got to have seasoning. It’s not like a boxer who’s fought nothing but pugs but who doesn’t know what it is to fight a real man.

“’People get a high on a horse. They say, ‘I’ve got a world beater.’ The problem is, they’ve never been around a good horse before. If you’ve never drunk champagne, you might think Ripple tastes just as good.'”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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