Posts Tagged ‘Sports’

Best New Books of 2014: Sharon S’s Picks

December 12, 2014

It is said that “Truth is stranger than fiction,” and to me it is just as interesting. I read fiction and nonfiction for the same reasons: to be entertained, instructed, and inspired. Here are my favorite new books for this year:

Pastor Needs a BooPastor Needs a Boo by Michele Andrea Bowen
A former FBI agent as well as a dedicated pastor, Denzelle Flowers of New Jerusalem Church in Durham got burned on the romance scene when his wife left him for a richer man. When the perfect Proverbs 31 woman shows up in his life he’s not ready to admit it, even though everyone else sees that she’s the one for him. Meanwhile, Pastor Denzelle decides to run for bishop, and has to pack both his gun and his Bible as major corruption sweeps through their denomination.

What Makes Olga Run?What Makes Olga Run? by Bruce Grierson
What makes a 93-year-old woman participate in track events worldwide, and set records that compare (in her age category) with those of the best athletes in the world? Well, she loves doing it, and her ability to do it stretches our stereotypes about aging. She is not alone—there are other “super seniors” like her around the world. Bruce Grierson leads us through a fascinating investigation of what keeps them going strong. See my full review.

William Shakespeare's Star WarsWilliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope by Ian Doescher
Hang on to your lightsabers! Doescher cleverly conflates famous lines from Shakespeare with famous scenes from Star Wars, making for a blend of comedy and drama worthy of the Bard himself. What I like best is getting to see into the minds of the characters through the asides and soliloquys. The series is continued in The Empire Striketh Back and The Jedi Doth Return. My family and I have been reading it aloud to each other (my husband plays the role of Chewbacca, and my 12-year-old son plays R2D2). See my full review.

Life is a WheelLife is a Wheel: Love, Death, Etc., and a Bike Ride Across America by Bruce Weber
The death of his parents and other major changes shook Weber up and gave him a lot to think about concerning life, love, and death. It didn’t help matters that he had spent the last three years of his middle-aged life writing obituaries for The New York Times. He decided to do something to prove to himself that he was still alive and kicking — bike across America! I love books like this, where someone decides to do something semi-crazy, and I can go along for the ride without the expense or the sore leg muscles! Based on the daily blogs he sent back to the newspaper, this book is a very entertaining and interesting read.

The Owl Who Liked Sitting on CaesarThe Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar by Martin Windrow
One reason I like to read is to experience vicariously things I may never experience myself, or at least not in the same way. I love owls, and Martin Windrow gives me a window into what they are really like, close-up and personal. Mumbles is a charming little tawny owl who is nevertheless no pushover! I loved reading about her daily life, and her and Martin’s close relationship of many years. See my full review.

Best New Books of 2014: Emil S’s Picks

December 2, 2014

When a book calls my name, I will not turn it down. Somehow, the books know how to find me.

No Place to Hide No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald
“Cincinnatus” was the alias Edward Snowden used when he contacted Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for The Guardian and a former constitutional lawyer. Cincinnatus referred to a real life hero, a farmer who in ancient times defended Rome against foreign forces, and then voluntarily gave up absolute power and returned to life on the farm. Edward Snowden was a former National Security Agency contractor, and the revelations brought about by him altered the course of history. This book – a curious blend of real life thriller, lecture, moral-ethic discussion, and petition – shows how invasive U.S. surveillance capabilities have become, and what it means in a world in which people increasingly find and display their inner lives online.  See my full review.

War of the WorldsWar of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz
Whales and other marine mammals are under severe threat from a number of human activities, not the least mankind’s insistence on waging war and preparing for war. The navy use of sonar creates noise storms that again and again cause atypical mass strandings and deaths of whales. The U.S. government regulators have become captives “to the interests they’re supposed to police,” and it is up to individuals and private organizations to help protect life in the oceans. War of the Whales is the true story of how environmental law attorney Joel Reynolds (of NRDC), marine biologist Ken Balcomb, and many others did everything in their power in order to reduce deadly, man made noise pollution and save some of the magnificent creatures that humankind share this planet with.  See my full review.

