Monthly Archives: May 2014

Book Acquired Recently: Roller Girls Love Bobby Knight

Hampton, Michael Wayne. Roller Girls Love Bobby Knight. Oregon: Artistically Declined, 2014.

A pre-order advertisement for this book showed up in my Facebook feed a few months ago, and I ordered it because I loved the title, and I also like to support small independent publishers (Artistically Declined Press’s website is here; I must say that it vexes me that they do not list a specific city of publication, only a state. But the book did come with a nifty “Books Are Better” bookmark). I love roller derby and thought it would be cool to read a novel about it. The self-proclaimed “novella” (it is only 108 pages) showed up in my mailbox today and I read it immediately.

Unfortunately, Hampton’s story is a dud at best and offensive at worst. The premise is promising: a down-on-her-luck single mother and her younger daughter arrive in a small Kentucky town where her older daughter has just bought an old skating rink in order to stage roller derby bouts; hilarity ensues. But the story is never interested in these women as people, only as tits-and-ass. If the book had been written by a woman, it would be a fun story of female empowerment, but written by a man the female characters are just exploitative cardboard cutouts. They love flaunting their fantastic curves, are super heterosexual (which is frankly not an especially accurate portrayal of the roller derby world), and are desperate to find men to complete them even though the men in their lives are all terrible. They all use language that reads like an Onion parody of the dialogue from Steel Magnolias.

It is clear that Hampton is trying to make some sort of aesthetic statement about fiction with these simultaneously overly stylized and utterly flimsy characters, but he fails miserably. The writing isn’t thought-provoking, it’s just, well, dickish. This is sad because the novella has the potential to be so much more. The resurgence of roller derby over the past twenty years is a significant social development that deserves to be chronicled in literature, and Hampton’s observation that “[c]hicken fighting, boxing matches, football games, if it’s got honest people hurting each other these folks will eat it up” is an astute one about the role of sports in American society (57). But he fails to consider these subjects in any kind of thoughtful manner, instead using them as props for his misogynist tale.

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Book Acquired Recently: A Room With A View

Forster, E.M. A Room With A View. 1908. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2005.

I bought this book this morning at a friend’s recommendation and tore through it, finishing it in several hours. It is a lovely book because of Forster’s smooth prose. He is like a less pretentious Oscar Wilde. The novel’s easy, witty dismissal of the upper class’s prudish values is delightful. While I dislike the book’s insistence on marriage for Lucy and George (this conventional choice seems incongruous with the rest of their decisions), I appreciate its insistence that it will be possible for them to live happily, that their sexual license is celebrated rather than condemned. I’ve never read any of Forster’s work before, but I would certainly like to read more of it now.

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Books Acquired Recently: Sports Edition

Lions, Bernard. 1000 Football Shirts: The Colours of the Beautiful Game. 2013. New York: Universe, 2014.

One thing I love about football (i.e., soccer) are the uniforms, and I have also been obsessing about the sport even more than usual lately because of the upcoming World Cup, so when I found out about this book I bought it immediately. It is difficult to find good books here in the U.S. about soccer, so I am especially attracted to books such as this that attempt to offer comprehensive histories of various elements of the game.

I will begin reading the book this afternoon, but I must note that I am immediately skeptical of it after looking at its cover. There are 130 shirts total pictured on the front cover, back cover, and spine, but none of these are from the biggest club in the world, Manchester United. There are two Liverpool shirts, a Chelsea shirt, a Manchester City shirt, an Everton shirt, and eight shirts from MLS (including the LA Galaxy home shirt twice, along with their change strip: blatant proof of David Beckham’s continuing commercial power). I love MLS, and I like Everton because I hate Liverpool, but there is no way that any of these nine shirts are more important than Manchester United’s. This is a ridiculous omission which makes me question the biases of Lions and his publisher’s designers. I hope that the text itself meets a higher standard.

