One-Minute Book Reviews

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

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

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.

February 6, 2008

A Super Bowl Moment We’re Glad We Didn’t See on Sunday

Filed under: Memoirs — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:35 am
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Marv Albert has covered Super Bowls for NBC and Westwood One radio in a broadcasting career that has spanned four decades. He recalls some of the singular moments from those and other games in his memoir I’d Love to but I Have a Game: 27 Years Without a Life (Doubleday, 1990).

One such moment occurred when Richard Dent of the Chicago Bears received a new car from Sport magazine after he was named the most valuable player of Super Bowl XX. Albert handed him the keys, and the defensive end stepped up to the microphone and said, “I just want to thank the Sporting News for this brand-new car.”

“Other than that,” Albert writes, “it went perfectly.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 19, 2007

Understatement of the Century About Barry Bonds – Quote of the Day (Jim Brock via Terri Dougherty)

Jim Brock, who coached Barry Bonds at Arizona State University, says this about the ballplayer in Terri Dougherty’s Barry Bonds: Jam Session Series (ABDO, 2002) www.abdopub.com, a picture-book biography for roughly ages 6-9:

“I don’t think he ever figured out what to do to get people to like him.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

 

October 24, 2007

Winners on the Field, Losers in Hardcover — Why Are So Many Books by Star Athletes So Awful? Quote of the Day (Jane Leavy)

Why do so many bad books come from good athletes? Jane Leavy, left, a former sportswriter for the Washington Post, says:

“Sports autobiography is a peculiar genre: ghostwritten fiction masquerading as fact. In the literature of sports, truth has always been easier to tell in fiction – Peter Gent’s North Dallas Forty and Dan Jenkins’s Semi-Tough are among the best examples. It wasn’t until Jim Brosnan’s The Long Season and Jim Bouton’s Ball Four that a semirealistic view of the baseball locker room emerged between hard covers. The authorized life stories of America’s greatest athletes form an oeuvre of mythology. What are myths if not as-told-to stories?”

Jane Leavy in Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy (HarperCollins, 2002) www.harpercollins.com. Sandy Koufax, the great pitcher for the Dodgers, earned a second fame when he refused to pitch the opening game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. Far more than many contemporary stars, he is a worthy hero for young athletes, and Leavy’s book is a good starting point for teenagers and others who want to know more about him.

Comment:
Leavy is right that sports memoirs are a cesspool of journalism. But the reasons for it are changing in the era of what Joyce Carol Oates has called “pathography,” or biography that focuses on the pathological. Mickey Mantle and other vanished titans might have nodded in their memoirs to old idea that hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue. But more recent stars, like Lawrence Taylor and Dennis Rodman, have used their books to flaunt their vices until you might welcome a little hypocrisy. The fashionable theme in sports memoirs today is, “Yo, virtue! You’re history.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 21, 2007

Max McGee on Vince Lombardi (Quote of the Day)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:38 pm
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Max McGee, the former Green Bay Packers receiver who died yesterday, remembers Vince Lombardi in Lombardi and Me: Players, Coaches, and Colleagues Talk About the Man and the Myth (Triumph, $14.95) by Paul Horning with Billy Reed:

“Vince wanted to embarrass you in front of all your teammates. He did me, because he knew that hurt me worse than anything …

“But Vince was about as smart as anybody who ever put on a coaching hat. One time before a big game, he told us that if anybody was caught sneaking out before the game it would cost him $5,000. And he looked at me and said, ‘McGee, let me tell you something — if you find somebody worth $5,000, let me me know — I want to go with you.’ That broke the tension. He could get you so wired before a game you almost couldn’t play …

“I announced that I was retiring after the first Super Bowl, and Vince came to me and said, ‘Maxie, I want you to come back next year. If a we get a young guy that we’re going to keep, I’ll keep you on as a coach.’ So the reason I came back is that I was going to be there one way or the other, either as a player or a coach.”

Lombardi and Me, reviewed on Nov. 28 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/11/28/, was published in 2006 and has just been released in paperback www.triumphbooks.com.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

October 13, 2007

Three Good Picture-Book Editions of Ernest L. Thayer’s Classic ‘Casey at the Bat’ – A Poem for All Baseball Seasons


Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.