Everything Leads to YouEverything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
Emi’s goal is to become a set designer in Hollywood, and as an intern on a movie set, she visits the estate sale of a legendary Hollywood actor. When Emi and her best friend Charlotte find a letter hidden in the jacket of an LP, the two of them – without knowing the content of the letter – begin searching for the intended recipient. The mysterious letter leads her to the alluring Ava, and life begins to take on film-like qualities.  See my full review.

Cycle of LiesCycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong by Juliet Macur
If the mountains of Le Tour de France are the dragons of that particular classic, then the riders are the knights. And when Lance Armstrong started slaying and devouring these opponents he seemed to be living a real life heroic poem of epic proportions. Armstrong had bravely defeated a monstrous cancer, made a mind-boggling comeback, and then developed into one of the most revered and remarkable athletes in the world. However, the tale took a nightmarish turn as evidence of highly advanced and organized doping mounted. Here is the story of Lance Armstrong’s rise and fall as understood by New York Times journalist Juliet MacurSee my full review.

Little FailureLittle Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart
American author Gary Shteyngart was born as Igor Shteyngart in Leningrad (now [again] St. Petersburg) in the Russian empire that went under the name of Soviet Union. When he was seven years old, Gary and his family moved to the United States as part of a Jews-for-grains swap between the two superpowers. The Shteyngarts ended up in Queens, New York, and life in the land of the free was not easy for a “Socialist” boy with a weird accent. This memoir investigates a troubled family’s adventures and misadventures in two cultures, and it is moving, poignant, and at times outrageously comical.  See my full review.

What Makes Olga Run? by Bruce Grierson

October 3, 2014

What Makes Olga Run?Olga Kotelko is a 93-year-old Canadian track star, part of an elite group that scientists call “super-seniors”—people in their 80s and 90s, even 100s, who are setting world records that compare favorably (in their age categories) with the best athletes in the world. At World Master’s competitions, Olga competes in 11 track events, including high jump, hammer throw, and the 100-meter sprint.

How is it that Olga is breaking records at an age when most people are breaking hips? This is what Grierson, Olga, and the scientists who study her want to find out. Much as we would like to find a “magic bullet” of youthfulness, it appears to be a combination of many factors, physical and psychological, that work together.

Raised on the bitterly cold and windy plains of Saskatchewan, Olga grew up with ten siblings on a farm where everyone carried heavy loads and walked long distances. However, Olga did not start systematic training until the age of 70. Scientists think that starting her intensive training late in life may have been to her advantage. Many young athletes pick up bad habits and over-train, both of which may cause them to burn out early. Olga refuses to do anything she does not feel comfortable doing. “I don’t have to prove anything,” she says.

On the other hand, she may have something to prove psychologically if not physically. Olga survived 10 years of an abusive marriage, being told by her husband that she was worthless and incompetent. It was clear to Grierson as he watched Olga beaming from the winner’s podium that she was enjoying being told by the applause of thousands how capable and inspiring she is.

Olga may be tough, but she is also loving. She is known for speaking kind words to her competitors and even slowing down a wee bit to let someone who is “a nice person” pass her on the track. She has strong community and church ties, and she lives in the basement apartment of her daughter’s home, always near family. She balances her go-getter attitude with being kind to herself. For example, when she travels she sometimes asks for a wheelchair at the airport. “Why not save my energy for the meet?” she says.

Far from being a dry, scientific treatise on aging, this book is the portrait of a lovable lady drawn by a man who clearly admires her spunk. What is her secret? Is it the organic vegetables from her garden, or is it a skeleton so strengthened by exercise that falling down a flight of stairs at age 93 broke not a single bone? Perhaps more than anything, what keeps Olga moving is doing what she loves to do.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

No Excuses by Kyle Maynard

July 11, 2013

no excusesjpgKyle Maynard is a “congenital amputee” who was born with arms that end at the elbows and feet on the end of legs that end at the mid-thigh. However, in his early 20s, he is a championship wrestler and an excellent student. His low center of gravity and upper body strength, hard won through hours of weight training, are great assets in his sport. His motto is “No excuses.” If he loses, he treats it as a way to learn, to do better the next time.

