Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Bookshelf: In case you need a shopping idea or two



It wasn’t until I checked over his list that I realized my reading is trending away from sports books. Oh, I read some sports books — the first one on the list is outstanding — but have really started to move away from that genre. Perhaps it has something to do with no longer working in a newspaper’s sports department.
Anyway . . . here’s a look a some of the books I have read over the past year, just in case you are looking for a Christmas gift for someone on your list.
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The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports — Jeff Passan has written a book that is a must-read for all sports fans. Arm injuries to pitchers have become an epidemic in baseball and more and more of them are undergoing Tommy John surgery every year. As Passan, a baseball columnist for Yahoo, explains, though, it isn’t just professionals who are going under the knife; the number of teenagers having the surgery is shocking. Passan explains all of that and more, as he follows two pitchers, Todd Coffey and Daniel Hudson, as they suffer through injury, surgery, rehabilitation and doubt.
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The Battle of Alberta: The Historic Rivalry Between the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames — Author Mark Spector was there for the glory days of the Battle of Alberta, first as a fan and then as a journalist. He really does a good job of capturing what was one of the most heated rivalries in sports. The intensity hasn’t been there the past few seasons, but this book provides a real reminder of how things used to be. There are some terrific interviews, memories and anecdotes between the covers of this book. (Kindle)
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Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church — This is the book that came out of investigative work done by Boston Globe reporters and became the basis for the movie Spotlight that hit the big screen late in 2015. It’s about abusive priests and the children upon whom they preyed and the resulting cover-up. In a word, this book is ‘frightening.’
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Breaking Away — This one is subtitled A Harrowing True Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph. . . . It should have been sub-sub-titled A What-Not-To-Do Guide for Sporting Parents. . . . Patrick O’Sullivan, with help from veteran writer Gare Joyce, tells a frightening story of how he got to the NHL and how it all fell apart. O’Sullivan’s father was a monster who abused his young son in unfathomable ways. It also is the story of people ignoring warning signs and a condemnation of the NHL and its old-school ways.
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Canoe Country: The Making of Canada — First, a disclaimer. Author Roy MacGregor, now an essayist with The Globe and Mail, is a long-time friend. Having said that, Canoe Country is one of the best books I have read. You don’t have to have paddled a canoe to enjoy a book that is well written, impeccably researched and full of anecdotes and information dealing with the history of Canada and a whole lot more. I finished reading Canoe Country on my deck which looks out over the South Thompson River. I thought it was only fitting.
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The Cartel — Author Don Winslow takes the reader inside the American government’s war on drugs in a novel that takes place almost entirely in Mexico. This is a depressingly gruesome and bloody look at a country in which cartels fight for power, money and territory. There comes a point, too, when the reader stops and asks: “In the end, is there really a good guy?”
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Concussion: While this is a book about the NFL and concussions, it also is the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who dissected the brain of former Pittsburgh Steelers centre Mike Webster and discovered CTE. Omalu actually came up with the name Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. But author Jeanne Marie Laskas also shines a bright light on the NFL and how it tried to stifle Omalu. Yes, the NFL is so powerful that it plays above society’s rules and the rules of common sense. Consider that earlier this season the No Fun League fined defensive end Owa Odighizuwa of the New York Giants US$12,154 after he pretended to take a photo of safety Landon Collins, who had returned an interception for a touchdown. Think about that for a moment and then you’ll understand how the NFL thought it could bury Omalu and CTE. Then read the book.
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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America — The World’s Fair was held in Chicago in 1893 with a serial killer doing his businesses on the fringe. Author Erik Larson’s incredibly researched book was published in 2003. It tells the story behind the fair’s architecture and construction, all the while detailing all that was going on not that far down the street.
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Everybody’s Fool: Richard Russo, one of the greatest writers of the last 100 years, is back with the sequel to Nobody’s Fool. It is the continuation of the story of some of the residents of North Bath, a community in upstate New York, and it is every bit as good as Nobody’s Fool. Russo won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Empire Falls in 2002, and he proves here that he still has what it takes. Unfortunately, Paul Newman isn’t still with us so won’t be able to play Sully when they prepare Everybody’s Fool for the big screen.
