Yesterday my friend Yakut emailed me the article “Federer as Religious Experience” by David Foster Wallace, which appeared in the New York Times’ Play Magazine on August 20, 2006 (available here). Wallace penned an immaculate piece on Roger Federer, who also happens to be my favorite tennis player these days. As per his custom, Wallace resorts to 17 footnotes, provides detailed accounts of what he terms “Federer Moments” from the Nadal v. Federer Wimbledon Final of 2006, comments – in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, of course – on the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum and the tournament’s rules. It is a great ode to Federer, and contains a healthy rebuke of Nadal – who happens to be my least favorite pro these days. If you’re a tennis – and DFW – fan, enjoyed his essays in Consider the Lobster, and do not have the guts to restart Infinite Jest just yet, but would like to continue reading some brilliant prose, you should definitely check it out.
I wasn’t a big fan of Joyce Carol Oates’ story “Landfill” in last week’s New Yorker. It felt to me a little too obvious, this story about an insecure college student’s drunken and accidental death thanks to the carelessness of the brothers at the fraternity where he was a pledge. It seemed too “ripped from the headlines,” too after school special, and on top of all that it was emotionally cheap – designed to provoke outrage with little complexity. So, it was interesting to discover that Oates’ story was indeed ripped from the headlines. The death of Hector Jr. very closely resembles that of a young man who had attended The College of New Jersey, so much so that Oates was compelled to apologize “for any offense she caused.”Obviously, quite a lot of fiction is drawn from real life events, but I think in this case, because Oates’ story was so one-note and so geared toward generating disgust, the connection was simply to stark to ignore. (via Jeff)
Not wanting to be left out of the fun and controversy generated by the New York Times list of the top books of the last 25 years, the Guardian has rounded up 150 celebrity judges of its own (120 agreed to particpate), like Monica Ali, Rick Moody, and Jonathan Safran Foer, to vote for the best British, Irish or Commonwealth novel from 1980 to 2005. “How they defined ‘best’ was up to them” is the caveat the Guardian gives us.After the votes were tallied, they bestowed the honor on Booker winner Disgrace by Nobel Laureate J.M Coetzee. Money by Martin Amis was runner up, while Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess, Atonement by Ian McEwan, The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie all shared third place. Will this list generate as much fevered dicussion as the Times list? I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.
With my personal sport of choice – professional basketball – surging towards the playoffs, I felt a need to read about sports. I needed to read about jocks and sweat and champions and the like.Instead, I read about gambling. And politics.Oh, and a little bit of about sports.(First, though, an aside. I read three books this month – not very many, I know, but it was a shorter month. One of them was To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.Yes, it was better than Hey Rube. But with To Kill a Mockingbird being selected as South Dakota’s “The Big Read” selection for this year, I figured it would be getting as much press as it could handle [“No, he’s not being ironic. Corey is from South Dakota” — Max]. So I’m going with number two.Back to the review.)Really, Hey Rube, a collection of Hunter S. Thompson’s ESPN.com columns, isn’t about sports at all. It’s about gambling, mostly, with a little counter-culture political rants thrown in to balance things out. There’s a fair bit about his friends, all of which involves gambling and politics. Still, every once in a while Thompson brings it back to sports.The primary focus of Thompson’s rants usually leans towards the NFL – widely though of as “the gamblers’ league” – and with rightful cause. Here you’ll delve into the mind of a degenerate gambler; one who understands the subtle difference between getting 10 points against the Colts compared to a measly 9. You’ll begin to understand the strengths and weaknesses of a man that loves his friends, but loves even more to take their money.Above all, though, you’ll see the fine line between politics and sports. While both seem incredibly different, you’ll find they’re not – at their cores, both subjects are nearly identical. Both deal with competing forces that, often times, exhibit nearly opposite styles. Both find themselves hotly debated at all times of the day, regardless of a person’s knowledge or competency in the subject. The only real difference is that political leaders are chosen, while in sports the leaders are determined after a long and brutal physical battle.In fact, politics would be a lot more interesting if they adopted the “physical battle” concept.Hey Rube is not for the faint of heart. It’s vitriolic. It’s spit out with a forked tongue. It’s full of anti-administration propaganda and cursing. Never before has anyone felt so pained while talking about his favorite sport. Thompson rages that “watching the Baltimore Ravens play football is like watching scum freeze on the eyeballs of a jackass,” a line that is as true a sports criticism as “steroids ruined baseball” or “the NFL Pro Bowl is no longer relevant.”The odd thing is how attractive he makes everything sound, while at the same time seemingly hating every minute of it. Thompson’s obsession with gambling, football, and his own twisted thoughts sounds unnatural. It is. Still, Hey Rube left me longing to join him. It couldn’t have been that horrible to hang out and watch football with Thompson, except for the fact that you might get shot.Or even worse – you might be convinced to run a marathon with Sean Penn.Listen, we all miss Hunter. It’s still incredibly chic to mention his name and blabber on incessantly about how he was a literary genius and how he’ll never be replaced.In all actuality, this is not Thompson’s best book. It’s fractured, and it’s not in his usual wheelhouse. But it is very good. And if you like sports more than politics, as I do, you’ll find more pleasure in Hey Rube than you might find in any of his campaign memoirs.And as far as his genius is concerned, well, it’s true. He was a genius. He filled a specific niche that not everyone respected – and that’s fine. Some like him, some revere him, and others can’t stand him. That’s all part of his shtick. Regardless of your feelings, you have to admit he made an impact.Even if it was only by pointing out the importance of never betting against Duke basketball.-Corey VilhauerBlack Marks on Wood PulpFebruary 2006 CVBoMCJanuary 2006 CVBoMC
Ian Frazier’s piece in last week’s New Yorker is one of the oddest, funniest essays I’ve read in a long time. I laughed to myself as I read it the other day while sitting on the steps of the Art Institute in downtown Chicago (following an edifying meetup with fellow book bloggers Deep and Sam). The essay, “Pensees D’Automne,” is about a grown man’s passion for stomping acorns in the fall, and it contains many asides about things like health insurance and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Frazier, who has long written odd and funny things like this, has a new book out this week called Gone to New York: Adventures in the City. The book collects thirty years of Frazier’s journalism about New York. From a review in the Sun-Times:The non-linear way Frazier’s mind works is a delight to follow on the page. And don’t let the emphasis on New York City fool you. Frazier is one of us. In the introduction to Gone to New York, Jamaica Kincaid gets it right when she calls her pal “the authentic American,” whose work “is meant to form an arc, an arc that has not yet begun its curve.”Kincaid and Frazier are also involved in another recently released book, this year’s edition of The Best American Travel Writing. Kincaid is the editor this year and Frazier is joined as a contributor by luminaries like John McPhee, William T. Vollmann, and William Least-Heat Moon.