A smart athlete as well as a strong one, Kyle exploits his unique body shape mentally as well as physically. Most of his opponents have never wrestled anyone with a body type like his, and he uses their momentary confusion and hesitation to gain an early advantage.

Kyle’s family constantly reminds him that he is not a “broken” or “disabled” person, but one with unique strengths and abilities. They never forced him to use prosthetics, but allowed him to develop his own style of getting around on all fours in what he calls his “bear crawl.” As a football player in middle school, he developed moves such as the “butt roll,” which he used to entangle himself in the offensive team’s legs and bring them down for the tackle. He can bring his arms together in front to hold most anything the rest of us can. He is an excellent horseback rider among other things, and has handwriting more legible than average!

In short, there is almost nothing Kyle cannot do, because he keeps on trying. He is not daunted by being different from other people. His grandmother taught him at an early age to say “Hi, I’m Kyle” to anyone who stared at him. This breaks the ice and makes him seem more approachable, helping people to see him as a person just like any other. In fact, facing his challenges with such courage and imagination has made him better than most, because he never allows himself to be crippled by fear.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

May 6, 2013

I’m not a huge baseball fan. I mean, I like to have a beer and eat a hot dog as much as the next person (potentially a little more, even) but in terms of watching the game… eh. I realize this is a little un-American to say, but our nation’s pastime can get kind of boring. At least, that’s what I thought until I read Chad Harbach’s debut novel, The Art of Fielding.

Henry Skrimshander was heading nowhere. Literally, he wasn’t going anywhere – born and raised in a mid-sized town in South Dakota, it was looking like he’d be there for a while, until the day that his summer baseball team played against (and lost to) Mike Schwartz’s team. This was the summer after high school had ended for Henry, and he was thinking of settling in at the local community college for a few years, until… what? All he’d ever wanted to do with life was play baseball.

Mike Schwartz, rising sophomore and catcher for the Westish College Harpooners, knew raw talent when he saw it, and see it he did. Suddenly, Henry was on his way to play college ball for Westish, leaving behind a life of working in his father’s metalworking shop or taking classes in bookkeeping to cobble together a career.

Once at Westish, the Harpooners become Henry’s life. Between his jock-friendly classes, team practices, his bench warmer roommate Owen, and Mike’s training regimen, Henry is immersed in baseball, and he thrives in it. By junior year, the recruiters are already hanging on the fences at Harpooners games, waiting to see if Henry can break his hero Aparicio Rodriguez’s record of most consecutive errorless games by a shortstop. As the pressure begins to mount, Henry begins to fail.

It starts with a bad throw made worse by a little bit of wind, and goes downhill from there. Harbach follows Henry’s descent into depression as his confidence is broken and his playing deteriorates rapidly. As the life that Henry has been working towards starts slipping through his fingers, he pulls away from Mike and all that he has held important.

The story is told through a variety of characters, each filling in different holes of the story as it goes forward. Henry, Mike, Owen, Westish College’s President Guert Affenlight, and his estranged daughter Pella, all make up the narrative voice of the story. This was a delightful debut novel. If Harbach can make me care about baseball, I’d like to see more of what he can do.”

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

January 16, 2013

When Patrick Peoples leaves a neural health facility in Baltimore, he believes that he has spent a few months there. In reality, he has been in the psychiatric ward for four years.

But reality and Pat do not really get along. So now, he is living in the basement of his parent’s home, being part of a movie directed by none other than God. And God will – naturally – provide an awe-inspiring and uplifting ending. Pat is convinced that this will include the end of “apart time,” and his reunification with Nikki, the woman he married… some time ago.

Now, Pat may not be completely sane, but the world at large isn’t entirely rational either. Pat’s friends are convinced that he has cursed the beloved Philadelphia Eagles when he stops watching their games; Eagles fans taunt former Philadelphia player Terrell Owens who might be in the midst of a severe depression; his friend Danny – who for a long time didn’t talk at all – speaks to the dices when they play Parcheesi; his therapist seems to recommend adultery; his father goes through serious mood swings – sometimes because of the way Eagles play, sometimes, well, who knows why? – and then there is Tiffany, a strange bird who follows him whenever and wherever he is running. Is she scouting him, or what?

