Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Genre Reading Group recap - sports writing

I loved, Loved, LOVED yesterday’s meeting about sports writing! We had THE best time AND one of our best discussions! Sports, in all of its many variations, frequently play such a big role in the average American life and this variety was well represented among GRG participants. We discussed cycling, golf, soccer, NASCAR, football game tailgating, running, horseracing, and a host of other topics that cropped up during the course of our meandering discussion!

June’s topic is biographical fiction: a novel based on true events and/or real people. I have a huge selection of them pulled for your perusal, but you are always welcome to research and select your own title and I am always happy to help should you want assistance in selecting a book. So, read what you pick and come tell us about it, plus get ideas from other readers! You owe it to yourself to join the most fun book group in town!

Don’t forget to sign up for the Adult Summer Reading program if you’ve not done so already. Our first program will be on Tuesday, June 14th at 6:30pm, Bad Art Night! The worst artist in each category wins a prize! We’re also giving away a Nook Classic, a Nook Color, and an iPad 2 3G at the end of the summer and the more frequently you participate, the better your chances of winning! Call 205-445-1121 for more information about GRG and our Adult Summer Reading program!

On to the list!

Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France by Floyd Landis with Loren Mooney
The series of events surrounding Floyd Landis's 2006 Tour de France was as improbable as anything in the history of sports: He showed up nine seconds late for the race's opening prologue, donned the leader's yellow jersey twelve days later, and lost his lead only to regain it in remarkable fashion just before the Tour's final stage into Paris. Winning the Tour should have been the culmination of a life's dream, but a mere three days later, Landis was accused of using banned performance-enhancing drugs. Released by his team and threatened with the removal of his Tour title, Landis went from winning the most prestigious race of his career to being unfairly labeled as a cheater, a liar, and a doper.

Positively False is at once a memoir and a powerful indictment of the unchecked governing bodies of cycling that have compromised theintegrity of the sport as a whole. From leaving the Mennonite community of his youth in order to pursue his passion for cycling, to riding alongside Lance Armstrong for three years -- with whom he shared the same work ethic and competitive desire -- Floyd Landis details the highs and lows of his career with unabashed honesty. It is this same honesty with which he will clear his name once and for all, as he lays bare the inner workings of the cycling world -- a place where athletes are subject to the antiquated science, flawed interpretive protocols, and draconian legal processes of the anti-doping agencies -- and finally lays to rest the scandal that threatened to destroy everything he's worked so hard to achieve....

Down the Fairway: The Golf Life and Play of Robert T. Jones, Jr. by Robert T. Jones, Jr. and O.B. Keeler
A classic memoir from Bobby Jones, the only person to ever win the Grand Slam, on life and golf.

The reader mentioned a couple of people Jones’ wrote about in the book who figured prominently in Jones’ career while he was in Birmingham but with which all of us were unfamiliar. Alexa Stirling, the “empress of golf” to Robert Trent Jones, Jr.’s “emperor” title, was RTJ, Jr.’s childhood golfing partner and dear friend. I could not find any extensive information on “the Birmingham Slugger,” Charlie Hall, outside of mentions in other books via Google Books, but he also mentored and guided the young golfing celebrity during the early days of his career.

Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town by Warren St. John
Clarkston, Georgia, was a typical Southern town until it was designated a refugee settlement center in the 1990s, becoming the first American home for scores of families in flight from the world’s war zones—from Liberia and Sudan to Iraq and Afghanistan. Suddenly Clarkston’s streets were filled with women wearing the hijab, the smells of cumin and curry, and kids of all colors playing soccer in any open space they could find. The town also became home to Luma Mufleh, an American-educated Jordanian woman who founded a youth soccer team to unify Clarkston’s refugee children and keep them off the streets. These kids named themselves the Fugees.

Set against the backdrop of an American town that without its consent had become a vast social experiment, Outcasts United follows a pivotal season in the life of the Fugees and their charismatic coach. Warren St. John documents the lives of a diverse group of young people as they miraculously coalesce into a band of brothers, while also drawing a fascinating portrait of a fading American town struggling to accommodate its new arrivals. At the center of the story is fiery Coach Luma, who relentlessly drives her players to success on the soccer field while holding together their lives—and the lives of their families—in the face of a series of daunting challenges.

This fast-paced chronicle of a single season is a complex and inspiring tale of a small town becoming a global community—and an account of the ingenious and complicated ways we create a home in a changing world.

Recently, all incoming fall freshmen at UAB were required to read this title.

One Helluva Ride: How NASCAR Swept the Nation by Liz Clarke
From its raw beginnings on Southern dirt tracks, NASCAR smacked of a slightly depraved spectacle, as if nothing but trouble could come from the unbridled locomotion of a V8 engine. By the time NASCAR roared into the twenty-first century, it had grown into a billion-dollar sports and marketing colossus, its races attended by hundreds of thousands of fans on any given weekend from mid-February through mid-November, watched on television by the second-largest viewing audience in sports, and bankrolled by the marketing largesse of the Fortune 500’s elite.

