2017 Summer Reading Revisited
As my students are brushing up on their summer reading that they read in June and are now reviewing before school starts next us next week, I follow up on my own summer reading list.
My goal was to learn the conventions of sports biography in preparation for a future writing project. I added a self-help motivational book, a fun read, and a couple of classics. Here’s my summer reading revisited with an Amazon description of each. As always, the links are associate links. Should you choose to purchase a book through them, you will be helping to keep this blog afloat (without paying anything extra yourself).
My Summer 2017 Reading List Revisited with Reviews
Friday Night Lights (25th Anniversary Edition) (H.G. Bissinger)
Return once again to the timeless account of the Permian Panthers of Odessa–the winningest high-school football team in Texas history. Odessa is not known to be a town big on dreams, but the Panthers help keep the hopes and dreams of this small, dusty town going. Socially and racially divided, its fragile economy follows the treacherous boom-bust path of the oil business. In bad times, the unemployment rate barrels out of control; in good times, its murder rate skyrockets. But every Friday night from September to December, when the Permian High School Panthers play football, this West Texas town becomes a place where dreams can come true. With frankness and compassion, H. G. Bissinger chronicles a season in the life of Odessa and shows how single-minded devotion to the team shapes the community and inspires–and sometimes shatters–the teenagers who wear the Panthers’ uniforms.
Very salty language–which I recognize as part of the culture but don’t use personally–seemed to match the bleak setting. The author lands on the pertinent point that you can’t accurately predict high school kids’ futures by how they are in high school. Wow, have I ever seen that play out through the years.
Moneyball (Michael Lewis)
Moneyball is a quest for the secret of success in baseball. In a narrative full of fabulous characters and brilliant excursions into the unexpected, Michael Lewis follows the low-budget Oakland A’s, visionary general manager Billy Beane, and the strange brotherhood of amateur baseball theorists. They are all in search of new baseball knowledge—insights that will give the little guy who is willing to discard old wisdom the edge over big money.
Fascinating read. I particularly liked the chapter about Chad Bradford, perhaps because he is a Mississippian or that he played for my college alma mater or that he was a drop-down reliever, like my older son. He didn’t pass the so-called “eye test,” but he just got hitters out, and that finally counted.
Seabiscuit (Laura Hillenbrand)
Laura Hillenbrand brilliantly re-creates a universal underdog story in this #1 New York Times bestseller. Seabiscuit was one of the most electrifying and popular attractions in sports history and the single biggest newsmaker in the world in 1938, receiving more coverage than FDR, Hitler, or Mussolini. But his success was a surprise to the racing establishment, which had written off the crooked-legged racehorse with the sad tail. Three men changed Seabiscuit’s fortunes: Charles Howard was a onetime bicycle repairman who introduced the automobile to the western United States and became an overnight millionaire. When he needed a trainer for his new racehorses, he hired Tom Smith, a mysterious mustang breaker from the Colorado plains. Smith urged Howard to buy Seabiscuit for a bargain-basement price, then hired as his jockey Red Pollard, a failed boxer who was blind in one eye, half-crippled, and prone to quoting passages from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Over four years, these unlikely partners survived a phenomenal run of bad fortune, conspiracy, and severe injury to transform Seabiscuit from a neurotic, pathologically indolent also-ran into an American sports icon.
Beautifully written story, a hidden gem that the author’s extensive research brought to light. One of my favorite books of the summer.
The Matheny Manifesto (Mike Matheny and Jerry Jenkins)
Mike Matheny was just forty-one, without professional managerial experience and looking for a next step after a successful career as a Major League catcher, when he succeeded the legendary Tony La Russa as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012. While Matheny has enjoyed immediate success, leading the Cards to the postseason four times in his first four years−a Major League record−people have noticed something else about his life, something not measured in day-to-day results. Instead, it’s based on a frankly worded letter he wrote to the parents of a Little League team he coached, a cry for change that became an Internet sensation and eventually a “manifesto.”
