Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Five Tool Book Reviews

This summer, as a two-part plan to (a) promote literacy among my kids, and (b) not spend money, I've been making routine trips to the local library. Along with checking out books for the kids, I've also been grabbing stuff for myself, and because I'm just that predictable, the books have sometimes been sports-related. So, especially since we're still in the Mostly Dead Zone, I'm going to say a few words about 'em.

Can I Keep My Jersey?, by Paul Shirley

This is the memoirs of an NBA 12th man and world traveler who has played for a dozen-odd teams in the past few years, and even stuck for half a season on the Phoenix Suns bench. It's relatively entertaining and not a tough read, but it also seems like it left a lot on the table. After 300 pages of living in Shirley's head, the reader knows how he feels about religious hypocrites, privileged superstars, undereducated NBA stars and callous front office personnel... but, um, almost nothing about why he's still chasing the dream, what he actually brings to a team to deserve employment, let alone playing time, and, well, why he does it. (Beyond the occasional lottery-like paychecks.)

Shirley is the closest that anyone has ever came to being not just a reliable narrator in the world of major league sports; he's also, by any measure, one of the 500 to 1,000 best basketball players on the planet... and I'm no closer to knowing what that world is really like than I was before. Shirley's a very good writer and a somewhat appealing personality, but I'm really hoping that he's got a second book in him, and that it will have a little more to teach us next time.

Bigger Deal: A Year Inside the Poker Boom, by Andrew Holden

The somewhat entertaining year travelogue of a British poker writer and classical music reviewer, and the second of two books by Holden. I got through it without wanting to throw it across the room, which is a fairly strong endorsement for 300+ pages of a guy being paid to play better tournaments than the general sweaty public will ever have a chance to play. It's more of a matter of Holden being a tolerable writer than having really good subject matter, since you really aren't going to learn much about poker from this... but it's also kind of fascinating to get a more or less educated and detailed look at what it's like to go to poker camps or try to survive the first day or two of the WSOP. Many people say that Holden's first book was better, but having read this, I'm not terribly interested in finding out.

Season of the Sixers: The Story of Wilt Chamberlain and the 1967 NBA Champion Philadelphia 76ers, by Wayne Lynch

A reasonable piece of research, but... look, I wanted to love this thing. I learned a ton about a team that many people consider to be one of the finest in early NBA history, and not coincidentally, it's my laundry. I was more than willing to put up with a large amount of Wilt Chamberlain apologia, and as much Celtic bashing as possible. But, well, Lynch just isn't a good enough writer to pull it off, and at some point, I had to say uncle. Maybe it's just that the book was written after Wilt had moved on to that freaky meat market in the sky, or that his surviving teammates are just not going to speak frankly about the guy that carried them to a ring and history in an era where only the Celtics won... but, well, the gap between what Chamberlain actually did and how Lynch interprets it is just too much. There might be a great book about Wilt, but this isn't it.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Great post!! Not enough blogs talk about quality sports books. I really appreciate it.

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