One Helluva Ride, a full-throttle account of the rise and reign of NASCAR nation, is award-winning motorsports reporter Liz Clarke’s chronicle of how stock car racing exploded from regional obsession to national phenomenon. In covering the sport for more than fifteen years, Clarke has developed a strong rapport with NASCAR’s drivers, team owners, and hard-core fans. Through her reporting and analysis, we get to know the public and private sides of NASCAR’s most iconic figures, including seven-time champion Richard Petty, who set the standard for treating fans with respect, and the late Dale Earnhardt, whose brazen, bullying tactics wreaked havoc on the track, but whose heart was as big as Daytona’s infield.

The sports world stopped in its tracks the day Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Some feared that NASCAR’s soul would die with him. But it has raced on, steered by visionary promoters, the all-controlling France family (who founded the sport), and, above all, the next generation of drivers to stir fans’ passions: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., son of the NASCAR legend and now, like his father before him, the circuit’s most popular driver; Jeff Gordon, the beloved but oft-maligned outsider, bred from the cradle to be NASCAR’s winningest modern champion; and Kasey Kahne, a reluctant heartthrob whose confidence derives entirely from an accelerator pedal. Clarke also brings us inside NASCAR’s most triumphant and tragic dynasties: the Pettys, the Earnhardts, and the Allisons–and reveals how faith, family, and a deep-seated love of their sport helps them cope with grief and loss.

Clarke shows NASCAR to be at a crossroads. In pursuit of a broader audience, NASCAR has severed its sponsorship ties to Big Tobacco, abandoned racetracks in small markets in favor of speedways near glitzy major cities, and welcomed Japan’s Toyota into a sport traditionally restricted to American-made sedans. As NASCAR races toward mass appeal, some suggest it is leaving its roots behind. To others, it is boldly extending its reach from the Southern workingman to every man, woman, and child in the world.

Whether you’re one of the die-hard NASCAR faithful or just a casual follower, nobody brings you closer to the sport and business of big-time stock car racing than Liz Clarke. This book, like the phenomenon it profiles, really is One Helluva Ride.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Journey into the Heart of Fan Mania by Warren St. John
What is it about sports that turns otherwise sane people into raving lunatics? Why does winning compel people to tear down goal posts, and losing, to drown themselves in bad keg beer? In short, why do fans care?

In search of answers, Warren St. John seeks out the roving community of RVers who follow the Alabama Crimson Tide from game to game. A movable feast of Weber grills and Igloo coolers, these are hard-core football fans who arrive on Wednesday for Saturday’s game: The Reeses, who skipped their own daughter’s wedding because it coincided with a Bama game; Ray Pradat, the Episcopal minister who watches the games on a television beside his altar while performing weddings; and John Ed, the wheeling and dealing ticket scalper whose access to good seats gives him power on par with the governor. In no time at all, St. John buys an RV (a $5,500 beater named The Hawg) and joins the caravan for a full football season, chronicling the world of the extreme fan and learning that in the shadow of the stadium, it can all begin to seem strangely normal.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer is not only a hilarious travel story, but a cultural anthropology of fans that goes a long way toward demystifying the universal urge to take sides and to win.

I was compelled to point out that the only two nouns I could think of with which we use the word “rabid” are “animal” and “fan.”

Personal Record: A Love Affair with Running by Rachel Toor

Rachel Toor was a bookish egghead who ran only to catch a bus. How such an unlikely athlete became a runner of ultramarathons is the story of Personal Record, an exhilarating meditation on the making, and the minutiae, of a runner’s life. The food, the clothes, the races, the injuries, and the watch are all essential to the runner, as readers discover here, and discover why.
A chronicle of Toor’s relationship with the sport of running, from her early incarnation as an Oreo-eating couch potato to her emergence as a hard-bodied marathoner, this book explores the sport of running, the community it brings into being, and the personal satisfaction of pursuing it to its limit. An homage to running, a literary take on how an activity can turn into a passion and how a passion can become a way of life, Toor’s book runs all the way from individual achievement—a personal record—to the world of friendship and community.

Man O’ War: A Legend Like Lightning by Dorothy Ours
His trainer said that managing him was like holding a tiger by the tail. His owner compared him to "chain lightning." His jockeys found their lives transformed by him, in triumphant and distressing ways. All of them became caught in a battle for honesty.

Born in 1917, Man o' War grew from a rebellious youngster into perhaps the greatest racehorse of all time. He set such astonishing speed records that The New York Times called him a "Speed Miracle." Often he won with so much energy in reserve that experts wondered how much faster he could have gone. Over the years, this and other mysteries would envelop the great Man o' War.

The truth remained problematic. Even as Man o' War---known as "Big Red"---came to power, attracting record crowds and rave publicity, the colorful sport of Thoroughbred racing struggled for integrity. His lone defeat, suffered a few weeks before gamblers fixed the 1919 World Series, spawned lasting rumors that he, too, had been the victim of a fix.

Tackling old beliefs with newly uncovered evidence, Man o' War: A Legend Like Lightning shows how human pressures collided with a natural phenomenon and brings new life to an American icon. The genuine courage of Man o' War, tribulations of his archrival, Sir Barton (America's first Triple Crown winner), and temptations of their Hall of Fame jockeys and trainers reveal a long-hidden tale of grace, disgrace, and elusive redemption.

What excellent works of sports journalism did we miss?

Happy reading!


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