I read the original letter years ago. It communicated many of my own beliefs. When I heard an interview about expanding the letter into a book, I was skeptical. I heard an interview with Jerry Jenkins that piqued my interest in it, though, and I felt like this summer was a good time to pick it up. Frankly, I was disappointed. Maybe the original letter was so packed with such profound statements that nobody at the time was saying about travel ball that the book couldn’t add much to them. I had hoped for more “insider stories.” There were some, but they didn’t move the needle for me. (That said, if you haven’t read the original “manifesto,” that alone is worth the price of the book.”)
Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand)
In boyhood, Louis Zamperini was an incorrigible delinquent. As a teenager, he channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics. But when World War II began, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to a doomed flight on a May afternoon in 1943. When his Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean, against all odds, Zamperini survived, adrift on a foundering life raft. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.
A summer reading revisited wouldn’t be complete without my naming my favorite book of that list, would it? This was it. Hillenbrand had told the stories of Zamperini’s delinquent youth, a major move, his Olympic dream, his training as a pilot, and his record-setting drift at sea…and over half the book remained! Wonderful book and wonderfully told!
Wrapped in Rain (Charles Martin)
An internationally famous photographer, Tucker Mason has traveled the world, capturing things other people don’t see. But what Tucker himself can’t see is how to let go of the past and forgive his father. On a sprawling Southern estate, Tucker and his younger brother, Mutt, were raised by their housekeeper, Miss Ella Rain, who loved the motherless boys like her own. Hiring her to take care of Waverly Hall and the boys was the only good thing their father ever did. When his brother escapes from a mental hospital and an old girlfriend appears with her son and a black eye, Tucker is forced to return home and face the agony of his own tragic past. Though Miss Ella has been gone for many years, Tuck can still hear her voice—and her prayers. But finding peace and starting anew will take a measure of grace that Tucker scarcely believes in.
Martin is fast becoming one of my favorite writers. This was one of his earlier works, but the story is gripping, nonetheless. Martin weaves a redemption tale as well as anyone.
New York Times bestselling author Andy Andrews is known for his strong storytelling and unequaled perspective on principles that empower the human mind and spirit. The Little Things embodies his own approach to life and work, detailing for the first time some of the exclusive material that he uses to teach and coach some of the most successful corporations, teams, and individuals around the world. In his unique humorous style, Andy shows how people succeed by actually going against the modern adage, “don’t sweat the small stuff”. By contrast, Andy proves that it is in concentrating on the smaller things that we add value and margin.
Read everything Andy Andrews writes. No question you’ll pick up something from this little gem. The chapter on picking up offenses is worth the price of the book. Listen to “Why Almost Can Be Dangerous.”
Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson)
Treasure Island is traditionally considered a coming-of-age story, and is noted for its atmosphere, characters, and action. It is also noted as a wry commentary on the ambiguity of morality—as seen in Long John Silver—unusual for children’s literature. It is one of the most frequently dramatized of all novels. Its influence is enormous on popular perceptions of pirates, including such elements as treasure maps marked with an “X”, schooners, the Black Spot, tropical islands, and one-legged seamen bearing parrots on their shoulders.
One of those books that I have somehow missed all these years, I enjoyed the read. (The link above includes a free audio version, by the way, if that is how you like to consume books.)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe)
The lives and losses of slaves in the American South are portrayed in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s unflinching indictment of slavery.
When a benevolent landowner decides to sell two slaves—Uncle Tom and Eliza—in order to raise funds, the lives of the two slaves follow divergent paths. While Eliza escapes to eventual freedom, Uncle Tom is repeatedly sold until he ends up working on the prosperous Legree plantation, where his very life becomes forfeit to his violent master.
Another classic that I have wanted to read for some time. I am currently at twenty percent completion according to my Kindle, so maybe Uncle Tom’s Cabin doesn’t belong on my summer reading revisited. Nevertheless, it belongs on my list.
And There You Have It, My Summer Reading Revisited
That’s my summer reading revisited. I wrote first drafts of two of my own books, the last in the Coach Dave series and a children’s book that one of my students will illustrate. More on those books in the days to come.
What did you read this summer? What did you think?[bluebox]
Al Ainsworth is the author of six books: