August 9 is National Book Lovers Day. The members of The Sports Fan Journal certainly qualify to celebrate. We read for numerous reasons—to relax after a long day, to escape the internet for a while, to distract us from current affairs, to entertain ourselves—but mostly, as sports fans, to show our friends and significant others that we are well-rounded, that outside of debating which non-white athletes have the whitest names (and vice versa), we like to discuss literature, too. (Editor’s note: the TSFJ Slack channels are wild in a good way. – JC)
Here is what we’re reading as the summer winds down.
I’ve been staring the book in the proverbial face for over a year at Barnes & Noble, strangely drawn to its sepia-toned cover of two surfer dudes letting time pass them by. I finally purchased it in late June with the hopes of reading a different kind of sports memoir, one that dives into worlds I wouldn’t dare enter as well as some I know all too well. Author William Finnegan describes how the open waves of raging oceans took him through war-torn lands, quaint fishing towns, coastal mega-cities (including my beloved New York) and more. Thus far, he’s got my attention. He won a Pulitzer Prize, after all.
“Men Lie, Women Lie…Numbers Don’t.” — Jay Z
Here’s a dirty little secret about me. Before I committed to working in sports full-time, I paid the bills by working in data analytics. More specifically, my job was to analyze the attitudes and behaviors of consumers. What I quickly learned in that line of work is that what people tell you they do can at times vary wildly versus what they actually do.
That’s why, in this day and age, reading Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s Everybody Lies might be a necessity for everyone.
Stephens-Davidowitz’s book is based on a methodology that leverages everyone’s favorite tool: Google search. By leveraging the billions and billions of queries of those who search the internet looking for answers, per the book’s teaser, “can tell us a great deal about who we are—the fears, desires, and behaviors that drive us, and the conscious and unconscious decisions we make.”
Who knows….maybe I’ll figure out why I constantly search on Google why the Seattle SuperSonics really decided to trade Shawn Kemp for Vin Baker.
If Irving’s novel is to be taken literally, baseball kills, so does football, while basketball can save lives. Just look at the lengths Owen Meany, the title character, and John Wheelright, the narrator, go to practice “the shot,” a catch-and-toss dunk from one friend to another.
In truth, sports play a minor role in Irving’s novel. But they are there. In fact, A Prayer For Owen Meany covers all topics, from the Vietnam War to draconian prep schools, fatherhood, friendship and more. Mostly, though, it’s about one of the most memorable characters in American literary history. The book achieves something rare: Irving’s first line, famous in its own right, keeps the reader turning every one of the 600-plus pages with anticipation.
Oh, and it inspired “Goodbye Sky Harbor,” the closing track on Jimmy Eat World’s emo classic, Clarity. So you know it’s good.
Freedarko Presents: The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History by Bethlehem Shoals & Jacob Weinstein
The Freedarko blog changed the way the internet wrote and thought about basketball — and to a lesser extent — sports at large. With the changing landscape of the NBA over the last half decade — players ostensibly taking control of their own futures, an increase in positional fluidity and this under-spoken era of fantastic big men just to name a few, I’ve never needed a dead blog to return more than Freedarko.
While we can occasionally find words written by Bethlehem Shoals and Eric Freeman’s online, this summer is the perfect time to read, or re-read, The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History. We can long for Shoals, Freeman and co. to write more about contemporary hoops all we want, but TUGTPBH is the best way to receive the Freedarko experience. The writing is phenomenal and the artwork by Jacob Weinstein is [almost] better. The book is more than just a collection of essays about the NBA; it’s cultural criticism, philosophical musing and social commentary all wrapped into a fun, engaging and educational package. There may be better books on the NBA, but none as unique and thought-provoking as The Undisputed Guide To Pro Basketball.
In 2002 Sports Illustrated ranked Ken Dryden’s The Game, the Hall-of-Fame goaltender’s memoir of his final days with the Montreal Canadiens, as the ninth-best sports book of all time. That spot might be eight too low. No one, athlete or otherwise, has captured what it means to be both at the top of one’s game and struggling with consistency, motivation and drive better than Dryden.
There are too many memorable passages to share them all here, but two stand out. Dryden’s thoughts on the dormant Leafs-Habs rivalry— “I’m angry — at the last two goals, at the game, at the Leafs, at [Maple Leaf] Gardens, at me; at people who have promised me a Leafs-Canadiens rivalry. There is no Leafs-Canadiens rivalry. It’s dead: the Leafs killed it. I feel duped.”—and Montreal’s complacency during a run that culminated with four consecutive Stanley Cups: “Sated by success, we have different expectations, and the motivation and feelings we get from a game have changed with them … We have set a standard we cannot match, so, competing against ourselves, we lose.”
Read it if you haven’t. Read it again if you have.
Because you love TSFJ as a staff, record label, and as a *bleeping* crew!