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catching up: books

Not sure why I don’t write more about books here. Perhaps it’s that my training is to treat books as something worthy of long-form writing, I don’t know. Whatever, a friend posted a photo of his summer reading, using the usual method of stacking the books in a pile. I realized that I can’t do that kind of picture anymore, because the vast majority of books I read are e-books.

The main book I’m reading right now is A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke by Ronald Reng. Enke was a top German goalkeeper who suffered from depression and committed suicide at the age of 32. It benefits from Reng having known Enke … it’s startling at times when a conversation appears between the two, you’ve been reading along like any other biography and you forget the author was there at times. The pressures of being a goalkeeper are made evident, but what is hitting home for me is the manifestations of Enke’s depression, which are scarily real to me.

Keeping in the pre-World Cup soccer genre, I just finished George Vecsey’s Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer. While Vecsey is known primarily for his sports writing, he also co-wrote Coal Miner’s Daughter with Loretta Lynn. Eight World Cups is an ideal book for Americans new to the sport (there are fewer of them every year) who would like some history in advance of Brazil 2014. While Vecsey has been at this awhile, he was once, like many Americans, an outsider to the world of soccer, which makes his story relatable. He tells stories of the great individuals of the era, gives a full picture of each Cup, and if he spends less time on the “Dark Side” than the title suggests, the Beauty comes through loud and clear.

Rounding out some of the recent sports books I’ve read, there’s The Fight of Their Lives: How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball’s Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption by John Rosengren. What Rosengren does well is establish a context for that event, by leading us through the life of a Latino and an African-American in baseball of the 1950s and 1960s. Also, Craig Wright’s Pages from Baseball’s Past, a compilation of pieces from his website of the same name. Wright is a pioneer in sabermetrics who knows how to tell a good story (the first chapter tells us about Babe Ruth’s “mascot”, and fans will look forward to pieces like “The Walk-Off Triple Steal”. Finally, Jonah Keri makes sure you know what his book is about with his subtitle: Up, Up and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos.

I wrote recently about John Wayne: The Life and Legend by Scott Eyman. And a few months ago, I had a few words about Latinos at the Golden Gate by my friend Tomás Summers Sandoval … yes, it’s true, I actually read a book that wasn’t about sports or entertainment. There was The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture & Style by Nelson George. An old favorite, pilot Patrick Smith, offers Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel: Questions, Answers, and Reflections. I first discovered Smith when he wrote a regular column for Salon … I admit I was delighted to exchange a few emails with him about our shared love for Hüsker Dü. Bill Brown’s Words and Guitar: A History of Lou Reed’s Music was unmemorable, while Winning Fantasy Baseball: Secret Strategies of a Nine-Time National Champion by Larry Schechter was very useful for me back in February when I bought it. The Sabermetric Revolution: Assessing the Growth of Analytics in Baseball by Benjamin Baumer and Andrew Zimbalist must have been good … I don’t have any bad memories … but to be honest, I barely remember the book at all, even as a fan of Zimbalist’s work.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jennifer Garlen’s second book on movies, Beyond Casablanca II: 101 Classic Movies Worth Watching. When I read her, I often wish I’d written what I am reading.

I just got the latest edition of David Thomson’s mammoth The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, previous editions of which are always stored on my phone for quick revisits. On tap: Robert Zaretsky’s A Life Worth Living, an examination of the philosophy of Albert Camus.

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