Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Summer Book Review Twofer

Last Books Finished: "Mudbound" by Hillary Jordan and "Can I Keep My Jersey" by Paul Shirley
Pages: 328 and 326
Total Pages: 920
Time it took me to read: 3 days and 5 days (had some time on my hands...)
Next Book: Either a book about a mine collapse my grandparents gave me or a Michael Pollan book or neither of those.

It's a lot easier to tear through these books when you have nothing to do all evening and no cable TV or video games to divert your attention. Even the internet has been boring for the most part now that the primary is over and most of my favorite sports are in the offseason (although there's quite a bit to read about Euro 2008). I suppose that's why I subject you to these reviews instead of finding other things to write about.

First up, was "Mudbound", a new novel I heard about a few months ago on NPR. It's set in rural Mississippi in the 1940's so you can pretty much guess that there's going to be a heavy racial element to the story and the book definitely lives up to that. The story itself is entertaining and fast-paced for the most part although it seems to drift into cliches every once in a while. However, where the book really shines is the method that Jordan uses to tell the story. It is told in the first person through 6 or 7 different narrators a chapter at a time. She did an amazing job getting the voice right of the diverse cast of characters. It would have been easy to screw this up and end up with a disjointed story but she did it well enough that it was easy to jump into the minds of the different characters without losing a beat and advancing the story from several different perspectives. Good book.

Second was former ISU basketball player Paul Shirley's take on his first three years of bouncing around to various professional teams. Paul gained a bit of notoriety for his smart-ass take on the NBA in his blog on NBA.com during the Suns' playoff run a few years ago.

During the two years we overlapped at ISU he spent a lot of his time hurt and I definitely wouldn't have picked him to spend any significant time in the NBA but he was always one of my favorite players just because we both had similar backgrounds in that we were National Merit scholars from small towns in Kansas that were engineering majors at ISU. The similarities pretty much ended up there since he was 8 inches taller and actually had basketball skills.

I suppose that Paul was somewhat of a hero to the nerdset at ISU since an unpopular (at least among my friends) Iowa State Daily columnist caused a mini-stir when she used her column to ask him out on Valentine's Day. I wonder if she reads that now and is embarrassed. (I later ripped her in a letter to the editor over an unrelated column. In her last issue of the Daily she said she wouldn't miss freshmen that told her she sucked. I always hoped that was referring to me.)

Anyway, Paul was the 6th man for most of the games played by the greatest Cyclone team ever and gained a certain amount of notoriety for his role in the elite 8 game that year. Long story short ISU was holding on to a lead when he hit a bucket and was fouled only for another ref to come in and change it to "no basket, double foul." How a foul can be a block or a charge I will never understand. He fouled out, ISU lost, and he was shown sobbing in most of the newspapers across the country. He addresses all of those in this great column that sort of explains how weird it must have been being a student-athlete. The Monday after the game he's working on his engineering homework in the library and a girl asks him to autograph the front-page picture of him crying.

Where was I? Oh yeah, so I've been following his career for a while and it was kind of bizarre when all of the sudden he was writing for ESPN and getting a lot of national pub. I finally got around to reading his book and I wasn't disappointed. It's a funny, entertaining look behind the scenes of a lower-tier NBA player trying to stay in the league but spending most of their careers riding buses in the CBA or jetting around Europe from Siberia hoping that the team actually pays you this week.

The only complaints I had about the book were that he tended to overwrite or force some of his jokes and he offhandedly mentioned that Marcus Fizer was a genuine nutjob without giving any stories about him. Part of me would love to read a book about his time at ISU but part of me enjoys the mythology that I have about my first two years in college and watching those teams from up close. Although a lot of the mythology I had about athletes was shattered when Darren Davis yelled "suck my dick, spiky" at me from the elevator and I heard too many stories involving some variation of the words "come on, just touch it" (a reason why it wouldn't shock me if the Sherron Collins accusations were true).

Overall I really enjoyed the book and the take he had on things. It's definitely a different perspective than most of the books written about sports.

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