Here is the third and final part of my annual Bookshelf piece, a thumbnail look at some of the books I have read in the past year. Perhaps you will find something you want to read or to purchase as a gift. . . .
Razor Girl — Author Carl Hiaasen has produced another hilarious novel. If you are familiar with his work, you won’t be disappointed with this one. If you haven’t yet read anything by Hiaasen, you should know that Razor Girl is centred in the Florida Keys and, yes, it’s outrageous, loaded with, yes, razor wit, entertaining characters — think more than one Florida Man — and loaded dialogue.
Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original — Author Howard Bryant was handed a tough task when he set out to write an authorized biography of Rickey Henderson. And he certainly was up to the task. If you are familiar with Bryant and his work, this definitely is up to his standards as he tells the life story of a man with many sides. But more than a book strictly about Henderson, Bryant tells the story of the Black migration to Oakland and what resulted from that, especially in sports. It also is an in-depth look at racism in baseball. And, yes, it also is the story of Henderson, one of baseball’s all-time greats.
Rising From the Deep: The Seattle Kraken, a Tenacious Push for Expansion, and the Emerald City’s Sports Revival — If you’re looking for a book about why the Kraken hired Dave Hakstol as head coach or why it selected this player or that in the NHL expansion draft, this book isn’t for you. If you want to know all that went on behind the scenes financially and politically to get the team on the ice in time for the 2020-21 season, it’s all right here. Remember that before the Kraken came to life, there was a big push being made to land an NBA expansion franchise for Seattle, something that still hasn’t happened. Geoff Baker, who covers the Kraken for the Seattle Times, gets in deep and it makes for a fascinating read.
Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks — The author, Patrick Radden Keefe, has put together a collection of his essays that have appeared in The New Yorker. The interesting thing is that the people portrayed in these essays all are different, but they provide an interesting look into the kind of folks who walk this earth with us. As Rachel Newcomb wrote in the Washington Post: “Taken together, the essays reflect the collective preoccupations of the unsettling era in which we now live: mass shootings and terrorism, unaddressed mental health issues, and the many flavors of financial corruption.”
The Ruin — The opening chapter of this work by Dervla McTiernan is enough to keep you reading. Cormac Reilly, a fresh-faced Irish policeman, is sent to a house that is collapsing into itself and discovers a woman dead in her bed, with two children — Maude, 15, and Jack, 5 — appearing ready for whatever may come. The rest of the book doesn’t quite live up to the opening chapter, but that would be awfully tough to do. Still, Reilly is a likeable character, something that is important to any book, and there are enough twists to keep things interesting. . . . Oh, and make sure you read the author’s note where she admits to doing a bit of, uhh, cheating. LOL!
The Scholar — This is the second of author Dervla McTiernan’s books that follow Cormac Reilly, a veteran Irish policeman. And like The Ruin, which is mentioned above, The Scholar is good stuff. It has an interesting plot and even though the twists are fairly easy to figure out, McTiernan’s way with words is more than enough to keep the reader involved.
The Series — This is a wonderful, albeit short, book about the 1972 hockey series between Canada and the Soviet Union. Written by Ken Dryden, who was one of three goaltenders on Team Canada and played the deciding eighth game, this is a 200-page gem. It isn’t full of anecdotes or play-by-play; rather, it’s just Dryden writing about some of his recollections — and sometimes he admits that he doesn’t remember much about a particular game or games — of the eight-game series, as well as what came before and after. A gem . . . a real gem!
Shōgun — I have no idea why it took me this long to dig into author James Clavell’s masterpiece about Japan in 1600. And that really is what this is — a masterpiece. For the most part, the story is told through the eyes of John Blackthorne, the first Englishman to reach the shores of Japan. It is awfully easy to get lost in all that there is to this book. BTW, it’s rather lengthy, coming in at about 428,000 words.
Three-Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Crazy Years of the Lakers Dynasty — It turns out that the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal as the stars, really did win three championships in spite of themselves. Jeff Pearlman, who has written a number of terrific sports-related book, spells out the winning mess these teams were in all the gory details. It turns out that the young Kobe was a belligerent and rude human being, and he and Shaq couldn’t stand each other. Oh boy, there’s a lot of dirt in this one, including details on the rape charge Kobe faced in Colorado.
Throwback: A Big-League Catcher Tells How the Game is Really Played — Jason Kendall was a catcher who had a 15-year career in the major leagues. You can bet he saw a lot during that time. But this isn’t that kind of book. Instead, Kendall provides a whole lot of insight into what goes into the game, providing all kinds of tips involving catching, hitting, pitching, signs, managing and a whole lot more. If you’re even slightly interested in the big leagues, you’ll enjoy this one.
24: Life Stories and Lessons from the Say Hey Kid — Willie Mays is considered by many to be the greatest MLB player of them all. It’s hard to argue with that after reading this gem from author John Shea. With lots of commentary from the Say Hey Kid, this is a terrific look at Mays’ life and career . . . a wonderful book about a wonderful human being.
Visionary: The Ernie Gare Story — Author John Korobanik, a former sports editor of the Nelson Daily News who went on to spend 20 years writing for The Canadian Press, tells the story of the late Ernie Gare, and it’s quite a story. Gare was heavily involved in the founding of the Canadian national ski teams in Nelson. He was the athletic director at Notre Dame University in Nelson — it was shuttered in 1977 — and was a big push behind the school being the first in Canada to offer athletic scholarships. He also was ahead of his time when it came to training, both in- and off-season. And, yes, he was the father of former Buffalo Sabres captain Danny Gare. Unfortunately, Ernie died a young man, taken by ALS in 1981 at the age of 52.
We Begin at the End — This thriller/mystery novel will stay with you for a while if only because author Chris Whitaker has created a memorable character in the outlaw Duchess Day Radley, who is all of 13 years of age and struggling with the unfair hand she has been dealt by life. In fact, more than anything, this is about folks who live in Cape Haven, a small coastal California community, and how each of them is fighting to get through life. But it’s Duchess, the outlaw, who will live in your memory bank.
Wild Ride: The Rise and Tragic Fall of Calumet Farm, Inc., America’s Premier Racing Dynasty — There was a time in the not-too-distant past when Calumet Farms was THE name in thoroughbred horse racing. In this book, author Ann Hagedorn Auerbach details its rise — it was founded in 1924 — and all that led it into bankruptcy, including the death of Alydar, perhaps the most-productive sire in thoroughbred history, but a horse that may have been worth more dead than alive. This is an impeccably researched book and the numbers, many of which had to do with bank loans, will make your head spin.
As for the 10 most-enjoyable books that I read this year, here they are, in alphabetical order (OK, I included 12, so sue me) . . .
The Baseball 100, by Joe Posnanski
Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom, by Carl Bernstein
The Dark Hours, by Michael Connelly
Ice War Diplomat: Hockey Meets Cold War Politics at the 1972 Summit Series, by Gary J. Smith
The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson, by Jeff Pearlman
The Late Show: Letterman, Leno, & the Network Battle for the Night, by Bill Carter
Pleasant Good Evening — A Memoir: My 30 Wild and Turbulent Years of Sportstalk, by Dan Russell
Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original, by Howard Bryant
Rising From the Deep: The Seattle Kraken, a Tenacious Push for Expansion, and the Emerald City’s Sports Revival, by Geoff Baker
The Series, by Ken Dryden
24: Life Stories and Lessons from the Say Hey Kid, by Willie Mays and John Shea
Wild Ride: The Rise and Tragic Fall of Calumet Farm, Inc., America’s Premier Racing Dynasty, by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach
Part 3 of 3