Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Book Shelf: Part 1 of 4

A brief look at some of the books I have read over the last while, perhaps to help you with your Christmas shopping:

An Accidental Sportswriter – You may know Robert Lipsyte as the ombudsman at ESPN. But in an earlier life, he was a sports writer/columnist at The New York Times. Not really a sports fan, he took a different outlook into press boxes and often wrote in just that fashion. He spent a lot of time around Muhammad Ali, in good times and bad, and examines all of that here. He also explores the hypocrisy of journalists covering baseball during the days of the McGwire-Sosa home run wars and not exploring the issue of PEDs. All in all, there is much food for thought here. (Ecco, soft cover, 246 pages, US$14.99, Cdn$16.99)

The Bad Guys Won! – Author Jeff Pearlman, a prolific writer of really good sports-related books, tells the story of the 1986 New York Mets, who owned New York City before, during and after their run to the World Series title. This was the team of Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry et al, and there are stories. Oh, are there stories! You may remember the 1986 Mets as the team that won when the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs. No. That happened in Game 6. There was a Game 7. A few words of warning: If you are a sports fan of today‘s generation, you will be used to the porridge served up by today’s overpaid athletes. You may not be prepared for how things were in the mid-1980s. (It Books, soft cover, 297 pages, US$14.99)

Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love – Author Dave Zirin makes a case that tax payers who fund the building of stadiums for billionaire owners should have a whole lot more say in the operation of the franchises that inhabit those facilities. He does it with some nightmarish anecdotes and histories involving the likes of Ed Snider, Daniel Snyder, George Steinbrenner, Donald Sterling, David Glass, James Dolan et al. In the NFL, the Green Bay Packers are a community-owned, not-for-profit operation; the league now has it in its constitution that there can't be another such ownership situation. (The New Press, soft cover, 222 pages, Cdn$20.95)

Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick – If you attend a professional baseball game this season, virtually any of the promotions that take place can be traced back to Bill Veeck, who at one time owned the St. Louis Browns, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox. He was the first owner who understood – really understood – that the fans come first. That didn’t make him popular with fellow owners, a point that is made abundantly clear by author Paul Dickson. What really is amazing about Veeck is that he was able to accomplish what he did despite living daily with an incredible amount of physical pain, most of it brought on by the loss of one leg. (Walker & Company, soft cover,435 pages, US$19.00)

The Black Box – The latest in the Harry Bosch detective novels by Michael Connelly, The Black Box is a good way to while away a few hours on the deck. There really aren’t any surprises – this one involves a cold case, one that Bosch was involved with in its infancy and one that he picks up again 20 years later – but if you’re a Bosch/Connelly fan you are certain to enjoy it. (Kindle, $10.06)

Bobby Orr: My Story — As the title suggests, this is the story of Bobby Orr, a defenceman who changed hockey as much as anyone. It also is the story of a great player whose career was cut horribly short by knee problems, and who became entangled in the Alan Eagleson mess. Unfortunately, while Orr touches on many things that happened during his career, he really doesn’t provide a whole lot of insight. And if you’re looking for dressing room dirt, forget it. His views on today’s game, which he presents near book’s end, are interesting. (Viking, hard cover, 290 pages, Cdn$32.00)

Breakaway: From behind the Iron Curtain to the NHL — the untold story of hockey’s great escapes – Written by Tal Pinchevsky, it is the story of how the first players got from behind the Iron Curtain and into the NHL and, really, about the only thing missing is Steve McQueen on his motorcycle. There are some amazing stories in there, about what players went through as they escaped oppression to get to North America and about the problems some had adapting to life over here. Like the Russian couple who didn’t believe their chequing account was overdrawn because they still had cheques left. Living the way we do, it is awfully hard to relate to the way life once was in that area of the world. (Wiley, hard cover, 274 pages, Cdn$32.95, US$27.95)

Brimstone – Robert B. Parker is perhaps best known for his three dozen or so novels featuring a detective named Spenser. However, Parker is also a writer of many other genres, including westerns. Brimstone is a sequel, if you will, to Appaloosa. And if you have seen the movie that was made based on Appaloosa, you can’t read Brimstone without picturing actors Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen working through the dialogue. This is light and entertaining stuff. (Putnam, hard cover, 293 pages, Cdn$32.50, US$25.95)

The Cocktail Waitress – James M. Cain died in 1977 and it was believed his writing died with him. But some 35 years later a manuscript was discovered – Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai explains it all in an afterword – and that turned out to be The Cocktail Waitress. The book opens with Joan Medford burying a husband and it goes on from there, adding intrigue along the way as she narrates the story. Cain also wrote, among other books, Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Like those, The Cocktail Waitress leaves you wondering if all is as it seems. (Kindle version)

The Cold Dish – This is the first book in author Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire mystery series. Longmire is the sheriff of Wyoming’s Absaroka County. In the series opener, he is dealing with the murder of young men who, a few years earlier while still in high school, had been involved in the rape of a Cheyenne girl. The characters are terrific, as is their development. As well, Johnson can write. As Longmire struggles through a blizzard on foot, you find yourself reaching for a blanket. (Penguin, soft cover, 354 pages, Cdn$16.00, US$15.00)

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