While Pat is looking up at clouds, constantly finding silver linings, he is haunted by what he has lost and his archenemy, Kenny G, the musician, who has the ability to show up everywhere, and Pat’s road to recovery is filled with “episodes” and setbacks.  But when things go wrong, he insists that this is how movies work and just before the happy ending there will be complications.

Will Pat get to experience the end of “apart time” and then watch the credits of his movie roll after a feel-good ending? Read and find out.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books of 2012: Sharon S.’s Picks

December 28, 2012

I love to read nonfiction as well as fiction, so in presenting my best “new to me” books for 2012, I decided to use the categories of my favorite nonfiction, my favorite “how to” book, my favorite biography, my favorite novel, and my favorite collection of short stories. (You can see the full list of books I have blogged, too.) — Sharon S. Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman
I found this book to be deeply reassuring! It’s OK to have cluttered desks and crammed closets, say the authors, and in some cases it may even be beneficial (up to a point, of course). Abrahamson and Freedman present many examples of successful scientists, business owners, politicians, homemakers, and people from many other walks of life who spend that time they could have spent organizing being creative and productive instead. Also, staying loose and not locked in to one system allows us the freedom to adapt quickly to changing events. Running Step by Step by Roy Wallack and Ken Bob Saxton
You’ve got to be kidding, I thought when I first picked up this book, but I ended up being a convert. I’m no runner, so I tried barefoot walking instead (which Ken Bob says is just like running except you always have at least one foot on the ground). There’s no doubt in my mind—heel striking is a bad thing for your joints. When you learn how to bend your knees like Ken Bob suggests, your calves act as shock absorbers that preserve your joints. Of course, you can do this even with shoes on, but when your foot is not cushioned with a running shoe, you have a constant reminder not to bang that heel down! Also, it adds a new dimension to the experience to learn to place your feet lightly and actually feel the ground under them. the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg
Steinberg was tired of being a free-lance writer and wanted a job that had health insurance, so he answered an advertisement for a librarian position at a prison on the outskirts of Boston. He ended up with more than he bargained for. What is or should be the purpose of a library in such a place? In trying to help the prisoners learn and prepare for lives outside of prison, he often runs afoul of the rule-bound guards. On the other hand, in getting too emotionally involved with those he is helping, he finds himself in some difficult moral dilemmas. There is no easy answer to the question of why people end up in prison, nor is there an easy way to help them get out and stay out. Pioneers! by Willa Cather
This slim novel set on the Nebraska prairie at the beginning of the twentieth century contains some of the most moving scenes I have yet encountered in literature. It is a story about love, friendship, betrayal, and the price of self-knowledge that readers will not easily forget. I am amazed at Cather’s ability to create characters that seem so real to me that I feel like I have actually met them. See my full review. of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Lahiri also creates memorable, realistic characters in these stories, each one a view into the hearts and lives of people of different ages and cultures. A young married couple suffers a devastating loss that rocks their faith in each other. A school-age girl slowly learns to appreciate the fact that everyone does not live the privileged life she does. A young man and an old woman come to know and respect each other through mundane events that turn out to have been not so mundane after all. Each story shows us something unique about human nature, how and why we move toward or away from one another, how we mature and come to understand the meaning of life. See my full review.

The Hanging Tree by Brian Gruley

October 12, 2011

Gruley’s follow up to his award winning debut, Starvation Lake, is another winner (and award nominee). We’re back in the small town of Starvation Lake, Michigan with amateur hockey player and professional reporter Gus Carpenter. The local hockey team, The River Rats, is still the most important thing in town and everyone’s excited about the new hockey rink proposed by a rich newcomer, Laird Haskell.

