What follows is Part 2 of a three-part look at some of the books I have read over the past 12 months. Before we get to those, here are a handful of suggestions from the thumbnails that appeared here a year ago. If you haven’t read these, you can’t go wrong with any of them:
Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times, by Mark Leibovich
Bower: A Legendary Life, by Dan Robson
Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL, by Jeff Pearlman
Hockey Fight in Canada: The Big Media Face-off Over the NHL, by David Shoults
K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches, by Tyler Kepner
The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West, by John Branch
Scotty: A Hockey Life Like No Other, by Ken Dryden
Us Against You, by Fredrik Backman (but only if you already have read Backman’s Beartown)
Now here is Part 2 of this year’s bookshelf . . .
Gloves Off: 40 Years of Unfiltered Sports Writing: Lowell Cohn, now retired, had a lengthy career as a sports columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press Democrat. This is his look back at some of the people he dealt with and things that he witnessed. He doesn’t pull any punches as he writes about his career; no, it’s not a compilation of columns. I’m a sucker for books of this type, but this one really is an entertaining read.
The Good Earth: My mother was a reader and I can remember seeing Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth in a bookcase at home. But I can’t explain why I hadn’t read it before the summer of 2020. Published in 1931, it follows the life of a Chinese farmer and his family through more than 50 years of change, and it always returns to the importance of owning land. It won a Pulitzer Prize so I don’t need to tell you how good it is — but it’s great. It also is the first book in Buck’s House of Earth trilogy, the other two being Sons (1932) and A House Divided (1935).
The Gray Man — This is the book that started the legend of The Gray Man, aka Courtland Gentry. He’s an assassin who at one time worked for the CIA but most times freelances. In his debut, there is a bounty on his head, and he faces down a dozen kill squads, but not without paying a price. Author Mark Greaney has created a likeable leading man, and the excitement is palpable between the front and back covers.
The Grim Reaper: The Life and Career of a Reluctant Warrior — With help from writer Kevin Allen, then of USA TODAY, former hockey enforcer Stu Grimson told his story in a book that came out in the autumn of 2019. The book’s title is a touch misleading because Grimson, who had about 400 fights combined in major junior and the NHL, doesn’t seem to regret any of it. That may seem a bit strange seeing as he was forced into retirement by post-concussion syndrome. Anyway, he provides some valuable insight into the thought-process of NHL heavyweights — their anxieties and fears, both for the present and the future. Grimson, who was adopted, also opens up about his personal life, including a surprising introduction to his birth father.
The Guardians — Cullen Post is a lawyer/minister who spends more time lawyering than preaching. His lawyering is aimed at correcting wrongful convictions and the group he works with, Guardian Ministeries, has had some successes. This book, by the prolific John Grisham, is about one of those cases, and a whole lot more. It’s good Grisham and the genesis, unfortunately, was a true story, as the author informs us at book’s end.
The Huntress — I absolutely loved The Alice Network, and The Huntress is every bit as good, if not better. Both books were written by Kate Quinn. The Huntress is the story of two young men who pursue war criminals and are brought together with a Night Witch, a woman who was part of a female crew that flew night bombing missions for the Russians during the Second World War. The hunters’ latest target is a woman in Boston, who isn’t what she is trying hard to be. There are great characters and much intrigue here. You won’t be disappointed.
The Jordan Rules — I don’t have any idea why I hadn’t read Sam Smith’s book prior to May. I finally read it while taking breaks from watching The Last Dance, the 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan, co-starring the Chicago Bulls, on Netflix. Smith, a writer with the Chicago Tribune, details the Bulls’ 1990-91 season. As the Bulls run to their first NBA title, the reader is left to decide whether The Jordan Rules was the name for the way the Detroit Pistons played defence on Jordan or how his teammates came to feel about what dictated life with the Bulls. If you haven’t read this, it’s great. Interestingly, Smith now writes for the Bulls’ website.
Major Misconduct: The Human Cost of Fighting in Hockey — Author Jeremy Allingham, a reporter with CBC in Vancouver, takes an in-depth look at the post-hockey lives of three former enforcers — James McEwan, Stephen Peat and Dale Purinton — and what he uncovers isn’t at all pretty. Interestingly, all three got their starts as enforcers in the WHL, a major junior league that has yet to ban fighting. This is a horrifying look at life after hockey fights and should be read by anyone involved in junior hockey — from fans to parents to executives.
The Mighty Oak — Tim O’Connor is the fighter — goon — for the West Texas Hockey League’s El Paso Storm. But his best days are behind him and he’s feeling it all over. O’Connor, whose nickname is Oak, hasn’t yet come to grips with the fact that a hip and a shoulder and a whole let else have him headed for hockey’s junk heap. He’s hoping the Oxy and Toradol and Adderall and whatever else is available will get him through it. Then he punches a cop. Author Jeff W. Bens has written an engrossing character study of a hockey enforcer trying to find a way back into a previous life.
Mission Critical — I had heard of author Mark Greaney and his Gray Man books, but I hadn’t ready any of them until this one, which is No. 8 in the series. Court Gentry is The Gray Man; he also is an assassin, code name Violator. In Mission Critical, Violator is working for the CIA and there is a lot of nastiness happening in a paperback that runs 706 pages. But it is readable and it is fun.
Mohawk — I don’t know if there is an author who captures small-town life in all of its idiosyncrasies like Richard Russo. Such is the case, again, in Mohawk as he follows a handful of citizens through the routine of their daily lives and stays with them as they deal with life’s ups and downs. Mohawk was published in 1986 and it is as great today as it was then.
Molly’s Game: The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive, High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World! — A member of the U.S. freestyle ski team suffers a career-ending injury and ends up running high stakes poker games in Los Angeles and, later, in New York City. This is the story of how Molly Bloom did all of that and more. She spills some of the beans in anecdotes that involve players like actors Tobey Maguire, who comes out rather poorly, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck, and some Russian gangsters. The obscene amounts of money thrown around in these games prove only that some people have no idea how the rest of us live. In the end, though, it all comes crashing down. Unfortunately, the book ends before the end, which is the part where Bloom pleads guilty to federal charges. You’ll have to turn to Google to find out what happened in court.
Next: Part 3 of 3.
Feel free to share what you see here.