— From Ernest L. Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat”

By Janice Harayda

“Casey at the Bat” is one of the few poems that nearly all American children like. Yet it is hard to say exactly why this is so.

The story told in the poem almost couldn’t be simpler. A home team is losing a baseball game – perhaps not even an especially important one — when its star player gets an unexpected chance to bat in the last inning. Everybody is sure that “mighty Casey” can bring victory to the Mudville Nine. Instead, he strikes out and the team loses.

This is hardly a riveting drama compared with what children read in contemporary books or see in the movies and on television. And you can’t say that author Ernest L. Thayer makes up for it with brilliant poetry – he doesn’t. Thayer tells Casey’s story in rhyming couplets of iambic heptameter, a nearly obsolete verse form known as the fourteener because a line typically has 14 syllables or seven iambic feet. But he has a slack enough grip on that form that you can’t always tell whether he meant a phrase to be read as iambic, trochaic or anapestic meter. Some of his baseball terms are unfamiliar today, too, such calling a weak player as a “cake.”

Generations of Americans have responded to objections like these with, “Who cares?” First published in the San Francisco Examiner in 1888, “Casey at the Bat” transcends its limits by appealing to a universal human desire – the wish to have heroes and yet also to see them fail sometimes, letting us off the hook for our own failures. Like all good heroes, Casey is like us and not like us. And three illustrators revitalize him in picture books that use the full title and subtitle of the poem, “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888.”

Thayer’s Casey plays in an adult league. But Patricia Polacco www.patriciapolacco.com turns Casey into a freckled-faced boy — an updated Norman Rockwell character more impish than arrogant — in her winsome 1988 Casey at the Bat. Polacco adds brief prose bookends that allow her to give Casey a baseball-loving sister and a long-eared dog in this paperback edition of the poem, which is hard to find but available in many libraries. If you click on the link for the book on her Web site, you can send a free electronic postcard bearing a picture of Casey. Her youthful characters and bright, airy illustrations, which abound with primary colors, make this a good edition for preschoolers.

School-age children may prefer the 2003 Casey at the Bat (Simon & Schuster, $16.95) www.simonsayskids.com, illustrated by the gifted C.F. Payne. Casey has a handlebar moustache and mythic Paul Bunyan-esque proportions in this atmospheric book that evokes the flavor of 19th-century baseball. Payne’s book ends with an excellent four-page note on the history and afterlife of the poem, which explains some of its real-life parallels and how vaudeville helped to make it famous.

Christopher Bing won a 2001 Caldecott Honor award from the American Library Association www.ala.org for his ambitious Casey at the Bat (Handprint Books, $17.95), printed on pages that resemble yellowing newsprint with halftone pictures (the kind you find in the Wall Street Journal). Each spread is a pastiche that includes more than lines from the poem and a picture of the game. It also has overlaid images — reproductions of the ticket stubs, baseball cards and newspaper editorials about the game. One editorial supports fans outraged by advent of the baseball glove: “They justifiably see this move as a disgrace – perhaps the first step in the calculated and tragic emasculation of the game.” At times the supplementary material can be distracting, a case of what the British call over-egging the pudding. But much of it is fascinating and a feast for detail-oriented children in grades 3 and up.

Each of these editions has virtues. But no one needs to buy a book to enjoy Thayer’s poem. “Casey at the Bat” is out of copyright and available for free on many sites, including that of the Academy of American Poets www.poets.org. (The punctuation varies on the sites, reflecting that of different editions that have appeared in the past century.) It’s also short enough that you could read it to children during the seventh-inning stretch of a playoff or World Series game. And would you really prefer that they hear another beer commercial instead?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

October 12, 2007

‘Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; / The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light … ‘

Filed under: Children's Books,Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:43 am
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Of course, not in the land of the Mets and Yankees, where I live. But tomorrow One-Minute Book Reviews will review three picture-book versions of Ernest L. Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat,” an ideal poem to read with children during the World Series. To avoid missing this post, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. In the meantime, you can find reviews of other picture books by clicking on the “Children’s Books” category below the “Top Posts” list at right.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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