But Gus isn’t sold.  He smells a rat and has written critical newspaper articles not welcomed by the rest of town, most of whom see nothing but dollar signs when they look at Haskell. Then Gus’ cousin Gracie, who just returned to town after eighteen years, is found dead in a blizzard, an apparent suicide, dangling from the branches of a local landmark known as the Shoe Tree.   Gus’ refusal to accept her death as suicide and his determination to find out what happened to Gracie while she was gone, what made her come back, and how she ended up dead leads him to a town he hoped to never visit again, Detroit.  And it makes his relationship with his girlfriend, Pine County sheriff’s deputy Darlene Esper, even more complicated.

The writing is very much in the noir tradition, as evinced by sentences such as: “His mood tasted like all the sharp metal in the room, the angle-iron chairs, the star points on his badge, the shelf brackets, his pistol.” Fans of Dennis Lehane, Steve Hamilton, George Pelecanos, and Michael Connelly will find much to like in this series.  Highly recommended.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter by Ian O’Connor

July 26, 2011

Every professional sport has it’s favorite teams and they are often, also the most hated teams. In baseball, there is no doubt that the Yankees are it’s most loved and hated team! No matter that the Yankees are one of sport’s most hated teams,  there is one Yankee who is almost universally loved and admired. Ask any Yankee hater if there is one Yankee he  admires and the answer will almost assuredly be Derek Jeter! During the era of steroid use, one player has never had a touch of scandal …. Derek Jeter.  This is his story, from being born in Northern New Jersey, to growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to his reaching the Majors and playing shortstop for the Yankees.     From the age of four,  whoever asked Derek what he wanted do when he grew up, the answer was always the same: ‘I want to play shortstop for the New York Yankees.’

Julia Tiedemann grew up in Northern Jersey and Charles Jeter grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, raised by a single Mom. Julia was in the Army in Frankfort, Germany when she met and fell in love with Sanderson Charles Jeter. They married in an era where the thought of a biracial President was the furthest thought from anyone’s mind. When Derek was 4, they moved to Kalamazoo so that Charles could pursue a master’s and a doctorate at Western Michigan University in social work. Derek and his sister, Sharlee were both gifted athletes. And with both of their parents holders of college degrees, there were no question that brother and sister were suppose to excel in school, as well as on the athletic field.  And they did!

Whenever Derek was not in his team uniform, he was always wearing Yankee regalia, shirts, hats, medallions. As his reputation grew in and around Kalamazoo, professional scouts started to get a peek at this high school phenom. No one who saw him play had any doubt that he had the skills to play in the Major Leagues. Now it became a chess game, as scouts from many teams started to accumulate data on this teenager.

Not to give away too much about the machinations of draft picks, but the Yankees didn’t get to select a player until the 6th pick. Somehow Yankee luck held out and Derek was available for the Yankees! Ian O’Connor has woven a fascinating tale of one of baseball’s favorite players. This will be an enjoyable read … even for a Red Sox fan!

Enjoy a good baseball story this summer by finding and reserving this book in our catalog.

I Beat the Odds by Michael Oher & Don Yaeger

May 31, 2011

For those of you who loved the movie The Blind Side, here is the rest of the story of Michael Oher. Raised in poverty, in the poorest neighborhoods of Memphis, Michael tells how he survived to get to the point where the movie begins. His mother was a drug addict who would stay clean only long enough to give birth to another sibling for Michael before falling back under the influence of drugs. Michael never stopped loving her and always hoped that this time she would stay off drugs. Although he sometimes had to stay one step ahead of the welfare system, from the age of 7 or 8 Michael had a dream that he would escape his environment, get an education, and fulfill his dreams. There were good people along the way; teachers who took a special interest in him and a welfare official who saw that this wasn’t just a big dumb kid. They were able to see that there was much more to this large young man who had times seemed to be buried in the system. It took a lot of hard work in which Michael had to repeat grades and had to learn how to study, but he got there. His grades improved until he started to make the Honor Roll. This was a special person and he has written a special story so that others might see that there are ways to escape the ghettos of our inner cities. Read Michael’s story, see The Blind Side again, and then watch Michael play on a Sunday afternoon for the Baltimore Ravens!

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

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