Slocum, Frank, and Red Foley. Topps Baseball Cards: The Complete Picture Collection: A 40-Year History, 1951-1990. New York: Warner, 1990.

I collected baseball cards seriously as a boy between 1987-1990, and always preferred Topps over Donruss or Fleer. While I am no longer an avid collector, I will still buy a few packs (always Topps) every once in a while for nostalgia’s sake, and I buy a Mets team set each year. As a result of this fondness for the hobby, I have had my eyes on this book for several years, and finally found a copy for a reasonable price. It is much larger than I expected, which is exciting; I can understand why it was so difficult to find a copy for less than $50.00.

Both books were acquired from amazon.com’s network of independent sellers.

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Thoughts on Landon Donovan’s Exclusion from the U.S. World Cup Roster

I am still stunned by the news that Landon Donovan has been left off of the U.S.’s final 23-man World Cup roster. Donovan is the best American soccer player ever, and while he is no longer in his prime, he certainly has some good years left in him. It is a bold move by national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann, one that many will point to critically if the U.S. does poorly in Brazil.

From a purely talent-based viewpoint, I can understand Donovan’s exclusion, kind of (I’m sorry, but there is just no way that someone such as DeAndre Yedlin will somehow be more valuable to the team than Donovan would have been [and yes, I realize they play different positions], but I suppose that Klinsmann’s choice shows that Donovan would have been on the periphery of the squad anyway, so it probably doesn’t matter in terms of who has an opportunity to be on the pitch). He has not been in good form this season, in part because of a nagging injury. Had he been selected to the squad, he would not have been starting. But I wonder about the psychological impact his absence will have on his (now former) teammates. Klinsmann may feel that the roster he has chosen is the strongest one, but do the players? Donovan is still the U.S.’s most visible player, both among casual American soccer fans and among European fans and players. He is a player that other national teams worry about facing, and that psychological advantage is now lost.

I also certainly question Klinsmann’s decision as a fan because I think Donovan has done enough for the U.S. Men’s National Team, and for soccer in America in general, that he deserves to play in one more World Cup. Donovan’s breakout performance came during the 2002 World Cup alongside the U.S.’s other hotshot young gun DaMarcus Beasley, and I never would have guessed that Beasley would be playing in this year’s World Cup (and he’ll probably be in the starting lineup!) and Donovan wouldn’t.

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Terry Collins Needs To Go

The Mets had an excruciating 1-0 loss to the Yankees last night that epitomized their up-and-down season. They got a tremendous pitching performance from Jacob de Grom, who was making his major league debut. de Grom got through seven innings in less than 100 pitches, and only allowed one run, which, as I am about to explain, was not really his fault.

The loss was especially frustrating for two reasons: First, the offense was unable to give de Grom any kind of support. This has been a Mets trademark since at least 2005 in Pedro Martinez’s starts; the ace pitches well and the offense falls asleep. The Mets were shut out for the second game in a row, which is never acceptable.

Second, and most importantly, the one run that de Grom gave up should never have scored. In a tight ballgame, it is essential for every player on the field to play their part, and the Mets defense last night failed to do so. The player who scored the run, Brian McCann, should have been erased on an inning-ending double play in the seventh inning, but, as Keith Hernandez noted during SNY’s broadcast of the game, Daniel Murphy didn’t charge the ball before throwing it to second base, and David Wright made a lazy throw to first that McCann barely beat out. These two mistakes are not excusable, but they were compounded by one that was completely preventable. The next batter up hit a line drive to left-centerfield that went all the way to the wall, allowing the slow-footed McCann to score all the way from first. However, as Gary Cohen pointed out, if Juan Lagares had been playing centerfield instead of Chris Young, the ball would have been cut off before it reached the wall and the throw from the outfield would have arrived quicker (both because the distance would have been shorter and because Lagares has the best outfield arm on the team), making it impossible for McCann to score.