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The Fifties: I don’t know why it took this long for me to get to this one because I’m a big fan of the late David Halberstam, who wrote so many books of such great historical value. This one isn’t an exception. Halberstam touches on a lot about 1950s, with a lot of it dealing with Cold War, Eisenhower, Kruschev and Castro. But he deals with a whole lot of other things that came along that decade and changed lives immeasurably, things like household appliances, hotel/motel chains, Elvis, suburbs and a whole lot more.
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Fun and Games: My 40 Years Writing Sports — Back in the day when newspapers were relevant and would spend money in pursuit of quality writing and reporting, Dave Perkins was a sports columnist, mostly with the Toronto Star. This is Perkins’ story of covering a whole lot of major sports events over 40 years. It’s full of anecdotes and chuckles. Mostly, though, it highlights the difference between the newspapers of yesterday and today.
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The Girl on the Train — This is the debut for author Paula Hawkins and it couldn’t be much better. It’s a psychological thriller, one that Alfred Hitchcock would have loved to have turned into a movie. It centres on three women, each of whom, well, that would be spoiling it. Let’s just say this book is highly entertaining.
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Hockey Karma — The third in a trilogy of graphic novels written by Howard Shapiro and illustrated by Andres Mossa, this book chronicles the final season in the 14-year Can Am Hockey League career of Jeremiah (Jake) Jacobson of the Bay City Blades. It isn’t simple or easy, because Jacobson is faced with trials and tribulations as he is forced to face the end of his career while hampered by a bad back. He also isn’t in a hurry to hand the torch of leadership over to newcomer Barclay Pedersen. To complicate things, the Blades have a female head coach. Oh, and Jacobson’s agent also figures in a couple of subplots. If you’re looking for a gift for the hockey fan on your list, this may be it.
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Laguna Heat — I read a lot of what might be referred to as ‘pulp fiction’ in the last while, many of which aren’t mentioned here. But this one — T. Jefferson Parker’s first novel — is a real work of art. It’s hot and muggy in Laguna Beach and Parker has a way with words that allows the heat and humidity to flow off the page and into your system. A great, great read.
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The Little Paris Bookshop — A book about living and loving and dying and looking for the meaning of life, love and death, this is wonderfully written. Author Nina George strikes a lot of great notes in what is a truly satisfying read about Jean Perdu, who owns a barge that he has turned into a floating book store. He chats up his customers and prescribes books for them. But everything changes when he reads a letter from an old love.
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Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story -- As hard as it may be to believe today, there was a time when the United States of America lived and died with the fortunes of what was then the great city of Detroit. That, of course, hasn’t been the case for some time, but in the 1960s it was all about Ford and Chrysler and General Motors, yes, and Motown, too. U.S. presidents were regular visitors because Detroit was important. David Maraniss, a prolific author who also has written terrific books on Vince Lombardi and Roberto Clemente, offers a thorough examination of Detroit, politically and otherwise, before the fall.
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The Only Rule Is It Has to Work: Our wild experiment building a new kind of baseball team — Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller, a couple of sabermetricians, used spreadsheets to select a lot of the players on the 2015 Sonoma Stompers of the four-team Pacific Association, an independent league. This book is their story of the season and how things went. The beauty of their book is the anecdotes involve the application of fancy stats to real human beings, some of whom still prefer to play baseball while using gut feelings and to make decisions based on their own experiences. Yes, baseball has come a long way since Bill James published his first Baseball Abstract.
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The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge — Author Michael Punke has written a gritty book that can best be described as historical fiction. He explain at book’s end precisely what is fiction and what isn’t. He was able to merge fact and fiction into what is a great read about the life experiences of Hugh Glass. If you are familiar with the movie, you should know that there is more to the story than a grizzly bear attack.
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A Spy Among Friends — Subtitled Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, author Ben Macintyre’s incredibly well-researched look into one of history’s greatest spy scandals is an amazing read. If Philby, a double agent who was working for England and the Soviet Union at the same, wasn’t the greatest actor in history, he certainly is in the conversation.
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The Wright Brothers — Oh, what frenzied excitement was caused by Orville and Wilbur Wright as they showed man the way to powered flight. As I read this book, written in compelling fashion by David McCullough, I kept asking myself: “What might be invented today that could cause such excitement?” An answer has escaped me. . . . Impeccably researched and written, McCullough really captures all that the Wrights went through — there were a lot of doubters — as they worked to become the first to fly in a powered heavier-than-air vehicle.

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