Saturday, January 1, 2011

Back by request, a look at some of the books I read over the last year. . . . I actually meant to post this before Christmas, but forgot. So, if you have a gift certificate to a bookstore, well, maybe this will help. . . .
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Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink (by David Margolick): A wonderful look at the Louis-Schmeling rivalry -- a black American against a white German -- and a reminder of just how huge boxing once was. Louis and Schmeling fought twice, in 1936 and 1938, with the Second World War not too far over the horizon. In this wonderfully researched work, Margolick uses the fragility of Europe and the United States to frame what was, at the time, the greatest rivalry in sports. (Knopf, hardcover, US$37.95)
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Dreams from My Father (by Barack Obama): First published in 1995, the book carries the subtitle A Story of Race and Inheritance. And it is precisely that. Through most of this book Obama, a young black man in an ever-changing America, is searching for something -- the meaning of life? family? -- as he sets out on what has become a rather meaningful existence. His visits with family in Kenya are especially intriguing. (Three Rivers Press, soft cover, US$14.95, Cdn$16.95)
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Get Capone (by Jonathan Eig): It’s simple. When I see Jonathan Eig’s name on a book, I want to read it. He also wrote Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig. It is a masterpiece. The research and the writing are impeccable and the look into the life of Al Capone, one of the best-known Americans in history, is amazing. This was the best nonfiction book I read in 2010. (Simon & Schuster, hard cover, US$28.00, Cdn$36.00)
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Game Six (by Mark Frost): This is a look back at the 1975 World Series and the teams and players who took part. It was the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds, and by now you have seen Carlton Fisk urging that ball to stay fair about a gazillion times. I found the flashbacks hard to follow at times, likely because there wasn’t anything to set them apart from the rest of the story. The segments on then-Boston pitcher Luis Tiant, however, are amazing. (Hyperion, soft cover, US$15.99)
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The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (by Stieg Larsson): This is the third in Larsson’s trilogy, all of which was published after his death and all of which topped the best-seller list(s). I don’t read a lot of fiction but, for some reason that I really can’t put a finger on, the three books -- the other two are The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire -- are captivating. If you haven’t already, start with the first one. Just don’t have all three in your home at the same time -- you may not sleep for three or four days. (Penguin Group, hard cover, Cdn$32.00)
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Gretzky’s Tears (by Stephen Brunt): Written by The Globe and Mail essayist, who is one Canada’s most thoughtful writers, this is kind of a sequel to his Searching for Bobby Orr, which was published in 2008. Both books are solid reads. The highlight of Gretzky’s Tears has to be Brunt’s take on former Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall, who speaks quite openly about his sins, and all the goings-on surrounding the Edmonton news conference at which the trading of Gretzky was announced. (Knopf Canada, hard cover, Cdn$34.95)
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The Hanging Tree (by Bryan Gruley): This book would qualify as beach reading or for a couple of those rainy days at the cottage. I include it here because the book’s main character, Gus Carpenter, is a reporter for the Pine County Pilot and also a hockey player. He was a goaltender in minor hockey but now plays forward in a rec league. His take on the goaltending position and the pressures inherent in it are marvellous. This is a fictional murder mystery that perhaps goes on a bit too long, but I enjoyed it enough that I will find the author’s debut novel. (Simon & Schuster, soft cover, US$15.00, Cdn$17.00)
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Hollywood Moon (by Joseph Wambaugh): Spend a few days with the gang from the Hollywood police department, through the writing of a man who has been there. It’s vulgar, but it’s hilarious. I hadn’t read Wambaugh in a long time, and this one is right up there with his best stuff. Stephen King is right, when he says, this book is “full of hilarious anecdotes that ring absolutely true.” (Grand Central Publishing, paperback, Cdn$19.99)
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I’d Trade Him Again: On Gretzky, Politics, and the Pursuit of the Perfect Deal (by Terry McConnell and J’Lyn Nye, with Peter Pocklington): The authors are quite up front about this being Pocklington’s take on all things Canadian and then some. If you’re a Canadian hockey fan or follow Canadian politics, there isn’t a whole lot new here. But it is hard to believe there are so many people out there who have it in for Pocklington. Or are these just crocodile tears? (Fenn, hard cover, Cdn$32.95)
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Monday Morning Quarterback (by Peter King): No one has better, or more, insight into the National Football League, its teams and its players. If you are one of the gazillion NFL fans out there, you won’t want to miss this one. A very tasty morsel, indeed. It’s a compilation of some of his Internet columns but also is loaded with tidbits and anecdotes. It was release slightly more than a year ago but is still a gret read. (Sports Illustrated, hard cover, US$25.95, Cdn$30.95)
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Opening Day (by Jonathan Eig): This one is subtitled The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season. And it is exactly that. But it is more than that because Eig is the master of this kind of book. It actually was published in 2007, and I hadn’t had my hands on a copy until earlier this year. The story of Robinson’s first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers truly is amazing. If it wasn’t enough that he was the first black to play in the major league, he also had to play first base, which wasn’t his natural position, and, believe it or not, he wasn’t known as a terrific baseball player when the season began. This simply is an amazing, amazing story, and it is awfully well-written, which is an Eig trademark. He also has written Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig. Opening Day, which was saluted as one of 2007’s best books by the Chicago Tribune, Sports Illustrated and the Washington Post, is a keeper.
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Pistol (by Mark Kriegel): Subtitled The Life of Pete Maravich, this is one of the best biographies I have read. It is an incredible story of a father and a son and the consequences -- the reader can decide on the positives and negatives -- of the former living vicariously through the latter. (Simon and Schuster, soft cover, US$15, Cdn$17.50)
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Why The Leafs Suck And How They Can Be Fixed (by Al Strachan): The title says it all. The cynical and sarcastic Strachan starts in 1967-68 (the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1967) and tears apart just about every owner, general manager, head coach and head scout who has had anything to do since then with the on-ice product -- with the exception of Cliff Fletcher and perhaps Pat Burns. An interesting read if you despise the Leafs. It’s a quick read, too, with fairly large type and wide spacing, and there is a whole lot of filler in the back end. Still, this one is better than Leafs Abomination -- which was a look into “why the Leafs stink” -- that came out around the same time. The latter book simply gets too bogged down in the machinations with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, etc. (Collins, soft cover, Cdn$22.99)


Jim Swanson, who is into his last few days as sports editor of the Prince George Citizen, is correct when he informs me that I missed one. The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran gets his vote as what he calls his "book of the year." Written by Dirk Hayhurst, a pitcher who has gone from living the dream to not wanting to admit the dream is over, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book and one to be recommended. Why wasn't it listed above? Because it is my grocery book -- it is in our car and when my wife is in a store getting groceries, I am in the car reading it -- and I haven't yet finished it. . . . But if you're a sports fan, don't miss this one. It is hilarious, poignant, and even more hilarious. And it is available in paperback. . . . When he wrote the book, Hayhurst was in the San Diego Padres' organization. Now he is with the Toronto Blue Jays, although injuries caused him to miss all of 2010.

gdrinnan@kamloopsnews.ca
gdrinnan.blogspot.com
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