This leads to the question, why wasn’t Lagares playing? Mets manager Terry Collins has left him out of the lineup for the past two nights even though he is one of the best outfielders in the entire league and he has been the Mets’ second most consistent hitter after Murphy. There is no way that any of the other three outfielders should be starting ahead of Lagares, let alone for more than one game in a row. But Eric Young, Jr. has had a good week getting on base even though his advanced statistics are horrible, and Chris Young and Curtis Granderson both have big contracts, so Collins pencils them into the lineup automatically. This is terrible managing. In the case of Young, Jr., Collins shows that he is not a sabermetrically-minded manager, which is a problem because the Mets have been built by a sabermetrician general manager, Sandy Alderson, so Collins is failing to take advantage of the resources he has been given to win games. In the case of Chris Young and, especially, Granderson, they have underperformed consistently over a long enough stretch of time that they do not deserve to have guaranteed starting spots.

This mismanagement is the latest example of how Collins’s decisions have been hurting the Mets all year. He has consistently made questionable decisions regarding the use of the bullpen, and his management of the lineup has been guided by outmoded “baseball wisdom” instead of solid logic. Collins has done a good job as a caretaker manager over the past few seasons while the Mets have slowly been rebuilding themselves into a contender, but now that they have a decent team that could legitimately challenge for a playoff berth this year (yes, everyone is pointing towards next season as the time when the Mets will be serious contenders, but with the way the National League is shaping up this year they could have a shot, as they are currently only 3.5 games back of first place; certainly having a winning season is a very reasonable expectation), they have no room for errors such as Collins’s questionable decisions.

Therefore, just as the Mets have been bringing in new blood from AAA over the past few weeks, it is also time for them to make a managerial change. Terry Collins needs to go. I would personally bring up Wally Backman from Las Vegas (he has managed Vegas to a 29-11 record thus far this year) as interim manager for the rest of the season to see whether he is a worthy candidate for the full-time job, but at this point I would be happy with anyone other than Terry Collins.

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Books Acquired Recently: More Mennonites Edition

Wiebe, Dallas. Our Asian Journey. Waterloo: mlr, 1997.

I have been wanting to read this novel for years, but it is out of print and rare. Every once in a while I check for it online to see if I can find a reasonably-priced used copy, and this time I was happy to find a copy in excellent condition for only $25.00 on abebooks.com. Wiebe was one of the few American Mennonite fiction writers, and I look forward to reading more of his work.

Wright, David. Lines from the Provinces. N.p.: greatunpublished, 2000.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I plan on doing some writing about Wright’s poetry this summer. I acquired this book from one of the independent booksellers on amazon.com for this purpose. It is blurbed by one of my favorite poets, Jeff Gundy, which makes me especially eager to read it.

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Ryan Giggs

Manchester United’s bizarre, disappointing season ended today with a 1-1 draw at Southampton. Ryan Giggs coached his last match as interim manager, and it is a good bet that his substitute appearance in the last home match earlier this week was his final one as a United player. Giggs has had a tremedous career since his debut in 1991, holding the club record for appearances and winning two European Cups and numerous league titles and domestic cups. He scored in every season of his career prior to this one.

It is difficult to write about his career simply because it was so successful; had you made up a fictional character with all of Giggs’s accomplishments before he came along no one would have found it credible. He is one of the sport’s all-time greats, and it frustrates me that he didn’t give himself the opportunity to play one last match today.

Here are two clips that epitomize Giggs’s sublime talent and his value to United:

First, his amazing solo effort to win the 1999 FA Cup semifinal against Arsenal, in which he dribbles the ball from United’s half into Arsenal’s penalty area before ending the run with a first-rate finish. This goal epitomizes the banner celebrating Giggs that hangs at Old Trafford: “Ryan Giggs: Tearing You Apart Since 1991.”

Second, highlights from the 1999 Champions League final, United’s greatest triumph, in which Giggs assisted on Teddy Sheringham’s match-tying goal.

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